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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments
James 4

 

 

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Verse 1

James 4:1. The crimes condemned in this and the following chapter were so atrocious, and of so public a nature, that we can hardly suppose them to have been committed by any who bore the name of Christians. Wherefore, as this letter was directed to the twelve tribes, (James 1:1,) it is reasonable to think that the apostle, in writing these chapters, had the unbelieving Jews, not only in the provinces, but in Judea, chiefly in his eye. From whence come wars and fightings among you — Some time before the breaking out of the war with the Romans, which ended in the destruction of Jerusalem and of the Jewish commonwealth, the Jews, as Josephus informs us, on pretence of defending their religion, and of procuring to themselves that freedom from foreign dominion, and that liberty which they thought themselves entitled to as the people of God, made various insurrections in Judea against the Romans, which occasioned much bloodshed and misery to their nation. The factions, likewise, into which the more zealous Jews were now split, had violent contentions among themselves, in which they killed one another, and plundered one another’s goods. In the provinces likewise the Jews were become very turbulent; particularly in Alexandria, Egypt, Syria, and many other places, where they made war against the heathen, and killed numbers of them, and were themselves massacred by them in their turn. This being the state of the Jews in Judea, and in the provinces, about the time the Apostle James wrote his epistle to the twelve tribes, it can hardly be doubted that the wars, fightings, and murders, of which he here speaks, were those above described. For as he composed his letters after the confusions were begun, and as the crimes committed in these confusions, although acted under the colour of zeal for God and for truth, were a scandal to any religion, it certainly became him, who was one of the chief apostles of the circumcision, to condemn such insurrections, and to rebuke, with the greatest sharpness, the Jews who were the prime movers in them. Accordingly, this is what he hath done. And both in this and in the following chapter, using the rhetorical figure called apostrophe, he addresses the Jews as if they were present, whereby he hath given his discourse great strength and vivacity. See Macknight. Come they not hence, even of your lusts — Greek, ηδονων, pleasures; that is, your greedy desire after the pleasures and enjoyments of the world; that war — Against your souls; or raise tumults, as it were, and rebel both against reason and religion; in your members — In your wills and affections. Here is the first seat of war. Hence proceeds the war of man with man, king with king, nation with nation; the ambition of kings and nations to extend their territories; their love of grandeur and riches; their resentments of supposed injuries; all the effect of lust, or of earthly, sensual, and devilish desires, engage them in wars.


Verse 2-3

James 4:2-3. Ye lust επιθυμειτε, ye covet, or eagerly desire; and have not — What you desire; you are, some way or other, hindered from attaining that of which you are so greedy; ye kill — In your heart; for he that hateth his brother is a murderer. Or he speaks of the actual murders which the carnal Jews, called zealots, committed of the heathen, and even those of their own nation who opposed them. Accordingly, he says, ye kill, και ζηλουτε, and are zealous, thereby showing, evidently, that the persons to whom he spake were zealots. Ye fight and war, yet ye have not — What ye so eagerly desire; because ye ask not — And no marvel; for a man full of evil desire, of malice, envy, hatred, cannot pray. Since, as appears by this, the persons to whom the apostle is speaking failed of their purpose, because they did not pray to God, it shows, says Macknight, “that some of their purposes, at least, were laudable, and might have been accomplished with the blessing of God. Now this will not apply to the Judaizing teachers in the church, who strongly desired to subject the converted Gentiles to the law of Moses. As little will it apply to those who coveted riches. The apostle’s declaration agrees only to such of the unconverted Jews as endeavoured to bring the heathen to the knowledge and worship of the true God. So far their attempt was commendable, because, by converting the Gentiles to Judaism, they prepared them for receiving the gospel; and if for this they had asked the blessing of God sincerely, they might have been successful in their purpose.” Ye ask, &c. — But if ye do ask, ye receive not, because ye ask amiss κακως αιτεισθε, ye ask wickedly, from sinful motives. Some understand this of the Jews praying for the goods of this life: “But though,” says Macknight, “such a prayer had been allowable, the apostle scarcely would have spoken of it here, as it had no connection with his subject. His meaning, in my opinion, is, that they prayed for success in converting the heathen, not from any regard to the glory of God and the salvation of the heathen, but from a desire to draw money from them whom they converted, to spend on their own lusts.”


Verse 4

James 4:4. Ye adulterers and adulteresses — Who have broken your faith with God, your rightful spouse. Thus many understand these expressions, because God himself represented his relation to the Jews as his people under the idea of a marriage, and because the prophets, in conformity to that idea, represented the idolatry of the Jews as adultery. But inasmuch as gross idolatry was a sin from which the Jews had long been entirely free, and whereas to adultery, and other sins of the flesh, they were exceedingly addicted, it seems more probable that these appellations are to be understood literally. Know ye not that the friendship of the world — The desire of the flesh, the desire of the eye, and the pride of life, yielded to, to gain the favour of carnal and worldly men; or a conformity to such in their sinful courses, in order to gain their friendship; is enmity with God — Is an evident proof thereof? see Matthew 6:24; Matthew 12:30. Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world — Makes it his business to comply with and gratify worldly men, thereby constitutes himself an enemy of God — And takes part with his adversaries.


Verse 5

James 4:5. Do ye think that the Scripture saith in vain — Without good ground, or that it speaks falsely. St. James seems to refer to many, not to one particular passage of Scripture. The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy — That is, as many understand the words, our natural corruption, excited and influenced by Satan, strongly inclines us to unkind and envious dispositions toward our fellow-creatures. Some, however, suppose that the Spirit of God is intended by the apostle in this clause, and that the sense is, The Spirit of love, that dwelleth in all believers, lusteth against envy, (Galatians 5:17,) is directly opposite to all those unloving tempers which necessarily flow from the friendship of the world. Nearly to the same purpose is Doddridge’s paraphrase of the verse: “Do you think the Scripture speaks in vain in all the passages in which it guards us against such a temper as this, and leads the mind directly to God as the supreme good, teaching us to abandon every thing for him? Or does the Holy Spirit, that dwells in us Christians, lust to envy? Does it encourage these worldly affections, this strife and envying which we have reproved? Or can it be imagined that we, who appear to have so much of the Spirit, have any interested views in the cautions we give, and would persuade you from the pursuit of the world, because we should envy you the enjoyment of it?

No.”


Verses 6-10

James 4:6-10. But he — God, giveth more grace — To all those who, while they shun those tempers, sincerely and earnestly pray for it. Wherefore he saith, [see the margins] God, resisteth the proud — The unhumbled; those that think highly of themselves, and put confidence in their own wisdom, power, or holiness, and who seek the praise of men rather than the praise of God; against these God sets himself in battle array, as it is expressed, Proverbs 3:24. He rejects them, and will not allow them access to, or communion with himself. He thwarts their undertakings, and renders their schemes abortive. But giveth grace unto the humble — Unto those that are humbled under a sense of their ignorance and weakness, their guilt and depravity, and therefore have no confidence in any thing they are or have. Submit yourselves — Or be subject, as υποταγητε signifies, therefore to God — Pursue your lusts no longer, but yield an humble obedience to God in all things. Resist — With faith and steadfastness; the devil — The father of pride and envy; and he will flee from you — And your progress in religion will become greater, and your victory over your spiritual enemies more easy and evident day by day. Draw nigh to God — In faith and prayer; and he will draw nigh unto you — By his grace and blessing; which that nothing may hinder, cleanse your hands — From doing evil; and purify your hearts — From all spiritual idolatry, from all vile affections and corrupt inclinations, from the love of the world in all its branches; be no more double-minded — Vainly endeavouring to serve both God and mammon. Be afflicted — On account of your past sins, especially your ingratitude to God, your abuse of his blessings, and unfaithfulness to his grace; and mourn and weep — For the miseries to which you have exposed yourselves. Let your laughter be turned into mourning — Because of the heavy judgments that hang over you; humble yourselves in the sight and presence of the Lord, and he shall lift you up — Comfort you with a sense of his pardoning mercy.


Verse 11-12

James 4:11-12. Speak not evil one of another — See on Titus 3:2. Evil- speaking is a grand hinderance of peace and comfort; yea, and of holiness. O who is sufficiently aware of the evil of that sin? He that speaketh evil of his brother — Of his fellow-Christian or fellow-creature; and judgeth his brother — For such things as the word of God allows, or does not condemn, does, in effect, speak evil of the law — Both of Moses and of Christ, which forbids that kind of speaking; and judgeth the law — Condemns it, as if it were an imperfect rule. In doing which, thou art not a doer of the law — Dost not yield due obedience to it; but a judge of it — Settest thyself above it, and showest, if thou wert able, thou wouldest abrogate it. There is one lawgiver — By whose judgment and final sentence thou must stand or fall hereafter; for he is able to execute the sentence he denounces, and save with a perfect and everlasting salvation, and to destroy with an utter and endless destruction; who art thou — A poor, weak, dying worm; that judgest another — And thereby assumest the prerogative of Christ?


Verses 13-15

James 4:13-15. Go to now αγε νυν, come now, an interjection, calculated to excite attention; ye that say, To-day or to-morrow we will go, &c. — As if future events were in your own power, and your health and lives were ensured to you for a certain time; whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow — Whether your spirits before then shall not have passed into eternity; for what is your life? It is even a vapour — An unsubstantial, uncertain, and fleeting vapour; that appeareth for a little time — In this visible world; and then suddenly vanisheth away — And is seen here no more. Thus Isaiah, All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof as a flower of the field; a similitude used also by David, Psalms 103:15-16, As for man, his days are as grass, as a flower of the field so he flourisheth; for the wind passeth over it and it is gone, and the place thereof shall know it no more. And still more striking is the metaphor used by Asaph, Psalms 78:39, where he terms men, even a generation of them, A wind that passeth away and cometh not again. But in no author, sacred or profane, is there a finer image of the brevity and uncertainty of human life than this given by St. James, who likens it to a vapour, which, after continuing and engaging men’s attention for a few moments, unexpectedly disappears while they are looking at it. For that ye ought, &c. — That is, whereas ye ought to say — In consideration of this your great frailty; If the Lord will, we shall live and do this or that

Intimating, even by your manner of speaking, the sense that you have of his being able, at pleasure, to cut you short in all your schemes and appointments. The apostle does not mean that these very words should always be used by us, when we speak of our purposes respecting futurity; but that, on such occasions, the sentiment which these words express should always be present to our minds.


Verse 16-17

James 4:16-17. Now ye rejoice καυχασθε, ye glory, in your boastings — Ye please yourselves in the vain thoughts which you entertain of these worldly projects and successes, and you boast of them. All such rejoicing — Or glorying, is evil — The delight you take in these expectations argues either a strange want of consideration, or gross stupidity. Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not — That knows what is right and is his duty, and does not practise it; to him it is sin — His knowledge does not prevent but increase his condemnation. As if he had said, Since you cannot but know better, as you have the oracles of God, and profess to believe them, if you do not act answerably thereto, you are guilty of the greater sin. “Because this is true with respect to all who act contrary to knowledge and conscience. Beza and Estius consider it as a general conclusion, enforcing the whole of the reproofs given to the Jews for acting contrary to the divine revelation, of which they were the keepers.” — Macknight.

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on James 4:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/james-4.html. 1857.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, October 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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