Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, July 17th, 2024
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
StudyLight.org has pledged to help build churches in Uganda. Help us with that pledge and support pastors in the heart of Africa.
Click here to join the effort!

Bible Commentaries
James 1

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

Search for…
Enter query below:
Additional Authors

Verse 1



James 1:1. Salutation. James.—Greek Ἰάκωβος, a familiar Jewish name. Two so named were in the apostolic company. James the son of Zebedee, and James the son of Alphæus. This is thought to be a third James, known as the “brother of the Lord,” and identified as James the Just, who in ecclesiastical history is stated to have been the first bishop of the Jewish Christian Church at Jerusalem. Servant.—δοῦλος. Strictly, “bond-servant.” The term is similarly used at the beginning of their letters by St. Paul, St. Peter, and St. Jude (Romans 1:1; Titus 1:1; 2 Peter 1:1; Jude 1:1). And of the Lord.—Some would render, “even the Lord Jesus Christ”; but this puts the Deity of Christ into a more dogmatic form than was at that time attained. Twelve tribes.—The nation was still conceived and addressed as a whole. The idea of the “lost ten tribes” is evidently not apostolic. Scattered abroad.—ἐν τῇ διασπορᾷ; “in the dispersion.” Moved by commercial instincts, the Jews had found entrance into every part of the then civilised world. It is of importance to notice that James addresses only Jewish Christians, and Jews who were not Christians. He takes no notice whatever of Gentile Christians. This suggests an early date for James’s epistle.


The Gospel according to James.—In what we now know as the truths of Christianity, there is the essential and invariable, and there is the non-essential and variable. And we may make grave mistake by unduly contending for the merely human shaping and setting of truth which, not being essential and invariable, has not taken precise revelational form. An essay was read at a ministers’ meeting with this suggestive title, The Minimum of the Evangelical Faith. The writer dealt with the limit of faith that suffices to ensure salvation. He should have dealt with the limits of the evangelical creed behind which we must entrench ourselves, as Wellington did at Torres Vedras. In these days, when everything is searchingly criticised, we are in danger of coming to feel that everything is uncertain; and we need to fix for ourselves some things which are unquestionable, axiomatic, beyond criticism. But there is an opposite evil into which we may fall. We may fit the evangelical truth into a creed, and then persist that every point and item of our creed-form must be contended for unto the death. “The faith once delivered unto the saints” should never be confused with the creed formulated and adopted by any particular Church. The New Testament gives us the Christian truth in very sharp, crisp, suggestive sentences. Of one such we may be reminded. “There is one God, one mediator also between God and men, Himself man, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2:5, R.V.). According to that verse the Christian truth contains five truths:

1. The unity of God.
2. The mediatorship of Christ.
3. The true humanity of Christ.
4. The self-sacrifice of Christ.
5. The vicariousness of Christ’s sacrifice. But the essential truth—the very gospel—is the place and power of the person Christ. This is the very heart of the gospel. Sincere belief in Christ brings a man into the power of Christ. St. Philip went down to Samaria and preached Christ unto them. And that was the gospel. This comes clearly into view when the gospel was first preached to the Jews, as it was on the Day of Pentecost. Doctrinal truths about Christ had not at that time been formulated. There could be only the faith in Christ which received Him as Messiah the Saviour. But that faith sufficed to altogether change a man’s life, and make him a new creature, living and breathing in a new atmosphere. When this is clear, we may be reminded—

1. That preaching Christ must have the individuality of the preacher stamped upon it. The two first gospel preachers were St. Peter and St. Stephen; but how different were their settings and points of view! And—
2. That the individuality of the preacher is always tempered by his efforts to adapt himself to his circumstances, and to his audiences. St. Paul adapts his settings of the one gospel to meet the case of ignorant heathen, cultivated Pagan, and covenant Jew. But will the essential, the saving, gospel truth bear these human settings and adjustments without injury? The answer is that it has done so through the long ages. Translations of the New Testament into the languages of mankind have been imperfect translations, constantly needing revisions; but the imperfect word has always been, and is to-day, God’s power unto salvation. The human caskets have sufficed for carrying to men the Divine jewel of saving truth. Moreover, the gospel did get a variety of settings from the great Teacher Himself. The Sermon on the Mount differs in a remarkable manner from the discourses on the good Shepherd and the living Bread. Suppose then that a Christian teacher should keep entirely in the line of the Sermon on the Mount, would he preach the gospel? There is one writer in the New Testament who has done this. The epistle of St. James has no formulated Christian doctrine in it. It deals with life, conduct, relations, duties, temptations; it is given by a “servant of Jesus Christ,” who wants to do his duty, to other servants of the Lord Jesus Christ, who want to know and do their duty. But is that the gospel? The one gospel of Christ’s life has gained four different settings. The four gospels are not alike. St. Peter, St. James, St. Paul, and St. John give us four epistles, bearing relation to Christian truth, but they are not alike. The gospel was first preached to Jews by St. James. Then the Gentiles were permitted to share with Jews in gospel privileges under the lead of St. Peter. And then the gospel was differentiated for Gentiles by St. Paul. St. James sees Christianity as completed Judaism, as providing for it just the element it lacked, and failed to meet man’s need because it lacked. St. Peter sees Christianity as a reformed, enlarged, and comprehensive Judaism, and never breaks away from his Jewish associations. St. Paul sees Christianity as the universal human religion, of which Judaism was the inspired and Divinely guided preparation. He therefore aroused the jealousy of the exclusive Jews, and was compelled to break with them. Look carefully at the gospel according to St. James, or at his setting of Christianity. His epistle seems strange to Christian readers because of what it does not contain. There is no doctrine of redemption in it. He was possibly the Lord’s brother (1 Corinthians 15:7; Galatians 1:19), certainly he was a strict Jew, who kept his Jewish ideas along with his belief in Jesus as Messiah, and along with his personal loyalty and devotion to Him. But that must have been the first idea of a Christian. The Jews were divided into those to whom Jesus was an impostor, and those to whom Jesus was the Messiah; and St. James was the leader of these latter Jews. He wrote for men who knew themselves as the people of God, and whose one question was, What is righteousness? and how is it obtained? The Jew was familiar with the answer—Righteousness is keeping the law; then keep the law, and be righteous. But the Jew felt that he had no power to perform. St. James tells him that personal faith in Christ will bring the law in to him. It will give him power unto righteousness. That is the gospel according to St. James. It is precisely the setting of the gospel that we want who have believed. We want help toward working our belief out into our life. St. James had not to deal with the Jews’ standing before God. St. Paul had to deal with the Gentiles’ standing. St. James, as a Jew, neither questioned his own standing, nor theirs to whom he wrote. So St. Paul’s “justification by faith” did not come into his thoughts. St. James inculcates the gospel of right conduct to men who had accepted a new Master. He puts the Master’s principles and the Master’s spirit alongside their characteristic Jewish frailties. To him the gospel is a holy leaven. It is the person Christ, offered to faith as the Son of God and Saviour of the world. Put that faith into a man’s life, what will it do? St. James helps us to this answer. It will give a man mastery over his evils. It will make all things new. It will help him to win righteousness. It will sanctify. And we need that setting of the gospel.

Service dignified as the Life-service of the Lord Jesus.—Sometimes the writers of epistles speak of themselves as “apostles,” but apostles are only “sent servants.” St. James calls himself—

1. A servant. The word means a “bondservant”; but not one who is bound by force, against his will, but one who has bound himself, and made a loving surrender of his will, and finds service to be the truest liberty. Bond-service has always to be estimated in view of him to whom we are bound. If it be bond-service to Christ, that service is perfect freedom.

2. A servant of two Masters. “Of God, and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” The addition “of God” is made because St. James must make it quite clear that, in asking service for Christ, he did not take Jews away from their allegiance to the God of their fathers.

3. A servant of two Masters who are really one. For the deeper we get into the mystery of the Divine Being, the more satisfyingly we see that Jesus is but “God manifest in the flesh,” and that serving Him is serving God.

4. A servant to serve other servants of the same Master. “Twelve tribes which are of the dispersion.” Jews, who were servants of God. Jewish Christians, who were servants of God, and of the Lord Jesus. The servant may serve by direct attentions paid to the Master Himself. But he equally serves when he carries out the Master’s ministries among the other servants. “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me.”

5. A servant who serves both the Master and the other servants cheerfully. “Greeting”; margin, “wishing joy.” Sending greeting means that the sender cherishes happy, kindly, hopeful feeling, and is really glad to do some kindly service for those to whom he writes. It honours Christ for His servants to work at His work with uplifted heads and glad hearts.


James 1:1. Relation of Epistle to the Sermon on the Mount.—No student of the epistle has failed to notice the sturdy common sense of the writer, and his emphasis on practical Christianity. Yet it has not always been observed how fully he represents in this respect the teaching of Jesus, especially in the Sermon on the Mount. Even his language is strikingly similar to our Lord’s. Compare James 1:22 with Matthew 7:24. In each case the thought is clinched by a picture or parable. The use of parables and proverbs by St. James suggests that, with all his common sense, he had a fine poetical vein in his nature. His imagination lends liveliness to his maxims. Dr. S. Cox says, “He is a born poet, though he writes no poetry.” As there is nothing more difficult than to cast stale or familiar maxims into fresh and attractive forms, St. James must have been a man of rare and high natural gifts. On the human side, the poetical trait in the Lord Jesus and in St. James (regarded as the Lord’s natural brother) may go back to the mother whose hymn of praise St. Luke has preserved for us.

Scattered Abroad.—

1. They were dispersed in mercy. For the diffusing of the light of revelation, which they had received.
2. They began now to be scattered in wrath. The Jewish nation was crumbling into parties and factions, and many were forced to leave their own country, as having now grown too hot for them.—Matthew Henry.

The Disappearance of the Ten Tribes.—The legend as to the disappearance of the ten tribes, which has given rise to so many insane dreams as to their identification with the Red Indians of America, or our Anglo-Saxon forefathers, appears for the first time in the apocryphal Second Esdras (13:39–47), a book probably of about the same date as the Revelation of St. John.—Plumptre.

The Ten Tribes not Lost.—The ten tribes of the kingdom of Israel, though they had been carried into a more distant exile than Judah and Benjamin, were thought of, not as lost and out of sight, but as still sharing the faith and hope of their fathers. See also Matthew 19:28; Acts 26:7; Revelation 7:5-8.—Ibid.


James 1:1. The Jews of the Dispersion.—Long before the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus, and even the preaching of Christianity, Jewish colonists were found in Europe as well as Asia. Milman says: “Even where they suffered most, through their own turbulent disposition or the enmity of their neighbours, they sprang again from the same undying stock, however it might be hewn by the sword or seared by the fire. Massacre seemed to have no effect in thinning their ranks, and, like their forefathers in Egypt, they still multiplied under the most cruel oppression.” While the Temple stood these scattered settlements were colonies of a nation, bound together by varied ties and sympathies, but ruled in the East by a Rabbi called the Prince of the Captivity, and in the West by the Patriarch of Tiberias, who, curiously, had his seat in that Gentile city of Palestine. The fall of Jerusalem, and the end therewith of national existence, rather added to than detracted from the authority of these strange governments; the latter ceased only in the reign of the emperor Theodosius, while the former continued, it is said, in the royal line of David, until the close of the eleventh century, after which the dominion passed wholly into the hands of the Rabbinical aristocracy, from whom it has come down to the present day.—Ellicott’s Commentary.

A Kingdom become a Religion.—The Dispersion “showed to both Jew and Gentile alike that the barriers which had hedged in and isolated the hermit nation had broken down, and that what had ceased to be thus isolated had changed its character. A kingdom had become a religion. What henceforth distinguished the Jews in the eyes of all the world was not their country or their government, but their creed. “Through this they were henceforth to influence men as under the old conditions was impossible.” “They themselves also were forced to understand their own religion better. When the keeping of the letter of the law became an impossibility, they were compelled to penetrate into its spirit.” The universality of the services of the synagogue taught the Jew that God’s worship was not confined to Jerusalem, and their simplicity attracted proselytes. Even in matters of detail—the lessons, the singing, the ritual—the services of the synagogue prepared for the services of the Christian Church.—After Dr. Plummer.

Verses 2-4


James 1:2. Temptations.—As so often in the New Testament, trials which take the form of suffering, and serve the purposes of Divine discipline.

James 1:3. Trying.—Testing, proving. “The proof to which your faith is put works out endurance.” Patience.—ὑπομονήν; the perseverance which does not falter under suffering. Christian patience is much more than passive submission.

James 1:4. Entire.—Lacking no part essential to full and healthy spiritual life. The figure is taken from the animals, some of whose organs may be undeveloped, or may be mutilated.


The Ministry of Trial to Christian Character.—It is necessary to keep in mind the persons who were directly addressed in this epistle. They were Jewish Christians who were placed in difficult circumstances, and called to bear various persecutions, on account of their faith in Christ. Their troubles were special to their religion. They were such as Hindoos still have to endure when they are baptised in the name of Christ. The trials were not merely the commonplace afflictions that come into every life; and so they were not merely disciplinary and educative. They were distinctly influences acting upon them as temptations to apostasy from Christ; and therefore they are properly called “temptations”: there was in them something of the element of incitement to evil. Distinguish afflictions from temptations; or rather, see under what conditions afflictions may become temptations. Many of the forms in which earthly trials come prove to be tempting forms. They may be testings; they may be temptings.

I. Right feeling concerning trials.—The feeling commended here certainly seems strange. “Count it all joy,” nought but joy. There cannot be joy in them; there can be joy in seeing into them. Is there any real ground for such joy? There is, if we can give due weight to these considerations.

1. No trial that ever comes to us is either an accident or the work of an enemy. If Satan brought calamity to Job, he was, for the time at least, God’s angel, doing a painful bit of Divine work.
2. The Christian has learned never to connect his trials with personal sin. It is the conscience of connection between personal sin and personal suffering that makes the bitterness of suffering. That bitterness the Christian should never know.
3. Trials assure us of God’s gracious interest in our higher, spiritual welfare. A purpose of grace is in them. A ministry of grace is in them. And it is far better for us to have the grace than to escape the trials that bring it to us.
4. Trial cultures all the finer elements of character, and in that issue of trial the Christian may, and should, unfeignedly rejoice. Could a Christian rightly apprehend what human life is, and leads towards, and rejoice in having been freed from trials? That question may be asked concerning both outward and inward trials. But if we “joy in tribulation,” it can only be with the joy of faith, with that faith-vision which can see within things, and discern meanings and issues.

II. Right thoughts concerning trials.—“Worketh patience.” They are not to be thought of as mere things, accidents, calamities. They work. And their work may be humbling, separating, arresting, proving, and culturing by proving. They work; but never self-willedly; always under the immediate presidency and direction of our Father-God. And they never get beyond His control. His mission is in every event that happens. The trials work out “peaceable fruits of righteousness.”

III. Right issues of the work of trials.—“Patience.” This we may see as

(1) self-mastery;
(2) endurance; or
(3) the waiting of expectancy; for in Christian patience there is always active faith. The energy that can do the work of the hour, while we patiently wait. Patience is not listlessness and indifference. It is a sign that patience, under trial, is Christianly-toned when a man keeps bravely on, carrying his burden while he fulfils his duties.

IV. Right anxieties concerning the issues of trial.—“Let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire.” This is the proper anxiety, that the trial should fully do all that it was sent to do. Every plant that grows wants to reach its maturity, wants to flower and seed. So does every grace in us; and therefore we want every influence that bears on the maturing to get its perfect work, and help towards the perfect flowering. Because men cannot hope to become “perfect and entire,” lacking nothing, in Christian character, without the ministry upon them of earthly sufferings, therefore they may even respond to St. James, and “glory in tribulations also.”


James 1:2-12. The Christian in Times of Suffering.

I. The suffering state of Christians in this world is represented.

1. Implied that troubles and afflictions may be the lot of the best Christians.
2. These outward afflictions and troubles are temptations to them.
3. These temptations may be numerous and various.
4. They are not created by the good man, nor sinfully drawn upon himself.

II. The graces and duties of a state of trial and affliction are here pointed out to us.

1. Joy.
2. Faith.
3. Patience.
4. Prayer.
(1) What to pray for;
(2) how to obtain it;
(3) encouragement to seeking;
(4) condition of success;
(5) steadiness of mind.

III. The holy, humble temper of a Christian, both in advancement and debasement, is described.—Matthew Henry.

James 1:2. Temptation and Sin.—Temptation is not sin. An old German divine says, “You cannot prevent the birds flying over your head; but you can prevent them from making nests in your hair.” An old English Divine says, “I cannot help it if the devil comes up to my door. I cannot help it if he lifts the latch and walks in. I can help it if I offer him a chair.”

The Manifoldness of Human Trials.—Diverse, manifold temptations. They touch on all its sides human character, and affect every form of human relation, because the approach to men is by such different avenues; the needs of men and society take such a variety of forms. Very striking is the versatility of human trial; the surprise of the forms it can take; and the adaptation of forms to occasions which can sooner or later be recognised. The angel of affliction is marvellously skilful in his adjustments. The expression “fall into” suggests an unlooked-for concurrence of adverse circumstances. Every possible trial to the child of God is a masterpiece of strategy of the Captain of his salvation for his good.

James 1:2-8. Christian Joy in Times of Trial.—The epistle was written to correct abuses which had already shown themselves in certain portions of the Church. Some of these arose from the influence of persecution, and from the peculiar trials and temptations which it brought along with it. Temptation never means affliction simply, but in every case conveys the idea of a moral trial, or a test of character. Had not popular usage lowered the meaning of our own word “trial,” as applied to providential changes, so that it now expresses little more than pain or privation, it would correspond exactly to the Greek term here used, and applied to sufferings or afflictions, not as such, or as mere chastisement or means of grace, but as tests or touchstones of the sufferer’s dispositions and affections, of his faith and patience and obedience. The difficulty of complying with the general injunction of the text may appear to be enhanced by the variety of outward forms and circumstances under which the work of providential trial may be carried on. Though it may be rational and right to rejoice in one variety of such temptations, it does not follow necessarily that it is possible or right in all. But the text has the term “divers,” manifold, multiform, diversified; so it must be meant that in the full sense we are to count our various providential trials “all joy.” As, however, “no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous,” it is not unreasonable to suppose that the joy required is not a joy to be experienced in the very article or stress of the temptation, but a joy to be engendered by a believing, grateful retrospection of the trial after it is past, or at least after the first shock is over, and the soul is able to reflect upon it. This distinction helps to explain the paradoxical aspect of the exhortation to rejoice in that which necessarily involves pain and suffering. Christians may reasonably have joy in thinking that they have suffered, and so have had occasions of attesting their fidelity, and patience, and submission to God’s will. But the joy is not merely retrospective; it is prospective also. It is founded on knowledge of the consequences which may be expected from a certain course of action or suffering. The trials or temptations of the Christian are the test or touchstone of his faith, both in the strict and comprehensive sense. They put to the proof his trust in God, his belief in what God says, of what God promises. But in so doing they afford the surest test of his religion, of his whole religious character. And providential trial or temptation produces a permanent effect upon the character. It generates a habit—that of patient endurance, that of steadfast perseverance in the way of God’s commandments. For of patience, as of faith, it may be said that it cannot stand alone, it cannot exist independently of other virtues, other graces, other traits of Christian character. He who will not do God’s will cannot endure it in a Christian spirit. Evangelical patience presupposes, includes, or carries with it evangelical obedience or activity. To say that it is fostered or matured by trial is to say that trial is an important means of grace, and to be thankfully submitted to, and even rejoiced in, as a gracious agency for securing spiritual health. The trial of our faith “worketh out,” elaborates, and as it were laboriously cultivates, a habit of persistent and unwavering obedience and submission to the will of God, both in the way of doing and suffering. It is implied that this Divine ὑπομονή, this principle and habit of patient continuance in doing and suffering the will of God, is not a mere superfluous embellishment of Christian character, a work of supererogation added to its necessary elements by way of doing more than man needs or God requires, but itself an element that cannot be dispensed with, and without which neither sufferers nor actors in God’s service can be “perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” And all this affords abundant room for wise discrimination and a sound discretion.—J. Addison Alexander, D.D.

Temptation, its Meaning and Uses.—The subject of temptation, as treated in the Bible, is more than a little perplexing, from the appearance of inconsistency or contradiction in the several statements. In this chapter, within the space of ten or twelve verses, we have these four apparently irreconcilable statements: that it is to be counted all joy when we fall into temptations; that the man who endures temptation is blessed; that temptations do not come from God; and that they do come from our lusts and passions. Now, how can that be joy and blessedness which does not come from God, but from the lowest part of our nature, left in a basely ungoverned condition? The difficulty is somewhat illumined by reflecting on one broad feature of human life and action. Everything that falls within human activity may be said to have two sides to it. On the one side there is a Divine providence in the course a frail thing takes; on the other, there may be the outrage of all good sense and propriety. It is universally impossible in a single instance to escape from this complex position. Take, then, any temptation that arises from our bodily senses; there is a Divine side even to these when they are obeying the holy will of God. And then they help, not mislead, the soul. But in man’s exercise of them there comes waywardness, folly. If men would only admit this double aspect of human things, to the fulness of its existence and influence, it would lessen, if it did not remove, many difficulties. It would be seen that temptation must necessarily fill human life, and can arise at any and every point from the action of man’s folly and error. With this explanation, can we say in any sense that it is the will of God, and justifiably so, that we, being what we are, should thus find temptations, with the risk of being betrayed by them? To answer this, we must consider a little more what man is, and what his position and calling in this life, possessed of these evil tendencies. Were he innocent and pure, and had he no knowledge of evil, there were then no evil tendencies. Were man either the creature of destiny, or a thing completely pliable to all surrounding influences, temptation would seem a very needless hardship. It is when we reflect that the thought of man most nearly adequate is of a being of great grandeur of nature, yet afflicted with evil tendencies—a being of unlimited though undeveloped capacities in all directions. The great meaning and use of temptation is to reveal the secret and unknown depths of the human soul, which may take three directions:

1. Very many things in human life, from the most startlingly terrible down even to the quite trivial, tell us how very little any one knows of the extent to which evil has invaded the nature of man. Who has not often observed in life a display of perversion that no one could have anticipated? No man knows himself, and no other man knows him, as to evil, until he is tried.
2. A more beautiful aspect of temptation is its power to develop the fortitude of virtue, the resolute moral earnestness of the man. To a being like man, knowing good and evil, and mysteriously allied to both, there would appear to be no other method of spiritual discipline.
3. The full force of these truths comes out to view as our perception becomes quite clear of the extreme opposite qualities—holiness and sin. Three truths are necessary to our search for the meaning of the difficult problems of life:
1. The paternal care of God.
2. The interpreting light of the future.
3. And the stupendous interests of morality. To him who sees in life no vast meaning to be unfolded, all these temptations may present only a tangled web. But when life emerges from this obscurity, as a God-given thing, with an infinitude of purpose, with a moral intensity that can be measured only by a heaven of ineffable bliss and a hell of unutterable gloom, then temptations are full of a sacred intent, come with the benediction of the all-wise and all-loving Father, it may be with sacred tears, to cast us on His everlasting arms of compassion and strength, and to fill our hearts with His pure joy.—Samuel Edger, B.A. (Auckland, N.Z.).

James 1:3. The Trial of Waiting Work.—Human trouble never takes on a more serious form, and never becomes a severer test, than when it makes effort and enterprise impossible, and compels us to do nothing, and wait. Estimate

(1) the pain of a condition of indecision;
(2) the restlessness of watching;
(3) the fear that the waiting will be in vain. It is a supreme difficulty to keep the heart rightly toned at such times, and to keep the life filled with right occupations. Difficult to be duly, but not unduly, anxious. Difficult to keep trust joined with prayer. “Watch and pray.” But it is precisely in dealing with these difficulties that our characters get their culture through temptations.

Patience Something to be Won.—“Worketh patience.” Do not think that the grace will come to its full beauty in an hour. It is a matter of culture through tending and discipline. A child is naturally impatient. A worldly man is naturally impatient. A Christian man is a man cultured unto letting “patience have her perfect work.” The agencies more especially employed in the cultivation of patience are:

1. The disappointments of life, which become temptations to heartlessness and hopelessness.
2. The delays of life, when hope deferred makes the heart sick, and men feel the temptation to force their own way, and hurry through their own schemes.
3. The afflictions of life which involve severe pain, or the nervous restlessness which seems to make patience impossible.
4. Daily contact with persons whose temper and disposition are specially trying to us, and with whom it is almost impossible to bear.
5. The little incidents of life, which are too small to make demand of any great effort to master ourselves, and consequently are done without self-restraint, and often very impatiently. Patience is the one virtue that is especially cultivated by the sanctifying of the common events and relations of life.

The Praise of Patience.—Patience is the guardian of faith, the preserver of peace, the cherisher of love, the teacher of humility. Patience governs the flesh, strengthens the spirit, sweetens the temper, stifles anger, extinguishes envy, subdues pride; she bridles the tongue, restrains the hand, tramples upon temptations, endures persecutions, consummates martyrdom. Patience produces unity in the Church, loyalty in the State, harmony in families and societies; she comforts the poor, and moderates the rich; she makes us humble in prosperity, cheerful in adversity, unmoved by calumny and reproach; she teaches us to forgive those who have injured us, and to be the first in asking forgiveness of those whom we have injured; she delights the faithful and invites the unbelieving; she adorns the woman and approves the man; she is beautiful in either sex and every age. Behold her appearance and her attire. Her countenance is calm and serene as the face of heaven unspotted by the shadow of a cloud, and no wrinkle of grief or anger is seen on her forehead. Her eyes are as the eyes of doves for meekness, and on her eyebrows sit cheerfulness and joy. Her mouth is lovely in silence; her complexion and colour that of innocence and security; while, like the virgin, the daughter of Zion, she shakes her head at the adversary, despising and laughing him to scorn. She is clothed in the robes of the martyrs, and in her hands she holds a sceptre in the form of a cross. She rides not in the whirlwind and stormy tempest of passion, but her throne is the humble and contrite heart, and her kingdom is the kingdom of peace.—Bishop Horne.

Patient Bearing is Reasonable.—It is but reasonable to bear that accident patiently which God sends, since impatience does but entangle us, like the fluttering of a bird in a net, but cannot at all ease our trouble or prevent the accident. It must be run through, and therefore it were better that we compose ourselves to a patient, than to a troubled and miserable, suffering.—Jeremy Taylor.

James 1:4. Perfect and Entire.—There is both unity and distinctness in these terms. “Perfect” means that which fully attains its end. “Entire” means that which is complete, and harmoniously and healthily developed, in all the parts or regions of the spiritual life. The two words are wanted to express the full idea of a Christian.

Christian Character a Thing of Quiet Growth.—It is with the building up of Christian character as with the formation of crystals. In order that a crystal may be properly and perfectly formed, at least three things are necessary: there must be ample time in which all unnecessary fluid can be dissipated, and the component parts of the crystal come gradually together; there must be sufficient room for all the angles and planes of the crystal to attain their regular size; and there must be the absence of agitation, so that all the points and proportions of the crystal shall be evenly and symmetrically formed. Christian character, when it is what it ought to be, is more beautiful than any crystal that nature’s laboratory ever produced; and in order that it may reach its perfectness time is necessary. It is a thing of quiet growth; it has to rise gradually and by many stages into form and beauty; to hurry through religious processes will be to mar and spoil the result; we must “let patience have her perfect work.” And space is as needful as time. If we shut ourselves up in a narrow place, if we go away from the broad, open world, and confine ourselves to a monk’s seclusion, to a hermit’s solitude, we shall be cramped and restricted; and while some parts of our character may become finely and delicately developed, others will be stunted and dwarfed, and the character as a whole will be anything but perfect. The absence of agitation, too, is important. Whatever may be going on upon the surface of our life to interrupt its tranquillity, deep down in the depths of the spirit in which character has its beginnings, and from which it grows, there must be the unruffled calm which trust in the Father’s will and power and purposes never fails to inspire; otherwise our character will be built up by fits and starts, and so will lack the fulness of harmony, symmetry, majesty, which it ought to possess.—B. Wilkinson.

The Ideal of Christian Attainment.—“Perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” Perfection of character is the idea, the aim, to be kept in the soul of the Christian, there to work as a perpetual inspiration to the seeking of perfection in the life and conduct and relationships. St. Paul presents the distinction between full-grown men and little children: the full-grown men are the perfect; they have reached the fulness, the standard, of Christian manhood. St. John has a similar kind of expression: he addresses several classes—the fathers, the young men, the little children; viewing these as different stages on the way to the perfect, that perfect being kept as the thought and aim in the soul of each. The idea of “perfect” comes out more plainly when it is set beside another word, “perfect and entire.” A man “entire” is one who has preserved or regained a lost completeness; or one in whom no grace that ought to be in a Christian man is wanting. But a man “perfect” is one who has attained his moral end, the standard according to which, in view of which, he was made; or one in whom no grace that ought to be in a Christian is found imperfect or weak, but all have reached a certain ripeness and maturity. The idea of absolute perfection is to be cherished in a man’s soul, and that idea is to be sustained by constant communion with the great model of human perfection, Christ Jesus, and a suitable effort is to be made afresh every day to work out that thought of the perfect in the spirit and temper and conduct of the life. Get the thought of perfection within you, and let your whole history be the history of a struggle after the perfect in all the relations of life.

The Christ-model of the Perfect Life.—The perfect—which as merely a creation of our imagination could exert little moral influence upon our life—was to be realised before the actual vision of men, and amidst our common scenes, and so to become the very mightiest moral influence. Christ is the ideal perfection realised in humanity. Christ is God’s perfect thought of what man should be. Without the help of Christ’s perfect life we could not form the idea of a perfect man. It is a simple fact that men never have formed such an idea. In Christ we not only think of, we see, the perfect. He is perfect on every side: perfect in all the stages of childhood, youth, manhood; perfect in all the spheres of the spirit, temper, speech, relationship; perfect in all the claims of duty, devotion, charity; perfect in all the scenes of success, loss, suffering, death; perfect in all the exercises of will, affection, and desire. In Him perfection is proved to be, and seen to be, an attainable thing. The ideal of perfect goodness Christ came to preach, and He could preach it with no consciousness that He Himself fell short of it.

The Perfect Work of Patience.—The new life in Christ comes to persons having peculiarities of natural disposition and character. It has its work in moulding, restraining, altering, developing, and completing natural character. It perfects graces that may be existing—perhaps only in germ—in natural dispositions; and it brings them, plants them, cultivates them, when they are lacking. Patience is a grace; it is one of the fruits of the Spirit. It takes two forms:

1. It may be the state of our mind and feeling as we go about our duty.
2. It may be the spirit which tones our intercourse with others. What in Christian life is likely to call patience into exercise?
1. The characters and dispositions of those with whom we must associate. Different and difficult temperaments. Some very wilful and trying.
2. The afflictions and trials of life. These often come in a way that disturbs our plans and tries our patience.
3. The element of the “future” in our redemption. Our best things have to be waited for. “If we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.” Note the relation of patience to faith and hope. Faith strengthens patience. Patience tempers hope. For examples of patience see Job, Simeon, Paul, and our Divine Lord. The following things tend to support and nourish patience:
1. The sense of God’s presence with us.
2. A fitting apprehension of the holy purpose which God has in His dealings with us.
3. The necessarily gradual character of the work of our sanctification.
4. The strain involved in times of trouble.
5. The exceeding great and precious promises of future blessing.

Verses 5-8


James 1:5. Wisdom.—Here, the wisdom of the book of Proverbs; practical skill in the ordering and management of life (Proverbs 19:20). Liberally.—With single heart, frankly, freely; without searchingly taking account of our dulness, or slowness, or limited anxiety concerning it. God wants us to have the wisdom more than we ever want to have it. Upbraideth not.—In Sir. 20:15 the “gift of a fool” is thus described: “He giveth little, and upbraideth much.”

James 1:6. Wavering.—Doubting (see Matthew 21:21). The term indicates that debating with oneself which implies doubt. Wind and tossed.—Better, “winds and blasts,” the latter term suggesting the effect of sudden squalls. There is no play on the Greek words, as in the English text—“wavering,” “wave.”

James 1:8. Double-minded.—Connect with James 1:7, “being a double-minded man.” Compare the “double heart” (Heb. “a heart and a heart”) of Psalms 12:2. “A mad unsteady in his opinions is inconstant in all his actions.”


Commonplace, practical wisdom.—St. James wrote to persons who were placed in difficult circumstances, partly through their own national characteristics, and partly through the events that were transpiring in public life. The Jews of every age, but peculiarly of that age, were of a contentious and quarrelsome disposition, and this made them a troublesome section of the people wherever they settled. It came indeed to be pretty generally understood, that if there was a revolt anywhere, the Jews were mixed up with it, if they were not at the bottom of it. The usual feeling towards Jews in the time of St. James is fairly represented by that towards the Russians in our own day. And the Jews were as contentious in private family life, and in their local synagogue life, as in their public life. St. James evidently has these characteristic elements of the Jewish nature fully in view. When the Jew became a Christian, it might not come to him at once that the Christian tone and spirit, which should characterise him in all forms of intercourse, was altogether different. Very easily could the faith of Christ as Messiah be taken up; and since it was not inconsistent with attendance at the Temple, observance of circumcision, and obedience to the law, it might not strike many of the Judæo Christians that it necessitated any change of temper, or toning of relationships. And then there were others who were called to suffer much in consequence of acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah; and they too were perplexed concerning the spirit with which their trials and persecutions should be met. It is in application to both such cases that St. James gives the advice of this passage, though the latter case appears to be the more prominent one. The wisdom which some may feel that they lack is “practical wisdom”—what we properly mean by “common sense,” or skill in the wise ordering of life, and in estimating and duly meeting all our various obligations. By “wisdom” St. James does not mean “learning,” or “knowledge,” or “science.” He was evidently a great Bible student, as all earnest Jews were, and seems to have been especially influenced by the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, the later sapiential writings, and by the practical writings of the prophets; and it is in the book of Proverbs that we must seek for the sense in which he uses the term “wisdom” in his epistle. Dean Stanley points out that the book of Proverbs is not on a level with the Prophets or the Psalms: “It approaches human things and things Divine from quite another side. It has even something of a worldly, prudential look. It is the philosophy of practical life. It is the sign to us that the Bible does not despise common sense and discretion. It impresses upon us in the most forcible manner the value of intelligence and prudence, and of a good education. The whole strength of the Hebrew language, and of the sacred authority of the book, is thrown upon these homely truths.” It is planned so as to provide the young man, who has no life-experience to guide him, with “sound knowledge and discretion.” It directs him amid the pitfalls, difficulties, and duties on which he must enter with the simplicity of youth still upon him. It was this kind of practical skill, to meet aright the unexpected and almost overwhelming responsibilities of kingship, that Solomon asked in his prayer at the outset of his reign. Kitto says: “The wisdom which Solomon craved was that of which he had already enough to be able to appreciate the value of its increase—practical wisdom, sagacity, clearness of judgment and intellect in the administration of justice, and in the conduct of public affairs.” Taking wisdom then in this simple and practical sense, there is point in the counsel of St. James for us all. Precisely what thoughtful and devout people feel that they lack, especially when trials and misunderstandings seem to attend their endeavour to live the godly life, is the practical wisdom that would enable them to think aright of these trials, and would enable them so to control themselves under them, and so to order their conduct in relation to them, as to be patient under all circumstances, and fully maintain everywhere the Christian spirit.

I. Practical wisdom for the ordering of life is a common requirement of Christian disciples.—Life is distinctly a new thing to a man when he becomes a Christian. “He has not passed that way heretofore.” He has no experiences in the self and worldly life that can be any really practical help to him. He is in much the condition of the young man who, with good principles, but very limited and often unsuitable experiences, goes out into life to meet the surprise of its varied trials and temptations. And we think there is hope for a young man if, on thus entering upon untried scenes, he is humble enough to recognise that he “lacks wisdom.” Whether a man came over from Judaism to Christianity or from Paganism, he could never find it an easy thing to adjust himself to the new conditions and responsibilities. It may be questioned whether even now any man finds it an easy thing to adjust himself to the claims of a really earnest religious life. Practically we all find out, sooner or later, that we “lack wisdom”—precisely the wisdom which would enable us to fit our Christian conduct and relationships perfectly and pleasantly to our Christian principles and to the Christian spirit. Look at this “practical wisdom” in some of its more evident spheres.

1. The Christian discovers that he has a new standard for the management of himself. Every man finds out that he needs wisdom for the skilful ordering of his own bodily faculties and powers, his mind and abilities, and his temper and passions. “Knowing ourselves” is the intense work of early life; wisely ordering ourselves, according to our knowledge of ourselves, is the even more intense work of early manhood. But the Christian has another, a new, and a higher standard of self-management. It needs to be set before us much more forcibly than it is, that the human example of our Divine Lord is that of a man who, with practical skill, ruled and ordered His own bodily life, mastering all its weaknesses, and putting it always into wise restraints. It may very well be that we all feel to “lack wisdom” in this, the first sphere of a self-rule. “The body for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.”

2. But practical wisdom is needed for ordering the commonplace and every-day associations of life. A man has to be distinctively and unquestionably Christian, in tone and spirit, everywhere, every day, and in everything. For the man who is not a Christian always is not a Christian at all. And yet what practical wisdom he needs! So easily he can undervalue the home-sphere, and say, “It does not much matter what I do there.” So easily he can make a distinct sphere of business, and say, “Business is business; we do not want religion there.” So easily he can be carried away by party feeling, and then but unworthily share in the witness of public life. Facing the commonplace obligations of home and business and society, we may all feel that in our effort to find full and adequate expression of the Christian spirit we all “lack wisdom.” Is there a satisfied, or self-satisfied, Christian man or woman? It can only be that by them the claim of the Christian religion to tone and rule the every-day life of relations is not duly estimated.

3. And as the unexpected is “the thing that happens” even in the Christian life, practical wisdom is needed for rightly meeting the anxieties, trials, temptations, and calamities that come as surprises in every life. Of these St. James was thinking; and it was concerning the securing of the right preparedness for such scenes, and the right response to such circumstances, that he wrote to these Christian Jews. “Let patience [under trials] have her perfect work.” “And if any of you feel that you lack the wisdom which would enable you so to order your lives as to win for patience her perfect work, then let him ask for the needed wisdom from God.” Surely it comes home to us all, that in our effort to tone our lives with the Christian spirit, and to fill our daily lives with the Christian principles, we do “lack wisdom,” we do need practical skill.

II. Practical wisdom for the ordering of every-day life and relations is a Divine gift.—“Let him ask of God.” Wisdom, as the learning of the schools, can be thought of as a purely human acquisition. It is not indeed so regarded by the Christian, who seeks Divine help and blessing even in the acquisition of knowledge. But this practical wisdom, which adjusts the Christian principles to the relations of life, as if a man had passed through an actual experience, and had well learned the lessons of it, is distinctly a gift of God, a Divine bestowment upon the humble, open-souled, prayerful, obediently-toned man. It would be pleasant to philosophise about this, and to show that what we really need is to put God—God in Christ—into vital relation with each scene and duty and struggle; that we cannot get God save as He gives Himself to us; and that putting Himself into, keeping Himself in, our lives, is His answer to prayer, and His supply of wisdom. Plato has a very striking sentence on the importance of associating God directly with the every-day duties and relations of life: “The best and noblest action which a virtuous man can perform, and that which will most promote his success in life, is to live, by vows and prayers, in continual intercourse with the gods; nay, all who would act with due consideration ought, before beginning any undertaking, whether great or small, to invoke God.” We need not deny that practical skill in the wise ordering of our life of duty and relations is mainly gained by experience. We grow into it with the advancing years. There is a familiar saying, with reference to our physical health, that a “man is a fool or a physician at forty.” By that time the daily experience of dealing with his frailties and tendencies ought to have made him understand himself, and secure a fair share of health. And it is also true of our mental and moral life, though in these matters we have to bring in some new and important considerations. Given the case of a man who knows what is good for his bodily health, and the assumption is that he will do it. But given the case of a man who knows what is for his moral good, and there is no security at all that he will do it; there is indeed every probability, or every fear, that he will not. Froude cleverly hits off the weakness of experience, if we treat his sentence as applying to morals. He says, “Experience is like the stern lights of a ship, which cast their rays over a path which has been taken.” In relation to the moral and religious ordering of the moral and religious life, we have to take into account the disturbing element of the biassed, self-pleasing will. Use experience how well soever we may, that disturbing element has to be reckoned with: and that makes us feel that we “lack wisdom”; and that drives us to seek the help of God, whose supreme work is in and on man’s will. God strengthens with “strength in the soul.” Wherein then lies the difference between every man’s life and the Christian man’s life? Just here—Every man is learning by experience how to live. But his learning is seriously affected and biassed by the uncertainty of his self-willedness. The Christian man too is learning by experience; but he has asked God to set, to steady, to guide, and to control his will; and consequently, for him, the lessons of experience are in the Divine sanctifying. Feeling his lack of wisdom, he asks of God. God may not change any of the circumstances of the man’s life; but God does set him and keep him rightly related to the circumstances; and therefore his life-experience does its best for him. St. James wrote to Christian Jews. It was a good and hopeful sign that they were conscious of “lacking wisdom.” From the Christian point of view, then and now, there is no peril like that of the man who is quite sure that he can go alone. “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” The inspiration of a life of trustful prayer is the daily renewed conviction that we “lack wisdom.” Prayer is our expression of the sense of need.

III. Practical wisdom for the ordering of life is obtained only on conditions.—“Let him ask in faith, nothing wavering.” Here we are led to think of distinctions among professing Christians, rather than of distinctions between the worldly and the Christian. Even when we ask we may miss the response, by failing to meet the arranged conditions. We must ask for this daily Divine help in faith; but that faith required cannot possibly mean the acceptance of certain doctrines. Answer to prayer is never assured in God’s word on the ground of the correctness of our intellectual beliefs. Faith in relation to prayer is seen by St. James as steady single-mindedness. The man of faith feels quite sure of what he needs. He has no questioning whatever about it. He gives way to no uncertainties, no doubts. He knows that he “lacks wisdom.” He does not waver as to that, and there is consequently point and force in his prayer. And faith in prayer also includes confidence in Him to whom the prayer is addressed. This is indeed the very essence of Christian prayer. To be a Christian at all is to know God so as to trust Him thoroughly. And this confidence has for its sphere everything pertaining to the practical life of godliness. Concerning everything the Christian prays with submission; but it may be said that in praying about material things submission is stronger than expectancy; but in praying about moral and religious things, in which the Christian man should be in full sympathy with God, expectancy ought to be stronger than submission. With an unquestionable and unhesitating confidence we may ask for everything that pertains to the holy life. The positive condition is active faith, full confidence, assured hope of gracious response. The negative condition is, that there shall be no wavering,—no feeling as if we did want wisdom, and then feeling as if we did not; no disputing with ourselves, as if we could be sure about nothing; no half-heartedness in our praying. Sometimes the ship, swayed about on the waters, is taken as the type of instability; but St. James knew that whatever the appearances, the ship was really answering its helm, and moving towards the desired haven. So he took his figure from the surging waves themselves. For these have no control of their own movements, and are under no apparent external control. They surge this way or that, they rise high or low, according as they are played upon by the ever-varying winds. And so even God can hardly get at the man who wavers, for there are no steady moods to which he can respond. “Let not that man think that he shall receive anything of the Lord.” The waverer, the doubter, the man who is always uncertain, is a proverbially difficult man to deal with. He is never quite sure what he wants; he never knows how to ask; and before you can get him what he asks, he wants something else. Both God and man are compelled to give up the waverers as hopeless people. “Let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth [doubteth] is like the surge of the sea driven by the wind and tossed.… A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.”

Let me gather up the points of St. James’s teaching into a few brief but connected sentences.

1. It is one thing to lack practical wisdom for the ordering of our lives, and another thing to know that we lack it.

2. It is one thing to know that we lack, and quite another to be willing to ask for a supply.

3. It is one thing to be willing to ask, and quite another to ask properly. Of one thing we may be absolutely sure, and we may act on our assurance. If God makes conditions, He lovingly responds to them. “He giveth to all liberally [just the skill for life that they lack], and upbraideth not.”


James 1:5. The Spirit of God’s Giving.—“Giveth to all liberally, and upbraideth not.” When and under what circumstances do we men upbraid one another?

1. When we can recognise no claim in the asker.
2. When we feel that too much is asked.
3. When we expect too much from the asker.

I. Asking in faith is asking in full trust of the person from whom we ask.—It need not be trust that we shall get precisely what we ask, and exactly at the time that we want to have it. It must be trust that He of whom we ask will use His judgment in the matter, and give, delay, withhold, or alter as He may see to be for the best.

II. Asking in faith is setting our heart upon what we ask.—Our Lord on more than one occasion taught that persistency and importunity were specially acceptable features in all petition. We can never rightly offer any request to God if we doubt whether the thing that we ask is desirable for us. Our heart cannot be in our request if we are uncertain whether God is willing to give, or fear that He may upbraid us. Failure of prayer can usually be traced to the man who prays. It may be that God cannot when He would.

Asking from God.—Here is something in answer to every discouraging turn of the mind, when we go to God, under a sense of our own folly and weakness, to ask for wisdom. He to whom we are sent, we are sure, has it to give; and He is of a giving disposition, inclined to bestow on those who ask. Nor is there any fear of His favours being limited to some in this case, so as to exclude others, or any humble, petitioning soul; for He gives to all men. If you should say you want a great deal of wisdom, a small portion will not serve your turn, the apostle affirms He gives liberally; and lest you should be afraid of going to Him unseasonably, or being put to shame for your folly, it is added, “He upbraideth not.” Ask when you will, and as often as you will, you will meet with no upbraidings.—Matthew Henry.

Plato’s Idea of Wisdom—Perfect wisdom hath four parts: viz. wisdom, the principle of doing things aright; justice, the principle of doing things equally in public and private; fortitude, the principle of not flying danger, but meeting it; and temperance, the principle of subduing desires and living moderately.

The “Wisdom” of Christianity.—All that the schools of Greece and Egypt and the East had been saying for a course of ages was, Let no man think that he lacks wisdom, for he has it in himself—or at most, If any man lack wisdom, let him come to us. But when the voice of the evangelising angel, whom John saw in his apocalyptic vision, became audible, the schools were silent, and the oracles were dumb, before that simple precept, to which we attach so little value, “If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God.” But this asking of God was to the Greeks a mockery. Even those who believed in God had no conception of immediate spiritual intercourse with God, still less of intellectual illumination sent directly from Him. They knew what it was to work out wisdom for themselves, or to seek for wisdom at the hands of human sages; but this was a new idea, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God.” And that not as a ceremony, but a means, a certain means of acquisition—not of God the unknown and the unapproachable, but God the Giver, God who gives, who actually gives, has given, will give again, will give for ever—not to certain favoured nations or castes or individuals, but to all men—not to Greeks or Jews alone, not to philosophers or priests alone, but to all men, all who ask, all who really desire it, all who ask aright.—J. Addison Alexander, D.D.

Knowledge and Discretion.—Learning falls far short of wisdom.… Knowledge is the treasure of the mind, but discretion is the key to it, without which it is useless. The practical part of wisdom is the best.—Feltham.

Wisdom, whence shall she be gotten?—That which is of supreme importance to us, that which endures through all the changes and decays of nature, that which really determines our fate in life, in death, and after death, is the character which has been framed and developed in us during these fleeting hours of time, and by all the chances and changes of this mutable world. Our highest wisdom, the one true secret of life, is self-training, self-culture, the development of a complete and noble character. Character is supremely important in business and in homes; he whose character is well balanced and well developed, who is not only manly, but a mature and complete man, is equal to any conditions, and rises superior to them all. Into the next world, all we can take is the character we have built up. The ruling bent of our character will determine our fate. Our main task in the world is the formation of character; it is our highest wisdom to endeavour after a character which shall be noble and complete, a character which will fit us both to live and die. Is the highest wisdom within our reach? St. James, writing to Christian Jews under persecution, tells them that patient and faithful endurance, which God sent, and intended adversity to produce, would gradually work out in them that manly and noble character which is our highest good. Trials bravely met search out and carry away faults and defects of character, as the acid bites out the alloy from the gold. They make, or tend to make, us of so complete and entire a manliness that nothing is lacking to us. Some, however, might lack wisdom to see that this is the highest wisdom; so St. James says, “If any of you lack [this] wisdom,” which holds the hope of becoming perfect in character above all other aims, let him ask it of God, and it shall be given him. He will teach and help you to put a pure and noble character before the happiest outward conditions. He will help you to welcome the trials by which He is seeking to make you steadfast, to brace you to a mature and complete manliness, to supply what is lacking in you, until you lack nothing. If you cannot see that to be His purpose, ask Him to show it to you, and He will show it. If you ask Him for wisdom to see His purpose in afflicting you, you will try to see it. As you pray you grow sincere. You can see more clearly what your life has been given you for, for what high and noble ends. You so relate yourself to the Father of lights that He is able to shed light into your soul. If God is able, surely He is willing. Where God finds an open and prepared, a seeking and receptive, heart, He enters in, and enters to make it wise and good. If you honestly crave wisdom to make His will your will, to aim at that maturity and perfection of character which He knows to be your supreme good, He will as surely give you that wisdom as the sweet, pure, sun-warmed air will flow into your room when you throw open your window to the day. God will never keep His word of promise to the ear, but break it to the hope it has inspired. He is not of two minds, as men often are. He gives because He loves to give and loves you. You need not fear to ask of Him, either because you have so often asked before, or because you have never asked before. “He upbraideth not.” And whatever forms trials may take, you may be sure of this: God intends them for your good, for the discipline and growth of character—intends them to spur and brace you to fortitude, courage, patience; and therefore He would have you count them all joy, since they will bring you joy at the last if you meet them with a constant spirit. If you care most for character, the trials that brace, refine, and elevate your character should not be unwelcome to you. And if as yet you lack the wisdom which sees in every trial a discipline of character and perfection, ask this wisdom of God the Giver, and it shall be given you.—S. Cox, D.D.

Who are the Wise?

Who are the wise?

They who have govern’d with a self-control
Each wild and baneful passion of the soul—
Curb’d the strong impulse of all fierce desires,
But kept alive affection’s purer fires.
They who have pass’d the labyrinth of life,
Without one hour of weakness or of strife:
Prepared each change of fortune to endure,
Humble though rich, and dignified though poor.
Skill’d in the latent movements of the heart—
Learn’d in the lore which nature can impart;
Teaching that sweet philosophy aloud
Which sees the “silver lining” of the cloud;
Looking for good in all beneath the skies:

These are the truly wise.


True Prayer and True Answer.—Our truest prayers are but the echo of God’s promises. God’s best answers are the echo of our prayers. As in two mirrors set opposite to each other the same image is repeated over and over again, the reflection of a reflection, so here, within the prayer, gleams an earlier promise, within the answer is mirrored the prayer.—A. Maclaren, D.D.

James 1:6. Two Kinds of Doubting.—Intellectual is not moral doubt. The unorthodox are not as the adulterous. Nevertheless, intellectual doubt may spring from an evil habit of carping criticism and self-opinion, for the foundation of which, in so far as a man himself has been either the wilful or the careless cause, he must bear the curse of its results.—Ellicott’s Commentary.

Winds and Waves.—“Like the surge of the sea driven by the wind and tossed.” The wind represents outside circumstances—something distinct from the sea itself—acting on the waters. When men are not established in principles, and well exercised in self-control, they are easily swayed to and fro by changing outward circumstances. “Each puff of wind catches hold of the water, and heaps it up into a little hill with the face to the leeward; then the crest falls, and the water sinks down into a trough, as deep below the mean surface as the hill was high above it; but the next column of water is then forced up, only, however, to be pulled down again, and in this way the motion of the wave may be propagated across a broad expanse of water. Let the breeze freshen, and the ‘little hills’ of course become higher; the wind now catches the particles of water on the crest of the wave, and carries them away, scattering them as spray, or water dust, forming foam—‘white horses,’ as the children call it. Increase the breeze to a gale, and the spray becomes a shower of salt water, until far away sea and sky seem to mingle, and the horizon-line is lost to our sight. Again, as the wind seizes the top of the wave, it makes it move faster than the lower part, and we see it bend over in a curve, whose edge is scattered into foam. If the wind be intermittent, as mild breezes usually are, we get a few small waves running in, followed by a larger, higher one, which breaks on the shore.”—Worsley-Benison.

James 1:7-8. Single-minded and Double-minded.—The double-minded man halts between belief and unbelief, with inclination towards the latter. The single-minded man does not halt at all; but having a distinct aim before him, moves toward it with a resolute and persistent endeavour. “Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee.” St. James is dealing with characteristic dispositions in prayer. Some give force to prayer. Some so weaken prayer that it cannot reach God with any persuasive power. There is—

1. The single-mindedness of conscious need. The man is quite sure that what he asks he wants.
2. The single-mindedness of a resolute purpose. What the man wants he sets heart and effort upon attaining.
3. The single-mindedness of faith in God. As the Prayer-hearer, who takes heed to the expressed desires of His people, and waits to bless.
4. The single-mindedness of a loyal submission, which always goes with faith in God.
5. The single-mindedness of importunity, which speaks after the manner of Jacob: “I will not let Thee go, unless Thou bless me.” The man of a single mind in prayer may reasonably expect to “receive something of the Lord.” There is the double-mindedness—
1. Of uncertainty as to what is to be asked. A man may not know exactly what he wants, or may have no confidence that what he asks is a good thing.
2. Of uncertainty whether the matter had better be taken to God, or managed by the man himself.
3. Of uncertainty whether God will take such things into consideration.
4. Of uncertainty whether, after all, prayer is of any real use—whether good and evil things do not come to us just the same whether we pray or not.
5. Of uncertainty caused by never letting a decision rest, but going over it again and again, until opportunity is lost, and nothing is done. The man of a double mind need not expect to “receive anything of the Lord,” for the truth is that, in his uncertainty, he never really asks. The “unstable” can neither “excel” nor “attain.”


James 1:6. Surging Sea and Placid Lake.—Trust Christ, and so thy soul shall no longer be like “the sea that cannot rest,” full of turbulent wishes, full of passionate desires that come to nothing, full of endless moanings, like the homeless ocean that is ever working, and never flings up any produce of its work but yeasty foam and broken weeds; but thine heart shall become translucent and still, like some land-locked lake, where no winds rave nor tempests ruffle, and on its calm surface there shall be mirrored the clear shining of the unclouded blue, and the perpetual light of the sun that never goes down.—A. Maclaren, D.D.

Blessed through Humiliations.—

Then grudge not thou the anguish keen

Which makes thee like thy Lord,

And learn to quit with eye serene

Thy youth’s ideal hoard.

Thy treasur’d hopes and raptures high—

Unmurmuring let them go,

Nor grieve the bliss should quickly fly

Which Christ disdained to know.

Thou shalt have joy in sadness soon;

The pure, calm hope be thine,

Which brightens, like the eastern moon,

As day’s wild lights decline.

Thus souls, by nature pitch’d too high,

By sufferings plung’d too low,

Meet in the Church’s middle sky,

Half-way ’twixt joy and woe,

To practise there the soothing lay

That sorrow best relieves;

Thankful for all God takes away,

Humbled by all He gives.


The Mission of the Rich.—When rain from heaven has filled a basin on the mountain-top, the reservoir overflows, and so sends down a stream to refresh the valley below. It is for similar purposes that God in His providential government fills the cup of those who stand on the high places of the earth, that they may distribute the blessing among those who occupy a lower place in the scale of prosperity.—Rev. William Arnot.

Verses 9-11


James 1:9. He is exalted.—Or, “in his exaltation”; “in his high estate.” Low degree does not suggest caste, but poverty involving humiliation.

James 1:10. Made low.—Or, “in his humiliation.” These experiences being especially adapted to each, can be rejoiced in as disciplinary.

James 1:11.—The verbs are in the past tense; therefore translate, “The sun arose with the burning heat, and dried up the grass; and the flower thereof fell away, and the grace of its fashion perished” (Isaiah 40:6-8).


Discipline comes out of Changed Circumstances.—It was a time in which there were frequent sudden changes in social and business circumstances. In a commercial age some rapidly acquire riches; in an age of national unsettledness and religious persecution some as rapidly lose their all. It is often said that “the hardest thing in life is to come down gracefully.” It would show a worthier estimate of human nature if we were to say, “The hardest thing in life is to go up gracefully.” Many more cases of moral ruin attend the sudden increase of riches, and elevation of station, than attend the loss of wealth and place. Nevertheless, men are always willing to stand the moral risk of going up, and never willing to choose the moral blessings that may attend coming down. St. James impresses that both changes are moral testings. The man who is low may look upon his elevation as a testing of his moral character, out of which increased virtue should come. The man who is high should look upon his misfortunes as Divine discipline, having in it a mission of moral blessing for him. So he who goes up may sincerely rejoice in the going up, and he who comes down may rejoice in coming down, since God is so evidently adapting His gracious discipline to each one. It is an advanced Christian thought to which every one cannot hope to attain.

I. The caste principle is found in all society.—It may take exaggerated forms in India, and exclusive trade forms in countries such as China, but it is an essential feature of the aggregating, nationalising, and civilising of men. By various affinities men are drawn together into sets, and find their spheres and pleasures in their sets. Every man is born into a class, and fits to his class. Within his class he gets his own particular level by his ability or his means. The caste principle must never be thought of as only evil. It is mingled good and evil, and may be good in an important sense when the members of the various classes are swayed by altruistic principles, and accept the duty of serving one another. Our Lord said, “Ye have the poor always with you”; and He might also have said, “Ye have the rich also with you.”

II. The caste conditions of society are subject to change.—The rich are brought low, and the poor are exalted. Proof and illustration are abundant in history, and obvious to experience and observation. It may suffice to show

(1) that the accidents of life are constantly changing class conditions;
(2) the rewards of human enterprise are constantly changing class conditions; and
(3) Divinely ordered providences are also constantly changing class conditions. Poor Joseph becomes rich. Rich Job becomes poor. These are types with great followings.

III. The changed caste conditions of society are disciplinary agencies.—And the discipline comes to both those who go up and those who come down, because

(1) in either case new associations have to be made, and to them the new life has to be fitted; and
(2) because the old life may be so seriously out of harmony with the new, that the work of fitting to the new may cost severe strain. It may mean earnest self-culture—“cutting off right hand, plucking out right eye.” But discipline through Divine providences has this consolation in it—it is meant to secure for us the highest good. It can only be our own fault if we miss that highest good.

The Crown of Life.—This is a figure for the results accomplished in character, by the resolute, persistent, and heroic endeavour to live wisely and worthily and well. Such efforts are crowned with

(1) a spirit of firm endurance;
(2) an unshakeable steadfastness;
(3) a great tenacity of purpose; and
(4) a quenchless enthusiasm for the right, the true, the pure, and the good. Established and confirmed principles of character are the “crown of life,”—the crown which God gives, though it seems to come in a natural way; the crown which is His recognition and reward.


James 1:9. Pride in Disguise.—There is no praise from the plain St. James for the pride which apes humility, nor for the affectation which loves to be despised.

The Anxiety of Riches.—The rich man is in no sense to be envied, i.e. the man who trusts in his riches. He is a heavily burdened man. His anxiety concerns—

1. The retention of his riches. His fear is seen in exaggerated form in the miser. The rich farmer was worried to know “where to bestow all his fruits and his goods.” The rich man is perplexed in these times to know how to put out his money safely, and has to be satisfied with small interest.
2. The use or misuse of his money. He may easily spend it in self-indulgences that bring ruin on himself, body and soul. He may easily neglect to help others with his wealth, and so bring down on himself the curse of the poor and the judgment of God.
3. The future, into which he can neither carry his riches, nor anything that his riches have obtained for him. In view of the worries that riches bring, we may wisely pray the prayer of Agur, “Give me neither poverty nor riches.”

Riches a Natural Acquisition.—Man was born to be rich, or inevitably grows rich by the use of his faculties, by the union of thought with nature. Property is an intellectual production. The game requires coolness, right-reasoning, promptness, and patience in the players. Cultivated labour drives out brute labour.—Emerson.

James 1:9-11. Exaltings and Humblings.

I. The reasons for the rejoicing of the poor.I.e. of the pious poor. They are exalted—

1. Inwardly, by the renewal of their nature.
2. Outwardly, by dominion over self.
3. In rank, by high dignity.
4. By communion with the best intelligences.
5. By the endowment of the best influences.
6. By raising them above the temptations of their condition.
7. By enabling them to adorn all the relationships of life.
8. By raising them to the most sublime felicity.
9. By inspiring them with bright hopes of immortality.

II. The reasons for the rejoicing of the rich.I.e. of the pious rich. 1. They are delivered from proud self-exaltation.

2. From the fictitiousness of worldly distinctions.
3. They are conformed to the image of Christ.
4. Able to realise heaven’s honours.
5. They have treasures laid up for them for eternity.
6. They are weaned from the world.
7. They are ascending by the cross to eternal bliss.—Dr. J. Burns.

James 1:10. The Emblem of the Grass.—Describe the peculiarities of the grass in hot Eastern lands.

1. It shows well.
2. It fades suddenly—under scorching wind and sun.
3. It is lost utterly—at least for the season, and until God sends the reviving rains.

James 1:11. Rich Commercial Jews.—“In his ways”; R.V. “goings.” There seems, moreover, looking closely at the text, a special fitness in its exact words; for they mean that the rich shall perish in their journeyings for the sake of gain; and to no people could the rebuke apply more sharply than to the Jews, the lenders “unto many nations” (Deuteronomy 15:6), the merchants and bankers of the world.

Verses 12-15


James 1:12. Is tried.—Better, “hath been approved.” δόκιμος is properly spoken of money as having been tried and refined. Crown of life.—See figure in Isaiah 28:5; and compare 2 Timothy 4:8; 1 Peter 5:4. “Crown of life” is peculiar to St. James.

James 1:13. Tempted.—Here meaning, “enticed to evil.” Distinguish between trials used as moral discipline, and temptations used to degrade and destroy souls. With the latter the thought of God must never be associated as originator. Confusion arises from the dual meaning of the term “evil.” It is sometimes “sin” and sometimes “calamity.” Cannot be tempted.—Better, “is not a tempter in the way of evil.” Tyndale, “God tempteth not unto evyll.”

James 1:14. Drawn away.—This is a better form, “is tempted by his own lust, being drawn away by it.” Lust, or unregulated desire, includes passion for safety, riches, ease, as well as sensual pleasure. Plumptre says, “Adversity and persecution expose men to the solicitations of their lower nature, to love of ease and safety, no less than luxury and prosperity. In both ‘desire’ tempts the will to depart from what it knows to be the will of God.”

James 1:15. Bringeth forth.—The second Greek word so translated differs from the first, and is a stronger term. It suggests the production of a monstrosity. It may be rendered “engendereth.”


The Mission of Temptation as Excitement to Evil.—From temptation as moral testing St. James proceeds to deal with temptation as a force alluring to the sin of apostasy. Temptation as enticement would seem at first sight to be altogether and only evil. Yet in view of the sinful condition of man, and the redemptive work to be done in him, even temptation in this sense may prove to be an important remedial force, and the man may be blessed who comes into the power of it, but endures, stands fast, effectually resists. The man gains a distinct moral uplift who has come safely through such temptations. It is the moral dignity of Christ that He was tempted, and did endure. Temptation to evil applied to moral beings is an essential condition of moral culture, and we cannot conceive of moral culture being accomplished in any other way. The untempted have no virtue. But this brings up the question, Whence comes temptation to evil?

I. St. James does not here declare the source to be a great evil spirit.—He wants those to whom he writes to feel that the responsibility in the matter rests on themselves, and therefore he avoids the bare possibility of their shifting the responsibility on any Satan. But the question of the existence and work of a personal devil need not be introduced here, as St. James puts it away from consideration. Whatever idea of the power and authority of Satan we may have, it is distinctly understood that he is no co-ordinate power with God, as, perhaps, Ahriman is with Ormuzd; but a strictly subordinate power, working within the Divine restraints, and working in reality towards the Divine beneficent ends.

II. St. James deals with those who say that temptation to evil comes from God.—He affirms that God is never the direct source of temptation. He says that He cannot be, because He Himself cannot be tempted with evil. “At first it might seem as if this assertion did not meet the thought to which it appears to be an answer; but the latent premiss of the reasoning seems to be, that no one tempts to evil who has not been first himself tempted by it.” Satan the tempted one is the tempter.

III. St. James affirms that the source of temptation is found in the nature of man, and the occasion of temptation in the circumstances of man.—“He is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.” Man is made for pleasure, and is entrusted with desires. It is his nature to want what will please and gratify him. In this of itself there would have been no difficulty; but in the simple gratification of desires there would have been no character, and no possible creation of character. There came a revelation of God’s will to man, which required that he should put his desires into restraint. If he would not, he sinned. In asserting his self-will against God he changed desires into lusts; put himself into the power of his lusts, which tempted him, enticed him, drew him aside to evil. The external world of things, being set in relation to his bodily nature, became the occasion of temptation, when, having lost his self-restraint, desires had become lusts.

IV. St. James assures that the consequences of sin as yielding to temptation to evil are inevitable.—They come in the ordinary and necessary outworking of moral laws, and are as certain as any results of the outworking of natural laws. Let unrestrained desire do its work, and it will bring forth sin. Let sin do its work, and it will bring forth death. The only possible arrest of the process is in man’s own hands—with the Divine help. It lies in gaining that self-mastery which God is ever helping us to gain by bringing us through the sterner discipline of life.

James 1:12 (R.V.). The Mission of Temptation as Trial.—“Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he hath been approved, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord promised to them that love Him.” It is plain that St. James has two very distinct, yet very closely related, senses in which he uses the word “temptation.” Sometimes he means attraction or enticement to sin; sometimes he means trial, trouble, affliction. How these two differing things came to be so closely associated in his mind we can easily understand. Like the other writers of general epistles, he was anxious about the influence of prevailing persecutions on the faith of the Jewish Christians. Persecutions were trials to be borne. But those Jewish Christians were proving them to be much more than trials; to them they were temptations, enticing them away from their new-found faith, back to their old and formal Judaism. How trials become temptations may be illustrated from the effect produced by the family calamities on Job’s wife. She was altogether upset when the crowning distress came, and her husband was smitten with a foul and humiliating form of disease. She was tempted by trial, and drawn away from her submission and trust. “Then said his wife unto him, Dost thou still retain thine integrity? Curse God, and die.” “The element of testing is recognised as in every trial that comes to the good man. But testing involves temptation. The test is this—Will you resist what you are tempted to think or feel or do under these circumstances of trial? Job was tested by the fiery trials through which he had to pass; but the testing involved temptation to “curse God and die.” We are, however, proposing now to treat St. James’s word “temptation” as meaning “trial.” But as soon as we begin to think of the trials that come into our human lot, an important distinction comes into view. So many of our human troubles we bring upon ourselves; they are the direct, natural, and necessary outcome of our dispositions, cherished habits, negligences, indulgences, or wilfulnesses. Limit thought to any small period of life, say a single year, and it will both surprise and humble us to observe how many of the troubles of that period were manifestly unnecessary and avoidable, if we had been other than we were. It is indeed the exceeding bitterness of human life, to the seriously thoughtful man, that he has brought most of his sufferings upon himself. It is often set before us how true this is in relation to bodily pain and frailty. So much of it is the natural result of our self-indulgent habits, in eating and drinking, in clothing, in exposures, in over-exertions. It may also be shown in relation to those more serious troubles that come through misunderstandings with our fellow-men, and which for many persons make up at least three-fourths of the bitterness of life. Every one of them might have been avoided, if we had cultured a better disposition, exercised a wiser self-restraint, set a worthier watch upon the door of our lips, or shown a readier willingness to seek explanations and reconciliations. We really have only ourselves to blame for such misunderstandings; they are entirely human-made calamities; they are not in any sense heaven-sent trials; and all the bitter hours we may have had, and all the unworthy things we may have been led to say and do, which make wretched hours of woe for others, are all the necessary and natural outworking of our own conduct and our own spirit; they are the woes which we have made for ourselves. But some of our troubles we may fully recognise as sent by God. They come in circumstances which we are wholly unable to control. They are not—save in some very indirect way—related to our own weaknesses or wrong-doings. It may sometimes be very difficult to distinguish between the troubles which we bring upon ourselves and the troubles which God sends; and yet the distinction can be made, and is indeed actually made. Under many of our trials we have a great fretting of conscience—those are our man-made trials. Under other trials conscience is quiet and silent—those are our God-sent trials. The distinction is clearly seen in the life of Abraham. He made trouble for himself in Egypt and at Gerar, when he deceived with the idea of saving his life. He came into troubles which God sent, when he went to Moriah to sacrifice his only son. What we need to see is that all the troubles which we bring upon ourselves bear the character of judgments. They are always the whip that scourges the wilful. They are always designed to arouse to a sense of sin. They are disciplinary and corrective, but in the way of punishment, of judgment. The troubles which God sends have no judgment-element in them—to teach this one truth is the great message of the book of Job. We need to look this truth full in the face. God-sent troubles are not judgments, are not punishments. Job was not punished, Job was not judged, by his trials. God-sent troubles are Divine testings, and are culture rather than discipline. They are for the nourishing of virtue, rather than for the correction of fault. And therefore it is fitting that for those who endure God-sent trials there should be provided gracious and even abundant rewards, summarised in the figure of the “crown of life.” There are periods in the histories of individuals and of Churches, when the God-sent character of their troubles is brought very closely home to them; as there are other periods—which are far harder to bear—when the review of the immediate past shows troubles, cares, burdens, which are manifestly related to our wrong-doing. We see quite plainly that we “sowed the wind,” and we had to “reap the whirlwind”; we followed the devices and desires of our own hearts; and the days went on until we found ourselves deep in the bog and quagmire of the proper fruitage of our own doings. Now we are purposing to read the “temptation” of our text as “our God-sent trials.” So read, “Blessed is the man that endureth trial.”

I. Blessed is the man who has some trial to endure.—“Blessed” is the rightly chosen word. There is an important difference between the words “happy” and “blessed.” Men are happy, in a lightsome way, with what may “hap” or “happen.” Men are blessed, in a serious way, with what they can see God ordains, arranges, or bestows. Happiness is too light a thing to be the issue of any enduring of trial. It represents but a seeming, passing good. Blessedness expresses the very highest condition man can reach. It is man’s most delightful mood; it is man’s truest riches. Blessed puts the print of heaven on a man. And blessedness cannot fail to be the issue of enduring God-sent trial. Would not our life upon the earth be altogether brighter, better, worthier, without these God-sent trials? Why should we have such things to endure? Our hearts often cherish feelings which, if they took shape as words, would speak like this. But in just this way you have heard the child wonder over the meaning of his school-life—the strain of learning, and the correction of faults. Why cannot we live through our human life without these school-tasks and this school-discipline? The answer to the school-boy is the answer to us. You can be something. If you are ever to be what you can be, you must be subjected to school-discipline. To the Christian we must say—You can be something. It is to the honour of God and to your own eternal joy that you should be what you can be. And the God-sent trials are God’s ways of making you what you can become. Is it better to go through life as a being scarcely superior to an animal, which the man is who has never known school-training? And could it possibly be better for the Christian to remain all through his life just the saved thing of his conversion-time? And such he must remain for ever if he does not come under the school-training of God, taking shape as heaven-sent trials. We fret under our own particular trials, think them strangely unsuitable for us, and far more severe than anybody else has to endure; and exactly so, and quite as unreasonably, does the child at school. Have you ever sat quietly down to think over the God-sent trials of your lives, and to ask yourselves which of them you could have done very well without? If you have, you have surely found that you had given yourself no easy task. You looked them carefully over,—diseases that spoiled life’s plans and left permanent marks on the body, in helpless limbs, or recurring pain, or local frailties; disasters which swept away income, and compelled you to begin life again; bereavements that plucked away your life-support, and left you fallen, bruised, helpless, almost hopeless: yes, you passed them all in review, and looked out this one and that, quite sure that they were unnecessary. But you examined them again; and, as you looked, a flood of Divine light fell on them, and in that light was revealed their mission. You saw the good which they had wrought in you and for you, and you had to put them back into the list, close it up, and say, “I would have had nothing of the God-sent trial other than it has been, for He has made all things work together for good.” Blessed is the man that has some God-sent trials to endure. Life with them is hopeful. Life without God-sent trials—who could wish for that?

II. Blessed is the man who endures the trials God does send him.—That word “endure” reminds us that God-sent trials are seldom, if ever, single events or incidents—they are processes; we have to keep up for some time our right relations to them. Single acts of submission under strokes may be comparatively easy; but the keeping on, the enduring, is always so hard. Enduring is so much more, and so much more noble, than bearing. It is not very much to lie down and let the trials of life trample over you, and bear without uttering a groan. Yet that is many people’s best idea of the right attitude towards Divinely sent afflictions; but that is not, Christian endurance. Eastern devotees can do that sort of bearing work far better than we can. In the ceremony of the Doseh a long line of men will cast themselves down on their faces, and let the whole procession of men and horses trample over their backs without a murmur. No, no, enduring is nothing like that; it is intelligent; it is the resolve of the will, based on the good judgment of the mind, and the right feeling of the heart. Enduring is lifting up oneself to take a right position in relation to our trials, and keeping oneself uplifted so long as the trial stays. Enduring is cheerful. Enduring never separates a man from his duties, his relations, and his services. The man who endures goes about his earthly life as bravely and brightly as ever he did, with his great woe bound fast like a burden on his shoulder, but determined that, if he feels it himself, nobody shall see it, nobody shall suspect it. That is the holy enduring of God’s saints. They may try to make their brave burden-bearing invisible, but they cannot quite do it. Lines in their faces, pathos in the tones of their voices, tell us all about it. But then we keep silence too, only saying in our souls, “Blessed are they who endure temptation.”

III. Blessed is the man who gains the crown of life promised to them that endure under trial.—It is not certain where St. James got his idea of the “crown of life” from, or exactly what he meant by it. St. Paul had associations with the great Grecian games, and took his figures from the parsley or the myrtle crowns which decked and honoured the victors in the race or in the fight; but we cannot be sure that St. James had any such associations. We must do what we can toward fixing a meaning for ourselves. Let us try two.

1. Life may be the crown. And this will fit into St. James’s teaching. He is speaking of the discipline under which men are placed. They are training for life, just as we say that the lads at school are training for life. And when they have endured right through, and the training and disciplining work is done, they are crowned with life; the life for which they have been preparing so long comes to them, and it is a dignity, a glory, a joy, as is a crown.

2. Or it may mean that the life of enduring they have lived through will be crowned, as the victor in the old games had his victory shown, and gloried in, by placing on his head the myrtle crown—the deathless myrtle crown. It may be that we shall prefer this meaning, since the crown of life is plainly the gracious recognition and reward that our Lord will give. Oh the thrill of the old victor as he steps forward, with ten thousand eager eyes fixed upon him, and ten thousand voices shouting glad acclaim, towards the royal seat of the mightiest King of all the kings there, and then feels the King’s own royal hand placing the myrtle crown upon his head—the crown which declares he has fought, he has borne, he has endured, he has won! Can it be that the hand of the King of kings will place the crown of life upon our brow? Yes, if we endure—nobly endure, sweetly endure, persistently endure—our God-sent trials. Our God-sent trials! The past has a rich record of them. The future will surely bring some more of them round to us. And “blessed is the man that endureth temptation,” if the temptation take shape as God-sent trial.


James 1:12. Christian Enduring.—This is the charm of our Lord’s life on the earth. Enduring is the only word that covers and compasses His story. It is fittingly associated with its close, when “He endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself.” It is possible to find “submission” in the cross of the Lord Jesus. It is possible to find something grander far than submission. It is possible to find “endurance,” the active doing, not the merely passive bearing. For this is the thrice noble spirit, this is sublime endurance—a man or a woman keeping on doing cheerfully the life’s work with their great earth-burden bound tightly on their shoulders. Heroes in the strife are they.

Power to endure a Sign of Manliness.—If we would quit ourselves like men, let us be patient men. It is not a manly thing to be grumbling continually, as some people do, about this, about that, about almost everything—the weather, the state of trade, their health, their neighbours, and so forth. Now whatever troubles us can or cannot be avoided. If it can be avoided, let it be avoided; if it cannot, let it be patiently borne; but let there be no peevishness. I think there is something worthy of respect, and even of admiration, in the idea of manliness entertained by many uncivilised peoples, that a man, worth calling a man, should be able to bear almost any amount of physical torture without a groan. Civilisation has perhaps rendered that too hard a test for us; but we surely need not be so impatient of suffering as to mourn and complain about trifling annoyances.—H. Stowell Brown.

The Crown of Life.—The issue and outcome of believing service and faithful stewardship here on earth is the possession of the true life, which stands in union with God; in measure so great, and in quality so wondrous, that it lies on the pure locks of the victors like a flashing diadem, all ablaze with light in a hundred jewels. There is such a congruity between righteousness and the crown of life, that it can be laid on none other head but that of a righteous man; and if it could, all its amaranthine flowers would shrivel and fall when they touched an impure brow.—A. Maclaren, D.D.

The Purpose of Temptation.—There is a purpose in temptation. It is not an accident of our history or nature. It serves great moral and spiritual ends which, so far as we know, could not be otherwise attained. It is essential to virtue. In the New Testament the word has a double meaning. It means the inducement to sin. It means the endurance of suffering. At root they are the same. Suffering tests the character, tries the faith, and so tempts us as much and as surely as does the direct and immediate solicitation to sin. Suffering may tempt men to evil just as certainly as it may train them to good. St. James means by the word “life,” not of course mere vitality, for that the man must have had to be tempted at all; nor only immortality, for that might conceivably be his whether he “endured” temptation or not; but “life” in the sense of character—of virtuous and noble character—which is the really vital thing in man, and in which alone a man’s true life consists. He receives the “crown of life” as the natural issue and consummation of his endurance. Without the cross of temptation no man can have the crown of life. How is temptation disciplinary? In what way does it influence our spiritual life?

1. By teaching us the bitterness of sin. With the first taste of the forbidden fruit we taste the bitterness of sin. It is this knowledge of sin, this awakened consciousness of guilt, which lies at the foundation of our Christian character, and gives to us our place and part in the redemptive work of Christ.
2. By revealing us unto ourselves. Self-knowledge is the root of all virtue. It is one of the secrets of moral safety and of spiritual growth. In our self-ignorance is our peril.
3. By the general development of the character. Before their temptation Adam and Eve were as children. They were children in their innocence. After their temptation the innocence was lost, and lost for ever; but in place of it was a bitter knowledge and a stern experience, which were as distinct a development on what they were before as is manhood to infancy. Temptation brought them into a wider range of being. By their fall life was altogether changed for them. Their feelings ran in new and deeper channels; their knowledge moved in larger spheres; and the peaceful safety and simplicity of Eden were possible for them no more. What is true of Adam and Eve is true equally of us. We are born innocent. Childhood is our Eden. Though innocent, we are temptable and frail—the more temptable and frail because we are their children. We likewise are tempted to our fall, and through the fall we learn exactly what Eve and Adam learnt, the knowledge of good and evil—the blessedness of obedience to the will of God, the poisonous bitterness of wrong. And the wider knowledge admits us into wider life, and instead of continuing children we spring up into the stature of women and of men. The gates of a lost innocence close behind us, and we find ourselves in the great world struggling amid the thorns. Through temptation men fall and sink into unfathomed depths of misery and degradation. It is true. But through temptation also they rise into the image of Christ, “who is the image of God.” Through the test and trial of temptation men grow to manhood—manhood grows to sainthood—and sainthood is at last borne into the Divine haven of the eternal peace—the peace of a perfectly harmonious and completed character, every disturbing and discordant element of which has been vanquished, and for ever left behind. So that no temptation would mean no manhood—no sainthood. It would even mean no Christ. For it was out of temptation that Christ came to save us, and it was through temptation that He saved and saves.—Johnson Barker, LL.B.

James 1:13. Nature is God’s Work only.—Some cannot see in nature (as J. S. Mill) “the work of a being at once good and omnipotent,” and prefer to doubt the latter quality sooner than the former. But this nineteenth-century conclusion is no advance beyond the dual system of the Persians, or rather of Mani, who corrupted with his Indian fancies the faith of Zoroaster. The Manichees settled the difficulty better than our deists, by declaring the existence of a good God and a bad one, and appealed to the daily strife between virtue and vice, nay life and death, in witness of their simple creed.

God no Tempter.—Man does not directly say, “I am tempted of God”; but he is ready sometimes to accuse Him indirectly by saying—God has placed me in such and such circumstances; and therefore God is really the author of the sin into which those circumstances have led me. And it is true that God is the author of temptation in the sense that He provides men spheres of moral discipline. God cannot be thought of as enticing any one to sin. He did put Adam, Abraham, etc., into scenes that were disciplinary. He deals with His people now in the same way. God “tempteth not any man.” That is true. But this is also true, “God did tempt Abraham.”

Is God the Author of Sin?—The wider notion of temptation includes the allurements of desire, as well as the trials of adversity. In both cases men found refuge from the reproof of conscience in a kind of fatalism. God had placed them in such and such circumstances; therefore He was the author of the sin to which those circumstances had led. The following sentence is from the son of Sirach: “Say not thou, It is through the Lord that I fell away” (Sir. 15:11).—Farrar.

God not the Author of Evil.—God is made the author of evil, either directly or indirectly.

1. Directly. If we say, Nothing can possibly root it out of my mind that I shall be right in doing what God does; and the more I feel my relation to Him, and the fact that I am formed in His image, the more right this will seem to me.
2. Indirectly. If I feel that a certain thing is necessary for the attainment of a great, good end, and secures it, I cannot help feeling that, as a means to such an end, it is right, and I should be justified in doing it.
3. If a certain state of things in the Divine providence is the best attainable, I cannot possibly feel it to be wrong. These three representations are essentially the same. A necessary means to a good end, or the best attainable condition in a world governed by God, must be in harmony with His will—cannot be felt to be wrong. Free-thinkers and others constantly represent evil as necessary, as a means to a good end, as in harmony with the Divine will. This cannot be evil. Then there is no such thing as evil. Sin is a mistake, a fancy of ours, nothing to God. But when you have made the thing itself not wrong, when you have quite hidden its moral deformities under the Divine sanction, and have painted the most hideous results with the plausible sophistry of a good appearance in results—which is done when God is made the author of evil—you have left no room for conscience. There is no wrong to be condemned by conscience; there are no evil results, for all is working to a good end. There is no imaginable reason why a man should not do just what he likes best, at least so long as he can escape any threatening law. And that law has surely no right to be resisting what after all is good. Thus the moral foundations are swept into complete ruin. Can that be true of which the legitimate result is such? The value of religion consists in its purity, and its power to awaken pure sympathies in the souls of men. It is not the province of religion strictly speaking—nor is there any occasion for it—to give us the principles of morality, rules for right conduct. To those who acknowledge no supreme Being, and therefore no religion in our sense, all these principles remain precisely the same as to us. They have their foundations, eternal and imperishable, in the very nature of man and the constitution of human society. Religion is that which can elicit our devotion to these principles by kindling our love and reverence for their highest and most perfect embodiment—as, for example, in Christ. Religion is identical with morality in its principles and aims, yet above it, as moving in a higher sphere of influence and inspiring power. It is this view that renders so indisputable our clear conception of God as good and only good, involved in no evil. If God were a sovereign lawgiver, whose commands could neither be impugned nor judged, we could have no ground for denying that what we call evil might originate with Him. Here the bitter conflict of life arises very much from the confused mixture of good and evil, right and wrong. But in all this the reliance of the mind is on the profound conviction that there is One in whom no such confusion exists. One of the distinguishing characteristics of the religion of the New Testament is, that it marks out with such exact precision, and yet in such grand and lofty outlines, the right and the wrong, and the principles that place them beyond the possibility of being confounded.—Samuel Edger, B.A.

James 1:13-14. The Secret of the Tempter’s Power.—Every man is tempted, but every man is differently tempted. Temptations take specific and individual forms, and each age and class, position and pursuit, has temptations of its own. Every generation has its own temptations, since each age brings with it its own social circumstances, its own religious and political conditions, and so—its own temptations. Every man is tempted according to the class to which he belongs, the generation in which he is born, and according to that individuality of character and history which can be his alone. But there is one thing in which they are all alike. The secret of their power over us is ourselves. We are ready enough when we fall to blame some one else. St. James insists that the real responsibility when we are tempted is not in any tempter: it is in ourselves. The real source of temptation is in us. To be tempted is to be “drawn away,” “enticed”—caught like an animal in a noose—lured like a bird into a trap. And we are “drawn away” not so much by any skill or subtlety of the tempter as by the sensuousness of our nature, the keenness of our appetites, the strength of our desires, the ambition of our intellect, the infirmity of our temper, the weakness of our will, the depth of our selfishness, the greatness of our pride, the greediness of our vanity, the feebleness of our faith. The power of temptation lies in some moral frailty which the cunning of the tempter only brings into the light. By “lust” St. James means desire, longing, appetite, animal or otherwise. Desire unregulated—inordinate—ill controlled. Lust in its lower form we call sensualism, meaning by that desires which spring directly from the senses, and have the animal instincts for their immediate origin and root. The senses are the primary creators of temptation. What are Eve and Adam in their fall but a symbol of the senses at their first and keenest? What was the history of our first-remembered sin? Was it not this?—The strength of our sensuous or sensual desires quickened by some external seduction into longing after that which we knew to be forbidden, and which, though forbidden, we longed for nevertheless. There are other forms of lust—lust of power, and lust of gold. When the spirit of ambition becomes the ruling spirit of a man, the tempter has him in his grip. He becomes selfishness incarnate. The question, “Who shall be greatest?” is a question which has been the bane of the world, and the bane of the Church. It is the bane of every society into which it enters. It is destructive of all peace, of all charity, of all brotherhood. It may be destructive of every virtue and of all morality. There is also the lust of gold, the love of money. It is the spirit of covetousness. It is one of the forms which the love of power may take. There is no more fertile source of temptation and of sin. There are two ways in which temptation culminates and is made complete:

1. The sinful impulse is so strong that the man courts or creates the circumstances which shall gratify it, and it is thus developed into outward acts of guilt. The man tempts the tempter.
2. Against or irrespective of his will the man is brought face to face with circumstances which tempt what is temptable in him, and he lacks the presence of mind or the strength of will necessary for resistance. Unsought the tempter meets him. He puts a crafty finger on an unsuspected weakness, and in an instant the simple soul is trapped. In each case the strength of the temptation was in the frailty of the man—natural and pardonable frailty, if you will—but frailty, and sinful frailty, none the less.—Johnson Barker, LL.B.

James 1:14. The Limitations of Satan.—Satan can merely act on his general knowledge of human nature, aided by particular guesses at the individual before him, whom he would fain destroy. He has learned too well the deep corruption of the heart, and knows what gaudy bait will most attract the longing and licentious eyes.

The Devil as an Objective Person.—There is no more reason to suppose that God has created any such being, or that any such really exists, than there is to suppose that there is a real being called the prince of this world, or another called antichrist, or two others called Gog and Magog. The devil is that objective person, whose reality is the sum of all subjective seductions, or temptations to evil, viz. those of bad spirits, and those of the corrupted soul itself. These bad spirits, sometimes called Legion, together with our own bad thoughts, are all gathered up into a great king of art and mischief, and called the devil. Whether it is done by some instinct of language, or some special guidance of inspiration, in the use of language, or both, we do not know: the latter is more probable. But however it came to pass, we can see that it serves a most important use in the economy of revelation. In the process of recovery to God men must be convinced of their sins, and made thoroughly conscious of their guiltiness, and this requires a turning of their minds upon themselves in reflection, and a state of piercingly subjective attention to their own ill-desert. And yet they must be taken away, somehow, from a too close or totally subjective attention even to their sins. For if they are to be taken away from their ill-desert and guiltiness, they must be drawn out into a movement of soul in exactly the opposite direction, viz. in the direction of faith which is outward. And this exactly is what the grand objective conception of the devil prepares and facilitates. First, their sin is all gathered up, with its roots and causes, into the bad king conceived to be reigning without; and then it is permitted the penitent, or the disciple struggling with his enemy, to conceive that Christ, in whom he is called to believe, is out in force, to subdue and crush the monster.—Horace Bushnell, D.D.[2]

[2] Dr. Bushnell’s note is given as suggestive of thought, not as approved.—Ed.

James 1:15. The Conflict in the Believer.—Even in the heart of the believer two principles of action are at work—the renewal “in the spirit of his mind” after the image of God, and the sinful desire which renders the soul accessible to temptation.—Webster and Wilkinson.

Milton’s Allegory of Sin and Death.—In Milton’s marvellous allegory of sin and death (Paradise Lost, bk. ii. 745–814) Satan represents intellect and will opposed to God, sin its offspring, self-generated, and death the fruit of the union of mind and will with sin. In the incestuous union of sin and death that follows, and in its horrid progeny, Milton seems to have sought to shadow forth the shame and foulness and misery in which even the fairest forms of sin finally issue.

The Allegory of Sin and Death.—In looking at the allegory as a whole we note—

1. Its agreement as to the relation of sin and death with the teaching of St. Paul (Romans 5:12).

2. Its resemblance to like allegories in the literature of other nations, as in the well-known choice of Hercules that bears the name of Prodicus, in which pleasure appears with the garb and allurements of a harlot.—Farrar.

A Suggestive Image.—The image well depicts the repellent subject. The small beginning, from some vain delight or worldly lust and pleasure; next, from the vile embrace, as of a harlot—sin, growing in all its rank luxuriance, until it bear and engender, horribly, of itself, its deadly child. The word of parturition is frightful in the sense it would convey, as of some monstrous deformity, a hideous progeny tenfold more cursed than its begetter.—E. G. Punchard, M.A.


James 1:12. Enduring Temptation.—There were two children who were placed in different homes, at a distance from the father whom they loved. One child was with a family, every member of which esteemed his father; his name was never mentioned but with love and veneration; his character was upheld as a very model of excellence, and the child’s admiration for his father grew with his years and strengthened with his ripening understanding. Far different was the case with his brother. The family he was placed with seemed bent on weaning his affection from his father, and undermining the confidence he reposed in him. They seldom indeed ventured upon open accusation, but were ever insinuating doubts as to his father’s uprightness, discretion, or love. The child was deeply hurt at these suspicions; he stifled them continually; but they awoke thoughts of which he could not always lose at once the painful impression. Often did he say to himself, “Let them talk as they will, I know that my father is good and wise and tender; I know that he loves me: how often have I proved it! I am foolish to be so distressed; ere long I shall see him face to face, and hear from his own lips an explanation of many things which I cannot now unravel: till then, suspect and suggest as they may, I will believe in his excellence and love!” In due time the father sent for both his children to his own home; but think you he welcomed that child with less affection and approval who would love on and trust him through base insinuation and suspicion? See here a picture of two believers. Few doubts ever assail the happy faith of one. The other passes through deep spiritual conflict, a malignant devil, an unbelieving world, and a corrupt heart, are ever whispering hateful suspicions of his God. “Though perplexed, he will not despair”; though silenced and confused, he continues to follow; though beaten by the waves, he clings to the rock. Though his Master is slandered and traduced, he keeps in His service. He continues with Him in his temptations; and in the day of God he too shall hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”—Bickersteth.

Temptation as Trial.—Temptation generally signifies no more than trial—any opposition or difficulty that may exercise our graces, and so make them known. In this sense God Himself tempts men—that is, tries and proves them; and thus He tempted Abraham. Sometimes temptation means dangerous trials and enticements to sin, which we are more likely to sink under than to overcome. In this sense God tempteth not any man, nor will He, if we resist such enticements, “suffer us to be tempted above what we are able” (1 Corinthians 10:13).—Clio.

James 1:15. The Wages of Sin.—A religious writer gives us this parable: A hermit was conducted by an angel into a wood, where he saw an old man cutting down boughs to make up a burden. When it was large he tied it up and attempted to lift it on his shoulders and carry it away, but finding it very heavy he laid it down again, cut more wood, and heaped it on, and then tried again to carry it off. This he repeated several times, always adding something to the load, after trying in vain to raise it from the ground. In the meantime the hermit, astonished at the old man’s folly, desired the angel to explain what this meant. “You behold,” said he, “in this foolish old man an exact representation of those who, being made sensible of the burden of their sin, resolve to repent, but soon grow weary, and instead of lessening their burden, increase it every day. At each trial they find the task heavier than it was before, and so put it off a little longer, in the vain hope that they will by-and-by be more able to accomplish it. Thus they go on adding to their burden until it grows too heavy to be borne, and then, in despair of God’s mercy, and with their sins unrepented of, they lay down and die. Turn again, my son, and behold the end of the old man whom thou sawest heaping up a load of boughs.” The hermit looked, and saw him in vain attempting to remove the pile, which was now accumulated far beyond his strength to raise. His feeble limbs totter over their burden; the poor remains of his strength were fast ebbing away; the darkness of death was gathering around him, and after a convulsive and impotent attempt to lift the pile, he fell down and expired.

Death in Sin.—The tale of the goblet which the genius of a heathen fashioned was true, and taught a moral of which many a deathbed furnishes the melancholy illustration. Having made the model of a serpent, he fixed it in the bottom of a cup. Coiled for the spring, a pair of gleaming eyes in its head, and in its open mouth fangs raised to strike, it lay beneath the ruby wine. Nor did he who raised the golden cup to quench his thirst, and quaff the delicious draught, suspect what lay below, till, as he reached the dregs, that dreadful head rose up, and glistened before his eyes. So, when life’s cup is nearly empted, and sin’s last pleasure quaffed, and unwilling lips are draining the bitter dregs, shall rise the ghastly terrors of remorse and death and judgment upon the despairing soul. Be assured a serpent lurks at the bottom of guilt’s sweetest pleasure.—Dr. Guthrie.

Verses 16-18


James 1:17. Father of lights.—The luminaries of heaven; as symbols of all kinds of lights, natural, intellectual, spiritual. Shadow of turning.—Or shadow that is cast by turning. The terms “variableness” and “shadow of turning” distinctly refer to the movements of the heavenly bodies, and decide the idea of James in speaking of God as “Father of lights.”

James 1:18. Begat.—More lit. “brought He us forth.” Word of truth.—Not here the personal Logos, but the revealed word, the medium of the Divine sanctifying. Firstfruits.—See Leviticus 23:10; Deuteronomy 26:2.


The Helpfulness of cherishing Right Thoughts of God.—The tone of every life is given by the idea that is entertained of God. This is abundantly illustrated by comparing the moral life of Pagans and heathen with the gods whom they acknowledge. But it may be also illustrated by the philosophical misrepresentations, and the ignorant caricatures, of the God of Christianity. In whatever sense men make their own gods, “they that made them are like unto them.” The moral conduct never can rise higher than the moral conception of the deity worshipped. Then how much is done for humanity when the revelation is made of a holy God! How much is done when that holiness is seen to be a human possibility, because realised in the Divine Man, the Lord Jesus.

I. God is good, and the ultimate Source of all good.—The apprehension of this is the foundation of morality. We start with the affirmation of goodness in God. “None is good save one, that is God.”

1. Everything that is good in the world has the God-stamp upon it. “Every good gift, and every perfect boon, is from above.”
2. Everything in the world that is good has the permanent stamp upon it. Evil is in its nature temporary. It needs to be changed into good. Good is in its nature permanent, for it does not need to be changed into anything.
3. Everything in the world that is good is an active force, working at the removal of evil. The highest good that the good God works is making typically good people.
(1) God is the source of good.

(2) God is always the source of good.

(3) But He is the source only of perfect good. That perfect good may be within our power of estimating, or it may be beyond it, and then we are thrown back on our primary conviction of His essential goodness. If God is good, what He does must be good, though it may not seem good.

II. God is the Father of lights, who casts not shadows.—“With whom there can be no variation, neither shadow that is cast by turning.” St. James has in mind the movements, and changing appearances, and uncertain shining of sun and moon and stars. There are sun shadows cast by the varying relative positions of earth and sun and moon. God is thought of as Father of lights, Originator of all lights, eternal Light, who abides, never moves to cast a shadow. His agents may cast shadows; He never does. For ever and for ever shine forth from Him unqualified benedictions. Men may turn those benedictions into curses, but that can never alter the fact that they are benedictions. Earthly atmospheres may dim and defile the rays of the sun, but only by adding some evil to them; the rays are still pure, life-giving rays.

1. God Himself is light.
2. God is the Father (Author) of lights, all lights. Everything that is good, pure, true, right, is in sonship to God. And over everything that is good He has a fatherly care and concern. Whensoever we stand to the good, we stand with God. Whensoever we suffer for the good, we suffer with God. If anything in life is perplexing, and we scarcely know whether to call it evil or good, there is always this sufficing test to apply to it—does it prefer the shadow or the light? Everything that loves the light is of God.

III. God is the Author of the new life in man, and that life is light like Himself.—Illustrate from the voice, “Let there be light,” which broke up the chaos of the material earth. That voice speaks life to dead souls, light to bring order into the chaos of fallen human nature. We are made “light in the Lord.” And some are so made that they might become “light-bearers,” “holding forth the word of life.” Or to use the figure of James 1:18, to be “a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.”


1. That there is peril of deception in regard to God.
2. That peril is great when we only look around us.
3. That peril is great when we take up only man’s view of God.
4. That peril is great if, without help from Divine revelation, we try to read human history.
5. That peril is relieved when we follow the teachings of the inspired word.
6. That peril is for ever removed when we come into those personal relations with the Father of lights, which He graciously permits.


James 1:16. The Peril of Deception.—“Be not deceived, my beloved brethren.” The particular peril St. James has in mind is the peril of being deceived as to the character of God. Right thoughts of God are at the basis of right living. Wrong thoughts of God make possible lives of self-indulgence and sin. Therefore, from the time of the first temptation in Eden, the policy of the evil one has been to suggest wrong thoughts of God, to deceive with regard to the character and requirements of God.

I. There is peril of deception from one-sided, and therefore imperfect, teachings about God. They may exaggerate His holy severities, or they may exaggerate His loving-kindnesses.

II. There is peril of deception when man makes himself the standard of God.—This reproach is given, “Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself.” Man must rise from himself to conceive of God; but he must never match God by himself, or limit God to what he knows of himself. He is not altogether such an one as we are. In the image of God was man created, on purpose that he might rise from the knowledge of himself to the knowledge of God.

III. There is peril of deception when man trusts to what nature can teach, and refuses the help of revelation. It is not that nature witnesses incorrectly; it does witness imperfectly. It is true as far as it goes; it is unsatisfactory because it cannot go far enough.

IV. There is peril of deception when undue reliance is placed on the teachings of man.—It is not merely that there are false teachers; there are also sectarian teachers, who force on attention particular views of God as the foundation of their exclusive views. Safeguard amid the perils of being deceived concerning the being and character of God is obtained through maintaining—

1. Personal relations with God;
2. Simple-minded confidence in God’s revelations of Himself in and through His inspired word. No man needs to be deceived. Any man will be easily deceived who wishes to be deceived, or allows himself to be put off his guard.

James 1:16-17. God the Only Source of All Good.—There is much evil in the world. Why does God permit this? We are called to feel and maintain that He does all things well, that however He may permit He does not do evil; but that, on the contrary, all good, and nothing but good, is to be ascribed to Him. We need to have just views of this matter, since for want of them we greatly err.

I. The true character of the Deity.—He is declared to be the only and the unchanging source of all good.

1. He is the only source of all good. All light proceeds from the sun. So there is no “good and perfect gift” but proceeds from God—

(1) in nature;

(2) in providence;

(3) in grace. All works for the benefit, the welfare, of His people.

2. He is the unchanging source of all good. The sun has its changes, annual and diurnal; but Jehovah, the Father of all heavenly lights, changes not. His light may be intercepted by a cloud, but He Himself remains the same.

II. The errors we run into for want of duly adverting to it.—We err exceedingly—

1. In a way of self-vindication. “Let no man say, when he is tempted, I am tempted of God. Every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust and enticed.” James adds, “Do not err.” Evil is from ourselves, and good is from God.

2. In a way of self-dependence. We are prone to look for some good in ourselves, instead of seeking all good from God alone. Satan himself may as well look for these things in himself as we. All our springs are in God.

3. In a way of self-applause. We are no less prone to take to ourselves credit from what is good than to shift off from ourselves blame in what is evil. If there is any good in us, it is from Christ that we have received it. If we have attained to anything more than ordinary, we must say, “He that hath wrought us for the self-same thing is God.” Even if we equalled the apostle Paul we must say, “By the grace of God”; and in reference to every individual act, “Not I, but the grace of God.”

Application.—“Do not err.” Be aware of your tendencies; correct them. If you arrogate anything to yourselves, you will rob God; and in robbing Him, you will eventually, and to your utter ruin, rob yourselves.—Charles Simeon, M.A.

James 1:17. Father of Lights.—God is the Father of all lights—the light of the natural world, the sun, the moon, and stars, shining in the heavens; the light of reason and conscience; the light of His law; the light of prophecy, shining in a dark place; the light of the gospel shining throughout the world; the light of apostles, confessors, martyrs, bishops, and priests, preaching that gospel to all nations; the light of the Holy Ghost shining in our hearts; the light of the heavenly city: God is the Father of them all. He is the everlasting Father of the everlasting Son, who is the Light of the world.—Bishop Words-worth.

Light is God.—To the turning of our planet from the sun we owe our knowledge of the universe. In the symbolism of its darkness and light we have our sublimest revelation of God. Light, which is called God, and is God, issues for ever from the infinite bosom of His darkness. Darkness and light are both alike to Him; for He is as much one as the other. The Son of God, the only begotten Light, reveals the “Father of lights,” as suns reveal the ether. God presents Himself in the Light, but also conceals Himself, as we both present and hide ourselves in our garments. “Thou coverest Thyself with light as with a garment.” As the infinite ether is hidden by the daylight, even so is God hidden by the light of the angelic heavens, which reveals Him. Therefore all those who dwell in the eternal light worship the unseen God, and live “as seeing the invisible.” They know that light is but His effluence. They worship the Light, as God, and again, with silent ineffable adoration, they worship what is behind the Light.—John Pulsford.

Sun and Cloud.—As the sun is the same in its nature and influences, though the earth and clouds, oft interposing, make-it seem to us as varying by its rising and setting, and by its different appearances, or entire withdrawment, when the change is not in it, so God is unchangeable, and our changes and shadows are not from any mutability or shadowy alterations in Him, but from ourselves.—Baxter.

Shadow of Turning.—With Him is nothing analogous to those optical delusions, those periodical obscurations, those vicissitudes of seasons, which attend the annual and diurnal course of the sun. St. James incidentally controverts that doctrine of fatalism in the Pharisees, which ascribed the conditions of men to the influence of the heavenly bodies.

James 1:18. Pain and Death in Nature.—The very struggles which all animated beings make against pain and death show that pain and death are not a part of the proper laws of their nature, but rather a bondage imposed on them from without; thus every groan and fear is an unconscious prophecy of liberation from the power of evil.—Dean Howson.

Firstfruits of the Creatures.

I. Firstfruits to show the possibility of harvest.—Suppose that never before this year had the fields of earth waved with the golden grain; that now, for the first time, with measured step and waving hand, the husbandman moved to and fro over his fields, scattering the precious seeds. How intently he would watch those fields in the after-weeks! One or two blades force their way through the soil; they grow quickly in one warm, moist corner. The ears form and bud, and swell, and ripen early there; and the husbandman carries home those firstfruits as the assurance that there can be a harvest from his sowing.

II. Firstfruits assure us of the character of the harvest.—Examine carefully those quickly ripened first-fruits. You can judge from them what will be the quality and the extent of the harvest. The same blights have swept over the field as have smitten those firstfruits. There has been the same soil, the same culture, the same dew and rain and sunshine. You can tell from the handful of firstfruits whether the barns will be loaded and the yield will be enriching. Do these firstfruits stand well? Are they strong in the stalk, full in the ear, free from mildew and rust? Then soon you shall see the whole valley waving in the summer breeze, and reflecting the golden glory of the summer sky. You shall hear the sharp cutting of the reapers, as they gather in the precious grain. Are those firstfruits thin and speckled, and small, and unsteady on the stalk? Then there is a wail of despair in the soul, for the harvest will scarcely repay the cost of ingathering. St. James calls the first Jewish Christians the “firstfruits of his creatures.” There is a promise for the race in every unusually good man; then what promise there must be in Christ!

Firstfruits of the Human Harvest.—There are always some favourable situations in a country where the harvest ripens quickly. This is especially the case in Palestine, parts of which are tropical or sub-tropical. The interest of “firstfruits” lies in their implying “after-fruits.” But to a Jew, with the feelings and associations of Mosaism, a peculiar interest attached to “firstfruits,” and by the term a special thing was understood. The fruit of all manner of trees, for the first three years, was not to be eaten, nor any profit made of it; in the fourth year it was to be holy, and used only to praise the Lord, being either given to the priests, or solemnly eaten by the owners before the Lord in Jerusalem; in the fifth year it might be eaten, and made use of for profit, and thenceforward every year. Explain man’s harvest of the earth and harvest of the sea. He only reaps and gathers in what God provides for him. Then it is most befitting that he should make first acknowledgment to God. From Cain and Abel show the natural impulse which leads man to make his thank-offering. A portion of the very blessing God has given us is the best thank-offering. Explain God’s harvest of the earth. He “would have all men to be saved.” The Redeemer shall “see of the travail of His soul, and be satisfied.” Early Church a kind of firstfruits. First seals to a ministry. First converts in a revival. First decided ones in a family. Firstfruits are an assurance—the harvest is coming. First-fruits are an evidence—of what the harvest will be. Firstfruits are an inspiration—to keep on working for the larger and fuller return. Close with the argument of the apostle—“For this cause I obtained mercy, that in me a chief might Jesus Christ shew forth all His long-suffering, for an ensample of them which should hereafter believe on Him unto eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:16). Work out the answers to these questions: Who are the first saved ones among us? What ought they to be to God, to themselves, and to others? They should be “proofs” and “patterns.”

Verses 19-21


James 1:19. Wrath.—ὀργήν; an abiding, settled habit of mind with the purpose of revenge.

James 1:21. Filthiness.—Not limited to sensualities, but including everything that defiles the soul. Superfluity of naughtiness.—“Overflow of mental wickedness,” or of malice. Or, “the remains of your perversity.” See 1 Peter 3:21. Plumptre renders, “excess characterised by malice.” “The Greek word had come to be associated mainly with the sins that have their root in wrath and anger, rather than with those that originate in love of pleasure.” Engrafted word.—Implanted. See above the reference to the “word of truth” as the instrument by which the new and better life was engendered.


Hindrances to Spiritual Receptiveness.—In His parable of the sower our Lord presented to view some of the more usual hindrances, such as come from preoccupation, shallow-mindedness, and worldly cares. St. James presents to view those which in a special manner affected the Jews of the Dispersion. Loquacity, quarrelsomeness, self-assertion, love of mastery, were characteristic of them; and all of these spoil receptiveness, and tend to destroy it. Good influences can only enter in at the doors which meekness, and quietness, and anxiety to learn and serve, can open. Men’s character-conditions usually suffice to explain the limitations of Divine blessing to them. They have not, because they are not able to receive. Power to receive depends on resolute dealing with our personal evils in character.

I. One great hindrance is hasty talk.—“Slow to speak.” Much talk is perilous; but hasty talk is more perilous. Much talk usually goes with little thought. Hasty talk goes before thought, and often utters what the thought would neither approve nor support. Hasty talk is no less a hindrance when it is pious talk, or talk about religious things. There are no persons more difficult to influence for good than those who have “too much to say.” Hasty talk expresses and nourishes self-conceit and self-satisfaction. Mere fluency is the gravest peril of the Christian teacher.

II. Another great hindrance is hasty temper.—“Slow to wrath.” It is difficult for us to realise the suddenness, unreasonableness, and intensity of anger in Eastern countries, and, perhaps we may say, even specially among the Jews. One writer says: “I have never met with a people so much disposed to violent anger, especially from slight causes, as in the case of the inhabitants of the East. Men get angry with each other, with their wives or children or animals, or even with inanimate things, with surprising frequency. The noticeable points are, want of control, and want of anything like ordinary proportion between the cause and degree of the emotion. These fits of anger, to any save a superior, are marked by most expressive demonstration.” Evidently St. James feared that among the Jewish Christians the new Christian spirit was not recognised as a force bearing on the restraint of this national characteristic. Still appeal is often made, in excuse of failure, to “human nature.” A man will explain his wrong-doing by his disposition, as if the first sphere of the Christian sanctifying were not that very disposition. The power of wrath in man is a necessary and noble element of character. The expression of wrath is often a sign of lack of self-restraint. Lack of restraint is a condition in which evil can work effectively, but good cannot. Good takes a man who is in restraint. Temper spoils the work that good would do. The Christian religion is a distinct force unto self-restraint. It helps to the possession of every “vessel of the body in sanctification and honour.” And that represents a condition of full receptivity to gracious influences.

III. Another great hindrance is found in the relics of old corruptions left in us.—“Putting away all filthiness and overflowing of wickedness.” John Bunyan, in his Holy War, represents some Diabolians as left lurking and hiding in “Mansoul,” and ever hatching and plotting mischief. St. Paul speaks of the “old man with his corruptions”; evil habits, unregulated and unsubdued desires and passions; injurious friendships; all that is involved in the term “the flesh,” as used by the apostle.

“The flesh and sense must be denied,
Passion and envy, lust and pride.”

IV. A last hindrance is our failure duly to cultivate some sides of the Christian character.—“Receive with meekness the engrafted word.” Meekness is one of the neglected sides, partly because we do not see how that can be cultivated. And it cannot be directly. It can be indirectly. Active graces can be nourished by direct dealing with them; passive graces can only be cultured by attention to the things which form for them good soil and atmosphere. There are specialities of character in male and female; the Christian character is inclusive of both, and the Christian never can gain his full receptivity unless both the characteristic male and female graces are duly nourished into fulness of strength and beauty.


James 1:19. Swift to Hear rather than to Speak.—If we were as swift to hear as we are ready to speak, there would be less of wrath and more of profit in our meetings. I remember when a Manichee contested with Augustine, and with importunate clamour cried, “Hear me! Hear me!” The father modestly replied, “Nec ego te, nec tu me, sed ambo audiamus apostolum” (“Neither let me hear thee, nor do thou hear me, but let us both hear the apostle”).—Manton.

Talkativeness.—We are overhasty to speak—as if God did not manifest Himself by our silent feeling, and make His love felt through ours. The disciples of Pythagoras, especially if they were addicted to talkativeness, were not permitted to speak in the presence of their master, before they had been his auditors five years.—M. Evans.

James 1:20. The Besetting Sin of the Jews.—The besetting sin of the Jews was to identify their own anger against what seemed sin and heresy with the will of God; to think that they did God service by deeds of violence, and that they were thus working out His righteousness. The teaching of St. James here is after the pattern of the purely ethical books of the Old Testament.

James 1:21. Engrafted, and so within us.—The gospel word, whose proper attribute is to be engrafted by the Holy Spirit, so as to be livingly incorporated with the believer, as the fruitful shoot is with the wild natural stock on which it is engrafted. The law came to man only from without, and admonished him of his duty. The gospel is engrafted inwardly, and so fulfils the ultimate design of the law.—Fausset.

The Engrafted Word.—“Engrafted,” or “implanted,” here has special reference, as the Greek shows, to the object in view. The word is designed to fructify, and it is something not akin to the recipient. An agency is implied, and in this connection the apostle is thinking of ministers as the planters; and the heavenly doctrine so enters the soul and pervades it as to become a second nature, thoroughly identified with the life, even as the graft which has taken well becomes after its insertion into the stock completely one with it. And yet it is from the stock it draws sustenance and strength, and becomes a fruit-bearer.

Truth received with Meekness.—The truth is not to be received with a passive meekness merely. Unless it be received with an active meekness, the engrafted word, that might have grown and converted the whole tree, dies. To get the full illustration of this, we must suppose a wilful crab stock, not merely passive, but endued with a power of self-determining perverseness, to say to the gardener, “You may cut me and apply your graft to the cutting, but not one particle of my sap shall ever enter into its vessels.” The consequence would be, inevitably, that the crab tree would remain a crab tree, and the fruit-bearing graft, for want of co-operation on the part of the crab tree, unsustained by the sap, would die; it could not grow unless received with active energy by the crab tree.


James 1:19. Slow to speak, slow to wrath.—In a cavalry squadron of the great German army which fought so bravely at Gravelotte, the youngest officer was from Westphalia. He was an impetuous, hasty young man. Among his men there was one who often excited his anger, for he was, as every one agreed, a very stupid recruit, and as the lieutenant was hot-headed and quick, so was the recruit slow and awkward in everything. Constantly was it said to the poor recruit, “You can do nothing right!” But, however men may speak and judge, they cannot see into the inmost heart, and God, who knows everything, judges differently from them, and knows what such despised ones can and will accomplish. In the terrible battle of Gravelotte the Westphalian squadron, after a hitherto victorious struggle, was at last, by fresh attacks of superior forces, so hardly pressed that the men were separated from each other. Then it happened that our lieutenant, too, parted from the rest of his troop, was fallen upon by two powerful troopers, but by putting forth all his strength he defended himself against these, till his arm became weary and his eye grew dim. He had already looked death in the face, and in his heart said farewell to his loved ones at home. But now suddenly, in furious gallop, a horseman rushes up. He had been halting some hundred yards off behind a wall, and in a few moments could safely have rejoined his company, for he heard the French signal given to retreat, and the trumpets of his own company coming nearer. But when he saw his lieutenant in danger of death, with a firm hand he grasped his sword, jumped over the wall and dealt first to one and then to the other of the hostile troopers blows which stretched them both upon the ground. When, after a few moments, the lieutenant succeeded in bringing his foaming horse to a standstill, and the soldier, who was no other than the so-called stupid recruit, was again firmly in the saddle, the latter gazed at his officer with beaming eyes and said, “Have I done right now?” But before the lieutenant could reply and say, “Yes, yes, you have indeed done right,” a bullet whizzes from out of the bushes and pierces the soldier through the forehead, so that he drops down dying from his horse. The lieutenant throws himself weeping upon the man, and calls into his ear, “Yes, comrade, you have done right.” He hears no more. He has received his sentence from another Judge.

Anger.—As Plato, having taken his man in a great fault, was of a sudden exceedingly moved, and having gotten a cudgel as though he would have beaten him, notwithstanding desisted, and used no further punishment, one of his friends standing by him and seeing this thing, demanded of him why he had gotten such a cudgel; to whom he answered, that he had provided it to correct and chastise his own anger, which seemed to rebel against him and would no longer be ruled by reason; in like manner should we do when we are troubled with this passion of anger, and get either a knife or a sword to cut the throat of it when it beginneth, and is as it were in its infancy; for we may easily at the first oppose ourselves against it, as against a tyrant, and not permit it to have rule over us; but if we suffer it to increase and to fortify itself, it will, by little and little, overrule us, and at length become invincible.

Anger in the East.—I have never met with a people so much disposed to violent anger, especially from such slight causes, as in the case of the inhabitants of the East. I scarcely met with a native, during some months, who was not subject, upon even slight provocation, to what would be called with us unreasonable anger. It is common with men and women, old and young, rich and poor. It scarcely seems possible, in many cases at least, to heighten or deepen the expression of bad temper by any new gesture, or look, or word, or tone of voice that is not employed. One can hardly imagine the almost frightful energy with which they give vent to their fiery and ungovernable passion in many cases. Two men will stand facing each other for minutes, often rising to the highest pitch of violence in gesture and look and language; yet they seldom strike one another. I have watched, for example, a large Turk face to face with an equally large Nubian, black and glossy as polished ebony, who acted towards each other, for minutes, as if nothing could satisfy them save the annihilation of one or both parties, and yet the only personal damage done was that the Nubian spat in the face of the Turk, and then walked away as if he had finished his adversary—who looked, in his turn, as if he had been beaten. They seldom proceed to personal violence. Your dragoman must quarrel with his servants, and these with one another. Every village you pass you hear the sound of quarrelling—generally, so far as you can observe, without any adequate cause. I can well understand why the expression “angry without cause” should have been used.—National Sunday-school Teacher.

Verses 22-25


James 1:23. Natural face.—Lit. “face of his birth”; “the face he has by corporeal birth.” γενέσεως is used in distinction from the notion which follows of spiritual features. The tenses of the verbs (aorist) imply, “looks at himself once for all”; “has taken his departure and is gone”; “forgets and thinks of it no more.”

James 1:25. Looketh.—παρακύψας; to lean aside, to stoop to look, at something which attracts attention; hence to look particularly, to scrutinise; implying close inquiry after truth. Perfect.—Because regarded as the consummation of Judaism; the law of Moses was incomplete in respect of pardon of sin and holiness. Law of liberty.—Its characteristic is its freeing men from the bonds which prevent their being righteous. “The gospel is in a proper sense the law of liberty, because those who receive it render a free, loving obedience from an inward, vital principle.” Dean Alford says, “Not in contrast with a former law of bondage, but as viewed on the side of its being the law of the new life and birth, with all its spontaneous and free development of obedience.”


θεοσεβής, only in John 9:31; necessarily implies piety towards gods, or the God. εὐσεβής may mean this, but may also mean piety in the fulfilment of human relations; it implies worship or worthship, and reverence well directed. εὐλαβής, passed from caution and carefulness in human things to the same in Divine things. Devout, or the special Jewish Old Testament phase of piety. In the mingled fear and love which constituted together the piety of man toward God, the Old Testament emphasises fear, the New Testament love. εὐλαβής therefore suits the Old Testament piety. It represents the scrupulous worshipper making conscience of omitting anything. In θρήσκος, Lat. religiosus, we have the zealous and diligent performer of the Divine offices of the outward service of God. θρησκεία, cultures exterior, predominantly ceremonial, external service. The external form or body of which εὐσέβεια is the informing soul.—After Trench.


Following up Religious Instructions.—One of the weaknesses of the Hebrew Christian communities was that so many of the members thought they were called to teach, and were able to teach. It is the constantly recurring weakness of the so-called Free Churches, which encourage their members to use their various gifts in the service of the Church. Persons who think they can teach and cannot are amongst the most difficult and troublesome people to deal with. St. James’s counsel here is directly addressed to such persons. He politely but searchingly says, “You would make better hearers than teachers; and you would find plenty of sphere for your energy, if you set yourselves to do the things about which you hear.” “Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deluding your own selves.” There is a hearing only, which leads to nothing. The seed of truth lies as on a hard field-path, exposed to the birds. There is a talking only about what is heard, which is more than useless, which is mischievous, because self-satisfying. There is a doing of what we hear which is in every way valuable, for it implies thought, care, anxiety, right sense of responsibility and duty. Doing prefers silence.

I. Religious knowledge is not the final result of religious instruction.—It is a proper result, one to be distinctly aimed at. But it may be made a final result by the teacher who has the special gift of teaching; and by the hearer who is mentally strong, naturally critical, or unduly interested in doctrine. It needs to be strongly urged on public attention in these days, that religious knowledge is no more than a stage on the way to the final result aimed at by the public presentation of religious truth. F. W. Robertson says, “I can conceive of no dying hour more awful than that of the man who has striven to know rather than to love, and finds himself at last in a world of barren theories, loving none and adoring nothing.”

II. Religious feeling is not the final result of religious instruction.—This truth appeals to quite a different class of hearers—to the emotional class. There are very many persons who think they can never get a blessing from public services unless their feelings are moved. And the claim of these really good, but somewhat weak-charactered, people mischievously influences our public preachers, who allow themselves to cultivate the merely rhetorical and pathetic, and to imagine that they have gained splendid triumphs when they have subdued congregations to tears. It is well therefore to set forth the surface and temporary character of religious emotions, and the temptation to satisfy ourselves with them, and even flatter ourselves in our goodness as indicated by them. Many a Christian’s life, if read searchingly, will be found very full of high, forced, fictitious emotions and feelings, but very weak in masteries of evil, power of principles, self-sacrifices, holy charities, and good works. People seem to prefer that which cultivates the sentimental.

III. Religious talk is not the final result of religious instruction.—Some hearers simply reproduce what they hear, with variations, and imagine they have reached the true result when they have given everybody whom they can influence their idea of the sermon. And their talk is of no value to themselves, or to any one who listens to them. In every sphere of life it is found that the talkers are the helpless people, if they are not the mischievous people. While they stop and talk, the real work of life waits undone. True preaching tends to stop talk, by compelling people to think, and to inquire what they can do.

IV. Religious doing is the final result of religious instruction.—Our Lord, as the great Teacher, constantly enforced this truth by direct word, e.g. “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them”: by pictures, “as of the good tree that brings forth good fruit”; and by parable on parable, such as that of the “talents.” The apostle constantly urges the same thing. St. James has it for the one thing that he variously illustrates and impresses. The true hearer is “the doer that worketh”; and the true preacher or teacher is he who can inspire men unto doing, lead into the life of service.


James 1:22. Spiritual Parasites.—The plants that grow on the great trees, and thrive on the sap of the trees, only bring forth their own fruit unto themselves. They in no sense help the mission of the trees. Nay, their simple receptiveness becomes a drain of the tree’s life, and even effects its ultimate ruin. There be those in the fellowship of Christ’s Church who are “hearers only”; receptive only; they take in everything, give out nothing, help in nothing, do nothing but serve and please themselves. They are but parasites, but they may have a fatally mischievous influence on the Church’s life. He who receives is honourably bound to use what he receives in the common service; but this no parasite ever does.

Living the Truth.—A brief and simple but very expressive eulogy was pronounced by Martin Luther upon a pastor at Zwickaw, in 1522, named Nicholas Hausman. “What we preach,” said the reformer, “he lives.”

True Religion.—A man’s religion is not a thing all made in heaven, and then let down and shoved unto him. It is his own conduct and life. A man has no more religion than he acts out in his life.—H. Ward Beecher.

An End in view for Hearers of the Gospel.—It is strange folly in multitudes of us to propound no end in the hearing of the gospel. The merchant sails, not only that he may sail, but for traffic, and traffics that he may be rich. The husbandman ploughs, not only to keep himself busy, but in order to sow, and sows that he may reap with advantage. And shall we do the most excellent and fruitful work fruitlessly—hear only to hear, and look no further? This is indeed a great vanity, and a great misery, to lose that labour which, duly used, would be of all others most gainful; and yet all our meetings are full of this.—Leighton.

James 1:22-24. Profitless Hearing.

I. The vacant hearers.—These are men who are drawn mechanically to the sanctuary, and leave all but their bodies elsewhere.

II. The curious hearer.—This spirit brings the attention to bear upon a subject, but merely to dissect and criticise it.

III. The captious hearer.—Here the attention is excited only to be turned against the teachings of religion. The business here is to catch the preacher in his words.

IV. The fashionable hearers.—These welcome the Sabbath so as to display to advantage their attractions.

V. The speculating hearers.—These are they whose selfishness leads them to make a pecuniary gain of godliness. It is respectable to attend Divine worship, therefore they go.

VI. The self-forgetful hearers.—Those who listen to find out their neighbours’ defects.

VII. The prayerless hearers.

VIII. The unresolved hearers.J. T. Tucker.

James 1:23. Eastern Mirrors.—The mirrors in use among the Jews, Greeks, and Romans were of polished metal; and as these presented a less perfect image than our modern mirrors, to see through, i.e. by means of, a mirror had become among the later Rabbis, as well as with St. Paul, a proverbial phrase for man’s imperfect knowledge of Divine things.

Objects that may be looked at.—St. James especially draws attention to the character of the looking, and the dependence of the after-results upon that character. But we may also compare the objects looked at, and the results dependent on looking at right and fitting objects. There is—

1. Looking in at self.

2. Looking around on others.

3. Looking out at truth.

4. Looking up to God. The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews bids us “look off”—look away—“unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.”

Characters seen in the Use of Mirrors.—Vanity is thus shown. So is the anxiety to please. But the indifference which involves a hurried and careless use of the mirror should be recognised as a moral weakness. A Christian man ought to be the “best possible” in every relation of life, and in the use of every power of influence. Much influence does come from his personal appearance, expression of countenance, and manners. A careful use of the mirror may therefore be a sign of right Christian carefulness, and anxiety to serve others in every kind of ministry. “It is possible, though it can hardly be insisted on, that there is an emphasis on a man’s casual way of looking at a mirror, and the more careful gaze supposed to be characteristic of a woman.”

James 1:24. Fading Impressions.—This is described as an actual occurrence, seen and noted by the writer. There is a recognition of the well-known face, followed by instant and complete forgetfulness; and thus is it often with the mirror of the soul. In some striking sermon, or book, a man’s self is made manifest to him, and the picture may be too familiar to cause aversion; but, whether or no, the impression fades from his mind as quickly as the echoes of the preacher’s words. At the best the knowledge was only superficial, perhaps momentary, widely different from that which comes of a holy walk with God.—E. G. Punchard, M.A.

James 1:25. The Perfect Law.—That must be the law which secures to man the liberty and the power to do right. And that liberty and that power are precisely the things which man supremely needs, seeing that he finds himself under persuasion and constraint to do wrong.

The Perfect Law and its Doers.—St. James is the preacher of works, but of works which are the fruit of faith.

I. The perfect law.—In every part of the revelation of Divine truth contained in the gospel there is a direct moral and practical bearing. No word of the New Testament is given to us only in order that we may know truth, but all in order that we may do it. No man can believe the principles that are laid down in, the New Testament, and the truths that are unveiled there, without their laying a masterful grip upon his life, and influencing all that he is. In the very central fact of the gospel there lies the most stringent rule of life. Jesus Christ is the pattern, and from those gentle lips which say, “If ye love Me, keep My commandments,” law sounds more imperatively than from all the thunder and trumpets of Sinai. In the great act of redemption, which is the central fact of the New Testament revelation, there lies a law for conduct. God’s love redeeming us is the revelation of what we ought to be; and the cross, to which we look as the refuge from sin and condemnation, is also the pattern for the life of every believer. It is a law just because it is a gospel. If your conception of Christianity has not grasped it as being a stringent rule of life, you need to go to school to St. James. This thought gives the necessary counterpoise to the tendency to substitute the mere intellectual grasp of Christian truth for the practical doing of it. Not what we believe, but what we do, is our Christianity; only the doing must be rooted in belief. Take this vivid conception of the gospel as a law, as a counterpoise to the tendency to place religion in mere emotion and feeling. Notice that this law is a perfect law. James’s idea, I suppose, in that epithet, is not so much the completeness of the code, or the loftiness and absoluteness of the ideal which is set forth in the gospel, as the relation between the law and its doer. He is stating the same thought of which the psalmist of old time had caught a glimpse. “The law of the Lord is perfect,” because “it converts the soul.” That is to say, the weakness of all commandment—whether it be the law of a nation, or the law of moral text-books, or the law of conscience, or of public opinion, or the like—the weakness of all positive statute is that it stands there, over against a man, and points a stony finger to the stony tables, “Thou shalt!” “Thou shalt not!” but stretches out no hand to help us in keeping the commandment. It simply enjoins, and so is weak—like the proclamations of some discrowned king who has no army at his back to enforce them, and which flutter as waste-paper on the barn-doors, and do nothing to secure allegiance. But, says James, this law is perfect, because it is more than law, and transcends the simple functions of command. It not only tells us what to do, but it gives us power to do it; and that is what men want. The world knows what it ought to do well enough. There is no need for heaven to be rent, and voices to come to tell men what is right and wrong; they carry an all but absolutely sufficient guide to that within their own minds. But there is need to bring them something which shall be more than commandment, which shall be both law and power, both the exhibition of duty and the gift of capacity to discharge it. The gospel brings power because it brings life. “If there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness had been by the law.” In the gospel that desideratum is supplied. Here is the law which vitalises, and so gives power. The life which the gospel brings will unfold itself after its own nature, and so produce the obedience which the law of the gospel requires. Therefore, says James further, this perfect law is freedom. Of course, liberty is not exemption from commandment, but the harmony of will with commandment. Whosoever finds that what is his duty is his delight is enfranchised. We are set at liberty when we walk within the limits of that gospel; and they who delight to do the law are free in obedience,—free from the tyranny of their own lusts, passions, inclinations; free from the domination of men, and opinion, and customs, and habits. All those bonds are burnt in the fiery furnace of love into which they pass, and where they walk transfigured and at liberty, because they keep that law. Freedom comes from the reception into my heart of the life whose motions coincide with the commandments of the gospel. Then the burden that I carry carries me, and the limits within which I am confined are the merciful fences put up on the edge of the cliff to keep the traveller from falling over, and being dashed to pieces beneath.

II. The doers of the perfect law.—James has a long prelude before he comes to the doing. Several things are required as preliminary. The first step is, “looketh into the law.” The word employed here is a very picturesque and striking one. Its force may be seen if I quote to you the other instances of its occurrence in the New Testament. It is employed in the accounts of the Resurrection to describe the attitude and action of Peter, John, and Mary as they “stooped down and looked into” the empty sepulchre. In all these cases the Revised Version translates the word as I have just done, “stooping and looking,” both acts being implied in it. It is also employed by Peter when he tells us that the “angels desire to look into” the mysteries of redemption, in which saying, perhaps, there may be some allusion to the silent, bending figures of the twin cherubim, who, with folded wings and fixed eyes, curved themselves above the mercy-seat, and looked down upon that mystery of propitiating love. With such fixed and steadfast gaze we must contemplate the perfect law of liberty if we are ever to be doers of the same. A second requirement is, “and continueth.” The gaze must be, not only concentrated, but constant, if anything is to come of it. Old legends tell that the looker into a magic crystal saw nothing at first, but, as he gazed, there gradually formed themselves in the clear sphere filmy shapes, which grew firmer and more distinct until they stood plain. The raw hide dipped into the vat with tannin in it, and at once pulled out again, will never be turned into leather. Many of you do not give the motives and principles of the gospel, which you say you believe, a chance of influencing you, because so interruptedly and spasmodically, and at such long intervals, and for so few moments, do you gaze upon them. Steadfast and continued attention is needful if we are to be “doers of the work.”—Homiletic Review.

Practical Exhortation.—

1. Cultivate the habit of contemplating the central truths of Christianity as the condition of receiving in vigour and fulness the life which obeys the commandment.
2. Cultivate the habit of reflective meditation upon the truths of the gospel as giving you the pattern of duty in a concentrated and available form.
3. Cultivate the habit of meditating on the truths of the gospel, in order that the motives of conduct may be reinvigorated and strengthened. Make of all your creed deed. Let everything you believe be a principle of action too; your credenda translate into agenda.—A. Maclaren, D.D.


James 1:22. Doers of the Word.—Cromwell is said to have once entered a church where stood gold and silver figures of the twelve apostles. “What do these here?” said he. “Nothing,” was the reply of the priest in charge. “Very well,” said Cromwell, “take them away; melt them down, and send them about doing good.”

Hearing and Doing.—There is a story told of two men who, walking together, found a young tree laden with fruit. They both gathered, and satisfied themselves for the present; but one of them took all the remaining fruit, and carried it away with him, the other took the tree, and planted it in his own ground, where it prospered and brought forth fruit every year; so that though the former had more at present, yet this had some when he had none. They who hear the word, and have large memories, and nothing else, may carry away most of the word at present, yet he that perhaps can but remember little, who carries away the tree, plants the word in his heart, and obeys it in his life, shall have fruit when the other has none.—Old Writer.

Religious Excitement ineffective.—A celebrated preacher of the seventeenth century, in a sermon to a crowded audience, described the terrors of the last judgment with such eloquence, pathos, and force of action, that some of his audience not only burst into tears, but sent forth piercing cries, as if the Judge Himself had been present, and was about to pass upon them their final sentence. In the height of this commotion the preacher called upon them to dry their tears and cease their cries, as he was about to add something still more awful and astonishing than anything he had yet brought before them. Silence being obtained, he, with an agitated countenance and solemn voice, addressed them thus: “In one quarter of an hour from this time the emotions which you have just now exhibited will be stifled, the remembrance of the fearful truths which excited you will vanish; you will return to your carnal occupations or sinful pleasures with your usual avidity, and you will treat all you have heard ‘as a tale that is told.’ ”

James 1:23. Seeing Ourselves.—The wife of a drunkard once found her husband in a filthy condition, with torn clothes, matted hair, bruised face, asleep in the kitchen, having come home from a drunken revel. She sent for a photographer, and had a portrait of him taken in all his wretched appearance, and placed it on the mantel beside another portrait taken at the time of his marriage, which showed him handsome and well-dressed, as he had been in other days. When he became sober he saw the two pictures, and awakened to a consciousness of his condition, from which he arose to a better life. Now, the office of the law is not to save men, but to show them their true state as compared with the Divine standard. It is like a glass, in which one seeth “what manner of man he is.”

Verses 26-27


James 1:26. Seem to be.—Imagine himself to be religious; a difficult term, because its meanings have been subject to change. “The Greek adjective is one which expresses the outward, ritual side of religion, answering to ‘godliness’ as the inward.” Seem to be a professor, a worshipper. Bridleth not.—Does not restrain, and wisely rule and direct. It is singular to find this chosen as a test of sincerity in religious profession. But compare Matthew 12:37. “If a man think himself a true worshipper because he conforms to outward services, while he lets his tongue loose in untruth or unkindness, or other unseemliness, he deceives himself” (Bishop Moberly).

James 1:27. Pure religion.—Better, “Pure worship”; “the outward aspect of the devout life.” Undefiled.—Genuine, sincere. See the scrupulous care of the Pharisee to avoid anything that caused ceremonial defilement (John 18:28). Visit.—The Greek word implies more than “go and see”; it means “look after,” “care for.” Compare the teaching of our Lord in Matthew 15:20; Mark 7:5-8.


Practical Religion.—The word “religion” is used only by St. James. But St. Paul speaks of “the Jews’ religion”; and we are accustomed to speak of a man’s “religion.” Evidently St. James means religion on its practical side—our religion, not as it is an unseen inner life of thought and feeling, but as it finds expression in conduct and relations, and other people can see it. We may say that he means the religion of the religious—the converted. He is not attempting to describe what the Christian religion as a whole is and demands; he is resisting the tendency of the times to make a sentimental faith everything. St. James is often misunderstood because we separate James 1:27 from its connection. In James 1:26 the case is presented of the man who makes a show of religion. There is such a thing as an ordering of conduct merely to produce a good impression. In such a case there is no personal discipline of which the ordered conduct is the genuine expression. And the man is a self-deceiver. His outward profession and show of religion are of no moral value to him, or indeed to any one else. Then in James 1:27 we are told what sincere religion is, as a contrast to this. It also is ordered conduct; but not merely ordered conduct. It also is careful and elaborate worship; but it is not merely elaborate worship. It is self-discipline, and what comes out of that. It is service of others, and the Christly sphere which that spirit of service can always find. These things are not the whole of religion; they only represent the practical side of religion. St. James does not intend to give any definition. He assumes the fact as fully recognised, and not needing fresh statement, that religion has its devotional side. St. James deals with the Christian in the world, and taking his place and part in the world. He treats of the Christian’s proper relations to the sins and sorrows of the world. And this is what he says—The Christian must come helpfully near to the sorrows, but take care to keep clear of the sins.

I. The practical religion with which a man may satisfy himself.—This is not a proper test of religion, but it is the test which men persist in putting.

1. Some try a practical religion of austerities. Dr. Pusey wrote to a friend to send him a “discipline”—that is, a self-scourging whip with five thongs and five knots. Henry Martyn sought to humble himself by walking about with pebbles in his shoes. It is a mistake to deal with the body, the agency for expressing, instead of with the agent that expresses.

2. Some try a practical religion of ritual. Distinguish worship, as natural expression for the soul, from ritual as man-made moulds into which to force the expression. Ritual commands no Divine authority, and can have no inspiration in it. Its centre is man himself. Its genius is good works, done for the sake of doing them.
3. Some try a religion of pietism that is not often practical. They are interested in excited feelings. They think they serve when they only feel; or only put themselves in the way of getting excited feelings. But how self-centred emotional religion is! How enslaving also it is! Hot-house religion; and the plants drawn up long and thin, with no robustness in them. It is very doubtful whether a pietistic religion ever satisfies the man himself for long. There is perhaps nothing that tires and sickens a man so soon.

II. The practical religion with which the Father-God is well pleased.—“Pure religion and undefiled.” Genuine, sincere religion, with no secret self-pleasing at the heart of it. Pure; clear through; that does not fear to be judged under the sunlight. Undefiled, unstained with self-seeking. It includes:

1. Kindly interest in, and care for, others. What you do in society. Religion must get beyond the circle of personal interests. Specific cases of possible service as given by St. James are types of all kinds of call to brotherly service. The condition of widows and orphans in Eastern countries is inexpressibly sad. If we would see the model religion in its practical aspect, we can find it in the human life of the Lord Jesus. With Him worship and self-culture were always kept in their proper place and relations. The days were spent in going about doing good. Earnest Christians are often troubled because their busy lives give them such little opportunity for soul-culture; but that life of service is the very best soul-culture, a culture that advances all the more healthily because it is not watched. Religion is “life for others.”

2. Wise dealing with self. What you are in society. It is singular that visiting the needy should be put first, and self-keeping second. We should have reversed the order. But there is a reason for the order St. James prefers. It is in ministering to the spotted that we best keep ourselves from the spots. Christ touched the leper with a healing touch; therefore He contracted no leprosy. Nurses and doctors are remarkably safe from contagion. Activity against evil is the best preservative from evil, as is illustrated in the case of the slum sisters of the Salvation Army. Be ministering angels, and you will be sure to keep pure as the angels. Here, too, in Christ may be seen the model religion. Activity of service kept him from taking stains. The fungus flourishes in the sopped and decayed branches of the tree. Idle folk are always bodily or morally diseased folk, and they ought to be. Stain comes on things that are laid by. Church grumblers are never Church workers. Keep unspotted by keeping on serving.

III. The two things, service of others and self-keeping, fit together, and make up together the practical religion which the Father-God approves.—They seem to be two distinct departments; they really are one. Religion on its practical side is doing something for somebody, and that proves to be the secret of keeping ourselves clean. We must keep clean as nurses must who tend fevered patients. Experience tells that unlovely things which get stored in the mind have a way of coming up to view, depressing and degrading us, when we have no special interests occupying thought and heart. When the soul is full of interests there is no chance whatever for the evil; it is, most happily, crowded out. Religion then is just this—when seen on its practical side—keeping ourselves free from contamination by finding spheres of Christly service outside ourselves.


James 1:26. Men’s Inconsistencies.—Men in the same period of their lives, in the same day, sometimes in the very same action, are utterly inconsistent and irreconcilable with themselves. Look at a man in one light, and he shall seem wise, penetrating, discreet, and brave; behold him in another point of view, and you see a creature all over folly and indiscretion, weak and timorous as cowardice and indiscretion can make him. A man shall appear gentle, courteous, and benevolent to all mankind; follow him into his own house, maybe you see a tyrant, morose and savage to all whose happiness depends upon his kindness. A third in his general behaviour is found to be generous, disinterested, humane, and friendly; hear but the sad story of the friendless orphans too credulously trusting all their little substance into his hands, and he shall appear more sordid, more pitiless, and unjust, than the injured themselves have bitterness to paint him. Another shall be charitable to the poor, uncharitable in his censures and opinions of all the rest of the world besides; temperate in his appetites, intemperate in his tongue; shall have too much conscience and religion to cheat the man who trusts him, and, perhaps, as far as the business of debtor and creditor extends, shall be just and scrupulous to the utmost mite; yet, in matters of full as great concern, where he is to have the handling of the party’s reputation and good name—the dearest, the tenderest property the man has—he will do him irreparable damage, and rob him there without measure or pity. And this seems to be that particular piece of inconsistency and contradiction which the text is levelled at, in which the words seem so pointed as if St. James had known more flagrant instances of this kind of delusion than what had fallen under the observation of any of the rest of the apostles.—Laurence Sterne.

Detraction of Others.—They who are free from the grosser sins, and even bear the outward show of sanctity, will often exalt themselves by detracting others under the pretence of zeal, whilst their real motive is love of evil-speaking.—Calvin.

Vain Religion.—

1. In a vain religion there is much of show, and affecting to seem religious in the eyes of others.
2. There is much censuring, reviling, and detracting of others.
3. A man, in a vain religion, deceives his own heart.

Evil-speaking.—Of the many duties owing both to God and our neighbour, there are scarce any men so bad as not to acquit themselves of some; and few so good, I fear, as to practise all. Every man seems willing to compound the matter, and adopt so much of the system as will least interfere with his principle and ruling passion. Very possibly St. James had grievously suffered, through being cruelly reviled and evil spoken of. All his labours in the gospel, his unaffected and perpetual solicitude for the preservation of his flock, his watchings and fastings, his poverty, his natural simplicity and innocence of life—all perhaps were not enough to defend him from this unruly weapon, so full of deadly poison; and what, in all likelihood, might move his sorrow and indignation more, some who seemed the most devout and zealous of all his converts were the most merciless and uncharitable in that respect, having a form of godliness, but full of bitter envyings and strife. With such he expostulates in the third chapter. In our text St. James seems to have set the two characters of a saint and a slanderer at such variance that one would have thought they could never have had the heart to have met together again. But there are no alliances too strange for this world. There is nothing so bad which will not admit of something to be said in its defence. Are not the inconveniences and ill-effects which the world feels from the licentiousness of this practice, of slandering and evil-speaking, sufficiently counterbalanced by the real influence it has upon men’s lives and conduct? If there was no evil-speaking in the world, thousands would be encouraged to do ill, and would rush into many indecorums, like a horse into a battle, were they sure to escape the tongues of men. If we take a general view of the world, we shall find that a great deal of virtue, at least of the outward appearance of it, arises from the terror of what the world will say, and the liberty it will take upon the occasions we shall give. Numbers of people are every day taking more pains to be well spoken of than what would actually enable them to live so as to deserve it.—Laurence Sterne.

The Sin of Unguarded Speech.—“Bridleth not”; so as to have it in full control, and restrain all its impetuosities, and guide it in right and wise and worthy directions. A classification of Christian sins would have to include some unsuspected ones, and some imperfectly considered ones. Unguarded speech is too often regarded as a weakness or frailty; it is not usually estimated to bear all the characteristics of a sin. It is a sin to which persons of a certain particular disposition are especially exposed; but every Christian is in peril of being taken at unawares, and saying what had much better have been left unsaid. By “unguarded speech” we may mean:

1. The worthless and often mischievous utterances of a talkative disposition.
2. Speech before thought, of which thought disapproves.
3. Speech in too high a tone of voice. A man so speaking is like a runaway horse.
4. Speech of cherished wrong feeling, which is sure to make our words unkind or unjust.
5. Speech forgetful of Christian principles and the Christian spirit. How may speech be wisely guarded (bridled)?
1. Form the habit of speaking seldom, and only after thought.
2. Accustom yourself to learn by reviewing the effects of speech. 3. Cultivate a quiet tone of voice.
4. Remember what is due to others.
5. Avoid speaking under excitement.
6. Season speech with the salt of Christian wisdom and charity.

Scripture References to the Tongue and Speech.—Psalms 17:3; Psalms 34:1; Psalms 35:28; Psalms 39:1; Psalms 51:14; Psalms 52:2; Psalms 57:4; Psalms 64:3; Psalms 71:24; Psalms 120:3; Psalms 140:3; Psalms 141:3; Proverbs 6:17; Proverbs 10:20; Proverbs 12:18; Proverbs 18:21; Proverbs 21:23; Matthew 12:34; 1 Timothy 3:8; and others.

James 1:27. An Evidence of the Value of Christianity.—There are many religions in the world. Each makes a great claim in its particular district. Which may we say is the best of the world’s religions? Which of them can we fully satisfy ourselves with. It is easy to say that we prefer Christianity. But then we were born into it. And the devotees of other religions prefer theirs for precisely the same reason. We ought to have some better ground than this for our decision, that Christianity stands altogether first among the world-religions. How shall we proceed to judge the worth of the different religions?

1. Compare their sacred books. Take the Persian Zend-Avesta, the books of Confucius, the Shastras of India, the Koran of Mahomet, and the Bible of Jews and Christians; and there is no test, literary, moral, artistic, or religious, that does not give the first place to the Christian Bible.
2. Consider the antiquity of the religions. Reformed Parseeism belongs to the time of Daniel; Confucius dates 551 B.C., and Mahomet 570 A.D.; legends give early dates to the Hindoo and Egyptian: but the primary principles which have unfolded into Judaism and Christianity belong to the very origin of man as a moral and responsible being.
3. Take the relative numbers of the adherents of the religions; and then Christianity must take a low place, for the great human religions outnumber its adherents by millions, though Christianity has associated itself with the most advanced and civilised races.
4. Or estimate the religions by the elaborateness of their ceremonial; then Christianity, in its most ritualistic forms, can offer no rivalry to Hindooism. If these were sufficient bases of judgment, it would have to be admitted that Christianity does not offer unquestionable advantages. The text suggests a better term of judgment—the only safe one. Pure religion is practical. The test question, by which every religion should submit to be tried, is this—Does it practically work out into purity and charity? That test is fully in harmony with the spirit of our age. Since Bacon’s day (1561) observation and experience have taken the place of speculation and theory. Now we ask for verification by experiment. The new method was at first applied in natural science; it is now applied in social, moral, and religious science. We have no reason to fear the application of the new method to Christianity. Let men judge it by its fruits. Appeal may be made without hesitation—
1. To the experience of the world. The history of the race tells of no such help towards righteousness and charity as Christianity and its antecedent, Judaism, have given. The world has never reached without it such high ideals of righteousness and charity as Christianity has helped man to reach. Even the refined and intellectual Greeks exposed deformed infants on Mount Taygetus.

2. To the experience of the nation. Wherever there has been a fine edge on the national conscience, and a stern loyalty to principle, and a pathetic sympathy with suffering, there we find the culturing of Christianity.

3. To the experience of the family. Which owes its existence and its preservation almost entirely to Christianity. It may be most positively affirmed that the highest ideal of family life has never been attained anywhere except under the inspiration of Christianity.

4. To the experience of the individual. Multiplied personal testimony can be given that Christianity is, consciously, an inspiration to righteousness and charity. If men will not listen to us when we argue that Christianity is true doctrinally, they cannot fail to listen when we show that it is, and has been, the living force in humanity, ever working towards righteousness and charity. It has been urged as an objection to Christianity, that some of the world’s worst tyrannies have been supported by its name. It is easy to recall crusades, religious wars, persecutions, dragonnades, and inquisitions. But the reply has been effectively made over and over again—These things are not Christianity, but bigots or bad men using Christianity for their ends. They are not the expression of Christianity; they are caricatures. They are the outcome of a temporal Christianity worked in the interest of hierarchies; they are not kin with the spiritual Christianity of its Founder. They often have followed upon man’s attempts to blend together religion and politics, or rather to make religion serve political ends. Mohammedanism consecrates the sword and the battle. Christianity says, “Put up thy sword into his place.” What a testimony to the value of Christianity England makes on her Hospital Sundays! Why, for sustaining her national charities, does our nation appeal so directly to her professing Christians? Why does not the appeal go to the clubs, the theatre-goers, the attendants on places of amusement, the visitors at public libraries, the great companies, the business men, or the excursionists? Why is the appeal made to those who distinctly bear the Christian name? The fact is that everybody knows, even the scoffer knows, that Christianity ought to, and actually does, work out into purity and charity. That is its evidence. That makes it the unquestionable first of religions.

Uniting Christian Doing with Christian Being.—And how high a contempt and provocation is it of the great God, so totally to pervert the whole design of that revelation He hath made to us, to know the great things contained therein only for knowing sake, which He hath made that we might live by them! And oh! what holy and pleasant lives should we lead in this world if the temper and complexion of our souls did answer and correspond to the things we know! The design of preaching has been greatly mistaken, when it has been thought it must still acquaint them who live under it with some new thing. Its much greater and more important design is, the impressing of known things (but too little considered) upon the hearts of hearers, that they may be delivered up into the mould and form of the doctrine taught them, and may so learn Christ as more and more to be renewed in the spirit of their minds, and put off the old man, and put on the new. The digesting our food is what God now eminently calls for.—John Howe.

The Adornment of Religion.—Our religion is not adorned with ceremonies, but with purity and charity.—Manton.

Pure and Undefiled Religion.—Errors of the most fatal kind were early found in the Christian Church. Even in the apostle’s days a mere form and profession of religion was deemed sufficient. The value of good works was depreciated and the necessity of performing them denied. Against such errors the apostle James lifted up his voice like a trumpet. The pure religion which God alone acknowledges leads to the most self-denying exercises of love, and to a freedom from all the world’s corruptions.

I. His description of true religion.—He takes a practical view. He speaks not of principles, although he believes in the necessity of faith; but it must be a living and operative faith only, which will save the soul. He does not advert to the exercise of our affections towards God, but only to our actions towards men.

II. Here we see how religion will influence us in reference to

1. The world at large. It is not required of us to renounce the world entirely, to abandon society altogether; but, from its corruptions, pleasures, riches, and honours to keep ourselves free even as Jesus did. We are not to be conformed to its sentiments and habits, nor court nor desire its friendship.

2. That part of it which is destitute and afflicted. Love is the life and soul of religion; and as it will extend to all in general, so will it manifest itself particularly towards those who are afflicted. Visiting the afflicted is an office which the true Christian will delight to execute. Love and charity are enjoined by Christ. Men will applaud this religion; but consider—

III. The use we are to make of it.

1. As a criterion whereby to judge of our state. “Victory over the world” is one of those marks which are universally found in the Lord’s people, and in no other. A delight in all the offices of love to men for Christ’s sake distinguishes Christians from all other persons. Here is the touchstone.

2. As a directory whereby to regulate our conduct. “Come out from the world, and be separate.” “Bear ye one another’s burdens.” Not to the peculiarities of a sect are we urged, but to “pure and undefiled religion.” This command is equally obligatory on all. The various modes of our obedience will be judged of by God Himself, who alone knows what our respective states and circumstances require. See the compassionate visitor opening the sources of consolation which the gospel affords, till the unhappy sufferers are brought to kiss the rod that smites them; see him administering present relief, and devising means for the future support of the family; how is he received as an angel from heaven! How the widow’s heart rejoices! “Go and do thou likewise.” “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”—Charles Simeon, M.A.

Religion a Social Concern.—By religion we understand the service which is due to the supreme Being, and this service must of course correspond to His nature; so that our views of religion will be true or false in proportion as we understand or mistake His Divine character. Religion, corresponding to His nature, consists chiefly of two parts:

(1) cherishing those sentiments of love and gratitude which are due to infinite goodness; and
(2) actively promoting the purposes of this goodness—that is, promoting our own and others’ present and future welfare. St. James only describes the methods of its manifestation. They consist in doing good to others, and in doing good to ourselves. We infer that religion is a social principle, intimately united with social duty, belonging to us as social beings.

1. It is founded in our social nature, and springs from our social relations.
2. Religion is a social concern, for it is a subject on which men have a strong tendency to feel and act together, and thus it is a strong bond of union.
3. Religion is a social and public as well as a private concern, because the common relation of God to all men is not merely a ground of sympathy and attachment, but makes it a duty to offer Him public, and the most public, acknowledgments.
4. Religion is a social concern, for it operates powerfully on society, contributing in various ways to its stability and prosperity. Few men suspect, perhaps no man comprehends, the extent of the support given by religion to every virtue.
1. It is a right and duty in men to influence one another on the subject of religion.
2. If individuals are authorised and bound to promote religion, then the same right and obligation appertain to the community. A community is bound to incorporate religion into its public institutions, and to secure, if possible, to all its citizens the benefits of Christian worship and instruction.—W. E. Channing, D.D.

Kindness and Character the True Worship of the Father.—A definition is that which traces the boundary of a thing, so as to separate it from all other things. A definition must include the thing—the whole thing, and nothing but the thing defined. If this verse is to be regarded as a definition of religion, then it is both defective and misleading. Defective, because it does not include the whole of religion—it shuts out the whole spiritual life of man. Misleading, for it includes things which, though invariably accompanying religion, are not peculiar to religion. Kindness and purity of life are not plants that bloom only on religious soil. But the verse is not a definition. With us the word “religion” means “godliness,” the grand sum-total of duties and relations to God and man. To the translators of the Bible it meant the outward form of piety, the external service of God. St. James presupposes conversion, presupposes all that Christ and Paul say of the inner spiritual life. The matter discussed in the text is—How shall the Divine life in the soul show itself? What shall its ritual be—its worship? It will not dispense with old forms of worship; but it will not content itself with these. The true Christian ritual is kindness and character. Christianity has love to God for its substance, and morality for its ritual. St. James says here that the religious man worships God truly every time he does a kindness to men, and that his unspotted character, like the holy fire that burnt unceasingly, is itself a perpetual pure and undefiled act of the truest worship. We need to have our ideas of religious service enlarged.

I. Some have thought that God was pleased with bloodshed and pain; and therefore they have offered up their prisoners of war, and even their own children, to the gods.

II. Others have thought that He would be pleased if men were very cruel to their own bodies.

III. Others insist that God is pleased with gorgeous ceremony.

IV. Yet others think to please Him with pietism.—Sentiment, emotion, and all other things that we present in public worship must be translated into some practical form—incarnated in some act, and “go about doing good.” Then is God truly served, and helped, and pleased. Kindness and character: God loves these, and as His will more and more permeates humanity, ceremony, persecution, and sectarianism will die, and love to God, with earth for its temple, the homes of men for its shrines, words of kindness for its psalmody, deeds of kindness for its offering, a pure heart for its holy of holies, the smile of God and the redemption of the world for its reward, will take their place.—J. Morgan Gibbon.

Religion in the Details of Life.—The difficulty of religion is the taking up of the cross daily, rather than the taking it up on some set occasion, and under extraordinary circumstances—the serving God in little things, the carrying of religious principles into all the minutiæ of life, the discipline of our tempers, the regulation of our speech, the momentary sacrifices, the secret and unobserved self-denials. Who that knows anything of the difficulty of piety does not know that there is greater danger of his failing in these than in trials of apparently far greater cost and sterner endurance? It is not comparatively hard to put the armour on when the trumpet sounds, but it is to keep the armour on when there is no alarm of battle. The warfare with our spiritual enemies is not a series of pitched battles, with intervals of resting and recruiting; it is rather daily, hourly, momentary fighting. This is the “driving out little by little” to which the Almighty promises “the reward of inheritance.”—H. Melvill.

Unspotted from the World.—As men and women grow older they change. Of all the changes that they undergo those of their moral natures are the most painful to watch. The boy changes into the man, and there is something lost which never seems to come back again. Presently his life no longer sounds with a perfectly clear ring, or shines with a perfectly white lustre. He is no longer unspotted. When a grown man sees this, he is sure that the change has come somehow from the boy having grown up to manhood in the midst of his fellow-men. The manhood has had to grow here in this great universal mass of things, this total of many various influences which we call “the world.” Home, school, business, society, politics, human life in general in all its various activities—out of this have come the evil forces that have changed and soiled this life. He has walked through mire, and the filth has gathered on his skirts. We have all been “spotted by the world.” The worst thing about all this staining power of the world is the way in which we come to think of it as inevitable. We practically believe that no man can keep himself unspotted. There is a worse thing than this. When a man comes not merely to tolerate but to boast of the stains that the world has flung upon him. In view of all this we come to our religion. See how intolerant religion is. She starts with what men have declared to be impossible. She refuses to bring down her standards. She insists that men must come up to her. No man is thoroughly religious, she declares, unless he goes through this world untainted, as the sunbeam goes through the mist. Christianity could not sustain itself in its great claim to be from God unless it took this high and God-like ground—that whoever named the name of Christ must depart from all iniquity, We go for our assurance to the first assertion of the real Christianity in the life of Jesus. That life was meant to be the pattern of the lives of all of those who called themselves His followers. If He walked through the same muddy streets of sordid care, and penetrated the same murky atmosphere of passion that we have to go through, and thence came out pure and unspotted from the world, then He is really God manifest in the flesh. Filling ourselves, then, with this idea, that the spotlessness of the Saviour’s life is the pattern of the spotless life to which we must aspire, study that life.

1. The first thing that strikes us about it is its positiveness. Jesus was never guarding Himself, but always invading the lives of others with His holiness. He did not spend His life in trying not to do wrong. He was too full of the earnest love and longing to do right—to do His Father’s will. Many of our attempts at purity fail by their negativeness. All merely negative purity has something of the taint of the impurity that it resists. Morality is apt to be conceived as negative. Religion is by its very nature positive. Religion is higher than morality, as manly virtue is nobler than childlike innocence. But is any such purity as Christ’s, so positive, so strong, possible for us? Christianity is a religion of the supernatural, and, to any one who is thoroughly in its power, it must bring the presence of a live super-naturalism, and make that the atmosphere of his life. Make the Incarnation the one pervading power of a man’s life. A deep, living sense of God is the true vitality of a human soul which quenches the poisonous fires of corruption. This, however, is not enough; Christ must come nearer to the soul than this before it can really by Him “escape the corruption that is in the world.” There must be the personal relation between the soul and its Saviour. We must grasp the bewildering thought of a personal love for our single souls. The soul gives itself to Christ, and is its own no longer. He feels now with Christ’s feeling, and corruption drops away from him as it drops away from Christ. He walks unharmed, because he walks in this new sense of consecration. That is the perfect ransom of a soul. “When I am so thankful to Christ for all He suffered in my behalf that I give up my life to Him to show Him how I love Him, and by my dedication to Him am saved from the world’s low slaveries and stains—then, it seems to me, my heaven is begun, its security and peace I have already entered. I am already safe within its sheltering walls, and all my happy, restful life takes up already its eternal psalm. Already I have ‘washed my robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.’ ” It is by a Christ-like dedication to the world that Christ really saves us from the world. They say the doctors and the nurses are the least likely to catch the epidemic. If you have a friend who is dishonest or impure, the surest way to save yourself from him is to try to save him. What was it that saved Jesus from the infection of the world? Was it not the same divinity which made Him the Saviour of the world? It is the ineffable union of Christ with the sinner that most bears witness to Christ’s sinlessness. We may be saved from the wickedness of the world by our pity for it. We shall be far from its contagion the closer that we come to its needs. We shall be as pure as the angels the more completely we give ourselves up to the ministering angel’s work. This is the true positiveness of the Christian’s purity, the real safety of the loving and labouring life.—Phillips Brooks.

Sincere Religion will stand Testing.—Vain religion is contrasted with pure and undefiled religion. Pure, or clear through. Undefiled, or unstained with self-seeking. Our supreme danger in the religious life is willingly cherishing mixed motives. “Their heart is divided.” There is praise of God and praise of self. “They feared the Lord, and served other gods.” Illustrate by the architect who built a temple, and put the king’s name on the plaster that would weather off, and carved his own name deep in the stone underneath. If our religion is sincere and simple, it will stand testing. Who puts the test? God, even the Father. God, the heart-searcher. God, the Father, who is the severest of heart-searchers. Nothing searches like love.

I. God, testing our religion, expects to find us “unspotted from the world.”—Illustrate from the early Church. Christians were then set in close daily contact with heathenism, which tended to degrade and corrupt all social life. But the distinction between the Church and the world can never be safely obliterated. “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.” But what is the distinction between these two? The world is the self-pleasing sphere; the Church is the God-pleasing sphere. But here is our practical difficulty—We all come into personal religion as men and women already “world-spotted” by our experiences. Nay, it is worse than that—with a strange tendency to take world-spots. But provision is made for keeping us. Christ is our hedge. The Holy Spirit is a gracious defensive power within us. But God’s grace in us must be responded to by all due keeping of ourselves. We need not willingly go where there is dirt. We can keep our clothes tight about us, and high up, if we must be where there is dirt. So many of the stains on our garments need not have been there. The mystery we have to find out is—How was it that Christ’s garments would not take stains?

II. God, even the Father, testing our religion, expects to find us visiting the fatherless and the widow.—The specific cases are put as types of practical religion. They are valuable and important as signs in themselves. They are more so regarded as types. Illustrate—We keep the household crockery clean, not for show, but for use. We must keep ourselves clean for service. Learn what Christian service is from Christ. Where did He find spheres? He was always doing something for somebody. That is practical religion. Not profession, not feeling, not ritual, though these are good enough in their places; but the inward goodness of the pure heart, and the outward goodness of a life of charity.

Morality the Ceremonial of Christianity.—The outwardservice of ancient religion, the rites, ceremonies, and ceremonial, vestments of the old law, had morality for their end. They were the letter of which morality was the spirit, the enigma of which morality was the meaning. But morality itself is the service and ceremonial (cultus exterior, θρησκεία) of the Christian religion.—Coleridge.

The Double Sphere of Practical Religion.—Doing in two spheres properly follows upon religious instruction.

1. Doing in the sphere of personal culture.
2. Doing in the sphere of kindly and self-denying service to others.

Undefiled Religion.—

1. That in which is no trace of insincerity.
2. That in which there is no strand of self-seeking. God in our religion keeps it sweet. Self in our religion tends to make it foul.

Three Interests of Religion.—Religion in its rise interests us about ourselves; in its progress, about our fellow-creatures; in its highest stage, about the honour of God.—Fausset.

Personal Purity and Active Charity.—These two things here mentioned (visiting the fatherless, etc.) are not the sum-total of true religion. They are but samples of the stock. Here, as elsewhere in the Scriptures, a part or parts is put for the whole. It is as if I described a living man by saying that he breathes. But he does many things else. He sees and hears, he walks and talks, he thirsts and hungers, and a thousand things besides. Still, unless he breathes, he is not alive, but dead; and dead is the religion which does not aim at these two things—personal purity and active charity; in other words, doing good and being good.—Guthrie.

Religion in its Visible Form.—Not piety, but the externals of religion. Θρησκεία only means religion in that sense in which we apply the word to any form or system of worship. Thus we might speak of the whole Mosaic ritual and ceremonial as the Jewish religion. It refers to the outward and visible forms in which religion embodies itself, not to the inner life of religion as it exists in the soul. What the apostle here means then is—The outward form and ritual in which your Christian life is to be manifested purely and acceptably to God does not consist in any liturgical system, but in visiting the fatherless and the widows in their affliction, and in keeping yourselves unspotted from the world. This is a lesson of as much importance to the ritualists of this day as for those of old, whilst attention to the precise, I might almost say “technical,” meaning of the word translated “religion” guards it from the perversion of the legalist and the Pharisee. A holy and charitable life has taken the place under the new dispensation which, under the old, was held by sacrifices, ablutions, etc. Precisely the same idea is conveyed in Romans 12:1 and Hebrews 13:15.


James 1:26. Bridling the Tongue.

I. What is the general vice or fault here referred to, or what disposition in man is supposed in moral reflections and precepts concerning bridling the tongue? The fault referred to is not malice, but talkativeness, a disposition to be talking. This disposition is a grave matter, because it is so difficult to hold in restraint. It does not necessarily involve slander, perjury, or even ambitious vanity; but it is the occasion of numberless ills and evils and vexations of life.

II. When may it be said of any one, that he has a due government over himself in this respect?—The due and proper use of any natural faculty or power is to be judged of by the end or design for which it was given us. What then is the design of the gift of speech? Not only was it to meet necessary occasions, but also to minister enjoyment and satisfaction. A secondary use of speech is to please, and to be entertaining to each other in conversation. As the end and use, so likewise the abuse of speech, relates to the one or other of these, either to business or to conversation. Three things may be given as cautions against mistakes in conversation:

1. Silence;
2. Talking of indifferent things;
3. Speaking good or evil of others. If people would observe the obvious occasions of silence; if they would subdue the inclination to tale-bearing, and that eager desire to engage attention, which is an original disease in some minds, they would be in little danger of offending with their tongue, and would, in a moral and religious sense, have due government over it.—Bishop Butler.

James 1:27. Blight on Sickly Plants.—When blight or mildew comes to a garden, the plants that suffer first and most are those which have been badly cared for, and are, in consequence, weak and sickly. It is not often that hardy and vigorous plants are attacked and injured. If we fail to use the means which are needful for sustaining our souls in spiritual health and soundness, we shall be very liable to the blighting influence of evil. It is only by being careful to maintain a vigorous spiritual life, that we can hope to keep ourselves “unspotted from the world.”—B. Wilkinson.

Sympathy with Widows.—One of the late Dr. Spencer’s parishioners, in Brooklyn, New York, met him hurriedly urging his way down the street, one day; his lip was set, and there was something strange in that grey eye. “How are you to-day, doctor?” he said pleasantly. He waked as from a dream, and replied, soberly, “I am mad!” It was a new word for a mild, true-hearted Christian; but he waited, and with a deep earnest voice went on: “I found a widow standing by her goods thrown in the street; she could not pay the month’s rent; the landlord turned her out, and one of her children is going to die; and that man is a member of the Church! I told her to take her things back again. I am on my way to see him.”

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on James 1". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/james-1.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
Ads FreeProfile