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Bible Commentaries
James 1

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

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Verse 1

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.

The last subject discussed in James 3:13; James 4:7.

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, 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 indirectly the unbelieving, he in humility omits "apostle:" so Paul in writing to the Hebrews; similarly Jude, an apostle in his general letter.

Jesus Christ - not mentioned again, except in James 2:1: not at all in his speeches (Acts 15:14-15, and Acts 21:20-21), lest his introducing the name oftener should seem to arise from vanity, he being "the Lord's brother" (Bengel). His teaching being practical, rather than doctrinal, required less express mention of Christ.

Scattered abroad, [ tais (G3588) en (G1722) tee (G3588) diaspora (G1290)] - '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 - in no other Christian letter but in James and the Jerusalem Synod's letter to the Gentile churches: an undesigned coincidence and mark of genuineness. [ Chairein (G5463), "greeting," is akin to charan (G5479), "joy," to which they are exhorted amidst distresses from poverty and consequent oppression: cf. Romans 15:26.]

Verse 2

My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations;

My brethren - often in James, marking community of nation and of faith.

All joy - cause for the highest joy (Grotius). Nothing but joy. Count all "divers temptations" to be each matter of joy (Bengel).

Fall into - unexpectedly, so as to be encompassed by them [ peripeseete (G4045)].

Temptations - not allurements to sin, but trials which test and purify the Christian character. Some to whom James writes were "sick," or otherwise "afflicted" (James 5:13). Every possible trial to the child of God is a masterpiece of strategy of the Captain of his salvation for his good.

Verse 3

Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.

The trying, [ to (G3588) dokimion (G1383)] - the testing or proving of your faith-namely, by "divers temptations." Compare Romans 5:3, "tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience" [ dokimee (G1382), akin to dokimion (G1383): there experience; here the "trying" or testing whence experience flows].

Patience, [ hupomonee (G5281)] - 'persetering endurance' (cf. Luke 8:15).

Verse 4

But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.

Let endurance have a perfect work (taken out of "worketh patience" or endurance); i:e. have its full effect, by showing perfect endurance-namely, joy in 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. "Joy" is an essential of the "perfect work" of probation. 'If God's teaching by patience have had a perfect work in you, you are perfect' (Alford).

Entire, [ holokleeroi (G3648)] - with all its parts complete, wanting no integral part: 1 Thessalonians 5:23 "your whole (literally, 'entire') spirit and soul and body:" as "perfect" implies wither a blemish in its parts.

Verse 5

If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.

Greek, 'BUT (as this perfect entireness is no easy attainment) if any,' etc.

Lack - rather, as the Greek is repeated, after James' manner, James 1:4, "wanting nothing." 'If any of you wisdom,' whereby to "count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations," and "let patience have her perfect work." This "wisdom" is shown in its effects, James 3:17. The highest wisdom governs patience alike in poverty and riches (James 1:9-10).

Ask (James 4:2).

Liberally, [ haploos (G574)] - with simplicity (Romans 12:8). God gives without adding anything to take 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 simply. God gives to the suppliant without upbraiding him with past ingratitude, or 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 thy large hand.' Compare Solomon's prayer for "wysdom," and God's gift above what he asked, though God foresaw his future abuse of it would deserve very differently. James has before his eye the sermon on the mount (see 'Introduction'). God hears every true prayer, and grants either the thing asked or something better: as a good physician consults his patient's good, better by denying what the latter asks, not for his good, than conceding a temporary gratification to his hurt.

Verse 6

But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.

Ask in faith - i:e., the persuasion that God can and will give James begins and ends with faith. In the middle of the letter he removes hindrances to faith, and shows its true character (Bengel).

Wavering, [ diakrinomenos (G1252)] - between belief and unbelief. Compare the Israelites who seemed to believe in God's power, but leant to unbelief by 'limiting' it (Psalms 78:41). Contrast Acts 10:20; Romans 4:20 ("staggered not ... through unbelief;" literally, 'wavered not') (1 Timothy 2:8).

Like wave of the sea (Isaiah 57:20; Ephesians 4:14) [kludonizomenoi, like a wave] - 'tossed to and fro with every 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 tolled Back into unbelief; at one time raised to the height of worldly pride, at another tossed in the sands of despair (Weisinger).

Verse 7

For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.

For - Resumed from James 1:6.

That man - such a wavering self-deceiver.

Think. Real faith is something more than a mere [ oiesthoo (G3633)] surmise.

Anything. He does receive many things from God, food, raiment, etc., but these are the general gifts of His providence. Of the things specially granted in answer to prayer, the waverer shall not receive "any thing," much less wisdom.

Verse 8

A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.

Double-minded, [ dipsuchos (G1374)] - double-soulled: the one soul directed toward God, the other to something else. The words in this James 1:8 are in apposition with "that man" James 1:7: thus the "is," which is not in the original, needs not to be supplied. "A man double-minded, unstable in all his ways!" [ Dipsuchos (G1374) is found here and James 4:8, for the first time in Greek.] Not a hypocrite, but fickle, "wavering" man (James 1:6): opposed to the single eye (Matthew 6:22).

Verses 9-10

Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted:

But "let the brother," etc - i:e., the best remedy against double-mindedness is that Christian simplicity of spirit whereby the "brother," low in outward circumstances, may "rejoice (answering to James 1:2) in that he is exalted" - namely, by being accounted a son and heir of God, his very suffering's being a pledge of his coming crown (James 1:12); 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 (Gomarus). The design is to reduce all things to an equable footing (James 2:1; James 5:13). The "low," rather than the "rich," is termed "the brother" (Bengel). 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 forever" (1 John 2:17). This view meets all Alford's objections to regarding "the rich" here as a "brother." at all.

Verse 11

For the sun is no sooner risen with a burning heat, but it withereth the grass, and the flower thereof falleth, and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth: so also shall the rich man fade away in his ways.

From Isaiah 40:6-8.

Heat, [ to (G3588) kausooni (G2742)] - '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 at noon; whereas the scorching [ Qaadiym (H6921)] wind is often at sunrise (Jonah 4:8) (Middleton, Greek article). Matthew 20:12 uses the Greek for "heat." Isaiah 40:7 "bloweth upon it," answers to 'the hot wind.'

Grace of the fashion, [ prosoopou (G4383)] - of the external appearance.

In his ways, [ poreiais (G4197)] - the simple word, and that, in the plural, usually ascribed to the rich man, instead of [ euporia (G2142)] 'wealth,' to mark his as care-attended "ways" of securing wealth. Compare "ways," paths [ hodois (G3598)], James 1:8.

Verse 12

Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.

Blessed - Compare the beatitudes in the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5:4; Matthew 5:10-11).

Endureth temptation - not the 'falling into,' but the enduring of, temptation (Matthew 24:13) is cause for "joy" (James 1:2; Job 5:17).

When he is tried, [ dokimos (G1384) genomenos (G1096)] - when he has become, approved, having passed through the "trying" [ dokimion (G1383)] (James 1:3), victorious through "faith."

The crown, [ stefanon (G4735), not diadeema (G1238): the garland of victory]. Hebrews 12:1 answers Alford's objection to a Gentile custom being alluded to in addressing Jews. In this case a kingly crown accompanies the victors crown [Revelation 2:10; Revelation 14:14; Psalms 21:3, Septuagint, stefanon (G4735)]. The unfading "crown of life" beautifully contrasts with "the flower of the grass," James 1:10, "fade away," James 1:11 [ marantheesetai (G3133)]. Of life - literally, the life, the only true, highest, and eternal life.

The Lord. So C. Not in 'Aleph (') A B. The believer's heart fills up the omission. The 'faithful one who promised' (Hebrews 10:23).

To them that love him (2 Timothy 4:8). Love produces persevering endurance amidst sufferings: by this we attest our love.

Verse 13

Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man:

When he is tempted - by solicitation to evil. Heretofore the "temptation" was by afflictions. Let no one fancy God lays upon him an inevitable necessity of sinning. God does not send trials to make you worse, but better (James 1:16-17), Therefore do not sink under the pressure (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Of God - by agency proceeding from God [ apo (G575) Theou (G2316)]: indirect agency.

Cannot be tempted with evil ... - `neither do our sins tempt God to entice us to worse, nor does He tempt any of His own accord' [ autos (G846)]: nay, James 1:18, "Of His own will begat He us" to holiness: so far is he from tempting us of His own will (Bengel). God is said (Genesis 22:1) to have "tempted Abraham;" but there the tempting is trying or proving; not seducement. Alford [ apeirastos (G551) kakon (G2556)], 'God is unversed in evil.' But ecclesiastical Greek often uses words in new senses, as the exigencies of the new truths required.

Verse 14

But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.

Every man when tempted is so through being drawn away of [by: hupo (G5259); the source, rather than the agent] his own lust. The cause of sin is in ourselves. Satan's suggestions do not endanger us before they are made our own. Each has his own special [ tees (G3588) idias (G2398)] lust, arising from his own temperament. Lust flows from original birth-sin in man, inherited from Adam.

Drawn away - the beginning step: drawn away from truth and virtue.

Enticed, [ deleazomenos (G1185)] - taken with a bait as fish. The further progress: the man allowing himself (middle voice) to be enticed. "Lust" is personified as the harlot that allures man.

Verse 15

Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.

The guilty union is committed by the will embracing the temptress. "Lust," the harlot, then 'brings forth sin,' that to which the temptation inclines. Then the particular sin [he hamartia], 'when completed, brings forth death,' with which it was all along pregnant (Alford). "Death" stands in striking contrast to the "crown of life" (James 1:12), which "patience" brings when it has its "perfect work" (James 1:4). He who fights Satan with Satan's own weapons must not wonder if he be overmatched. Nip sin in the bud of lust.

Verse 16

Do not err, my beloved brethren.

Do not err in attributing to God temptation to evil; nay "every good," all that is good on earth, comes from God.

Verse 17

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.

Gift ... gift, [ dosis (G1394) ... doorema (G1434), dosis (G1394): the act of giving; the gift in its initiatory stage; doorema (G1434) the thing given, the boon, when perfected]. As the "good gift" contrasts with "sin" in its initiatory stage (James 1:15), so the 'perfect boon' contrasts with "sin when it is finished," bringing forth death (2 Peter 1:3).

From above (James 3:15.)

Father of lights - Creator of the lights in heaven (cf. Job 38:28 (Alford); Genesis 4:20-21). So reference to changes in the light of the heavenly bodies follows. Also, Father of the spiritual lights in the kingdom of grace and glory. Hebrews 12:9 typified by the supernatural lights on the high priest's breastplate, the Urim. Since "God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5), He cannot in any way be Author of sin (James 1:13), which is darkness (John 3:19). No variableness, neither shadow of turning (Malachi 3:6). No alternations of light and shadow, such as the physical "lights," and even the spiritual lights, are liable to. "Shadow of turning" [ tropees (G5157) aposkiasma (G644)] - the shadow-mark cast from a heavenly body in its turning or revolution; e.g., when the moon is eclipsed by the earth, and the sun by the moon. Bengel makes a climax, 'no variation (in the understanding: answering to "every good gift") - not even the shadow of a turning' (in the will: answering to "every perfect gift").

Verse 18

Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

(John 1:13.) The believer's regeneration is the highest example of every good proceeding from God.

Of his own will, [ Bouleetheis (G1014)] - Of His good pleasure (proving it is God's essential nature to do good, not evil), not induced by any external cause.

Begat he us, [ apekueesen (G616)] - spiritually: a once-for-all accomplished act (1 Peter 1:3; 1 Peter 1:23). In contrast to "sin bringeth ... forth [ apokuei (G616)] death" (James 1:15). Life follows naturally light (James 1:17).

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

A kind of first-fruits - Christ is, as to the resurrection, "the first-fruits" (1 Corinthians 15:20; 1 Corinthians 15:23): believers, as to regeneration, are a kind of first-fruits (as the first-born of man, cattle, and fruits were consecrated in Israel to God) - i:e., the first of God's regenerated creatures, the pledge of the ultimate regeneration of the creation. Romans 8:19; Romans 8:23, where the Spirit, the Agent of the believer's regeneration, is termed "the first-fruits" - i:e., the earnest that the regeneration begun in the soul shall at last extend to the body, and to the lower creation. Of all God's visible creatures, believers are the noblest, and, like the legal "first-fruits," sanctify the rest; therefore they are much 'tried' now.

Verse 19

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath:

Wherefore - as your evil is of yourselves, but your good from God. A B C, Vulgate, read [ iste (G1492) for hooste (G5620)] 'YE KNOW IT (so Ephesians 5:5; Hebrews 12:17); BUT let every man be ['Aleph ('): istoo (G1492), "let every man know it, and consequently be] swift to hear," the word of truth' (James 1:18; James 1:21). The true method of hearing is treated in James 1:21-27 and James 2:1-26. Slow to speak (Proverbs 10:19; Proverbs 17:27-28; Ecclesiastes 5:2) - a good way of escaping one temptation arising from ourselves (James 1:13). Slow to speak authoritatively as a 'master' of others (cf. James 3:1): a Jewish fault: slow to speak hasty things of God, as James 1:13. Two ears are given to us, the Rabbis observe, but only one tongue: the ears are exposed, the tongue is walled in behind the teeth.

Slow to wrath (James 3:13-14; James 4:5) - slow in becoming heated by debate: another Jewish fault (Romans 2:8,), to which much speaking tends. Tittmann, Not 'wrath' is meant, but indignant fretfulness under the calamities to which human life is exposed: title accords with "divers temptations." James 1:2. Hastiness of temper hinders bearing Gods word: so Naaman, 2 Kings 5:11; Luke 4:28.

Verse 20

For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.

Man's angry zeal in debating, as if jealous for the honour of God, is far from working that which is really righteousness in God's sight. True "righteousness is sown in peace," not in wrath (James 3:18). 'Aleph (') A B read [ ergazetai (G2038)] 'worketh'-i.e, practiceth not: instead of 'worth out' [ katergazetai (G2716)], produceth not.

Verse 21

Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.

Lay apart - once for all [ apothemenoi (G659): aorist] as a filthy garment (cf. Joshua's, Zechariah 3:3; Zechariah 3:5; Revelation 7:14). "Filthiness" is cleansed away by hearing the word (John 15:3).

Superfluity of naughtiness - excess (as the intemperate spirit of "wrath," James 1:19-20), arising from malice (evil disposition toward one another (1 Peter 2:1). So Ephesians 4:31; Colossians 3:8. Superfluous excess in speaking is reprobated as 'coming of evil,' in the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5:37), on which this letter comments.

With meekness - toward one another: the opposite to "wrath" (James 1:20): "as newborn babes" (1 Peter 2:2). Meekness includes also a childlike, humble, as well as uncontentious spirit (Psalms 25:9; Psalms 45:4; Isaiah 66:2; Matthew 5:5; Matthew 11:28-30; Matthew 18:3-4: contrast Romans 2:8). On "receive," cf. the ground receiving seed, Mark 4:20. Compare Acts 17:11; 1 Thessalonians 1:6, with 2 Thessalonians 2:13.

Engrafted word - the Gospel engrafted by the Holy Spirit into living incorporation with the believer, as the fruitful shoot is with the wild stock on which it is engrafted. The law came only from without, and admonished man of his duty. The Gospel is engrafted inwardly, and so fulfils the law's ultimate design (Deuteronomy 6:6; Deuteronomy 11:18; Psalms 119:11).

Able to save - a strong incentive to correct our dullness: that word which we hear so carelessly is able (instrumentally) to cave us (Calvin).

Souls - your true selves, for the "body" is 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

But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.

Qualification of "be swift to hear."

Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only - not merely 'do,' but 'be doers' systematically and continually, as your regular business. James again refersto the sermon on the mount (Matthew 7:21-29).

Deceiving your own selves, [ paralogizomenoi (G3884)] - by the logical fallacy that the mere hearing is all that is needed.

Verse 23

For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass:

For - the logical self deceit (James 1:22) illustrated. The true disciple, say the Rabbis, learns that he may do, not that he may merely know or teach.

His natural face, [ to (G3588) prosoopon (G4383) tees (G3588) geneseoos (G1078)] - the countenance of his birth: that he was born with. As a man beholds his natural face in a mirror, so the hearer perceives his moral visage in God's Word. This faithful portraiture of man's soul in Scripture is strong proof of its truth. In it we see mirrored God's glory as well as our natural vileness.

Verse 24

For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.

Beholdeth, [ katenoeesen (G2657) ... apeleeluthen (G565)] - 'he contemplated himself and half gone his way;' i:e., no sooner has he contemplated his image than he goes his way (James 1:11). 'Contemplate' answers to hearing. "goeth his way," to relaxing the attention after hearing-letting the mind go elsewhere, and the interest pass away; then forgetfulness follows (Alford) (cf. Ezekiel 33:31). 'Contemplate' here, and James 1:23, implies that though cursory, yet some knowledge of one's self, for the time, is imparted in hearing (1 Corinthians 14:24).

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

But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.

Looketh into, [ parakupsas (G3879)] - stoopeth down to take a close look. Peers into: stronger than "beholdeth" (James 1:24). A blessed curiosity if efficacious in bearing fruit (Bengel).

Perfect law of liberty - the Gospel-rule of life, perfect and perfecting (shown in the sermon on the mount, Matthew 5:48): making us truly walk at liberty (Psalms 119:32; Psalms 119:45). Christians should aim at a higher standard 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, obeying by spontaneous instinct (James 2:8; James 2:10; James 2:12; John 8:31-36; John 15:14-15: cf. 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 - contrast "goeth his way," James 1:24: continueth both looking into God's Word and doing its percepts.

Doer of the work - rather, 'of work:' an actual worker.

Blessed in his deed, [ poieesei (G4162)] - 'in his doing:' the very doing is blessedness (Psalms 19:11).

Verses 26-27

If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain.

An example of doing work.

Verse 26. Religious ... religion, [ threeskos (G2357) - threeskeia (G2356)] - express the external service of religion, 'godliness' being the internal soul. James, as president of the council at Jerusalem (Acts 15:13-21), had decided against ritualism. So here he adds, Instead of Judaic ceremonialism, true service is:

(1) active,

(2) passive piety.

'If any think himself [ dokei (G1380)] to be religious - i:e., observant of religious offices-let him know these consist not so much in outward observance as in acts of mercy and in practical piety (Micah 6:7-8), visiting the fatherless, etc., and keeping one's self unspotted from the world' (Matt. 32:23 ). James does not mean that these offices are the essentials or sum total of religion; but that, whereas the law service was merely ceremonial, the very services of the Gospel consist in mercy and holiness (Trench). The Greek is only found in Acts 26:5; Colossians 2:18.

Bridleth not his tongue. Discretion in speech is better than fluency (cf. James 3:2-3). Cf Psalms 39:1. God alone can give it. St James, in treating of the law, notices this sin. For they who are free from grosser sins, and even bear the show of sanctity, often exalt themselves by detracting others, under pretence of zeal, while their real motive is love of evil-speaking (Calvin).

Heart - it and the tense act and re-act on one another.

Verse 27. Pure religion and undefiled, [ kathara (G2513)]. "Pure" is that love which has in it no foreign admixture-self-deceit and hypocrisy: [ amiantos (G283)], "undefiled" is the means of its being "pure" (Tittmann). "Pure" expresses the positive, "undefiled" the negative side of religious service: as visiting the fatherless, etc., is the active, keeling 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, [ too (G3588) Theoo (G2316) kai (G2532) patri (G3962)] - 'before Him who is (our) God and Father.' If we would be like 'our Father,' it is not by fasting, etc., for He does none of these things, but in being 'merciful, as our Father is merciful' (Chrysostom).

Visit - in sympathy and kind office.

The fatherless - whose "Father" is God (Psalms 68:5): peculiarly helpless.

And - not in the Greek, so close is the connection between works of mercy to others, and the maintenance of personal unworldliness: no copula is needed. Religion in its rise interests us about ourselves; in its progress, about our fellow-creatures; in its highest stage, about the honour of God.

Keep himself - with jealous watchfulness, at the same time praying as depending on God as alone able to keep us (John 17:15; Jude 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 - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/james-1.html. 1871-8.
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