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Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary

James 5:16

Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.
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;  
Bridgeway Bible Dictionary - Confession;   Healing;   Prayer;   Baker Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology - Confess, Confession;   Heal, Health;   Holy Spirit, Gifts of;   Prayer;   Charles Buck Theological Dictionary - Beneficence;   Fellowship;   Prayer;   Easton Bible Dictionary - Confession;   Effectual Prayer;   Prayer;   Fausset Bible Dictionary - Confession;   Prayer;   Prophet;   Rephidim;   Holman Bible Dictionary - Confession;   Healing, Divine;   James, the Letter;   Letter Form and Function;   Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible - Confession;   Mediator, Mediation;   Prayer;   Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament - Absolution;   Confession;   Confession (of Christ);   Excommunication;   Intercession;   James Epistle of;   Sin;   Morrish Bible Dictionary - Confession;   Forgiveness;   Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary - Confession;  
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia - Avail;   Confession;   Effect;   Fault;   Fervent;   Intercession;   The Jewish Encyclopedia - Confession of Sin;  
Daily Light on the Daily Path - Devotion for December 3;   Every Day Light - Devotion for January 26;   Today's Word from Skip Moen - Devotion for November 6;  

Adam Clarke Commentary

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". 1832.

Bridgeway Bible Commentary


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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Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on James 5:16". "Brideway Bible Commentary". 2005.

Coffman Commentaries on the Bible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[55] Ibid.

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

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Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on James 5:16". "Coffman Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Availeth much - ἰσχύει 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". 1870.

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

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

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

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

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

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

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

(142) The illative οὖν, though found in some MSS., is not introduced into the text by Griesbach, there being no sufficient evidence in its favor. Nor does there appear a sufficient reason for the connection mentioned by Calvin. The two cases seem to be different. The elders of the church were in the previous instance to be called in, who were to pray and anoint the sick, and it is said that the prayer of faith ( i.e. of miraculous faith) would save the sick, and that his sins would be forgiven him. This was clearly a case of miraculous healing. But what is spoken of in this verse seems to be quite different. Prayer is alone mentioned, not by the elders, but by a righteous man, not saving as in the former case, but availing much. It seems probable then that the sins of the sick miraculously healed were more especially against God; and that the sins which they were to confess to one another were against the brethren, also visited with judgment and the remedy for them was mutual confession, and mutual prayer; but the success in this case was not as sure or as certain as in the former, only we are told that an earnest prayer avails much. Then, to encourage this earnest or fervent prayer, the case of Elias is adduced; but it had nothing to do with miraculous healing.

(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 ἐνεργὴς, energetic, powerful, ardent, fervent.

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

Chuck Smith Bible Commentary

Chapter 5

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 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. "

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Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on James 5:16". "Chuck Smith Bible Commentary". 2014.

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable


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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Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable

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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Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable

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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Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable

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

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

James assumed these facts, I believe, that are consistent with other revelation concerning prayer that the writers of Scripture give elsewhere. [Note: See Thomas L. Constable, Talking to God: What the Bible Teaches about Prayer, 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". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". 2012.

John Gill's Exposition of the Whole Bible

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

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

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

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The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rights Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
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Bibliographical Information
Gill, John. "Commentary on James 5:16". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". 1999.

Matthew Henry's Complete Commentary on the Bible

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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Bibliographical Information
Henry, Matthew. "Complete Commentary on James 5:16". "Matthew Henry Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible". 1706.