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Bible Commentaries

Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary

James 5

Verse 1


The Church is here taught, in the Opening of this Chapter, the short-lived Enjoyments of the Wicked. God's faithful Ones are reminded of the Blessedness of Patience; and what precious Advantages arise from Prayer.

Verses 1-6

Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. (2) Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten. (3) Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days. (4) Behold, the hire of the laborers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. (5) Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter. (6) Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you.

When the Reader hath duly pondered the many solemn things, which are here said of the ungodly and unregenerate, if the Lord be his teacher, I venture to think that it will strike him, as it doth me, that there can hardly be a passage more tremendously alarming, to shew the folly, as well as sin, of the rich worldling, than what is here said. Nothing can be more clear than the Lord's design in it. The Holy Ghost is all along writing to the Church. His sole object is the instruction and comfort of the Church. In doing which, the Lord seems in these few verses, but still wholly in the Church's hearing, and for the Church's good; to turn to the unregenerate, and in this rousing apostrophe, to expostulate with them on their extreme folly. The images are finely chosen, being taken from the things which worldly men make their idol. Their contemptible nature is strongly expressed. The cobweb covering, and the canker even of gold, not only testify their folly, but become witnesses against them in the end, in that they could not use them themselves, neither would let others who needed them. But let not the Reader mistake, as if this address was delivered in a way of persuasion to them, but wholly for the benefit of the Lord's people. Every part and portion in the word of God, is done with an eye to the Church, And whenever the Lord the Spirit steppeth aside to represent the final end of the ungodly, ordained of old to this condemnation, it is with the express design, to impress upon the minds of the Lord's redeemed ones, by such awful repesentations, the nature of that distinguishing mercy vouchsafed them.

Verses 7-11

Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain. (8) Be ye also patient; establish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh. (9) Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door. (10) Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience. (11) Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.

We have within the compass of these verses, some very precious views, for the child of God, and especially the exercised child of God, to ruminate upon: and, if the Reader will indulge me, and God the Holy Ghost will teach both Writer and Reader, very sure I am, that we shall rise up from the review of them with much spiritual profit.

And, first. By the command to the brethren, who are regenerated in Christ, to be patient unto the coming of the Lord; the child of God is taught to expect exercises. There will be, there must be, many dark and trying seasons. And in those seasons, the best taught children of God will be hard put to it, unless faith is always in lively exercise, to trust God where we cannot trace God. The Holy Ghost therefore begins this sweet portion, after he had told the Church in the verses going before, the sure ruin of the ungodly; that though their patience should be exercised, yet they should rest in this one grand and unalterable conclusion, the Lord is coming. And when he comes, all will be fully and clearly explained. Therefore, saith the Lord, patiently wait this time, and be assured of this one thing, the Lord's ways, and the Lord's heart, are towards thee for good in all things. Romans 8:28 .

Secondly. Having gained this great point, and set it down as a truth perfectly clear and impossible to be questioned, that God's dealings with his redeemed in Christ, are full of love, and conducted with unerring wisdom; we are next taught, that the best way, and the only way, by which we can rightly interpret the Lord's dealings towards his people, is, to do as the husbandman doth, in waiting for the precious fruit of the earth. What a beautiful and striking similitude the Lord , hath chosen to represent this sure harvest by, of the fruits of his everlasting love? What, to the human eye, apparently more unpromising, or more unlikely to bring forth, than when the seed is not only cast into the earth and buried over, but must absolutely rot and die before there can be any product. See John 12:24 . and Commentary. Such then is the harvest of grace. When the Lord hath totally thrown to the ground, and buried over all our designs, and plans, and exertions; yea, even to our prayers, as in the case of Israel, no answers have been given, and matters have appeared darker than before: (see Exodus 5:0 throughout,) then most blessed it is, to behold, of a sudden, light rise out of obscurity, and hope against hope come in to our joy and delight? Reader! say, (if you know the Lord,) hath the Lord at any time, when bereaving you of earthly comforts, when withering your gourds, and breaking your cisterns, when stripping you like the oak of its leaves in the winter; you have stood, as in the midst of the forest, desolated, and forlorn; hath Jesus, during those seasons of nature's sorrows, refreshed in grace your soul? Hath the Lord given you increasing faith, increasing spiritual strength, hath he blessed you with the more frequent visits of his love, opened to you his covenant, shewn you his secrets, said unto you, Fear not, I am with thee, I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name, thou art mine? Surely, here is the fullest testimony to what the Apostle hath said, and encouragement enough to be always on the watch-tower for such manifestations of his grace, in the expectation of the coming of the Lord drawing nigh.

Once more. The Apostle beautifully sums up the argument, in proposing to the Church the example of the Prophets, and particularly in the instance of Job, by way of shewing the blessedness of suffering afflictions with patience. Behold! (saith he,) we count them happy which endure. Yes! The people of God do count the Lord's exercised ones under trial, when found faithful, as eminently distinguished with the divine favor. It is indeed a mark of the Lord's regard for them. They are thereby called to high dignity and honor. Paul told the Church of the Corinthians, that they were babes in Christ, and could not, from their tender age, bear the strong food of the Gospel. Children, truly and savingly regenerated, they were; but yet only children, 1 Corinthians 3:1-2 . But, when the Lord calls an old veteran in the holy army to sharp and trying conflicts, and blesseth him with strength in the battle, this is an high honor on the saint! And the Apostle saith, Behold, we count them happy which endure.

But what is the world's estimate of good? Alas! the very reverse. Ask men of the world, what they conceive; a goodly portion? They will make no hesitation to decide, and decide so positively, as though their maxims were undeniable. We count them happy, they will say, which have all this world's good; riches, titles, mansions, and a profusion of all creature comforts. But, who shall cast the lot? Who shall determine with whom the advantage is? Reader! it is already determined, and God himself hath decided. It is hardly possible to read the 49th Psalm (Psalms 49:0 ); Job 21:13 . or the 73 rd Psalm (Psalms 73:0 ), where the characters of the prosperous worldling is drawn in his full colors, without trembling. And when from the Word of God, we turn to the contemplation of the world, and behold such awful departures going on, from one generation to another, the child of God cannot but arise up, under all his exercises, how pressing soever to flesh and blood they may be, and say with him of old, Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest, O Lord, and teachest him out of thy law, that thou mayest give him rest from the days of adversity until the pit be digged for the wicked, Psalms 94:12-13 .

Verses 12-20

But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation. (13) Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms. (14) Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: (15) And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. (16) Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. (17) Elijah was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. (18) And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit. (19) Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; (20) Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.

I include the whole of these verses under one reading, for shortness sake. The things here spoken of are too plain to need much observation. Prayer is here held forth in its own strong features. For that prayer which is awakened by grace, cannot fail to be answered in mercy. What the Apostle calls effectual, fervent prayer, means, in the original, in wrought prayer. And it is in wrought by the Great Author and Enditer of prayer, the Holy Ghost. Moreover, it is it! direct correspondence to the will of God, our Father, Romans 8:26-27 . And no less in perfect harmony with the intercession of the Lord Jesus Christ, John 16:24; John 16:24 . The righteous man here alluded to, can be no other than Christ, who is, as John saith, our Advocate, 1 John 2:2 . Elias, that is, Elijah, is spoken of by name, in proof how far the efficacy of inwrought prayer will reach. But, that the answer to his prayers, arose not from any merit in himself, but wholly from being accepted in Christ, is evident from what is said of him, a man subject to like passions as we are; that is, born in the Adam-nature of the same fallen seed, of whom it is truly said, there is none that doeth good, no not one, Romans 3:12 . See the history of the success of Elias' prayer, 1 Kings 17:1 and 1 Kings 18:41 to the end.

I beg the Reader to attend, with some degree of earnestness, to the two last verses in this Chapter, in order for the right apprehension. By the sinner here said to be converted from error, cannot be supposed is meant one that was before unregenerate, for the Apostle calls them brethren, and saith to them, if any of you do err. And though the Lord is pleased, sometimes in the first awakenings from sin, to use instruments for this purpose, yet, nowhere is it said, that these instruments convert. This is the Lord's sole work. Creating-work, and renewing-work, are both the Lord's. It should seem to imply no more than this, that if a child of God hath backslidden from the Lord, absented himself from ordinances, neglected the means of grace, brought reproach upon the cause of the Lord Christ, by his behaviour, and, for a while, seemeth to have gone back into the world; and if the Lord, so disposing, sends one of his faithful ones, whether a minister, or any other, after him, and under the Lord's blessing he is brought back to the footsteps of the flock, tell him, saith the Apostle, that he shall save a soul from death, that is, the dead and dying state into which he had fallen, and shall be instrumental in the Lord's hand, to hide a multitude of sins; that is, not his sins whom the Lord employs in this service, but the other's, whose sins lay before open and uncovered to every observer's view. That this must be the real sense of the passage, is evident from the plainest truths of God's Holy Word. The saving a soul from death, can belong to none but God. Neither can salvation be found, but in Christ, Acts 4:12 . And the conversion of the heart to God, at the first, and the recovery of the soul in all the after-falls and deadenings of it, belong only to the province of the Holy Ghost. But what a very sweet and gracious encouragement is this scripture to the Church at large, and especially to those who labor in the word and doctrine, to search, and seek out, as Jesus saith he will, and as Jesus certainly doth, by his Holy Spirit, the sheep of Christ's fold, in all places whither they are scattered, in the dark and cloudy day. Precious Lord! do as thou hast said! Ezekiel 34:12 .

Verse 20


In closing up this short, but sweet scripture, let not the Reader overlook the tender care and watchful love of God the Holy Ghost to the Church, in uniformly, from Chapter to Chapter, shewing the striking contrast between his people and the ungodly. While the rich worldling is bid to weep and howl in the awful prospect of miseries before him, the faithful, though poor in this world, but rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom, are desired to rejoice in their exercises, and in patience to possess their souls, for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.

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Bibliographical Information
Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on James 5". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". 1828.