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by Thomas Coke
THE GENERAL EPISTLE OF JAMES.
THE scattered Jews, as St. James calls them, and as they are called also in St. John's Gospel, John 7:35 were in general families belonging to the twelve tribes, who, at sundry times, and upon various accounts, had quitted Judea, and settled in other countries. Many had remained behind at Babylon, after the bulk of them returned from captivity; and moreover the violent persecutions which the nation suffered in Judea under the reign of the cruel Antiochus, had obliged many to seek protection in foreign countries. As the experiment had succeeded with the persecuted families, it happened afterwards that many others, finding themselves straitened within their antient limits, emigrated to other countries, as invited by the advantages of commerce, or the hope of establishing themselves in a profitable way; so that, by insensible degrees, the Jews became dispersed almost throughout all the East, and in the most considerable cities of Europe. But, besides these various emigrations of Jewish families, there had been, for seven or eight centuries, vast numbers of Jews scattered in Syria and the neighbouring countries, who were descended from the ten tribes of Israel which Shalmanezer carried thither from Samaria, 2 Kings 17:6. Many of the families did indeed return into Judea with those of the kingdom of Judah, (as clearly appears in 1 Chronicles 9:2.) in consequence of the edict of Cyrus, which permitted all the Jews, of what tribe soever, to return to Judea. 2 Chronicles 36:22-23. These were the very families which in part had peopled the country of Zabulun, of Nephthalim, and several other parts of Upper and Lower Galilee, which, in our Saviour's time, were inhabited by Jews belonging to all the twelve tribes. Matthew 15:24; Matthew 15:24. The bulk of the people, however, had remained in Assyria and in the other provinces of Asia; and of these were the scattered, and as it were lost sheep, which the apostles collected into the fold of the great Shepherd. The prophets had often foretold the readmission of the ten tribes into God's peculiar covenant and visible church; and they had fixed the time to the coming of the Messiah. The famous oracle, Gen 49:10 where the gathering of the people is predicted after the coming of Shiloh, no doubt had a reference to that; and Isaiah is express to this purpose at the end of the 8th and beginning of the 9th chapter. It would extend this Preface too far, were we to cite all the divine oracles which foretel the same thing; but we cannot conclude without observing, that this is a convincing proof against the Jews, that the Messiah is come; and that Jesus Christ, who has gathered into the church the people of the ten tribes of Israel, is the Messiah; since it has been no longer known, for more than 1500 years, what is become of the tribes of Israel, which had been so long scattered in the most distant parts of Asia; for neither there, nor elsewhere throughout the East, is any certain mark of them to be found. And indeed the Jews are so confounded by this argument, that, as their custom is, they are obliged to recur to fictions which a sensible man ought to be utterly ashamed of.
To the churches therefore formed out of these tribes, and of many other families belonging to Judah and Benjamin, St. James and St. Peter addressed their Epistles. They are called General, because written to all the dispersed Jews universally; not to any one church in particular, like most of St. Paul's Epistles; nor even to the churches of one province, as the Epistle to the Galatians; but to all the churches of Jews throughout Asia.
The intent of St. James in this Epistle was, in general, to console the converted Jews under the persecutions which the unbelieving Jews were continually raising against them, and to induce them to suffer patiently and devoutly. But, because many among them gave an erroneous turn to the doctrines of grace, and particularly to that of justification by faith without the works of the law, that great doctrine of the Gospel, which St. Paul has established in his Epistles to the Romans, to the Galatians, to the Ephesians, and to Titus, and upon which St. Peter expressed himself so forcibly in the council at Jerusalem where St. James presided, Act 15:6-11 this apostle therefore, in his 2nd chapter, makes a point of shewing that works are an essential accompaniment to justifying faith. He dissipates the illusion whereby some had deceived themselves, as if, being justified by faith only in Jesus Christ, they might leave faith to itself, without aiming at and experiencing holiness, and shewing forth every good word and work. By a corruption similar to that of certain profane persons whom St. Paul introduces in his Epistle to the Romans, as saying, Let us sin, that grace may abound, they imagined that good works were not essential to salvation, but that it was sufficient to believe in Christ, and make profession of his Gospel,—a tenet both impious and foolish, and against which St. Paul has written expressly in the 6th chapter of his Epistle to the Romans, and which he has kept at a distance in all his Epistles from his description of justification by faith, as is particularly evident in the Epistle to the Ephesians, ch. Eph 2:8-10 and the Epistle to Titus, Titus 2:11; Tit 2:14 James 3:4-8. This also is done by St. James after his example, and in the same spirit, shewing that faith without works is a dead faith; and that Abraham himself, in whom the Lord exhibited the model of justification by faith, had a lively, and efficacious faith, bringing forth fruit, as he evinced chiefly by his obedience to God in proceeding to sacrifice his only son: so true it is, that, though a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law, (Romans 3:28.) yet the faith by which we are justified, is always a faith which purifies the heart, (Acts 15:9.) and worketh by love. Galatians 5:6.
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29