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Bible Commentaries

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament
James 1

 

 

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Introduction

Verse 1

James 1:1. James: the same name as the Hebrew Jacob. The James who is the author of this Epistle is the Lord’s brother, known in ecclesiastical history as the bishop of Jerusalem, and was either a son of Mary and Joseph, or a son of Joseph by a previous marriage (see Introduction, sec. 1).

a servant, literally a bondman or a slave; the word denotes absolute subjection, but we must not associate with it the degradation and involuntary compulsion attached to our conception of slavery. A certain undefined ministerial office is perhaps implied; but the phrase, ‘a servant of Christ,’ has become a popular term, belonging not only to all the office-bearers of the Church, but to all Christians (1 Peter 2:16). We are all the servants of Jesus Christ, bound to obey His commands, and to devote ourselves to His service. Some suppose that it is a proof that James was not an apostle, because he calls himself only ‘a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ;’ but this supposition cannot be maintained, as Paul gives himself the same appellation in the Epistle to the Philippians (Philippians 1:1).

of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. Only in another place in this Epistle does James mention our Lord by name (chap. James 2:1), though elsewhere he alludes to Him (chap. James 5:7; James 5:14-15).

to the twelve tribes, a common designation of the Israelites (Acts 26:7). The twelve tribes were now mingled together, and formed the nation of the Jews. The name Israel was, however, still retained as being the covenant people of God; to Israel, and not specifically to the Jews, were the promises made (Romans 9:4).

which are scattered abroad, or more exactly, ‘that are in the dispersion.’ The Dispersion, or the Diaspora, was the name given to those Jews or Israelites who resided in foreign lands beyond the boundaries of Palestine. This Epistle was not written primarily to the Gentile Christians, or to the Jews generally, but to the Christian Jews of the dispersion—to those who are elsewhere called Hellenists (see Introduction, sec. 2). The Jews were everywhere ‘scattered abroad.’ Josephus says that it was not easy to find an eminent place in the whole world where the Jews did not reside; and the same observation holds good in the present day.

greeting, or ‘wishes joy.’ The usual Greek form of salutation. It is found at the commencement of no other apostolic Epistle, but occurs in the Epistle drawn up by James, addressed to the Gentile churches, at the council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:23), over which James seems to have presided.


Verse 2

James 1:2. My brethren: the constant form of address in this Epistle; his readers were his brethren, both on account of their nationality and of their Christian faith; both in the flesh and in the Lord.

count it all joy, that is, complete or pure joy—a joy which excludes trouble and sorrow. Some suppose a reference here to the greeting of James, wherein he wishes his readers joy.

when ye fall into, when ye become unexpectedly surrounded or encompassed by. The idea of surprise is here to be taken into account Trials are not to be sought for or rushed into; believers fall into them.

divers temptations. The adjective ‘divers’ does not indicate the different sources from which the temptations proceed, but rather the different forms which they assume. Temptations are generally regarded in two points of view—enticements to sin, and trials or tests of character; here it is evident that they are chiefly regarded in the latter point of view, though the former is not excluded (see note to James 1:13). They are outward trials as contrasted with inward temptations to evil. St. James may primarily allude to those trials to which, in the form of persecution, the Jewish Christians were exposed from their unbelieving countrymen; but the epithet ‘divers’ would appear to include temptations or trials of all kinds. It is not the mere falling into trials that is the cause of joy; but the beneficial effects which result from them, as is evident from the verse which follows.


Verse 3

James 1:3. Knowing this—being well assured of the fact, the reason or ground of the joy.

that the trying. These temptations are regarded as the tests or proofs of faith, and in this consists their value. By them faith is being tested as gold in the furnace, and is thus recognised and purified.

of your faith: of your firm confidence and trust in the Gospel. Faith here is not used objectively for the doctrines of Christianity; but subjectively for our personal persuasion of the truth of the Gospel.

worketh, produceth, patience. By patience here is not meant so much freedom from murmuring and repining, as endurance—stedfastness or perseverance in the faith of the Gospel under these temptations. The Jewish Christians by their trials were tempted to apostatize from Christianity. A period of trial is a period of testing; the true metal is purified, not consumed. Those who are true believers stand the trial; the trying of their faith produceth endurance. Those who are not true believers fall away; ‘in time of temptation,’ says our Lord, ‘they fall away’ (Luke 8:13). With respect to joy in temptation, because it produceth patience, compare the language of St. Paul: ‘We glory in tribulation, knowing that tribulation worketh patience (endurance), and patience experience (approval),’ (Romans 5:3-4).


Verse 4

James 1:4. But let patience, or endurance, have her perfect—not only in the sense of enduring to the end, but of completeness

work. Patience is not merely a passive but an active virtue; there is a work of patience, yea a perfect work. And this work consists in the purification of the soul—in refining and ennobling our moral character. Patience under trials has preeminently a sanctifying tendency. The most perfect Christians are not the most active, but the most enduring; not so much in the bustle of the world is the work of grace carried on, as in the quietness of the sick-chamber. God proves His people in the furnace of affliction. He purges the fruitful branches that they may bear more fruit (John 15:2).

that ye may be perfect. ‘The work of God in a man,’ as Dean Alford observes, ‘is the man. If God’s teaching by patience have had a perfect work in you, you are perfect.’ Of course by this cannot be meant absolute perfection; the word denotes maturity in grace, not absolute but relative holiness.

and entire. Perfect and entire are almost synonymous terms; perfect denotes that which has attained to its maturity, entire that which is complete in all its parts. Compare Acts 3:16.

wanting nothing—or ‘in nothing lacking,’ a negative expression for the sake of strengthening these two positive attributes—perfect and entire.


Verse 5

James 1:5. If. The connection of this verse with the preceding is not very obvious. It may be as follows: You may by your trials be thrown into a state of perplexity; you may want wisdom; if so, ask it of God.

any of you lack wisdom, perhaps suggested by the previous expression ‘wanting or lacking nothing,’ the verb in both verses being the same in the Greek. By wisdom here may be primarily meant wisdom or prudence in the present trying circumstances of the Jewish Christians; wisdom to bear their afflictions well. But the word is not to be confined to this; it denotes spiritual wisdom in general, not mere human wisdom or learning, but that ‘wisdom which cometh from above,’ and which is an essential foundation of Christian conduct. James, in writing to Jewish converts, might well suppose them acquainted from their sacred books with the true nature of wisdom, which was regarded by them as almost synonymous with religion. Wisdom was especially necessary to Christians in their temptations, to convert them from being incitements to sin to be occasions of Christian perfection.

let him ask of God that giveth, or more literally, ‘of God, the Giver.’

to all men liberally. The word rendered ‘liberally’ denotes simply, with simplicity, and intimates either that God gives from the pure love of giving, or without exacting any conditions. God does not give as man does, grudgingly and restricting His gifts, but simply, that is, freely and graciously.

and upbraideth not: without reproaches. Not as man who upbraids the petitioner on account of his unworthiness, or of his past misconduct, or of his abuse of former gifts. God in His giving upbraideth not; He does not reproach us with our past faults. ‘After thou hast given,’ says the wise son of Sirach, ‘do not upbraid’ (Sir_41:22).

and it shall be given him, namely, wisdom, the object of his request (comp. 1 Kings 3:9-12).


Verse 6

James 1:6. But, as an essential prerequisite to our obtaining an answer to our prayers.

let him ask in faith; that is, not believing that God will give us the precise thing that we ask, for we may ask for what is pernicious to us, but believing that God hears prayer. The object of prayer is here presupposed, namely, wisdom; and this we may ask without limitation, as it is a blessing which is always proper for God to give, and fit for us to receive.

nothing wavering, or more simply and correctly, ‘doubting nothing.’ It is the same expression as occurs in Acts 10:20 in the address of the Spirit to Peter: ‘Arise, get thee down and go with them, doubting nothing, for I have sent them.’ Here the expression means ‘not doubting that God hears prayer.’ The nature of this doubting is well stated by Huther in his excellent commentary: ‘To doubt is not equivalent to “disbelieve,” but includes in it the essential character of unbelief; whilst faith says “yes,” and unbelief “no,” to doubt is the conjuction of “yes” and “no,” but so that “no” has the preponderance; it is an internal wavering which leans not to faith, but to unbelief.’

For he that wavereth, or doubteth, is like a wave of the sea: there is in the original no play upon words, as in our English Version.

driven of the wind and tossed. These terms are synonymous, and do not, as some think, refer to outward and inward temptations (Erdmann). The figure which St. James employs is striking. The mind of the doubter is unsteady and wavering; like a wave, sometimes advancing and sometimes receding; there is wanting rest and calmness. It is in stillness that God communicates His grace; unrest is adverse to His operations.


Verse 7

James 1:7. For let not that man, namely, the doubter, think. This warning supposes that the doubter fancies that he will receive an answer to his prayers; but it is a vain delusion: his expectations will be disappointed.

that he shall receive anything of the Lord. By the Lord is here meant not Christ, but God. James, as the Septuagint does, here uses the term as equivalent to Jehovah. This is the usual meaning of the term in this Epistle; it is applied to Christ only in James 5:7; James 5:14-15. In the Epistles of the other apostles the term ‘Lord’ generally denotes Christ.


Verse 8

James 1:8. In this verse it is to be observed that the word ‘is’ is in italics, and therefore is not in the original. The verse ought to be translated: ‘He,’ that is, the doubter, ‘is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.’

a double-minded man—literally, a two-souled man. Double-mindedness is here used not in the sense of duplicity, but of dubiousness and indecision—a man whose affections are divided between God and the world, Or between faith and unbelief, who has, as it were, two minds—the one directed to God, and the other to the world. The man is not a hypocrite; he is a waverer in his religion.

is unstable in all his ways. This necessarily arises from his double-mindedness. Where there is a want of unity in the internal life, it is also wanting in the external life (Huther). The man is actuated sometimes by one impulse, and sometimes by another; and thus will be perpetually running into inconsistencies of conduct. He wants decision of character. On such a man there is no dependence; he has no fixedness of purpose, and is destitute of that holy earnestness that adds dignity to the character.


Verse 9

James 1:9. The meaning of this and of the following verse has been much disputed.

Let. The connection with the preceding is not obvious. It appears to be this: We must avoid all doubting of God in prayer, all double-mindedness; we must exercise confidence in Him, and realize His gracious dealings in all the dispensations of His Providence; and, whether rich or poor, we must place implicit trust in Him.

the brother: here evidently the Christian brother, because Christianity unites all those who embrace it into one holy brotherhood.

of low degree—literally, ‘who is lowly.’ The word in itself does not necessarily involve the idea of poverty; but here, where the contrast is with the rich, it must denote ‘poor’ or ‘afflicted’—the poor brother. The majority of the early Christians were from among the poor; and it is probable that the unbelieving Jews by fines and extortions deprived their believing brethren of their goods. Poverty was a frequent form of persecution for conscience’ sake.

rejoice in that he is exalted—literally, ‘glory in his exaltation.’ Different meanings have been assigned to this phrase. The usual interpretation is to refer it to spiritual exaltation: Let the poor brother rejoice in the dignity and glory which as a Christian he possesses, in those spiritual riches which are conferred upon him, and in the crown of life which is in reserve for him. He is constituted a child of God and an heir of heaven. Doubtless many who were slaves in the world were the Lord’s freedmen. This dignity was a proper subject for glorying in, as it was conferred on them not because of their own merits, but from the Divine graciousness. May not the words, however, admit of a more extended and literal signification? The poor are permitted to rejoice when they become rich, because they are thus possessed of greater means of usefulness, and are the better enabled to promote the cause of Christ. Voluntary poverty is no virtue; money may be redeemed from the world and deposited in the treasury of the Lord.


Verse 10

James 1:10. But the rich. Some suppose that by the rich here is meant the unbeliever; not the rich brother, but the rich man; and accordingly they understand the words either as ironical, ‘Let the rich man rejoice in—let him glory in—what is in reality his shame, his humiliation;’ or as a statement of fact, ‘The rich man rejoices in his humiliation,’ in his riches, which shall perish. But such a meaning appears to be forced and unnatural. The most natural meaning is to take the word ‘brother’ as a general term, which is specified by the lowly and the rich. The rich man, then, is here the Christian brother. Although most of the early Christians were poor, yet there were several among them who were rich; and to them there were addressed special exhortations; as when St. Paul says: ‘Charge them that are rich not to trust in uncertain riches’ (1 Timothy 6:17). The word ‘rejoice’ or ‘glory’ has to be supplied: Let the rich brother glory in that he is made low: literally, ‘in his humiliation.’ There is here also the same diversity of meaning as in the former verse. It is usually understood of humility of spirit: ‘Let the wealthy brother rejoice in that lowliness of spirit which the Gospel has conferred upon him: ‘that by being made conscious of the vanity of earthly riches, he has been induced to seek after the true riches; to cultivate that spiritual abasement which is the prelude of true exaltation. Although rich in this world, yet as a Christian he is poor in spirit, and clothed with humility. Others refer it to a rich man being stripped of his possessions by persecution for the sake of the Gospel: ‘Let him glory in being thus deprived of his worldly wealth.’ Perhaps the words may also be taken in their most literal meaning: ‘Let the rich brother rejoice when he becomes poor,’ when he is reduced from affluence to poverty, because he is then freed from the snares and temptations of riches. This is indeed a high attainment in piety, but it is one which has been made by many of the children of God. Riches are too frequently an obstacle to salvation; and when taken away, believers may have abundant reason to thank God that that obstacle has been removed.

because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away. A common figure in the O. T., expressive of the instability of earthly blessings. ‘All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: the grass withereth, and the flower fadeth’ (Isaiah 40:6-7).


Verse 11

James 1:11. For the sun is no sooner risen. In the original the words are in the lively style of a narrative: ‘For the sun arose.’

with a burning heat. The word here rendered ‘burning heat’ is often used in the Septuagint to denote the hot east wind: and hence many suppose that the simoom or the sirocco is meant, which, blowing from the hot sands of Arabia, burns up all vegetation. But it is better to refer it to the heat of the sun, which in Palestine is very scorching: hence, ‘for the sun arose with its heat.’

but it withereth the grass, and the flower thereof falleth, and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth: or rather, ‘and it withered the grass, and the flower thereof fell, and the loveliness of its form perished: ‘it converted the rich and luxuriant field into an arid waste.

so also shall the rich man: not the rich brother, that is the Christian, but the rich man generally: St. James is here speaking of the transient nature of the earthly riches. He who trusts in earthly riches shall fade away like the flower of the field.

fade away in his ways: in his goings, when actively engaged in his worldly pursuits or pleasures. Death snatches us away from the objects of worldly ambition.


Verse 12

James 1:12. Blessed is the man that endureth temptations: not merely falleth into divers temptations, but endureth them, cometh out of them unscathed, does not succumb under them. A man who has been tempted, and has come victorious out of the temptation, is a far nobler man than one who preserves a moral character, because he has never been tempted. Temptations impart a manliness, a strength, a vigour to virtue. Victory over temptation is a higher attainment than untried innocence. Untried innocence is the negative innocence of children: righteousness approved by trial is the positive holiness of apostles, martyrs, and confessors. ‘Behold,’ says St. James elsewhere, ‘we count them happy that endure’ (James 5:11).

for, the reason assigned for this blessedness.

when he is tried, or rather, when he is approved by the trial, so that he is able to stand the test and to be purified by it.

he shall receive the crown of life. If these words were found in one of St. Paul’s Epistles, the reference would be to the Grecian games—to the crown of laurel which was bestowed on the victor in these games. But here there can be no such reference; as these games were discountenanced by the Jews, and regarded as polluting. The reference is to the conqueror’s crown, or to the royal diadem; it is a figure not uncommon in the O.T. (Psalms 21:3). So also in the Book of Wisdom: ‘The righteous live for evermore, their reward also is with the Lord, therefore shall they receive a beautiful crown from the Lord’s hand’ (Wis_5:16-17). As has been beautifully said: ‘Earthly trials are the flowers of which the heavenly garland is made’ (Bishop Wordsworth). The genitive is that of apposition: life is itself the crown which the Lord, not Christ, but God, hath promised to them that love him. To endure temptation is a proof of love to God. It is attachment to His cause which induces us to endure.


Verse 13

James 1:13. Let no man say when he is tempted. The connexion is: if, instead of enduring the temptation, we yield to it and are overcome by it, we must not lay the blame of our fall from virtue upon God. Hitherto the word ‘temptation’ has been used chiefly in the sense of tests of character; here it denotes solicitations to sin; and yet there is hardly any change of meaning, as some think. These two views of temptation involve each other; what is a test of character may also be a solicitation to sin. Temptations may be considered as either external or internal. The trials which occur in the course of life, the afflictions which befall us, the persecutions to which religion may expose us, are external temptations and tests of character. But when these draw out our sinful desires and excite to sinful actions, they become internal, and are solicitations to evil. In themselves, temptations are not sins; when resisted and overcome, they are promoters of virtue; it is in our voluntary yielding to the temptations, in the consent of the will, that sin arises.

I am tempted of God, or rather, ‘from God,’ denoting not the direct agency in the temptation, but the source from which that agency proceeds. It is improbable that there is any reference here to the doctrine of the Pharisees concerning fate; rather, the reference is to that common perversity in human nature which attempts to throw the blame of our faults upon God: that the temptations to which we were exposed, and in consequence of which we fell, were occasioned by God, being caused either by the circumstances in which His providence has placed us, or by that temperament with which He has created us (cp. Genesis 3:12).

for God cannot be tempted with evil. Some render these words: ‘God is unversed in evil things’—inexperienced in them; all evil is completely foreign to His nature.

neither tempteth he any man: that is, to evil, to do what is wrong. God certainly tempts in the sense of tries. But the design of the Divine trying is not to excite to sin, not that sin should arise, but that it should be overcome; He tries our virtues, in order that they may be purified; He designs by these trials our moral improvement. The external tests of character may be from God; but the internal solicitations to evil are from ourselves.


Verse 14

James 1:14. But every man who is tempted is tempted, namely to evil, when he is drawn away of his own lust. By lust here is meant evil desires in general. The doctrine of human depravity is assumed rather than asserted. St. James is not speaking here of the original source of sin in the human race, but of the cause of temptation to evil. These solicitations, he observes, arise from within; they have their origin in our evil desires; our passions are the occasion of our yielding to temptation.

and enticed; literally, allured as a fish by a bait. Some suppose that the apostle by these two terms, ‘drawn away’ and ‘enticed,’ denotes drawn away from good and enticed to evil; but this is putting more into these words than they contain. St. James, then, here tells us where to lay the blame of our temptation or incitement to sin; certainly not on God, for He tempteth no man to evil; but on ourselves—on those sinful propensities which exist within us. It is we ourselves that yield. We sin simply because we choose to sin. Even Satan can only tempt; he cannot constrain men to commit evil.


Verse 15

James 1:15. Then. Now follows the genesis of sin.

when lust, evil desire, hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin. Lust is here considered as a harlot who seduces the will, and sin is the consequence of this unhallowed alliance. Sin is the child of our corrupt passions; it has its origin in our evil desires; it is the outcome of inward depravity. First, there is evil desire in the heart, and then by the will yielding to that evil desire there is sin in the life.

and sin when it is finished, fully developed or matured. There is no distinction here between the internal and the external act; as if it were sin in the form of the external act which worketh death. St. James speaks of sin in general, whether in the heart or in the life. Sin may be developed in the heart as well as in the conduct.

bringeth forth, or begetteth, as the two verbs are different in the original, death. Lust is the mother of sin and death its progeny. (Cp. Milton’s sublime allegory in Paradise Lost, Book ii. 745-814.) Death here does not denote only physical or temporal death, but, as the contrast is to the crown of life which God has promised to them that love Him, it must include eternal death. Cp. the statement of St. Paul: ‘The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life’ (Romans 11:23).


Verse 16

James 1:16. Do not err—a common Pauline expression, elsewhere always translated, ‘Be not deceived.’ Here it refers rather to what precedes than to what follows. Be not deceived in this matter, in supposing that temptation to evil comes from God.

my beloved brethren, strengthening the exhortation.


Verse 17

James 1:17. Every good gift. A positive proof of the assertion that God tempteth no man. Not only does evil not proceed from Him, but He is the source only of good. All good is from God. Our higher and spiritual good evidently arises from Him: all good works are the effects of Divine impulses. Our lower and earthly good also comes from Him: our health, our property, our domestic comforts, are the gifts of His bounty. Our very trials, our disappointments, our afflictions, our sicknesses—those tests of character are the proofs of His goodness, and are designed to produce within us the peaceable fruits of righteousness. The statement is true taken in its most universal application.

and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down (more literally, ‘Every perfect gift descendeth from above,’ or ‘is from above, coming down’) from the Father of lights. By lights here are primarily meant the heavenly bodies and by the Father is denoted their Author or Creator; but it may well be applied to all spiritual existences—the souls of men and angelic spirits. As Bishop Wordsworth beautifully expresses it: ‘God is the Father of all lights: the light of the natural world, the sun, the moon and stars, shining in the heavens; the light of reason and conscience; the light of His law; the light of prophecy, shining in a dark place; the light of the Gospel, shining throughout the world; the light of apostles, martyrs, and confessors, preaching the Gospel to all nations; the light of the Holy Ghost, shining in our hearts; the light of the heavenly city: God is the Father of them all. He is the everlasting Father of the everlasting Son, who is the Light of the world.’

with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. St. James does not here employ, as some suppose, technical astronomical terms, which would not be understood by his readers, but alludes to what is apparent to all—the waning and setting of the natural lights in the firmament. The statement is obviously equivalent to that of St. John: ‘God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all’ (1 John 1:5).


Verse 18

James 1:18. Of his own will—‘After the counsel of His own will,’ as St. Paul expresses it(Ephesians 1:11). Regeneration is here alluded to as the highest instance of the Divine goodness. It is not a necessary act of God, but proceeds from His own free will.

begat he us. It is evident from what follows that spiritual and not natural birth is here referred to: believers are begotten of God (John 1:13).

with the word of truth: the instrument of our regeneration, namely the Gospel, so called because truth is inherent in it. Some erroneously interpret the word here as signifying the Logos, namely, the Lord Jesus Christ; but this is exclusively an expression of St. John.

that we should be a kind of first-fruits: a Jewish form of expression taken from the custom of presenting the first-fruits to God. Christians are here called ‘first-fruits’ because they are consecrated to God, dedicated to the praise of His glory. Those Jewish Christians also, to whom St. James wrote, might be regarded as the first-fruits of Christianity, being the first converts to Christ, and the earnest of the spiritual harvest—the vast increase of converts from the Gentile world.

of his creatures: of the new creation, that great multitude of the redeemed whom no man can number: and perhaps not even to be limited to them, but to embrace all the creatures of God, pointing forward to that time when ‘the creature itself shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God’ (Romans 8:21).


Verse 19

James 1:19. Wherefore. There is a diversity in the reading of this verse. The most important manuscripts, instead of ‘Wherefore,’ read ‘Ye know,’ or ‘Know ye,’ according as the verb is understood as indicative or imperative, referring either to what precedes, ‘Ye know this,’(1) namely, that God out of His free love has begotten you with the word of truth; or to what follows, ‘Know this, my beloved brethren, let every one of you be swift to hear: ‘equivalent to’ Hearken, my beloved brethren’ (James 2:5).

my beloved brethren: an affectionate address, strengthening the exhortation.

let every man be swift to hear, namely, the word of truth, which, having been so lately mentioned, there was no necessity to repeat. The words, however, admit of a general application to the acquisition of all profitable knowledge. The same sentiment is found in the writings of the son of Sirach: ‘Be swift to hear; and let thy life be sincere, and with patience give answer’ (Sir_5:11). There is no reason, however, to suppose that St. James in these words refers to this passage.

slow to speak: perhaps here primarily referring to teaching: Be not rash in entering upon the office of a teacher (chap. James 3:1); see that you are thoroughly prepared beforehand. But the words are a proverbial expression, admitting of general application. Men are often grieved for saying too much, seldom for saying too little. Still, however, the maxim is not to be universally adopted. Occasions may frequently occur when we shall regret that we have omitted to speak, giving a seasonable word of advice, reproof, or comfort. There is a time to speak as well as a time to keep silence (Ecclesiastes 3:7).

slow to wrath. Wrath here is not directed toward God—enmity against Him, on account of the trials which befall as; but wrath directed toward men, and especially that wrath which frequently arises from religious controversy or debate. ‘The quick speaker is the quick kindler.’ But the words are true generally; on all occasions we ought to be slow to wrath. Still, however, all wrath is not here forbidden. Moral indignation is a virtue, for the exercise of which there are frequent occasions; and to regard sin without anger is a proof of indifference to holiness.—Some suppose that in this sentence is contained the subject-matter of the Epistle. The former part was only introductory; now the subject of the Epistle is stated; and the remainder is divided into three parts, corresponding to ‘swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath,’ with an appendix at the close. The arrangement is ingenious, but is hardly borne out by the contents.


Verses 19-27

James 1:19-27. In this passage St. James exhorts his readers to be not only hearers but doers of the word. They are to be swift to hear, and to receive the word implanted within them with freedom from malice and in mildness: but they are to hear it only with a view to practise its precepts; lest, being mere hearers of the word, they impose upon themselves. They must remember that true religious service does not consist in the performance of certain ceremonies, but in active benevolence shown especially towards the afflicted, and in purity of life.


Verse 20

James 1:20. For, the reason assigned for the above exhortation, and especially for the last portion of it—‘slow to wrath.’

the wrath of man, that is, carnal zeal, whose fruit is not peace, but contention. Those angry feelings which arise from religious controversy are here primarily alluded to. The word of God was then abused, as it is now, into an occasion of strife.

worketh not, produceth not.

the righteousness of God. By the righteousness of God is not meant the righteousness imputed by God, as if the meaning were that the wrath of man does not work out the faith which God counts to men for righteousness; nor that righteousness which God possesses—the Divine attribute of righteousness; but that righteousness which is approved by God, and which He Himself forms within us by His Holy Spirit. The meaning of the verse is that contention, arising from dispute or controversy, is not conducive to holiness, either in ourselves or in others—does not tend to the furtherance of the righteousness of God in the soul. Furious zeal does not promote the interests of God’s kingdom.


Verse 21

James 1:21. Wherefore, seeing that the wrath of man does not promote the righteousness of God, lay apart, divest yourself of, all filthiness, pollution. By some this word is taken by itself, but it is more in accordance with the context to connect it with ‘naughtiness, ‘indicating a particular kind of pollution.

and superfluity—abundance or excess.—of naughtiness: a word which has now lost somewhat of its original meaning. The Greek word signifies wickedness, depravity, malignity, malice,—that disposition which manifests itself in the wrath of man mentioned above; accordingly, ‘all pollution and abundance of malice’—all that malice which is so polluting and abundant in our hearts. Some suppose that the words are metaphorical, having reference to agriculture, in correspondence with the ingrafted word which directly follows: Put away all the defilement and rank growth of malice which like weeds encumber the ground, and prevent the growth of the ingrafted word.

and receive with meekness: here, as opposed to malice and wrath, not so much a teachable spirit, as mildness—a gentle and loving disposition toward our fellow-men.

the ingrafted word, or rather the implanted word—that word which by Divine grace is implanted in your hearts. By this is meant, neither reason nor the inner light of the Mystics, but the word of truth or the Gospel of Christ as received into the heart. Some suppose that by the ingrafted word the incarnate Logos, namely the Lord Jesus Christ, is meant; but this is a fanciful supposition, and unsuitable to the context.

which is able to save your souls. Compare with this the words of St. Paul: ‘I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among them who are sanctified’ (Acts 20:32). Comp. also Romans 1:16. James does not mean that those who are born by the word do not already possess salvation, but that the salvation is not fully possessed in this life.


Verse 22

James 1:22. But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only. The implanted word, or the word of truth, must be so heard and received as to produce a corresponding course of action. Practice, and not opinion, is the desired effect of the reception of the word. The Jews have a proverb among themselves: ‘He who hears the law, and does not practise it, is like a man who ploughs and sows, but never reaps.’ It is, however, to be observed that St. James does not in the slightest degree depreciate the hearing of the word; he only asserts the superior importance of the doing of the word. ‘Be not only hearers of the word, but be also doers.’ And indeed the hearing is in order to the doing; if this be wanting, the hearing is of no value. Compare with this the words of St. Paul: ‘Not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of it shall be justified’ (Romans 2:13).

deceiving your own selves. The term denotes deceiving by false and sophistical reasoning. He who is a hearer of the word and not a doer, and who thinketh that this is sufficient, imposeth upon his own self. And of all deceptions, self-deception is the worst. If a man were deceived by others, it would be comparatively easy to undeceive him, by placing things in their true light. But if a man be deceived by himself, it is next to impossible to undeceive him, because prejudices have blinded his eyes; the bandage must first be removed before he can see the light.


Verse 23

James 1:23. For. The above exhortation is enforced by a comparison. A hearer of the word, who is not a doer, resembles a man seeing his face in a mirror, without its making any permanent impression upon him.

if any man be a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face: liter ally, ‘the countenance of his birth,—that face with which he was born; and therefore here well translated ‘his natural face.’ The word for ‘beholding’ literally denotes ‘contemplating:’ it does not involve the idea of a passing glance, which is suggested by what follows.

in a glass, or mirror. The ancients had no looking-glasses properly so called; their mirrors were usually made of polished metals. In them objects could be but dimly discerned: ‘Now we see through a glass darkly’ (1 Corinthians 13:12).


Verse 24

James 1:24. For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth. The words are in the lively style of narrative: literally translated they are: ‘For he contemplated himself, and has gone his way, and immediately forgot what manner of man he was.’ A general statement, not necessarily to be understood universally. A man has seldom any true or accurate notion of his own features: from beholding himself in a glass or mirror, he retains no distinct recollection of what he has seen.

what manner of man he was. No distinct impression is made on him; he cannot recall his own features. This most especially have been the case, when we take into consideration the imperfect nature of the mirrors of the ancients.


Verse 25

James 1:25. Now follows the application of the metaphor.

But. The doer of the word is now described.

whoso looketh into: literally, ‘stoopeth down to look into,’ representing the earnest inspection: ‘whoso fixedly contemplatech’ (comp. 1 Peter 1:12; John 20:5).

the perfect law of liberty: corresponding to the glass in the metaphor, the same as the word of truth or the implanted word, namely, the Gospel of Christ. By this, then, is not meant the natural law, nor the moral law as such, but the Gospel in so far as it becomes a law of life and morals. There is hardly any implied contrast between the law of Moses and the Gospel. The moral law itself was a perfect law: it was the transcript of the Divine character; and, of all the writers of the New Testament, St. James would be the last to depreciate it. But the perfection which belongs to the Gospel is that it is ‘the law of liberty.’ This could not be said of the Mosaic law: in many respects, it was a law of bondage (Galatians 5:1). The moral law was a rule of conduct—a law of commands and prohibitions—a law which by reason of its violation brought all men under sentence of condemnation. But the Gospel is a law of liberty: it not only delivers man from condemnation, but, by implanting within him a new disposition, it causes him of his own free will and choice to obey the moral law; it not only imparts to him the power of obedience, but the will to obey: the law of God is written on his heart: obedience to it is not so much a yoke as a pleasure: ‘he delights in the law of the Lord after the inward man’ (Romans 7:22). The perfect law of liberty, then, is not lawlessness; on the contrary, it is holiness—a disposition to obedience—‘the moral law transfigured by love.’ ‘As long,’ observes Calvin, ‘as the law is preached by the external voice of man, and not inscribed by the finger and Spirit of God on the heart, it is but a dead letter, and as it were a lifeless thing. It is then no wonder that the law is deemed imperfect, and that it is a law of bondage: for, as St. Paul teaches, separated from Christ, it generates to bondage, and can do nothing but fill us with diffidence and fear.’

and continueth therein. The word ‘therein’ is in italics, and not in the original. The meaning therefore is not ‘and continueth in the law,’ but ‘and continueth to look.’

he being not a forgetful hearer: literally, a hearer of forgetfulness, to whom forgetfulness as a property belongs.

but a doer of the work: literally, ‘a doer of work,’ with the omission of the article; ‘work’ is added to ‘doer,’ in order to give greater prominence to the doing: or taken as a Hebraism, ‘an active doer.’

this man is blessed in his deed, or rather, ‘in his doing.’ The righteous shall be rewarded for their doing: to those on the right hand, the King will say, ‘Well done.’ The point of comparison then is evident. The word of God, especially in its moral requirements, is the glass, in which a man may behold his moral countenance, wherein the imperfections of his character may be clearly discerned. Both to the mere hearer of the word and to the doer of the word, the Gospel is compared to a glass, wherein a man may behold his natural face: but whereas the one sees his imperfections, and immediately forgets them; the other not only sees, but endeavours to remove them. ‘Blessed,’ says our Saviour, ‘are they that hear the word of God and keep it’(Luke 11:28).


Verse 26

James 1:26. If any man among you seem, that is, not seems to others, but thinketh himself, appears to himself to be religious. The words denote the false opinion which a man has of himself; the false estimate which he has formed of his religion.

to be religious. ‘Religious’ and ‘religion’ are hardly the correct renderings. Both are, however, adopted in the Revised Version without note. We have no terms in our language to express the original; worshipper and worship is perhaps the nearest approach. See Colossians 2:18. See Trench’s New Testament Synonyms, pp. 192 ff. It is not internal religion to which St. James alludes, but the manifestation of religion, the service of God or religious worship. He speaks of the external form rather than of the internal essence, of the body rather than of the soul of religion. To be religious, in the sense of our verse, is to be a diligent observer of the external forms of worship: ‘If any man among you think that he is observant of religious service,’ that he is a true worshipper of God.

and bridleth not his own tongue, does not abstain from wrath and contention: does not exercise a command over his words.

but deceiveth his own heart, imposeth upon himself, by relying upon the mere form of religion.

this man’s religion, religious service or worship, is vain—of no value in the sight of God.


Verse 27

James 1:27. Pure religion and undefiled. Pure and undefiled may almost be regarded as synonymous terms, the one expressing the idea positively, and the other negatively. Not, as some arbitrarily think, ‘pure’ referring to the inner, and ‘undefiled’ to the external life. There may be a reference here to the frequent washings and purifications which characterized the Jewish worship.

before God and the Father; in His view, who looketh not so much at the out ward appearance as at the heart. The Father is added to express the relation of God to us, as one of paternal love.

is this—consists in this. James does not here give an enumeration of all the parts of religious service, but mentions only two chief points—active benevolence toward the afflicted, and careful avoidance of the impurities of the world; these, he observes, and not certain ceremonial observances, are the outward forms in which real worship manifests itself.

to visit the fatherless and the widows. There is a probable reference here to ‘before God and the Father;’ before Him who is the Father of the fatherless and the God of the widows.

in their affliction. No kind of religious service or worship paid to God can be of any value, if it violate the royal law of charity. The fatherless and the widows are mentioned as examples of the afflicted. But along with this active benevolence toward the afflicted there must be combined personal purity.

and to keep himself unspotted. Personal purity which, like the delicate pupil of the eye, shrinks from the very approach of everything which defileth, which garrisons the heart with holy affections to keep out those which are polluting, which maintains a conduct above suspicion, and which abstains from the very appearance of evil, is acceptable in the sight of our God and Father, and shall be rewarded with the manifestation of His glory: for, ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.’

from the world. By the ‘world’ is here meant not merely earthly things so far as they tempt to sin, or worldly lusts, but the world as the enemy of God, the rival of God in the human heart; all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:14). Christians, by being born again by the word of truth, are separated from the world—they are a peculiar people. But still, so long as they live in the world, they are exposed to its temptations and liable to be defiled by its pollutions. They must carefully avoid that friendship of the world which is enmity with God (James 4:4).

 


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Bibliography Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on James 1:4". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/scn/james-1.html. 1879-90.

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