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Bible Commentaries
James 1

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole BibleCommentary Critical

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The last subject is discussed in James 3:13-4.

Verse 1

1. James—an apostle of the circumcision, with Peter and John, James in Jerusalem, Palestine, and Syria; Peter in Babylon and the East; John in Ephesus and Asia Minor. Peter addresses the dispersed Jews of Pontus, Galatia, and Cappadocia; James, the Israelites of the twelve tribes scattered abroad.

servant of God—not that he was not an apostle; for Paul, an apostle, also calls himself so; but as addressing the Israelites generally, including even indirectly the unbelieving, he in humility omits the title "apostle"; so Paul in writing to the Hebrews; similarly Jude, an apostle, in his General Epistle.

Jesus Christ—not mentioned again save in James 2:1; not at all in his speeches (Acts 15:14; Acts 15:15; Acts 21:20; Acts 21:21), lest his introducing the name of Jesus oftener should seem to arise from vanity, as being "the Lord's brother" [BENGEL]. His teaching being practical, rather than doctrinal, required less frequent mention of Christ's name.

scattered abroad—literally "which are in the dispersion." The dispersion of the Israelites, and their connection with Jerusalem as a center of religion, was a divinely ordered means of propagating Christianity. The pilgrim troops of the law became caravans of the Gospel [WORDSWORTH].

greeting—found in no other Christian letter, but in James and the Jerusalem Synod's Epistle to the Gentile churches; an undesigned coincidence and mark or genuineness. In the original Greek (chairein) for "greeting," there is a connection with the "joy" to which they are exhorted amidst their existing distresses from poverty and consequent oppression. Compare Acts 21:21- :, which alludes to their poverty.

Verse 2

2. My brethren—a phrase often found in James, marking community of nation and of faith.

all joy—cause for the highest joy [GROTIUS]. Nothing but joy [PISCATOR]. Count all "divers temptations" to be each matter of joy [BENGEL].

fall into—unexpectedly, so as to be encompassed by them (so the original Greek).

temptations—not in the limited sense of allurements to sin, but trials or distresses of any kind which test and purify the Christian character. Compare "tempt," that is, try, :-. Some of those to whom James writes were "sick," or otherwise "afflicted" ( :-). Every possible trial to the child of God is a masterpiece of strategy of the Captain of his salvation for his good.

Verse 3

3. the trying—the testing or proving of your faith, namely, by "divers temptations." Compare Romans 5:3, tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience (in the original dokime, akin to dokimion, "trying," here; there it is experience: here the "trying" or testing, whence experience flows).

patience—The original implies more; persevering endurance and continuance (compare Luke 8:15).

Verse 4

4. Let endurance have a perfect work (taken out of the previous "worketh patience" or endurance), that is, have its full effect, by showing the most perfect degree of endurance, namely, "joy in bearing the cross" [MENOCHIUS], and enduring to the end (Matthew 10:22) [CALVIN].

ye may be perfect—fully developed in all the attributes of a Christian character. For this there is required "joy" [BENGEL], as part of the "perfect work" of probation. The work of God in a man is the man. If God's teachings by patience have had a perfect work in you, you are perfect [ALFORD].

entire—that which has all its parts complete, wanting no integral part; Matthew 10:22- :, "your whole (literally, 'entire') spirit, soul, and body"; as "perfect" implies without a blemish in its parts.

Verse 5

5. English Version omits "But," which the Greek has, and which is important. "But (as this perfect entireness wanting nothing is no easy attainment) if any," c.

lack—rather, as the Greek word is repeated after James's manner, from :-, "wanting nothing," translate, "If any of you want wisdom," namely, the wisdom whereby ye may "count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations," and "let patience have her perfect work." This "wisdom" is shown in its effects in detail, :-. The highest wisdom, which governs patience alike in poverty and riches, is described in James 1:9 James 1:10.

ask— (James 1:10- :).

liberally—So the Greek is rendered by English Version. It is rendered with simplicity, Romans 12:8. God gives without adding aught which may take off from the graciousness of the gift [ALFORD]. God requires the same "simplicity" in His children ("eye . . . single," Matthew 6:22, literally, "simple").

upbraideth not—an illustration of God's giving simply. He gives to the humble suppliant without upbraiding him with his past sin and ingratitude, or his future abuse of God's goodness. The Jews pray, "Let me not have need of the gifts of men, whose gifts are few, but their upbraidings manifold; but give me out of Thy large and full hand." Compare Solomon's prayer for "wisdom," and God's gift above what he asked, though God foresaw his future abuse of His goodness would deserve very differently. James has before his eye the Sermon on the Mount (see my Matthew 6:22- :). God hears every true prayer and grants either the thing asked, or else something better than it; as a good physician consults for his patient's good better by denying something which the latter asks not for his good, than by conceding a temporary gratification to his hurt.

Verse 6

6. ask in faith—that is, the persuasion that God can and will give. James begins and ends with faith. In the middle of the Epistle he removes the hindrances to faith and shows its true character [BENGEL].

wavering—between belief and unbelief. Compare the case of the Israelites, who seemed to partly believe in God's power, but leaned more to unbelief by "limiting" it. On the other hand, compare Acts 10:20; Romans 4:20 ("staggered not . . . through unbelief," literally, as here, "wavered not"); 1 Timothy 2:8.

like a wave of the seaIsaiah 57:20; Ephesians 4:14, where the same Greek word occurs for "tossed to and fro," as is here translated, "driven with the wind."

driven with the wind—from without.

tossed—from within, by its own instability [BENGEL]. At one time cast on the shore of faith and hope, at another rolled back into the abyss of unbelief; at one time raised to the height of worldly pride, at another tossed in the sands of despair and affliction [WIESINGER].

Verse 7

7. For—resumed from "For" in James 1:6.

that man—such a wavering self-deceiver.

think—Real faith is something more than a mere thinking or surmise.

anything—namely, of the things that he prays for: he does receive many things from God, food, raiment, &c., but these are the general gifts of His providence: of the things specially granted in answer to prayer, the waverer shall not receive "anything," much less wisdom.

Verse 8

8. double-minded—literally, "double-souled," the one soul directed towards God, the other to something else. The Greek favors ALFORD'S translation, "He (the waverer, :-) is a man double-minded, unstable," c. or better, BEZA'S. The words in this James 1:8 are in apposition with "that man," James 1:7; thus the "us," which is not in the original, will not need to be supplied, "A man double-minded, unstable in all his ways!" The word for "double-minded" is found here and in James 1:7- :, for the first time in Greek literature. It is not a hypocrite that is meant, but a fickle, "wavering" man, as the context shows. It is opposed to the single eye (James 1:7- :).

Verse 9

9, 10. Translate, "But let the brother," c. that is, the best remedy against double-mindedness is that Christian simplicity of spirit whereby the "brother," low in outward circumstances, may "rejoice" (answering to :-) "in that he is exalted," namely, by being accounted a son and heir of God, his very sufferings being a pledge of his coming glory and crown ( :-), and the rich may rejoice "in that he is made low," by being stripped of his goods for Christ's sake [MENOCHIUS] or in that he is made, by sanctified trials, lowly in spirit, which is true matter for rejoicing [GOMARUS]. The design of the Epistle is to reduce all things to an equable footing (James 2:1; James 5:13). The "low," rather than the "rich," is here called "the brother" [BENGEL].

Verse 10

10. So far as one is merely "rich" in worldly goods, "he shall pass away"; in so far as his predominant character is that of a "brother," he "abideth for ever" ( :-). This view meets all ALFORD'S objections to regarding "the rich" here as a "brother" at all. To avoid making the rich a brother, he translates, "But the rich glories in his humiliation," namely, in that which is really his debasement (his rich state, :-), just as the low is told to rejoice in what is really his exaltation (his lowly state).

Verse 11

11. Taken from :-.

heat—rather, "the hot wind" from the (east or) south, which scorches vegetation (Luke 12:55). The "burning heat" of the sun is not at its rising, but rather at noon; whereas the scorching Kadim wind is often at sunrise (Jonah 4:8) [MIDDLETON, The Doctrine of the Greek Article]. Jonah 4:8- : uses the Greek word for "heat." Jonah 4:8- :, "bloweth upon it," seems to answer to "the hot wind" here.

grace of the fashion—that is of the external appearance.

in his ways—referring to the burdensome extent of the rich man's devices [BENGEL]. Compare "his ways," that is, his course of life, Jonah 4:8- :.

Verse 12

12. Blessed—Compare the beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:4; Matthew 5:10; Matthew 5:11).

endureth temptation—not the "falling into divers temptations" (Matthew 5:11- :) is the matter for "joy," but the enduring of temptation "unto the end." Compare Matthew 5:11- :.

when he is tried—literally, "when he has become tested" or "approved," when he has passed through the "trying" (Matthew 5:11- :), his "faith" having finally gained the victory.

the crown—not in allusion to the crown or garland given to winners in the games; for this, though a natural allusion for Paul in writing to the heathen, among whom such games existed, would be less appropriate for James in addressing the Jewish Christians, who regarded Gentile usages with aversion.

of life—"life" constitutes the crown, literally, the life, the only true life, the highest and eternal life. The crown implies a kingdom (Psalms 21:3).

the Lord—not found in the best manuscripts and versions. The believer's heart fills up the omission, without the name needing to be mentioned. The "faithful One who promised" (Psalms 21:3- :).

to them that love him—In 2 Timothy 4:8, "the crown of righteousness to them that love His appearing." Love produces patient endurance: none attest their love more than they who suffer for Him.

Verse 13

13. when . . . tempted—tried by solicitation to evil. Heretofore the "temptation" meant was that of probation by afflictions. Let no one fancy that God lays upon him an inevitable necessity of sinning. God does not send trials on you in order to make you worse, but to make you better (James 1:16; James 1:17). Therefore do not sink under the pressure of evils (James 1:17- :).

of God—by agency proceeding from God. The Greek is not "tempted by," but, "from," implying indirect agency.

cannot be tempted with evil, c.—"Neither do any of our sins tempt God to entice us to worse things, nor does He tempt any of His own accord" (literally, "of Himself" compare the antithesis, James 1:17- :, "Of His own will He begat us" to holiness, so far is He from tempting us of His own will) [BENGEL]. God is said in Genesis 22:1 to have "tempted Abraham"; but there the tempting meant is that of trying or proving, not that of seducement. ALFORD translates according to the ordinary sense of the Greek, "God is unversed in evil." But as this gives a less likely sense, English Version probably gives the true sense; for ecclesiastical Greek often uses words in new senses, as the exigencies of the new truths to be taught required.

Verse 14

14. Every man, when tempted, is so through being drawn away of (again here, as in :-, the Greek for "of" expresses the actual source, rather than the agent of temptation) his own lust. The cause of sin is in ourselves. Even Satan's suggestions do not endanger us before they are made our own. Each one has his own peculiar (so the Greek) lust, arising from his own temperament and habit. Lust flows from the original birth-sin in man, inherited from Adam.

drawn away—the beginning step in temptation: drawn away from truth and virtue.

enticed—literally, "taken with a bait," as fish are. The further progress: the man allowing himself (as the Greek middle voice implies) to be enticed to evil [BENGEL]. "Lust" is here personified as the harlot that allures the man.

Verse 15

15. The guilty union is committed by the will embracing the temptress. "Lust," the harlot, then, "brings forth sin," namely, of that kind to which the temptation inclines. Then the particular sin (so the Greek implies), "when it is completed, brings forth death," with which it was all along pregnant [ALFORD]. This "death" stands in striking contrast to the "crown of life" (James 1:12) which "patience" or endurance ends in, when it has its "perfect work" (James 1:12- :). He who will fight Satan with Satan's own weapons, must not wonder if he finds himself overmatched. Nip sin in the bud of lust.

Verse 16

16. Do not err in attributing to God temptation to evil; nay (as he proceeds to show), "every good," all that is good on earth, comes from God.

Verse 17

17. gift . . . gift—not the same words in Greek: the first, the act of giving, or the gift in its initiatory stage; the second, the thing given, the boon, when perfected. As the "good gift" stands in contrast to "sin" in its initiatory stage ( :-), so the "perfect boon" is in contrast to "sin when it is finished," bringing forth death ( :-).

from above—(Compare :-).

Father of lights—Creator of the lights in heaven (compare :- [ALFORD]; Genesis 4:20; Genesis 4:21; Hebrews 12:9). This accords with the reference to the changes in the light of the heavenly bodies alluded to in the end of the verse. Also, Father of the spiritual lights in the kingdom of grace and glory [BENGEL]. These were typified by the supernatural lights on the breastplate of the high priest, the Urim. As "God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5), He cannot in any way be the Author of sin (1 John 1:5- :), which is darkness (1 John 1:5- :).

no variableness . . . shadow of turning— (Malachi 3:6). None of the alternations of light and shadow which the physical "lights" undergo, and which even the spiritual lights are liable to, as compared with God. "Shadow of turning," literally, the dark "shadow-mark" cast from one of the heavenly bodies, arising from its "turning" or revolution, for example, when the moon is eclipsed by the shadow of the earth, and the sun by the body of the moon. BENGEL makes a climax, "no variation—not even the shadow of a turning"; the former denoting a change in the understanding; the latter, in the will.

Verse 18

18. ( :-). The believer's regeneration is the highest example of nothing but good proceeding from God.

Of his own will—Of his own good pleasure (which shows that it is God's essential nature to do good, not evil), not induced by any external cause.

begat he us—spiritually: a once-for-all accomplished act (1 Peter 1:3; 1 Peter 1:23). In contrast to "lust when it hath conceived, bringeth forth sin, and sin . . . death" (James 1:15). Life follows naturally in connection with light (James 1:15- :).

word of truth—the Gospel. The objective mean, as faith is the appropriating mean of regeneration by the Holy Spirit as the efficient agent.

a kind of first-fruits—Christ is, in respect to the resurrection, "the first-fruits" (1 Corinthians 15:20; 1 Corinthians 15:23): believers, in respect to regeneration, are, as it were, first-fruits (image from the consecration of the first-born of man, cattle, and fruits to God; familiar to the Jews addressed), that is, they are the first of God's regenerated creatures, and the pledge of the ultimate regeneration of the creation, Romans 8:19; Romans 8:23, where also the Spirit, the divine agent of the believer's regeneration, is termed "the first-fruits," that is, the earnest that the regeneration now begun in the soul, shall at last extend to the body too, and to the lower parts of creation. Of all God's visible creatures, believers are the noblest part, and like the legal "first-fruits," sanctify the rest; for this reason they are much tried now.

Verse 19

19. Wherefore—as your evil is of yourselves, but your good from God. However, the oldest manuscripts and versions read thus: "YE KNOW IT (so Ephesians 5:5; Hebrews 12:17), my beloved brethren; BUT (consequently) let every man be swift to hear," that is, docile in receiving "the word of truth" (James 1:18; James 1:21). The true method of hearing is treated in James 1:21-27; James 2:1-26.

slow to speak— (Proverbs 10:19; Proverbs 17:27; Proverbs 17:28; Ecclesiastes 5:2). A good way of escaping one kind of temptation arising from ourselves (Ecclesiastes 5:2- :). Slow to speak authoritatively as a master or teacher of others (compare James 3:1): a common Jewish fault: slow also to speak such hasty things of God, as in James 1:13. Two ears are given to us, the rabbis observe, but only one tongue: the ears are open and exposed, whereas the tongue is walled in behind the teeth.

slow to wrath— (James 3:13; James 3:14; James 4:5). Slow in becoming heated by debate: another Jewish fault (James 4:5- :), to which much speaking tends. TITTMANN thinks not so much "wrath" is meant, as an indignant feeling of fretfulness under the calamities to which the whole of human life is exposed; this accords with the "divers temptations" in James 1:2. Hastiness of temper hinders hearing God's word; so Naaman, 2 Kings 5:11; Luke 4:28.

Verse 20

20. Man's angry zeal in debating, as if jealous for the honor of God's righteousness, is far from working that which is really righteousness in God's sight. True "righteousness is sown in peace," not in wrath ( :-). The oldest and best reading means "worketh," that is, practiceth not: the received reading is "worketh," produceth not.

Verse 21

21. lay apart—"once for all" (so the Greek): as a filthy garment. Compare Joshua's filthy garments, Zechariah 3:3; Zechariah 3:5; Revelation 7:14. "Filthiness" is cleansed away by hearing the word (Revelation 7:14- :).

superfluity of naughtinessexcess (for instance, the intemperate spirit implied in "wrath," James 1:19; James 1:20), which arises from malice (our natural, evil disposition towards one another). 1 Peter 2:1 has the very same words in the Greek. So "malice" is the translation, Ephesians 4:31; Colossians 3:8. "Faulty excess" [BENGEL] is not strong enough. Superfluous excess in speaking is also reprobated as "coming of evil" (the Greek is akin to the word for "naughtiness" here) in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:37), with which James' Epistle is so connected.

with meeknessin mildness towards one another [ALFORD], the opposite to "wrath" (Matthew 5:37- :): answering to "as new-born babes" (Matthew 5:37- :). Meekness, I think, includes also a childlike, docile, humble, as well as an uncontentious, spirit (Psalms 25:9; Psalms 45:4; Isaiah 66:2; Matthew 5:5; Matthew 11:28-30; Matthew 18:3; Matthew 18:4; contrast Romans 2:8). On "receive," applied to ground receiving seed, compare Romans 2:8- :. Contrast Acts 17:11; 1 Thessalonians 1:6; 2 Thessalonians 2:10.

engrafted word—the Gospel word, whose proper attribute is to be engrafted by the Holy Spirit, so as to be livingly incorporated with the believer, as the fruitful shoot is with the wild natural stock on which it is engrafted. The law came to man only from without, and admonished him of his duty. The Gospel is engrafted inwardly, and so fulfils the ultimate design of the law (Deuteronomy 6:6; Deuteronomy 11:18; Psalms 119:11). ALFORD translates, "The implanted word," referring to the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:1-23). I prefer English Version.

able to save—a strong incentive to correct our dulness in hearing the word: that word which we hear so carelessly, is able (instrumentally) to save us [CALVIN].

souls—your true selves, for the "body" is now liable to sickness and death: but the soul being now saved, both soul and body at last shall be so (James 5:15; James 5:20).

Verse 22

22. Qualification of the precept, "Be swift to hear": "Be ye doers . . . not hearers only"; not merely "Do the word," but "Be doers" systematically and continually, as if this was your regular business. James here again refers to the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:21-29).

deceiving your own selves—by the logical fallacy (the Greek implies this) that the mere hearing is all that is needed.

Verse 23

23. For—the logical self-deceit (James 1:22) illustrated.

not a doer—more literally, "a notdoer" [ALFORD]. The true disciple, say the rabbis, learns in order that he may do, not in order that he may merely know or teach.

his natural face—literally, "the countenance of his birth": the face he was born with. As a man may behold his natural face in a mirror, so the hearer may perceive his moral visage in God's Word. This faithful portraiture of man's soul in Scripture, is the strongest proof of the truth of the latter. In it, too, we see mirrored God's glory, as well as our natural vileness.

Verse 24

24. beholdeth—more literally, "he contemplated himself and hath gone his way," that is, no sooner has he contemplated his image than he is gone his way (James 1:11). "Contemplate" answers to hearing the word: "goeth his way," to relaxing the attention after hearing—letting the mind go elsewhere, and the interest of the thing heard pass away: then forgetfulness follows [ALFORD] (Compare Ezekiel 33:31). "Contemplate" here, and in James 1:23, implies that, though cursory, yet some knowledge of one's self, at least for the time, is imparted in hearing the word (James 1:23- :).

and . . . and—The repetition expresses hastiness joined with levity [BENGEL].

forgetteth what manner of man he was—in the mirror. Forgetfulness is no excuse (James 1:25; 2 Peter 1:9).

Verse 25

25. looketh into—literally, "stoopeth down to take a close look into." Peers into: stronger than "beholdeth," or "contemplated," :-. A blessed curiosity if it be efficacious in bearing fruit [BENGEL].

perfect law of liberty—the Gospel rule of life, perfect and perfecting (as shown in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:48), and making us truly walk at liberty (Matthew 5:48- :, Church of England Prayer Book Version). Christians are to aim at a higher standard of holiness than was generally understood under the law. The principle of love takes the place of the letter of the law, so that by the Spirit they are free from the yoke of sin, and free to obey by spontaneous instinct (James 2:8; James 2:10; James 2:12; John 8:31-36; John 15:14; John 15:15; compare 1 Corinthians 7:22; Galatians 5:1; Galatians 5:13; 1 Peter 2:16). The law is thus not made void, but fulfilled.

continueth therein—contrasted with "goeth his way," 1 Peter 2:16- :, continues both looking into the mirror of God's word, and doing its precepts.

doer of the work—rather, "a doer of work" [ALFORD], an actual worker.

blessed in his deed—rather, "in his doing"; in the very doing there is blessedness (Psalms 19:11).

Verse 26

26, 27. An example of doing work.

religious . . . religion—The Greek expresses the external service or exercise of religion, "godliness" being the internal soul of it. "If any man think himself to be (so the Greek) religious, that is, observant of the offices of religion, let him know these consist not so much in outward observances, as in such acts of mercy and humble piety (Micah 6:7; Micah 6:8) as visiting the fatherless, c., and keeping one's self unspotted from the world" (Matthew 23:23). James does not mean that these offices are the great essentials, or sum total of religion but that, whereas the law service was merely ceremonial, the very services of the Gospel consist in acts of mercy and holiness, and it has light for its garment, its very robe being righteousness [TRENCH]. The Greek word is only found in Matthew 23:23- :, "after the straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee." Colossians 2:18, "worshipping of angels."

bridleth not . . . tongue—Discretion in speech is better than fluency of speech (compare James 3:2; James 3:3). Compare Psalms 39:1. God alone can enable us to do so. James, in treating of the law, naturally notices this sin. For they who are free from grosser sins, and even bear the outward show of sanctity, will often exalt themselves by detracting others under the pretense of zeal, while their real motive is love of evil-speaking [CALVIN].

heart—It and the tongue act and react on one another.

Verse 27

27. Pure . . . and undefiled—"Pure" is that love which has in it no foreign admixture, as self-deceit and hypocrisy. "Undefiled" is the means of its being "pure" [TITTMANN]. "Pure" expresses the positive, "undefiled" the negative side of religious service; just as visiting the fatherless and widow is the active, keeping himself unspotted from the world, the passive side of religious duty. This is the nobler shape that our religious exercises take, instead of the ceremonial offices of the law.

before God and the Father—literally, "before Him who is (our) God and Father." God is so called to imply that if we would be like our Father, it is not by fasting, c., for He does none of these things, but in being "merciful as our Father is merciful" [CHRYSOSTOM].

visit—in sympathy and kind offices to alleviate their distresses.

the fatherless—whose "Father" is God (Psalms 68:5) peculiarly helpless.

and—not in the Greek; so close is the connection between active works of mercy to others, and the maintenance of personal unworldliness of spirit, word, and deed; no copula therefore is needed. Religion in its rise interests us about ourselves in its progress, about our fellow creatures: in its highest stage, about the honor of God.

keep himself—with jealous watchfulness, at the same time praying and depending on God as alone able to keep us (John 17:15; Judges 1:24).

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on James 1". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfb/james-1.html. 1871-8.
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