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Bible Commentaries

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments
James 1

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-27

James 1:1. James, a servant of God, and of the Lord Jesus Christ. He does not style himself an apostle, because he would not assume any superiority; yet the majesty of his address is the language of an ambassador of Christ, and apostle of the Lord. “A servant of God,” the Father of all, “and of Jesus,” by which we understand that James associates the Saviour as one with God, and arrays him in the robes of glory: James 2:1. Paul also calls him the Lord of glory, as he calls God, the Father of glory. 1 Corinthians 2:8. By this expression James means the person of the Messiah, who as the Lord of glory promised to appear unto them. Leviticus 9:6. After this, James does not repeat the name of Christ, lest it should appear as vanity, he being called the Lord’s brother.

To the twelve tribes scattered abroad. That is, the Hebrew christians, dispersed by persecution. St. Peter writes to the same dispersed church of the circumcision, and others. It is thought that they intermarried with the gentile converts, and so became one Israel in Christ. But the Nazarenes of Jerusalem subsisted a long time under that name, even till Arius departed from the faith.

James 1:2. Count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations. He here speaks as if we were strong in faith, like the prophets and apostles. Habakkuk would rejoice even in the Chaldean invasion, and notwithstanding the desolation of his country: Habakkuk 3:17-18. Our Saviour exhorted his disciples to rejoice, when they suffered for righteousness’ sake. Matthew 5:12. The apostle Paul did the same, and encouraged his brethren to rejoice in tribulation. Romans 5:4. Happy are those saints who flourish in the fire like the bush of Moses.

James 1:4. Let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. We here see that patience is not a mere passive principle, but an operative grace, having much work to perform. It is chiefly conversant with tribulation, and is here summoned to the aid of primitive believers, who in addition to the ordinary trials of life, had much persecution to endure. Under adverse providences, and the injuries we may receive from men, it is the office of christian patience to give tranquility and keep us in a steady course of welldoing. Thus it was the martyrs endured, of whom it is said amidst all their sufferings, “here is the patience and the faith of the saints.” Revelation 13:10.

Patience must have its perfect work. In order to this it must be habitual, uninterrupted by intervals of murmuring or despondency, not occasional, but as forming an integral part of the christian character. It must also continue to the end till our work be done. Patience will have nothing to do in heaven, its operations are wholly confined to the present state; it is the vessel which convoys us safely over the storms and billows of life, and lands us safe on Canaan’s shore.

The influence it has on the christian life is such, that it makes us perfect and entire, wanting nothing. Without this there would be no uniformity, no adequate proportion, and of course no moral beauty or loveliness in character. Many things would be wanting which patience only can supply; it is this produces experience and hope, and gives a lustre to all the graces. Romans 5:4-5. No one can survey the interior of his own character, or look around on that of others, without perceiving a lamentable want of proportion, a seeming excess in some particular virtues, and a great deficiency in others.

The object of patience is to give a perfection to the christian character, and seldom have we known any thing approaching to it, but where the graces have been matured by a succession of trials, and where patience has had its perfect work. Sanctified afflictions formed the man after God’s own heart, and gave a finish to the piety of Abraham and of Job. Afflictions are eminently adapted, under the influence of patience, to make us habitually prayerful, to keep us deeply humbled before God, and to inspire us with meekness of wisdom. Let us therefore not look for worldly ease, nor indulge it.

James 1:5. If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, as young Solomon did in Gibeon, when the Lord spake to him in a dream. See on Proverbs 3:13; Proverbs 3:18. By “wisdom” we understand here the true knowledge of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ, for “the knowledge of the holy is understanding.” By this also we understand the excellence of wisdom, in every divine endowment of the christian temper, and in all prudence amidst a world of foes.

James 1:6. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. God has promised righteousness as the rain, and to give to all men liberally. Isaiah 44:3; Isaiah 45:8. Psalms 72:6. These promises afford strong pleas at the throne of grace; and why should we distrust a faithful God. When did his promise fail?

James 1:8. A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways. To-day he prays for heaven, to-morrow he prays for earth. He forgets that no man can serve two masters. He is like Reuben, unstable as water, and shall not excel.

James 1:9. Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted. Though christianity is respectful to civil order and relative duties, yet it knows nothing of the gentile brands of caste. The new creature is a freed man in the kingdom of Christ; the serf is now a son, and sits in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. His family and cottage are clean, wisdom and love dwell in his house, old things are passed away.

James 1:10. But the rich in that he is made low, and discarded by his worldly friends. He loses the honour that cometh from men, to receive the true glory that cometh from above. All worldly glory shall pass away as the flower of the field.

James 1:12. Blessed is the man that endureth temptation, as Moses bore with the Hebrews for forty years; as David, when he said, let Shimei curse; as Jeremiah, who fought against idolatry till the city was burned, and the idols in it. Our afflictions work together for good. In the furnace the Lord purifies his saints as gold, and prepares them for thrones of glory, and crowns of life eternal.

James 1:13. Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God. All men own that they are sinners, but are disposed to plead some excuse for their depravity. Adam, when he had eaten of the forbidden fruit, did not deny that he had sinned, but wished to lay the blame upon another; and all his sinful race have followed the example. But it is worse still, when men not only plead excuses, but feel disposed to lay the blame of their own misconduct upon God. Yet this is often done by implication, where it would not be directly avowed, presuming that their circumstances were such that the evil could not be avoided, or the power of temptation so great that they were unable to withstand it. The natural impenitence and hardness of the human heart, and the rejection of the gospel, fully demonstrate that sinners do not think themselves so deeply involved in guilt as the scriptures represent, but that the blame lies somewhere else; otherwise they would be melted into deep contrition, and gladly embrace the Saviour.

But let no may say he is tempted of God. The unsullied holiness of his nature forbids the thought. He is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, being that which his soul hateth. He has also furnished the most powerful motives against the commission of sin, by threatening it with eternal punishment, and connecting holiness with the promise of everlasting life. God has so ordered it that sin shall be productive of misery even in the present life, as the firstfruits and foretaste of the wrath to come. What are the effects of the malignant passions when indulged, but a torment like that of unquenchable fire, corroding and wasting the very vitals of the heart, till the sinner becomes a terror to himself. It is also so ordered that the pleasures of sin shall be short; the abridgment of human life after the temptation in the wilderness leaves to the sinner only a few short years, to weaken the motives to evil, and urge to speedy repentance.

Above all, God has shown his infinite abhorrence of sin by delivering up his own Son as an expiatory sacrifice, that he might take away the sin of the world. Approach his cross and say, what meaneth the heat of this great anger? The answer is, God is so displeased with man’s transgression that he could not think of pardoning it, without full reparation done to eternal justice; he therefore laid upon our substitute the iniquity of us all, and poured upon him that anger which must otherwise have burned to the lowest hell.

After providing such an expedient for taking away sin, and of reconciling the world unto himself, who shall dare to say that God tempts any man to sin. Nothing can more fully prove the desperate wickedness of the human heart, than the disposition to indulge so impious a thought. Sooner may the sun become the fountain of darkness, and the stars be sealed up in endless night, than for the infinitely holy and blessed God to be in any sense whatever the author of moral evil.

James 1:17. The Father of lights. The allusion is to the sun, which like the deity, is seen by his own light. John Albert quotes an example from Macrobius, where Jupiter is called Lucetius, from luce, or light.

James 1:18. Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth. Though the Holy Spirit is the efficient cause of this great change in our moral state and condition, so that we are said to be born of the Spirit, and born of God, yet it is effected by means of the word. Paul said he had not known sin but by the law, and we had never known the way of deliverance from it, and from its consequences, but for the gospel which reveals to us a Saviour. It is by means of the word of truth that the mind at first becomes impregnated with convictions, leading to repentance and to faith in Jesus. Hence the apostle speaks of the Corinthians as being begotten through the gospel, and of Timothy as being his own son in the faith. 1 Corinthians 4:15. Yet we are here reminded that whatever be the means, and whosoever may be the instrument of this great change, they are only means and instruments in the hand of God, to whom all their efficiency is to be ascribed. The children of God are not born of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God, who of his own will begets us with the word of truth. John 1:12-13. Nothing therefore is left us to glory in, but the Lord. 1 Corinthians 1:30-31.

James 1:21. Receive with meekness the engrafted word. To the writings of Paul, who was set for the defence of the gospel, we are chiefly indebted for the doctrinal part of religion; and to James for the practical part, for he had to deal with some theoretical antinomians in his day. Our Lord himself intimated that the state of mind in many of his hearers rendered the word unfruitful, and that much of the seed fell by the wayside and came to nothing. It is the same to the present time; the word becomes unfruitful, not being mixed with faith in them that hear it. The mind must be in a proper state in order to receive the word, and that is indicated here by a spirit of meekness, which disposes us both to believe and to obey. The import of the gospel is such that it cannot otherwise be received at all; it is utterly opposed to the pride of reason, as well as of self-righteousness, and is adapted to lay the sinner in the dust. Before it can be cordially received, a man must become a fool that he may be wise, and see himself sinful and undone before he can embrace the Saviour. The leper must cry out, unclean, before he can be healed, and see that his sins are as scarlet and as crimson before he can be made whiter than snow. Nor is this state of mind less needful in order to our growing in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. All our future progress in religion depends on the cultivation of this temper, to be ever sitting at the feet of Jesus for instruction. The meek will he guide in judgment: the meek will he teach his way. Psalms 25:9.

The great encouragement thus to receive the word is, that it is able to save our souls. When “engrafted” into the mind, as the scion into the stock, it changes the very nature of its produce. Where there was before nothing but grapes of wormwood and of gall like the vine of Sodom, there are now found the fruits of paradise, which in “agglomerated clusters hang.” It contains all that is necessary to be known, and directs to all that is necessary to be done in order to salvation, without borrowing light from any other source, or needing the aid of any other authority. Like the pillar of fire that guided the Israelites through the desert, it is able to conduct us safely to the promised land. By it the man of God is made perfect, and thoroughly furnished unto all good works. 2 Timothy 3:16-17.

James 1:22-25. Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only. In order to that, we should hear with attention so as to understand, for at that time the readers were few. The poor could not read, nor buy the scripture parchments. Reflection should follow to digest the discourse. Our hearts, like Lydia’s, should be open to receive the word in the love of it. Hear with prayer for the blessings that are set forth, and with an obedient mind to every duty which God enjoins: be ye doers, and not hearers only.

James 1:26. And bridleth not his tongue. See the reflections on chap. 3., translated from father Bourdaloue.

James 1:27. Pure religion and undefiled is seen by its fruits, in visiting the sick, and comforting the fatherless; these are the genuine proofs of love to God and our neighbour. So our Saviour decided, in the case of the good Samaritan. The apostle also came to the same conclusion. 1 John 2:3. Hereby we know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. A man will not employ his life in these good offices, unless he be a follower of him who went about doing good.

 


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Bibliography Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on James 1:4". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jsc/james-1.html. 1835.

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Sunday, January 26th, 2020
the Third Sunday after Epiphany
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