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Bible Commentaries
James 1

Caton's Commentary on the Minor EpistlesCaton's Commentary

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James, a servant of Christ, writes this letter to the twelve tribes then in dispersion; and while some are mentioned as unbelievers and some as believers, the Epistle is intended mainly for the latter. He desires them to count the temptations to which they are subject as gain, advising them to ask wisdom of God, to the intent that their patience may be strengthened. He tells them that God imparts wisdom when the request is made in faith. This wisdom from on high enables the possessor to act properly, and also enables him to endure temptations. He warns them against the sin of imputing evil to God, or that he is the cause thereof, and assures them that the contrary is true; that all God's gifts are good and perfect. He shows them that temptations arise from man's own sinful desires and passions, and exhorts them to lay aside all sinfulness, and to receive and be guided by God's infallible Word, assuring them that the doers of the Word are saved; that the perfect law of liberty is the only safe guide; that one may think himself religious, but, failing to observe the requirements of the infallible guide in bridling his tongue, will find his religion a failure; that pure religion consists of benevolent acts to the orphan and widow, and in keeping one's self untainted by the vices of the world. Plainly, that religion is something to do belief in action, faith in operation rather than something to get.

Verse 1

Verse 1. A servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The expression is not identical with those of the apostle Paul to be found in his Epistle to the Romans, wherein he called himself a servant of Jesus Christ ( Rom_1:1 ), and the one to the Philippians, wherein he designates himself and Timothy servants of Jesus Christ ( Php_1:1 ) . The similarity, however, appears in his letter to Titus, where this expression occurs : "Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ" ( Tit_1:1 ) . In either case no difficulty appears in fully comprehending the meaning of the sacred text, and the only object I have in making a pause at this point is to call special attention to the peculiar language of the Holy Spirit, "James, a servant of God." If he is this, why add "and of the Lord Jesus Christ" ? Would not this follow? Christians of the present day might so conclude, but a Jew in the days of the writer might not be so impressed. An unconverted Jew, should one such become a reader of the Epistle, would hereby understand that the writer was the servant of both equally, and that he recognized and acknowledged allegiance to both.

To the twelve tribes.

Speculation has arisen on this language of the sacred text, some persons claiming that it refers to the spiritual tribes. Under the Christian economy all are the children of Abraham by faith in Jesus Christ, and, to further strengthen this idea, the mistaken Bible view of the lost ten tribes of Israel is suggested. This I regard as a far-fetched theory, for which no necessity arises. I think it may be safely claimed that the Bible fails to disclose any loss occur-ring as to the tribes of Israel. They are= simply dispersed among the nations of earth as God by the mouth of his servant Moses had foretold in case of their failure to obey his commands. Many of these Jews were converts to the faith in Christ, and to these members of all the tribes James addresses this Epistle. Proof that the twelve tribes were in existence in that day may be found in Act_26:7 , where the apostle Paul, defending himself before King Agrippa, boldly asserted such to be the fact.


This is his salutation to the dispersed. It would seem that it was a characteristic method of salutation by this writer. The decrees of the Jerusalem council, supposed to be dictated by the same author, contain the same saluta-tion. ( Act_15:1-41 :) It signifies simply that he wishes health, he wishes them joy.

Verse 2

Verse 2. When ye fall into divers temptations.

This, I take it, at least in this place, means trials which assail in this life, and which at that time had visited those addressed. The believer must meet these trials, and that, too, almost any day. Being engaged in a warfare, the Christian must expect the enemy of souls to assail and harass. Love to God and faith in his Son will become the stronger and shine forth the brighter as we are put to the test. Abraham was tested. Why should the believer today be exempted ? If the faith is such as will meet the approval of the Master, it stands the test. What believer is there among all the children of God who can not rejoice when he fully appreciates the fact that his faith has stand the test to which it has been subjected?

Verse 3

Verse 3. Trying of your faith worketh patience.

It may be an unpleasant thought to contemplate all that is comprehended in the expression "trying of your faith." The idea is that your faith may be put to the test once and again many times and, while in this life, is to be expected. Faith that stands the test successfully not only worketh (produces as a result), but fosters and adds to that grace called patience, which Peter assures us is essential to an entrance into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. ( 2Pe_1:6 .) Knowig that the trial of faith worketh patience is the reason the apostle exhorts in the second verse to count it all job Paul also exhorts to "patience in tribulation" ( Rom_12:5 ), and he says further, "We glory in tribulation also," and gives the rea-son : "Knowing that tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience, and experience hope, and hope maketh not ashamed" ( Rom_5:3-5 ). The hardships and adversities of life, persecutions, trials and afflictions are to fall upon us in our earthly existence, not only as tests of our faith, but also for our good.

Verse 4

Verse 4. Let patience have her perfect work.

If patience builds up, strengthens and perfects Chris-tian character so that its subject shall be perfect and entire, or complete, wanting nothing, or, as the Revised Version has it, lacking nothing, the argument to the true disciple of Christ is simply conclusive that no let or hindrance ought to be interposed, even if such power was possessed. To be complete, wanting or lacking nothing in principle or prac-tice, is approaching the likeness of our blessed Master, which all the faithful in Christ Jesus desire to attain.

Verse 5

Verse 5. If any lack wisdom.

Lack wisdom for what? To accomplish the end named in verse 4, to become "perfect and entire, wanting nothing." Any one lacking this wisdom is exhorted to ask the same of God, who will not upbraid for your lack in this regard, but who will bestow this wisdom. In this particular God gives to all men, and that not sparingly, but liberally. When I say all men, of course I mean his believing children, for to such only does the exhortation apply. Mac:- knight translates the word from which we have "lack," and, in the Revised Version, "lacketh," with the term "deficient." I can not see that such translation adds any-thing to the clearness of the expression or casts any additional light upon the text. If any one lacks, to just that extent is he deficient? So that, in my view, it makes but little difference whether we read "lack wisdom," "lacketh wisdom" or "deficient in wisdom." The idea in-tended to be conveyed by the Holy Spirit is exactly the same.

Verse 6

Verse 6. Let him ask in faith, nothing wavering.

The Revised Version is clearer "nothing doubting." Doubting conveys the idea evidently intended much more distinctly than the word "wavering." At least it so strikes my mind. The idea is that, in asking for wisdom which we lack in relation to our Christian duties and life, there should be no hesitation growing out of a lurking belief that the request may not be granted. Such is doubt, and the same ought not to exist. Having doubts about God's willingness to bestow the needed wisdom simply exhibits a sickly, weak or defective faith, whereas a true faith never wavers, never staggers, never hesitates, never doubts. Here, now, for a moment let us consider the faith of Abraham, for it will drive away all lingering mists that hang about this question. Paul says of Abraham that not being weak in faith, "he staggered not at the promises of God through unbelief, but was strong in faith, giving glory to God" ( Rom_4:20 ). This is the faith James calls a faith nothing wavering. Such will receive a favorable response from the God of his salvation on his application for needed wisdom.

A wave of the sea.

A very beautiful figure. It so clearly outlines the doubter. A wave is created by the wind on ocean's bosom. The water of which it is composed is changed by the force that brought it as a wave into existence into another wave and driven into another locality, and so, moving from place to place, and from one form into another, is wholly unstable in any one of its forms.

Verse 7

Verse 7. For let not that man think.

This is sufficiently set forth in the exposition of verse 6. The wavering man, that is, the man who asks for wisdom doubting God's willingness to grant his request, need not expect the divine bequest, for he shall receive no favorable response. He shall not receive anything.

Verse 8

Verse 8. A double-minded man.

Of the kind of a man James calls double-minded ; he affirms that he is unstable, not in one thing, nor in one way, but in all his ways. It is important, therefore, to ascertain just what is meant by double-minded as applied to men. Dr. Macknight's translation has a "man of two minds." That throws some light upon the question, for if a man has two minds, one mind would entertain one view, while the other mind could contend for an entirely different position. Rotherham's translation gives us, in lieu of "double-minded man," these words : "A two-souled man." The translation from the Latin Vulgate has it : "A double-minded man is inconstant in all his ways." Meyer, in his commentary on this verse, uses this language : "It thus describes the doubter, who has, as it were, two souls contending against each other, one of which is turned to God, and one of which is turned away from God" (thus to the world). In the same connection he says : "This double-mindedness [or, which is the same thing, division of soul] expresses the wavering to and from between faith and unbelief."

Verse 9

Verse 9. Brother of low degree rejoice.

While the double-minded man is unstable, it is not so with the brother who, so far as worldly advantages are concerned, possesses few, and in that regard is of low degree when compared with his more favored neighbor, for he is exalted in that he is strong in his faith ; let him therefore rejoice. Low in worldly estate, he is elevated in that he is a child of God and an heir of heaven.

Verse 10

Verse 10. The rich, that he is made low.

The rich in this world's goods, if there be any among you claiming heirship in heaven, let such rejoice if cir-cumstances should arise which should destroy their goods. The reasons are plain, and appear upon the very surface of investigation. Men are liable to be estranged in their allegiance to the cause of Christ by the consideration of worldly affairs, as the blessed Master assures us in the parable of the sower. ( Mat_13:7-22 .) And, secondly, the rich ought to rejoice in having their goods despoiled, since, if such will but reflect, whether they be rich or not, their stay on earth is brief, and the end to the use of their riches as certain as the falling of the flower. They should from the strongest considerations be glad, and rejoice that any possible cause of their apostasy had been removed.

Verse 11

Verse 11. A burning heat withereth.

In this verse the apostle enforces the idea advanced in the former verse by an expansion of the figure he there introduces. The rich must understand that no reliance whatever is to be placed in their belongings, for with riches and the owner the fate that the grass encounters from the rays of the burning sun, which all have observed, awaits the man. As the grass withers and its flower falls, and all its grace and fashion and beauty perish and melt away out of the sight of men, so it is with the rich man. Whatever his plans and purposes, and whatever may be the grandeur of his position among his fellowmen, the common vicissitudes of life, disease and death reach him, and he fades away as does the flower. His riches afford no protection. Meyer advances, to my mind, the idea con-tained in the apostle's words : "The prominent idea is that the rich man, overtaken by judgment, perishes in the midst of his doings and pursuits as the flower in the midst of its blossoming falleth a victim to the scorching heat of the sun."

Verse 12

Verse 12. Blessed is the man.

That is, happy. The apostle here again takes up the thought of the results to the man who successfully resists temptations, and withstands all the trials to which his faith is subjected. This without regard as to whether he is of low degree or rich. If he endureth, stands firm in his faith, notwithstanding the temptation or trial, of such an one the apostle affirms he is blessed, he is happy.

He shall receive the crown of life.

This is the reward of his fidelity. This is the compensation God has promised to those that love him, to those who are loyal in their allegiance to God's beloved Son.

The Crown of life.

Contemplate this reward, ye faithful. Can a greater stimulus be imagined, a stronger incentive to fidelity? The crown of life God's reward offered to his struggling, afflicted children. Paul speaks of the same thing in view of his anticipated violent death at the block when he says : "Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of right-eousness" ( 2Ti_4:8 ). John also, in the revelations made to him on the lonely Isle of Patmos, is instructed to write Smyrna's suffering sons : "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life" ( Rev_2:10 ). The crown of life is the richest diadem in the coronet of heaven. It is an enduring or eternal blessed existence. A never-ending life, freed from trials, afflictions or sor-rows. "In my Father's house are many mansions : if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself ; that where I am, ye may be also" ( Joh_14:2-3 ).

Verse 13

Verse 13. I am tempted of God.

The Judaizer and the enemy of the cross may suggest the thought and urge its reception that because of the trials that befall us in this life, God is thereby seducing the believer from the path of rectitude. The apostle is emphatic in denunciation of this thought, and says, "Let no man say" this, and gives the reason that "God can not be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man." God, in the purity of his character and in the infinity of his holiness and goodness, is incapable of being seduced by evil things; that is to say, he is unapproachable by evil, and therefore, being possessed of this exalted character, can not be the author of evil to his creatures.

Verse 14

Verse 14. But every man is tempted.

Man is free and yet possesses passions and appetites. These appeal to man, and their influence upon him entice him and draw him from a virtuous course, and he is there-by induced to tread the paths of vice. These passions and appetites are by the apostle called "his own lusts." By these he is seduced or tempted, and by these he is led away, if at all, and not by influences from on high.

Verse 15

Verse 15. Lust hath conceived.

First a begetting and then a bringing forth that is, a birth. Lust is here personified. It is the begetter. Lust entices. Yielding to it is the conception, and the birth thereof is sin.

Sin, when it is finished.

Finished ; that is, completed, run its course. Certainly a constant course of sin, repetition of sinful conduct and actions to the end of life's journey, forms a character fit only for but one end destruction hence it

Bringeth forth death.

Death eternal. "Depart from me, ye that worketh iniquity" ( Mat_7:23 ). Where do they go when they depart? Into outer darkness with the unprofitable servant. ( Mat_25:30 .) And, lastly, we have the end given by our Lord himself : "Then shall he say unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, pre-pared for the devil and his angels." "These shall go away into everlasting punishment" ( Mat_25:41-46 ). The in-spired penman and the Lord Jesus have left us in no doubt about the death meant which is brought forth of sin. Let the world of intelligent creatures be informed and enabled to shun so fearful a calamity.

Verse 16

Verse 16. Do not err, my beloved brethren.

Here is a solemn charge urged with much force by James, the writer of this Epistle. Now, in what respect were they liable to err ? Evidently in the possible thought that God was the author of evil. This the apostle fully exploded in his former reasoning. The Revised Version, Dr. Macknight and Rotherham, in place of the word "err," Use the word "deceived." I do not know that it is especially material to ascertain just which word the inspired penman would have us adopt to convey the mean-ing intended. Err is probably the stronger word, at all events it would be the legitimate result of deception. If we do not err, it is a certainty that we have not been deceived by the false suggestion of temptation by the infinite One. Probably this view controlled the translators of the Peshito Syriac, the Latin Vulgate and the Common Version in causing them to retain the word "err" as they have done. The views of Matthew Henry are so opposite that I tran-scribe them in full : "We should take particular care not to err in our conceptions of God. Do not err, my beloved brethren, do not wander, that is, from the word of God, and the accounts of him you have there. Do not stray into erroneous opinions, and go off from the standard of truth, the things you have received from the Lord Jesus and by the direction of his Spirit. The loose opinions of Simon and the Nicolaitans (from whom the gnostics, a most sensual, corrupt set of people, arose afterwards) may perhaps by the apostle here be more especially cautioned against. Those who are disposed to look into these may consult the first book of Irenaeus against heresies. Let corrupt men run into what notions they will, the truth as it is in Jesus stands thus : God is not, can not be, the author and patronizer of anything that is evil, but must be acknowledged as cause and spring of everything that is good."

Verse 17

Verse 17. Every good and perfect gift.

Gifts are here designated (1) good ; (2) perfect. The same qualities in the gifts, whether applied to this life in temporal affairs or are related to our spiritual concerns, are present. View it as we may, God is the author of these gifts. Pardon of sin, the favor of our heavenly Father, the hope of eternal life all these in which the Christian is most deeply interested all are gifts of God.

Father of lights.

The word "lights" appears in the sacred text in the plural. And here is food for thought. Macknight may be right when he says : "It may denote spiritual and cor-poreal lights. To mention God's being the Father or author of the light of the heavenly bodies, as well as the light of reason, was very proper, because the creation of these cor-poreal lights is a great instance of his goodness."

No variableness, neither shadow of turning.

The fountain of the light which reaches this earth is the sun. Its rays do not always reach us. They are turned aside by intervening clouds. Not so with the Father of lights. With him there is no change, no turning. He is unchangeable. He gives good gifts, and none other. He does not approach us, then retire. He is always near; all in all. It is simply blasphemous, as well as absurd, to entertain the suggestion of his being the Author of influences inciting to evil.

Verse 18

Verse 18. Of his own will begat he us.

God is the author of the system of faith proclaimed to the world. The scheme of human redemption is the product of the infinite love of our Father in heaven. The gospel of his Son must be proclaimed. This heard, understood and received makes man alive. It imparts life. He is begotten

With the word of truth.

The gospel is the word of truth. The word of God is the seed of the kingdom ; it is God's power unto salvation. It is this gospel, the word of truth, by which all the children of God are begotten, and become the first fruits of his creatures. First, a begetting, a making alive, or imparting life. This is done by the word of truth, and afterwards a birth. Life is then enjoyed.

Verse 19

Verse 19. Wherefore, my beloved brethren.

For the reason that you are begotten of God by the word of truth, you are under obligations to be swift, prompt, anxious to hear not only the gospel, but all things connected therewith, so far as the same relates to duties you owe to God and to your fellowman. Slow to speak; that is, cautious, making no mistakes. Slow to wrath, for the reason the cause of the Master can not be advanced by exhibitions of anger, and personal hurt only results.

Verse 20

Verse 20. For the wrath of man worketh not, etc.

Another reason is here given why the brethren should be slow to anger or wrath. The wrath of man worketh not that is, it can not work or produce the righteousness of God. It possesses no such power. The character of God's righteousness is such that the element of anger is forever banished. There is no place therein to be found for it; con-trariwise, the love of God is prominently therein exhibited.

Verse 21

Verse 21. Wherefore lay apart.

Simply lay aside. Entirely discard and put away from you.

All filthiness.

That is, all impurity which may arise from the lusts of the flesh, and all abounding or overflowing maliciousness ; or, as expressed in the Peshita Syriac, the "abundance of wickedness" ; or, as expressed in Rotherham, "remainder of wickedness."

And receive with meekness the engrafted word.

That is, with simple, docile, teachable spirits and dis-positions, welcome the doctrine of the gospel which has power to save your souls.

Verse 22

Verse 22. But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only.

One who is a hearer of the Word only, and not a doer, deceives himself, for he reasons that hearing only is suf-ficient. Our blessed Master, in the conclusion of his Sermon on the Mount, settled this matter for all time. "Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man which built his house upon a rock" ( Mat_7:24 ). The hearer only was likened unto a foolish man who built upon the sand. The work of the former stood amidst the storms ; the latter lost his work, the same being overthrown.

Verse 23

Verse 23. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer.

James illustrates such by the man that looked at him-self in a mirror so negligently he could not soon thereafter describe his own personal appearance.

Verse 24

Verse 24. He beholdeth himself.

That is, he saw his, natural face in the mirror cer-tainly, but even then he scanned it so negligently that he failed to discern the splotches or other prominent marks. They were overlooked just as we are liable to overlook our own defects ; hence unable to describe himself. He forgot what kind of a man he was even after he had made his own examination.

Verse 25

Verse 25. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty.

God's blessed system for man's salvation the gospel of Christ, the word of truth. This perfect law of liberty will show every man just what he is, and just what he may become. No room for mistakes, no fear of forgetting if followed as its blessed Author designed. He who continues looking into this perfect law of liberty as into the mirror, with the willingness to do its teachings, will be blest of God, and will assuredly become in character more and more like the Master.

Verse 26

Verse 26. If any man among you.

There may be men among you that seem to be religious that is, imagine they are worshiping God acceptably and yet if such do not restrain their tongues, but continue to rail at those who may differ from them in opinions, all such deceive their own hearts. Their religion is vain, it is false. The religion of Christ does not countenance railing. It can not and will not allow the bringing of a railing accusation.

Verse 27

Verse 27. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this.

The word "religion" occurs but four times in the New Testament, as follows : "That after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee" ( Act_26:5 ). This was used by the apostle Paul in his defense before King Agrippa. "For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews' religion, . .. and profited in the Jews' religion above many my equals" ( Gal_1:13-14 ). The only other occurrence is now before us for consideration and study. The word "religious" occurs but twice; once it occurs in Act_13:43 , and once in Jam_1:26 . Neither of these words occur in the Peshito. Syriac.

Pure religion and undefiled.

That is, clean and without any admixture or adultera-tion, and therefore pure and holy.

Before God and the Father.

That is, in the esteem of God our Father that which he regards or which comes up to his estimation, or is acceptable to him.

To visit the fatherless and the widow in their affliction.

The term "visit" carries with it the idea of adminis-tering to their necessities, relieving their wants. This as contradistinguished from the observance of forms which are essentially Pharisaic. External duties may be all right, but hypocrites could observe these to whom the thought of a kind action never occurs. Doing good for good's sake, doing good from a loving heart, is what God requires.

Keep himself unspotted from the world.

Not tainted or touched by the vices of the world, abstain-ing from the evil, committing nothing prohibited by the gospel of the Lord. Macknight says of pure religion : "Tillotson thinks the apostle likens religion to a gem whose perfection consists in being clear ; that is, without flaw or cloud. And Doddridge observes that no gem is so ornamental as the temper here described."

In short, religion consists in something to do in the divine life, as we learn from God's revealed will in the Bible, and not something to get, as is claimed by many devout souls. Religion is faith in action, faith in operation, Christ-like work, Christ-like deeds, and nothing else.

Bibliographical Information
Caton, Nathan Thomas. "Commentary on James 1". Caton's Commentary on the Minor Epistles. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ntc/james-1.html. 1916.
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