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Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary

James 5:16

Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.

Adam Clarke Commentary

Confess your faults one to another - This is a good general direction to Christians who endeavor to maintain among themselves the communion of saints. This social confession tends much to humble the soul, and to make it watchful. We naturally wish that our friends in general, and our religious friends in particular, should think well of us; and when we confess to them offenses which, without this confession, they could never have known, we feel humbled, are kept from self-applause, and induced to watch unto prayer, that we may not increase our offenses before God, or be obliged any more to undergo the painful humiliation of acknowledging our weakness, fickleness, or infidelity to our religious brethren.

It is not said, Confess your faults to the Elders that they may forgive them, or prescribe penance in order to forgive them. No; the members of the Church were to confess their faults to each other; therefore auricular confession to a priest, such as is prescribed by the Romish Church, has no foundation in this passage. Indeed, had it any foundation here it would prove more than they wish, for it would require the priest to confess his sins to the people, as well as the people to confess theirs to the priest.

And pray one for another - There is no instance in auricular confession where the penitent and the priest pray together for pardon; but here the people are commanded to pray for each other that they may be healed.

The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much - The words δεησις ενεργουμενη signify energetic supplication, or such a prayer as is suggested to the soul and wrought in it by a Divine energy. When God designs to do some particular work in his Church he pours out on his followers the spirit of grace and supplication; and this he does sometimes when he is about to do some especial work for an individual. When such a power of prayer is granted, faith should be immediately called into exercise, that the blessing may be given: the spirit of prayer is the proof that the power of God is present to heal. Long prayers give no particular evidence of Divine inspiration: the following was a maxim among the ancient Jews, קצדה צדיקים שתפלת the prayers of the righteous are short. This is exemplified in almost every instance in the Old Testament.

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Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on James 5:16". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https: 1832.

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

Confess your faults one to another - This seems primarily to refer to those who were sick, since it is added, “that ye may be healed.” The fair interpretation is, that it might be supposed that such confession would contribute to a restoration to health. The case supposed all along here (see James 5:15) is, that the sickness referred to had been brought upon the patient for his sins, apparently as a punishment for some particular transgressions. Compare the notes at 1 Corinthians 11:30. In such a case, it is said that if those who were sick would make confession of their sins, it would, in connection with prayer, be an important means of restoration to health. The duty inculcated, and which is equally binding on all now, is, that if we are sick, and are conscious that we have injured any persons, to make confession to them. This indeed is a duty at all times, but in health it is often neglected, and there is a special propriety that such confession should be made when we are sick. The particular reason for doing it which is here specified is, that it would contribute to a restoration to health - “that ye may be healed.” In the case specified, this might be supposed to contribute to a restoration to health from one of two causes:

(1)If the sickness had been brought upon them as a special act of divine visitation for sin, it might be hoped that when the confession was made the hand of God would be withdrawn; or

(2)in any case, if the mind was troubled by the recollection of guilt, it might be hoped that the calmness and peace resulting from confession would be favorable to a restoration to health.

The former case would of course be more applicable to the times of the apostles; the latter would pertain to all times. Disease is often greatly aggravated by the trouble of mind which arises from conscious guilt; and, in such a case, nothing will contribute more directly to recovery than the restoration of peace to the soul agitated by guilt and by the dread of a judgment to come. This may be secured by confession - confession made first to God, and then to those who are wronged. It may be added, that this is a duty to which we are prompted by the very nature of our feelings when we are sick, and by the fact that no one is willing to die with guilt on his conscience; without having done everything that he can to be at peace with all the world. This passage is one on which Roman Catholics rely to demonstrate the propriety of “auricular confession,” or confession made to a priest with a view to an absolution of sin. The doctrine which is held on that point is, that it is a duty to confess to a priest, at certain seasons, all our sins, secret and open, of which we have been guilty; all our improper thoughts, desires, words, and actions; and that the priest has power to declare on such confession that the sins are forgiven. But never was any text less pertinent to prove a doctrine than this passage to demonstrate that. Because:

(1) The confession here enjoined is not to be made by a person in health, that he may obtain salvation, but by a sick person, that he may be healed.

(2) as mutual confession is here enjoined, a priest would be as much bound to confess to the people as the people to a priest.

(3) no mention is made of a priest at all, or even of a minister of religion, as the one to whom the confession is to be made.

(4) the confession referred to is for “faults” with reference to “one another,” that is, where one has injured another; and nothing is said of confessing faults to those whom we have not injured at all.

(5) there is no mention here of absolution, either by a priest or any other person.

(6) if anything is meant by absolution that is Scriptural, it may as well be pronounced by one person as another; by a layman as a clergyman. All that it can mean is, that God promises pardon to those who are truly penitent, and this fact may as well be stated by one person as another. No priest, no man whatever, is empowered to say to another either that he is truly penitent, or to forgive sin. “Who can forgive sins but God only?” None but he whose law has been violated, or who has been wronged, can pardon an offence. No third person can forgive a sin which a man has committed against a neighbor; no one but a parent can pardon the offences of which his own children have been guilty towards him; and who can put himself in the place of God, and presume to pardon the sins which his creatures have committed against him?

(7) the practice of “auricular confession” is “evil, and only evil, and that continually.” Nothing gives so much power to a priesthood as the supposition that they have the power of absolution. Nothing serves so much to pollute the soul as to keep impure thoughts before the mind long enough to make the confession, and to state them in words. Nothing gives a man so much power over a female as to have it supposed that it is required by religion, and appertains to the sacred office, that all that passes in the mind should be disclosed to him. The thought which but for the necessity of confession would have vanished at once; the image which would have departed as soon as it came before the mind, but for the necessity of retaining it to make confession - these are the things over which a man would seek to have control, and to which he would desire to have access, if he wished to accomplish purposes of villany. The very thing which a seducer would desire would be the power of knowing all the thoughts of his intended victim; and if the thoughts which pass through the soul could be known, virtue would be safe nowhere. Nothing probably under the name of religion has ever done more to corrupt the morals of a community than the practice of auricular confession.

And pray one for another - One for the other; mutually. Those who have done injury, and those who are injured, should pray for each other. The apostle does not seem here, as in James 5:14-15, to refer particularly to the prayers of the ministers of religion, or the elders of the church, but refers to it as a duty pertaining to all Christians.

That ye may be healed - Not with reference to death, and therefore not relating to “extreme unction,” but in order that the sick maybe restored again to health. This is said in connection with the duty of confession, as well as prayer; and it seems to be implied that both might contribute to a restoration to health. Of the way in which prayer would do this, there can be no doubt; for all healing comes from God, and it is reasonable to suppose that this might be bestowed in answer to prayer. Of the way in which confession might do this, see the remarks already made. We should be deciding without evidence if we should say that sickness never comes now as a particular judgment for some forms of sin, and that it might not be removed if the suffering offender would make full confession to God, or to him whom he has wronged, and should resolve to offend no more. Perhaps this is, oftener than we suppose, one of the methods which God takes to bring his offending and backsliding children back to himself, or to warn and reclaim the guilty. When, after being laid on a bed of pain, his children are led to reflect on their violated vows and their unfaithfulness, and resolve to sin no more, they are raised up again to health, and made eminently useful to the church. So calamity, by disease or in other forms, often comes upon the vicious and the abandoned. They are led to reflection and to repentance. They resolve to reform, and the natural effects of their sinful course are arrested, and they become examples of virtue and usefulness in the world.

The effectual fervent prayer - The word effectual is not the most happy translation here, since it seems to do little more than to state a truism - that a prayer which is effectual is availing - that is, that it is effectual. The Greek word ( ἐνεργουμένη energoumenē) would be better rendered by the word energetic, which indeed is derived from it. The word properly refers to that which has power; which in its own nature is fitted to produce an effect. It is not so much that it actually does produce an effect, as that it is fitted to do it. This is the kind of prayer referred to here. It is not listless, indifferent, cold, lifeless, as if there were no vitality in it, or power, but that which is adapted to be efficient - earnest, sincere, hearty, persevering. There is but a single word in the original to answer to the translation effectual fervent. Macknight and Doddridge suppose that the reference is to a kind of prayer “inwrought by the Spirit,” or the “inwrought prayer;” but the whole force of the original is expressed by the word energetic, or earnest.

Of a righteous man - The quality on which the success of the prayer depends is not the talent, learning, rank, wealth, or office of the man who prays, but the fact that he is a “righteous man,” that is, a good man; and this may be found in the ranks of the poor, as certainly as the rich; among laymen, as well as among the ministers of religion; among slaves, as well as among their masters.

Availeth much - ἰσχύει ischueiIs strong; has efficacy; prevails. The idea of strength or power is that which enters into the word; strength that overcomes resistance and secures the object. Compare Matthew 7:28; Acts 19:16; Revelation 12:8. It has been said that “prayer moves the arm that moves the world;” and if there is anything that can prevail with God, it is prayer - humble, fervent, earnest petitioning. We have no power to control him; we cannot dictate or prescribe to him; we cannot resist him in the execution of his purposes; but we may asK him for what we desire, and he has graciously said that such asking may effect much for our own good and the good of our fellow-men. Nothing has been more clearly demonstrated in the history of the world than that prayer is effectual in obtaining blessings from God, and in accomplishing great and valuable purposes. It has indeed no intrinsic power; but God has graciously purposed that his favor shall be granted to those who call upon him, and that what no mere human power can effect should be produced by his power in answer to prayer.

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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on James 5:16". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https: 1870.

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Confess therefore your sins one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The supplication of a righteous man availeth much in its working.

One to another ... Mutuality is certainly implied by this. There is no class of men set up in God's church to hear confessions. No so-called "priest" ever had the right to hear the confessions of the penitent, unless he himself, in turn, would likewise confess his own sins to the confessor. As Roberts aptly wrote:

The Roman Catholic doctrine of auricular confession has no support from this passage. "Elders" does not refer to a priestly set of workers. And not even the elders ever had the power to absolve a sinner or set terms and conditions of his forgiveness.[53]SIZE>

The cathartic effect of confession, as mutually engaged among Christians, is helpful and beneficial, the purpose of such confessions being that of enlisting the mutual prayers of Christians for each other. There is not in view here any requirement for Christians to confess their sins "to the whole church," a practice which is not only not in view here, but which, under certain circumstances, can have a positively detrimental effect. The holy church itself is not a "priest" standing between the penitent Christian and his forgiveness.

It is felt that the comment of Wessel on this verse is appropriate:

This does not mean that Christians are to indulge in indiscriminate public, or even private confessions; and certainly the passage has nothing to do with confession to a priest.[54]SIZE>

The supplication of a righteous man availeth much in its working ... Again, as Wessel said, "There is no unanimity as to how to render this; but the meaning is clear: a good man has great power in prayer."[55] This is as good a place as any to stress the meaning apparent here. No matter what circumstance of suffering or illness may overtake the child of God, the avenue of prayer is open for his seeking relief from the Father himself through Christ. It has been the happy good fortune of this writer to behold many answers to prayers in conditions and circumstances approaching, but not reaching, the miraculous itself. God answers his children's prayers; and the power of those prayers is sealed by James' word in this place.

Regarding the fad of some present-day religious groups unbosoming themselves completely to those initiated into the cult, "It is apt to have more harmful than beneficial results, giving an outlet for an unhealthy exhibitionism."[56]

It is also wrong to take James' words here as laying down any additional condition of a Christian's forgiveness. The apostle Peter made repentance and prayer to be the sole conditions of a sinning, penitent Christian's forgiveness; and it is not true that James here laid down another condition. Helpful and beneficial as confession assuredly is in many circumstances, no new condition is in evidence.

[53] J. W. Roberts, op. cit., p. 173.

[54] Walter W. Wessel, op. cit., p. 962.

[55] Ibid.

[56] R. V. G. Tasker, op. cit., p. 135.

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James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on James 5:16". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". https: Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

John Gill's Exposition of the Whole Bible

Confess your faults one to another,.... Which must be understood of sins committed against one another; which should be acknowledged, and repentance for them declared, in order to mutual forgiveness and reconciliation; and this is necessary at all times, and especially on beds of affliction, and when death and eternity seem near approaching: wherefore this makes nothing for auricular confession, used by the Papists; which is of all sins, whereas this is only of such by which men offend one another; that is made to priests, but this is made by the saints to one another, by the offending party to him that is offended, for reconciliation, whereby a good end is answered; whereas there is none by the other, and very often bad consequences follow.

And pray for one another, that ye may be healed; both corporeally and spiritually:

the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. Not any man's prayer; not the prayer of a profane sinner, for God heareth not sinners; nor of hypocrites and formal professors: but of the righteous man, who is justified by the righteousness of Christ, and has the truth of grace in him, and lives soberly and righteously; for a righteous man often designs a good man, a gracious man, one that is sincere and upright, as Job, Joseph of Arimathea, and others; though not without sin, as the person instanced in the following verse shows; "Elias, who was a man of like passions", but a just man, and his prayer was prevalent: and not any prayer of a righteous man is of avail, but that which is "effectual, fervent"; that has power, and energy, and life in it; which is with the Spirit, and with the understanding, with the heart, even with a true heart, and in faith; and which is put up with fervency, and not in a cold, lukewarm, lifeless, formal, and customary way: it is but one word in the original text; and the Vulgate Latin version renders it, "daily"; that prayer which is constant and continual, and without ceasing, and is importunate; this prevails and succeeds, as the parable of the widow and the unjust judge shows. Some translate the word "inspired": the Spirit of God breathes into men the breath of spiritual life, and they live, and being quickened by him, they breathe; and prayer is the breath of the spiritual man, and is no other than the reverberation of the Spirit of God in him; and such prayer cannot fail of success: it may be rendered "inwrought"; true prayer is not what is written in a book, but what is wrought in the heart, by the Spirit of God; who is the enditer of prayer, who impresses the minds of his people with a sense of their wants, and fills their mouths with arguments, and puts strength into them to plead with God, and makes intercession for them according to the will of God; and such prayer is always heard, and regarded by him: this has great power with God; whatever is asked, believing, is received; God can deny nothing prayed for in this manner; it has great power with Christ, as Jacob had over the angel, when he wrestled with him; and as the woman of Canaan, when she importuned him, on account of her daughter, and would have no denial: such prayer has often been of much avail against Satan, who has been dispossessed by it; even the most stubborn kind of devils have been dislodged by fasting and prayer: it has often been the means of preserving kingdoms and nations, when invaded by enemies, as the instances of Jehoshaphat and Hezekiah show; and of removing judgments from a people, as was often done, through the prayers of Moses, as when fire and fiery serpents were sent among them; and of bringing down blessings as rain from heaven by Elijah; and of delivering particular persons from trouble, as Peter was delivered from prison, through the incessant prayer of the church for him: and this power, and efficacy, and prevalence of prayer, does not arise from any intrinsic worth and merit in it, but from the grace of the Spirit, who influences and endites it, directs to it, and assists in it; and from the powerful mediation, precious blood, and efficacious sacrifice of Christ; and from the promise of God and Christ, who have engaged, that whatever is asked according to the will of God, and in the name of Christ, shall be done. The Jews have had formerly a great notion of prayer: the power of prayer, they sayF2Zohar in Exod. fol. 100. 1. , is strong; and extol it above all other services: they sayF3T. Bab. Beracot, fol. 32. 2. , it is better than good works, or than offerings and sacrifices; and particularly, the prayer of righteous men: says R. EliezarF4T. Bab. Succa, fol. 14. 1. & Yebamot, fol. 64. 1. .

"to what is תפלתן של צדיקים, "prayer of righteous men" like? it is like a shovel: the sense is, that as the shovel turns the corn on the floor, from one place to another, so prayer turns the holy blessed God from wrath to mercy.'

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The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rightes Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
A printed copy of this work can be ordered from: The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1 Iron Oaks Dr, Paris, AR, 72855

Gill, John. "Commentary on James 5:16". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". https: 1999.

Geneva Study Bible

10 Confess [your] faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. 11 The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

(10) Because God pardons the sins of those who confess and acknowledge them, and not those who justify themselves. Therefore the apostle adds, we ought to freely confer with one another concerning those inward diseases, that we may help one another with our prayers.

(11) He commends prayers by the effects that come of them, that all men may understand that there is nothing more effectual than they are, so that they proceed from a pure mind.

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Beza, Theodore. "Commentary on James 5:16". "The 1599 Geneva Study Bible". https: 1599-1645.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible

The oldest authorities read, “Confess, THEREFORE,” etc. Not only in the particular case of sickness, but universally confess.

faults — your falls and offenses, in relation to one another. The word is not the same as sins. Matthew 5:23, Matthew 5:24; Luke 17:4, illustrate the precept here.

one to another — not to the priest, as Rome insists. The Church of England recommends in certain cases. Rome compels confession in all cases. Confession is desirable in the case of (1) wrong done to a neighbor; (2) when under a troubled conscience we ask counsel of a godly minister or friend as to how we may obtain God‘s forgiveness and strength to sin no more, or when we desire their intercessory prayers for us (“Pray for one another”): “Confession may be made to anyone who can pray” [Bengel]; (3) open confession of sin before the Church and the world, in token of penitence. Not auricular confession.

that ye may be healed — of your bodily sicknesses. Also that, if your sickness be the punishment of sin, the latter being forgiven on intercessory prayer, “ye may be healed” of the former. Also, that ye may be healed spiritually.

effectual — intense and fervent, not “wavering” (James 1:6), [Beza]. “When energized” by the Spirit, as those were who performed miracles [Hammond]. This suits the collocation of the Greek words and the sense well. A righteous man‘s prayer is always heard generally, but his particular request for the healing of another was then likely to be granted when he was one possessing a special charism of the Spirit. Alford translates, “Availeth much in its working.” The “righteous” is one himself careful to avoid “faults,” and showing his faith by works (James 2:24).

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These files are a derivative of an electronic edition prepared from text scanned by Woodside Bible Fellowship.
This expanded edition of the Jameison-Faussett-Brown Commentary is in the public domain and may be freely used and distributed.

Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on James 5:16". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible". https: 1871-8.

Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament

Confess therefore your sins one to another (εχομολογειστε ουν αλληλοις τας αμαρτιαςexomologeisthe oun allēlois tas hamartias). Present middle (indirect) of εχομολογεωexomologeō Confession of sin to God is already assumed. But public confession of certain sins to one another in the meetings is greatly helpful in many ways. This is not confessing to one man like a priest in place of the public confession. One may confess to the pastor without confessing to God or to the church, with little benefit to anybody.

Pray for one another (προσευχεστε υπερ αλληλωνproseuchesthe huper allēlōn). Present middle imperative. Keep this up.

That ye may be healed (οπως ιατητεhopōs iathēte). Purpose clause with οπωςhopōs and the first aorist passive subjunctive of ιαομαιiaomai Probably of bodily healing (James 5:14), though ιαομαιiaomai is used also of healing of the soul (Matthew 13:15; 1 Peter 2:24; Hebrews 12:13) as Mayor takes it here.

Availeth much (πολυ ισχυειpolu ischuei). “Has much force.” Present active indicative of ισχυωischuō (from ισχυςischus strength).

In its working (ενεργουμενηenergoumenē). Probably the present middle participle of ενεργεωenergeō as Paul apparently uses it in Galatians 5:6; 2 Corinthians 4:12; 2 Thessalonians 2:7, meaning “when it works.” The passive is possible, as is the usual idiom elsewhere. Mayor argues strongly for the passive here, “when it is exercised” (Ropes).

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The Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament. Copyright Broadman Press 1932,33, Renewal 1960. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman Press (Southern Baptist Sunday School Board)

Robertson, A.T. "Commentary on James 5:16". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". https: Broadman Press 1932,33. Renewal 1960.

Vincent's Word Studies

Confess ( ἐξομολογεῖσθε )

The preposition ἐξ , forth, out, impliesfull, frank, open confession, and so in every case of its use in the New Testament. See on Matthew 3:6.

Faults ( παραπτώματα )

See on Matthew 6:14.

The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much ( πολὺ ἰσχύει δέησις δικαίου ἐνεργουμένη )

Lit., much availeth ( ἰσχύει , is strong)the prayer of a righteous man working or operating. The rendering of the A. V., besides being unwarranted by the text, is almost a truism. An effectual prayer is a prayer that avails. The Rev. is at once more correct and more natural: The supplication of a righteous man availeth much in its working.

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The text of this work is public domain.

Vincent, Marvin R. DD. "Commentary on James 5:16". "Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament". https: Charles Schribner's Sons. New York, USA. 1887.

Wesley's Explanatory Notes

Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

Confess your faults — Whether ye are sick or in health.

To one another — He does not say, to the elders: this may, or may not, be done; for it is nowhere commanded. We may confess them to any who can pray in faith: he will then know how to pray for us, and be more stirred up so to do.

And pray one for another, that ye may be healed — Of all your spiritual diseases.

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These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.

Wesley, John. "Commentary on James 5:16". "John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible". https: 1765.

Abbott's Illustrated New Testament

Confess your faults; that is, such sins as those referred to in the close of the James 5:20, which may be considered as the cause of the divine displeasure manifested in the visitation of disease.

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Abbott, John S. C. & Abbott, Jacob. "Commentary on James 5:16". "Abbott's Illustrated New Testament". https: 1878.

Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary

16.] A general injunction arising out of a circumstance necessarily to be inferred in the preceding example. There, the sin would of necessity have been confessed to the πρεσβύτεροι, before the prayer of faith could deal with it. And seeing the blessed consequences in that case,—‘generally,’ says the Apostle, in all similar cases, ‘and one to another universally, pursue the same salutary practice of confessing your sins.’ Confess therefore to one another (emphatically placed before τὰ παραπτώματα—‘not only to the presbyters in the case supposed, but to one another generally’) your transgressions (i. e. not merely, as Wolf, al., offences against your brethren; but also sins against God: cf. ref. Matthew 6), and pray for one another, that ye may be healed (in case of sickness, as above. The context here forbids any wider meaning: and so rightly De Wette, Wiesinger, and Huther. So even Corn. a-Lap., “id est, ut sanemini, scilicet, ab infirmitate quæ vos detinet.” On the other hand Justiniani, “recte Latinus interpres animæ sanitatem intellexit, hoc est, salutem sempiternam.” And similarly Estius, Carpzov, Grot., al. Baumgarten, Schneckenburger, Kern, al., would join both). It might appear astonishing, were it not notorious, that on this passage among others is built the Romish doctrine of the necessity of confessing sins to a priest. As a specimen of the way in which it is deduced, I subjoin Corn. a-Lapide’s exegesis: “ ‘Alterutrum,’ id est, homo homini, similis simili, frater fratri confitemini, puta sacerdoti, qui licet officio sit superior, natura tamen est par, infirmitate similis, obligatione confitendi æqualis.” Cajetan, on the contrary, denies that “sacramental confession” is here spoken of: “nec hic est sermo de confessione sacramentali” [here, as in so many other cases, the much-vaunted unity of Roman interpreters embracing the most opposite opinions]. The supplication of a righteous man (i. e. of one who shews his faith by his works, see ch. James 2:24) availeth much in its working (i. e. worketh very effectually. Much doubt has arisen about the meaning and reference of ἐνεργουμένη. It is usually taken as in E. V., “the effectual fervent prayer,”—as an epithet to δέησις, setting forth its fervency. Œc. seems to take it passively, “helped forward by the sympathy of the person prayed for:” for he says, ἐνεργεῖται ἡ τοῦ δικαίου εὐχή, ὅταν καὶ ὁ ὑπὲρ οὗ εὔχεται συμπράττῃ διὰ κακώσεως πνευματικῆς τῷ εὐχομένῳ. ἂν γάρ, ἑτέρων ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν εὐχομένων, σπαταλαῖς ἡμεῖς σχολάζωμεν κ. ἀνέσεσι κ. ἐκδεδιῃτημένῳ βίῳ, ἐκλύομεν διὰ τούτου τὸ σύντονον τῆς εὐχῆς τοῦ ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν ἀγωνιζομένου.

The following is from Huther’s note: “Michaelis explains it ‘preces agitante Spiritu sancto effusæ:’ Carpzov, δέησις διὰ πίστεως ἐνεργουμένη: Gebser understands prayer in which the suppliant himself works for the accomplishment of his wish: similarly Calvin,—‘Tunc vere in actu est oratio, quum succurrere contendimus iis, qui laborant.’ Commonly, ἐνεργουμένη is assumed to be synonymous with ἐνεργής or ἐνεργός ( ἐκτενής, Luke 22:44; Acts 12:5), ‘strenuus,’ ‘intentus,’ ‘earnest,’ &c.: and this qualification of the prayer of the righteous man is attached to πολὺ ἰσχύει as its condition (so Wiesinger, and similarly Erasm., Beza, Gataker, Horneius, Grot., Wolf, Baumg., Hottinger, Schneckenb., Kern, Theile, al.). This interpretation however has not only, as Wiesinger confesses, N. T. usage against it, but can hardly be justified from the context, it being necessarily implied that the prayer of the righteous man is not a dead and formal one. Besides which, the force of the general sentence, πολὺ ἰσχύει δέησις δικαίου, suffers much from the appending of a condition under which alone the sentence could be true. Rightly therefore does Pott adhere to the verbal meaning of the participle ἐνεργουμένη, in periphrasing, πολὺ ἱοχύει ἐνεργεῖν, or πολὺ ἰσχύει καὶ ἐνεργεῖ δέησις: but both these periphrases are arbitrary: the first weakens the force of ἰσχύει, and the second makes the two ideas co-ordinate, which the Apostle never intended. At all events we must connect ἐνεργουμένη closely with ἰσχύει: not as above, but so that by it may be expressed that which is the field or element of the πολὺ ἰσχύειν: the prayer of the righteous can do much in its working (not, as De Wette, if it developes itself in act). That it does work, this is assumed: that, besides working, it πολὺ ἰσχύει, this is it which St. James puts forward, and confirms by the following example of Elias”).

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Alford, Henry. "Commentary on James 5:16". Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary. https: 1863-1878.

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

16Confess your faults one to another. In some copies the illative particle is given, nor is it unsuitable; for though when not expressed, it must be understood. He had said, that sins were remitted to the sick over whom the elders prayed: he now reminds them how useful it is to discover our sins to our brethren, even that we may obtain the pardon of them by their intercession. (142)

This passage, I know, is explained by many as referring to the reconciling of offenses; for they who wish to return to favor must necessarily know first their own faults and confess them. For hence it comes, that hatreds take root, yea, and increase and become irreconcilable, because every one perniciously defends his own cause. Many therefore think that James points out here the way of brotherly reconciliation, that is, by mutual acknowledgment of sins. But as it has been said, his object was different; for he connects mutual prayer with mutual confession; by which he intimates that confession avails for this end, that we may be helped as to God by the prayers of our brethren; for they who know our necessities, are stimulated to pray that they may assist us; but they to whom our diseases are unknown are more tardy to bring us help.

Wonderful, indeed, is the folly or the insincerity of the Papists, who strive to build their whispering confession on this passage. For it would be easy to infer from the words of James, that the priests alone ought to confess. For since a mutual, or to speak more plainly, a reciprocal confession is demanded here, no others are bidden to confess their own sins, but those who in their turn are fit to hear the confession of others; but this the priests claim for themselves alone. Then confession is required of them alone. But since their puerilities do not deserve a refutation, let the true and genuine explanation already given be deemed sufficient by us.

For the words clearly mean, that confession is required for no other end, but that those who know our evils may be more solicitous to bring us help.

Availeth much. That no one may think that this is done without fruit, that is, when others pray for us, he expressly mentions the benefit and the effect of prayer. But he names expressly the prayer of a righteous or just man; because God does not hear the ungodly; nor is access to God open, except through a good conscience: not that our prayers are founded on our own worthiness, but because the heart must be cleansed by faith before we can present ourselves before God. Then James testifies that the righteous or the faithful pray for us beneficially and not without fruit.

But what does he mean by adding effectual or efficacious? For this seems superfluous; for if the prayer avails much, it is doubtless effectual. The ancient interpreter has rendered it “assiduous;” but this is too forced. For James uses the Greek participle, ἐνεργούμεναι, which means “working.” And the sentence may be thus explained, “It avails much, because it is effectual.” (143) As it is an argument drawn from this principle, that God will not allow the prayers of the faithful to be void or useless, he does not therefore unjustly conclude that it avails much. But I would rather confine it to the present case: for our prayers may properly be said to be ἐνεργούμεναι, working, when some necessity meets us which excites in us earnest prayer. We pray daily for the whole Church, that God may pardon its sins; but then only is our prayer really in earnest, when we go forth to succor those who are in trouble. But such efficacy cannot be in the prayers of our brethren, except they know that we are in difficulties. Hence the reason given is not general, but must be specially referred to the former sentence.

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Calvin, John. "Commentary on James 5:16". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https: 1840-57.

Scofield's Reference Notes

faults Sin. (See Scofield "Romans 3:23").

righteous (See Scofield "Romans 10:10").

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Scofield, C. I. "Scofield Reference Notes on James 5:16". "Scofield Reference Notes (1917 Edition)". https: 1917.

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary


‘The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.’

James 5:16

Prayer is at all times a subject of supreme importance—such importance that it is quite impossible to overstate its value. It is at once man’s highest duty and his greatest blessing. It follows almost naturally from our belief in a living God. Prayer is a duty laid upon all. By prayer we are to bring down blessings from heaven for ourselves, by prayer we are to secure health to the sick, strength to the weak, succour to the tempted, recovery to the fallen. How, then, dare we cease to pray when there is so much depending on our prayers? Yet it is plain that we often ask in vain. The answer is also plain. ‘Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss.’ We do not fulfil the conditions of effectual prayer, and so our prayers avail but little. What, then, may we do in order that the promises made to prayer may be fulfilled?

I would but mention three things which will help us towards more successful prayer.

I. We must give time to prayer.—How often are we told of hurried prayers, and shortened prayers, and sometimes of forgotten prayers! Prayer so often is crowded out of our life in the hurry and bustle of the day. Prayer is the very recognition of God in our life, and a prayerless life must needs be a Godless life. It is no excuse to say, ‘I am not fit to pray.’ Even to go through the form of prayer is better, surely, than nothing. It keeps alive, at any rate, a habit which, by the grace of God, may some day take fresh life again. Have, then, fixed times for prayer day by day, and keep to them.

II. We must take trouble over our prayers.—Prayer is not an easy thing. Of all mental exercises, it has been said, prayer is the most severe. It requires the exercise of all the faculties that we possess. Prayer will never reach up to the throne of God if it is offered without effort and pains and care. We have to wrestle strenuously with the temptations and distractions that await us and hamper us in our prayers. There must be a concentration of the will. A discipline of the mind has to be brought to this exercise of prayer, together with a determination that we will at all costs break through the obstacles which oppose the utterance of our prayers, that they may reach up to the Throne of Grace. How many a one has abandoned prayer in despair just for the lack of effort, just for the want of realising this great truth, that trouble and pains are needed if prayer is to be effectual! There is nothing in life that can be carried on without effort. The prayer of a righteous man, to avail much, must be fervent.

III. The life must correspond to the exercise of prayer.—Who is this righteous man in His most perfect form? Our Lord Himself; and if our prayer is to be united with His great intercession, it must be the prayer of a righteous man. Our life must prepare us for our prayers, just as much as our prayers will prepare us for our life. Worldliness, carelessness, selfishness, sin, shut out the sight of God and prevent our prayers reaching up to God, and so prevent the answer, and bring failure. To pray to God out of a sinful heart is only to beat against a fast-closed door which nothing but penitence will open.

—Rev. A. G. Deedes.


‘Let us try to use the Rogation days for setting our life of prayer more in order, renewing the earnestness of it. Let us see that it has its own allotted time day by day set apart as a sacred engagement, that nothing must interfere with. Let us see that we do not leave our prayers to take their chance in our hurried life. Let us look to it also that we take pains with our prayers. Do not let us be content to bring a weary body and a fagged brain to the service of God in prayer. And let us see to it, above all, that our life is true and sincere and holy. So only may we hope that our prayers may be the prayers of a righteous man, and merit the promise that attaches to them that they shall avail much for ourselves and those for whom we pray. So only may we be certain in claiming the promise which the Lord has given us—“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”’



A ‘righteous man’ means a justified man. And here is the comfort: the humblest believer may go and plead the promise, and may go in the simple confidence that Christ has justified him; and though both he and his prayer be utterly vile, still its unworthiness does not destroy its worthiness or destroy its claim, for God hath written it, and He cannot deny it, ‘The effectual fervent prayer of a justified man availeth much.’

I. The power of prevailing with God in anything is the Christ that is in it.—‘Where two or three are gathered together in My name.’ ‘Whatsoever ye shall ask in My name.’ It is the ‘My name’ which is the determining point. For the real force of every prayer lies in its concluding words, therefore always make them the most emphatic words in your prayer; say them very slowly, very honouringly, very believingly, ‘Through Jesus Christ our Lord.’

II. But it must be ‘effectual fervent.’—There is some difficulty in arriving at an accurate definition of the meaning of these words, for in the original the words are but one, and the first and closest signification is, wrought in; the wrought-in prayer, ‘the prayer wrought in the soul of a justified man availeth much.’ Therefore the primary idea is that the prayer that ‘avails much’ is a prayer that is wrought into a man’s soul by the Holy Spirit.

III. This strong power God has put into our hands.—Can you require more? Take it downstairs with you after well using it in your own room; use it in the family—take it out with you when you go to your business—and do not separate from it when you enter upon your pleasures. Bring it back again to your room. Bring it up with you here. It is the real strength of everything in this world. Many people go on well for a time. But if you feel this, I am quite sure that the success, and the power, and the satisfaction of everything in the world depends upon the measure of the prayer that you put into it. As a man’s prayer is, so is the man.

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Nisbet, James. "Commentary on James 5:16". Church Pulpit Commentary. https: 1876.

John Trapp Complete Commentary

16 Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

Ver. 16. Confess your faults] To any such godly friend, as can both keep counsel and give counsel. Oftentimes the very opening of men’s grievances easeth, the very opening of a vein cools the blood. Howbeit, it is neither wisdom nor mercy (saith a good divine) to put men upon the rack of confession, further than they can have no ease any way else. For by this means we raise a jealousy in them towards us, and often without cause; which weakeneth and tainteth that love that should unite hearts in one.

The effectual fervent prayer] Gr. ενεργουμενη, the working prayer, that sets the whole man to work to do it as it should be done, and so works wonders in heaven and earth, being after a sort omnipotent, as Luther said. The word rendered "effectual fervent," is by one rendered a thoroughly wrought prayer. An allusion he maketh it to cloth, or such like, which we use to say is thoroughly well wrought, or but slightly wrought.

Availeth much] Jamblicus, a profane writer, hath such a commendation of prayer as might well beseem a better man. He calleth it clavem qua Dei penetralia aperiuntur, rerum divinarum ducem et lucem. (Lib. v. c. 27.) The key of God’s treasury the guide to God. In the island called Taprobane; they sail not by any observation of the stars, they cannot see the north pole, but they carry birds along with them which they often let go, and so bend their course the same way, for the birds will make toward land. Let us often send up prayers to heaven, and let our hearts go along with them, and they will certainly speed. God will come, but he will have his people’s prayers lead him; Daniel 10:12, I came for thy word. He will help, but then we must work in prayer; and as a cart is stuck in a quagmire, if the horses feel it coming, they will pull the harder, so must we, when we find deliverance is coming, and that God is upon his way. Fervent prayer may fitly be resembled to the precious stone Pyrites, which if rubbed grows hot, and burneth the fingers; as, on the other side, dull prayers do little good, but are as the precious stone Diacletes, which having many virtues in it, loseth them all if put into a dead man’s mouth, as naturalists tell us.

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Trapp, John. "Commentary on James 5:16". John Trapp Complete Commentary. https: 1865-1868.

Sermon Bible Commentary

James 5:16

The Strength of Working Prayer.

I. The praying. It is not said "the prayer." And the difference is worth observing. If it were said "the prayer," it might seem as if the words of the prayer were like a charm, such as we read of in ancient fables, when some particular words repeated by any person are spoken of as able to produce some wonderful effect, so that, whoever uses them, they are regarded as equally powerful, the power, some mysterious imaginary power, being in the words themselves. It is the praying—the constant, earnest praying of the heart, not without words, no doubt, at least in general, but the constant, earnest praying of the heart—to which the effect is attributed by St. James.

II. It is the praying of a righteous man, not anybody's praying. St. James is speaking of the continuous heart-praying of the man who, clinging to the righteousness which has been won for him in Christ, is earnestly bent on rendering to God in his own body, soul, and spirit, by the help of the Holy Ghost, the offering of a righteous and saintly life. That is the sort of man of whose praying the Apostle speaks.

III. That sort of praying by that sort of man is a very strong thing. It is stronger than the wind, stronger than the earthquake, stronger than the sea, stronger than anything in the world; for God is moved by it, and He moves all creation at His pleasure.

IV. Its strength lies in the energy of its working; it sets on foot a mighty system of energies. The angels of God exult, the souls of men are wrought upon, the course of human events is guided, the grace of God is won, the Holy Spirit of God is abundantly poured out, by the secret incessant working of the mighty spiritual power that belongs to the "praying of the righteous man."

G. Moberly, Parochial Sermons, p. 225.

Fervent Prayer.

Intercessory prayer is but one part of the great system of intercession on which human life is organised. Intercession—it is simply a "coming in between." We know the word well in Roman political history as the tribune's veto. In its widest sense it may be applied to every act in which one human being is able to come in between another and some evil that might befall him. Nay, we may extend it even more widely still to the whole principle of mediation, by which one man is used to convey blessings to another. As it was with our Lord, so it is with the Church which He founded to represent Him when He should be gone. Its whole existence is one living act of intercession. Always and everywhere the Church is an intercessor; it is the expression of the mind of the Paraclete, standing by its very existence between God and the world, standing between the world and the forces of evil which threaten it. Intercessory prayer is but the expression of its intercessory life. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, that interdependence of man on man which is seen in the actions of daily life finds a new sphere of operations in our prayers. Not merely the actions, not merely the character and influence, but also the praying, of a righteous man becomes a great force.

I. It is a great force, first, because it forces us to keep up a true ideal of what those for whom we pray may be. It makes us, in George Macdonald's striking phrase, "think of them and God together." If I pray for any one, that implies that I have faith in him, that I believe he may be better than he is. Which of us does not know what a power for good this is? To know that some one does believe in us, that some one, knowing all our weakness, yet does believe that we can conquer our temptations; to be with some one who expects us to be better, this, even if it comes from those who have never knelt in prayer for us—this is an effectual intercession.

II. Intercession is, again, a great force because it pledges us to do the best we can for those for whom we pray. We cannot, in very shame, ask God to help those whom we are refusing to help ourselves when that help lies in our power; the very fact of intercession reminds us of the truth of the dependence of man upon man. We ask God to bless those for whom we care, and again and again He reminds us that His blessings are given through men, and the answer to our prayer is that we are sent on an errand of mercy.

III. Intercession is also such a great force because it brings into action the power of God, just as the tribune's veto would have had no force if it had been spoken by him on his own responsibility. It was strong because armed with the strength of law; it was strong not with the strength of even a Tiberius Gracchus, but with the power of a sacrosanct authority: so our prayers are strong because they have the promise and the power of Christ behind them.

W. Lock, Sermon Year Book, vol. i., p. 1.

References: James 5:17.—Homiletic Quarterly, vol. v., p. 96. James 5:17, James 5:18.—J. Davis, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxvii., p. 214.

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Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on James 5:16". "Sermon Bible Commentary". https:

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible

James 5:16. Confess your faults, &c.— Confess therefore your faults, &c. See Mills, and Wetstein. They were to make a confession of those particular sins which had drawn some remarkable diseases upon them, as a token of the divine displeasure for their unchristian conduct. Their sending for the elders of the church plainly supposes that they had faith to be healed; and the confession of their sins, which they are here ordered to make, as plainly supposes that they were penitent: for, unless they repented of those particular sins which had occasioned the disorders under which they laboured, it does notappear that they obtained a miraculous cure. The confession was to be made by a sick person, in order to his being cured; not by a person in health, in order to his obtaining eternal salvation: and it was to be made to the elders, or to any other Christians, who had the power of miraculously curing diseases, that they might pray for the pardon of those particular crimes, and that the penitent might be released from the punishment under which he had fallen. From these considerations it appears, that the popish doctrine of auricular confession has as little foundation here, as their sacrament of extreme unction, and the necessity of sacerdotal absolution, in order to the remission of sins. They would build several of their novel doctrines on the concluding part of this epistle; but they are like castles in the air, without any foundation or support. From this direction of the apostle, Confess your faults, &c. they have introduced the necessity of private Christians confessing all their sins to a priest; that they may obtain his authoritative absolution, and may be assured of being fully pardoned. By this means, they have brought the people into a blind subjection to, and slavish dependance upon the clergy; by this means they have enticed women to lewdness, and taught vice to the innocent; have dived into the secrets of families and cities, of courts and kingdoms; have betrayed princes and states, as well as private persons, and done infinite mischief in the world: whereas, according to this direction of the apostle, the same persons are here ordered to confess their faults one to another, who in the next sentence are ordered to pray one for another. The priest ought therefore to confess to the people, and desire their prayers and absolution, as well as the people to the priest, in order to have his prayers and absolution; for it is said, Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another.

The effectual fervent prayer, &c.— The prayer of a righteous man under the divine impulse avails much. The word ενεργουμενη signifies, "wrought by the energyof the Spirit." The apostle, says Benson, means a prayer wrought in a man by the Spirit of God, or which proceeded from a prophetic impulse, and by which he knew what success he should have; as plainly appears from what is said in the preceding notes, concerning the miraculous cures which were effected upon such a prayer, and likewise from what isafterwards said concerning the prayer of Elijah. See Ephesians 3:20. Colossians 1:29. 1 Corinthians 12:11.

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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on James 5:16". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https: 1801-1803.

Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament

Note here, 1. That there is a time and season when it is our duty to confess our sins, not only to God, but to one another, to a pious and prudent minister, to an injured and wronged neighbour, to those that have been tempted by us, and have consented with us in sinning.

Note, 2. How absurdly the Papists ground their practice of auricular confession upon this text, here is not one word spoken of a priest, nor of our confessing to him: and if so, the text proves it the priest's duty to confess to the people, as much as the people's to confess to the priest, for the duty required is mutual, confess one to another; accordingly the words are generally understood of confessing private injuries one to another: that the sick person must reconcile himself to his neighbour as well as to God, that he may recover; for so it follows, pray for one another, that ye may be healed; intimating, that it is the duty of Christians to confess their miscarriages and private injuries one to another, and by their prayers to succour, help, and relieve each other; it is the duty of the strong to pray for the weak, and the strong may be strengthened by the prayers of the weak.

Observe here, 1. The qualification of that prayer, which at that time was effectual for the recovery of the sick person in a miraculous manner, it may be rendered an inspired prayer; as they that were actuated by the evil spirits, so such as were moved by the impulses of the Holy Spirit, were called Energoumenoi, in a good sense, the phrase properly signifies a prayer inwardly wrought and excited, and implies the efficacious influence of the Holy Spirit, and the force and vehemency of a Christian's spirit and affection exerted and put forth in the duty; in wrought prayer, or prayer that works in and upon our own hearts, has a mighty prevalency with God.

Observe, 2. The qualification of the person praying, a righteous man, not legally righteous, one in a state of sinless perfection, but a person justified by faith, and whose faith is fruitful in good works.

Observe, 3. The prevalency and efficacy of such a person's prayer; it availeth much ; he doth not say how much that is better experienced than expressed; it availeth much for ourselves, sometimes more for others than for ourselves.

Note, that the fervent prayers and intercessions of the righteous have a mighty prevalency with God, both for themselves and others.

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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on James 5:16". Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament. https: 1700-1703.

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae



James 5:16. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

PRAYER and intercession are generally considered as duties: but, if viewed aright, they would rather be regarded as privileges; seeing that they are the means of obtaining for ourselves and others those blessings which no created being can bestow. In this point of view, the passage before us, together with the preceding context, affords us the greatest possible encouragement. It is to be regretted, however, that instead of making a due improvement of these gracious declarations, the Papists have made use of them chiefly, if not solely, to advance the temporal interests of their clergy, at the expense of the eternal welfare of the laity.

On the direction given to “pray over a sick person, and to anoint him with oil in order to his recovery [Note: ver. 14, 15. The forgiveness of sin here mentioned refers only to the removal of any particular judgment that had been inflicted on account of sin. See John 5:14 and 1 Corinthians 11:30.],” they have founded an ordinance, to be observed when a man is absolutely past recovery: and that which was designed of God as emblematic only of a miraculous power, given at that time for the restoration of bodily health, they have established as the essential means in all ages of saving the immortal soul.

Again; Because the saints are encouraged to “confess their faults one to another,” with a view to the augmenting of their mutual sympathy, and the directing of them in their mutual intercessions [Note: ver. 16.], these deceivers have required the laity to confess their sins to the clergy, in order to their obtaining the forgiveness of them at the hands of God: whereas, according to St. James, there is no such deference due to any particular order of men; but the confession is as much required from the clergy to the laity, as from the laity to the clergy.

We stop not however to notice these grievous errors, but pass on to that which more immediately concerns ourselves; and to point out to you,

I. The import of the assertion before us—

The preceding context certainly leads our thoughts chiefly to the work of intercession: yet since it is also said, “Is any afflicted, let him pray [Note: ver. 13.],” we must not confine our attention to prayer as offered for others, but must notice it also as offered for ourselves. We say then, that when “a righteous man” draws nigh to God, and presents before him prayers inspired and dictated by the Holy Ghost (whose peculiar office it is to “help our infirmities” in prayer [Note: Romans 8:26.], and to “make intercession for us [Note: Romans 8:27.]”), he shall prevail;

1. For others—

[Of this the instances are so numerous, that we can only give a short specimen of them: yet shall it be such a specimen, as will abundantly confirm the truth before us.

We will begin with Moses, who, when God was exceedingly wroth with his people for making and worshipping the golden calf, set himself to pray and intercede for them. But God, feeling, if I may so say, how impossible it would be for him to resist the importunity of his servant, said, “Let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and,” if thou thinkest that my covenant with Abraham will be broken thereby, I assure thee it shall not; for “I will make of thee a great nation [Note: Exodus 32:10.].” But Moses would not “let him alone,” but pleaded for them with all imaginable earnestness and importunity: and the consequence was, “the Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people [Note: Exodus 32:14.]”

My next instance shall be that of Joshua, who, desiring to prosecute the advantage which he had gained over the Amorites, and destroy them utterly, prayed that neither the sun nor moon might advance in their course, but continue to aid him with their light, till he had accomplished his desire. To effect this, the whole universe must be arrested in its career; and such a shock be given to it, as to endanger its utter dissolution. But whatever stood in the way, it must yield to his prayer. Accordingly, no sooner did this righteous man issue the command, “Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon, and thou moon in the valley of Ajalon,” than all the laws of nature were suspended, “and the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, till the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day. And there was no day like that before it, or after it, that the Lord so hearkened to the voice of a man [Note: Joshua 10:12-14.].”

Here we have seen all the material creation stopped by the voice of prayer.—Now we will refer to another instance, wherein heaven itself is moved, and an angel sent from thence to fulfil the petitions of two chosen servants. Jerusalem was besieged, and utterly incapable of holding out against the enemy who was come against it. But Hezekiah and Isaiah betook themselves to prayer. And what was the result? An angel was sent from heaven to destroy, in one single night, one hundred and eighty-five thousand of the besieging army: and the blaspheming monarch, who had boasted that nothing could withstand him, was forced to return immediately to his own country, where he was slain by his own sons, whilst in the very act of worshipping the senseless idol in which he had trusted for success. For this cause, says the historian, “Hezekiah the king, and the Prophet Isaiah the son of Amos, prayed and cried to heaven. And the Lord sent an angel, which cut off all the mighty men of valour, and the leaders and captains in the camp of the king of Assyria. So he returned with shame of face to his own land. And when he was come into the house of his god, they that came forth of his own bowels slew him there with the sword [Note: 2 Chronicles 32:20-21.].”

One more instance I will mention, in order to shew how immediately the prayer of a righteous man succeeds. Daniel had understood, from the prophecies of Jeremiah, that the time for the close of the Babylonish captivity was near at hand: and he set himself to seek more particular instruction from God respecting it, in order that he might be able to take advantage of such circumstances as might occur for the benefit of his nation. “I set my face,” says he, “unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes: and I prayed unto the Lord my God.” And now behold the effect!—“And whiles I was speaking and praying, and confessing my sin, and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the Lord my God for the holy mountain of my God; yea, while I was speaking in prayer, even the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly swiftly, touched me about the time of the evening oblation, and informed me, and said, O Daniel, I am now come forth to give thee skill and understanding: at the beginning of thy supplications the commandment came forth; and I am come to shew thee all that thou didst ask [Note: Daniel 9:3-4; Daniel 9:20-23.].” See what expedition was used, by God’s special command, to answer whilst in the very act of prayer; and to let him know, that, at the very commencement of his suit, his prayer was heard!

More on this subject is unnecessary: yet less could scarcely have been spoken, if we would in any degree do justice to it.]

2. For ourselves—

[I mention this last, because it is, in reality, the greatest: for the prayers which are offered in behalf of others, prevail only for the obtaining of some temporal blessing: they cannot certainly procure for men the salvation of their souls: for, if they could, no creature would ever perish. When Stephen prayed, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge,” it prevailed probably in behalf of Saul, and perhaps of some others: but it cannot be supposed that it succeeded in behalf of all. But for a man’s own self his prayer is sure to prevail. There is no limit to the benefits which he shall receive, provided only he ask according to the will of God. He may not be answered in the particular way that he may desire. The cup, for the removal of which the Lord Jesus Christ himself prayed, was not taken out of his hands; nor was the thorn for the extraction of which St. Paul cried with such eager importunity removed: but both he and his divine Master were answered in a way more consonant with the purposes of Jehovah. But in some way, and that the best, prayer shall most assuredly be answered to all who cry to God in sincerity and truth [Note: Jeremiah 29:13.]. Whatever they ask in Christ’s name, shall be given them [Note: John 14:13-14; John 15:7; John 16:23 and 1 John 3:22; 1 John 5:14-15.]. Let them “open their mouth ever so wide, it shall be filled [Note: Psalms 81:10.].” They may exhaust all the powers of language in their petitions, and may then extend their thoughts to the utmost limit of a finite conception; and they shall not only have all, but more than all, yea, “abundantly above all that they can ask or think [Note: Ephesians 3:20.].”]

The assertion in our text deserves the most attentive consideration on its own account; but more especially on account of,

II. The insight which it gives us into truths of the greatest importance—

From this we obtain an insight into,

1. The character of God—

[We think of God, for the most part, as a Being of infinite majesty, who, unless in matters of very extraordinary moment, does not trouble himself with the concerns of men: and hence, if a person were to speak of having received answers to his prayers, he would be accounted wild, visionary, and presumptuous. But let God be viewed as he is represented in the text: let him be viewed as noticing with the deepest interest the very least and meanest of his children; as attending to their every cry, and treasuring up in his vials their every tear [Note: Psalms 56:8.]. Not so much as a “breathing” of theirs escapes his notice; or a desire, of which they themselves perhaps are scarcely conscious [Note: Psalms 145:18-19. Lamentations 3:56.]. The highest archangel does not more engage his attention, than does a poor despised Lazarus: nor is he less concerned about every individual amongst his people, than if there were but one in the whole universe. This is the true light in which to view his condescension and grace; of which a mother’s feelings towards her first-born child afford but a slender and very inadequate idea [Note: Isaiah 49:15.].]

2. The Christian’s state—

[In respect of external appearance, there is no difference between a child of God and any other person: but in reality, as they are viewed by God, they are widely dissimilar. In the one God beholds his own image: in the other, the image of the wicked one. On the one he looks with pleasure and complacency: the other he views afar off, with utter disdain [Note: Psalms 138:6.]. To the one his ears are open, to hear their every request [Note: Psalms 34:15-16.]: “the sacrifices of the other are an abomination to him [Note: Proverbs 15:8.].” Look at Abraham, when interceding for Sodom: there you see the friend of God. Look at those who, merely under the pressure of some calamity, cry and plead for help, whilst yet they have no love to God in their hearts: there you see the contrast; for God “laughs at their calamity, and mocks at their fear [Note: Proverbs 1:24-28.].” And all this is but a prelude to that which will speedily be accomplished in them; when the one shall be called to his right hand, and be exalted to a throne of glory; and the other be turned to his left hand, and be cast into the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone. Ungodly men endeavour to persuade themselves that all this is nothing but a vain conceit: but the Jews, notwithstanding all their blindness, could see that this difference did exist: “We know” say they, “that God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and do his will, him he heareth [Note: John 9:31.].” Do ye then know it: for, whether ye will believe it, or not, so it is: nor are light and darkness, Christ and Belial, heaven and hell, further asunder, than are the children of God, and the children of the wicked one [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:14-16.].]

3. The use and excellency of the Gospel—

[It is the Gospel alone that can bring a man into this happy state. Nothing else can shew him how to draw nigh to God with acceptance, or to obtain reconciliation with him. This exhibits to us a Saviour; a Saviour, who bought us with his blood. This brings us into union with that Saviour, so that we are made “one spirit with him [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:17.],” and are entitled to a participation of all that he himself possesses; “of the love wherewith the Father loveth him [Note: John 17:23.];” of “the joy with which his soul is filled [Note: John 17:13.];” and “of the glory which the Father hath given to him [Note: John 17:22.].” Here is the true secret of the difference of which we have before spoken. The believer is viewed as in Christ; as washed in his blood; as clothed in his righteousness; as altogether “one with him, even as the Father and Christ are one [Note: John 17:21.].” This accounts for all which we have before mentioned of the believer’s peculiar and exalted privileges. Let me then entreat you, beloved, to embrace the Gospel without delay; seeing that through that alone you can have access to God, and obtain that fellowship with him which it is your privilege to enjoy.]

To conclude—

[Bear in mind to whom these privileges belong: they belong exclusively to “the righteous man.” The ungodly and the hypocrite have no part in them. Seek then to attain the character of the righteous: seek it by faith in the Lord Jesus; “by whose obedience you shall be made righteous [Note: Romans 5:19.],” and by whose all-powerful grace you shall “be renewed after the Divine image in righteousness and true holiness [Note: Ephesians 4:24.].” Then shall all these blessings be yours. You shall be “a people near unto God [Note: Psalms 148:14.]:” yea, you shall “have power with God, and shall prevail [Note: Hosea 12:4.]” in all your supplications: even for others you shall prevail to a great extent, but for yourselves you shall obtain all the blessings both of grace and glory.]

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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on James 5:16". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https: 1832.

Heinrich Meyer's Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament

James 5:16 annexes a new thought to what has been said, which is, however, as the strongly attested οὖν shows, in close connection. From the special order James infers a general injunction, in which the intervening thought is to be conceived that the sick man confessed his sins to the presbyters for the purpose of their intercession; Christians generally are to practise the same duty of confession toward each other. It is incorrect, with Chrysostom (de sacerd. I. III.) and several ancient and other expositors, to refer the injunction contained in this verse to the above-mentioned relation of the presbyters and the sick to each other, and accordingly to paraphrase it, with Pott: ὑμεῖς ἀσθενούντες ἐξομολογεῖσθε τοῖς πρεσβυτέροις τὰ παραπτώματα ὑμῶν καὶ ὑμεῖς πρεσβύτεροι εὔχεσθε ὑπὲρ τῶν ἀσθενούντων; for by this not only is violence done to the language, but also an intolerable tautology arises. ἀλλήλοις can only be referred to the relation of individual believers to each other, so that Cajetan correctly says: nec hic est sermo de confessione sacramentali. Some expositors incorrectly restrict the general expression παραπτώματα to such sins which one commits against another; Wolf: de illis tantum peccatis sermo est, quae alter in alterum commisit, quorumque veniam ab altero poscit; Bengel: aegrotus et quisquis offendit, jubetur confiteri; offensus orare. The passage treats not of human, but of the divine forgiveness; and thus of sins not as offences against our neighbour, but as violations of the law of God.(245)

καὶ εὔχεσθε ὑπὲρ ἀλλήλων] το ἐξομολόγησις intercession for one another is to be conjoined; indeed, the former takes place in order that the latter may follow. The contents of the prayer is naturally the divine forgiveness, but the aim to be attained thereby is ὅπως ἰαθῆτε. The word ἰᾶσθαι is in the N. T. used both literally and figuratively (Hebrews 12:13; 1 Peter 2:24). After the example of several expositors (Hottinger, de Wette, Wiesinger), the first meaning has hitherto in this commentary been ascribed to ἰαθῆτε, on account of the connection of this verse with what goes before; but since among ἀλλήλοις are certainly to be understood not only the sick, and James indicates by nothing that his injunction refers only to them, it is more correct to take ἰαθῆτε here, in its proper reference to παραπτώματα, in a figurative sense (Estius, Carpzov, Grotius, Gebser, and others); whether James likewise thought on a bodily healing taking place in the cases occurring (Schneckenburger, Kern) must remain undetermined.

It is to be remarked that the prayer of the presbyters does not exclude the common intercession of the members of the church, and that the efficacy attributed to the latter is not less than that attributed to the former.

πολὺ ἰσχύει δέησις δικαίου ἐνεργουμένη] is added by James for the purpose of strengthening the above exhortation; the asyndeton connection is with him not remarkable. The stress is on πολὺ ἰσχύει, consequently it stands first. δίκαιος, equivalent to the Hebrew צַרִּיק, is, according to the Christian view of James, he who in faith performs the works of νόμος ἐλευθερίας.

With regard to ἐνεργουμένη, expositors have introduced much that is arbitrary. Most take the participle as an adjective belonging to δέησις, and then attempt to explain the expression δέησις ἐνεργουμένη. Oecumenius leaves the word itself unexplained, but he lays stress on the point that the prayer of the righteous is only then effectual when he, for whom it is offered, συμπράττῃ διὰ κακώσεως πνευματικῆς with the suppliant. Michaelis explains it: preces agitante Spiritu sancto effusae; Carpzov: δέησις διὰ πίστεως ἐνεργουμένη; Gebser understands prayer in which the suppliant himself works for the accomplishment of his wish; similarly Calvin: tunc vere in actu est oratio, quum succurrere contendimus iis, qui laborant. According to the usual explanation, ἐνεργουμένη is assumed to be synonymous with ἐνεργής or ἐνεργός ( ἐκτενής, Luke 22:44; Acts 12:5), “strenuus,” “intentus,” “earnest,” etc., and this qualification of the prayer of the righteous man is attached to πολὺ ἰσχύει as its condition; Luther: “if it is earnest” (so Wiesinger, and similarly Erasmus, Beza, Gataker, Hornejus, Grotius, Wolf, Baumgarten, Hottinger, Schneckenburger, Theile, Bouman, and others). This explanation, however, has not only, as Wiesinger confesses, N. T. usage against it, but this qualification cannot be taken as the condition of πολὺ ἰσχύει, but is rather the statement of the characteristic nature of the prayer of the righteous man. It would be more correct to adhere to the verbal meaning of the participle (so Pott, whose paraphrases, however: πολὺ ἰσχύει [ δύναται] ἐνεργεῖν, or: πολὺ ἰσχύει καὶ ἐνεργεῖ δέησις, are arbitrary), and to explain it: the prayer of the righteous man availeth much, whilst it works (not: “if it applies itself to working,” de Wette), i.e. in its working. That it does work is assumed; that, besides working, it πολὺ ἰσχύει, which James brings forward and confirms by the following example of Elias.(246)

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Meyer, Heinrich. "Commentary on James 5:16". Heinrich Meyer's Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. https: 1832.

Johann Albrecht Bengel's Gnomon of the New Testament

James 5:16. ἐξομολογεῖσθε, confess) The sick man, and whoever has committed an offence, is ordered to confess: the injured party, to pray. The things to be confessed are those which especially burden the conscience: he to whom the confession is made, knows better how he ought to pray, and is more stirred up to prayer.— ἀλλήλοις, to one another, mutually) Confession may be made to any one who is able to pray.— ὅπως ἰαθῆτε, that ye may be healed) Diseases therefore were prevalent.— πολὺ, much) even to the restoration of health.— ἰσχύει, avails) even for another.— δικαίου, of the just) who is not himself involved in any fall (lapse into sin).— ἐνεργουμένη, having efficacy) Efficacy is followed by a favourable hearing: it is by this that prayer avails. There are therefore three things: (1.) efficacy of prayer; (2.) a favourable hearing; (3.) τὸ ἰσχύειν, the availing. This at length follows from the two former. The first is internal in the mind of him who prays: the third produces effects even on outward things.

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Bengel, Johann Albrecht. "Commentary on James 5:16". Johann Albrecht Bengel's Gnomon of the New Testament. https: 1897.

Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible

Confess your faults; some copies have the illative particle, therefore, in the text, but even without that here seems to be a connexion between this and the former verse: he had said, the sick man’s sins should be forgiven upon the elders’ praying; and here he adds, that they must be confessed.

One to another; either, that ye may be reconciled to one another when offended, or rather, confess when admonished or reproved for sin, or wounded in your consciences with the sense of it: and so this is not meant of auricular confession made to a priest, but such as should be made, though especially to ministers, yet, when need is, even to godly, experienced Christians, for the easing and disburdening men’s consciences, and getting the help of others’ prayers.

And pray one for another; both in other ordinary cases, and chiefly npon occasion of your mutual confessions, and those soul-troubles that prompted you to them.

That ye may be healed; not only recover bodily health when sick, but spiritual, when weakened or wounded by sin. Healing is often applied to the soul as well as the body, Matthew 13:15 Luke 4:18 Hebrews 12:13 1 Peter 2:24.

The effectual fervent prayer: our translators use two words (and little enough) to express the significancy of the Greek word in this place: some translate it inwrought; it seems to be a prayer wrought in the soul by the Holy Spirit, and so may imply both the efficiency of God’s Spirit, (the Spirit of supplications, Zechariah 12:10), and the vehemency of holy affections caused by him in prayer, Romans 8:26.

Of a righteous man; one sincerely righteous, and in a gospel sense; the following instance of Elias shows that it is not to be understood of a man absolutely righteous.

Availeth much; is very powerful with God for obtaining what is desired, 1 John 5:14; whereas God heareth not sinners, Proverbs 15:8,29.

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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on James 5:16". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https: 1685.

Justin Edwards' Family Bible New Testament

One to another; where you have injured one another.

Be healed; that the calamities which your sins have occasioned may be removed.

Effectual; sincere, earnest, believing.

Availeth much; has great influence in procuring blessings from God. Interpreting this verse as if it said, Confess your sins to the priest, is another gross perversion of scripture, which, when the Bible shall be read by all, will be seen. It is not strange, therefore, that the pope warns his people against reading it and judging of its meaning; because when they do, they will see that it condemns him.

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Edwards, Justin. "Commentary on James 5:16". "Family Bible New Testament". https: American Tract Society. 1851.

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges

16. ἐξομολογεῖσθεὅπως ἰαθῆτε. It is disputed whether ἰαθῆτε be used of physical healing or in a figurative sense. The context certainly points rather to the first explanation. St James urges the practice (note the present imperatives) of mutual confession and intercessory prayer as appointed means of recovery from sickness.

πολὺ ἰσχύει κ.τ.λ. In its primary sense this clause is to be taken with the preceding words. Prayer of a righteous man is a strong force, an effective remedy in its working. ἐνεργουμένη, middle not passive, as the following examples seem to shew: 2 Corinthians 1:6 εἴτε παρακαλούμεθα, ὑπὲρ τῆς ὑμῶν παρακλήσεως τῆς ἐνεργουμένης ἐν ὑπομονῇ τῶν αὐτῶν παθημάτων ὦν καὶ ἡμεῖς πάσχομεν, James 4:12 ὁ θάνατος ἐν ἡμῖν ἐνεργεῖται, Ephesians 3:20 κατὰ τὴν δύναμιν τὴν ἐνεργουμένην ἐν ἡμῖν. See also Colossians 1:29, 1 Thessalonians 2:13, 2 Thessalonians 2:7.

The participle may indicate either (a) the cause, or (b) the time of the effectiveness of the prayer; that is (a) through its working, or (b) while it is working, is in activity.

As an instance of such effective prayer, which must have been often present to St James’ mind, see Acts 12:12, when St Peter, delivered from prison, came to the house of Mary, οὖ ἦσαν ἰκανοὶ συνηθροισμένοι καὶ προσευχόμενοι. See James 5:17 ἀπαγγείλατε Ἰακώβῳ καὶ τοῖς ἀδελφοῖς ταῦτα. St James’ own practice strikingly agreed with his words here: μόνος εἰσήρχετο εἰς τὸν ναόν, ηὑρίσκετό τε κείμενος ἐπὶ τοῖς γόνασι, καὶ αἰτούμενος ὑπὲρ τοῦ λαοῦ ἄφεσιν, ὡς ἀπεσκληκέναι τὰ γόνατα αὐτοῦ δίκην καμήλου, Hegesip. ap. Eus. H. E. II. 23.

The great physician, Sir Andrew Clark, two days before his death, said in answer to a question: “Not value prayers! Prayer is that which moves more than medicine; prayer is all powerful: it is the basis of love. Pray for me always.”

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"Commentary on James 5:16". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". https: 1896.

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

16. In order that the sins may be known and prayed for, confess your faults—This not in the public congregation, where the effect would be bad; but individually, one to another, in a most sincere and penitent way. We now have a fuller description of the nature of that prayer of faith that will save.

The effectual—The Greek word (taken in the middle voice) is defined effective, which makes it almost a tautology. We prefer, with the old English commentators Hammond, Bull, Benson, and Macknight, to take it in the passive voice, so that it would signify energized, or inwrought, that is, by the divine Spirit. The Greek commentator OEcumenius considers it passive, and makes it mean energized, that is, by the co-operative prayer of the patient himself. And Michaelis (quoted by Huther) defines the phrase, preces agitante Spiritu sancto effusae, prayers poured forth prompted by the Holy Spirit. This last most nearly expresses the true thought. The prayer is a special prayer, wrought by the divine in the human, by which the supernatural result is produced. This accords with the old distinction between the faith of justification and the faith of miracles. Such faith is the special gift of God, and is accompanied often, if not always, with full supernatural assurance that the prayer is to be answered and the work accomplished.

And this furnishes, we apprehend, a fair answer to Mr. Tyndall’s celebrated “prayer test.” He proposed that a certain number of sick in a hospital be set apart for whose recovery prayer should be made, and that comparative statistics should decide whether any effect was produced. The fair answer would seem to be, that the English Church, and most Protestant Churches, do not claim that the gift of healing remains in the Church. If it did, with exact results, of course the medical profession could be mostly spared. Nor does the Church claim by prayer at will to overrule the forces of nature. When such things are done in answer to prayer, not only the result but the prayer is supernatural and extraordinary. Note on Matthew 17:20. Such a “test” the prophet Elijah did (1 Kings 18:17-40) propose with triumphant result; but he did it, evidently, under special divine premonition. And only with such an inspired premonition could any one now, wisely or authoritatively, accept and institute such “test.” The supernatural fulfilment of a prayer is a sovereign act, “reserved by the Father in his own power;” and it would, undoubtedly, be a presumptuous act for any one, unimpelled by divine assurance, to contract with a sceptic or a divine interposition. We said on Matthew 17:20, (written long before the proposal of the “test,”) “God gives no man faith wherewith to play miraculous pranks;”

and we now add, or to make miraculous contracts. A claim over the forces of nature by prayer at will would be a claim to throw the established course of events out of order, and to take the processes of nature out of the hands of the God of nature. But in the sphere of the Spirit, in the region of mental forces, the case is different. We may say that, according to the laws of the spiritual world, in the kingdom of Christ, prayer is the stated antecedent to spiritual effects, to regeneration, sanctification, and salvation. And, hence, the evangelical Church, whatever Romanism may claim, is chary in praying for secular or mechanical results, and, even when praying for them, leaves them humbly to the divine will. She prays for souls rather than for bodies, and for heavenly rather than for earthly goods.

The word fervent is superfluous, having no correspondent Greek word in the text. And the word effectual produces, apparently, a flat truism, making the sentence say, that an effectual prayer is effectual.

Of a righteous man—It is the holy prayer, divinely inwrought, of a holy man.

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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on James 5:16". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https: 1874-1909.

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

‘Confess therefore your sins one to another, and pray one for another, that you may be made whole. The supplication of a righteous man avails much in its working.’

And finally we come to a general injunction that covers all: those under trial (who should be rejoicing); those who are enjoying wholesomeness and are singing God’s praises; and those who are sick and needing a touch from God. And what are they to do? They are to ‘confess their sins one to another’ (not be it noted to a special person). There is to be the expression of an air of openness in the fellowship and a walking in the light with each other (1 John 1:5-7). Any who need help or prayer, any who are conscious of a barrier that remains unremoved between themselves and God, and any who are aware of a barrier between themselves and someone else in the fellowship, may come openly to the congregation, if they have not been willing to sort it out alone with each other first, or if it has not proved possible (Matthew 18:15-17). And there all obstacles to fellowship should be removed. There in the presence of God in the fellowship all dividing barriers must be thrown down. Then they are to pray for each other that they might be made whole. The verb is used in Matthew 13:15; Luke 4:13; John 12:40; 1 Peter 2:24 (where it is through His stripes) to indicate the bringing of men and women to spiritual wholeness.

It would seem probable that James, having recognised the benefit to the sick person of the previous verse of also having his sins dealt with, had gone on to recognise its value too for the whole church. This was not an injunction to have a ‘confession session’ in which everyone was expected to confess. Nor was it a provision for priestly absolution (it is to ‘one another’). But it is to suggest that opportunity should be given for such ‘confession’, and that Christians genuinely burdened should be encouraged to participate (not necessarily in the main services in a large congregation). There is nothing worse or unspiritual than people having to think of minor peccadilloes in order to be able to confess (and at a pinch even ‘inventing some’). Or perhaps we are wrong, for there is something worse. And that is for no opportunity being given for people to genuinely put things right. Both extremes should be avoided. It is, however, an interesting fact that when genuine ‘Revival’ comes (like the Welsh Revival or the Great Awakening) such confessions of the people of God become the norm. At such times Christians are desperate to ‘put things right’.

‘Their sin.’ The word for sins is paraptoma. While the distinction must not be pressed there are indications in its use as compared with hamartia that it refers to ‘lesser sins’ (if such there can be). That use is confirmed in the secular papyri. The admission here is of ‘everyday sins’ not of the more heinous kinds of sin.

‘Made whole.’ The word here is regularly used of healing, but it is also commonly used for being spiritually made whole (see Matthew 13:15 ‘lest they turn and be made whole’; Luke 4:13 ‘heal the broken-hearted’; John 12:40, ‘and turn for Me to make them whole’; 1 Peter 2:24, ‘by His stripes we are made whole’). It should be noted that it is a different word from that in James 5:15 (and also in James 5:20) , indicating a change of emphasis. Although similar James does not appear to want the two ideas too closely connected.

Of course the prayer can include prayer for the sick, but that is not prominent in this injunction. That has already been dealt with in the previous verse. This verse is for the troubled, the untroubled and the sick alike, in order to ensure that all are spiritually whole. It is to give them the opportunity to bring their needs before the congregation so that they might be prayed for and mutually encouraged, while at the same time stirring the consciences of some who sit quietly in the background, so that they too might be made whole.

And then is added the final assurance, that their supplications will be effective, because ‘The supplication of a righteous man avails much in its working’ (RV/ASV), or ‘the prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects’ (RSV). Note the assumption that they are the righteous, for they are all His sons and daughters (2 Corinthians 6:18). And the assurance is that their prayers will be effective for that reason. But the Scripture also make clear that if we come to pray with expectancy it must be with prepared hearts. ‘If I regard iniquity in my heart the Lord will not hear me’ (Psalms 66:18). The hands that will be lifted up must be ‘holy hands’ (hands set apart to God - 1 Timothy 2:8). If we would come to God we must first make sure that we are right with others (Matthew 5:23-24). But the whole is a reminder that we should indeed ‘pray one for another that we might be made whole’.

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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on James 5:16". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https: 2013.

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable

In view of the possibility of spiritual and physical sickness following sin, believers should confess their sins (against one another) to one another (normally privately). Furthermore they should pray for one another so God may heal them (spiritually and physically).

"Much is assumed here that is not expressed." [Note: Robertson, 6:65.]

James assumed these facts, I believe, that are consistent with other revelation concerning prayer that the writers of Scripture give elsewhere. [Note: See Thomas L. Constable, Talking to God: What the Bible Teaches about Prayer, pp129-30.]

"In the ancient mind sin and sickness went together, and so confession of sin was necessary if prayer for the sick was to be effective. The confession is to be not only to the elders (or other ministers) but to one another, that Isaiah , probably to those they have wronged." [Note: Adamson, p189.]

Husbands and wives need to create an atmosphere in the home that promotes transparency (cf. Colossians 3:12-13). We need to demonstrate total acceptance of our mate (cf. 1 John 4:18). We also need to show an attitude of constant forgiveness ( Ephesians 4:31-32). Spouses should make a commitment to verbalize their emotions without pulling back or quitting. This involves acknowledging our emotions, explaining and describing our feelings, and sharing our feelings regardless of our mate"s response.

Here are some suggestions for improving your ability to express your emotions. Practice sharing your emotions with your mate. Find a model of transparency and study him or her. Read the psalms to see how the psalmists expressed their emotions. Memorize selected proverbs that deal with specific areas in which you have difficulty. Focus on communication as a special subject of study. Share laughter together. [Note: Family Life Conference, pp78-79.]

"We must never confess sin beyond the circle of that sin"s influence. Private sin requires private confession; public sin requires public confession. It is wrong for Christians to "hang dirty wash in public," for such "confessing" might do more harm than the original sin." [Note: Wiersbe, p170. See also John R. W. Stott, Confess your Sins, p12.]

"Perhaps . . . the "sins" that need to be confessed and remitted are those lapses from faithful endurance that James has written to warn about throughout the course of this hortatory tract." [Note: Martin, p215.]

"Does all this mean that confession to a brother is a divine law? No, confession is not a law, it is an offer of divine help for the sinner. It is possible that a person may by God"s grace break through to certainty, new life, the Cross, and fellowship without benefit of confession to a brother. It is possible that a person may never know what it is to doubt his own forgiveness and despair of his own confession of sin, that he may be given everything in his own private confession to God. We have spoken here for those who cannot make this assertion. Luther himself was one of those for whom the Christian life was unthinkable without mutual, brotherly confession. In the Large Catechism he said: "Therefore when I admonish you to confession I am admonishing you to be a Christian". Those who, despite all their seeking and trying, cannot find the great joy of fellowship, the Cross, the new life, and certainty should be shown the blessing that God offers us in mutual confession. Confession is within the liberty of the Christian. Who can refuse, without suffering loss, a help that God has deemed it necessary to offer?" [Note: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, p92.]

"The practice of auricular confession was not made generally obligatory even by the Church of Rome till the Lateran Council of1215 under Innocent III, which ordered that every adult person should confess to the priest at least once in the year. In all other Churches it is still optional." [Note: Mayor, p176.]

A righteous man"s prayers can accomplish much in the spiritual and physical deliverance of someone else, as Elijah"s praying illustrates ( James 5:17-18). In this verse the "righteous man" is the person who has confessed his sins and has received forgiveness.

"Prayer is powerful for only one reason. It is the means whereby we avail ourselves of the power of God." [Note: C. Samuel Storms, Reaching God"s Ear, p214.]

Evidently James practiced what he preached about prayer. Eusebius, the early church historian, quoted Hegesippus, an earlier commentator, who gave, Eusebius claimed, an accurate account of James.

"He was in the habit of entering the temple alone, and was often found upon his bended knees, and interceding for the forgiveness of the people; so that his knees became as hard as camel"s, in consequence of his habitual supplication and kneeling before God." [Note: The Ecclesiastical . . ., p76.]

"The truth of James 5:13-16 is applicable for believers today. James was not discussing sickness in general, nor necessarily severe illness that doctors cannot heal. Rather he was speaking of sickness that is the result of unrighteous behavior. James did not write to give a definitive statement on the healing of all sickness for Christians. The passage sheds light on God"s dealing with those in the early church whose actions were not pleasing to him. This text speaks about individuals who sin against the Lord and, in light of the context for the book, especially those who sin with their tongues. If church members today took this passage seriously, it would bring about significant results, just as did Elijah"s prayer. When Christians recognize sinful attitudes and wrongful behavior and turn to the Lord, the result is forgiveness and restoration and, in specific cases in which sickness is the result of a particular sin, there can be physical healing." [Note: Wendell G. Johnston, "Does James Give Believers a Pattern for Dealing with Sickness and Healing?" in Integrity of Heart, Skillfulness of Hands, p174.]

"There is no such thing as (so to speak) "non-spiritual" healing. When the aspirin works, it is the Lord who has made it work; when the surgeon sets the broken limb and the bone knits, it is the Lord who has made it knit. Every good gift is from above! ... On no occasion should a Christian approach the doctor without also approaching God ..." [Note: Motyer, The Message . . ., p193.]

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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on James 5:16". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https: 2012.

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament

James 5:16. Confess your faults. Here we are led especially to think on wrongs inflicted upon others—offences against the law of love; but there is no reason to limit the term to any kind of sins; it comprehends sins against God as well as against man.

one to another. On this verse chiefly do the Romanists found their doctrine of auricular confession, that it is the duty of believers to confess their sins to the priest. But for this dogma there is not the slightest foundation in this passage; the confession is to be made not to the priest, but to one another; it is a mutual confession, so that the priest should confess to the penitent, as well as the penitent to the priest.

and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. Some restrict this to bodily healing, as in the case of the sickness mentioned above. But there is no reason for this restriction; as the confession and the prayer are mutual, spiritual healing may also be included. The term, therefore, is to be taken generally, including both spiritual and bodily healing. And certainly confession has a healing efficacy. There is no burden heavier to bear than the burden of some guilty secret. Now this burden is lessened, if not removed, by confession. Confession expels sin from the soul, and restores a man to his true self; whereas secrecy retains sin, and causes a man to live a false life.

The effectual fervent prayer. The Greek word here rendered ‘effectual fervent’ has been differently translated. Literally it means energetic or operative. Some, regarding it as passive, render it ‘inwrought,’ that is, by the Holy Spirit—‘inspired prayer.’ Others render it ‘the prayer of a righteous man availeth much in its working;’(1) that is, worketh very effectually. Perhaps the word ‘fervent’ by itself, or ‘earnest,’ gives the correct meaning; the word ‘effectual’ in our version is wholly superfluous; the earnest prayer of a righteous man availeth much. Prayer, in order to prevail, must proceed from an earnest heart, and be made by a righteous man; that is, by a good, sincere, true-hearted man.

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Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on James 5:16". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https: 1879-90.

The Expositor's Greek Testament

James 5:16. ἐξομολογεῖσθεἁμαρτίας: see critical note above. Confession of sins has always played an important part in Judaism; the O.T. word for confession of sins is תודה,(62) the later term, which denotes more particularly the liturgical form of confession, is וידוִי. Private as well as public confession was enjoined, and many forms of confession, both general and particular, exist, among others one for the sick; it was the duty of the Rabbis to urge the sick person to confess his sins. Confession is regarded as a meritorious act: according to Sanhedrin, 103 a, it has the effect of enabling the worst sinners to inherit everlasting life (see, among other authorities, Hamburger’s Realencycl. des Judent, article “Sündenbekenntniss”.). For the custom of the early Church cf. Didache, iv. 14, xiv. 1.— προσεύχεσθε ὑπὲρ ἀλλήλων: the need of intercessory prayer is strongly emphasised in O.T., N.T. and the later Jewish literature, see above and the next note.— πολὺ ἰσχύει δέησις δικαίου ἐνεργουμένη: one is reminded of the well-known instance of Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai (end of first century, A.D.) who, when in need of the prayers of a righteous man on behalf of his sick child, said, “Although I am greater in learning than Chaninah, he is more efficacious in prayer; I am, indeed, the Prince, but he is the steward who has constant access to the King” (Berachoth, 34 b). A curious saying of Rabbi Isaac is contained in Jebamoth, 64 a: “The prayer of the righteous is comparable to a pitchfork; as the pitchfork changes the position of the wheat so the prayer changes the disposition of God from wrath to mercy” (quoted in Jewish Encycl., x. 169). With δικαίου cf. δίκαιον in James 5:6. On ἐνεργουμένη see Mayor’s elaborate note.

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Nicol, W. Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on James 5:16". The Expositor's Greek Testament. https: 1897-1910.

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

James 5:16. Confess your faults — Whether you are sick or in health; one to another — He does not say to the elders; this may or may not be done, for it is nowhere commanded. We may confess them to any pious person who can pray in faith: he will then know how to pray for us, and will be more excited so to do. And pray one for another, that ye may be healed — Both in soul and body. Let it be observed, 1st, This passage of Scripture, only enjoining true believers to confess their sins to one another, affords no foundation for the Popish practice of auricular confession to a priest. Besides, mutual confession being here enjoined, the priest is as much bound to confess to the people as the people to the priest. 2d, This direction being addressed to women as well as to men, they are required to pray for one another, and even for the men, whether laity or clergy. 3d, There is no mention made here of absolution by a priest, or by any other person. 4th, Absolution, in the sound sense of the word, being nothing but a declaration of the promises of pardon which are made in the gospel to penitent sinners, every one who understands the gospel doctrine may declare these promises to penitent sinners as well as any bishop or priest whatever, and the one has no more authority to do it than the other: nay, every sincere penitent may expect salvation without the absolution of any person whatever: whereas the impenitent have no reason to expect that blessing, although absolved by all the priests in the world. See Dr. Benson. The effectual fervent prayer — Greek, δεησις ενεργουμενη, a singular expression, which Macknight renders, the inwrought prayer; and Doddridge, the prayer wrought by the energy of the Spirit; and Whitby, the inspired prayer, observing, “as they who were inwardly acted by an evil spirit were styled ενεργουμενοι, (persons inwardly wrought upon,) so they who were acted by the Holy Spirit, and inwardly moved by his impulses, were also ενεργουμενοι, inwardly wrought upon, in the good sense: and therefore it seems most proper to apply these words, not to the prayer of every righteous person, but to the prayer offered by such an extraordinary impulse.” Doubtless every prayer of every righteous person is not here intended, but every truly righteous person has the Spirit of Christ, without which no man can belong to him, and is led, more or less, by the Spirit of God, otherwise he could not be a son of God, Romans 8:9; Romans 8:14; and every such a one walks not after the flesh, but after the Spirit, Romans 8:1 : and therefore, if not always, yet sometimes, yea, generally, such a one, as Jude expresses it, (James 5:20,) prays in the Holy Ghost; that is, in and by his influence, and therefore in a spirit of true, genuine prayer, feeling sincere and earnest desires after the blessings which he asks, and being enabled to offer those desires up unto God in faith or confidence, that he shall receive what he asks. And this fervent, energetic prayer is evidently the prayer here intended, and said to avail much, or to be of great efficacy, being frequently and remarkably answered by God’s granting the petitions thus addressed to him.

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Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on James 5:16". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https: 1857.

George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary

Confess, therefore, your sins, &c. Divers interpreters expound this of sacramental confession, though, as the authors of the annotations on the Rheims Testament observe, this is not certain. The words one to another, may signify that it is not enough to confess to God, but that we must also confess to men, and not to every man, but to those whom God appointed, and to whom he hath given the power of remitting sins in his name. I cannot but observe that no mention at all is made, "in the visitation and communion of the sick," in the Protestant common prayer book, of this comfortable passage out of St. James, of calling in the priests of the Church, of their anointing him with oil....and that his sins shall be forgiven him. Perhaps having laid aside that sacrament, it seemed to them better to say nothing of those words. But such a confession as is practised by all Catholics, is at least there advised. "The sick person," saith the book of common prayer, "here shall be moved to make a special confession of his sins....After which confession, the priest shall absolve him after this sort. Our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath left power to his Church to absolve all sinners, who truly repent, forgive thee....and by his authority committed to me, I absolve thee from all thy sins, in the name of the Father, " &c. Here is a special confession, or a confession of particular sins; here is a power of forgiving sins in God's name, acknowledged to be given to the Church, and to priests; here are the very same words used by every Catholic priest in the sacrament of penance. This is clearly ordained in their liturgy: how far it is complied with, I know not. (Witham) --- One to another. That is, to the priests of the Church, whom (ver. 14.) he had ordered to be called for, and brought in to the sick: moreover, to confess to persons who had no power to forgive sins, would be useless. Hence the precept here means that we must confess to men whom God hath appointed, and who, by their ordination and jurisdiction, have receive the power of remitting sins in his name. (Challoner) --- Pray for one another. Here is recommended prayer in general, as a most necessary Christian duty. He encourages them to it by the example of Elias [Elijah]. (Witham)

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Haydock, George Leo. "Commentary on James 5:16". "George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary". https: 1859.

Mark Dunagan Commentary on the Bible

"Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much."

"Therefore"-We have here a connecting link with what has been previously stated. The Greek word translated "therefore" is not found in some Greek manuscripts but it is found in many. James has already linked healing and confession of sins together in . While every physical disease is not the direct result of our sins, some can be traced to sins which are kept hidden and persisted in. The guilt which sin produces in the human heart can cause a lot of physical, mental and emotional damage. In the book "None of These Diseases", the author has a chapter entitled, "Upset Mind-Sick Body". He points that anxiety, probably places more stress on the heart than any other stimulus, including physical exercise and fatigue. Through such things as worry, anger and guilt we can literally make ourselves sick. Man wasn"t designed by God to be a vessel to carry around guilt. See Psalms 32:1-5; Psalms 38:1-8 for a good description of how unforgiven sin can make us miserable, physically and mentally.

"confess your sins"-"Confess"-"to confess forth, freely and openly" (Vine p. 764). "Be in the habit of confessing your sins" (Roberts p. 220). James here uses the present imperative of continuous action. "We are not to wait until we are ill to do so" (Roberts p. 220). Unfortunately, at times we wait until our guilt is so unbearable, and suffer needlessly before we are willing to repent. Too many of us think that we can live with and get by with some sin in our lives. "Sins"-(KJV "faults"), "false step, transgression, sin" (Arndt p. 621).

Points To Note:

1. "Because sin is so pervasive in human life, there is continual need for both spiritual sensitivity and appropriate action where sin has been committed" (Kent pp. 191-192). 2. Draper notes, ""Confession" in the original language comes from a Greek word meaning "to say the same thing" or "to agree with". When we confess sin to God, we are agreeing with God"s assessment of our lives. We say the same thing God says to us" (p. 164). 3. Hence when we confess our sins we need to be honest and call such things what God calls them. In addition, it doesn"t do any good to overstate the case and say things like, "I"m just no good, I can"t do anything right, others would be better off if I were dead". Because such statements are not what God thinks about us.

"to one another"-"reciprocally, mutually" (Thayer p. 28); "each other, mutually" (Arndt p. 39).

Points To Note:

1. Carefully note that James 5:16 is not teaching an arrangement in which confession is purely one way, i.e. one person does all the confessing and all the time. It is assumed that all Christians will commit sin from time to time (1 John 1:8-10). 2. From other passages we learn that we especially need to confess our sin(s) to the person we have wronged (Matthew 18:15). That our confession is to be as public as the sin committed. There is nothing inherently in the word "confess" itself which indicates whether the confession is public or private, or how public or how private. I believe that Matthew 18:15-17 can be used to demonstrate that the confession needs to be only as public as the people who know about the sin. 3. Other people don"t have the inherent power to grant forgiveness (Acts 8:22-24), and yet there are times when we might feel that we need the prayers and encouragement of others to overcome a particular sin. In this case we might pick a strong Christian whom we could trust, who would pray with us and help us to overcome a particular temptation (Galatians 6:1). In the context of James 5:1-20, the elders of the Church would constitute a group of individuals who would be qualified by their wisdom and experience to give us spiritual encouragement.

Auricular Confession

"When sinning has occurred, the confession required here is not to a priest but "to one another"" (Kent p. 192). The Private confession of sins before the priest alone was made compulsory by the Fourth Lateran Council (1215 A.D.). Auricular Confession is based on a couple of wrong assumptions: A. The priests are the successors of the Apostles, when in reality the Apostles had no successors (Acts 1:20-26; 1 Corinthians 15:8). B. Jesus gave the Apostles inherent authority to decide human conditions for forgiveness, i.e. how many and what and which good works were needed to be performed for such and such sin? The truth is that the Apostles revealed the divine terms of forgiveness (John 20:21-23), which are faith, repentance, confession and baptism for non-Christians, and prayer and repentance for Christians (1 John 1:8-10). Note that the confession in James 5:16 includes a mutual obligation. Roberts notes, "The Roman Catholic doctrine of Auricular Confession has no support from the passage. In the first place, "elders" here does not refer to a priestly set of workers. Elders here are not given power to absolve a sinner or to set conditions on which he may be forgiven. The only conditions of forgiveness are those laid down in the gospel of confession and repentance….Finally, "to one another" means that any brother chosen may rightly hear the confession and make intercession (Galatians 6:1)" (p. 221).

Discipleship Partners

Another abuse of this passage is seen in what has evolved from the Crossroads Movement, to the Boston Movement, to the Discipling Movement, to the International Churches of Christ Movement. Whether they are called Prayer Partners or Discipleship Partners, the concept is the same. Wherein a Christian is set over you and it is your duty to confess to that specific Christian all your sins, and yet that Christian doesn"t confess any of their sins to you. In this system there is another abuse, that is, the sins you confess are not kept in confidence and forgotten, rather they are relayed up the chain of command. Kent reminds us, "This passage is not sufficient warrant for an indiscriminate and continuing baring of the soul to others, with perhaps the temptation to outdo one"s comrades in the number or magnitude of things confessed. It does suggest that specific wrongs should be made to those who have been wronged, and that sinfulness that was public and has tainted the whole church should be confessed before the church" (p. 192).

"and pray for one another"-that is, keep on praying for one another. "Praying one for another is the key to what God wants to do in our lives. It is hard to be mad at someone for whom we are praying. It is hard to be unkind and cynical toward someone we are praying for" (Draper p. 164). Paul often requested prayers from his brethren on his behalf (Philippians 1:3; 2 Thessalonians 3:1; see Acts 12:5; Acts 8:20-23).

"so that you may be healed"-the word "healed" is used of both spiritual and physical healing. Forgiven sin can certainly help a person feel physically better, one might even live longer if they get rid of the guilt, but the healing here is probably more in the line of being healed from your sins. Woods notes, "An impenitent person would not likely call for the elders of the church….God will not bestow his blessings upon those who insist on maintaining a barrier between themselves and him" (p. 306). In this section it is at times hard to distinguish physical and spiritual healing and that might have been intentional on God"s part. For it is very hard to sin without that affecting you in some physical sense. The world has bought into the myth that we can remain physically and emotionally healthy while spurning God. That our physical, emotional and mental health is completely unrelated to our spiritual health.

"The effective prayer"-"effectual fervent prayer" (KJV); "in its working" (ASV). "to display activity, show oneself operative" (Thayer p. 215). "to work in, be active, operative" (Vine p. 232).

"Prayer"-"a seeking, asking, entreating, entreaty" (Thayer p. 126); "primarily a wanting, a need, then asking, entreaty, supplication" (Vine p. 200). "Used of a specific kind of prayer, an earnest entreaty for something" (Roberts p. 221).

"of a righteous man"-that is a person who is right with God. This letter has already helped us to define such a person. They patiently endure under trials (); ask God for wisdom (1:5); pray with confidence (1:6-8); are quick to listen, in control of their tongue and anger (1:19-20); humbly accept the teachings of Scripture (1:21), are doers of the word (1:22ff) and so on. God has made it clear that He isn"t impressed with the prayers of the hypocritical (1:6-7; Isaiah 59:1-2; Proverbs 15:8; Proverbs 15:29).

"can accomplish much"- "effectual fervent prayer" (KJV); "Great is the power of a good man"s fervent prayer"(TCNT); "has great power in its effects" (RSV); "An upright man"s prayer, when it keeps at work, is very powerful" (Wms); "Powerful is the heartfelt supplication of a righteous man" (Wey). means: "to be able, can" (Thayer p. 309); "to be of force, to be effective, capable of producing results" (Vine p. 90); "have power, be competent, be able" (Arndt p. 383); "Has much force, present active" (Robertson p. 66). "great force" (Woods p. 307). "Be powerful or mighty, and then to prevail, to win out" (Roberts p. 222).

Points To Note:

1. Thus a prayer that can accomplish much must first be prayed by a righteous individual. In addition, such a prayer can accomplish much because it is a working prayer, an earnest prayer, a prayer that is the result of someone who is earnestly petitioning, praying, entreating, the action of prayer with is actively and persistently engaged in (Luke 11:5-8; Luke 18:1-8; Matthew 15:21-28). An effectual prayer is then a persistent prayer and hence a very fervent prayer. "a righteous man"s praying has great effect when he prays" (Kent p. 193). Draper notes, "A man whose life is a holy life, whose life is consumed with the desire to love and serve God, who walks with and lives for God, will have power in prayer. We have no power in prayer if we have no righteousness in life" (p. 165). Remember, the true power doesn"t merely lie in the prayer, but in the God to whom we pray. 2. This verse and others make it clear that thought God knows what we need before we pray (Matthew 6:8), lukewarm, doubting, insincere, hypocritical and apathetic requests are an insult to God and will not be answered. If we aren"t truly serious and intent upon that for which we pray-then why should God take such a request seriously? "The action of prayer must be earnestly and persistently engaged in. God does not want to interpret our own desires and thoughts; he wants us to express them. Prayer is often an unused asset" (Roberts p. 223).

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Dunagan, Mark. "Commentary on James 5:16". "Mark Dunagan Commentaries on the Bible". https: 1999-2014.

E.W. Bullinger's Companion Bible Notes

faults. App-128. but the texts read "sins", as above.

pray. App-134.

for. App-104.

healed. Greek. iaomai. See Luke 6:17. This makes it clear that the circumstances in view are those of 1 Corinthians 11:30. The offenders were those who had wronged their brethren, or had shown an unbrotherly spirit, and so had brought chastisement upon themselves.

effectual fervent = inwrought, or energized. Greek. energeo.

prayer. App-134.

righteous = just, James 5:6. App-191. Read, "a prayer of a just man inwrought"; i.e. by the Spirit.

availeth much. Literally is strong (Greek. ischuo. Compare App-172.) for much.

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Bullinger, Ethelbert William. "Commentary on James 5:16". "E.W. Bullinger's Companion bible Notes". https: 1909-1922.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

'Aleph (') A B, Vulgate, read 'Confess, THEREFORE,' etc.: not only in sickness, but universally.

Faults , [ ta (Greek #3588) paraptomata (Greek #3900)] - your falls, in relation to one another. 'Aleph (') A B, Vulgate, read [ hamartias (Greek #266)] sins. Matthew 5:23-24; Luke 17:4 illustrate the precept.

One to another - not to the priest, as Rome insists. The Church of England recommends in certain cases. Rome compels confession in all cases. Confession is desirable in case of:

(1) wrong done to a neighbour;

(2) when, under a troubled conscience, we ask counsel of a godly minister or friend how to obtain God's forgiveness and strength to sin no more or when we desire their intercessory prayers ("pray one for another"): 'confession may be made to any who can pray' (Bengel);

(3) open confession of sin before the church, in token of penitence. Not auricular.

That ye may be healed - of bodily sicknesses: also that, if your sickness be the punishment of sin, the latter being forgiven on intercessory prayer, "ye may be healed" of the former: also, that ye may be healed spiritually. Effectual , [ energoumenee (Greek #1754)] - intense: not "wavering" (James 1:6) (Beza). 'When energized' by the Spirit, as those were who performed miracles (Hammond). This suits the Greek collocation and the sense. A righteous man's prayer is always heard in some form; his particular request for another's healing will be granted when energized by a special charism of the Spirit. Alford, 'Availeth much in its working.' The "righteous" himself shuns "sins" or "faults," showing his faith by works (James 2:18).

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Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on James 5:16". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https: 1871-8.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

(16) Confess your faults one to another.—The meaning attributed to the words of this verse by many devout Catholics cannot be established either from the opinion of antiquity, or a critical examination of the Greek text according to modern schools. “We have,” observes Alford, “a general injunction arising out of a circumstance necessarily to be inferred in the preceding example (James 5:14-15). There, the sin would of necessity have been confessed to the elders, before the prayer of faith could deal with it. And seeing the blessed consequences in that case ‘generally,’ says the Apostle, in all similar cases, and ‘one to another universally, pursue the same salutary practice of confessing your sins . . .’ Confess therefore one to another—not only to the elders (presbyters) in the case supposed, but to one another generally—your transgressions, and pray for one another that ye may be healed, in case of sickness, as above. The context here forbids any wider meaning . . . and it might appear astonishing, were it not notorious, that on this passage, among others, is built the Romish doctrine of the necessity of confessing sins to a priest.”

Not that all Roman Catholic divines, indeed, have thus read the injunction. Some of the ablest and greatest have admitted “that we cannot certainly affirm sacramental confession to have been meant or spoken of in this place” (Hooker). How then did the gradual perversion take hold of men’s minds? The most laborious investigation of history and theology will alone answer the question properly; and here only a brief résumé is possible. There can be little doubt that, strictly consonant with the apostolic charge, open confession was the custom of old. Offenders hastened to some minister of God, and in words, by which all present in the congregation might take notice of the fault, declared their guilt; convenient remedies were as publicly prescribed, and then all present joined in prayer to God. But after awhile, for many patent reasons, this plain talk about sins was rightly judged to be a cause of mischief to the young and innocent; and such confessions were relegated to a private hearing. The change was in most ways beneficial, and hardly suspected of being a step in a completely new doctrine. It needed years—centuries, in fact—to develop into the hard system of compulsory individual bondage which cost Europe untold blood and treasure to break asunder. A salutary practice in the case of some unhappy creatures, weakened by their vices into a habit of continual sin, was scarcely to be conceived as a rule thrust upon all the Christian world. Yet such it was, and “at length auricular confession, followed by absolution and satisfaction, was elevated to the full dignity of a necessary sacrament. The Council of Trent anathematises all who deny it to be truly and properly a sacrament instituted by Christ Himself, and necessary to salvation (jure divino); or who say that the method of confessing secretly to the priest alone . . . is alien to Christ’s institution, and of human invention” (Harold Browne). Marvellous perversity of acute brains and worthy sentiment, showing only how steep is the way of error; and how for Christian as for Jew the danger of tradition is perilous indeed. “To conclude,” in the words of Hooker, “we everywhere find the use of confession, especially public, allowed of, and commended by the fathers; but that extreme and rigorous necessity of auricular and private confession, which is at this day so mightily upheld by the Church of Rome, we find not. It was not then the faith and doctrine of God’s Church, as of the Papacy at this present—(1) that the only remedy for sin after baptism is sacramental penitency; (2) that confession in secret is an essential part thereof; (3) that God Himself cannot now forgive sins without the priest; (4) that because forgiveness at the hands of the priests must arise from confession in the offender, therefore to confess unto him is a matter of such necessity as, being not either in deed, or, at the least, in desire, performed, excludeth utterly from all pardon, and must consequently in Scripture be commanded wheresoever any promise of forgiveness is made. No, no; these opinions have youth in their countenance. Antiquity knew them not; it never thought nor dreamed of them” (E. P., vi. iv. 14).

“As for private confession,” says Jewel in his Apology, “abuses and errors set apart, we condemn it not, but leave it at liberty.” Such must be the teaching of any Church which, in the epigram of Bishop Ken, “stands distinguished from all papal and puritan innovations,” resting upon God’s Word, and the earliest, holiest, simplest, best traditions of the Apostles of His dear Son. And if an ancient custom has become a universal practice in the Latin communion, presumed to be of sacramental virtue, scholars will tell us that the notion has never been absent altogether from any branch of the Catholic Church; and that in some shape or form, it lives in most of those societies which sprang into existence at the Reformation largely from abhorrence of the tyranny and misuse of confession.

The effectual fervent prayer . . .—Better, The prayer of a righteous man availeth much in its working. It moves the hand of Him Who moves the world.

“What are men better than sheep, or goats,

That nourish a blind life within the brain,

If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer—

Both for themselves, and those who call them friend?

For so the whole round earth is, every way,

Bound by gold chains about the feet of God.”

In Matthew 14:2, and Mark 6:14, we read of John the Baptist, that “mighty works do show forth themselves in him.” A nearer approach to the sense would be “they work”—energise, if we might coin a word; and such is also the meaning of the present passage—the prayer of the just, pleading, striving fervently, hath power with God, even like Israel of old, and shall prevail (Genesis 32:28). Some divines trace a literal force in the passage, finding in it an allusion to the Energumens of the first century (the “mediums” of that age), who were possessed by demons; that, just as these unhappy beings strove in their bondage, so equally—nay, infinitely more—should Christians “wrestle with the Lord.”

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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on James 5:16". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https: 1905.

The Bible Study New Testament

So then. MacKnight thinks this should be taken literally. There can be no doubt that hate, bitterness, etc, impede recovery from sickness. We can set our consciences at ease by confessing our sins to one another (even though only God forgives sin) and restore broken relationships. The prayer of good man. [Man is not in the Greek here, but may be implied.] MacKnight sees this as the inspired prayer of a church elder who has the gift of faith (1 Corinthians 12:9). But we can certainly take this as a general statement about the power of prayer!

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Ice, Rhoderick D. "Commentary on James 5:16". "The Bible Study New Testament". https: College Press, Joplin, MO. 1974.

Treasury of Scripture Knowledge

Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.
Genesis 41:9,10; 2 Samuel 19:19; Matthew 3:6; 18:15-17; Luke 7:3,4; Acts 19:18
Colossians 1:9; 1 Thessalonians 5:17,23,25; Hebrews 13:18
Genesis 20:17; 2 Chronicles 30:20; Luke 9:6; Acts 10:38
The effectual
Genesis 18:23-32; 19:29; 20:7,17; 32:28; Exodus 9:28,29,33; 17:11; 32:10-14; Numbers 11:2; 14:13-20; 21:7-9; Deuteronomy 9:18-20; Joshua 10:12; 1 Samuel 12:18; 1 Kings 13:6; 17:18-24; 2 Kings 4:33-35; 19:15-20; 20:2-5; 2 Chronicles 14:11,12; 2 Chronicles 32:20-22; Job 42:8; Psalms 10:17,18; 34:15; 145:18,19; Proverbs 15:8,29; Proverbs 28:9; Jeremiah 15:1; 29:12,13; 33:3; Daniel 2:18-23; 9:20-22; Hosea 12:3,4; Matthew 7:7-11; 21:22; Luke 11:11-13; 18:1-8; John 9:31; Acts 4:24-31; 12:5-11; 1 John 3:22
a righteous
Romans 3:10; 5:19; Hebrews 11:4,7

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Torrey, R. A. "Commentary on James 5:16". "The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge". https:

E.M. Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament

Confess your faults does not mean merely to confess that we have faults, but the faults themselves are to be acknowledged. One to another denotes that we are to confess the faults that we have committed against another; we are to confess such faults to him. Sins which are known to God only need only be confessed to Him. That ye may be healed. This is said in direct connection with the mention of faults, hence we know the last word is used figuratively-or concerning a spiritual cure. No man can do another man"s praying for him, but both can pray together for the forgiveness of the one at fault. Effectual means active or practical, and it is used to indicate a man who not only prays to God but who also makes it his business to serve Him. The prayers of such a man will be regarded by the Lord.

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Zerr, E.M. "Commentary on James 5:16". E.M. Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. https: 1952.

Confess [your] faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

This verse calls not only the sick person to confess faults, but also the others present. Someone might suggest that the elders are in on this somehow. Not necessarily, but certainly a possibility. All that are involved are to confess faults to others and then pray for one another that "ye" may be healed. "Ye" seems to allow for a plural number being sick, again indicating elders are involved.

Now, just because someone calls the elders to their home for prayer and anointing, elders don"t get your feathers ruffled, and church members don"t assume there is more than the need for prayer.

The reason for everyone being involved in the confessing is so that all might be on praying ground. An elder with sin in their life will not be an effectual prayer partner and most certainly is not a righteous man, so why would you want him involved if he doesn"t take care of ANY problem that exists within his spiritual life.

"The effectual fervent prayer" of a RIGHTEOUS man availeth much. Two items in the way he prays and one item in the way he lives. Effectual prayer, fervent prayer and righteous living. Sounds like a spiritual man to me. Actually effectual and fervent are one word in the original language. It is a term that we get "energy" from. It is energized prayer, or prayer that requires work to accomplish. Not that quickie in the morning worship service or in Sunday school, but a prayer from a righteous person that is connected with God.

Now, since a sick person is to call the elders, and since righteousness is a part of the text, then is it not an imperative that the elders of your church should be righteous men? I think the case has been made clearly by the apostle.

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Derickson, Stanley. "Commentary on James 5:16". "Stanley Derickson - Notes on Selected Books". https:

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Monday, October 26th, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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