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Bible Commentaries

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament

James 4

Verse 1

James 4:1. From whence come wars and fightings among you? Other manuscripts read, Whence wars and whence fightings among you? The connection is as follows: St. James had been reproving his readers for envy and party-strife, which was the occasion of contentions among them (James 3:16); and he now proceeds to trace those mischiefs to their origin in their sinful lusts. The sudden transition from the fruit of righteousness sown by the peacemakers to the prevalence of wars and fightings, is startling. Indeed, the expressions used in this passage, wherein the readers are accused of wars and fightings, are said to kill, and are called adulterers, are so strong, that at first sight one might suppose the Epistle to be addressed to the unbelieving Jews, to whose state and character these expressions literally applied, and not to Jewish Christians, to whom they could be only figuratively applicable; but the whole spirit and structure of the Epistle prove that it was written to believers. We must make allowance for the vehement style of the writer. Besides, we are not to suppose an ideal excellence as existing in the primitive Church; we learn, especially from the two Epistles to the Corinthians, that it had its faults and blemishes; the converts carried with them into Christianity many of the vices of their unconverted state. This is the case with our modern missions; the vices which are prevalent among their unconverted countrymen are those to which the converts are most exposed and most inclined. Now a contentious spirit was a Jewish vice. Wars and fightings were at this time the condition of the Jewish nation; indeed, it was this contentious spirit that was the cause of their ruin. The Jewish Christians had not emancipated themselves from this national character. The terms ‘wars’ and ‘fightings’ express the bitter contentions which prevailed among them; ‘wars’ denoting a state of contention generally, and ‘fightings’ particular outbreaks of it. These contentions are not to be limited to disputes among teachers or to religious controversies, but are to be understood generally all those quarrels which arise from our sinful passions and selfish desires. More than eighteen centuries ago the Prince of Peace visited this earth, and the Gospel announcing ‘peace on earth’ was proclaimed; and yet there are still wars and fightings in the Church and in the world.

come they not hence. James by a second question answers his first, appealing to the consciences of his readers.

even of your lusts or pleasures. Their evil desires were the occasion of their contentions; desires after worldly objects the greed of gain or influence. And such has been the cause of all the wars which have devastated this earth; these spring from the evil passions of men. ‘Nothing,’ observes Plato, ‘but the body and its lusts and appetites kindle sedition, quarrels, and wars in this world.’

that war. There is no necessity to supply ‘against the mind,’ or ‘against the soul.’ There are different forms of this war of our lusts. There is the war between the sensual inclination and the conscience; between indwelling sin and the principle of grace in the renewed man; and between one sinful lust and another, as for example between avarice and ambition. There is the law of the members warring against the law of the mind (Romans 7:23). But it is not to these forms of war that St. James alludes; the lusts are rather considered as a combined force warring against our fellow-men; he does not speak of the state of internal war in the soul, but of active contention against others.

in your members. The lusts have their seat in our bodily members; and these members are the instruments which they use in accomplishing their purposes. Thus St. Paul says: ‘Let not sin reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof; neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin’ (Romans 6:12-13).

Verses 1-12

James 4:1-12. St. James warns his readers against those evil passions which gave rise to wars and fightings among them. They must moderate their desires, and guard against self-gratification. If they placed their chief affections on the things of the world, they were alienated from God, for no one could be a friend of the world without being the enemy of God. The declarations of Scripture against worldliness were not made for no purpose; and the promptings of the indwelling Spirit did not lead to strife and envy. They must cultivate submission to God, resistance to the devil, outward and inward purity, repentance, and humility. They must avoid all evil-speaking and censoriousness. They must not set themselves up as judges of one another; but ever remember that there is one Lawgiver and Judge, who has the power to carry His judgments into effect, and to whom all must give an account.

Verse 2

James 4:2. Ye lust and have not. This verse further describes the origin or genesis of these external strifes. First, then, is the evil desire; then this desire, being ungratified, leads to hatred and envy; and hatred and envy lead to wars and fightings (comp. James 1:15). The objects of desire are worldly blessings the gratification of our sinful interests. This spirit of restless desire was also at this time the national character of the Jews; they were restless under the government of the Romans, and eagerly desired national liberty and the lordship over other nations. These desires were especially fostered by their belief in an earthly Messiah, who should bestow worldly blessings on His followers. This Jewish vice was prevalent among the Jewish Christians, and perhaps the false notion of an earthly Messiah was not eradicated from among them.

ye kill; expressive of the bitterness of the hatred that prevailed. If this Epistle were addressed to the Jews generally, these words would receive a literal meaning; but we can hardly suppose that the contentions among the Jewish Christians led to actual bloodshed, although such has often been their result in the history of the Church. The words, then, are to be understood in a modified sense, denoting that bitter hatred which, according to the spirit of the Gospel, is equivalent to murder: ‘Ye kill in spirit.’ ‘He that hateth his brother is a murderer’ (1 John 3:15). Compare with this the words of our Lord: ‘Ye have heard that it has been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment; but I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment’ (Matthew 5:21-22). Not the external act, but the internal disposition, the bitter hatred, is described. Strong and vehement expressions are characteristic of the style of St. James.

and desire to have; or rather, ‘and envy’ indulge in a resentful and envious spirit toward others.

and cannot obtain, namely, that on account of which you indulge in hatred and envy.

ye fight and war; the third stage in the genesis of contention.

yet; this word is not in the Greek. It is best to put a full stop after ‘war,’ and begin a new clause, showing the reason why their desires were not gratified, either because they asked not, or asked wrongfully.

ye have not, because ye asked not. There seems here a reference to our Lord’s declaration: ‘Ask, and it shall be given you.’ And it is also here implied that we are permitted to ask for temporal blessings, only we must not ask wrongly.

Verse 3

James 4:3. Ye ask, and receive not: as if to anticipate the reply of his readers that they did ask, but still did not receive the object of their desires.

because ye ask amiss: or wrongly, wickedly; either in an improper spirit, without faith in God as the Hearer of prayer; or rather for improper objects, for worldly things which are pernicious in themselves or prejudicial to the petitioner for the sole purpose of self-gratification, without any thought of the glory of God. Such asking is equivalent to not asking.

that ye may consume it (that which ye ask) on, or spend it in, your lusts: in order to gratify your own sinful desires. The meaning is: if you pray in a proper spirit, these selfish desires, which are the occasion of those bitter contentions among you, would cease to exist

Verse 4

James 4:4. Ye adulterers and adulteresses. The best manuscripts read only ‘ye adulteresses,’ a reading more suitable to the metaphor employed. This appellation might be taken literally, it we referred it to the unbelieving Jews; but, as referring to the Jewish Christians, it can only be understood in a metaphorical sense. It is spiritual adultery to which St. James here alludes. He here adopts the language of an Old Testament prophet. By the prophets God is represented as the ‘Husband of His people,’ and sin, especially the sin of idolatry, as unfaithfulness to Him. Nor is this metaphor confined to the Old Testament. Our Lord, on two occasions at least, calls the Jews ‘an adulterous generation’ (Matthew 12:39; Mark 8:38); and St. Peter speaks of wicked Christians as ‘having eyes full of adultery’ (2 Peter 2:14). The believer is considered as married to the Lord (Romans 7:4); and the world is God’s rival, that which seduces our affections from Him. St. James, in using this strong and startling epithet, gives vent to his moral indignation. He is filled with holy anger on account of the contentions that prevailed among them.

know ye not that the friendship of the world. This is not to be restricted to the indulgence of sinful lusts, or to an eager pursuit after the carnal pleasures of the world; out by this is meant an over-attachment to worldly objects, an eager craving after the riches or influence of the world; in short, worldliness, worldly desires without any thought of God, a preference of the world to Him.

is enmity with God. God and the world here stand opposed to each other as rivals: so that we cannot love the one without rejecting the other ‘Ye cannot serve God and mammon’ (Matthew 6:24). The more the world occupies our hearts, the less room there is in them for God, and the more forgetful are we of the world to come.

whosoever therefore will be: literally, ‘whosoever wishes to be’ has chosen the world as his portion.

the friend of the world resolves to cultivate its friendship and favour as his chief good is, or rather, ‘constitutes himself,’ ‘sets himself up as,’ the enemy of God.

Verse 5

James 4:5. The meaning of this verse is very difficult: it is one of the dark sayings of Scripture. This difficulty arises from two causes: from the fact that no such passage, as St James apparently quotes, is to be found in the Old Testament; and from the supposed quotation itself being obscure, and susceptible of different and even opposite meanings. Do you think that the Scripture saith in vain: that its declaration is made for no purpose. These words appear to introduce a scriptural quotation; but no passage can be found which expresses the subjoined sentiment. Various passages, both in the Old Testament and in the New, have been adduced, but not one which is identical with the supposed quotation. Some, indeed, think that the quotation cited is that contained in the Book of Proverbs, mentioned in the next verse, ‘God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble,’ and that all that intervenes is to be considered as a parenthesis; [1] but this is a forced method of removing the difficulty. It is best to suppose that St. James alludes, not to any particular quotation, but to the general scope of Scripture: Do you think that the scriptural declarations are made in vain? This may refer to the sentiment that follows: or, as we think is better, to what precedes, to the scriptural denunciations against worldliness, and the indulgence of hatred and envy.

[1] This is Huther’s solution of the difficulty.

the spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy. These words have given rise to a vast variety of interpretations. According to our version, the meaning is that the Scriptures declare that our depraved nature is given to envy. But to this it has been forcibly objected that ‘the spirit that dwelleth in us is a spirit different from ourselves, and therefore cannot denote our depraved nature. Accordingly, some think that the ‘spirit of evil,’ or Satan, is here meant. But, although such an expression as ‘Satan dwelling within us’ may be admissible, yet this meaning is contradicted by the next verse: ‘He giveth more grace,’ which would require ‘God’ to be inserted as its subject. Others suppose that by ‘the Spirit that dwelleth in us’ is meant the Holy Spirit, and they give to the words ‘to envy’ an adverbial import: they think that the metaphor introduced by the words ‘adulteresses’ is still carried on; and accordingly they give the following rendering to the words: ‘The Spirit which dwelleth in us jealously desireth us for His own.’ [2] But to this it is objected that the word rendered ‘envy’ is always used in Scripture in a bad sense, and that the words ‘us for his own’ are inserted in the text. Some render the clause: ‘The Spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth against envy;’ but this gives a false meaning to the preposition. Another translation is to understand by ‘the spirit’ the human spirit, and to consider it not as the subject but as the object of the verb. Accordingly the following interpretation is given: ‘God eagerly desires the spirit that dwelleth in us.’ [3] But here also an erroneous meaning is given to the words rendered in our version ‘to envy;’ and ‘the spirit that dwelleth in us’ is a strange circumlocution for the human spirit. It gives the best translation, and the one freest from difficulties, to refer ‘the Spirit that dwelleth in us’ to the Holy Spirit, and to suppose that there are here two distinct questions: [4] Do you think that the Scripture speaks in vain? Are its declarations against worldliness, and strife, and envy, a mere empty sound? Does the Spirit that dwells in us lust to envy? Does He encourage such worldly affections? Are the fruits of the Spirit envy, and strife, and worldliness, and not rather love, joy, peace? ‘Some,’ observes Calvin, ‘think that the soul of man is meant, and read the sentence affirmatively, that the spirit of man as it is depraved is infected with envy. They, however, think better who regard the Spirit of God as intended: for it is He that is given to dwell in us. I then take the Spirit as that of God, and read the sentence as a question; for it was the apostle’s object to prove that because they envied they were not ruled by the Spirit of God.’ Another important, and perhaps better attested, reading of the Greek is ‘caused to dwell,’ instead of ‘dwelleth;’ but this is also in conformity with the interpretation given above: ‘Does the Spirit which He caused to dwell in us lust to envy?’ If that be the correct reading, the interpretation given in our version is erroneous; for our depraved nature can never be described as ‘the spirit which God caused to dwell in us.’

[2] So Alford, Brückner, Basset, and Plumptre.

[3] So Erdmann and Dean Scott, who, however, understand by the spirit the Holy Spirit, which is tautological.

[4] So the Revised Version.

Verse 6

James 4:6. But he, that is, God, or rather the indwelling Spirit, the immediate antecedent.

giveth more, or greater, grace. Here also there is a difficulty in determining what ‘more’ refers to: this depends on the meaning given to the former clause. Some render it ‘greater than the world gives:’ others, ‘greater than the strength of depravity that exists within us.’ Perhaps the most correct meaning is: Just because the Spirit does not lust to envy; and yet there is a lust to envy in man: therefore, to overcome this lust, He giveth more grace.

Wherefore he saith: that is, God or the Spirit saith. This is better than the rendering ‘the Scripture saith.’

God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble. The quotation is from the Book of Proverbs, and is according to the Septuagint, except that there we have the word ‘Lord’ instead of ‘God.’ The same quotation, and with the same variation, occurs in the First Epistle of Peter (1 Peter 5:5). The words in our version are, ‘Surely he scorneth the scorners; but he giveth grace to the lowly’ (Proverbs 3:34). By the proud here are meant the contentious those who eagerly desire worldly objects; and by the humble, those who have overcome their worldly desires and govern their passions.

Verse 7

James 4:7. Now follow several exhortations to enforce humility and the subjection of the passions.

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Because God resisteth the proud, therefore submit yourselves to Him. Submission is the first step of the sinner’s return to Cod; and the same spirit of submission accompanies the believer in every succeeding stage. Submission is the parent of patience, contentment, freedom from petulance, trust, hope, and other blessed and peaceful graces; whereas the want of submission gives rise to ungoverned desires, envy, hatred, and all those passions which are the cause of bitter contentions.

Resist the devil. Submission to God implies resistance to all that is evil, and to the devil the spirit of evil, especially as the devil is the author of pride and contention. We must realize our spiritual enemy, and resist him with spiritual weapons (Ephesians 6:11; Ephesians 6:16), especially by the exercise of constant watchfulness and prayer on our part. Compare the words of St. Peter: ‘Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about seeking whom he may devour: whom resist stedfast in the faith’ (1 Peter 5:8-9). and he will flee from you. ‘We may,’ says Benson, ‘chase away the devil not by holy water, nor by the sign of the cross, but by steady virtue and resolute goodness.’

Verse 8

James 4:8. Draw nigh to God: not to be limited to prayer, but to be understood of our intercourse with God generally.

and he will draw nigh to you. Compare the words of Zechariah: ‘Turn ye unto me, and I will return unto you, saith the Lord of hosts’ (Zechariah 1:3).

Cleanse your hands, ye sinners. The priests before they ministered at the altar, and the people before they prayed, always washed their hands, thus intimating the purity with which we ought to approach God. The hands are specially mentioned as being the instruments of wickedness.

and purify your hearts. The cleansing of the hands refers to external, and the purification of the hearts to internal purity; the one to the absence from contention, and the other to freedom from those lusts which were the cause of contention; the external and the internal must correspond: we must have ‘clean hands and a pure heart’(Psalms 24:4). There is not much difference in the two words here rendered ‘cleansing’ and ‘purifying:’ the former is freedom from stain or blemish, the latter is consecrated or set apart.

ye double-minded: having, as it were, two souls the one professing to be attached to God, and the other really attached to the world. The epithets ‘sinners’ and ‘double-minded’ refer not to different, but to the same class of persons.

Verse 9

James 4:9. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep namely, over your envy and hatred, your strifes and contentions, and the miseries occasioned by them. The epithets ‘sinners’ and ‘double-minded’ imply the necessity of repentance; and true repentance must ever be accompanied with godly sorrow.

let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness: feelings which are more appropriate for the occasion.

Verse 10

James 4:10. Humble yourselves. All the above exhortations are enforcements of humility.

in the sight of the Lord: that is, before the Lord, as in His presence. The Lord is, as is usual in the Epistle of St. James, not Christ, but God.

and he shall lift you up, or rather exalt you, both in this world by His grace, and in the next world to His glory. The true way to exaltation is through humility. Compare the very similar words in St. Peter’s Epistle: ‘Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time’ (1 Peter 5:6); and the words of our Lord: ‘Whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased, and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted’ (Matthew 23:12). Humility is one of the rarest and one of the most lovely of all graces. It is the direct opposite of that contentious, envious, and resentful spirit which St. James here so vehemently condemns; peace and contentment are its inseparable associates. Humility is the true spirit of all obedience; submission is the perfection of virtue; and resignation to the Divine will is just another term for universal holiness.

Verse 11

James 4:11. Here a new sentence begins, and yet in close connection with the preceding. St. James returns to the sins of the tongue, and cautions his readers against that sinful judging and censuring which was the effect of their bitter contentions.

Speak not evil one of another, brethren. Evil speaking has its origin in resentment and envy. Those whom we do not like, or who are our successful rivals, we are apt to depreciate. On the other hand, humility in the sight of God will show itself in humility with reference to our fellow-men: we will think humbly of ourselves, and so will not be so apt to undervalue others. Of coarse, all evil speaking is not here forbidden; we are bound to direct attention to the wicked, as a warning to others; but the evil speaking which St. James here condemns, is sinful censuring; judging the motives and character of men; pretending to see into their hearts, and discerning the motives of their actions; condemning them without good reason from prejudice and envy, and thus usurping the judicial authority of God.

He that speaketh evil of his brother and judgeth his brother. Judging here is used, as it is often in Scripture, in the sense of condemning. Compare with this the prohibition of our Lord: ‘Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged’ (Matthew 7:1).

speaketh evil of the law. By the law here is meant the moral law, that law the summary of which is, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself;’ and which St. James designates ‘the royal law’ (James 2:8). He who in a censorious spirit judges his brother, sets at nought this law of love, and thus speaks evil of it, or undervalues it.

and judgeth the law. Some suppose that by this is meant that he who judges his brother, judges the law by setting himself above it, pronouncing on its observance or non-observance by another (Alford). But it rather appears to mean: He that speaketh evil of his brother condemneth his brother; and in doing so, without necessary occasion, usurpeth the authority of the judge; a meaning, however, which is not essentially different.

but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge: by condemning thy fellow-men, thou steppest out of thy province, which is not to judge the law, but to obey it. Judgment is the province of God, the one Lawgiver, not of the subject to the law, and far less of the trangressor of the law.

Verse 12

James 4:12. There is one Lawgiver. Most manuscripts read, ‘There is one Lawgiver and Judge:’ and this is more suitable to the context, as it is the province of a judge that is adverted to. These are not many, but one: one pre-eminently and exclusively. All human lawgivers and judges derive their authority from God, and are only to be obeyed when their commands are not opposed to His. God is the source of all authority, the fountain of justice.

who is able: who has both the authority to command and the power to execute

to save and to destroy. Who art thou: expressing the insignificance of man: thou, who art so ignorant and so erring, so sinful and so liable to fall; thou, who hast no power and no authority; thou, who art thyself guilty and as a sinner obnoxious to the judgment of God: how darest thou invade the office of this supreme and universal Lawgiver and Judge, and expose thyself to His condemnation?

that judgest another? Compare the words of Paul: ‘Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant?’ (Romans 14:4).

Verse 13

James 4:13. It is a matter of dispute and considerable difficulty to whom this passage is addressed; whether James is here addressing unworthy members of the Christian Church, who had not yet laid aside the Jewish vices of their unconverted state; or whether he admonishes the oppressors of the Jewish Christians, the unbelieving Jews, the ungodly and rich in this world. Three reasons have been assigned in support of the opinion that unbelievers are here addressed. 1. The address ‘Go to,’ again repeated (chap. James 5:1), seems to indicate that the words in the two apostrophes are addressed to those without the Church. 2 . Those addressed are not designated as ‘brethren,’ as is the usual custom of St. James, nor are any marks given to indicate that they are Christians. 3. Their ungodly conduct is so described that it can only be applicable to those without the church, and their doom is pronounced without any call to repentance. Others affirm that we are ignorant of the extent of moral corruption in the early Church, and that it was not the practice of the sacred writers to address those who were outside of the Christian community. Perhaps the most correct opinion is to assume that the first part of the passage, to the end of the fourth chapter, is an admonition to the worldly members of the Church; and that the second part, commencing at the beginning of the fifth chapter, is an apostrophe to the rich and the ungodly in the world. The passage is divided into two distinct portions, each beginning with the address ‘Go to;’ and there is no reason to conclude that the persons thus similarly addressed in both paragraphs were the same. We consider, then, that those here addressed in the first paragraph were members of the Christian Church.

Go to, a call to attention, found only here and in the beginning of the next chapter.

now: this being the case; an inference from the preceding warning against worldliness and presumptuous confidence.

ye that say, Today or tomorrow; other manuscripts read ‘today and tomorrow;’ but the difference in meaning is slight.

we will go into such a city: literally, into this city or the city in the intention of the speaker.

and continue there a year: literally, ‘spend a year.’ Other manuscripts read, ‘Let us go into such a city, and let us spend there a year.’

and buy and sell: literally, ‘traffic.’

and get gain. There could be nothing wrong in the mere merchandise; the sin consisted in a presumptuous confidence in themselves, and in a want of realization of their dependence on God. The practice referred to is still very common in the East. Merchants journey to some distant city with their stock of goods, and continue there until the whole is disposed of.

Verses 13-17

St. James, having warned his readers against worldliness, and exhorted them to humility before God, proceeds to censure the rich for their forgetfulness of their dependence upon God, their proud confidence in their worldly plans, and their arrogant boasting as if they were their own masters; he reminds them of the brevity and uncertainty of life, and exhorts them to acknowledge God in their worldly transactions, and to realize His absolute power over them. He then apostrophizes the ungodly rich, and, like an Old Testament prophet, pronounces their doom. Their riches, their garments, their gold and silver would all perish; they had accumulated treasure for the day of wrath. Especially he mentions three crying Sins which drew upon them the Divine vengeance: their injustice toward their labourers, their luxury and self-indulgence, and their oppression of the righteous.

Verse 14

James 4:14. Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. You are ignorant of what shall happen to you; your health and lives are not at your own disposal. Compare the similar thought in Proverbs: ‘Boast not thyself of tomorrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth’ (Proverbs 27:1).

For what is your life? It is even a vapour. The best manuscripts read, ‘Ye are even a vapour;’ and this is a more lively and graphic form of expression. Ye are a mere vapour; a smoke, or an exhalation from the ground.

that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. A metaphor peculiar to St. James in the Scriptures; and, as has been well remarked, there is hardly a finer image in any author of the uncertainty, the brevity, and the vanity of human life. We are but as a smoke which is only seen to vanish; a vapour which rises from the ground at dawn, and disappears long before noon-day. A somewhat similar image is employed in the Book of Wisdom: ‘Our names shall be forgotten in time, and no man shall have our works in remembrance, and our life shall pass away as the trace of a cloud, and shall be dispersed as a mist that is driven away with the beams of the sun, and overcome with the heat thereof ( Wis 2:4 ). Elsewhere in Scripture the brevity of human life is compared to a shadow that declineth, or to the fading of the flowers. Such is the vanity of life; we appear as a flash, and then are swallowed up in darkness.

Verse 15

James 4:15. For that ye ought to say: literally, ‘instead of your saying.’ This verse is directly connected with the 13th, and the 14th verse is to be considered as a parenthesis. Ye say, ‘Today or tomorrow we shall go into such a city;’ instead of saying, ‘If the Lord will.’ Ye assert your self-dependence, instead of humbly acknowledging your dependence on God.

If the Lord will. Compare with this expression of dependence the words of St. Paul: ‘I will return again to you, if God will’(Acts 18:21); ‘I will come to you shortly, if the Lord will’(1 Corinthians 4:19); ‘I trust to tarry a while with you, if the Lord permit’ (1 Corinthians 16:7).

we shall live and do this or that. The words may be rendered, ‘If the Lord will and we live, we shall do this or that.’ But our version is better, as both the living and the doing are made dependent on God. The meaning being precisely the same as our common phrase: ‘God willing ( Deo volente) , I shall do so and so.’ We must, however, beware of allowing this expression of dependence to degenerate into a mere form, as is too frequently the case; it must be the real feeling of our heart. We must not only acknowledge in words, but deeply realize our dependence on God.

Verse 16

James 4:16. But, in contrast to this spirit of dependence on God; instead of acknowledging God in all your ways.

now, as matters now stand; as is actually the case. ye rejoice, literally ‘ye glory,’ in your boastings, in your vauntings, in your vainglory. Ye take a pleasure in this arrogant and presumptuous spirit, as if you were your absolute masters. By their boastings is to be understood not so much their vain talking, as their confident and groundless reliance on their own health and life; in short, a presumptuous reliance on themselves. Ye rejoice not in the Lord, as ye ought to do as Christians; but in your own vauntings.

all such rejoicing, or glorying, is evil, is sinful and wrong. It is rebellion against God casting off your dependence upon Him. Nothing is so hateful to God as a proud and arrogant spirit.

Verse 17

James 4:17. Therefore: not a mere general inference drawn from what St. James has said in the previous part of his Epistle, but a particular inference drawn from this spirit of vain boasting.

to him that knoweth to do good: not to be limited to mere benevolent actions, ‘knoweth to do good works,’ but to embrace our whole moral conduct ‘knoweth to do what is right:’ ‘good’ here is opposed to what is sinful and wrong.

and doeth it not, to him it is sin. The omission of good is undoubtedly a sin, as well as the commission of evil. We have here the statement of an important principle, which is susceptible of endless applications. The application in the present case appears to be as follows: You have the unquestionable knowledge of the uncertainty of life; you know that it is your duty to realize your dependence on God; if then you do not do so, it you act as if you were your own masters, to you it is sin. You know the right and do the wrong, and therefore are convicted of sin. (Compare John 9:41.)

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Bibliographical Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on James 4". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". 1879-90.