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1 From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?
Ver. 1. From whence come wars ] That is, word wars, needless and endless strifes and contentions. The Greek word πολεμοι properly signifies quarrels that cause much bloodshed.
Among you ] Being, 1. Brethren; and that one consideration should quash all quarrels; and should be like the angel that stayed Abraham’s hand when the blow was coming. 2. Scattered brethren, James 1:1 ; and should not misery breed unity? Is it not enough, that blows great store are dealt you by the common adversary, but your own must add to the violence? Surely all unkind and unchristian strifes would easily be composed, did we not forget that we are brethren and fellow sufferers.
Even of your lusts ] Gr. νδονων , of your pleasures, for wicked men take pleasure in unrighteousness, it is their meat and drink, Proverbs 4:17 , they cannot sleep, nay, live without it, James 4:16 . Look how Tartarians feed upon carrion with as great delight as we do upon venison; as the Turkish galley slaves eat opium as if it were bread, and as the maid in Pliny fed on spiders, and digested them into nourishment; so do sensualists feed upon sin’s murdering morsels, and swallow them down with delight.
2 Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not.
Ver. 2. Ye lust and have not ] viz. To the satisfying of your lusts; for that is an endless piece of work. Lust still cries Give, give; and is ever sick of a spiritual dropsy; the barren womb, the horseleech’s daughter, the grave, is nothing to this gulf, to this curse of unsatisfiableness.
Because ye ask not ] He must be of a sedate spirit that prays to purpose. How shall we think God will hear us when we hardly hear ourselves? Married couples must agree, that their prayers be not hindered, 1 Peter 3:7 . There is no sowing in a storm; no taking medicine in a hot fit, as said before.
3 Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.
Ver. 3. Ye ask and receive not ] Ye ask and miss, because ye ask amiss. It is the manner that makes or mars an action.
4 Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.
Ver. 4. Ye adulterers and adulteresses ] You that have your hearts full of harlotry, that go a whoring from God after the creature, that mind only earthly things, Philippians 3:19 , and woo this Mundus immundus, this Propudium, this vile strumpet the world, that lays forth her two breasts of profit and pleasure, and ensnareth many; for the which she must be burnt, as a whore, by the fire of the last day.
Know ye not ] Worldlings care not to know anything more than how to get, &c., their wits serve them not for better things; they cannot skill of these Scripture matters; they are brutishly ignorant of God and his will, of themselves and their duties.
Is enmity with God ] That such both hate God, and, interchangeably, are hated of God.
5 Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?
Ver. 5. That the Scripture saith in vain ] No, it doth not only say, but do; not only convince us that an evil and an envious spirit possesseth us (such a spirit as lusteth to have other men’s abilities eclipsed, that so our candle might shine alone), but also it giveth more grace; it not only convinceth, but converteth the soul, Psalms 19:7 . It causeth a man to rejoice heartily in the good parts of others; and this is more than to excel others in any excellence if this be wanting.
6 But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.
Ver. 6. But he giveth ] Or, "it," that is, the Scripture "giveth," &c., transforming us into the same image, and conforming us to the heavenly pattern by the Spirit that breatheth in it.
God resisteth the proud ] Gr. αντιτασσεται , "setteth himself in battle array against such," above all other sorts of sinners, as invaders of his territories, and foragers or plunderers of his chief treasures. Pray therefore to be preserved from the perilous pinnacle of self-exaltation. God defieth such as deify themselves; he knoweth them afar off, Psalms 138:6 , he cannot abide the sight of them. Neither need we wonder, since (as Boetius well observeth) whereas all other vices fly from God, pride lets fly at him; yea, flies in his face, and seeks to dethrone him; as we see in that proud prince of Tyre, Ezekiel 28:2 , who thought himself first wiser than Daniel, Ezekiel 28:3 ; then, that he exceeded the high priest in all his ornaments,Ezekiel 28:13; Ezekiel 28:13 ; then, he thought himself to be above Adam, Ezekiel 28:13 ; then above the cherubims, Ezekiel 28:14 ; and lastly, he said he was God himself, and sat in the seat of God. So the pope, 2 Thessalonians 2:4 .
But giveth grace to the humble ] Humility is both a grace, and a vessel to receive grace. God poureth the oil of his grace into broken vessels, contrite spirits.
7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
Ver. 7. Submit yourselves therefore to God ] Gr. υποταγητε , set yourselves under him, not above him; as the proud person doth, James 4:6 . Sit at his feet to receive his law, as scholars sat at the feet of their teachers, Deu 33:3 See Trapp on " Deu 33:3 " obey him as your superior in all things; say to him, Iussa sequi tam velle mihi quam posse necesse est.
Resist the devil ] i.e. Worldly and fleshly lusts stirred up by the devil, Ephesians 4:26 . Lust resisted is sin materially, not formally; for the guilt is done away, in that we do not allow it, but abhor it, as some are of the opinion. (Mr Capell on Tempt.)
And he will flee from you ] He is but a coward therefore; for like the crocodile, if you follow him he fleeth, if you flee from him he followeth you. In all other fights, the first encounter is sharpest, but here, essiest; for the old serpent having his head bruised and crushed, cannot now so easily thrust in his mortal sting, unless we dally with him, and so lay ourselves open. Est Leo si fugias: si stas, quasi musca recedit.
8 Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.
Ver. 8. Draw nigh to God ] viz. In duty, and he will draw nigh to you in mercy. Sanctify him, Leviticus 10:3 , and he will satisfy you, Psalms 91:16 . The very Turks are remorseless to those that bear up, but they receive humiliation with much sweetness.
Cleanse your hands ] For there is no coming near God, Joshua 24:19 . The very heathens knew this; and had therefore their coena pura before their solemn sacrifices; and the sacrificers were appointed to purify themselves some days before. (Godw. Antiq. Demosth.) We wash our hands every day; but, when to dine with some great man, we scour them with balls. God will be sanctified in all them that draw nigh to him, Leviticus 10:3 , he will be served like himself, he will be no loser by us.
Ye double minded ] Ye that have your hearts divided between two, and as it were cloven asunder. Out with the corruption that cleaveth to your hearts; and then there will be a constancy and an evenness in your mouths and manners.
9 Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness.
Ver. 9. Be afflicted ] ταλαιπωρησατε . or, Be miserable; ye are so, but see yourselves to be so. Or, afflict yourselves, viz. with voluntary sorrows for your sins. See that ye be active here.
And mourn ] Savourly and soakingly, with a deep and downright sorrow, so as a man would do in the death of his dearest friend. The Greek word, πενθησατε , imports a funeral grief.
And weep ] In judgment at least, and then, dry sorrow may go as far as wet, where tears will not come. But if it be possible, look not upon sin with dry eyes; point every sin with a tear.
Let your laughter be turned ] Turn all the streams into this one channel, that may drive the mill, that may grind the heart. Meal was offered of old, and not whole corn.
And your joy to heaviness ] κατηφεια , a such as makes a man hang down his head, and go heavily through grief and shame.
a Tristitia cum vultus demissione. Budaeus.
10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.
Ver. 10. Humble yourselves ] He beats often upon this most needful but much neglected duty of humiliation, and all is little enough; there being nothing that more goes against the heart and the hair with us, than to go downward; and yet it must be done, or we are undone.
And he shall lift you up ] The Lion of Judah rends not the prostrate prey. But as William the Conqueror ever held submission satisfactory for the greatest offences, and often received rebels into grace (Daniel’s Chron.), so doth Christ much more. The sun in the morning gathereth clouds, but then it soon scattereth them again; so doth the Sun of righteousness cast men down, that he may raise them up again.
" Deiecit ut relevet, premit ut solatia praestet,
Enecat ut possit vivificare Deus. "
11 Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge.
Ver. 11. Speak not evil, &c. ] As Ezekiel’s hearers did of him "by the walls, and in the doors of the houses," Ezekiel 33:30 , and as too many of ours do; for the which they will be full dearly accountable. The tale bearer hath the devil in his tongue, the tale hearer in his ear.
Speaketh evil of the law ] Which flatly forbiddeth detraction. And as the strokes given upon the left side are felt upon the right, so it is here. The law is evil spoken of when a brother is evil spoken of.
And judgeth the law ] As not severe enough, or as overly strait. Plato commendeth that law of the Lydians, that punisheth detractors like as they did murderers. There is a murder of the tongue also, Ezekiel 22:9 .
12 There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?
Ver. 12. There is one lawgiver ] What dost thou then do perking into his place, by censuring and defaming another; is not this to be a pope in thine own cause, exalting thyself above God, 2 Thessalonians 2:4 , or at least appealing from him to thyself?
13 Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain:
Ver. 13. We will go into such, &c. ] As if they were petty gods within themselves, and needed not to call God into counsel, or to take his leave along with them. But such confident exchange language became not the mouths of scattered exiles. And yet it is the common sin of dispersed Jews in all places to this day. And I would it were their sin only; and that this rude and rash peremptoriness were not in use among us also.
14 Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.
Ver. 14. Ye know not what, &c. ] God delights to cross such vain boasters, and to confute their confidences, that speak and live as if their lives were riveted upon eternity. They might easily observe that many things happen between the cup and the lip, between the chin and the chalice. Ne glorietur igitur accinctus quasi discinctus. Sell not the hide before ye have taken the beast. Who knows what a great bellied day may bring forth? Proverbs 27:1 . While a woman is yet with child, none can tell what kind of birth it will be, Luke 12:16-17 .
It is even a vapour ] Thy breath is in thy nostrils, ever ready to puff out; at the next puff of breath thou mayest blow away thy life. Petrarch relates about a certain holy man, that being invited to a feast on the morrow, he answered, I have not had a tomorrow to dispose of this many a year; if you would have anything from me now, I am ready (lib. iii. Memor.). Mere man is but the dream of a dream, but the generation of a fancy, but a poor feeble, unable, dying flash, but the curious picture of nothing. Can a picture continue that is drawn upon the ice? What is man, saith Nazianzen, but soul and soil, breath and body ( νους και χους , ex Gen 2:7 ); a puff of wind the one, a pile of dust the other, no solidity in either? Surely every man in his best estate, when he is best underlaid, and settled upon his best bottom, is altogether vanity, Psalms 39:5 . Two fits of an ague could shake great Tamerlane to death, in the midst of his great hopes and greatest power, when he was preparing for the utter rooting out of the Othoman family, and the conquest of the Greek empire. (Turk. Hist.) What is man’s body but a bubble the soul the wind that filleth it? the bubble riseth higher and higher till at last it breaketh; so doth the body from infancy to youth, and thence to age. So that it is improper to ask when we shall die; but rather when we shall make an end of dying (said a divine); for first the infancy dieth, then the childhood, then the youth, then age, and then we make an end of dying. Should we then live and trade as if our lives were riveted upon eternity? To blame were those Agrigentines who did eat, build, &c., as though they should never die.
15 For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.
Ver. 15. If the Lord will, &c. ] εαν Θεος εθελη . So Socrates taught Alcibiades to say, "If God will," &c. And another could say,
" Nullius est felix conatus et utilis unquam,
Consilium si non detque iuvetque Deus. "
16 But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil.
Ver. 16. In your boastings ] Of long life and suitable success. God will shoot an arrow at such suddenly, Psalms 64:9 , as he did at the rich fool, Nebuchadnezzar, Haman, Herod, Sennacherib, and other braggarts.
17 Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.
Ver. 17. To him that knoweth ] Lest they should reply, we know all this, that except we live and God list, we can do nothing. Do ye know to do well, saith he, and do it not? this increaseth your guilt. Sin against knowledge is sin with an accent, wickedness with a witness, such as is not to be excused by any plea or colour. See John 9:41 . See Trapp on " Joh 9:41 "
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Trapp, John. "Commentary on James 4". Trapp's Complete Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent