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by Hamilton Smith
The Epistle of James.
1 Introduction Jam_1:1
2 The Practical Christian Life Jam_1:2-27
3 The Christian Life the Proof of Faith James 2
4 The Evils of the Flesh James 3 , James 4
5 The Coming of the Lord James 5
( Jam_1:1 )
The writer of the Epistle speaks of himself as “a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ”. Inasmuch as the James who was John's brother, and the son of Zebedee, was early martyred by Herod ( Act_12:2 ), it is probably right to assume that this is the James who took a leading place among the Jewish believers at Jerusalem ( Act_12:17 ; Act_15:13 ; Act_21:18 ; Gal_2:12 ). Naturally he would be specially fitted to address an Epistle to the twelve tribes of the dispersion. To such he sends greeting.
To understand the Epistle it is necessary to remember the position of Jewish believers in Jud'e6a and Jerusalem as brought before us in the Acts of the Apostles. It is evident that at that time there were great numbers of believers who had not definitely separated from the Jewish system. We read of believers “continuing daily with one accord in the temple.” Later we find “a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.” Then again we read that there were also “certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed”, who said it was needful to circumcise believers. Later we hear of “many thousands of Jews” which believed and were “all zealous of the law”, and who, apparently, had not even given up the sacrifices and offerings and Jewish customs ( Act_2:46 ; Act_3:1 ; Act_6:7 ; Act_15:5 ; Act_21:20 ).
This doubtless was an anomalous position. It was, however, a period of transition from Judaism to Christianity, and during this period God bore with much that was not according to His mind. This we know from the Epistle to the Hebrews, written at a later date with the main object of entirely separating Christians from the Jewish system, exhorting them to go without the camp and break their links with the earthly religion, in order to take up their heavenly position in connection with Christ in the outside place of reproach.
Moreover, it would seem that during this transition time God not only recognised the Christians associated with the Jews, but He still recognised the twelve tribes, among whom they were found, as the professing people of God, though only the Christians among them possessed the faith that confessed Jesus as Lord. Thus the Epistle is not addressed to the Church as such, nor exclusively to Jewish Christians. It is addressed to the twelve tribes scattered abroad, while recognising and especially exhorting the Christians amongst them. The Epistle has been greatly misunderstood and, it is feared, much neglected by true believers through not seeing its peculiar character. It is rightly viewed as meeting the first phase of Christianity, when Christians had not yet separated from the nation of Israel; but for this reason it is wrongly argued that it has little direct reference to our days when the full light of the Church, with its heavenly blessings, has been revealed.
As to fact, history has repeated itself and, once again, true Christians find themselves in the midst of a vast profession which, like the twelve tribes, is not heathen but professes to own the true God. For this reason the Epistle that met the first phase of Christianity has a very special application to its last phase.
In its five chapters we are not to look for any unfolding of Christian doctrine, or the presentation of the exclusive privileges of the assembly. All these deeply important truths are unfolded in other inspired Epistles. The main object of this searching Epistle is to appeal to the professing people of God and exhort believers to a practical walk that proves the reality of their faith, in contrast with the vast profession in whose midst they are found. Christian conduct must ever be of the deepest importance, but never more so than when an easy-going profession has put on the outward cloak of Christianity without personal faith in the Lord Jesus. Here, then, we find our faith tested and our conduct searched.
In James 1 there is set before us the practical Christian life.
In James 2 the practical life is presented as the proof of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
In James 3 and James 4 seven different evils are passed before us which characterise the vast profession and into which the true Christian can easily fall but for the grace of the Spirit of God.
In James 5 the apostle contrasts the condition of the professing mass with that of God's suffering people, and presents the coming of the Lord in relation to both classes.
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29