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Bible Commentaries

Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible

James 5



James 5:1-59.5.6 Wicked rich men are warned of God’s impending judgment.

James 5:7-59.5.11 The brethren are exhorted to patience, after the example of the prophets and of Job,

James 5:12 to abstain from swearing,

James 5:13-59.5.15 to pray in affliction and sickness, and sing psalms in prosperity,

James 5:16-59.5.18 to acknowledge mutually their faults, and to pray for one another,

James 5:19,James 5:20 and to endeavour to reclaim sinners.

Verse 1

Go to now: see James 4:13.

Ye rich men; he speaks to them not simply as rich, (for riches and grace sometimes may go together), but as wicked, not only wallowing in wealth, but abusing it to pride, luxury, oppression, and cruelty. Against these, either as looking on them as incurable, or upon supposition of their impenitency, he denounceth God’s judgments; and that whether they were unconverted Jews, vexing the believing Jews; or Gentiles, oppressing the Christian Jews; or Christians in profession and name, who yet were so vile in their practice, as to condemn and kill the just; and that they might more speciously do it, to draw them before the judgment-seats, &c.

Weep and howl; to denote the extremity of the calamities coming upon them, in which they should not only weep like men, but howl like wild beasts: see Jeremiah 4:8; Micah 1:8; Joel 1:10,Joel 1:13.

For your miseries that shall come upon you; or, are coming upon you, to signify the certainty and nearness of them. The miseries he means may be both temporal and eternal.

Verse 2

Your riches are corrupted: either by riches he means the general, and by

garments, gold and silver, the particulars in which their riches consisted; and then being corrupted, is to be taken generally, as comprehending the several ways whereby the several kinds of their riches were spoiled: or else, by riches he understands such things as were liable to corruption, or putrefaction, as corn, wine, oil, which were a great part of their riches.

And your garments are moth-eaten; costly garments, in which rich men are wont to pride themselves; and under them may be comprehended all such clothes as may be eaten by worms or moths.

Verse 3

Your gold and silver is cankered; the most precious and lasting metals; yet even they, with long disuse, canker, and go to decay. Under these, other metals in esteem among them may be understood.

And the rust of them shall be a witness against you: by a prosopopoeia, that which properly belongs to living persons is ascribed to dead things, as Habakkuk 2:11; Luke 19:40. It is as much as if he had said: The rust shall be a certain evidence against you, and which will as effectually convict you, as any living witness could do, of your folly in putting your trust in perishing things, your greediness in hoarding them up, your unmercifulness in not supplying the wants of others, and your unreasonableness in denying the use of them to yourselves, when you had rather let them lie by and perish, than enjoy the comfort of them, or do good with them. The like expression we have, Mark 6:11.

And shall eat your flesh; the rust (the witness of your covetousness and cruelty) which now eats your money, shall hereafter devour yourselves, soul and body, (which he means by flesh), viz. by procuring and kindling the wrath of God upon you, (compared to fire), and likewise by galling your consciences with a vexatious remembrance of your sin and folly; and so what in the judgment is a witness against you, in hell will be a tormentor to you.

As it were fire; as if you had reserved fire in your treasure, as well as treasure in your chests.

Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days: either this may be understood metaphorically, ye have heaped a treasure of wrath for the last days, Romans 2:5; or literally, ye have hoarded up your wealth against the last and fatal days, in which God is bringing those judgments upon you which will consume all.

Verse 4

Behold; this is either a note of demonstration, as John 1:29; q.d. The case is plain, and cannot be denied; or of excitation; q.d. Seriously consider it; or rather, of confirmation, to intimate, that the threatenings here denounced should certainly be made good upon them: see Jude 1:14.

The hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields; the wages of those by whose labour and sweat ye yourselves live and are nourished.

Which is of you kept back by fraud; either wholly denied them, or detained from them when due to them, contrary to the law, Leviticus 19:13; Deuteronomy 24:14,Deuteronomy 24:15. Deferring payment is a sort of defrauding, as it bereaves the creditor of the benefit of improvement; and so they are taxed here with injustice, as well as covetousness, in that they lived upon other men’s labours, and starved the poor to enrich themselves.

Crieth; viz. to God for vengeance, as such sins are said to do, which either are so openly and boldly committed, as to dare the justice of God, or so secretly, or securely, that they are like to escape the justice of men, Genesis 4:10; Genesis 18:20,Genesis 18:21. Among others, oppression of the poor is a loud crying sin, Exodus 2:23; Job 24:11,Job 24:12; Habakkuk 2:9,Habakkuk 2:11,Habakkuk 2:12.

The Lord of sabaoth; i. e. the Lord of hosts, as having all the creatures above and below, of all sorts, ranked under him as their great Commander, whose will they are ready to execute. He mentions God by this title, not only for the encouragement of the poor oppressed, whose Patron and Protector he avows himself to be, Exodus 22:23,Exodus 22:24,Exodus 22:27; Proverbs 23:11; but for terror to the powerful oppressors, who think themselves out of the reach of men’s judgment.

Verse 5

Ye have lived in pleasure; luxuriously and deliciously, giving up yourselves to your sensual appetites, Amos 6:4-30.6.6; Luke 16:19,Luke 16:25.

On the earth; where you place your happiness without looking higher, and from whence you fetch your delights, Philippians 3:19.

And been wanton: the same word is used 1 Timothy 5:6; it seems to imply effeminate, lascivious behaviour, as the effect of their riotous living.

Ye have nourished your hearts: either by a Hebrew phrase, ye have nourished your hearts, for ye have nourished yourselves, Esther 6:6; Job 10:13; or, ye have cheered up and encouraged your hearts in your luxury by pampering your flesh, {Luke 12:19} and feeding not to the satisfaction of nature, but the inflaming of your lusts.

As in a day of slaughter; either securely, and without fear of the destruction coming upon you, as sheep graze quietly, though by and by to be brought to the shambles; or rather, in a day of slaughter, i.e. in a day of solemn feasting, when many beasts were killed in sacrifice, on which they were wont to feast, Proverbs 7:14; Proverbs 17:1. They made every day a feasting day, and that, too, lavishing out other men’s dues upon their own flesh, and sparing from their labourers that they might spend upon their lusts. This he brings to aggravate their sin.

Verse 6

Ye have condemned and killed; i.e. procured by your wealth and power the passing unrighteous sentences, and thereby the destruction of the just.

The just; indefinitely and collectively, the just for any just man, viz. such as were innocent and just in comparison of their persecutors.

And he doth not resist you; this notes not only the patience of such in bearing injuries, but their weakness, and being destitute of human help against their adversaries’ power.

Verse 7

Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord; viz. to judgment, and that either particular, to avenge the quarrels of innocent sufferers upon their tyrannical persecutors; or rather, to the general judgment, in which a full retribution is to be made both to the just and unjust, Romans 2:5,Romans 2:6, &c. To which judgment the Scripture calls all to look, especially those that are under oppression and persecution, 2 Thessalonians 1:6,2 Thessalonians 1:7, &c.

Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth; which cost him hard labour, and by which he receives great benefit, the sustentation of his life.

Until he receive the early and latter rain; the rain soon after the sowing, which caused the corn to spring up; and that before the harvest, which plumped it, and made it fit for reaping, Deuteronomy 11:14; Jeremiah 5:24; Hosea 6:3; Joel 2:23.

Verse 8

Be ye also patient; viz. in expectation of your harvest, and the fruit of your labours, as the husbandman is in looking for his.

Stablish your hearts; let your hearts be stedfast in faith and constant in holiness, encouraging yourselves to both by the coming of the Lord.

For the coming of the Lord draweth nigh; as before, his coming to the general judgment, which is said to be nigh, because of the certainty of its coming, and the uncertainty of the time when it will come, and because it is continually drawing on, and the whole time of the world’s duration till then is but short in comparison of the eternity following; and likewise because the particular judgment of every man is nigh at hand. See Philippians 4:5; Hebrews 10:37.

Verse 9

Grudge not; Greek: Groan not; the sense may be, either: Envy not one another, (or, as we translate it: Grudge not), it being the nature of envy to groan at other men’s good; or, Groan not by way of accusation or complaint to God against others, desiring him to avenge your quarrels, as if you were too good to suffer injuries, or God were unjnst or forgetful of righting you.

One against another; brother against brother, Christian against Christian: they were injured not only by rich worldlings and open oppressors, but by their fellow professors, and gave one another mutual cause of sighing and groaning.

Lest ye be condemned; lest God punish you all; there being none of you but have given others cause of grief and complaint, as well as others have given you, Matthew 7:1.

Behold, the Judge standeth before the door; the Lord Jesus Christ, the Judge of you all, is at hand, {Philippians 4:5} in a readiness either to bring those evils upon you which you wish may fall upon others, or to give you your reward, if through patient continuance in well doing you seek for it, Romans 2:7. The like phrase we have, Matthew 24:33; Mark 13:29; or it may allude to Genesis 4:7.

Verse 10

Take, my brethren, the prophets; as being most eminent among God’s people, and leaders of them; he intimates that it is an honour to suffer among the best.

Who have spoken in the name of the Lord; by his command and authority, and so were employed in the highest services in the church, and thereby appeared to be approved of God, and most dear to him.

For an example of suffering affliction: as much as God honoured and loved them, yet they were not exempted from afflictions, but were maligned, traduced, and persecuted by men, 1 Kings 18:13; 1 Kings 19:14; 2 Kings 6:31; Amos 7:10; Hebrews 11:1-58.11.40; and therefore when they suffered such hard things, it is no shame for you to suffer the like, Matthew 5:12.

And of patience; as the example of their sufferings should prevent your discouragement, so the example of their patience should provoke your imitation; God having set them forth as examples of both, that if you suffer the same things, you may suffer with the same minds.

Verse 11

We count them happy which endure; we ourselves count them happy that endure, and therefore should be patient, and not count ourselves miserable if we endure too.

Which endure; viz. patiently and constantly, Matthew 5:10,Matthew 5:11.

Ye have heard of the patience of Job; for which he was as eminent as for his sufferings; and though some signs of impatience be showed, yet his patience and submission to God being prevalent, and most remarkable to him, that only is taken notice of, and his failings overlooked.

And have seen the end of the Lord: Job’s patience is heard of, but God’s end seen: seeing being a clearer way of perception than hearing, is put in this latter clause, because God’s bounty and recompence was more evident than Job’s patience.

The end of the Lord; the good issue God gave to all Job’s sufferings, in restoring him to his former state, and doubling his prosperity.

That the Lord is very pitiful; full of bowels, Greek; the bowels being the seat of compassion, (in which we feel a stirring when strong affections are working in us), are frequently put to signify the most tender and movable affections, such as mothers have toward their children, Genesis 43:30; 1 Kings 3:26; Isaiah 43:15; Colossians 3:12; this seems to note the affection itself, or God’s readiness to show mercy, Luke 1:78.

And of tender mercy: this may imply acts of mercy suitable to a merciful nature, the former mercy within, and this mercy breaking out.

Verse 12

Because it is a great sin to swear upon every slight occasion, and it was very usual among the Jews, and it was the more difficult to bring them off from it who were so much accustomed to it; therefore the apostle commands them, that

above all things they should not swear, i.e. should take special care they did not, and watch diligently against a sin so many were addicted to, and into which they might so easily fall.

Swear not; all swearing is not forbidden, any more than Matthew 5:34; (for oaths are made use of by holy men both in the Old and New Testament, Genesis 21:23,Genesis 21:24; Genesis 24:3; Genesis 26:28; 1 Kings 17:1,1 Kings 17:2; 2 Corinthians 1:23; Galatians 1:20; and the use of an oath is permitted and approved of by God himself, Psalms 15:4; Hebrews 6:16); but such oaths as are false, rash, vain, without just cause, or customary and frequent in ordinary discourse, 1 Kings 19:2; Jeremiah 5:2; Matthew 5:37.

Neither by heaven, neither by the earth; by which the Jews thought they might lawfully swear, as likewise by other creatures, so the name of God were not interposed; not considering that where it is not expressed yet it is implied, Matthew 23:20,Matthew 23:21.

Neither by any other oath; viz. of the like kind.

But let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay: either:

1. Let your speech be yea, yea, and nay, nay; i.e. by plain affirmations and negations, without the addition of any oath for confirmation, Matthew 5:37; or:

2. Let your yea be yea, and your nay, nay, i.e. let your words be in truth and sincerity, your speech seconded by your actions; accustom yourselves to truth and plainness in speaking, and that will take away the occasion of swearing. See the like, 2 Corinthians 1:17-47.1.19.

Lest ye fall into condemnation; viz. for taking the name of God in vain, Exodus 20:7, which is always done in an unwarrantable oath.

Verse 13

Is any among you afflicted? either troubled or afflicted in mind, as appears by the opposite being

merry, or more generally afflicted any way. Not that we need not pray at other times, but when under afflictions God calls us more especially to it, and our own necessities put us upon it.

Let him pray; for support, patience, sanctification of afflictions, &c.

Is any merry? let him sing psalms; express his mirth in a holy manner, by praising God with psalms or spiritual songs for mercies received from him, 1 Corinthians 14:15; Ephesians 5:19; and so keep up his spiritual mirth by a spiritual exercise, lest his cheerfulness degenerate into vanity and frothiness.

Verse 14

Is any sick? Or infirm, though not desperately and incurably.

Let him call for the elders; especially teaching elders, they being usually best furnished with gifts who labour in the word and doctrine, 1 Timothy 5:17. It is in the plural number, either by an enallage for the singular; q.d. Let him send for some or other of the elders; or, because there were in those times usually several elders (an ecclesiastical senate) in each church.

And let them pray over him; as it were setting him before God, and presenting him to him, which might be a means to stir up the greater affection and warmth in prayer; see 1 Kings 17:21; 2 Kings 4:33,2 Kings 4:34; John 11:41; Acts 20:10; Acts 9:40; or laying on their hands, as Acts 28:8, which yet seems to be for the same end.

Anointing him with oil; an outward rite used in those times, in miraculous healing sick persons, which might then be kept up, while the gift whereof it was the symbol continued; but the gift ceasing, it is vainly used. These cures were sometimes wrought only with a word, Acts 9:34; Acts 14:10; Acts 16:18; sometimes by taking by the hand, or embracing, Acts 3:7; Acts 20:10; sometimes by laying on of hands, Mark 16:18; Acts 9:17; sometimes by anointing with oil, Mark 6:13; and so this is not an institution of a sacrament, but a command, that those elders that had the gift of healing, (as many in those days had), being called by the sick to come to them, should (the Spirit of the Lord so directing them) exercise that gift, as well as pray over them.

In the name of the Lord; either, calling upon the Lord, and so joining prayer with their anointing; or, in the name, is by the authority of the Lord, from whom they had received that gift.

Verse 15

And the prayer of faith; i.e. proceeding from faith; the cure is ascribed to prayer, the moral means, and standing ordinance, not to the anointing, which was but ceremonial and temporary; and to faith in prayer, to show that this remedy was effectual only when faith (requisite to the working of miracles) was active, viz. in a certain persuasion that the sick person should be healed.

Shall save the sick; restore to health, (if God see it fit, and the health of the body be good for the soul), Mark 10:52; Luke 7:50; Luke 18:42.

And the Lord shall raise him up; the elders pray, but the Lord raiseth up, being prayed to in faith.

Raise him up; the same as saving before, only the word seems to respect the sick man’s lying upon his bed, from which he riseth when he is healed, Mark 1:31.

If he have committed sins; if he have by his sins procured his sickness; or, those sins for which particularly God visits him with sickness; sin being often the cause of sickness, Matthew 9:2; John 5:14; 1 Corinthians 11:30, though not always, John 9:2.

They shall be forgiven him; God will take away the cause as well as the effect, heal the soul as well as the body, and prayer is the means of obtaining both.

Verse 16

Confess your faults; some copies have the illative particle, therefore, in the text, but even without that here seems to be a connexion between this and the former verse: he had said, the sick man’s sins should be forgiven upon the elders’ praying; and here he adds, that they must be confessed.

One to another; either, that ye may be reconciled to one another when offended, or rather, confess when admonished or reproved for sin, or wounded in your consciences with the sense of it: and so this is not meant of auricular confession made to a priest, but such as should be made, though especially to ministers, yet, when need is, even to godly, experienced Christians, for the easing and disburdening men’s consciences, and getting the help of others’ prayers.

And pray one for another; both in other ordinary cases, and chiefly npon occasion of your mutual confessions, and those soul-troubles that prompted you to them.

That ye may be healed; not only recover bodily health when sick, but spiritual, when weakened or wounded by sin. Healing is often applied to the soul as well as the body, Matthew 13:15; Luke 4:18; Hebrews 12:13; 1 Peter 2:24.

The effectual fervent prayer: our translators use two words (and little enough) to express the significancy of the Greek word in this place: some translate it inwrought; it seems to be a prayer wrought in the soul by the Holy Spirit, and so may imply both the efficiency of God’s Spirit, (the Spirit of supplications, Zechariah 12:10), and the vehemency of holy affections caused by him in prayer, Romans 8:26.

Of a righteous man; one sincerely righteous, and in a gospel sense; the following instance of Elias shows that it is not to be understood of a man absolutely righteous.

Availeth much; is very powerful with God for obtaining what is desired, 1 John 5:14; whereas God heareth not sinners, Proverbs 15:8,Proverbs 15:29.

Verse 17

Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are; both of body and mind, natural and moral; and so, though he were righteous, yet he was not perfect; though an eminent prophet, yet but a man.

And he prayed earnestly; with that effectual, fervent prayer before mentioned. It is a Hebrew phrase, and notes vehemency, as Luke 22:15.

That it might not rain; this is not expressly mentioned in the history, but this apostle might have it by revelation, or by certain tradition well known in his age. Other passages of the like nature we meet with in the New Testament which are not in the Old: see 1 Timothy 3:8; Hebrews 12:21; Jude 1:9.

And it rained not on the earth; or, the land, viz. of the ten tribes, and the places bordering on them, as Sarepta, 1 Kings 17:9; Luke 4:25,Luke 4:26.

By the space of three years and six months: so Luke 4:25.

Question. How doth this agree with 1 Kings 18:1, where it is said, the word of the Lord came to Elijah in the third year?

Answer. Most probably it was in the midst of the third year from his coming to Sarepta; and he was by the brook Cherith a year. 1 Kings 17:7, where the margin reads it, according to the Hebrew, at the end of days, i.e. the days of a year, as the phrase is often used, Genesis 4:3; Judges 17:10; so that his time spent in both places may well make up the

three years and six months.

Verse 18

And he prayed again; after the destroying the prophets of Baal. Baal-worship especially gave occasion to his former prayer, which he puts up out of his zeal to God’s glory, then laid low by the Israelites’ idolatry, and a desire to have them by some exemplary punishment for their sin awakened to repentance. And the destruction of the idolaters, and reformation of the people, who now acknowledged the Lord to be God, might give occasion to this.

And the heaven gave rain; i.e. the air or clouds, which had not been for three years before.

Verse 19

The truth; the truth of God revealed in the gospel as the complete rule of faith and life: see the gospel called the truth by way of eminency, James 1:18; Galatians 2:5,Galatians 2:14; Galatians 3:1; Galatians 5:7; Ephesians 1:13; 1 Peter 1:22.

And one; any one, minister or private believer, who may be an instrument in the conversion of others; though one acts by way of authority, the other by way of charity, yet both out of duty.

Convert him; viz. ministerially or instrumentally, in subordination to God. The work is his, Ephesians 2:10, but often is ascribed to the instruments acting under him, and using means appointed by him, and by which he works, Acts 26:18.

Verse 20

Of his way; of his life and actions, which is contrary to the way which God hath prescribed.

Shall save; men are said to save in the same way as to convert, viz. instrumentally.

A soul; the soul of him that is thus converted, 1 Timothy 4:16; soul for person, as James 1:21.

From death: eternal death, unto which he was hastening while he continued in the error of his way, which led him toward destruction.

And shall hide a multitude of sins; in the same sense as before he is said to convert and save his soul, viz. in being instrumental to bring him to faith and repentance, upon which God pardons, i.e. hides his sins, {Psalms 32:1} though not from the eye of his omniscience, yet from the eye of his vindictive justice, and so as not to bring them forth in judgment against him.

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Bibliographical Information
Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on James 5". Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. 1685.