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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

- James

by Editor - Joseph S. Exell

The Preacher’s Complete Homiletic


I-II Timothy, Titus, Philemon

By the

Author of the Commentaries on Kings, Psalms (121–130), Lamentations, Ezekiel, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, I and II Thessalonians






Author of the Commentaries on I and II Peter, I, II, and III John, Jude, and Revelation

New York




Church Seasons: Lent, Hebrews 4:15-16; Hebrews 6:12; Hebrews 12:1; Hebrews 11:29; James 1:12-15; James 4:6. Good Friday, Hebrews 2:10; Hebrews 4:14-16; Hebrews 9:22; Hebrews 9:28; Hebrews 10:10. Whit Sunday, Hebrews 3:7.

Holy Communion: Hebrews 13:10; Hebrews 13:15.

Missions to Heathen: 1 Timothy 2:4-8. Bible Society, 2 Timothy 3:14-17; Hebrews 4:12-13; Hebrews 5:12.

Evangelistic Services: 1 Timothy 1:11; 1 Timothy 1:15; 1 Timothy 2:4; 1 Timothy 4:10; Titus 3:2-7. Hebrews 2:1-4; Hebrews 7:23-28.

Special: Ordination, 1 Timothy 1:3-4; 1 Timothy 3:1-13; 1 Timothy 4:13-16; 1 Timothy 5:17-22; 2 Timothy 2:23-26; 2 Timothy 4:1-8; 2 Timothy 4:6-8; Titus 1:5-9; Titus 2:1; Titus 3:9; Titus 3:15; Hebrews 5:1-10; Hebrews 10:24. Workers, 1 Timothy 1:18-20; 1 Timothy 3:8-13; 1 Timothy 4:6-7; 2 Timothy 3:10-13; Titus 1:6; Hebrews 3:14; Hebrews 10:24; James 1:27; James 5:19-20. Harvest, James 5:7-11. Young, Titus 2:4-8. Parents, 1 Timothy 5:4; 1 Timothy 5:8; 1 Timothy 5:16; Hebrews 12:16. Aged, Titus 2:1-3; Philemon 1:9. Young Men. 1 Timothy 4:8-11; Hebrews 12:7. Soldiers, 2 Timothy 2:3-4; James 4:1-2. Scientific men. 1 Timothy 6:20-21; Hebrews 11:1-3; James 4:17; James 5:17-18. Purity, Titus 1:15. Worship, 1 Timothy 2:1-3; Hebrews 10:25. Death. 2 Timothy 1:8; 2 Timothy 1:10; Hebrews 11:5-6; Hebrews 13:7; Hebrews 13:14; James 4:14.



THIS is known as one of the general or catholic epistles. There are seven of them. They appear to be so called because not addressed to particular Churches. But Eusebius seems to indicate by the term simply that they were in general use. The difficulty of identifying this James is an interesting subject of study, but is not suitable for pulpit-treatment. All Bible commentaries and introductions deal with it. It need only be said that James the Martyr is hardly in the field of possibility. James the Less, the son of Alphæus, has good claims, but they scarcely stand severe criticism. Modern opinion is distinctly tending in favour of an identification with “James the Lord’s brother” (Galatians 1:19), who was not in the apostolic band. It is thought that the special appearance of the risen Christ to him (1 Corinthians 15:7) secured his personal discipleship, and that his strong character soon brought to him confidence and office, the apostles putting him in charge of the Church at Jerusalem. “For this position he was recommended by his relation to the Lord, and by his character and principles. He conformed to the law, sharing no doubt the feeling of the other members of that Church, that the ordinances of the old dispensation had not been done away for them, but were filled out with new life and meaning in Christ.”

No doubt the letter was written from Jerusalem, and there is much to favour the view that it was the first Christian epistle. If it was written before St. Paul’s epistles, the notion of antagonism between St. James and St. Paul falls at once to the ground. St. James only addresses those who were Jews by birth; and the epistle cannot be rightly understood unless its precise adaptation to the ideas and feelings of the Jews, under the particular circumstances of that time, is fully recognised.

There is no reference whatever to the Gentiles in the epistle. The tone is practical, almost stern. There is little or nothing in it that we can recognise as doctrine. There are allusions to our Lord’s person—His example, authority, glory, power, and coming to judgment. And the word of truth is spoken of as the instrument of the new birth. The rule of life is the law; but in the faith of Christ the man gains a new power to keep the law.

The language is a very pure specimen of Hellenistic Greek. The contents are not laid out on any evident plan. St. James writes freely out of the fulness of his heart, touching subjects as they are freshly suggested to his mind, and returning upon them when some new thought strikes him. In common with the apostles, St. James had the expectation of the immediate return to earth of his Divine Lord. He seeks, by practical counsels and urgent persuasions, to help the Judæo Christians to see the frailties, evils, and temptations that were imperilling their Christian profession, and presses again and again upon them that faith as a sentiment is of no real value. The faith that saves is that faith which is a power unto righteousness, and finds expression in multiplied forms of service and charity.

“The first section treats of sincerity and patience under afflictions (chap. James 1:1-15). The second declaims against hypocrisy and self-deceit (chap. James 1:16-27). The third against adulation of the rich and contempt of the poor, against false charity and spurious faith (chap. James 2:1-26). The next treats of the duty of ruling the tongue and cultivating peace (chap. 3). To this succeed warnings against strife and evil-speaking; against the corruption of the world, pride, luxury, oppression; against the attempt to serve both God and mammon (chap. 4). Then follow warnings against covetousness (chap. James 5:1-11); profane and rash oaths (Hebrews 13:12); exhortations to prayer, especially in sickness (Hebrews 13:13-18); and a declaration of the blessedness of converting a sinner from the error of his ways (Hebrews 13:19-20).”

The dominant thought toning the epistle is the masterfulness and quarrelsomeness of the Hebrew Christian communities. They were always wrangling. St. James writes in the hope of correcting this evil, and of checking the various evils which naturally followed in its train.


The place which James the brother of the Lord occupies in the apostolic Church is as peculiar as it is important. The Scriptures contribute very little to the biography of James, but what they do contain is of the utmost importance to the comprehension of his person and calling. He was, in a literal sense, the “brother of the Lord.” There is no ground at all for identifying him with James the son of Alphæus, one of the twelve apostles. His early familiarity with Jesus was, for him and for his brothers, a stumbling-block in the way of believing in Him, which others did not experience who only saw Jesus in His public capacity, as a prophet mighty in words and works. Take away the lowly form in which the glory of the Christ is concealed, and there is removed from the face of James the veil which prevented him from recognising in his brother Jesus the Christ for whom he longed. This the Lord knew, and as soon as He had risen in His power and glory He sought out His erring brother, and revealed Himself to him as the Christ of glory. James saw and believed. He attached himself immediately to the circle of the apostles, and after the twelve had left Jerusalem he took charge of the mother-congregation there.
To understand his office in the Church at Jerusalem, it is necessary to inquire what sort of relation there was between James and the people of Israel. In his view the congregations of the faithful Israelites formed one whole with the rest of Israel, and that because every Israelite was destined through belief in Christ to become an Israelite indeed. They were all children of the covenant and of the prophets, to whom all the promises—especially the promise of the Holy Ghost—belonged. It was, from the nature of the case, those who believed in Jesus as the Christ who drew closer together, and distinguished themselves from their countrymen by various customs, such as baptism and the love-feast, which was brought to an end by the Lord’s Supper. But they did not cease to be Israelites. They did not separate themselves from the rest of Israel. They walked, as did the others, according to the law of Moses; took part in Temple services; allowed their children to be circumcised; prayed at the appointed hours of the day; and, like the other Israelites, had their synagogues, which seem to have been also attended by their countrymen. James, as the head of the Christian Israelitish community at Jerusalem, knew no contrast between the Christian community in Israel and the Israelitish people, except that in this community Israel had reached its destiny, had become truly Israel. The Christian Israelitish community was the kernel of the Israelitish people; what he had to say to it held good for the whole race. It is thus that the otherwise inexplicable fact is explained, that James did not address his epistle exclusively to the faithful Israelites, but to “the twelve tribes of the dispersion,” and that in his epistle he has in view both local and national conditions.
The relation in which James stood to Israel necessarily coincided with his duty towards the law. He is himself conscious of no other contrast between his Christian belief and the Israelitish law, except that by faith in Christ the law found its full significance for the first time in his inward and outward life. Jesus Christ had not released him from the law and the prophets. What before had been to him an unreachable ideal was through faith in Jesus Christ fulfilled to overflowing. He was no more hampered by the stern demand of the law; it was for him the law of liberty. Josephus calls James “the Just,” and ascribes the destruction of Jerusalem to God’s vengeance upon his martyrdom. The exaggerated reports in Eusebius, borrowed from Hegesippus, testify to the exactness with which James fulfilled the law, and to the high esteem in which, on that account, he was held by the whole people.
The question naturally arises, If this was the attitude of James toward the law, what then was the gospel that he proclaimed to Israel? James had no less right than Paul to speak of his gospel. If the gospel of Paul is called the “gospel of grace,” that of James may be called the “gospel of fulfilment.” James did not experience Paul’s change from law to grace, from works to faith. The only contrast which he came to know through faith in the Christ was the contrast between promise and fulfilment, between beginning and completion. James may be named the last prophet of Israel. He directed his epistle to the twelve tribes as a prophet sent to them by Christ. As he chastises and warns them, and threatens them with the approaching judgment, the well-known tone of Israel’s prophets is re-echoed in his words. The apostleship of James forms the counterpart of the apostleship of Paul, who likewise was not one of the twelve. It is to be ascribed not less to James than to Paul that the efforts of the Jewish fanatics to subject the Gentile Christian Church to the law of Moses miscarried.
The whole epistle testifies that the Christian Israelitish character reached its apostolic completeness in James. He had apparently, as a son of Mary, as a branch of the royal stem, an excellent natural disposition. There is no doubt that his natural gifts contributed to his rise in the esteem of those even who did not believe in Jesus. Unlike Paul, he sustained no shocks in his spiritual life. His inward life moved with a quiet and firm step. He was, even before he found the Messiah in Jesus, an exemplary Israelite. Afterwards he was, in his measure, like Jesus, a living copy of the law, which is righteous, holy, and good. There is also a striking resemblance between the epistle of James, and the Sermon on the Mount, and the last prophetic words of Jesus. James has involuntarily sketched his own image in his epistle, as of a man whom God had raised up above others to show to Israel what the Israelite becomes who enters into complete fellowship with the glorified Christ. In him is realised the ideal which God has set before the Israelite: he is, according to God’s will, through the word of truth, reborn, in order to belong to the firstfruits of God’s creatures. The epistle of James, as well by its style as by its contents, bears witness to the moral elevation and the spiritual power which were peculiar to him in a preeminent degree as the apostle of the Christian Israelitish Church (Prof. N. I. Hofmeyer).

Wherever Christianity did not effect a complete change in the heart, the old Jewish spirit naturally magnified itself in the professed converts.


James the brother of the Lord receives the Church from the apostles, he who was called the Just from the Lord’s time even to our own; for many bore the name of James. This man was holy from his mother’s womb. He drank no wine nor strong drink, nor did he eat anything that lives. No razor came upon his head, nor did he anoint himself with oil, nor use the bath. He only was allowed to enter into the Holy Place, for he wore no woollen, but linen garments only. And he was wont to go alone into the sanctuary, and used to be found prostrate on his knees, and asking forgiveness of the people, so that his knees grew hard and worn, like a camel’s, because he was ever kneeling and worshipping God, and asking forgiveness of the people. And on account of his exceeding righteousness he was called the Righteous (or the Just), and Oblias, which means in Greek “the bulwark of the people” and “righteousness,” as the prophets show of him. Some then of the seven sects of the people, of those whom I have described in my Memoirs, were wont to ask him, Who is the door of Jesus? And he was wont to say that this was the Saviour. And of these some believed that Jesus is the Christ. But the sects of which I have spoken did not believe either in the Resurrection, or in Him who cometh to give to every man according to his works. As many then as believed did so on account of James. And when many of the rulers also believed, there was a stir of the Jews, and scribes and Pharisees, saying that the whole people were in danger of looking for Jesus the Christ. They came together, and said to James: “We entreat thee restrain the people, for they have gone astray to Jesus, as though He were indeed the Christ. We beseech thee to persuade all that come to the Day of the Passover concerning Jesus; for we all hearken to thee. For all of us bear thee witness, and all the people also, that thou art righteous, and art no respecter of persons. Do thou therefore persuade the multitude not to be led astray concerning Jesus; for we and all the people hearken unto thee. Stand therefore on the pinnacle of the Temple, that thou mayest be conspicuous aloft, and that thy words may easily be heard by all the people, for by reason of the Passover all the tribes have come together, and with them the Gentiles.” So the scribes and Pharisees before mentioned placed James on the pinnacle of the Temple, and they cried out to him, and said, “O thou righteous one, to whom we are all bound to hearken, since the people are all gone astray after Jesus that was crucified, tell us what is the door of Jesus.” And he answered with a loud voice, “Why ask ye me concerning Jesus the Son of man? He hath sat down in heaven on the right hand of the great Power, and is about to come in the clouds of heaven.” And when many were fully persuaded, and were glorifying God for the testimony of James, and saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” then again the same scribes and Pharisees said one to another, “We did ill in giving scope for such a testimony to Jesus, but let us go up and cast him down, that they may fear and not believe him.” And they cried out, saying, “Ho, ho, even the Righteous is gone astray!” And they fulfilled the scripture that is written in Isaiah, “Let us make away with the Righteous, for he is displeasing to us; therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their works.” And they went and cast the righteous one down; and they said one to another, “Let us stone James the Righteous.” And they began to stone him; for when he was cast down he did not die at once, but turned and fell on his knees, saying, “O Lord God our Father, forgive them, I beseech Thee, for they know not what they do.” And while they were thus stoning him, one of the priests of the sons of Rechab, the son of Rechabim, of whom the prophet Jeremiah bears record, cried out and said, “Cease ye; what is that ye are doing? The righteous one is praying for you.” And one of them, who was a fuller, took the club wherewith he was wont to beat his clothes, and smote the head of the righteous one with it. And so he bore his witness. And they buried him at the place beside the sanctuary, and his tombstone remaineth by the sanctuary. He was, and is, a true witness, both to Jews and Greeks, that Jesus is the Christ.—After Dean Plumptre.


Chap. James 1:10 : And the rich, in that he is made low.—This humiliation is not that of Christian submission. The rich unbeliever is meant. The passage is one of severe irony. “Let the brother of low degree glory in his high estate; and the rich man—what is he to glory in?—let him glory in the only thing upon which he can count with certainty, viz. his being brought low; because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away.”

Chap. James 4:5-6.—These two verses are very difficult. Three questions arise:

(1) Are two scriptures quoted, or only one?
(2) Who is it that “longeth” or “lusteth”? Is it God, or the Holy Spirit, or our own human spirit?
(3) What is it that is longed for by God or the Spirit? In reply to
(1) it is held that here is a condensation of several utterances in the Old Testament. In respect to
(2) it is maintained that the good sense of the verb, i.e. “longeth,” is more in harmony with New Testament usage. The most satisfactory rendering then makes the Holy Spirit the subject—“Even unto jealousy doth the Spirit which He made to dwell in us yearn.” And as to

(3), that for which the Spirit yearns is “ourselves.” “God is a jealous God, and the Divine love is a jealous love; it brooks no rival. And when His Spirit takes up its abode in us, it cannot rest until it possesses us wholly, to the exclusion of all alien affections.”

Chap. James 5:14-15 : Anointing him with oil, etc.—In respect to this debated passage, the writer thinks that it is most probable that the purpose intended for the oil to serve was either to be the channel or instrument of a supernatural cure, or an aid to the sick person’s faith. And the reason why oil was selected was that it was believed to have healing properties. It is obvious, on the one hand, that James does not recommend this oil merely as medicine, for he does not say that the oil shall cure, nor yet that the oil with prayer shall do so, and, more than that, the anointing is to be done by the elders, which would not be necessary if it were merely medicinal. “On the other hand, it seems to be too much to say that the anointing had nothing to do with bodily healing at all, and was simply a means of grace for the sick.”

Chap. James 5:19-20 : Shall cover a multitude of sins.—Whose sins? Not the sins of him who converts the erring brother. Against this are two reasons:

(1) Nowhere else in Scripture do we find such a doctrine as that a man may cover his own sins by inducing another sinner to repent. The opposite is not obscurely intimated, e.g. in 1 Corinthians 9:27.

(2) James could not have contemplated the possibility of a Christian undertaking the task of converting others while his own conscience was burdened with a multitude of sins. It is the sins of the converted sinner that are covered. The phrase “cover sins” reminds one of Psalms 32:1, and it seems to have been common among the Jews—From Dr. A. Plummer.

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