We are to rejoice under the cross, to ask wisdom of God, and in our trials not to impute our weakness or sins unto him; but rather to hearken to the word, to meditate upon it, and to act accordingly: otherwise men may seem, but never can be, truly religious.
Anno Domini 60.
THE object of this epistle being to persuade the whole body of the Jewish nation to forsake the many errors and vices into which they had fallen, the apostle first directed his discourse to such of them as were Christians, many of whom, it would seem, were becomeimpatient under the persecution that they were suffering for their religion; and the rather, because their unbelieving brethren had endeavoured to persuadethem, that the evils under which they laboured were tokens of the divine displeasure: for they applied to them those passages of the law, in which God declared he would bless and prosper the Israelitish nation, or curse and afflict it, according as it adhered to, or forsook the law of Moses. Wherefore,to enable the Jewish Christians to judge rightly of the afflictions they were enduring, and to reconcile them to their then suffering lot, the apostle, in the beginning of his epistle, exhorted them to rejoice exceedingly in afflictions, as a real advantage, James 1:2.—Because it was intended by God to produce in them patience, James 1:3.—And if it produced patience, it would contribute to the perfecting of many other graces in them, James 1:4.—In the second place, the apostle exhorted them to pray for wisdom to enable them to make a proper use of their afflictions, and assured them, thatGod was most willing to grant them that, and every other good gift, James 1:5.—provided they asked thesegifts sincerely, James 1:6-8.—Thirdly, that the poor among the brethren might be encouraged to bear the hardships of their lot patiently, and that the rich might not be too much cast down when they were stripped of their riches and possessions by their persecutors, he represented to the poor their great dignity as the sons of God, and the excellent possessions they were entitled to as the heirs of God: on the other hand, the rich he put in mind of the emptiness, instability, and brevity of all human grandeur, by comparing it to a flower, whose leaves wither and fall immediatelyon their being exposed to the scorching heat of the sun, James 1:9-11.—Fourthly, to encourage both the poor and the rich to suffer cheerfully the loss of the transitory goods of this life for Christ's sake, he brought to their remembrance Christ's promise to bestow on them, in recompence, a crown of life, if faithful unto death, James 1:12.
The apostle next directed his discourse to the unbelieving part of the nation, and expressly condemned that impious notion by which many of them, and even some of the Judaizing teachers among the Christians, pretended to vindicate their worst actions; namely, that God tempts men to sin, and is the author of the sinful actions to which he tempts them. For he assured them that God neither seduces any man to sin, neither is himself seduced by any one, James 1:13.—but that every man is seduced by his own lusts, James 1:14.—which being indulged in the mind, bring forth sin; and sin, by frequent repetition, being nourished to maturity, bringeth forth death at length to the sinner, James 1:15.—Wherefore, he besought them not to deceive themselves by the impious notion, that God is the author of sin, James 1:16.—He is the author of every good and perfect gift, and of nothing but good, and that invariably, James 1:17.—Farther, that such of them as professed the gospel might be brought to a right faith and practice, he desired them, as learners, to hearken with attention and submission to the apostles of Christ who had brought them word, and to be charitable in delivering their opinion on matters of religion, lest they might say something that was dishonourable to God; and by no means to be angry with those who differed from them, James 1:19-20.—and to lay aside all those evil passions which they hast hitherto indulged, and which hindered them from receiving the word with meekness, James 1:21.—Then he exhorted them to be doers, and not hearers only of the word, James 1:22.—because the person who contents himself with hearing the word, is like a man who transiently beholds his natural face in a glass, then goes away, and immediately forgets his own appearance; so that he is at no pains to remove from his face any thing that is disagreeable in it, &c. James 1:23-25.
The apostle, having thus exhorted the Jews to be doers of the law, proceeded to mention certain points of the law, which too many professors are apt to neglect, but which merit the attention of all who are truly religious: And, first, he recommended the bridling of the tongue, that virtue being a great mark of holiness in those who possess it, and the want of it a certain proof of the want of genuine religion, James 1:26.—An exhortation of this kind was peculiarly suitable to the Judaizing teachers, who sinned exceedingly with their tongue, both by inculcating erroneous doctrines, together with a most corrupt morality, and by reviling all who opposed their errors: and it is highly expedient for professors in general. The second point of duty which the apostle recommended, was kind offices to orphans and widows in their affliction, because such good works are principal fruits of true religion in the sight of God: and the third and last was, a crucifixion to the spirit and practices of the world.
JAMES.] As this epistle plainly intimates that the destruction of Jerusalem was near, which happened in the year 70, this epistle could not be written by St. James the Elder, who was beheaded by Herod in the year 44. Nor were any large number of Jewish Christians dispersed, nor were the Jewish Christians sunk into any remarkable degeneracy, so early as his death. Hence we may conclude, that it was written about the year 60, by St. James the Less, called the brother or kinsman of our blessed Lord. This James chiefly dwelt at Jerusalem; and as he presided over the churches of Judea, to the inhabitants of which he had limited his personal labours, he endeavours in this epistle to extend his services to the Jewish Christians who were dispersed in more distant regions. For this end the apostle confines himself particularly to these two points, to correct those errors into which the Jewish converts had fallen; and to establish the faith, and animate the hope of sincere believers, both under their present and approaching sufferings. These are both treated, jointly or distinctly, in a free epistolarymanner. This epistle is placed before those of St. Peter, because St. James was the first bishop, and because it is more general than the epistles of St. Pet
James 1:1. To the twelve tribes, &c.— It is well known, that the Jews were dispersed abroad, and to be found in great multitudes in almost all parts of the world, as well at the time of writing this epistle, as at present.It seems to be plainly deducible from this passage, that no entire tribes were lost in the captivity. The number of those who came back was registered by Ezra and Nehemiah; twelve goats were offered for a sin-offering for all Israel, according to the number of the tribes of Israel. See Ezra 6:17; Ezra 8:35.
James 1:2. Count it all joy— Under the law, great temporal blessings were promised to the people of God as long as they continued obedient, and terrible afflictions threatened if they were disobedient: but the Jews expected even far better temporal things under the Messiah; there was great occasion therefore to set the Jewish Christians right in this particular; for they were in general deeply tinctured with the national prejudices, and could not easily be reconciled to suffer for righteousness' sake; especially now that the Messiah was come,and they continued to believe in and obey him. Temptations are here put for trials and afflictions. The Jewish Christians about this time seem to have endured many hardships and persecutions through the enmity of the unbelieving Jews.
James 1:3. The trying of your faith worketh patience— Produceth patience. Heylin. The word Δοκιμιον signifies proof or evidence, in most other authors: but still, as it denotes a proof given by trial, the meaning will be, "That proof or evidence which you give, (by undergoing trials or afflictions,) of your sincere adherence to the Christian faith, worketh patience."
James 1:4. But let patience have her perfect work— "that it may rise to its highest improvements during this little space of time, in which alone you will have the opportunity of preparing for glory and promoting the interests of the church of Christ, that so you may be made perfect and complete, deficient in nothing; for the other graces of Christianity will generally shine brightest where patience is most conspicuous."
James 1:5. If any of you lack wisdom— That is, wisdom in general. But if the word be particularly applied to sufferings and trials, as many commentators do apply it, the passage may be paraphrased thus: "But if any of you should be deficient in wisdom, or at a loss what method to take, or how to behave in a time of such general distress and perplexity, let him addresshimself by fervent prayer unto that gracious God, who is so ready to bestow liberally and bountifully on all men, and upbraideth no penitent person with his former abused favours. And whoever seeketh wisdom in that way, may be satisfied that he shall obtain it: for there is no manner of reason to call in question either the wisdom, the goodness, or the power of God."
James 1:6. But let him ask in faith, &c.— "But then let him take care that he ask in steadyfaith, nothing wavering, nor divided by the desires of obtaining, and the fears of not obtaining, the grace he asks, or doubting of God's readiness to bestow it; for he that wavers, and has not a firm confidence in the Divine goodness and faithfulness, can have no other solid and substantial support; but is like a billow of the sea, driven on and tossed by the sea, in a restless and unsettled condition (Isaiah 57:20.) easily discomposed and agitated by every adverse blast, and in the greatest danger of being dashed to pieces." Mr. Saurin paraphrases the passage thus: "He ought not to resemble the waves of the sea, which seem to offer to the spectator who is upon the shore, the treasure with which they are charged; but soon plunge it into the abyss, from which it cannot be recovered." See Saurin's Serm. vol. 9: p. 438. He elsewhere paraphrases it, "Like a wave which moves on, and seems to come to the shore, but immediately returns with impetuosity into the gulph from whence it came." Vol. 5: p. 56, 57.
James 1:8. A double-minded man is unstable— "He, whose schemes are divided between God and the world, and who cannot cheerfully and resolutely commit himself, in confidence of divine support, to be led whithersoever Providence shall please, is unsettled in all his ways: he will perpetually be running into inconsistencies of conduct; and these imperfect and undetermined impressions of religion which he feels, will serve rather to perplex and torment, than to guide and secure him." Moreover, he who desires the end, must desire, or at least fully acquiesce in, the necessary means; else he is double-minded. He would, and he would not.
James 1:9-10. Let the brother of low degree rejoice, &c.— "In nothing are the generality of men more apt to mistake, than in estimating the value of external circumstances; but let the principles of Christianity instruct you, my brethren, to correct that mistake; and in this respect, let the brother of low degree, of a poor and obscure condition, rejoice in his exaltation; let him think of his dignity as a Christian, and entirely acquiesce in his low sphere of life; for his circumstances do really give him such advantages for religion, by placing him under a shelter from many temptations, that he has a much fairer probability than others, of rising to some eminence in the heavenlyworld. On the other hand, if a true Christian be in worldly prosperity, he will be well aware how transitory that state is; and, far from confiding in it, he will contemplate on the certainty of his approaching humiliation in death, and on all the mortifyingcircumstances that attend it. Accepting these, with a total resignation to the divine will, he glories its the hope, that he shall one day complete his sacrifice
James 1:11. For the sun is no sooner risen, &c.— For the sun ariseth with burning heat; it withereth the grass; the flower thereof falleth; and all the beauty of its colour perisheth: Even so shall the rich man fade away in his course;— πορειαις αοτου ; in all the projects and pursuits in which he has been immersed.
James 1:12. Blessed is the man that endureth temptation— Happy is the man who persevereth under temptation, or trial; for, being approved, he shall receive, &c.
James 1:13. St. James had said so much about the benefit of temptations, or trials, that he thought it necessary to guard his readers against so dangerous a mistake, as that of making God the author of sin, or ascribing temptations to him, as they signify "a seducing men to what is evil:" In that sense they proceed not from God, but from the lusts of men, which, if complied with, end in death, instead of bringing men to a crown of life. Though, therefore, trials may be ascribed to God, yet temptation, in the bad sense of the word, cannot by any means be ascribed to him. Sin and death proceed from the lusts and wickedness of men; but God is not the author of evil; on the contrary, He is, like the sun in the firmament, an universal Benefactor, and the author of all that is good: nay, he infinitely excels the sun, as not being subject to any change or variation.—The Jewish converts were by the divine benignity brought first into the Christian church; they therefore had peculiar reason to ascribe goodness unto God, and to obey readily the precepts of the gospel; governing their passions, bridling their tongues, manifesting their meekness and charity, and doing every thing which the Christian religion requires, through Divine grace. James 1:13-27.
Let no man say—I am tempted of God— See on Genesis 22:1. Exodus 15:25; Exodus 16:4. Deuteronomy 8:2. "There are two senses of the word temptation, says Dr. Heylin, according to the different ends proposed; the one for trial, the other for seduction: this last is here intended. As God, by virtue of his boundless knowledge and almighty power, is incapable of being tempted by evils, so likewise he is of such perfect rectitude and benevolence, that he tempteth not any man; that is, draws him not designedly into sin, nor lays him, in any imaginable circumstances, under a moral necessity of committing it."
James 1:14. When he is drawn away of his own lust, &c.— "Drawn out of the water, and taken with the bait;" εξελκομενος και δελεαζομενος : in both these words there is an allusion to the catching a fish with a bait; and lusts, or sensual pleasures, are here represented as the bait with which wicked men are caught. Grotius observes, that the best Greek authors have used this phrase, "To be ensnared by the belly, and by fair words." Plato said, "That pleasure is the bait of evil;" to which Cicero alludes, when he says, "The divine Plato calls pleasure the bait of evil, because men are taken with it, as fishes are taken with a hook."—"Every man is tempted (in this bad sense of the word) by the innate weakness of his own nature, in concurrence with the circumstances of life in which he is placed, being allured by his own lusts; and for want of wisely and resolutely opposing the first rising of them, he is ensnared to the actual commission of sin."
James 1:15. Then when lust hath conceived, &c.— "For the gradation is much more swift and fatal than the generality of mankind are aware: lust having conceived, brings forth actual sin by a speedy birth, where perhaps the full indulgence of it was not intended; and sin, when it is finished, or perpetrated, is impregnated with death, and tends in its consequences to the final ruin both of body and soul." According to this fine metaphorical genealogy, Concupiscence is the mother of sin, and sin is the mother of death. Milton seems evidently to have had his eye upon this passage in his famous allegorical description of sin and death: Par. Lost, book 2. 50: 727, &c.
James 1:16. Do not err, &c.— Or, Be not deceived.
James 1:17. Every good gift, &c.— The first part of this verse is in the Greek an hexameter, and possibly was quoted by St. James from some of the Greek poets. See Acts 17:28. 1 Corinthians 15:33. Titus 1:12. Father in this verse signifies author, or cause. Com. Genesis 4:20. Hebrews 12:9. The Father of Lights is here used agreeably to the astronomical metaphor which follows;—with whom there is no deviation, or tropical shadow—Light invariable, without any interposing shade, which is lengthened or shortened by the different distance of the sun, according to the common mode of expression. There is in these worlds, says Amory, an allusion to the heavenly bodies, and the benefits which we derive from them. The sun, moon, and stars, are greatly beneficial by their light, warmth, and influences, but not always beneficial: they rise and set to us; are sometimes nearer, at other times more distant; sometimes eclipsed, and often clouded. But the divine benignity is not subject to any such variations; it is always equally near, and equally communicative of its influences to proper objects; nor can any thing interpose between it and them: it is not the flush of good humour, which may be spent: it is not a great but limited treasury, which may be exhausted bylarge and continued communications. As God is ever unerringly wise, and unchangeably happy; as his power is infinite, and he is raised above the possibility of want or suffering; he will certainly always choose to do, what his wisdom determines best to be done; and as he ever deems the happiness of his creatures, who will accept of his mercy, to be the worthiest end, he will certainly be always disposed and delighted to promote that best end. The infinite communications of good, which he hath made already, instead of causing us to fear that his goodness may be exhausted, serve to prove it infinite, and therefore inexhaustible: they give, and they will give his faithful saints, to eternity, the most substantial reasons to expect from their Creator and Redeemer, all that can be expected from a Being infinitely wise, powerful, and benevolent.
James 1:18. A kind of first-fruits, &c.— More excellent than others, and in a peculiar manner separated and consecrated to him. By κτισματων, creatures, the apostle here means the new creation; and he seems by the expression to allude to Jeremiah 2:3. See also Romans 11:16; Romans 16:5. As in James 1:15 we have the genealogy of sin and death, in this verse is the genealogy of the Christian life and happiness.
James 1:19. Swift to hear, slow to speak— Agreeably to this inspired direction of the apostle, and the sentiments of the wisest of the Jews, the ancient philosophers have taken notice, that men have two ears, and but one tongue; that they should hear more than they speak: as also that the ears are continually open, ever ready to receive instruction; while the tongue is surrounded by a double row of teeth, to hedge it in, and keep it within proper bounds. But what the apostle seems peculiarly to refer to, was the temper of the Jews at this time, from which the Jewish Christians were not entirelyfree; that is, many of them were exceedingly impatient in hearing others, even when they were vindicating the ways of God; but very apt to assume authority to themselves, and to set up for doctors, rabbis, and teachers of others. See ch. James 3:1. Romans 2:17; Romans 2:29. Whereas it was their duty rather to be swift to hear the apostles, and such as were best acquainted with the nature of God and of Christianity; and slow to speak of such things themselves, especially before they had made themselves thorough masters of them.
James 1:20. For the wrath of man worketh not, &c.— Multitudes of Christians, so called, seem either to have disbelieved this, or to have forgottenit; for how often have they attempted to bring others over, to what they have apprehended to be the truth of doctrine, or the right manner of worship, by using them ill, if they were not convinced, or did not readily comply?—whereas the wrath of one man can never enlighten the mind of another; it is reason and argument that must convince men's judgments, and bring them over to our sentiments. If we have power, our wrath may make them atheists and hypocrites, and force them to profess what they do not believe, and so produce sin and unrighteousness, instead of that righteousness which God requires. For religion is under Divine grace a matter of pure choice, and is not, cannot be acceptable to God, unless the heart and the tongue go together. Besides, the usual progress of wrath and ungovernable zeal ought to deter all conscientious persons from the beginnings of it; for he that will be angry at another because he differs from him, will be in great danger of speaking against him, and blasting his character; and, as one step commonly leads on to another, when he cannot overcome by arguments, the next thing will be to crush his adversary's opinion by force, if he either have power to do it himself, or can prevail upon the magistrate or the multitude to aid and assist him. All the persecutions in the Christian church have arisen in this manner; for, when lesser evils were insufficient for the conviction of obstinate heretics, it was necessary, upon the same principles, to have recourse to persecution. The reader will find abundant proof hereof by referring to almost any Century of Mosheim's Ecclesiastical History.
James 1:21. Superfluity of naughtiness— Vicious superfluity; every vice, and especiallyworldly cares or desires: these, if allowed in the mind, will, as weeds, choke up the good seed; which is the same as the engrafted word, immediately following. The word of God is frequently compared to a seed, or plant; particularly 1 Peter 1:23. 1 John 3:9.—In which sense it is here said to be εμφυτος, engrafted, or implanted in their minds. Ministers are said φυτευειν, to plant this word, 1 Corinthians 3:6-8 which bringeth forth fruit: Colossians 1:6. Mark 4:7-8. Further, as in the Greek writers, the word εμφυτον sometimes denotes what is innate, and sometimes what is thoroughly implanted or fixed in the mind; so here it implies, that the heavenly doctrine not only enters into the ears, but is so implanted in the soul by Divine grace, as to become, as it were, a second nature. Meekness in this verse stands opposed to wrath, condemned in James 1:19-20. See Parkhurst on the word Εμφυτος .
James 1:22. Hearers only, deceiving, &c.— The Jews did indeed place much of their religion in going up at proper times to the synagogue to hear the law read; and there may possibly be an allusion to that disposition, The exact signification of the word παραλογιζομενοι, rendered deceiving, is, "imposing upon any, by a sophistical show of argument;" and here it is used with peculiar propriety. The Jews have a proverb, "That he who hears the law, and does not practise it, is like a man who ploughs and sows, but never reaps."
James 1:23. Like unto a man beholding his natural face, &c.— By way of opposition to the moral temper and disposition of his mind;—which he is to view in the glass of the gospel, and carefully regulate thereby; James 1:25. Perhaps some of them pretended, that Abraham believed, and that was counted unto him for righteousness; and therefore there was no occasion that they should be doers of the word, seeing they believed it, and were very ready to hear it: (See ch. James 2:14, &c.) as too many professors do in these days, making the holy Jesus a minister of sin.
James 1:25. But whoso looketh, &c.— Ο δε παρακυψας : He that hath bowed his head, or stooped down, more curiously to pry into any thing. The word is used concerning the disciples bowing down curiously and intensely to pry into our Lord's sepulchre, Luke 24:12. John 20:5; John 20:11. But the image which the apostle seems here to have had before his mind, most probably is the same with that expressed 1 Peter 1:12. Which things the angels desired to look into; παρακυψαι : In which expression there is a most plain reference to the posture of the two cherubims which stood over the ark of the covenant in the Jewish temple. See Exodus 25:20. St. James represents a zealous and sincere Christian as looking into the gospel, and searching curiously into it, that he may understand it, and through grace live accordingly; looking, in the same diligent and careful manner, as the cherubims were represented bowing down and looking into the ark: and this by way of opposition to the careless Christian, who is like a man that takes a transient view of his face in a mirror, and presently forgets what he saw, and turns his thoughts to something else. The happy effects of such a careful looking into the glass or mirror of the gospel, are beautifully represented, 2 Corinthians 3:18. By calling the gospel a perfect law, St. James seems to have insinuated to the Jewish Christians, that there was no necessity for them to add the observation of the law of Moses to that of the Christian law; the Christian law being perfect of itself, and without that addition: and by calling it the law of liberty, he seems also to have transiently hinted, thatthe ceremonial law was abolished by the coming of Christ, or that the Christian religion had set them free from any further obligation to that law. But these were ungrateful truths, against which they were so much prejudiced, that he could only insinuate them, unless he had an inclination to defeat the end of his writing to them. There is indeed another reason which may be alleged for the apostle's expression in this place; namely, that as the law was so burdensome a service, and treated men with such rigour, it produced a spirit of bondage; whereas the easy service and mild treatment of the gospel produces a spirit of love and filial freedom. This is a subject which St. Paul has frequently enlarged upon in his epistles.
James 1:26. And bridleth not his tongue— Not bridling his tongue, but deceiving his heart. Bishop Butler. As if the apostle had said, "It is impossible that any man should so much as seem to be religious, if he does not at least think that he bridles his tongue; but if he deceive himself in this important branch of religion, he is deceived in the whole of it." And indeed, to many sins of the tongue are committed without any apprehension of their being evil, that this caution, and this remark for the explication of it, are of great importance; considering how little many professors seem to be aware of the great evil of bitterly reproaching their brethren on account of their religious differences; a sin, which the apostle seems to have had particularly in his view.
James 1:27. Pure religion— By the word θρησκεια, religion, is often meant the worship of God; but here it evidently takes in a larger compass; namely, that menvisit the fatherless, &c. "Pure and undefiled religion, that which is clear and without any flaw or blemish before the penetrating eyes of God, even the Father, consists not merelyin speculations or forms, or even in the warmth of affection during the exercise of worship; but it is this—to take the oversight of orphans and widows in their affliction, with a tender regard to their calamitous circumstances, and endeavouring to oversee them, in such a manner as to provide for their relief, performing to others in distress suitable offices of kindness and charity; at the same time taking care to keep himself unspotted inwardlyand outwardly from those bad practices and irregular indulgencies, which so generally prevail in the world about us, where so little either of religion or morality is to be found." Archbishop Tillotson has observed, that the word αμιαντος, rendered undefiled, seems here to be an allusion to the excellence of a precious stone, which consists much in its being clear, and without a flaw or cloud; and surely no gem is so precious or ornamental as the amiable temper hereby described. The word επισκεπτεσθαι, rendered to visit, properly signifies, "to take theoversightof;" and may import, entering into measures for their subsistence, as well as going to them, and converting with them in their distresses. See Matth. xxv
Inferences.—Let us learn from this chapter a holy caution, and guard against those baits of lust under which death is concealed; remembering that God has bestowed upon us a power of determining our own actions, that he tempts none to evil, nor appoints to any such temptations as he knows to be in their own nature irresistible. Be our spiritual enemies ever so powerful, or ever so artful, they cannot do us any hurt, till we betray ourselves into their hands. Yet certain it is, that their artifice and their power, in conjunction with the deceitfulness of the human heart, make it requisite, that conscious to ourselves of our deficiency in wisdom, we should ask wisdom of God. Let the liberality with which he gives it, and the royal freedom with which he has promised it, encourage us to ask it with such constancy, that we may receive daily supplies; and with such firm confidence in his goodness, that we may not waver, and be like a wave of the sea tossed by the wind.
Trusting in that supply of grace which we receive from him, let us go forth calmly and cheerfully to meet such trials as the infinite wisdom of God shall appoint or permit, how various and pressing soever they may be; remembering that they tend to improve our patience, and by patience to perfect every other grace; and that if we be not overcome, we shall be approved, and made meet to receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to them that love him. And O, that the love of this blessed Lord, who has purchased as well as promised it, may always render us superior to every trial, and more than conquerors through him that has loved us, and thereby hath acquired to himself so just a claim to our supreme affection. With hearts faithfully engaged to him, and established in the firmest resolutions for his service, let us look with indifference upon those worldly circumstances, about which they who have no sense of a higher interest are exceedingly solicitous; and let us regulate our value of all the good things of life, by a regard to their aspect upon our religious characters and hopes.—If low circumstances may improve these, let us look upon them as true exaltation; and if wealth, and dignity, and applause, may endanger these, let us rather fear them, than aspire to them. Whatever we have obtained of those things which the men of the world are most ready to covet and admire, is transitory and fading as the grass, or even as the flower of the field; and sometimes, like those beautiful, but tender productions of vegetable nature, is consumed by the excess of those causes to which it owes its existence and its beauty. "Give us, O Lord, durable riches, and righteousness, and that honour which cometh from thee, and is immortal, as its great Original."
And with what gratitude should we direct our eyes and our hearts to the unchangeable Father of lights, and acknowledge every good and every perfect gift, as descending from him; but above all, the invaluable gift of his regenerating grace, for which, if we are of the first-fruits of his creatures, we are certainly indebted to him, and are thereby laid under the strongest engagements to consecrate ourselves continually to his service. Let us therefore listen with a most obedient regard to every intimation of his will, and set a guard upon all our passions, that they may move in sweet and harmonious subjection to it. Especially, let us be slow to wrath, and not imagine that we can be justified in the exorbitances of our angry transports, because they may possibly arise in the cause of religion. The righteousness of God is not to be promoted, but on the contrary, will be disgraced and obstructed, by such outrageous ungovernable sallies. Let every impure and malignant affection be therefore banished from our minds, and let us pray that the word of God may be so ingrafted into our souls, as to become the effectual means of our salvation. Let us not rest in a mere forgetful hearing, or indeed in an ineffectual remembrance; but having looked into the gospel, that perfect law, which by binding the soul gives it the truest liberty, let us by Divine assistance continue therein, and improve, to the immediate purposes of reformation and holiness, whatever knowledge we thereby gain; correcting whatever we observe amiss in ourselves. Particularly, let us study a proper command over our tongues, and cultivate those charitable dispositions and offices, in which true and undefiled religion is here declared to consist; that widows and orphans may give us their blessing, as their guardians and friends; and that an unspotted life, untainted with the vices of a degenerate age, may bear witness, that though in the world, we are not of it, and that we act in consistency with those sublime and holy ends to which we profess as Christians to aspire.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, We have,
1. The inscription of the epistle. James, who counts it his highest honour to subscribe himself a servant of God, and, or even, of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, wherever dispersed throughout the world, sendeth greeting, wishing that all blessings may descend upon them, whether of this world or a better.
2. He exhorts them, under the persecutions and troubles which for Christ's sake they endured, to rejoice. My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations, and by Divine Providence are permitted to be variously exercised by the malice of the wicked; esteem their reproaches your honour, and your losses your truest gain; knowing this, by divine testimony, and happy experience, that the trying of your faith worketh patience; your faith is proved genuine by this blessed effect and every exercise of it tends to confirm your hearts in meek and humble resignation. But let patience have her perfect work; be the trials never so many, never so grievous, never so long continued, bear up under them with persevering steadfastness, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing, possessing that perfect love which calleth out all fear that hath torment, and pressing forward till you arrive at the highest eminence of grace. Note; (1.) Surrounded as we are with temptations, we have need of patience, that we faint not under our trials. (2.) Philosophy may enjoin submission, but Christianity alone can teach us to rejoice under affliction. (3.) Faith is the root of all graces: as that is vigorous, these will be in exercise. (4.) The sharpest conflicts which we have to sustain, prove in their issue, when rightly improved, the greatest blessings to our souls.
3. If we would act aright under our trials, we must be upon our knees often, to beg divine direction. If any of you lack wisdom, and know not how to act in any emergence, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men, who apply according to his word, liberally, and upbraideth not; never weary in granting, nor ever reproaching his supplicants with their unworthiness, or the multitude of the favours which he bestows; and it shall be given him; all the counsel and assistance which such a one needs, shall be bestowed in answer to his prayer. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering; not distrusting the faithfulness, power, and grace of God in Christ, however difficult and embarrassed his circumstances may be: for he that wavereth, is like a wave of the sea, driven with the wind, and tossed; the sport of every gust of temptation, restless, impatient, fluctuating, unsettled in principle and practice: for let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord, while he dishonours him by his unbelief and fickleness. Such a double-minded man, divided between Christ and the world, halting between both, and willing to reconcile the incompatible services of God and Mammon, is unstable in all his ways, and, having no fixed end in view, can never prosper in his soul, nor expect an answer to his prayers. Note; (1.) We have every encouragement to approach a throne of grace; and every possible assurance of finding relief there, if we draw near in faith. How perverse and foolish then must we be, if we make not use of this invaluable privilege? They who come to God with their requests, must honour him by their confidence in his power, truth, and love; unbelief shuts out the blessing. (2.) When the heart is unstable and wavering, prayer cannot ascend with acceptance before God.
4. Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted to the riches of grace, and the transcendent dignity of being an heir of glory; but the rich brother, in that he is made low; taught, amidst all his affluence and grandeur, true poverty of spirit, and lowliness of mind, and ready ever to part with any thing that he possesses for the sake of Christ, because he knows the fleeting and perishing nature of all worldly wealth, and that as a flower of the grass he shall pass away, and leave it all behind. For the sun is no sooner risen with a burning heat, but it withereth the grass, and the flower thereof falleth, and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth: so also shall the rich man fade away in his ways. Often in this world riches make themselves wings, and fly away as an eagle towards heaven, and death at farthest will prove their vanity.
5. A blessing is pronounced upon faithful perseverance. Blessed is the man that endureth temptation; far from proving his heart, his trials in their issue tend to advance his truest felicity: for when he is tried, as the gold in the furnace, and comes forth brighter from the fires, he shall receive the crown of life and glory, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, hath promised, and will at the great day of his appearing assuredly give to them that perseveringly love him. Note; (1.) We must be tried, before we can be crowned. (2.) The reward of fidelity is still the gift of God, who freely promises it, and by his grace supports the faithful, and of his mercy bestows the crown of life.
2nd, Concerning the cause of all the evil of sin which we fall into, when brought into temptation, we are taught,
1. That it is not to be imputed to God. Let no man say when he is tempted to commit sin, in order to extricate himself from suffering, I am tempted of God; for this is abominably impious, since God, who is in his nature perfectly holy, cannot himself be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man to iniquity, whatever providential afflictions he may lay upon him. Note; We are very apt to cast our sins at God's door, and to blame him for putting us into such temptations; whereas our trials are designed to exercise our graces, and not to draw us into sin.
2. We have only ourselves to blame for all the evil which is in us. But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed; foolishly and perversely following the bait which Satan lays, beguiled by his enticements, and led by corrupt affections from the paths of truth and holiness. Then when lust hath conceived, in thought and desire, it bringeth forth sin, gaining the consent of the will to the perpetration of iniquity; and sin when it is finished, in the act, and impenitently persisted in, bringeth forth death of body and soul for ever. Do not err, my beloved brethren, by entertaining false and injurious conceptions of the blessed God in this matter. Note; (1.) The root of all evil is in our own fallen hearts. (2.) Sin enslaves by flattery; it is the deceitfulness of unrighteousness yielded to, which proves our ruin; and false hope supports vain confidence, till it appears that there is a lie in our right hand. (3.) If we do not destroy the power of sin, we may be assured that it will finally destroy us.
3. All the good which is in us, proceeds from God. Every good gift, and every perfect gift, every bounty of Providence, and every spiritual endowment, which tends to the perfection of our nature in knowledge and holiness, is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, the Author of all light, natural, moral, spiritual, or eternal; with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. The sun that gilds the firmament, is obscured often by clouds, rises and sets, is eclipsed, and moves to and fro between the tropics; or changes equivalent are produced among the heavenly bodies; but God knows no change; nothing but good, without the shadow of evil, can proceed from him. Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, not for any desert of ours, but of his rich and unmerited grace, sending us his gospel, and making it effectual, through the power of the Spirit, to quicken the souls of believers from the death of sin, and raise them to newness of life; that, as his adopted and regenerate sons, we should be a kind of first-fruits of his creatures; consecrated to him, and devoted to his immediate service. Note; (1.) All glorying must be excluded, if all good be of grace; for what then have we, which we have not received? (2.) All who are begotten by the word of truth in the gospel, must, from that moment, consider themselves as consecrated to God's service, and bound to live to his glory.
3rdly, The apostle enjoins them,
1. To restrain their passions. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear God's word; slow to speak, not daring to censure the ways of Providence and grace; slow to wrath; not disputing or quarrelling with the truths of God, or treating those who differ in point of controversy with contempt or anger: for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God; the cause of God cannot be served by our selfish passions; nor with such a spirit may we hope to speak aright, or to convince others. Note; (1.) We should not be obstinate in our own opinions, but be willing to hear the objections of others. (2.) God's cause is not to be served by noise and anger, but by meekness and the word of truth. Whoever is in the right, they that are angry are sure to be wrong.
2. To put away every other vile and corrupt affection. Wherefore lay apart all filthiness, and superfluity of naughtiness, every defiling lust, and malicious temper; and receive with meekness the ingrafted word, that it may take fast hold of your affections, and be incorporated with your hearts; bowing before it with all humility, and receiving it on God's authority with faith and love; which is able to save your souls, when thus accompanied by the power of the Spirit, and yielded to by the heart unto righteousness. Note; Corrupt affections entertained, disincline and indispose the soul for receiving God's word, turn us away from hearing it, and prejudice us against the truth.
3. We must be not only hearers of the truth, but practise it also, else it can profit us nothing. But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves, by fallacious conclusions, to the ruin of your own souls. For if any man be a hearer of the word merely, resting upon that as of any avail, and is not a doer of what he hears, he is like a man beholding his natural face in a glass; for he beholdeth himself, and, hastily passing by, straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. Such is the careless and cursory hearer of the word: he may discover, whilst under the word, in a transient glance, something of the sinfulness and depravity of his nature, and his need of Christ; but it makes no deep or lasting impression: no sooner is he gone forth into the world, than he forgets his convictions, and continues utterly unchanged in temper and conduct. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, attentively viewing himself in the glass of the gospel, wherein we are called from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the sons of God; and continue therein, careful to hold fast in principle, and to correspond in practice, with the things therein revealed; he, being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, diligent to obey what God commands, this man shall be blessed in his deed, made happy in God's present service, and, if faithful unto death, his end shall be everlasting life. Note; (1.) True religion consists not in profession merely, but in practice, without which Christianity is but an empty name. (2.) The word of God is as the faithful mirror, that knows not to flatter: if we attentively view ourselves in that glass, we shall see the horrid deformity of our fallen spirits by nature, and learn to entertain the lowest thoughts of ourselves. They only are blessed, who, having discovered their real state, are seriously led to the Fountain open for sin and for uncleanness; and in a Saviour's blood, and by the power of his grace, have their filthiness cleansed, and their nature renewed after his image, so as henceforth to walk with and please God.
4. He marks the difference between true and false religion. If any man among you seem to be religious, making such a profession, and yet bridleth not his tongue, from railing, reproach, slander, profaneness, bitterness, or proud talkativeness to display his own talents; this man's religion is vain: however plausible he may appear, his heart is rotten; and while he would build up his own excellence by detracting from others' worth, his hypocrisy is visible through the mask. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father, that religion which he approves, which is dictated by his word, and aims at his glory,—is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction; stretching out the kind hand of charity to relieve them, sympathizing with them, and affording them every assistance which they need, and we can give; and to keep himself unspotted from the world; neither polluted by the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, nor the pride of life; but preserved pure for God amid the overflowings of ungodliness. Note; (1.) We have to do with a heart-searching God, who requireth truth in the inward parts. Where the soul is right with God, there purity, and love, and charity, will be manifest in every word and work. (2.) This world is full of defilement; it needs much watchfulness to keep our garments unspotted.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on James 1". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
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