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Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters
James the Lord's Brother
I OFTEN imagine myself to be James. I far oftener imagine myself to be in James's place and experience, than in the place and experience of any other man in the whole Bible, or in the whole world. The first thirty years of James's life fascinate me and enthral me far more than all the rest of human life and human history taken together. And I feel sure that I am not alone in that fascination of mine. Who, indeed, would not be absolutely captivated, fascinated, and enthralled, both in imagination and in heart, at the thought of holding James's relationship to Jesus Christ! For thirty years eating every meal at the same table with Him; working six days of the week in the same workshop with Him; going up on the seventh day to the same synagogue with Him; and once every year going up to Jerusalem to the same passover with Him. For James was, actually, the Lord's brother. Not in a figure of speech. Not mystically and spiritually. But literally and actually-he was James the Lord's brother. Jesus was Mary's first-born son, and James was her second son. And the child James would be the daily delight of his elder Brother; he would be His continual charge and joy; just as you see two such brothers in your own family life at home. When Mary's first-born Son was twelve years old it was the law of Moses that He should be taken up to Jerusalem to His first passover. James was not old enough yet for his first passover, but you may be sure he missed nothing with his father and mother and Brother to tell him all about Jerusalem and the passover when they came home; James both hearing his elder Brother and asking Him questions. For the next eighteen years Joseph's door is hermetically shut to our holy curiosity. All we know is, that one, at any rate, of Joseph's household was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon Him. Not another syllable more is told us about Joseph or Mary, or any of their household, till the preaching of the Baptist broke in on that house, as on all the houses of the land, like the coming of the kingdom of heaven. John and his baptism was the talk of week-day and Sabbath-day in Nazareth, as in all the land, till at last a company of young carpenters and fishermen went south to Bethabara beyond Jordan where John was baptizing. And Jesus of Nazareth, known as yet by that name only, was one of them. You have by heart all that immediately took place at the Jordan. "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. We have found the Messiah. We have found Him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. Rabbi, Thou art the Son of God, Thou art the King of Israel. And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee. And He came to Nazareth where He was brought up; and, as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath-day and stood up for to read. And there was delivered to Him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when He had opened the book He found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He hath anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He hath sent Me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captive, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bound, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord. And all bear Him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth." But, all the time, James His brother did not believe on Him. No, nor did James believe down to the very end. I wish I had the learning and the genius to let you see and hear all that must have gone on in Joseph's house for the next three years. The family perplexities about Jesus; the family reasonings about Him; the family divisions and disputes about Him; their intoxicating hopes at one time over Him, and their fears and sinkings of heart because of Him at another time. Think out for yourselves those three years, the like of which never came to any other family on the face of the earth. And, then, think of the last week of all; the arrest, the trial, the crucifixion, the resurrection of Mary's first-born Son-whose imagination is sufficient to picture to itself Joseph and Mary and James and the other brothers and sisters of Jesus all that week! Where did they make ready to eat the passover? What were they doing at the hour when He was in Gethsemane? Were they standing with the crowd in the street when He was led about all night in His bonds? And where were they while He was being crucified? For, by that time, no one believed on Him but the thief on the cross alone. All the faith in Christ that survived the cross was bound up in that bundle of smoking flax, the penitent and praying thief. The next time we come on James is in these golden words of Paul written concerning him long afterwards, "and that Jesus Christ was buried, and that He rose the third day according to the scriptures. After that, He was seen of James; then of all the apostles." He was seen of James somewhere, and to somewhat of the same result, that He was seen of Saul at the gate of Damascus.
Three years pass on, during the progress of which James has risen to be one of the pillars of the Church of Jerusalem. James's high character, and his close relationship to Jesus Christ, taken together with his conservative tone of mind, all combined to give him his unique position of influence and authority in the Church of Jerusalem. We have a life-like portrait of James as he appeared to the men of his day which it will interest and impress you to look at for a moment. "Now, James was holy from his mother's womb. He drank no wine or strong drink. He ate no animal food. No razor ever went on his head. He anointed not himself with oil, and used not the indulgence of the bath. He wore no wool, but linen only, and he was such a man of prayer that when they came to coffin him his knees were as hard and as stiff to bend as the knees of a camel. On account of the sternness of his character he was called James the Just, and James the bulwark of the people." Now, in that contemporary account of James may we not have a clue to the obstinacy of his unbelief, and to his all but open hostility to our Lord? For James was a Nazarite of such strictness and scrupulosity that he could not fail to be greatly offended at his Brother's absolute and resolute freedom from all such unspiritual trammels. James's eldest Brother was no Nazarite. He was no Scribe. He was no Pharisee. And He must often have stumbled James, so far did He come short of a perfect righteousness, as James understood and demanded perfect righteousness. In His public preaching He was compelled to denounce what James scrupulously practised as the law of Moses and the law of God. The Scribes and the Pharisees were continually finding fault with James's Brother for His laxity in the traditions of the elders, and no man would feel that laxity so acutely as James would feel it. So rooted was James in the old covenant that, even after his conversion, he still continued to cleave fast to his unevangelical habits of thought and practices of life, in a way and to an extent that caused the greatest trouble to the rest of the apostles, and to Paul especially. In our Lord's words, James, all his days, was one of those men, and a leader among them, who continued to pour the new wine of the gospel into the old bottles of the law, till the old bottles burst in their hands and the new wine was spilled. Converted as he undoubtedly was, James was half a Pharisee to the very end. And, if ever he was a bishop at all, he was the bishop of a half-enlightened Jewish ghetto rather than of a Christian church. Still, when all is said, we have an intense interest in James; not so much for his position or for his services in the apostolic church, as for this, that he was the brother, the born and brought-up brother, of our Lord.
James was the born and brought-up brother of our Lord, and, by that, he being dead, yet speaketh. And the one supreme lesson that James teaches us tonight is surely this, 'Keep your eyes open at home, for I made this tremendous mistake. The unpardonable and irreparable mistake of my whole life was this, that my eyes were never opened at home till it was too late. I never once saw what was for thirty years, day and night, staring me in the face, if I had not been stone-blind. It never entered my mind all those years that He was any better than I was myself. Indeed, I often blamed Him that He was not nearly so good as myself. But I remember now: we all remember now, endless instances of His goodness, His meekness, His humility, His lowliness of mind and heart. We often recall to one another how we all took our own way with Him, and got our own way with Him in everything. How silent He was when we were all speaking, and would not hold our peace. How obliging He was, how gentle, how sweet. But, all the time, we saw it not till it was all over, and it was too late.' The kingdom of heaven did not come with sufficient observation to James. Had his elder Brother been a Pharisee, had He been a Scribe, had He been a John the Baptist, had His raiment been of camel's hair, had His meat been locusts and wild honey, and had He had His dwelling among the rocks, James would have found it far easier to believe in his Brother. But the still small voice of a holy life at home made no impression on James. Yes: let us all acknowledge James's tremendous mistake, and let us all go home with our eyes opened lest the kingdom of heaven may have come to our own house also, and we may not see that till it is too late. A Christian character may be displayed before our eyes at home, and we may never discover it, just because it is at home. Ay, and let us beware of this, lest our hard ways, our proud ways, our selfish tempers and our want of love, may all be the daily cross and thorn of some child of God hidden from our eyes in our own homes, as James was to Jesus. Out of doors many began to believe in James's Brother, but no one indoors. In His own home, and among His own brothers and sisters, our Lord had no recognition and no honour.
And James is a warning to us all in this respect also, that he never, to the very end, became a true and complete New Testament believer. Whether it was that he had been too long an unbeliever, and never could make up for the opportunities he had lost; or whether it was that he yielded to his natural temper too much, and let it take too deep a hold of him; or whether it was that he was never able to suppress himself so as to submit to sit at Paul's feet; or whether it was that he could never shake off the hard and narrow men who hampered and hindered him; or whether it was his life-long chastisement and impoverishment for neglecting the incomparably glorious opportunity God had given him for thirty-three years,-whatever was the true explanation of it, the fact is only too clear on too many pages of the New Testament, that James, all his days, was far more of a Jew than a genuine Christian. His canonical Epistle itself belongs more to the Old Testament than to the New. Luther felt afterwards that he had gone too far in what he had said in his haste about the Epistle of James. But every one who knows and loves and lives upon Paul's Gospel as Luther did, will sometimes feel something of Luther's mind about James and his Epistle. Though his risen Brother appeared to James as he appeared to Paul, at the same time, God could never be said to have manifested His Son in James as He had manifested Him in Paul. Account for it as we may: brother of our Lord, Bishop of Jerusalem, pillar of that Church as he was and all, James never came within sight of Paul as a New Testament saint of Christ and an evangelical apostle. James never entered himself, and he never led his people, into the glorious liberty of the sons of God. Surely a most solemn warning to us, that our natural tempers, our traditional prejudices, our early sympathies, the school of life and thought and worship in which we have been brought up, and our not ignoble loyalty to that form of doctrine into which we were in our youth delivered,-all that may stand in our way; all that may have to be fought against and conquered; if we are ever to come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.
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Whyte, Alexander. Entry for 'James the Lord's Brother'. Alexander Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/wbc/j/james-the-lords-brother.html. 1901.