the First Week of Advent
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Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary
New American Standard Version
Bible Study Resources
Nave's Topical Bible - Afflictions and Adversities; Commandments; Communion; Fellowship; Intercession; Prayer; Sin; Thompson Chain Reference - Importunity; Prayer; The Topic Concordance - Avail; Confession; Healing; Prayer; Torrey's Topical Textbook - Afflicted, Duty toward the; Confession of Sin; Missionaries, All Christians Should Be as; Prayer; Prayer, Answers to; Prayer, Intercessory; Privileges of Saints; Righteousness;
Verse 16. Confess your faults one to another — This is a good general direction to Christians who endeavour 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 offences 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 offences 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, שתפלת צדיקים קצדה 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://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​acc/​james-5.html. 1832.
5:7-20 THE NEED FOR PATIENCE AND PRAYER
Many Christians were poor and oppressed, some of them no doubt farmers who suffered because of the rich landowners. James encourages them to wait patiently for the Lord’s return (which will bring them victory in the end), just as the farmer waits patiently for the rain that will bring his crops to final harvest (7-8). God is using these trials to teach them patience, so they must not fight against his purposes by grumbling. Some Old Testament examples show that those who cooperate with God’s purposes experience the enjoyment of his love and mercy (9-11; cf. Job 1:20-21; Job 2:10). James further warns that swearing rash oaths will not help them bear their trials. He suggests that they would do better to speak and act normally (12).
When believers are going though times of trouble, they should not complain or swear, but pray. When they are happy they should not act foolishly, but sing (13). Christians should realize the power that is available to them through prayer. If they are sick they may ask the elders to pray for them. (The act of pouring oil would give the sick person a symbolic reassurance of the divine help being given.) In certain cases physical suffering may be the result of personal sin, in which case healing will assure the sufferer that the sin is forgiven (14-15).
If Christians confess their faults to each other, they can pray more intelligently for each other’s needs (16). The example of Elijah is an assurance that God answers the prayers of his people (17-18; cf. 1 Kings 17:1; 1 Kings 18:1,1 Kings 18:42-46).
Christians should be concerned for all people, not just for those who meet regularly in the church. They should always be looking for opportunities to bring people to God, so that those people can have their sins forgiven (19-20).
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on James 5:16". "Fleming's Bridgeway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​bbc/​james-5.html. 2005.
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.<footnote> J. W. Roberts, op. cit., p. 173.</footnote>
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.<footnote> Walter W. Wessel, op. cit., p. 962.</footnote>
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."<footnote> Ibid.</footnote> 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."<footnote> R. V. G. Tasker, op. cit., p. 135.</footnote>
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.
Coffman's 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's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​bcc/​james-5.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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:
- 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 ischuei. Is 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://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​bnb/​james-5.html. 1870.
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,
(142) The illative
(143) This can hardly be admitted. The word expresses what sort of prayer is that which avails much. Besides, to avail much, and to be effectual, are two distinct things. The word as a verb and as a participle had commonly an active sense. Schleusner gives only one instance in which it has a passive meaning, 2 Corinthians 1:6; to which may be added 2 Corinthians 4:12. If taken passively, it may be rendered, “inwrought,” that is, by the Spirit, according to Macknight. But it has been most commonly taken actively, and in the sense of the verbal adjective
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on James 5:16". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​cal/​james-5.html. 1840-57.
Now in chapter five he takes on the rich. So this doesn't apply to many of us.
Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver are cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days ( James 5:1-3 ).
So he speaks of the rich and heaping up treasure for the last days, talking of their gold and silver. And to me it is extremely fascinating how that the rich people have to worry about the security of their money. What is safe, what is a safe investment? You know, how safe are the banks? What if Mexico and Argentina default on their loans, what's that going to do to the whole banking community? Is it going to bring it down like a row of dominos? Oh but it's guaranteed by an agency of the federal government. Read the fine print. You know the whole banking system goes down, there isn't enough in that agency to bail out American savings and loans.
So where can I put my money so that it can really be safe? How safe are T-bills, how solvent is the government? Man, it's the greatest debtor of anything in the world; I guess 300 billion dollars. Well, buy gold buy silver. A lot of people bought gold and silver, and they bought gold and silver for 900 dollars, gold for nine dollars an ounce, and now they can get 349 dollars an ounce. But that is all an artificial value. I mean what can you do for gold, with gold, except to say, "Well, I've got so many Krugerrands." It's all an artificial. Diamonds, buy diamonds, invest in diamonds, you know. It's all artificial value. It's just a stone. Hey, when things get really bad you can't eat it. You know when things are really bad that's what you think about, "what am I going to eat?"
The Bible tells us that there's coming a time that it'll take a bag of gold to buy a loaf of bread. So when it really gets down to it and you really need something to eat you're going to have to get rid of that gold, and who knows what value will be placed upon it at that time I mean.
You know I like a gold ring, this is not really a gold watch, it's gold plate, cheap. But as far as true value, where is true value? The true value is only in spiritual things. That's the only true value that we can really know, in spiritual things, not in the earthly material things. That value is all artificial. It's like one poet said, "It's only worth what you can get for it." "Well," but he says, "I have a house that's woRuth 500,000 dollars." Well, how much can you sell it for? "Well we've had it on the market you know for three years for 350,000 we haven't sold it, but it's woRuth 500." No it's not; it's only worth what you can get for it. Artificial values. And those that have placed their whole thing into gold, those that have bought up gold and silver for the last days, how disappointed they're going to be.
"Weep and howl," James said, "for the misery that is coming upon them," cause you've tried to set yourselves up for these last days, you've tried to hedge against inflation by getting into gold, by getting into silver but now they're worthless.
Behold, the hire of the laborers who have reaped your fields, which is of you kept back from them through fraud, they cry: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabbath. You have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; you have nourished your hearts, as in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and killed the just one; and he did not resist you ( James 5:4-6 ).
So the Lord or James speaks out against the oppression of the poor or the oppression of the laborer by management, cries for inequity.
Verse seven he changes and now he is exhorting us to
Be patient for the coming of the Lord. For behold the husbandmen waits for the precious fruit of the earth, and has long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain. Be ye also patient; establish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord is drawing nigh ( James 5:7-8 ).
Now it is interesting to me that so many places in the scripture we are exhorted towards patience, as far as the return of Jesus Christ is concerned. Peter, exhorts towards patience for much the same reason, that the long suffering of God is the salvation of the lost. Here exhortation to patience because the Lord is waiting for the precious fruit of harvest.
If the Lord had come ten years ago where would a lot of you been tonight? Five years ago where would a lot of you been? So the Lord is waiting for the latter rain, that is the final harvest of souls. And I believe that we are beginning to see a tremendous harvest of souls through out the world that I do believe is the foreshadowing of the return of Jesus Christ. I think that the Lord is giving the final opportunity to man. We've come just about the end of the rope and God has thrown out for the final time the opportunity of people to get right with God, and I think that it will soon be over. But have patience establish your hearts. The Lord, the husbandman is waiting for the precious fruit of harvest.
Grudge not on against another, brethren, unless you be condemned, because the judge is standing at the door. Take the prophets who have spoken in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering affliction, and of patience ( James 5:9-10 ).
So look what they endured, the prophets. Look what Jeremiah endured, look what Isaiah endured and others of the prophet, Elijah and Elisha, the things that they suffered because of their stand for God. They are an example of suffering, affliction and of patience.
Behold, we count them happy which endure. You've heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very full of pity and He's of tender mercy ( James 5:11 ).
God is full of pity. And in the Psalm, 103 the Lord is full of pity. "For He knows our frame that we are but dust" ( Psalms 103:14 ). God, when He looks at you, doesn't expect to see a superman, or a super saint. He knows you're dust anyhow. That's why He's so merciful, because He knows your frame. That is why we are not so merciful so many times on ourselves, because we think we are more than dust. "Well I'm a rock, I'm strong, I'm able, you know I can do it." And then we get fractured, and we get discouraged and disappointed and we think that God is all upset with us. No, no, no. He's not upset. He's merciful. He knew all the time you were but dust. It was you that made the mistake, you that over estimated your capabilities, not God. You didn't disappoint Him. He knew all the time. It was important that you know what He knows and so He lets you fall on your face. The Lord is full of pity and tender mercy.
But above all things, my brothers, swear not, neither by Heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yes be yes; and let your no, be no; lest you fall into condemnation ( James 5:12 ).
Now a man often times, if he is a liar, is constantly swearing that he is telling the truth. And that is why I am often suspicious of the person that is constantly affirming, "Oh, this is the God's honest truth man." I become very suspicious when they are constantly affirming that what they tell you is true. If it is true, than you don't need to constantly affirm it. And James is actually saying don't swear. "I'll do it, I'll do it, I promise I'll do it, you know. Swear by Heaven, I'll be there." No, no, no. Just let your yes be a yes, and let your no be a no. Jesus said the same thing in the Sermon on the Mount. Be a man or a person of your word. If you say yes, mean yes, and if you say no, mean no. And don't be the kind of a person that you have to swear to cause someone to believe you are telling the truth.
[Now] is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any happy? let him sing psalms. Is there any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of the faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up ( James 5:13-15 );
Now it is interesting a distinction is made between afflictions and sickness. And I don't always know that we can discern between is this an affliction or is this a sickness. But it would seem that afflictions are used by God for the purposes of correction. That when afflictions come than I need to pray, I need to find out from God what He's trying to teach me, what He's trying to tell me.
You see our problem is that we are not often sensitive to the things of the spirit. There seems to be a spiritual dullness that is quite prevalent among the church. It's like Romaine said, "He's gotta beat you over the head with a two-by-four to get your attention before He can talk to you." If God has to beat you over the head with a two-by-four and you're afflicted then you need to pray and find out what God is trying to say. And so if you are afflicted than it says, "let him pray." That is, God is probably trying to get your attention in some area of your life, and He sometimes has to use rather harsh or painful means.
In psalm 32 , as the Lord speaks to the psalmist, He said, "look, I want to guide you with my eye, don't be like a mule who you have to put a bit in its mouth to lead it around" ( Psalms 32:8-9 ). Now the bit is very painful and the reason the mule will turn when you pull on the reins is because it pulls the bit up against his mouth. It hurts. So he will turn his head, because it hurts.
Now God is saying to you don't be so stubborn like a mule that I have to use painful processes to get you to turn. I would guide you with my eye, I want you to be sensitive to my will and my plan, and I'll be glad to just guide you with my eye. God doesn't want to guide us with painful processes, but He loves us so much that He will, because it is that important that I be guided by the spirit of God, and He knows it is for my best welfare that I walk in this path. And if I start to stray and it I won't listen, He'll use the bit or the bridal. He'll pull me back into position. It maybe a painful experience, "Oh Lord what's happening." Well, you were off track. I wasn't listening, I was headstrong, I was gonna do it.
Paul the apostle, the Lord used the bit and bridal with Paul because he was so headstrong so many times. But if you are afflicted, pray. If you're merry, sing psalms, rejoice. If you're sick, then call for the elders of the church. The elders of the church meet here on Saturday nights to pray for the sick.
The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord shall raise them up; and if they have committed sins they shall be forgiven ( James 5:15 ).
It is interesting that there seems to be a correlation here between sickness and sin at least in the deliverance of sickness and in the forgiveness of sins. And it is interesting how many sicknesses can be related to sin in a very direct way. And yet on the other hand, let me say that I think that it is a very dangerous error to try to relate all sickness to sin. And you are then putting yourself in the position of a judge and you're judging wrongly many times, saying, "well they've got it coming to them." And I think that is cruel and dangerous to say that all sickness is the result of sin in a person's life. Not at all.
[Now] confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that you may be healed [that is of your faults.] ( James 5:16 ).
I think that...you notice it doesn't say confess your sins, it's confessing your faults one to another. We confess our sins to God, and He's faithful and just to forgive us. I may have a weakness in my life and I am very often confessing my faults to you. Not for you to just laugh at me, which you often do when I tell you of my problems on the freeway. Hey, but freeways are coming along. I'm improving. On the way to church this morning, two cars pulled out in front of me and I counted it all joy. I passed the test today, but that doesn't guarantee tomorrow, but pray for me. "Confess your faults one to another and pray one for another."
We each of us have our faults our failures, those areas in our lives where we need to yield more to the Spirit of God and find His strength and find His help. It's good to have a prayer partner that you can just open up to and say, "Hey, I'm having a problem in this particular area pray for me will you."
Confess your faults one to another, pray one for another, that you may be healed. For the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much ( James 5:16 ).
Our son in law was getting after our little three-year-old granddaughter, because her prayers seem to be developing sort of a rote. And he said, "Now Kristen, when you pray, you should pray not just quick little prayers, and the same prayer every time, but really start praying from your heart and really mean your prayers. Think about them and really mean your prayers when you talk to God." Because she was usually just praying, "God bless our food, strengthen our bodies, in Jesus name, Amen," and then start eating. So dinnertime came and they called on her to pray and she said, "Lord, bless our food. I mean really bless our food Lord."
The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. And this is the thing that I always get a charge out of.
Elijah was a man subject to the same things that we are ( James 5:17 ).
He was just like you. A man of like passions just like us. We usually read of these people in the Bible: Elijah, Elisha and Joshua and Moses and Paul and Peter. We usually think of them in a category that is sort of up here and I am down here. And we sort of think of the things that they did as completely unattainable by the common ordinary person. But Elijah was a man of like passions just like you, no different from you.
And yet he prayed earnestly that it might not rain and it did not rain on the earth for the space of three years and six months ( James 5:17 ).
Now can you imagine that? A man just like you praying and earnestly saying, "God don't let it rain. Let these people learn through a draught to call upon Your name and all and cut off the rain." A man of like passions just like you.
And yet he prayed again and the heaven gave rain and the earth brought forth her fruit ( James 5:18 ).
Here was a man controlling the weather with his prayers. A man just like you. That amazes me.
Years ago when a lot of hippies were around here we had a (the hippies are still here but they have disguised themselves now. They shave.), but we had a summer camp up here at Idyllwild. In fact I think there is still a picture in the office of the summer camp that we had up there. And this one afternoon at dinnertime it started pouring rain, just pouring down. We had a tin roof and it seems to magnify even the intensity of the rain. But you know how the mountain summer rains are the thunderheads, and just really pouring. So at dinner time in the announcements, I announced that we would have the outside Victory Circle meeting, and the kids said, "We can't have it. It is pouring rain." I said, "No, I've asked the Lord to stop the rain at six o'clock so that we can have our Victory Circle. So we are going to have Victory Circle six o'clock outside."
Five minutes to six the rain stopped. We had victory circle. At five minutes to seven, I said, "OK you better get into the Fellowship Hall pretty quick, because I asked the Lord to hold off the rain until the evening service." So we got into the evening service, and at five minutes after seven it started pouring again. They said, "Ah ha, you said seven o'clock you told the Lord, and it's five after seven." I said, "Well, He knew better than I did that you needed more time to get into this place."
All during the service it poured rain. And so I said after the service, "OK you can go up to snack bar for a half hour, but be in your cabins by ten thirty." It quite raining. They went up and had their snacks and those that didn't get in by ten thirty got soaked. It started raining again. Hey, I'll tell you after that those kids sort of left a distance between themselves and me for a while.
But Elijah was a man of like passion and he prayed it would rain not and he prayed again and it rained. We so many times are guilty I think as the children of Israel of limiting that which God would do just by our unbelief.
[Now] if any of you err from the truth and one convert him; Let him know, that he which converts the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins ( James 5:19-20 ).
Now if one errs from the way and you convert him, you don't convert him by confirming him that everything is all right. "Oh go ahead. God is merciful. God is gracious. It doesn't really matter." But you convert him by bringing him away from that sin, not giving him assurance in his sin. I don't think we should ever assure anybody in sin. I don't know that the Bible assures anybody who is in sin. It assures those that are in Christ. And all the scriptures that speak of assurance are to those that are in Christ. "There is therefore now no condemnation to those that are in Christ" ( Romans 8:1 ). But if you are not in Christ there is condemnation.
So if a person errors seek to turn them back to the walk of faith in Christ, for you will save their soul from death and you will hide a multitude of sins.
Next week we get into Peter's epistles, which are fascinating and rich, and so we will do the first two chapters of first Peter next Sunday evening.
And now Father, even as James has exhorted us, help us that we might be doers of the Word and not hearers only. And as we have heard these exhortations from Your Word tonight, and as we were listening Your Holy Spirit spoke to our hearts about different areas, to some of us about our tongues, to others about envying and strife, to others about the lust, to others about the friendship with the world and the desire for worldly things. Lord, even as Your Spirit has spoken to our hearts tonight, let us give heed to the Word and be doers of the Word. Help us, Lord, that we might indeed love one another, pray one for another, encourage and strengthen one another, use our tongues to bless and to strengthen each other and to encourage each other that we might indeed be the children of God and bring forth fruit unto eternal life. In Jesus name, Amen. "
Copyright © 2014, Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, Ca.
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on James 5:16". "Smith's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​csc/​james-5.html. 2014.
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 one to another: This verse tells how the forgiveness of verse 15 is accomplished. It comes about through confession of sins and prayer. "Confess" (exomologeisthe) is a present imperative, meaning to "keep on confessing." The Christian does not hide his sins within himself but must habitually confess them. The basic meaning of "confess" is "to say the same thing as." So when the Christian confesses his sins, he is saying the same thing that God would say about him. "Faults" (hamartias) would be better translated sins. James is not referring to the minor shortcomings or imperfections in our lives that we all share in common but, rather, to our disobedience to God. "One to another" (allelois) is a reciprocal pronoun that indicates action going back and forth between the members of a plural subject. The value of confession is seen in these words, "He that covereth his sins shall not prosper; but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy" (Proverbs 28:13).
The confession described in this verse is not limited to the public confession. While the public confession of wrongs may be included in these thoughts, confession between smaller groups also is included. The scriptures indicate three areas in which confession is needed.
First, there are private sins that need to be confessed. Private sins are those we have committed that no one knows anything about. Psalms 90:8 says, "Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance." We need to confess our private sins only to God (Psalms 32:1-5). It is not necessary to confess private sins before the church.
Second, there are personal sins that need to be confessed. Personal sins are those sins that involve other people. Jesus says, "Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift" (Matthew 5:23-24). This type of confession involves a person’s going to the individuals he has wronged and confessing to them and to God (Luke 15:21). James 5:16 can be included in this type of confession. Again, this type of confession need not be made publicly before the church.
Third, there are public sins that need to be confessed. There are some sins that are committed openly and publicly. These sins, which many know about, may injure the reputation of the church and should be confessed before the church. While there is no scripture that explicitly teaches that point, James 5:16 certainly implies it. A good rule to remember is that confession should be as public as the sin. Public confessions are not needed for private or personal sins.
pray for one another: "Pray" (euchesthe) is another present imperative, meaning to "keep on praying." Confession and prayer are not to be rare and isolated acts in the life of the Christian but are actually to be regular practices. "Another" (allelon) is also a reciprocal pronoun with the same emphasis as in the phrase above. Mutual prayer is one of the finest examples of true Christianity and compassion. One cannot hold a grudge in his heart for those for whom he is praying. Christians miss out on a great blessing when they do not practice mutual prayer.
that ye may be healed: "That ye may be healed" has been interpreted in two different ways. Some believe the healing to be physical, referring to the sickness in verses 14 and 15. In keeping with the context, though, it is better to understand that this passage is dealing with spiritual healing from sin. This type of healing is found in other places in the Bible (Matthew 13:15; 1 Peter 2:24). "May be healed" (iathete) is an aorist subjunctive, which means the healing is potential, coming as the need arises.
the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much: The term "prayer" (deesis) is a different word from the one used in the previous two verses. The previous word "prayer" refers to all types of prayer while this one is more specific and means supplication, entreaty, or petition. The "righteous man" is one who is strong spiritually and obeys the commands of God (1 John 3:7). It is certainly appropriate for one to find righteous Christians and ask them to pray in his behalf (Acts 8:24). "Availeth" (ischuei) means the prayer has great force. The present tense of the verb means that it keeps on having great force. The term "effectual fervent" (energoumene) is a present participle that is used in the KJV as an adjective to describe the prayer and, thus, carries the idea of "energetic and effective." In other translations, though, the participle is used more to relate to the action of the verb. The ASV renders the thought, "The supplication of a righteous man availeth much in its working." Hiebert adds,
The desire of the righteous man, expressing itself in his petition, keeps on putting forth its energy to get the petition answered. The power of such energetic praying is seen in the case of the importunate neighbor (Luke 11:5-8); the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8); and the persevering Syrophenician woman (Mark 7:24-30) (The Epistle of James 327).
This passage underlines the concept that the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and productive.
Contending for the Faith reproduced by permission of Contending for the Faith Publications, 4216 Abigale Drive, Yukon, OK 73099. All other rights reserved.
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on James 5:16". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​ctf/​james-5.html. 1993-2022.
VI. MONEY AND PATIENT ENDURANCE 5:1-18
The final practical problem James addressed involves money. He wrote these instructions to warn his readers of a danger, to inform them of the ramifications of the problem, and to exhort them to deal with the situation appropriately. This is his third reference to the rich and the poor (cf. James 1:9-11; James 2:1-12). We might also consider James 4:13-17, as well as James 5:1-6, as dealing with the rich. [Note: For some helpful insights on the way Christians might speak and act when confronted with wealth, status, and power on the one hand, or poverty, ignorance, and helplessness on the other, see Duane Warden, "The Rich and Poor in James: Implications for Institutionalized Partiality," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 43:2 (June 2000):253-57.]
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on James 5:16". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​dcc/​james-5.html. 2012.
C. The Proper Action 5:13-18
James encouraged his readers to pray, as well as to be patient, to enable them to overcome the temptation to live only for the present and to stop living by faith. James not only begins and ends his epistle with references to trials, but he "also begins (James 1:5-8) and ends (James 5:13-18) with prayer as the instrumental means for managing trials." [Note: C. Richard Wells, "The Theology of Prayer in James," Criswell Theological Review 1:1 (Fall 1986):86.]
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on James 5:16". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​dcc/​james-5.html. 2012.
2. The prescription for help 5:14-16
It is not surprising to find that James dealt with sickness (Gr. asthenai, weakness) in this epistle. He referred to the fact that departure from the will of God sets the Christian on a course that, unless corrected, may result in his or her premature physical death (James 1:15; James 1:21; James 5:20). Spiritual weakness, and sometimes physical sickness, result from sinful living. James gave instructions about how to deal with these maladies in James 5:14-20.
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on James 5:16". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​dcc/​james-5.html. 2012.
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, pp. 129-30.]
"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 is, probably to those they have wronged." [Note: Adamson, p. 189.]
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, pp. 78-79.]
"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, p. 170. See also John R. W. Stott, Confess your Sins, p. 12.]
"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, p. 215.]
"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, p. 92.]
"The practice of auricular confession was not made generally obligatory even by the Church of Rome till the Lateran Council of 1215 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, p. 176.]
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, p. 214.]
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 . . ., p. 76.]
"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, p. 174.]
"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 . . ., p. 193.]
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on James 5:16". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​dcc/​james-5.html. 2012.
THE WORTHLESSNESS OF RICHES ( James 5:1-3 )
5:1-3 Come now, you rich, weep and wail at the miseries which are coming upon you. Your wealth is rotten and your garments are food for moths. Your gold and silver are corroded clean through with rust; and their rust is proof to you of how worthless they are. It is a rust which will eat into your very flesh like fire. It is a treasure indeed that you have amassed for yourselves in the last days!
James 5:1-6 has two aims. First, to show the ultimate worthlessness of all earthly riches; and second, to show the detestable character of those who possess them. By doing this he hopes to prevent his readers from placing all their hopes and desires on earthly things.
If you knew what you were doing, he says to the rich, you would weep and wail for the terror of the judgment that is coming upon you at the Day of the Lord. The vividness of the picture is increased by the word which James uses for to nail. It is the verb ololuzein ( G3649) , which is onomatopoeic and carries its meaning in its very sound. It means even more than to wail, it means to shriek, and in the King James Version is often translated to howl; and it depicts the frantic terror of those on whom the judgment of God has come ( Isaiah 13:6; Isaiah 14:31; Isaiah 15:2-3; Isaiah 16:7; Isaiah 23:1; Isaiah 23:14; Isaiah 65:14; Amos 8:3). We might well say that it is the word which describes those undergoing the tortures of the damned.
All through this passage the words are vivid and pictorial and carefully chosen. In the east there were three main sources of wealth and James has a word for the decay of each of them.
There were corn and grain. That is the wealth which grows rotten (sepein, G4595) .
There were garments. In the east garments were wealth. Joseph gave changes of garments to his brothers ( Genesis 45:22). It was for a beautiful mantle from Shinar that Achan brought disaster on the nation and death on himself and his family ( Joshua 7:21). It was changes of garments that Samson promised to anyone who would solve his riddle ( Judges 14:12). It was garments that Naaman brought as a gift to the prophet of Israel and to obtain which Gehazi sinned his soul ( 2 Kings 5:5; 2 Kings 5:22). It was Paul's claim that he had coveted no man's money or apparel ( Acts 20:33). These garments, which are so splendid, will be food for moths (setobrotos ( G4598, compare Matthew 6:19).
The climax of the world's inevitable decay comes at the end. Even their gold and silver will be rusted clean through (katiasthai, G2728) . The point is that gold and silver do not actually rust; so James in the most vivid way is warning men that even the most precious and apparently most indestructible things are doomed to decay.
This rust is proof of the impermanence and ultimate valuelessness of all earthly things. More, it is a dread warning. The desire for these things is like a dread rust eating into men's bodies and souls. Then comes a grim sarcasm. It is a fine treasure indeed that any man who concentrates on these things is heaping up for himself at the last. The only treasure he will possess is a consuming fire which will wipe him out.
It is James' conviction that to concentrate on material things is not only to concentrate on a decaying delusion; it is to concentrate on self-produced destruction.
THE SOCIAL PASSION OF THE BIBLE ( James 5:1-3 continued)
Not even the most cursory reader of the Bible can fail to be impressed with the social passion which blazes through its pages. No book condemns dishonest and selfish wealth with such searing passion as it does. The book of the prophet Amos was called by J. E. McFadyen "The Cry for Social Justice." Amos condemns those who store up violence and robbery in their palaces ( Amos 3:10). He condemns those who tread on the poor and themselves have houses of hewn stone and pleasant vineyards--which in the wrath of God they will never enjoy ( Amos 5:11). He lets loose his wrath on those who give short weight and short measure, who buy the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of shoes, and who palm off on the poor the refuse of their wheat. "I will never forget any of their deeds," says God ( Amos 8:4-7). Isaiah warns those who build up great estates by adding house to house and field to field ( Isaiah 5:8). The sage insisted that he who trusts in riches shall fall ( Proverbs 11:28). Luke quotes Jesus as saying, "Woe to you that are rich!" ( Luke 6:24). It is only with difficulty that those who have riches enter into the Kingdom of God ( Luke 18:24). Riches are a temptation and a snare; the rich are liable to foolish and hurtful lusts which end in ruin, for the love of money is the root of all evils ( 1 Timothy 6:9-10).
In the inter-testamental literature there is the same note. "Woe to you who acquire silver and gold in unrighteousness.... They shall perish with their possessions, and in shame will their spirits be cast into the furnace of fire" (Enoch 97: 8). In the Wisdom of Solomon there is a savage passage in which the sage makes the selfish rich speak of their own way of life as compared with that of the righteous. "Come on, therefore, let us enjoy the good things that are present; and let us speedily use created things like as in youth. Let us fill ourselves with costly wine and ointments: and let no flower of the spring pass by us. Let us crown ourselves with rosebuds before they be withered; let there be no meadow but our luxury shall pass through it. Let none of us go without his part of our voluptuousness; let us leave tokens of our joyfulness in every place; for this is our portion, and our lot is this. Let us oppress the poor righteous man, let us not spare the widow, nor reverence the ancient grey hairs of the aged.... Therefore, let us lie in wait for the righteous; because he is not for our turn and is clean contrary to our doings; he upbraideth us with our offending of the law, and objecteth to our infamy, the sins of our way of life" ( Wis_2:6-12 ).
One of the mysteries of social thought is how the Christian religion ever came to be regarded as "the opiate of the people" or to seem an other-worldly affair. There is no book in any literature which speaks so explosively of social injustice as the Bible, nor any book which has proved so powerful a social dynamic. It does not condemn wealth as such but there is no book which more strenuously insists on wealth's responsibility and on the perils which surround a man who is abundantly blessed with this world's goods.
THE WAY OF SELFISHNESS AND ITS END ( James 5:4-6 )
5:4-6 Look you, the pay of the reapers who reaped your estates, the pay kept back from them by you, cries against you, and the cries of those who reaped have come to the ears of the Lord of Hosts. On the earth you have lived in soft luxury and played the wanton; you have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter. You condemned, you killed the righteous man, and he does not resist you.
Here is condemnation of selfish riches and warning of where they must end.
(i) The selfish rich have gained their wealth by injustice. The Bible is always sure that the labourer is worthy of his hire ( Luke 10:7; 1 Timothy 5:18). The day labourer in Palestine lived on the very verge of starvation. His wage was small; it was impossible for him to save anything; and if the wage was withheld from him, even for a day, he and his family simply could not eat. That is why the merciful laws of Scripture again and again insist on the prompt payment of his wages to the hired labourer. "You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy.... You shall give him his hire on the day he earns it, before the sun goes down (for he is poor, and sets his heart upon it); lest he cry against you to the Lord, and it be sin in you" ( Deuteronomy 24:14-15). "The wages of a hired servant shall not remain with you all night until the morning" ( Leviticus 19:13). "Do not say to your neighbour, 'Go, and come again, tomorrow I will give it'--when you have it with you" ( Proverbs 3:27-28). "Woe to him that builds his house by unrighteousness and his upper rooms by injustice; who makes his neighbour serve him for nothing, and does not give him his wages" ( Jeremiah 22:13). "Those that oppress the hireling in his wages" are under the judgment of God ( Malachi 3:5). "He that taketh away his neighbour's living, the bread gotten by sweat, slayeth him; and he that defraudeth the labourer of his hire, defraudeth his Maker, and shall receive a bitter reward, for he is brother to him that is a blood-shedder" ( Sir_34:22 ). "Let not the wages of any man which hath wrought for thee tarry with thee, but give it him out of hand" ( Tob_4:14 ).
The law of the Bible is nothing less than the charter of the labouring man. The social concern of the Bible speaks in the words of the Law and of the Prophets and of the Sages alike. Here it is said that the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts! The hosts are the hosts of heaven, the stars and the heavenly powers. It is the teaching of the Bible in its every part that the Lord of the universe is concerned for the rights of the labouring man.
(ii) The selfish rich have used their wealth selfishly. They have lived in soft luxury and have played the wanton. The word translated to live in soft luxury is truphein ( G5171) . It comes from a root which means to break down; and it describes the soft living which in the end saps and destroys a man's moral fibre. The word translated to play the wanton is spatalan ( G4684) . It is a much worse word; it means to live in lewdness and lasciviousness. It is the condemnation of the selfish rich that they have used their possessions to gratify their own love of comfort and to satisfy their own lusts, and that they have forgotten all duty to their fellow-men.
(iii) But anyone who chooses this pathway has also chosen its end. The end of specially fattened cattle is that they will be slaughtered for some feast; and those who have sought this easy luxury and selfish wantonness are like men who have fattened themselves for the day of judgment. The end of their pleasure is grief and the goal of their luxury is death. Selfishness always leads to the destruction of the soul.
(iv) The selfish rich have slain the unresisting righteous man. it is doubtful to whom this refers. It could be a reference to Jesus. "You denied the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you" ( Acts 3:14). It is Stephen's charge that the Jews always slew God's messengers even before the coming of the Just One ( Acts 7:52). It is Paul's declaration that God chose the Jews to see the Just One although they rejected him ( Acts 22:14). Peter says that Christ suffered for our sins, the just for the unjust ( 1 Peter 3:18). The suffering servant of the Lord offered no resistance. He opened not his mouth and like a sheep before his shearers he was dumb ( Isaiah 53:7), a passage which Peter quotes in his picture of Jesus ( 1 Peter 2:23). It may well be that James is saying that in their oppression of the poor and the righteous man, the selfish rich have crucified Christ again. Every wound that selfishness inflicts on Christ's people is another wound inflicted on Christ.
It may be that James is not specially thinking of Jesus when he speaks about the righteous man but of the evil man's instinctive hatred of the good man. We have already quoted the passage in The Wisdom of Solomon which describes the conduct of the rich. That passage goes on: "He (the righteous man) professeth to have the knowledge of God, and he calleth himself the child of the Lord. He was made to reprove our thoughts. He is grievous unto us even to behold: for his life is not like other men's, his ways are of another fashion. We are esteemed of him as counterfeits: he abstaineth from our ways as from filthiness: he pronounceth the end of the just to be blessed, and maketh his boast that God is his Father. Let us see if his words be true: and let us prove what shall happen in the end of him. For if the just man be the son of God, he will help him and deliver him from the hand of his enemies. Let us examine him with despitefulness and torture, that we may know his meekness and prove his patience. Let us condemn him with a shameful death: for by his own saying he shall be respected" ( Wis_2:13-24 ). These, says the Sage, are the words of men whose wickedness has blinded them.
Alcibiades, the friend of Socrates, for all his great talents often lived a riotous and debauched life. And there were times when he said to Socrates: "Socrates, I hate you; for every time I see you, you show me what I am." The evil man would gladly eliminate the good man, for he reminds him of what he is and of what he ought to be.
WAITING FOR THE COMING OF THE LORD ( James 5:7-9 )
5:7-9 Brothers. have patience until the coming of the Lord. Look you, the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, patiently waiting for it until it receives the early and the late rains. So do you too be patient. Make firm your hearts for the coming of the Lord is near. Brothers, do not complain against each other, that you may not be condemned. Look you, the judge stands at the door.
The early church lived in expectation of the immediate Second Coming of Jesus Christ; and James exhorts his people to wait with patience for the few years which remain. The farmer has to wait for his crops until the early and the late rains have come. The early and the late rains are often spoken of in Scripture, for they were all-important to the farmer of Palestine ( Deuteronomy 11:14; Jeremiah 5:24; Joel 2:23). The early rain was the rain of late October and early November without which the seed would not germinate. The late rain was the rain of April and May without which the grain would not mature. The farmer needs patience to wait until nature does her work; and the Christian needs patience to wait until Christ comes.
During that waiting they must confirm their faith. They must not blame one another for the troubles of the situation in which they find themselves for, if they do, they will be breaking the commandment which forbids Christians to judge one another ( Matthew 7:1); and if they break that commandment, they will be condemned. James has no doubt of the nearness of the coming of Christ. The judge is at the door, he says, using a phrase which Jesus himself had used ( Mark 13:29; Matthew 24:33).
It so happened that the early church was mistaken. Jesus Christ did not return within a generation. But it will be of interest to gather up the New Testament's teaching about the Second Coming so that we may see the essential truth at its heart.
We may first note that the New Testament uses three different words to describe the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
(i) The commonest is parousia ( G3952) , a word which has come into English as it stands. It is used in Matthew 24:3; Matthew 24:27; Matthew 24:37; Matthew 24:39; 1 Thessalonians 2:19; 1 Thessalonians 3:13; 1 Thessalonians 4:15; 1 Thessalonians 5:23; 2 Thessalonians 2:1; 1 Corinthians 15:23; 1 John 2:28; 2 Peter 1:16; 2 Peter 3:4. In secular Greek this is the ordinary word for someone's presence or arrival. But it has two other usages, one of which became quite technical. It is used of the invasion of a country by an army and specially it is used of the visit of a king or a governor to a province of his empire. So, then, when this word is used of Jesus, it means that his Second Coming is the final invasion of earth by heaven and the coming of the King to receive the final submission and adoration of his subjects.
(ii) The New Testament also uses the word epiphaneia ( G2015) ( Titus 2:13; 2 Timothy 4:1; 2 Thessalonians 2:9). In ordinary Greek this word has two special usages. It is used of the appearance of a god to his worshipper; and it is used of the accession of an emperor to the imperial power of Rome. So, then, when this word is used of Jesus, it means that his Second Coming is God appearing to his people, both to those who are waiting for him and to those who are disregarding him.
(iii) Finally the New Testament uses the word apokalupsis ( G602) ( 1 Peter 1:7; 1 Peter 1:13). Apokalupsis in ordinary Greek means an unveiling or a laying bare; and when it is used of Jesus, it means that his Second Coming is the laying bare of the power and glory of God come upon men.
Here, then, we have a series of great pictures. The Second Coming of Jesus is the arrival of the King; it is God appearing to his people and mounting his eternal throne; it is God directing on the world the full blaze of his heavenly glory.
THE COMING OF THE KING ( James 5:7-9 continued)
We may now gather up briefly the teaching of the New Testament about the Second Coming and the various uses it makes of the idea.
(i) The New Testament is clear that no man knows the day or the hour when Christ comes again. So secret, in fact, is that time that Jesus himself does not know it; it is known to God alone ( Matthew 24:36; Mark 13:32). From this basic fact one thing is clear. Human speculation about the time of the Second Coming is not only useless, it is blasphemous; for surely no man should seek to gain a knowledge which is hidden from Jesus Christ himself and resides only in the mind of God.
(ii) The one thing that the New Testament does say about the Second Coming is that it will be as sudden as the lightning and as unexpected as a thief in the night ( Matthew 24:27; Matthew 24:37; Matthew 24:39; 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10). We cannot wait to get ready when it comes; we must be ready for its coming.
So, the New Testament urges certain duties upon men.
(i) They must be for ever on the watch ( 1 Peter 4:7). They are like servants whose master has gone away and who, not knowing when he will return, must have everything ready for his return, whether it be at morning, at midday, or at evening ( Matthew 24:36-51).
(ii) Long delay must not produce despair or forgetfulness ( 2 Peter 3:4). God does not see time as men do. To him a thousand years are as a watch in the night and even if the years pass on, it does not mean that he has either changed or abandoned his design.
(iii) Men must use the time given them to prepare for the coming of the King. They must be sober ( 1 Peter 4:7). They must get to themselves holiness ( 1 Thessalonians 3:13). By the grace of God they must become blameless in body and in spirit ( 1 Thessalonians 5:23). They must put off the works of darkness and put on the armour of light now that the day is far spent ( Romans 13:11-14). Men must use the time given them to make themselves such that they can greet the coming of the King with joy and without shame.
(iv) When that time comes, they must be found in fellowship. Peter uses the thought of the Second Coming to urge men to love and mutual hospitality ( 1 Peter 4:8-9). Paul commands that all things be done in love--Maran-atha ( G3134) --the Lord is at hand ( 1 Corinthians 16:14; 1 Corinthians 16:22). He says that our forbearance must be known to all men because the Lord is at hand ( Php_4:5 ). The word translated "forbearance" is epieikes ( G1933) which means the spirit that is more ready to offer forgiveness than to demand justice. The writer to the Hebrews demands mutual help, mutual Christian fellowship, mutual encouragement because the day is coming near ( Hebrews 10:24-25). The New Testament is sure that in view of the Coming of Christ we must have our personal relationships right with our fellow-men. The New Testament would urge that no man ought to end a day with an unhealed breach between himself and a fellow-man, lest in the night Christ should come.
(v) John uses the Second Coming as a reason for urging men to abide in Christ ( 1 John 2:28). Surely the best preparation for meeting Christ is to live close to him every day.
Much of the imagery attached to the Second Coming is Jewish, part of the traditional apparatus of the last things in the ancient Jewish mind. There are many things which we are not meant to take literally. But the great truth behind all the temporary pictures of the Second Coming is that this world is not purposeless but going somewhere, that there is one divine far-off event to which the whole creation moves.
THE TRIUMPHANT PATIENCE ( James 5:10-11 )
5:10-11 Brothers, take as an example of patience in hardship the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Look you, we count those who endure blessed. You have heard of Job's steadfast endurance and you have seen the conclusion of his troubles which the Lord gave to him, and you have proof that the Lord is very kind and merciful.
It is always a comfort to feel that others have gone through what we have to go through. James reminds his readers that the prophets and the men of God could never have done their work and borne their witness had they not patiently endured. He reminds them that Jesus himself had said that the man who endured to the end was blessed for he would be saved ( Matthew 24:13).
Then he quotes the example of Job, of whom in the synagogue discourses they had often heard. We generally speak of the patience of Job which is the word the King James Version uses. But patience is far too passive a word. There is a sense in which Job was anything but patient. As we read the tremendous drama of his life we see him passionately resenting what has come upon him, passionately questioning the conventional arguments of his so-called friends, passionately agonizing over the terrible thought that God might have forsaken him. Few men have spoken such passionate words as he did; but the great fact about him is that in spite of all the agonizing questionings which tore at his heart, he never lost his faith in God. "Behold, he will slay me; I have no hope;" ( Job 13:15). "My witness is in heaven, and he that vouches for me is on high" ( Job 16:19). "I know that my redeemer lives" ( Job 19:25). His is no unquestioning submission; he struggled and questioned, and sometimes even defied, but the flame of his faith was never extinguished.
The word used of him is that great New Testament word hupomone ( G5281) , which describes, not a passive patience, but that gallant spirit which can breast the tides of doubt and sorrow and disaster and come out with faith still stronger on the other side. There may be a faith which never complained or questioned; but still greater is the faith which was tortured by questions and still believed. It was the faith which held grimly on that came out on the other side, for "the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning" ( Job 42:12).
There will be moments in life when we think that God has forgotten, but if we cling to the remnants of faith, at the end we, too, shall see that God is very kind and very merciful.
THE NEEDLESSNESS AND THE FOLLY OF OATHS ( James 5:12 )
5:12 Above all things, my brothers, do not swear, neither by heaven nor by earth nor by any other oath. Let your yes be a simple yes and your no a simple no, lest you fall under judgment.
James is repeating the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount ( Matthew 5:33-37), teaching which was very necessary in the days of the early church. James is not thinking of what we call bad language but of confirming a statement or a promise or an undertaking by an oath. In the ancient world, there were two evil practices.
(i) There was a distinction--especially in the Jewish world--between oaths which were binding and oaths which were not binding. Any oath in which the name of God was directly used was considered to be definitely binding; but any oath in which direct mention of the name of God was not made was held not to be binding. The idea was that, once God's name was definitely used, he became an active partner in the transaction, but he did not become a partner unless his name was so introduced. The result of this was that it became a matter of skill and sharp practice to find an oath which was not binding. This made a mockery of the whole practice of confirming anything by an oath.
(ii) There was in this age an extraordinary amount of oath-taking. This in itself was quite wrong. For one thing, the value of an oath depends to a large extent on the fact of it being very seldom necessary to take one. When oaths became a commonplace, they ceased to be respected as they ought to be. For another thing, the practice of taking frequent oaths was nothing other than a proof of the prevalence of lying and cheating. In an honest society no oath is needed; it is only when men cannot be trusted to tell the truth that they have to be put upon oath.
In this the ancient writers on morals thoroughly agreed with Jesus. Philo says, "Frequent swearing is bound to beget perjury and impiety." The Jewish Rabbis said, "Accustom not thyself to vows, for sooner or later thou wilt swear false oaths." The Essenes forbade all oaths. They held that if a man required an oath to make him tell the truth, he was already branded as untrustworthy. The great Greeks held that the best guarantee of any statement was not an oath but the character of the man who made it; and that the ideal was to make ourselves such that no one would ever think of demanding an oath from us because he would be certain that we would always speak the truth.
The New Testament view is that every word is spoken in the presence of God and ought, therefore, to be true; and it would agree that the Christian must be known to be a man of such honour that it will be quite unnecessary ever to put him on oath. The New Testament would not entirely condemn oaths but it would deplore the human tendency to falsehood which on occasion makes oaths necessary.
A SINGING CHURCH ( James 5:13-15 )
5:13-15 Is any among you in trouble? Let him pray. Is any in good spirits? Let him sing a hymn. Is any among you sick? Let him call in the elders of the Church; and let them anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord, and pray over him; and the believing prayer will restore to health the ailing person, and the Lord will enable him to rise from his bed; and even if he has committed sin, he will receive forgiveness.
Here we have set out before us certain dominant characteristics of the early church.
It was a singing church; the early Christians were always ready to burst into song. In Paul's description of the meetings of the Church at Corinth, we find singing an integral part ( 1 Corinthians 14:15; 1 Corinthians 14:26). When he thinks of the grace of God going out to the Gentiles, it reminds him of the joyous saying of the Psalmist: "I will praise thee among the Gentiles, and sing to thy name" ( Romans 15:9; compare Psalms 18:49). The Christians they speak to each other in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in their hearts to the Lord ( Ephesians 5:19). The word of Christ dwells in them, and they teach and admonish each other in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in their hearts to the Lord ( Colossians 3:16). There was a joy in the heart of the Christians which issued from their lips in songs of praise for the mercy and the grace of God.
The fact is that the heathen world has always been sad and weary and frightened. Matthew Arnold wrote a poem describing its bored weariness.
"On that hard Pagan world disgust
And secret loathing fell;
Deep weariness and sated lust
Made human life a hell.
In his cool hall, with haggard eyes,
The Roman noble lay;
He drove abroad in furious guise
Along the Appian Way;
He made a feast, drank fierce and fast,
And crowned his hair with flowers--
No easier nor no quicker past
The impracticable hours."
In contrast with that weary mood the accent of the Christian is singing joy. That was what impressed John Bunyan when he heard four poor old women talking, as they sat at a door in the sun: "Methought they spake, as if joy did make them speak." When Bilney, the martyr, grasped the wonder of redeeming grace, he said, "It was as if dawn suddenly broke on a dark night." Archibald Lang Fleming, the first Bishop of the Arctic, tells of the saying of an Eskimo hunter: "Before you came the road was dark and we were afraid. Now we are not afraid, for the darkness has gone away and all is light as we walk the Jesus way."
Always the church has been a singing Church. When Pliny, governor of Bithynia, wrote to Trajan, the Roman Emperor, in A.D. 111 to tell him of this new sect of Christians, he said that his information was that "they are in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it is light, when they sing in alternate verses a hymn to Christ as God." In the orthodox Jewish synagogue, since the Fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, there has been no music, for, when they worship, they remember a tragedy; but in the Christian Church, from the beginning until now, there has been the music of praise, for the Christian remembers an Infinite love and enjoys a present glory.
A HEALING CHURCH ( James 5:13-15 continued)
Another great characteristic of the early church was that it was a healing Church. Here it inherited its tradition from Judaism. When a Jew was ill, it was to the Rabbi he went rather than to the doctor; and the Rabbi anointed him with oil--which Galen the Greek doctor called "the best of all medicines"--and prayed over him. Few communities can have been so devotedly attentive to their sick as the early church was. Justin Martyr writes that numberless demoniacs were healed by the Christians when all other exorcists had been helpless to cure them and all drugs had been unavailing. Irenaeus, writing far down the second century, tells us that the sick were still healed by having hands laid on them. Tertullian, writing midway through the third century, says that no less a person than the Roman Emperor, Alexander Severus, was healed by anointing at the hands of a Christian called Torpacion and that in his gratitude he kept Torpacion as a guest in his palace until the day of his death.
One of the earliest books concerning Church administration is the Canons of Hippolytus, which goes back to the end of the second century or the beginning of the third. It is there laid down that men who have the gift of healing are to be ordained as presbyters after investigation has been made to ensure that they really do possess the gift and that it comes from God. That same book gives the noble prayer used at the consecration of the local bishops, part of which runs: "Grant unto him, O Lord...the power to break all the chains of the evil power of the demons, to cure all the sick, and speedily to subdue Satan beneath his feet." In the Clementine Letters the duties of the deacons are laid down; and they include the rule: "Let the deacons of the Church move about intelligently and act as eyes for the bishop.... Let them find out those who are sick in the flesh, and bring such to the notice of the main body who know nothing of them, that they may visit them, and supply their wants." In the First Epistle of Clement the prayer of the Church is: "Heal the sick; raise up the weak; cheer the faint-hearted." A very early Church code lays it down that each congregation must appoint at least one widow to take care of women who are sick. For many centuries the Church consistently used anointing as a means of healing the sick. In fact it is important to note that the sacrament of unction, or anointing, was in the early centuries always designed as a means of cure, and not as a preparation for death as it now is in the Roman Catholic Church. It was not until A.D. 852 that this sacrament did, in fact, become the Sacrament of Extreme Unction, administered to prepare for death.
The Church has always cared for her sick; and in her there has always resided the gift of healing. The social gospel is not an appendix to Christianity; it is the very essence of the Christian faith and life.
A PRAYING CHURCH ( James 5:16-18 )
5:16-18 Confess your sins to each other, and pray for each other, that you may be healed. The prayer of a good man, when it is set to work, is very powerful. Elijah was a man with the same emotions as ourselves, and he prayed earnestly that it should not rain, and for three years and six months no rain fell upon the earth. And he prayed again and the heaven gave rain; and the earth put forth her fruit.
There are in this passage three basic ideas of Jewish religion.
(i) There is the idea that all sickness is due to sin. It was a deeply-rooted Jewish belief that where there were sickness and suffering, there must have been sin. "There is no death without guilt," said the Rabbis, "and no suffering without sin." The Rabbis, therefore, believed that before a man could be healed of his sickness his sins must be forgiven by God. Rabbi Alexandrai said, "No man gets up from his sickness until God has forgiven him all his sins." That is why Jesus began his healing of the man with the palsy by saying, "My son, your sins are forgiven" ( Mark 2:5). The Jew always identified suffering and sin. Nowadays we cannot make this mechanical identification; but this remains true--that no man can know any health of soul or mind or body until he is right with God.
(ii) There is the idea that, to be effective, confession of sin has to be made to men, and especially to the person wronged, as well as to God. In a very real sense it is easier to confess sins to God than to confess them to men; and yet in sin there are two barriers to be removed--the barrier it sets up between us and God, and the barrier it sets up between us and our fellow-men. If both these barriers are to be removed, both kinds of confession must be made. This was, in fact, the custom of the Moravian Church and Wesley took it over for his earliest Methodist classes. They used to meet two or three times a week "to confess their faults to one another and to pray for one another that they might be healed." This is clearly a principle which must be used with wisdom. It is quite true that there may be cases where confession of sin to each other may do infinitely more harm than good; but where a barrier has been erected because of some wrong which has been done, a man must put himself right both with God and his fellow-man.
(iii) Above all, there is the idea that no limits can be set to the power of prayer. The Jews had a saying that he who prays surrounds his house with a wall stronger than iron. They said, "Penitence can do something; but prayer can do everything." To them prayer was nothing less than contacting the power of God; it was the channel through which the strength and grace life. How much more must this be so for a Christian?
"More things are wrought by prayer
Than this world dreams of. Wherefore, let thy voice
Rise like a fountain for me night and day.
For 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."
As the Jew saw it, and as indeed it is, to cure the his of life we need to be right with God and right with men, and we need to bring to bear upon men through prayer the mercy and the might of God.
Before we leave this passage there is one interesting technical fact that we must note. It quotes Elijah as an example of the power of prayer. This is an excellent illustration of how Jewish rabbinic exegesis developed the meaning of Scripture. The full story is in 1 Kings 17:1-24; 1 Kings 18:1-46. The three years and six months--a period also quoted in Luke 4:25 --is a deduction from 1 Kings 18:1. Further, the Old Testament narrative does not say that either the coming or the cessation of the drought was due to the prayers of Elijah; he was merely the prophet who announced its coming and its going. But the Rabbis always studied Scripture under the microscope. In 1 Kings 17:1 we read: "As the Lord the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word." Now the Jewish attitude of prayer was standing before God; and so in this phrase the Rabbis found what was to them an indication that the drought was the result of the prayers of Elijah. In 1 Kings 18:42 we read that Elijah went up to Carmel, bowed himself down upon the earth and put his face between his knees. Once again the Rabbis saw the attitude of agonizing prayer; and so found what was to them an indication that it was the prayer of Elijah which brought the drought to an end.
THE TRUTH WHICH MUST BE DONE ( James 5:19-20 )
5:19-20 My brothers, if any among you wanders from the truth and if anyone turns him again to the right way, let him know that he who has turned a sinner from his wandering way will save his brothel's soul from death and will hide a multitude of his own sins.
In this passage there is set down the great differentiating characteristic of Christian truth. It is something from which a man can wander. It is not only intellectual, philosophical and abstract; it is always moral truth.
This comes out very clearly when we go to the New Testament and look at the expressions which are used in connection with truth. Truth is something which a man must love ( 2 Thessalonians 2:10); it is something which a man must obey ( Galatians 5:7); it is something which a man must display in life ( 2 Corinthians 4:2); it is something which must be spoken in love ( Ephesians 4:15); it is something which must be witnessed to ( John 18:37); it is something which must be manifested in a life of love ( 1 John 3:19); it is something which liberates ( John 8:32); and it is something which is the gift of the Holy Spirit, sent by Jesus Christ ( John 16:13-14).
Clearest of all is the phrase in John 3:21, he who does what is true. That is to say, Christian truth is something which must be done. It is not only the object of the search of the mind; it is always moral truth issuing in action. It is not only something to be studied but something to be done; not only something to which a man must submit only his mind but something to which he must submit his whole life.
THE SUPREME HUMAN ACHIEVEMENT ( James 5:19-20 continued)
James finishes his letter with one of the greatest and most uplifting thoughts in the New Testament; and yet one which occurs more than once in the Bible. Suppose a man goes wrong and strays away; and suppose a fellow-Christian rescues him from the error of his ways and brings him back to the right path. That man has not only saved his brother's soul, he has covered a multitude of his own sins. In other words, to save another's soul is the surest way to save one's own.
Mayor points out that Origen has a wonderful passage in one of his Homilies in which he indicates these six ways in which a man may gain forgiveness of his sins--by baptism, by martyrdom, by almsgiving ( Luke 11:41), by the forgiveness of others ( Matthew 6:14), by love ( Luke 7:47), and by converting a sinner from the evil of his ways. God will forgive much to the man who has been the means of leading another brother back to him.
This is a thought which shines forth every now and then from the pages of Scripture. Jeremiah says, "If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless, you shall be as my mouth" ( Jeremiah 15:19). Daniel writes: "And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever" ( Daniel 12:3). The advice to the young Timothy is: "Take heed to yourself, and to your teaching; for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers" ( 1 Timothy 4:16).
There is a saying of the Jewish Fathers: "Whosoever makes a man righteous, sin prevails not over him." Clement of Alexandria says that the true Christian reckons that which benefits his neighbour his own salvation. It is told that an ultra-evangelical lady once asked Wilberforce, the liberator of the slaves, if his soul was saved. "Madame," he answered, "I have been so busy trying to save the souls of others that I have had no time to think of my own." It has been said that those who bring sunshine into the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves; and certainly those who bring the lives of others to God cannot keep God out of their own. The highest honour God can give is bestowed upon him who leads another to God; for the man who does that does nothing less than share in the work of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of men.
-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)
E. C. Blackman, The Epistle of St. James (Tch; E)
J. B. Mayor, The Epistle of St. James (MmC; G)
C. L. Mitton, The Epistle of St. James
J. Moffatt, The General Epistles: James, Peter and Jude (MC; E)
J. H. Ropes, St. James (ICC; G)
ICC: International Critical Commentary
MC: Moffatt Commentary
MmC: Macmillan Commentary
Tch: Torch Commentary
E: English Text
G: Greek Text
-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Barclay, William. "Commentary on James 5:16". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​dsb/​james-5.html. 1956-1959.
Confess your trespasses -- . Mutual honesty, openness, and sharing of needs will enable believers to uphold each other in the spiritual struggle. - MSB
confess your sins to one another -- . James probably is referring to the act of confessing to the offended party, which would fit with the letter’s emphasis on fellowship in the congregation (see Matthew 5:23-24). Confessions could also include public acknowledgment of sin in cases where the whole church has been violated. - FSB
to one another -- . Notice that it was not specifically stated to the "elders," which one would have expected from this context, but the generalized "one another." Possibly confession is to be made to those wronged. Often the early church dealt with sin corporately and publicly (cf. 1 Timothy 5:19-20). - Utley
Pray for one another -- is directed to all the readers of James’s letter and indicates that he did not expect prayer for healing to be limited to the elders (James 5:14). - ESVSB
so that you may be healed -- This could refer to physical healing or the restoration of the congregation’s spiritual health. - FSB
so that you may be healed -- This is an aorist passive subjunctive which adds an element of contingency. God is the one who heals. As there was ambiguity in the Greek term "sick" in James 5:14, the same wide semantic field is found in the term "healed." It can refer to physical or spiritual healing (cf. Matthew 13:15, quoting Isaiah 6:10; Hebrews 12:11-13; 1 Peter 2:24, quoting Isaiah 53:5). - Utley
The effective … avails much -- The energetic, passionate prayers of godly men have the power to accomplish much. Cf. Numbers 11:2. - MSB
a righteous person -- Refers to a person who is committed to doing the will of God and to cultivating right relationship with Him. - FSB
effective, fervent prayer -- This seems to denote two conditions: (1) uprightness; and (2) persistence (cf. James 5:17 and Matthew 7:7-8). The effectiveness of intercessory prayer is related to the spiritual life of the intercessor (cf. Proverbs 15:29) and primarily to the will and power of God. - Utley
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Gann, Windell. "Commentary on James 5:16". Gann's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​gbc/​james-5.html. 2021.
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 say b, is strong; and extol it above all other services: they say c, it is better than good works, or than offerings and sacrifices; and particularly, the prayer of righteous men: says R. Eliezar d
"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.''
b Zohar in Exod. fol. 100. 1. c T. Bab. Beracot, fol. 32. 2. d T. Bab. Succa, fol. 14. 1. & Yebamot, fol. 64. 1.
The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rights Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
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Gill, John. "Commentary on James 5:16". "Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible". https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​geb/​james-5.html. 1999.
|Caution against Swearing; Profaneness Condemned; Confession and Prayer; Efficacy of Prayer.||A. D. 61.|
12 But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation. 13 Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms. 14 Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: 15 And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. 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. 17 Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. 18 And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit. 19 Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; 20 Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.
This epistle now drawing to a close, the penman goes off very quickly from one thing to another: hence it is that matters so very different are insisted on in these few verses.
I. The sin of swearing is cautioned against: But above all things, my brethren, swear not, c., James 5:12; James 5:12. Some understand this too restrictedly, as if the meaning were, "Swear not at your persecutors, at those that reproach you and say all manner of evil of you; be not put into a passion by the injuries they do you, so as in your passion to be provoked to swear." This swearing is no doubt forbidden here: and it will not excuse those that are guilty of this sin to say they sear only when they are provoked to it, and before they are aware. But the apostle's warning extends to other occasions of swearing as well as this. Some have translated the words, pro panton--before all things; and so have made sense of this place to be that they should not, in common conversation, before every thing they say, put an oath. All customary needless swearing is undoubtedly forbidden, and all along in scripture condemned, as a very grievous sin. Profane swearing was very customary among the Jews, and, since this epistle is directed in general to the twelve tribes scattered abroad (as before has been observed), we may conceive this exhortation sent to those who believed not. It is hard to suppose that swearing should be one of the spots of God's children, since Peter, when he was charged with being a disciple of Christ and would disprove the charge, cursed and swore, thereby thinking most effectually to convince them that he was no disciple of Jesus, it being well known of such that they durst not allow themselves in swearing; but possibly some of the looser sort of those who were called Christians might, among other sins here charged upon them, be guilty also of this. It is a sin that in later years has most scandalously prevailed, even among those who would be thought above all others entitled to the Christian name and privileges. It is very rare indeed to hear of a dissenter from the church of England who is guilty of swearing, but among those who glory in their being of the established church nothing is more common; and indeed the most execrable oaths and curses now daily wound the ears and hearts of all serious Christians. James here says,
1. Above all things, swear not; but how many are there who mind this the least of all things, and who make light of nothing so much as common profane swearing! But why above all things is swearing here forbidden? (1.) Because it strikes most directly at the honour of God and most expressly throws contempt upon his name and authority. (2.) Because this sin has, of all sins, the least temptation to it: it is not gain, nor pleasure, nor reputation, that can move men to it, but a wantonness in sinning, and a needless showing an enmity to God. Thy enemies take thy name in vain,Psalms 139:20. This is a proof of men's being enemies to God, however they may pretend to call themselves by his name, or sometimes to compliment him in acts of worship. (3.) Because it is with most difficulty left off when once men are accustomed to it, therefore it should above all things be watched against. And, (4.) "Above all things swear not, for how can you expect the name of God should be a strong tower to you in your distress if you profane it and play with it at other times?" But (as Mr. Baxter observes) "all this is so far from forbidding necessary oaths that it is but to confirm them, by preserving the due reverence of them." And then he further notes that "The true nature of an oath is, by our speech, to pawn the reputation of some certain or great thing, for the averring of a doubted less thing; and not (as is commonly held) an appeal to God or other judge." Hence it was that swearing by the heavens, and by the earth, and by the other oaths the apostle refers to, came to be in use. The Jews thought if they did but omit the great oath of Chi-Eloah, they were safe. But they grew so profane as to swear by the creature, as if it were God; and so advanced it into the place of God; while, on the other hand, those who swear commonly and profanely by the name of God do hereby put him upon the level with every common thing.
2. But let your yea be yea, and your nay nay; lest you fall into condemnation; that is, "let it suffice you to affirm or deny a thing as there is occasion, and be sure to stand to your word, an be true to it, so as to give no occasion for your being suspected of falsehood; and then you will be kept from the condemnation of backing what you say or promise by rash oaths, and from profaning the name of God to justify yourselves. It is being suspected of falsehood that leads men to swearing. Let it be known that your keep to truth, and are firm to your word, and by this means you will find there is no need to swear to what you say. Thus shall you escape the condemnation which is expressly annexed to the third commandment: The Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain."
II. As Christians we are taught to suit ourselves to the dispensations of Providence (James 5:13; James 5:13): Is any among you afflicted? Let him pray. Is any merry? Let him sing psalms. Our condition in this world is various; and our wisdom is to submit to its being so, and to behave as becomes us both in prosperity and under affliction. Sometimes we are in sadness, sometimes in mirth; God has set these one over against the other that we may the better observe the several duties he enjoins, and that the impressions made on our passions and affections may be rendered serviceable to our devotions. Afflictions should put us upon prayer, and prosperity should make us abound in praise. Not that prayer is to be confined to a time of trouble, nor singing to a time of mirth; but these several duties may be performed with special advantage, and to the happiest purposes, at such seasons. 1. In a day of affliction nothing is more seasonable than prayer. The person afflicted must pray himself, as well as engage the prayers of others for him. Times of affliction should be praying times. To this end God sends afflictions, that we may be engaged to seek him early; and that those who at other times have neglected him may be brought to enquire after him. The spirit is then most humble, the heart is broken and tender; and prayer is most acceptable to God when it comes from a contrite humble spirit. Afflictions naturally draw out complaints; and to whom should we complain but to God in prayer? It is necessary to exercise faith and hope under afflictions; and prayer is the appointed means both for obtaining and increasing these graces in us. Is any afflicted? Let him pray. 2. In a day of mirth and prosperity singing psalms is very proper and seasonable. In the original it is only said sing, psalleto, without the addition of psalms or any other word: and we learn from the writings of several in the first ages of Christianity (particularly from a letter of Pliny's, and from some passages in Justin Martyr and Tertullian) that the Christians were accustomed to sing hymns, either taken out of scripture, or of more private composure, in their worship of God. Though some have thought that Paul's advising both the Colossians and Ephesians to speak to one another psalmois kai hymnois kai odais pneumatikais--in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, refers only to the compositions of scripture, the psalms of David being distinguished in Hebrew by Shurim, Tehillim, and Mizmorim, words that exactly answer these of the apostle. Let that be as it will, this however we are sure of, that the singing of psalms is a gospel ordinance, and that our joy should be holy joy, consecrated to God. Singing is so directed to here as to show that, if any be in circumstances of mirth and prosperity, he should turn his mirth, though alone, and by himself, in this channel. Holy mirth becomes families and retirements, as well as public assemblies. Let our singing be such as to make melody with our hearts unto the Lord, and God will assuredly be well pleased with this kind of devotion.
III. We have particular directions given as to sick persons, and healing pardoning mercy promised upon the observance of those directions. If any be sick, they are required, 1. To send for the elders, presbyterous tes ekklesias--the presbyters, pastors or ministers of the church,James 5:14; James 5:15. It lies upon sick people as a duty to send for ministers, and to desire their assistance and their prayers. 2. It is the duty of ministers to pray over the sick, when thus desired and called for. Let them pray over him; let their prayers be suited to his case, and their intercessions be as becomes those who are affected wit his calamities. 3. In the times of miraculous healing, the sick were to be anointed with oil in the name of the Lord. Expositors generally confine this anointing with oil to such as had the power of working miracles; and, when miracles ceased, this institution ceased also. In Mark's gospel we read of the apostle's anointing with oil many that were sick, and healing them, Mark 6:13. And we have accounts of this being practiced in the church two hundred years after Christ; but then the gift of healing also accompanied it, and, when the miraculous gift ceased, this rite was laid aside. The papists indeed have made a sacrament of this, which they call the extreme unction. They use it, not to heal the sick, as it was used by the apostles; but as they generally run counter to scripture, in the appointments of their church, so here they ordain that this should be administered only to such as are at the very point of death. The apostle's anointing was in order to heal the disease; the popish anointing is for the expulsion of the relics of sin, and to enable the soul (as they pretend) the better to combat with the powers of the air. When they cannot prove, by any visible effects, that Christ owns them in the continuance of this rite, they would however have people to believe that the invisible effects are very wonderful. But it is surely much better to omit this anointing with oil than to turn it quite contrary to the purposes spoken of in scripture. Some protestants have thought that this anointing was only permitted or approved by Christ, not instituted. But it should seem, by the words of James here, that it was a thing enjoined in cases where there was faith for healing. And some protestants have argued for it with this view. It was not to be commonly used, not even in the apostolical age; and some have thought that it should not be wholly laid aside in any age, but that where there are extraordinary measures of faith in the person anointing, and in those who are anointed, an extraordinary blessing may attend the observance of this direction for the sick. However that be, there is one thing carefully to be observed here, that the saving of the sick is not ascribed to the anointing with oil, but to prayer: The prayer of faith shall save the sick, c., James 5:15; James 5:15. So that, 4. Prayer over the sick must proceed from, and be accompanied with, a lively faith. There must be faith both in the person praying and in the person prayed for. In a time of sickness, it is not the cold and formal prayer that is effectual, but the prayer of faith. 5. We should observe the success of prayer. The Lord shall raise up; that is, if he be a person capable and fit for deliverance, and if God have any thing further for such a person to do in the world. And, if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him; that is, where sickness is sent as a punishment for some particular sin, that sin shall be pardoned, and in token thereof the sickness shall be removed. As when Christ said to the impotent man, Go and sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee, it is intimated that some particular sin was the cause of his sickness. The great thing therefore we should beg of God for ourselves and others in the time of sickness is the pardon of sin. Sin is both the root of sickness and the sting of it. If sin be pardoned, either affliction shall be removed in mercy or we shall see there is mercy in the continuance of it. When healing is founded upon pardon, we may say as Hezekiah did: Thou hast, in love to my soul, delivered it from the pit of corruption,Isaiah 38:17. When you are sick and in pain, it is most common to pray and cry, O give me ease! O restore me to health! But your prayer should rather and chiefly be, O that God would pardon my sins!
IV. Christians are directed to confess their faults one to another, and so to join in their prayers with an for one another,James 5:16; James 5:16. Some expositors connect this with James 5:14; James 5:14. As if when sick people send for ministers to pray over them they should then confess their faults to them. Indeed, where any are conscious that their sickness is a vindictive punishment of some particular sin, and they cannot look for the removal of their sickness without particular applications to God for the pardon of such a sin, there it may be proper to acknowledge and tell his case, that those who pray over him may know how to plead rightly for him. But the confession here required is that of Christians to one another, and not, as the papists would have it, to a priest. Where persons have injured one another, acts of injustice must be confessed to those against whom they have been committed. Where persons have tempted one another to sin or have consented in the same evil actions, there they ought mutually to blame themselves and excite each other to repentance. Where crimes are of a public nature, and have done any public mischief, there they ought to be more publicly confessed, so as may best reach to all who are concerned. And sometimes it may be well to confess our faults to some prudent minister or praying friend, that he may help us to plead with God for mercy and pardon. But then we are not to think that James puts us upon telling every thing that we are conscious is amiss in ourselves or in one another; but so far as confession is necessary to our reconciliation with such as are at variance with us, or for gaining information in any point of conscience and making our own spirits quiet and easy, so far we should be ready to confess our faults. And sometimes also it may be of good use to Christians to disclose their peculiar weaknesses and infirmities to one another, where there are great intimacies and friendships, and where they may help each other by their prayers to obtain pardon of their sins and power against them. Those who make confession of their faults one to another should thereupon pray with and for one another. The James 5:13 directs persons to pray for themselves: Is any afflicted let him pray; the James 5:14 directs to seek for the prayers of ministers; and the James 5:16 directs private Christians to pray one for another; so that here we have all sorts of prayer (ministerial, social, and secret) recommended.
V. The great advantage and efficacy of prayer are declared and proved: The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much, whether he pray for himself or for others: witness the example of Elias, James 5:17; James 5:18. He who prays must be a righteous man; not righteous in an absolute sense (for this Elias was not, who is here made a pattern to us), but righteous in a gospel sense; not loving nor approving of any iniquity. If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear my prayer,Psalms 66:18. Further, the prayer itself must be a fervent, in-wrought, well-wrought prayer. It must be a pouring out of the heart to God; and it must proceed from a faith unfeigned. Such prayer avails much. It is of great advantage to ourselves, it may be very beneficial to our friends, and we are assured of its being acceptable to God. It is good having those for friends whose prayers are available in the sight of God. The power of prayer is here proved from the success of Elijah. This may be encouraging to us even in common cases, if we consider that Elijah was a man of like passions with us. He was a zealous good man and a very great man, but he had his infirmities, and was subject to disorder in his passions as well as others. In prayer we must not look to the merit of man, but to the grace of God. Only in this we should copy after Elijah, that he prayed earnestly, or, as it is in the original, in prayer he prayed. It is not enough to say a prayer, but we must pray in prayer. Our thoughts must be fixed, our desires firm and ardent, and our graces in exercise; and, when we thus pray in prayer, we shall speed in prayer. Elijah prayed that it might not rain; and God heard him in his pleading against an idolatrous persecuting country, so that it rained not on the earth for the space of three years and six months. Again he prayed, and the heaven gave rain, c. Thus you see prayer is the key which opens and shuts heaven. To this there is an allusion, Revelation 11:6, where the two witnesses are said to have power to shut heaven, that it rain not. This instance of the extraordinary efficacy of prayer is recorded for encouragement even to ordinary Christians to be instant and earnest in prayer. God never says to any of the seed of Jacob, Seek my face in vain. If Elijah by prayer could do such great and wonderful things, surely the prayers of no righteous man shall return void. Where there may not be so much of a miracle in God's answering our prayers, yet there may be as much of grace.
VI. This epistle concludes with an exhortation to do all we can in our places to promote the conversion and salvation of others, James 5:19; James 5:20. Some interpret these verses as an apology which the apostle is making for himself that he should so plainly and sharply reprove the Jewish Christians for their many faults and errors. And certainly James gives a very good reason why he was so much concerned to reclaim them from their errors, because in thus doing he should save souls, and hide a multitude of sins. But we are not to restrain this place to the apostle's converting such as erred from the truth; no, nor to other ministerial endeavours of the like nature, since it is said, "If any err, and one convert him, let him be who he will that does so good an office for another, he is therein an instrument of saving a soul from death." Those whom the apostle here calls brethren, he yet supposes liable to err. It is no mark of a wise or a holy man to boast of his being free from error, or to refuse to acknowledge when he is in an error. But if any do err, be they ever so great, you must not be afraid to show them their error; and, be they ever so weak and little, you must not disdain to make them wiser and better. If they err from the truth, that is, from the gospel (the great rule and standard of truth), whether it be in opinion or practice, you must endeavour to bring them again to the rule. Errors in judgment and in life generally go together. There is some doctrinal mistake at the bottom of every practical miscarriage. There is no one habitually bad, but upon some bad principle. Now to convert such is to reduce them from their error, and to reclaim them from the evils they have been led into. We are not presently to accuse and exclaim against an erring brother, and seek to bring reproaches and calamities upon him, but to convert him: and, if by all our endeavours we cannot do this, yet we are nowhere empowered to persecute and destroy him. If we are instrumental in the conversion of any, we are said to convert them, though this be principally and efficiently the work of God. And, if we can do no more towards the conversion of sinners, yet we may do this--pray for the grace and Spirit of God to convert and change them. And let those that are in any way serviceable to convert others know what will be the happy consequence of their doing this: they may take great comfort in it at present, and they will meet with a crown at last. He that is said to err from the truth in James 5:19; James 5:19 is described as erring in his way in James 5:20; James 5:20, and we cannot be said to convert any merely by altering their opinions, unless we can bring them to correct and amend their ways. This is conversion--to turn a sinner from the error of his ways, and not to turn him from one party to another, or merely from one notion and way of thinking to another. He who thus converteth a sinner from the error of his ways shall save a soul from death. There is a soul in the case; and what is done towards the salvation of the soul shall certainly turn to good account. The soul being the principal part of the man, the saving of that only is mentioned, but it includes the salvation of the whole man: the spirit shall be saved from hell, the body raised from the grave, and both saved from eternal death. And then, by such conversion of heart and life, a multitude of sins shall be hid. A most comfortable passage of scripture is this. We learn hence that though our sins are many, even a multitude, yet they may be hid or pardoned; and that when sin is turned from or forsaken it shall be hid, never to appear in judgment against us. Let people contrive to cover or excuse their sin as they will, there is no way effectually and finally to hide it but by forsaking it. Some make the sense of this text to be, that conversion shall prevent a multitude of sins; and it is a truth beyond dispute that many sins are prevented in the party converted, many also may be prevented in others that he may have an influence upon, or may converse with. Upon the whole, how should we lay out ourselves with all possible concern for the conversion of sinners! It will be for the happiness and salvation of the converted; it will prevent much mischief, and the spreading and multiplying of sin in the world; it will be for the glory and honour of God; and it will mightily redound to our comfort and renown in the great day. Those that turn many to righteousness, and those who help to do so, shall shine as the stars for ever and ever.
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Henry, Matthew. "Complete Commentary on James 5:16". "Henry's Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​mhm/​james-5.html. 1706.
To the reader who enters on the consideration of the epistle of James from the epistles of Paul, the change is great and sudden, and by no means least of all from the epistle to the Hebrews, which, in the arrangement of the English Bible, immediately precedes James. The main object of that epistle was to consummate the breach of the old relationships of such Christians as were Jews in times past, and to lead them out definitively from all earthly connection into their heavenly association with Christ.
It is not so when we enter from the Acts of the Apostles; as in truth it is so arranged in the great mass of ancient authorities, and some versions which follow them. These "general epistles," as they are called, are placed not after the Pauline but before them. Thus the break is by no means so marked, but on the contrary natural and easily understood; for, in point of fact, James coalesces with the state of things that we find in the churches of Judea, and notably in the church at Jerusalem. They were zealous of the law; they went up to the temple at the hour of prayer, not only Israelites, but even priests, a great company, we hear at one time were obedient to the faith. We have no ground whatever to suppose that these left off either sacrifices or the functions properly sacerdotal. This sounds strange now as men constantly look and judge out of their own present state; but it is impossible to understand the scriptures thus. You must take what the Bible gives, and thus seek to form a just judgment according to God.
It is perfectly plain from the early portion of the Acts of the Apostles, and confirmed too by the latest glimpses which the Holy Ghost gives us of the church in Jerusalem, that there was still a great and decided cleaving to that which was properly Jewish on the part of the early Christians there. They used the faith of Christ rather for conscientious, godly, thorough carrying out of their Jewish thoughts. Whatever people may say or think about it, there is no denying this. Whatever they may know to be their own proper place as Christians who never were in such a position, and, so far from being led into it, guarded from it. Strenuously by the Holy Ghost, there is no question that the facts which scripture presents to us regarding the church in Jerusalem are as I have endeavoured to state them.
Again, the epistle of James was written not merely to the church in Jerusalem, but to the twelve tribes that were scattered abroad. This prepares us for something even larger, not merely for Christian Jews, but for Israelites, for such wherever they may be not merely in the land but out of it "scattered abroad;" as it is said, "the twelve tribes that were scattered abroad." In short it is evident that, among inspired epistles, James's address has a special and an exceptional place. Where this has not been taken into account, there need be no surprise that men have misunderstood the epistle of James. We all know that the great Reformer, Luther, treated this portion of the word of God with the most undeserved distrust and even contempt. But I am persuaded that no man, I will not say despises, but even attempts to dispense with, the epistle of James except to his own exceeding loss. Luther would have been none the worse, but all the stronger, for a real understanding of this writing of James. He needed it in many ways; and so do we. It is, therefore, a miserable cheat where any souls allow their own subjective thoughts to govern them in giving up this or any portion of the word of God; for all have an important place, each for its own object. Is it too much to ask that a document be judged by its express and manifest design? Surely we are not to take Paul's object in order to interpret James by. What can be conceived more contrary, I will not say to reverence for what claims to be inspired, but even to all sense and discrimination, than such a thought? And it is thus that men have stumbled and fallen over this it is little to say precious and profitable, and above all, practically profitable portion of the word of God.
At the same time we must read it as it is, or rather as God wrote it; and God has addressed it, beyond controversy, not merely to Christian Jews, nor even to Jews, but to the twelve tribes that were scattered abroad. Thus it embraces such of them as were Christians; and it gives a very true and just place to those who had the faith of the Lord Jesus. Only it is a mistake to suppose that it contemplates nobody else. People may come to it with the thought that all the epistles were addressed to Christians, but this is simply wrong. If you bring this or any other preconception to the word of God, no wonder His word leaves you outside its divine and holy scope. For He is ever above us and infinitely wise. Our business is to gather what He has to teach us. There is no more fruitful source of error than such a course. No wonder, therefore, when persons approach scripture with preconceived thoughts, hoping to find confirmation there instead of gathering God's mind from what He has revealed, no wonder that they find disappointment. The mischief evidently is in themselves and not in the divine word. Let us prayerfully seek to avoid the snare.
James writes then after this double manner. He says "a servant of God." Clearly there we have a broad ground which even a Jew would respect. On the other hand, to "a servant of God" he adds, "and of the Lord Jesus Christ." Here at once would spring up a divergence of feeling among them. The mass of Israelites would of course altogether repudiate such a service; but James writes of both. Observe he does not speak of himself as the brother of the Lord, although he was, and is so styled "the Lord's brother" in the epistle to the Galatians. It seems needless to explain that the James who wrote this epistle was not the son of Zebedee; for he had fallen under the violence of Herod Agrippa long before this epistle was written at a comparatively early date. I do not doubt that the writer is the one called "James the just," and "the Lord's brother;" but with all propriety, and with a beauty that we should do well to ponder and learn from, he here avoids calling himself the Lord's brother. It was quite right that others should so designate him; but he calls himself "the servant," not merely "of God," but "of the Lord Jesus Christ."
He writes, as seen, to the twelve tribes scattered abroad, and sends them greeting. It is not the salutation that the Epistles of Paul and the other apostles have made so familiar to us, but exactly the form of salutation that was used in the famous epistle of Acts 15:1-41 from the apostles and elders in Jerusalem, who wrote to the Gentile assemblies to guard them from yielding to legalism. And as he was the person who gave the sentence, it is not without interest to see the link between what was written on that day, and what James writes here.
The object of the Spirit of God was to give a final summons by him who held a pre-eminent place in Jerusalem to the entire body of Israelites, wherever they might be. This is evident on the face of it. Nor is this an opinion, but what God says. We are so told expressly. Controversy here is, or ought to be, entirely out of the question. The apostle James it is who lets us know that such was his object in writing. Accordingly the epistle savours of this. No doubt it is peculiar, but not more so in the New Testament than Jonah is in the Old. As a whole, you are aware that the prophets addressed themselves to the people of Israel. Jonah's special mission was to Nineveh, to the most famous Gentile city of that day. Just as the Hebrew scriptures are not without this exception, so in the New Testament you have another exception. What could better convict the narrowness of man's mind, who would like to have it all thoroughly square according to his notions. As a whole, the New Testament addresses itself to the Christian body; but James does not. That is to say, in the Old Testament we have an exceptional address to the Gentiles; in the New Testament we have an exceptional address to the Jews. Is not all this quite right? One sees thoroughly, in the midst of the utmost difference otherwise, how it is the same divine mind a mind above the contractedness of man. Let us hold this fast! We shall find it profitable in everything, as well as in the word that we are now reading.
"My brethren," says he, "count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trial of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing." (James 1:2-3) Thus it is at once apparent that we are on practical ground the manifestation of godliness toward both man and God, that here the Holy Ghost is pressing this as the very first injunction of the epistle. "Count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations." Temptations, trials (for clearly he refers to outward trials), are in no way the dreadful ogres that unbelief makes them to be. "We are appointed thereunto," says the apostle Paul. The Israelites no doubt found it hard, but the Spirit of God deigns here to instruct them. They were not to reckon trial a grievance. "Count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations." The reason is that God uses it for moral purposes; He deals with the nature which opposes itself to His will. "Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience" (or endurance). "But let patience have its perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing."
And how is this then to be effected? Here is brought in another essential point of the epistle. It is not only a question of trials that come upon the believer when he is here below. Clearly he is in this place addressing his brethren in Christ. He does not simply look at the whole twelve tribes, but at the faithful; as we find in the beginning of the next chapter, "My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons." So I think it is clearly here men capable of understanding what was spiritual. "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God."
These are the two most important points pressed practically throughout the epistle. One is the profit of not enjoying the pleasant only, but the rough and hard that God sends for our good. Blessing now is not in ease and honour, but, contrariwise, counting joy in trial, accepting what is painful from God, certain that He never mistakes, and that all is ordered of Him for the perfect blessing of His own people. But then this leads the way, and makes one feel the need of wisdom from God in order intelligently and happily to profit by the trial; for, as we know, the blessing of all trial is "to them that are exercised thereby." In order to discern we need wisdom. This he brings in: "If any of you lack wisdom." There is thus the need of dependence on God, the spirit of habitual waiting on Him of bowing to Him, and, in short, of obedience. "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not." We shall see by and by whence this flows, but we have merely now a general exhortation. "Let him ask in faith," says he, "nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive anything of the Lord. A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways." Thus he shows that faith supposes confidence in God, and that this doubtful mind, this hesitancy about God, is in point of fact nothing but unbelief. Accordingly it is a practical denial of the very attitude you take in asking God. It is blowing hot and blowing cold; it is appearing to ask God, when in point of fact you have no confidence in Him. Let not such a one, therefore, expect anything of the Lord.
In the next place he proceeds to show too how this works practically: "Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted: but the rich in that he is made low:" such are the ways of God "because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away." All that is founded on a mere temporary set of circumstances is doomed, and in no way belongs to the nature of God as revealed in truth and grace by the Son of God. Hence, therefore, God reverses the judgment of the world in all these matters, "Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted. but the rich, in that he is made low." The reason also is given: "For as the flower of the grass" (which is mere nature) "he shall pass away. For the sun is no sooner risen with a burning heat, but it withereth the grass, and the flower thereof falleth, and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth: so also shall the rich man fade away in his ways."
On the other hand, one may and should be "blessed." Here we have the full contrast, and the reason why all this is brought in; for there is a perfect chain of connection between these verses, little as it may appear at first sight. "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation," instead of being exposed either to the instability of unbelief which we saw, or to the mere dependence on natural resources which was next proved. The man that endures temptation, that accepts it and counts it joy, blessed is he; "for when he is tried he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him."
This leads to another character of trial in inward evil, not in outward. There is a temptation which comes from the devil as truly as there is a temptation that comes from God, and is good for man. That is, there is a trial of faith, and there is a temptation of flesh.
Now it is clear that the trial of faith is as precious as it is profitable; and of this exclusively he has been speaking up to this point. Now he just turns aside to notice the other; and it is the more important to weigh it well because, as far as I know, it is the only place in scripture where it is definitely presented. Temptations elsewhere mean trials, not inward solicitations of evil; they have no bearing upon, nor connection with, the evil nature, but on the contrary are the ways in which the Lord out of His love tries those in whom He has confidence, and works for the greater blessing of those whom He has already blessed. Here, on the other hand, we find the common sense of temptation. Alas! the very fact of its being common proves where people are, how little they have to do with God, how much in common with the world. "Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God." Now he is touching upon another character; "for God cannot be tempted by evils," you must read it as it is in the margin, "neither tempteth he any man: but every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed."
Thus it is not only that God is inaccessible to evil Himself, but He also never tempts to evil at any one time whatsoever. There is no such thought that enters the mind of God. He moves supremely above evil: this is the ground of the blessing of every child of God, which he will show presently, when he has finished the subject of evil that comes through man's nature. Evil is from himself; for, as he says, "Every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death." This is not the way in which the apostle Paul handles the matter. It is not that there is the very smallest contradiction between the two. They are perfectly harmonious; but then it is a different way of looking at the matter; and the reason is obvious, because what Paul treats of in Romans 7:1-25, which is the scripture I refer to, is not the conduct but the nature. Now, if you look at nature, it is plain that sin is there first, and in consequence of the sin that dwells in the nature, there are lusts as the effects of it. Here he looks at sin in the conduct, and accordingly there are evil workings within, and then the outward act of sin. Thus we see it is only, to say the least of it, a very great want of perception, and a dulness that certainly is unworthy nay, worthy of any person that sets up to judge the word of God a shameful position for a creature for a man above all for a Christian to take. But it is here, as is the case everywhere, blindness and ignorance in those that set one part of scripture against another.
To this, perhaps, it may be said, "Do you never find a difficulty?" To be sure, but what is the place of any one who finds a difficulty in the word of God? Wait upon God. Do not you try to settle difficulties, but put yourself in the attitude of dependence. Ask wisdom, and ask it all of God, who gives liberally and upbraids not. He will surely clear up whatever is for His own glory. There is not a man of exercised soul in this building, or any other, who has not proved the truth of what I am now saying. There is not a man who has been led in any measure to the understanding of the ways of God that has not proved the very passages, which he once found so difficult when they were not understood, to be the means of exceeding light to his soul when they were. And therefore, haste to solve difficulties is really and practically a finding fault either with God or with His word;-with His word, because it is deeper than we are; with Himself, because He does not give the babe the knowledge that would be proper to the grown man. Now it is evident that this is only foolishness. It is just the haste that hinders blessing and progress. However, nothing can be simpler than that which the apostle here describes and recommends to us, and nothing more certain.
Now we come to the other side. "Do not err, beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above." We have had the evil traced to its source, which is the fallen nature of man, no doubt wrought on by Satan, but without here bringing the enemy before us. We shall find this by and by, inJames 4:1-17; James 4:1-17; but here he simply looks on man's nature, and then he raises his eyes to God. "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning." The first point therefore in the mind of the Holy Ghost here is to vindicate God. at all cost, and this entirely apart from us. As evil comes from us, so all that is good comes from God; and not only is God the spring of every good every good giving and every perfect gift being all from God (the manner of it as well as the thing itself that is given); but, besides, there is no change in God, the creature in its best estate is nothing but change.
Thus there is a most complete vindication of God's moral glory in this verse, contrasted with man in his weakness, and ruin, and evil. But he goes farther, and asserts and asserting, too, in the most admirable manner the truth of the sovereign action of grace. He has claimed this for God already; but now we come to see the application to us. It is not only, therefore, that God is good, but that He is a giver, and this of nothing that is not good, and of all that is good. Stainless in His holiness, and invariable in His light, God is active in His love; and as the fruit of this energetic sovereign love He does not bless merely, sweet as it is from Him. Blessing is altogether short of that which we know now in Christianity-of that which even James treats of, according to his very broad and comprehensive epistle. In the bright day that is coming God will bless the creature. In the dark day that man calls "now," God more than blesses far more than blesses those who believe. We are ourselves born of Him: He communicates His nature to the believer. He does so unsought, and surely undeserved. Undeserved! Why there was nothing but evil: he had shown this immediately before. There was nothing good from man's nature as a fallen creature,-nothing but good from God.
Then, let it be repeated, it is not merely good we see here, but a communication of His own spiritual nature; and this He is doing by the word of truth. Scripture is the medium. The revelation of Himself by which He acts on souls is accordingly here brought before us, no less than His own sovereign will as the source of it. "Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first-fruits of his creatures." He means to bring in fulness of blessing by and by. This will be, as far as government is concerned, in the millennium; but, being only government, evil will remain to be controlled and kept down to His own glory. This could in no wise satisfy God's nature, and so scripture reveals a time coming when all will be according to God. Then will be in the fullest sense His rest, when all question of His working and of man's responsibility will be over, when He, entering into the result, will grant us to enter into His rest. Then shall we be not merely first-fruits of His creatures, but all in rest and glory according to the new heavens and new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.
Meanwhile we who are thus begotten, the firstfruits, have the wondrous blessing here set forth. It is not merely that we are objects of this blessing. Alas! how often a blessing has been given, and as often lost, being turned to His shame and men's corruption. God blessed, as we know, at the very beginning blessed everything that He had made; but there was no stability in a blessing itself. To ensure stability, all must rest on one who is God as well as man, giving us a nature according to God. In those that are fallen there must be the communication of the divine nature; and this there is in Christ, and so there always has been. It may not be always consciously known, and it was not in Old Testament times; but in order that there should be a basis of immutable blessing, and of communion in any measure between God and the creature, there must be the communication of the divine nature. Of this, accordingly, James here speaks. How it links itself with Peter, and John, and Paul, we need not stop now to enquire. We see at once that he who could despise such an epistle as this is a man not to be despised indeed, for God would not have us despise any as He despises none Himself; but certainly to call forth pain and sorrow that such thoughts should ever have been allowed in a soul born of God and withal a servant of Jesus Christ.
Founded, then, on this, the communication of His own nature, with its moral judgment, we. have the practical exhortation: "Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear." Hearing is exactly the attitude of dependence. Now one who is the servant of God looks up to God, confides in God, and expects from God. This is the place which becomes him that is born of God. "Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak." Speech is apt to be the expression of our nature of ourselves. Be slow then to speak, swift to hear. Clearly he has God in view, and has His word before him, and that which would make His word understood. Let us, too, be "swift to hear, slow to speak."
But another thing is to be heeded. It is not only that the nature of man expresses itself in the tongue, but in the feelings of the heart; and alas! in the wrath of a fallen creature. Let us be, then, not only slow to speak, but "slow to wrath." You see at once that we have an exhortation founded on, first, the spiritual anatomy, if I may so say, of our nature, and then we are given to know the wondrous character of the new life that we have received by faith of Jesus Christ, and know to be ours, because we are "begotten by the word of truth." Next, he gives the reason; "for," says he, "the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God."
It need scarcely be remarked that it is no question here of the righteousness of God in a doctrinal sense. James does not deal with such matters; he never takes up the question how a sinner is to be justified. Therefore, certainly, he in no way contradicts Paul, any more than in what is said of faith, or justification; indeed he does not at all treat of the same question that Paul has before him. Where two persons really take up the same matter, and then give us contrary expressions, they of course contradict each other; but if they deal with two totally different points, although they may be ever so closely connected, contradiction there is none: and such precisely is the fact as to Paul and James in the matter before us, without saying a word of the inspiration which makes it impossible. They both employ the words, "faith," "works," and "justify," but they are not settling the same question, but two different ones. We shall find the reason of this by and by, but I the more willingly make this remark in passing, in order to help any souls who find a difficulty; because it often proves a snare, particularly to those who rest over-much on verbal analogies.
Let us look to the grace of the Lord to understand the scripture. It is the habit of many, if they find the same expression, to give it always the same meaning. This is true neither in every-day language nor in God's word. Here, for instance, we have the righteousness of God clearly in a different sense from that so familiar to us in the Pauline epistles. He is speaking of what is not pleasing to, because, inconsistent with, His nature; and clearly the wrath of man is offensive to Him. It works nothing suitable to His moral nature. The passage speaks of practice, not of doctrine.
"Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls." It will be observed how far it is from being an imposed law. Particular pains are taken to guard from this prevalent idea. A Jew would have been likely to have thought of it thus; for he naturally turned to the law as the one and only standard. But, on the other hand, James is far from leaving out the use of the law: we shall find it in this very epistle. Still he is careful in this place to show that the word deals inwardly with the man, that it is this implanted word, as he calls it, and not an external law, that is able to save the soul. The word enters by faith, or, as the apostle has it in Hebrews, is "mixed with faith in them that hear it." "But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves." It is plain that we find ourselves throughout on the practical side of the manifestation by life. This is the governing thought and aim of the epistle.
"For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass." He may have ever so clear a view of himself; he sees clearly what he is like for a moment; but he as soon forgets all. "He beholdeth himself, and goeth his way." The image is faded and gone. He "straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was." Oh, how true is this, and how admirably drawn to the life! It is that glimpse of conviction by the truth that comes before souls when they are forced to discern what the spring of their thoughts is, what their feelings are when the light of God flashes over and through a man; but how soon it passes away, instead of entering in and abiding within the soul! It is the power of the Spirit of God alone that can grave these things on the heart. But here the apostle is exposing the absence of an internal work where intelligence is severed from conscience, and this he illustrates, as we have seen, by the man that gets a glance in a glass, and then all is gone directly his back is turned. Whereas there is power and permanence with him who fixes his view on "the perfect law of liberty."
And here it seems seasonable to say that, so far from James being legal in the evil sense of the word, he is the inspired man who, at least as much as any other, slays legality by this very expression. For this end there is not a more precious thought nor a mightier word in all the New Testament. In its own province there is nothing better, plainer, or more striking. The reason why people often find legality in James is because they themselves bring it. They are under that influence in their souls, and accordingly they cloud the light of James with that which was meant to veil the guilty in darkness.
What then is the law of liberty? It is the word of God which directs a man begotten by the word of truth, urging and cheering and strengthening him in the very things that the new life delights in. Consequently it has an action exactly the opposite of that exercised by the law of Moses on the Israelite. This is evident from the bare terms: "Thou shalt not do" this, "thou shalt not do" that.* Why? Because they wanted to do what God prohibited. The desire of man as he is being after evil, the law put a veto on the indulgence of the will. It was necessarily negative, not positive, in character. The law forbad the very things to which man's own impulses and desires would have prompted him, and is the solemn means of detecting rebellious fallen nature. But this is not the law of liberty in any wise, but the law of bondage, condemnation, and death.
*If my memory serve me, a celebrated man of the day wrote an essay on liberty, in which he observes that Christians are thrown on the law of Moses in default of positive morality in the New Testament. Can anything be conceived more superficial than such a remark? or a more evident token of the blindness of unbelief in him who made it? But it must really be so where Christ is not known. Is it not also striking as a proof that superstition is at bottom infidel as truly as free-thinking. In this the theologian and the sceptic come to the same conclusion, and from the same source a lack of seeing and appreciating Jesus. Life in Christ is positive; the law was essentially negative. The word of God expresses that life, and the Spirit gives it power; but this needs faith which all have not.
The law of liberty brings in the positive for those who love it not the negation of what the will and lust of man desires, so much as the exercise of the new life in what is according to its own nature. Thus it has been often and very aptly described as a loving parent who tells his child that he must go here or there; that is, the very places which he knows perfectly the child would be most gratified to visit. Such is the law of liberty: as if one said to the child, "Now, my child, you must go and do such or such a thing," all the while knowing that you can confer no greater favour on the child. It has not at all the character of resisting the will of the child, but rather of directing his affections in the will of the object dearest to him. The child is regarded and led according to the love of the parent, who knows what the desire of the child is a desire that has been in virtue of a new nature implanted by God Himself in the child. He has given him a life that loves His ways and word, that hates and revolts from evil, and is pained most of all by falling through unwatchfulness under sin, if it seemed ever so little. The law of liberty therefore consists not so much in a restraint on gratifying the old man, as in guiding and guarding the new; for the heart's delight is in what is good and holy and true; and the word of our God on the one hand exercises us in cleaving to that which is the joy of the Christian's heart, and strengthens us in our detestation of all that we know to be offensive to the Lord.
Such is the law of liberty. Accordingly "whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed" (or rather "doing"). There is, however, the need of attending to the other side of the picture: "If any man seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain."
Then the chapter closes with giving us a sample of what pure and undefiled religion is, but chiefly as we observe in a practical way the main object and never lost sight of. There is, first, the "visiting the fatherless and widows in their affliction," persons from whom one could gather nothing flattering to the flesh, or in any way calculated to minister to self; there is, on the other hand, the keeping one's self unspotted from the world. How often one hears people in the habit of quoting from this verse for what they call practice, who dwell on the first part to the exclusion of the last. How comes it that the last clause is forgotten? Is it not precisely what those who quote would find the greatest difficulty in honestly proving that they value? Let us then endeavour to profit by the warning, and above all by the precious lesson in the word of our God.
In all that we have had the question naturally arises, Wherein lies the special propriety of such exhortations or why are they addressed to the twelve tribes? Surely we may ask this; for those who value the word of God are not precluded from enquiring what the object is. Rather are we encouraged to ask why it was according to the wisdom of God that such words as these should be presented to Israel, and especially to such of the twelve tribes as had the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ. James enters upon this expressly in the next chapter.
James 2:1-26 "My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring." in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; and ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou here, or sit here under my footstool; are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts? Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? But ye have despised them." Here, it would seem, we begin to learn more definitely the reason. We can see the need, value, and wisdom of what has been said, but we may find here the occasion of it: with Israel there was peculiar danger of taking up the doctrines of Christianity as a system. As a people who had an exceptionally religious standing, they were yet more exposed to this than the Gentiles. The Jewish mind on its own side was just as prone to make a code of Christianity as the Gentiles were to couple it with philosophy. The Greek mind might speculate and theorize about it, but the Jew would make a quasi-Talmud of it in its way. His tendency would be to reduce it merely to a number of thoughts, and thus an outward system.
At this precisely is the epistle levelled, namely, the severing faith from practice. Against this the Holy Ghost launches His solemn and searching words in the rest of the chapter. This brings in the allusion to the law: "If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: but if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors." Then follows a grave and searching consideration for those who talk about the law, "for whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law." From this use of these two things, that is, the royal law which thus goes forth towards one's neighbour, and again the law in general, he turns to take up the law of liberty which has been explained before. "For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath showed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment."
This introduces then the famous passage which has been the perplexity of so many minds: "What should it profit, my brethren, though a man may say that he hath faith, and have not works? Can faith save?" It is evident that it cannot. A faith that is unproductive has no living link with God. What is the good of a faith that consists in mere assent to so many dogmas, and thus proves its human source? The faith that is given us of God saves, not that which is the fruit of man's nature. We have seen this already, and so therefore, the grand principle of the first chapter leads as simply as possible into the application of it in the second. Here all is exemplified in a plain but striking way. "If a brother or a sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?" Evidently nothing. "Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe and tremble." If there is any difference, the advantage is really on the side of those misleaders of poor ruined men. At least they do feel; and so far there is a greater effect produced than on these reasoning Jews. "But wilt thou know, O vain man?" says he. It is not all that the Corinthian was vain in his speculations, but the Jew not less, who thus spoke and acted. "Wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead."
Yet the remarkable feature we have also to weigh here is that when works are thus introduced, attention is directed to what would be perfectly valueless if they were not the result of faith, nay, worse than valueless, positively evil, and entailing the severest punishment. For if we merely look at Abraham, or at Rahab, apart from God, apart from faith, if we regard their ways here cited as a question of human good works who in the world would ever so style that which Abraham or Rahab did? It is perfectly plain that according to man Abraham would have been in danger of losing his liberty, if not his head, for intent to kill Isaac; and unquestionably, judged by her country's law, the conduct of Rahab must have exposed her to the worst punishment of the worst political crime. But this would be judging their actions apart from God, because of whose will they were done, and apart from faith, which alone gave these works their life and character. Otherwise Abraham in man's eye was a father ready to murder his own son: what could be worse than this? In short, if we regard his work apart from faith, it is perhaps the darkest evil conceivable. And what was Rahab's act but treason against her country and her king? Was she not willing, so to speak, to hand over the possession of the city in which she had been born and bred to those who were going to raze it to the foundations?
The moment we bring into view God and His will and His purposes, it is needless to say that these two memorable acts stand out clothed with the light of heaven. The one was the most admirable submission to God with unqualified confidence in Himself, even when one could not see how His sure promise could stand, but sure it would. A man that did look straight up to God, swift to hear and slow to speak, was Abraham; a man in whom the loud voice of nature was utterly silenced, that God's will and word might alone govern his soul. So, if it were his only son that came of Sarah, so much the more bound to his heart because so singularly given in the pure favour of God, yet he would give him up, and be prepared with his own hand to do the dreadful deed. Oh, if ever there was a work of faith since the world began, it was that work for which Abraham was ready yea, did put his hand to. So on Rahab's story I need not dwell, except just to show how remarkably guided of divine wisdom was James's allusion. How truly it bears the very stamp of inspiration, and the more so because we know the apostle Paul refers to Abraham at least for a totally different purpose! But not more certainly was Paul inspired to present Abraham's faith and Abraham's act too in this closing circumstance of his life (we may say, the great and final test of his faith), not more was Paul guided in his application, than James was in that which has been just now before us.
The great point of all seems this: that there were works, but the works that James insists on are works where faith constitutes their special excellence, and indeed alone could be their justification. Is this then in any way allowing the value of works without faith? The very reverse is true. He does call for works, and is not content simply with faith, but the works he produces are works that owe all their value to faith.
Thus, therefore, the indissoluble union between faith and works never was more blessedly maintained than in the very circumstances that James thus brings before us. So far is he from shaking faith that he supposes it, and the works which he commends are stamped with it in the most definite and striking manner.
Then we come to some fresh practical exhortations. As we have found, he particularly warns against the tongue as the expression of the heart's excitement if not of malice. "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh." Here we open with its application in another and, if possible, still more important province; that is, in the matter of speaking to public edification. We have to remember that the danger is not only in what may be breathed in private; but, adds he, James 3:1-18; James 3:1-18 "Be not many masters," that is, in the sense of teachers "knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation." For surely that which a man says publicly will be used to measure himself; and it is well to be prepared for it. If we ought as a rule to be slow to speak, there is no exception in setting up to teach others; for thus we certainly incur severer judgment. It is an exhortation that shows on the one hand the danger and wrong of being over ready to seize an open door through anxiety to display one's self; on the other hand, it supposes the perfect liberty that reigned among believers. Impossible that such an exhortation could apply where there exists the régime of an exclusive ministry.
Thus evidently not only does James's doctrine set forth clearly the blessed truth of a new nature, as already shown, but his exhortation supposes just the same openness among Christians in the exercise of ministerial gift as was found, e.g. in 1 Corinthians 14:1-40, and in practice throughout the church of God. So far from there being any contradiction of others in the epistle of James, although there is not a little which in form is new (for the twelve tribes) both in its breadth and in its speciality, the mind of God is one. The inspiring Spirit, even in the most peculiar production of the New Testament epistles, gives us what harmonizes with every other part, and cements the whole fabric of divine truth.
There is a moral reason added: "For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body." He does not, I apprehend, restrict himself to public speaking, though opening with it, as we have seen. "Behold we put bits into horses' mouths." He shows that it may seem a little thing to man, but we must not excuse what is wrong because it may appear to have a little source. He proves that the least things are often those which govern other bodies incomparably larger. "Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm." This is applied to the subject in hand. "The tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter" (or wood, as it is given in the margin) "a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell." In all the Bible we meet no more energetic and truthful picture of the desperate evil to which men are exposed by that little active member. "For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: but the tongue can no man tame." The comfort is that God can deal with it God who gives the believer His own nature, and knows how to bring down the old nature so that there may be scope for the manifestation of what is of Himself.
Nor does James spare the gross inconsistency too often experienced. "Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be." This is fortified by various illustrations, and followed up by the picture of the wise man, who is proved to be such, not by famous knowledge, but practically. It is always the every-day application that is in the mind of James. It is ever the right thing, as it was exactly what was most called for then and there. Had he in this epistle launched out into the vast expanse of the truth, he would only have given an impulse to the heaping up of more dogmas. Such a course would only have aggravated the evil instead of uprooting it. Himself a wise man in his ordinary ways, there was divine wisdom given him by the Holy Ghost in thus dealing so directly with the snares of the twelve tribes, and even of that portion which professed the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Hence, if a man be wise, the question arises, how is it to be proved? Assuredly not in talking much, which usually tends to talking ill. "Let him show out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom." If on the contrary there were bitter envy and strife in their hearts, how could they boast against the truth, or he against it? How cuttingly severe, and this simply from laying bare things as they were! Yet, what an exposure! Think of people glorying in their shame! "And lie not against the truth." It was a practical incongruity and contradiction of the mind of God.
Then we are shown two kinds of wisdom, just as with regard to temptations there were two sorts of them one blessed from God, and a real glory to the man that endures; and the other a shame, because it springs from his own fallen nature. No otherwise is it with wisdom. "This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work." Its works prove its nature and its source. There is confusion in every evil way, "but the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable." Never reverse this order; it is not only that this wisdom is pure and peaceable, but it is first pure, then peaceable. It first maintains the character and glory of God, and then seeks the fruits of peace among men. But this is not all. It is gentle, and easy to be entreated, or yielding. Instead of ever giving battle for its rights supposed or real, there is clearly the yieldingness of grace about it. It is not the stubbornness of self-assertion or opinionativeness. This, on the contrary, stamps the sensual aspiring wisdom of man; but what comes down from above is gentle, yielding, full of mercy and good fruits, uncontentious, and unfeigned. When a man is conscious that his wisdom is of a suspicious kind, one can understand him unwilling to have his mind or will disputed; but the truth is, that there is nothing which so much marks the superiority of grace and truth and wisdom that God gives as patience, and the absence of anxiety to push what one knows is right and true. It is an inherent and sure sign of weakness somewhere, when a man is ever urgent in pressing the value of his own words and way, or cavilling habitually at others. "The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated:" it is also "full of mercy and good fruits, without contention, and without hypocrisy." It is characterised by the self-judgment which delights in and displays the ways of God. "And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace." Thus if there is peace in the way, righteousness is alike the seed and the fruit. The seed, as ever, must produce its own proper fruit. "The fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace." What an honour to be sons of peace in a world ever at war with God and those who are His!
Alas! we find in James 4:1-17 the contrary of this wars and fightings, "whence come they?" Not from the new nature of which God is the blessed source, but from the old. "Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God?" I hope it will not be contended that these were persons born of God. It seems to me that what was stated at the beginning of the present discourse is an important key for interpreting expressions. On the other hand, the effect of forgetting to whom the words are addressed, and of assuming that the epistle contemplates none but such as are born of God, is that you are obliged to explain away the strength of the divine word. Receive its address in simplicity of faith, and every word of God is intelligently found to tell. You do not require to enfeeble a single phrase. James does contemplate Christians, but not Christians only. He is writing as he says himself, to the Israelitish stock, and not merely to those of Israel that believe. Expressly he addresses the whole twelve tribes of Israel. Whether they believe or not, they are all addressed in this epistle. Consequently there is a word for those of them that were clearly not born of God, as well as for those who were.
Under this impression I read, "Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God. Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?" Need it be told you that this verse has been a matter of much difficulty to many minds? Although I am not at all prepared to dogmatize about its force, it appears to me a harsh expression to suppose that the spirit here described means no more than man's spirit. I do not know how a man's spirit can with propriety be said to dwell in a man. One can understand "the spirit of a man that is in him;" as the apostle Paul, when describing the human spirit, does put it in1 Corinthians 2:1-16; 1 Corinthians 2:1-16, but hardly the spirit that dwelleth in a man. But if here it be not the spirit of man, the only spirit elsewhere said to dwell in man ( i.e., the believer) is the Spirit of God. But herein is just what causes the difficulty. How, if it be the Spirit of God, can He be put in such a connection here? Must we translate and punctuate as in the common Greek Testament and English Bible?
Hence many are of opinion (and to this I am rather disposed, though I would not venture to say more) that the verse ought to be thus divided: "Do ye think that the scripture speaketh in vain? Does the Spirit that dwelleth in us lust unto envy?" Clearly both the word condemns and the Holy Spirit leads in a wholly different direction. (Compare Galatians 5:1-26) The natural spirit of man does lust to envy, no doubt; but the Spirit that dwells in us opposes the flesh at all points, as we know scripture does.
And this connects itself, as it seems to me, with what follows: "But he giveth more grace." That is, so far from lusting to envy, God is acting in goodness. It is grace alone that has communicated the nature of God; it is grace alone that strengthens the new nature by the gift of the Holy Ghost who dwells in us; and yet more than this, "He giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble." He who realises with God what this world is, and what man's nature is, is humble before Him; as also more grace is given to such. The sense of all around and within leads him out in self-judgment before God.
This, then, I suppose though not venturing to speak with more decision is the practical result. "Submit yourselves therefore to God. But resist the devil, and he will flee from you." How much is covered by these two exhortations! One is the source of all that is good, and the other the guard against all that is evil. "Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners." Will it be contended that sinners means saints? They are utterly different. There prevails among too many evangelical persons a mischievous habit of talking about "saved sinners." To my mind it is not only inexact but misleading and dangerous. Scripture knows no such being as a "saved sinner." We may well rejoice over a "sinner saved" if we know the mercy of it in our souls; but if we license the phrase a "saved sinner," the moral effect is, that, when and though saved, he is still free to sin. Not that any one acquainted with the truth denies that a saved soul has still the flesh in him, and is liable to sin if unwatchful. Still he who is saved has a new life and the Holy Ghost, and to sin is not natural for him: he is bound to walk in the Spirit as he lives in it. Evidently, if he sin, he must go athwart his new nature and position, and the blessed deliverance which God has given him in Christ.
Thus there is often a great deal of importance even in the way in which a truth is stated. The manner of stating a truth, however well-meant, may sometimes stumble souls, through our own want of subjection to the precious truth and the wonderful wisdom of God in His word. Instead of helping on holiness, one may on the contrary, by an unguarded word, give somewhat of a loose rein to the old nature. This no part of scripture does. It is perfectly true that, when God begins to deal with a soul, He certainly begins with him as a sinner; but He never ends there. I am not aware of any part of the word of God in which a believer, save perhaps in a transitional state, is ever referred to as a sinner. No doubt that he who was in the front rank of all the saints and servants of God, when he looked at what he was in himself glorying in the law and nature, could and did characterize himself as a chief of sinners, especially when he thought of the immeasurable riches of God's race of which he was so favoured a communicator to souls. In this we do and must all join in our measure. At the same time it is evident that to be a saint and a sinner at the same time is simply a flat contradiction.
In short, holy scripture does not sanction such a combination, and the sooner we get rid of phrases, which deserve no better name than religious cant, the better for all parties. It would be waste of time to speak of such a thing now, if it were not of practical moment; but I am convinced that it is' and that this and other stereotyped phrases of the religious world gravely need and will not bear an examination in the light of scripture. The traditions of Protestants and Evangelicals are no better than those of Roman Catholics, any more than of Jews who were before them all. Our wisest course is to discard every unscriptural phrase which we find current and influential.
I press, then, that the word "sinners" here clearly to my mind shows that the Spirit of God in this epistle takes in a larger range than most allow. Also it is no mean confirmation of what has been already advanced as to James. "Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up. Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother" is really speaking evil of God's own law and judging it.
But he presses also the necessity of dependence on God in another form in the end of our chapter. That is, we are warned against forming resolutions, plans of our future doings and the like. This too is a practical subject. We ought all to know how much we need to watch against such an ignoring of God above us, and the coming of the Lord. As he says here, "Go to now, ye that say, Today or tomorrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow" not even on the morrow. "For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away, instead of your saying, If the Lord will, and we live, we will also do this, or that. But now ye glory in your boastings: all such glorying is evil." He does not conclude, however, without another appeal to conscience. "Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin." It is the law of liberty, and of infinite purity and power. It is not only that sin consists in doing evil, but in not doing the good that we know. May we never forget what the new nature loves and feels to be true and holy according to Christ.
Then in James 5:1-20 we have a solemn word for rich men, to weep and howl for their miseries that shall come upon them. Will any man argue still that this means the saints of God? Are they the persons called to weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon them? Are they told to weep and howl? "Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver are cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together "not exactly "for the last days." This would be hardly intelligible. What there can be little doubt the Holy Ghost meant us to gather is, "Ye have heaped together riches in the last days." This aggravated the selfishness of their ways and their indifference to others. It is bad enough to heap treasure at any time; but to heap it up in the last days was to add not a little to the evil in the Lord's eyes. "Is it a time," said the indignant prophet, to his covetous and deceitful attendant, "to receive money, and to receive garments, and olive-yards, and vineyards, and sheep, and oxen, and men-servants, and maid-servants?" Was it a time, when God was dealing with unwonted power and grace even for Gentiles? Was this the time for an Israelite to lie for profit and get gain by it? And so here; when the last days were proclaimed by God's word in solemn warning, the heaping up of treasure in such days as these was indeed most offensive to Him.
"Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth. Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter. Ye have condemned and killed the just." What an unexpected moral link! The apostle shows that the spirit of heaping up riches in the last days is the same that in other circumstances slew Jesus Christ the righteous. It is not a connection that we could have anticipated, but it is just such an one as would be discerned by the Holy Ghost ever sensitive to the Lord's glory; and so in fact it is as we may feel on reflection. It was this selfishness that came into direct personal collision with the Lord of glory, "who, though he was rich, yet for our sakes became poor, that we through his poverty might be made rich." We can understand that those whose one object was their own importance, glory, and ease in this world, necessarily felt that such an one was a living witness against them, and convicted them of flagrant opposition to the grace of God, who taught by Jesus in word and deed that it is more blessed to give than to receive. For this doctrine and practice the Pharisees were quite unprepared. (See Luke 16:1-31) Accordingly their hatred grew until it resulted in the cross of the Lord; and hence this is one of the elements, though of course not the only one, which calls down the judgment of God; and the Spirit of God so treats it here: "Ye have killed the just." The allusion is to the Lord, not the just in general, but the Just One, even Christ, "and he doth not resist you."
Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. "Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and the latter rain. Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh."
Then he calls them again so much the more to avoid a murmuring spirit against one and another, because the judge stood at the door. He exhorts them to endurance and to patience. This reappears as a final appeal. We had it at the commencement of the chapter; we have it again here that it should by all means be remembered. "Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience. Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy."
Then another snare is connected with this for avoidance: "Above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation." What has the apostle in view here? The oath before a magistrate? In no wise does scripture slight that solemn obligation. The Lord Himself respected the adjuration of the high-priest; and in no passage whatever do we see a depreciatory allusion to a judicial oath in the sermon on the mount, or, in what James says here, or in any other part of the Bible, but the contrary, The Lord was addressing Jewish disciples, James writes to the twelve tribes of Israel who are in the dispersion; but what they both set their faces against was the habit of bringing in religious asseverations for the purpose of confirming their word every day, besides the profaning of the Lord's name in matters of this life. This in point of fact weakens instead of establishing what is said; for it is evident that whatever is uncalled for gives no strength to an assertion, but is just a fruit and proof of weakness. Where there is simple truth, nothing is needed but the quiet statement of the fact.
There were no people so prone to ordinary swearing as the Jews. Accordingly, I have not the slightest doubt that what our Lord and His servants reprobated was the introduction of an oath in common conversation; and this, it is plain, does not apply to an oath administered by a magistrate. Indeed, it seems to me in itself sinful for a man to refuse an oath (supposing its form otherwise unobjectionable) if required to do so by proper authority. It would be to me a virtual denial of God's authority in civil government here below. I believe, therefore, that it is the bounden duty of every man to whom an oath is put, to take it in the fear of the Lord. I admit it must be put by competent authority. Therefore we are not to assume that the passage in Matthew 5:1-48, or this portion of James, has the smallest reference to judicial swearing. How could one think that those who indulge in such thoughts show any real intelligence as to the word of God? They certainly exhibit a certain care for conscientiousness. This is not in the least denied. But we have to take care that we are guided of God in this, which is important in the present day when we know that the spirit of the age is endeavouring to blot out God in all that touches man here below. The Lord was silent till adjured by the high-priest: was not His conduct thus perfectly consistent with His own teaching? An oath, therefore, should not be refused when put by a magistrate. I am supposing, of course, that there is nothing in the terms of the oath that would involve false doctrine or countenance a superstition. For instance, in a Roman Catholic country there might be reference to the virgin, or angels, or saints. Such an oath I do not think that a Christian man would he at liberty to take. But I am supposing now that a person is required in the name of God to declare what he believes to be the truth in a matter of which he is a witness, the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. It appears to me that so far from his being at liberty to refuse this, he is on the contrary guilty, through ignorance, of no small sin in cavilling about the matter.
The rest of the chapter takes up another subject the case of God's discipline. It is governmental. "Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms." This does not mean expressly the inspired psalms. Persons are apt to think of the psalms of David whenever there is the introduction of the word. Doubtless old habits and associations lead to this; but there is no ground for it in the Bible. No more is meant here than that, being happy, he is to give vent to his joy in the praise of the Lord. It is nothing more. "Is any among you sick? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord." This we know was an old custom. It was used even by those who were clothed with miraculous power. When the apostles were sent forth of our Lord, they were directed by Him to anoint the sick with oil. (Mark 6:1-56) And so here the elders were to act in the same remarkable style. Nor do I deny that there are answers to prayer of a very striking kind. I do not call these answers miraculous powers, because the true power of this kind is that exercised by a person raised up of the Lord for the purpose, and who knows that he can count upon it in the case where He pleases to show it; whereas in an answer to prayer there is a trial and exercise of faith about it, just as with those who were praying for Peter when he was in prison. There was no miracle in their part of the business, as far as they were concerned. There was a remarkably direct intervention of God, but it was in no way connected with any gift of miracles committed to the people who were praying. "And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up." Here it is a question of God's judgment. The person is chastened in sickness for some evil; it is now judged; grace intervenes, and God heals.
Then comes the general spirit of confession. "Confess your faults one to another, and pray for one another, that ye may be healed." It is the true love that interests itself, not only in that which is good, but even in what is, alas! the fruit of unjudged evil. But there is a careful abstinence from urging confession to the elders, I cannot doubt, in the far-seeing wisdom of God, who loves souls and hates superstition. "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." Elias is cited in support of this. Finally we have, "Brethren. if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins." It is doubtless put in a general form. At the same time it only confirms, as it appears to me, what has already been shown to be the comprehensive character of the epistle.
In the next lecture we shall enter, if the Lord will, on what belongs more to the ordinary train of our Christian associations.
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Kelly, William. "Commentary on James 5:16". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​wkc/​james-5.html. 1860-1890.