Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
sentence of his letter, "wisheth joy" to the Christian Jews who were scattered over the Roman world (ver. 1). He knew that they were environed with adversity; they suffered from the persecution of the heathen, and from the upbraidings of their unbelieving countrymen. Yet his loving, sympathetic heart wishes them joy even in all time of their tribulation.
I. THE CHRISTIAN SHOULD REJOICE AMIDST TRIALS. (Ver. 2.) It was natural that the readers of the Epistle, when they received this counsel, should ask how they could reasonably be expected to do so.
1. This is possible. Only, however, to the Christian. The worldly-minded man will regard such a suggestion as unnatural, and indeed unintelligible. The Stoic, when plunged into adversity, can at best only school himself to submit to inevitable fate. The Epicurean becomes quite helpless in presence of calamity. Only the man who holds the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ possesses the alchemy by which sorrow may be turned into joy.
2. It is dutiful. To rejoice amidst trials is in the line of all Christian knowledge and faith and hope. The believer knows that God is his Father, and that he "pitieth his children." He is sure that God's arrangements for him must be absolutely the best. He is persuaded that, although God chastises his sons, he has still the heart of a Father. Not only do tribulation and distress not separate the believer from the Divine love; they work for him "more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory." So it belongs to the afflicted Christian to adorn in his own experience this paradox of the renewed life - "Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing."
3. It is often exemplified. Only, however, in the most exalted ranks of the peerage of faith. Moses "accounted the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt." Paul sang hymns to God in the prison of Philippi, although his feet were fast in the stocks. The apostles "rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for Christ's name." Latimer closed his brave career at the stake with the famous words, "Be of good comfort, Master Ridley." Bunyan lay for twelve years in an execrable prison, but he made his cell the vestibule of heaven. Dr. Arnold could say, between the paroxysms of angina pectoris, "Thank God for pain." And from thousands of death-beds, of which the world has never heard, there has gone forth the testimony of God's hidden ones: "We glory in tribulations also."
II. THE REASONS FOR SUCH REJOICING. These may be reckoned. Vers. 3 and 4 supply a basis of judgment.
1. Trial promotes self-knowledge. It is "the proof of your faith" (ver. 3). It tests the reality and the strength of character. The person who stands on the deck of a sinking ship will learn, if he did not know it before, whether he is a hero or a coward. Affliction shows a man "all that is in his heart." The strain caused by some unexpected calamity may reveal defects of character which he would not otherwise discover, or possibilities of holy attainment about which he might never have dreamed.
2. It develops patience. (Ver. 3.) James, throughout his Epistle, exalts and inculcates this grace. His word for it here means "persevering endurance." Christian patience is not the submission of indifference, or merely the determination of an obstinate will; it is inspired by living piety, and is therefore full of intelligence and manliness. Patience consists in the holding still of some parts of our nature in calm waiting upon the Divine will, in order that other parts may be exercised and educated. The apostle's words show that he regards this grace of endurance as inexpressibly precious. He looks upon its possessor as in the truest sense a wise and wealthy man. The man who uses every fresh trial in such a way as only to increase his power of holy endurance is unspeakably a gainer by his calamities, and should receive the congratulations ("greeting") of his brethren rather than their sympathy.
3. It contributes to moral perfection. (Ver. 4.) This is the end which God has in view in all his dealings with his people. He wants them to be "perfect and entire;" that is, complete and all-accomplished in spiritual culture. Now, the habit of persevering and joyful endurance conduces to the maturity and the symmetry of the soul. Sanctified trial educates. Some of the most refined Christian virtues - such, e.g., as resignation and sympathy-can be acquired only in connection with affliction. A delicately balanced Christian spirit is not the outcome of a smooth and unruffled life. life character can approximate in finish to the ideal standard which does not "come out of the great tribulation," and which is not made "perfect through sufferings." This thought is emphasized everywhere in the New Testament, from the Gospels to the Apocalypse. It has interpenetrated all literature. Our life must be "battered with the shocks of doom, to shape and use." "'Tis sorrow builds the shining ladder up," on which our souls climb nearer God. Notice in conclusion:
1. While it is positively unchristian to murmur amid trials, the model Christian frame is not mere submission.
2. It is very comforting to the believer to know that his crosses are sent to promote his perfection.
3. The child of God has here a crucial test of the measure of his spiritual attainment. - C.J.
I. IDENTIFY WRITER. Four men of this name come before us in New Testament:
(1) James son of Zebedee;
(2) James son of Alphaeus;
(3) James the Less, son of a certain Mary, the wife of Clopas; and
(4) James "the Lord's brother."
So far as writer's description of himself goes, he might have been any one of the four. Therefore evidence must be sought elsewhere. As to James the son of Zebedee, never seriously maintained till lately, and on grounds by no means conclusive. Never been attempted to ascribe it to James the son of Alphaeus, except on the supposition that he was the same as James the son of Clopas, and identical likewise with him who was called "the brother of the Lord." But neither of these identifications can be established. And therefore the ancient and general opinion, with which internal evidence agrees, remains as the most probable hypothesis, that the Epistle was written by "the Lord's brother." In what sense this appellation given? See Lightfoot ('Galatians'), Plumptre, Smith's 'Bible Dictionary,' Neander, and critical notes. Whether or not an actual son of Mary, in all probability a son in some sense, and therefore one of the household of Nazareth.
II. LIFE AND CHARACTER. For early life, left to conjecture. One of the elder brothers, perhaps, in the Nazareth home, watching the unfolding of that young life. Trained devoutly by parents. Passing at father's death into world, leaving the mother to be maintained by her Son Jesus, whom men thenceforward called "the carpenter." So till the preaching of the Baptist, when the brothers became baptized unto John's baptism, and Jesus, no longer the carpenter, unfolded his mission as the Son of man. And now follows the offence. The reading at Nazareth, and avowal that the promises of the prophets were fulfilled in him. "They were filled with wrath, and rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong" (Luke 4.). The brethren tremble for him, but are not prepared to believe in his mission (Mark 6:4). The mission proceeds. Disciples gather, but plots thicken. Pharisees and Herodians combine to bring him to his death. Still he teaches and works. And his brethren and mother, anxious to save him, and thinking him beside himself, come to Capernaum seeking him, and bring upon them the rebuke of Matthew 12:48-50. But still his heart yearns towards them (Matthew 13:54). But still they disbelieve. And even to the last (John 7:5). Then the betrayal, the trial, the death. Their worst fears were realized; their misguided Brother had brought this doom upon himself. Ah, as yet their eyes were sealed! But soon would the unveiling come, and the giving of sight to the blind. The Crucified rose, and appeared to his disciples, and - " to James" (1 Corinthians 15:7). And now the true belief, the sincere discipleship, the steadfast witnessing and work, the martyr's death. For this an outline of the subsequent history of James. But more fully. During the waiting in the upper room "these all continued in prayer... with his brethren" (Acts 1:14). They took part in the election of Matthias; they, with the rest, received the Holy Ghost. Natural prominence now among disciples. Paul, three years after his conversion, coming to Jerusalem, was received by Peter, and by "James the Lord's brother" (Galatians 1:18, 19). Then the death of James the son of Zebedee (Acts 12.), and probable election of namesake to the vacant place. And (Acts 12:17) on Peter's departure, probably left in charge of the Church at Jerusalem. And out of this new position probably originated the Epistle with which we have to do. Then the council (Acts 15.), James acting as president, and speaking with the authority of a recognized head. Gives Paul and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, and publicly sanctions their work among the Gentiles. And he, at Paul's last visit, recommends the presentation of himself in the temple, which led, unfortunately, to such ill results (Acts 21.). Here the New Testament record ends. Tradition tells us of his martyr's death. (See account by Hegesippus, quoted by Plumptre from Eusebius.) Such, then, the life. And the character? It stands out from the life, strongly marked. Belief in Christ slow to form, but, once formed, formed forever. Attachment to the old religion in its outward expression, at least in part, as a national institution. Spotless integrity; James the Just. True charity of heart. Faithful unto death. With all this, as indicated by text, humility; "a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ," sinking his relationship according to the flesh.
III. AIM OF EPISTLE. Have considered its probable origin: his elevation to virtual apostleship, and superintendency of Churches of Judaea. An encyclical. Addressed primarily to Churches of Judaea themselves. References to persecution. And of these alone a personal knowledge. But the feasts brought to Jerusalem those of the dispersion, as in Acts it., with some of whom he would come into contact. From Parthia, Persia, and Media, the descendants of the ten tribes; from Mesopotamia, children of the Babylonian captivity; from Egypt and Ethiopia; and from every province of the Roman empire. His heart was drawn towards them. Fellow worshippers. In some sense holders of the truth. But greed, respect of persons, and bitter wrangling, as among his own countrymen. Their monotheism was the substitute for holiness: "The Name of God blasphemed among the Gentiles through them" (Romans 2:24). With this in view, his letter should be to them also, summoning them at least to live up to their ideal. But especially to Christian Jews. Their belief in Jesus Christ as much a mere dogma, in many cases, as monotheism of their brethren. And the fruits of faith must be set forth to them as necessary to the validity and life of the faith itself. So, then, to the Jews of the dispersion, to Christian Jews, and especially to Christian Jews of Judaea, his words were addressed. And the aim throughout was to bring the practice of religion up to its ideal, to urge the necessity of a true life as the outcome of a true faith.
IV. CHARACTERISTICS. Little mention of distinctive doctrines of Christianity; remember aim, as above. Let the scattered Jews but be true, and they would then be likely to recognize him who was the Truth. Yet there is distinct and uncompromising mention of Christ as the Lord and Savior. Insistence upon necessity of works. Imagined antagonism between this and the teaching of Paul. But see sequel. One other noticeable feature - prominence given to wisdom. The Christian life is not divided; it is one. But the same life takes on diverse forms. So, as Plumptre remarks, while faith is the special characteristic of Paul, hope of Peter, and love of John, wisdom was the special characteristic of James: "The wisdom that is from above - first pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without variance, without hypocrisy." And so, in conclusion, let us thank God that he has spoken his own truth to us, not only in human voices, but in diverse tones, that each one may hearken to the tone which most quickly touches a responsive chord in his own heart. And, entering upon the study of this book, let us remember that "every Scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness: that the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16, 17). - T.F.L.
Romans 5:3-5; 1 Peter 1:6, 7). And confirmed by the common experience of Christendom: not merely joy in sorrow, but, by the blessed transmuting power of the gospel, joy wrought out through sorrow, strength out of weakness, life out of death. In the text we have these three truths presented - our religion is a faith, a faith tested, a faith perfected.
I. A FAITH. The fundamental condition of all life is faith. We must believe in ourselves, and in the instincts and promptings of our nature; in the world of nature, with its facts and forces and laws; in the world of men, with the relationships which it involves; and, largely, in the conduct and intents of our fellow-men respecting us; for daily we place practical trust in others in a thousand ways. Yes, faith, not knowledge, is the first condition of all life - faith as checked and regulated by knowledge, truly, and as leading to fuller knowledge; but, primarily and essentially, faith. So with the spiritual life, the life in God; we must, as a first condition, believe in him, in his relation to us, in his will concerning us. But why is faith in him called distinctively "faith," when it is but one application, however important, of a principle which runs through all our manifold life? Because, in this application, it is the new use of a disused faculty; it is faith in One who is saving us; who, in saving, is dealing with us in a way we know not. So our faith, religiously, is our practical realization of spiritual things, and an absolute trust in God as the God of our life and God of our salvation.
II. FAITH TESTED. "Divers testings." What are these? A world of sense, to which we have been enslaved; a world of sin, to which likewise we have been enslaved; and a world of suffering, besetting us on every side. The first testing our practical realization of unseen things; the second, our faith in the dictates of duty; the third, our trust in God, as dealing with us in love. Why is our faith thus tested? To prove it, whether true or false. No real holiness is possible, without the possibility of unholiness; hence what we call, specifically, "temptation." And no real trust is possible, without the possibility of untrust; hence what we call, specifically, "trial." Consider the infinite possible cost of holiness, in the constitution of a moral world. Sin; and, if sin, atonement. But God would allow that price to be paid, that holiness might be secured. Consider the terrible cost of a chastened trust, in the redemption of a moral world: suffering, alas, how bitter and prolonged! But God will allow that price to be paid, that trust may be secured. Yes, he will test. The allusion of δοκίμιον: testing of precious metals. So, "that the testing of your faith, being much more precious," etc. (1 Peter 1:7). But the figure fails, for a test applied to a dead thing is only a test; whereas a test applied to a living thing becomes more than a test - developing, strengthening that which is tested. So the tree rocked by the storm, the army on the long march. So here: "The proof of your faith worketh patience." Untried innocence develops into holiness, and holiness becomes an enduring holiness, by the testing of "temptation;" trust develops into enduring trust, and endurance becomes more enduring, by the testing of "trial." So, by these "diverse testings," does God work out our salvation. And in and through all there is the glorious power of the great redemption.
III. FAITH PERFECTED. God is working towards an end: "That ye may be perfect and entire, lacking in nothing." "Entire." Hence the diverse testings, by which each part of our character is put to the proof. Importance of a many-sided education; so a many-sided Christian life. God tests us, therefore, in this way and in that way, that, not halt or maimed, but with a completed manhood, we may enter into life. "Perfect. Not only must each part be proved, but each part put to the hill proof; just as the artist will not only chisel the marble into a complete statue, but also chisel each part of the statue to a perfection of exquisite finish. The goal, then, perfect and entire;" tested sufficiently, in manifoldness and in continuance, till "lacking in nothing." Count it all joy. Yes, a joy sacred and awful, as of the martyr in the flames. But of great tribulation" (Revelation 7:14); and, "They shall walk with me in white, for they are worthy" (Revelation 3:4). - T.F.L.
I. A UNIVERSAL WASTE. (Ver. 5.) Wisdom means the right use of knowledge. A man may know a very great deal, and yet not be a wise man. Wisdom classifies the materials of knowledge, and studies to use them so as to build up and beautify the life. It proposes right ends, and chooses the best means by which to reach them. It shows itself not so much in doing the right thing, as in doing it at the proper time. In the highest use of the word, "wisdom" is just another name for piety. It is that state of mind and heart which is produced by the believing reception of gospel truth. The one fool of the Bible is the sinner. The only wise man is he who regards the glory of God as the end of his life, and who makes his acts and habits means to that end. Now, we all naturally lack wisdom, and a thoughtful man realizes this lack most thoroughly in the time of trial. What a rare and difficult attainment is that holy discretion which can welcome even the contrary winds of calamity, and the driving storms of tribulation, because it can make them helpful in steering joyfully towards the desired haven!
II. AN ABUNDANT SOURCE OF SUPPLY. "God, who giveth to all" (ver. 5); literally, "the giving God." The living, loving Jehovah is the one Source and Fountain of wisdom. That is one of his essential attributes; and it is his prerogative to impart it to his creatures. He gives the Holy Spirit to work wisdom in the hearts of believers. Now, the God of wisdom is the Giver of all good things. His resources are infinite, and his gifts are universal and unceasing. In his common providence he imparts blessings to all his creatures - to the barnacle that clings to the rocks, and to the archangel that ministers before the throne. And he is "the giving God" in grace also. "He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not also with him freely give us all things?" So he is ready to bestow wisdom at all times, and especially in the day of trial; he waits to impart to every devout sufferer a wealth of holy patience and of spiritual joy. And the giving God gives liberally and unreproachingly. It is his characteristic habit to be exceedingly bountiful.
III. AS EASY METHOD OF OBTAINING. "Let him ask, and it shall be given him" (ver. 5). Holy wisdom is not the result merely of thought or speculation. No Aristotelian or Baconian method can produce it. No habit of sullen, dogged Stoicism reveals its presence. It is to be had from God, and for the asking. God is the living God, and he is very near us; and we, his children, have the freest access to him. He gives "simply" to those who pray simply. He bestows "liberally" upon those who petition liberally. It is his way "to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think." When Solomon asked only for wisdom, God gave him riches and honor too. When the prodigal requests only the place of a hired servant, his Father assures him of the station and honor of a beloved son. The Lord always gives liberally; never with a grudge - never ungraciously. He always gives with his heart when he opens his hand. Does the consciousness of much personal guilt make any of us slow to "ask of God"? Does our past neglect or abuse of his gifts deprive us of childlike confidence in coming to him? Then let us remember that he "upbraideth not." What a sweet word is that! It limns for our comfort a most touching trait of the character of the giving God. How unlike he is to human benefactors! Instead of reproaching the returning prodigal, he welcomes him with kisses of love. God upbraids no one for his great ignorance, or for his enormous guilt, or for his repeated backslidings, or for his long delay, or for making himself a last resource, or for coming too often, or for asking too much. How easy this God-appointed method of obtaining wisdom! We have only to "ask, and it shall be given" us. And how great the encouragement! "God giveth to all liberally, and upbraideth not."
IV. AN INDISPENSABLE REQUISITE TO SUCCESS. (Vers. 6-8.) Prayer is not real unless it be the expression of faith. It must issue "from a living source within the will," and be inspired by perfect confidence in God's readiness to help. How much unbelief prevails in our time on the subject of prayer! The scientific temper of the age merely allows a man to "pray to God, if there be a God - to save his soul, if he have a soul." And the forcible words of James, in these three verses, suggest that still, in the case of very many Christians, an imperfect faith in God's readiness to respond to their prayers is one of the greatest defects of their spiritual life. We are apt, even, to speak of evident answers to prayer as unusual, and - when they do occur - as remarkable. Now, the gift of wisdom is promised only to him who asks it with a steady faith, and who evinces the reality of his faith by a life of consistent purpose. God our Father demands the confidence of his children. "Nothing doubting" should be the Christian's motto in prayer. The petitioner must not shift backwards and forwards between faith and doubt, like a tumbling billow of the sea. He must not swing like a pendulum between cheerful confidence and dark suspicion. It must be his fixed persuasion that God is, and that he is the Hearer of prayer. He must expect an answer to his supplications, and be ready to mark the time and mode of it; else he may rest assured that no answer will come. Transient emotions are not religion. It is the men and women within whom faith is the dominant power who take the kingdom of heaven by force. God is all simplicity himself, and he gives with simplicity; so he can have no sympathy with an unstable, double-souled man. A mind that continually vacillates in its choice will be prone in the end to fail in both the purposes between which it has hesitated. Certainly it will not obtain that Divine wisdom which every human heart so greatly needs for the exigencies of adversity. Steadfast faith, and that alone, will give a man singleness of eye, make him strong to keep hold of the angel of the covenant, and draw down upon him the richest blessings of gospel grace. - C.J.
lacking in nothing," God will supply this present lack, which is so urgent. And the general principle, which gives force to this special application, is here set forth. The main thoughts are two - God's giving; man's receiving.
I. GOD'S GIVING. An essential element of God's nature is self-impartation, if we may reverently speak of him as he has revealed himself. So the inmost significance of the doctrine of the Trinity; so the great fact of the creation. And so to all created things there is a constant streaming forth of God's goodness. Like the shining of the sun. But the streaming forth of God's goodness is conscious, deliberate, free. We may have regretfully to relinquish the etymology which identifies the words "God" and "good;" but never need we relinquish the truth that God is essentially the Good One. "God giveth:"
1. Our life, including existence itself, so sacred as being thus from him; our appetencies and their satisfactions; our powers and scope for use; our ideals and their realization; our idiosyncrasy of life, and of life-history.
2. Our redemption, including the gift of the Son; the Spirit; our penitence; our faith; the blessedness of the new life in God.
3. And now the blended life, in the world and in God; all "good things" (Matthew 7:11). "Liberally;" i.e. simply, absolutely, disinterestedly. Out of the abundance of his goodness. Hence, "to all;" no caprice in such a One. And hence, "upbraideth not." Selfishness gives, grudges, and rebukes; he gives with a perfect love, and hence delights to give. Let us realize this conception of God. How it alters the complexion of life! what effect it has upon character! We may not, indeed, forget his inflexible holiness, his absolute demands on our obedience. This, indeed, the fundamental relationship; so probably the true etymology of "God," as meaning "Ruler." This the one deep significance of the cross, which shows God's holy love. And this the meaning of the absolute call to repent, as preceding the gift of life; an unconditional surrender. Yes, remember that, realize it, act upon it - the truth that God is holy. But, so soon as the barrier of unrepented sin is removed, realize all the infinite affluence of his love - that he delighteth in mercy, that he is emphatically the Good Being, whose goodness is ever surging and streaming forth that it may lavish itself upon his creatures, upon me! As regards your life-history - realize God's yearning love; the boundless possibilities of your future. As regards your salvation - all grace, in a world of conflict; all glory, in the world of perfected conquest.
II. MAN'S RECEIVING. The higher the nature of any creature, the more are its development and growth conditional upon its own appropriation of the material of development and growth. Consider, in this respect, mere existences and forces; vegetation; animal life; man. Hence the life of man, the creature of freedom, is at once a life of the greatest perils and of the greatest possibilities. Lordship over the world; mental acquisitions. He may climb so high; he may sink so low! Is it not well thus? Does not our manhood dwindle in proportion as we become mere passive recipients? Illustrate the high manhood of personal achievement by artist and his work - would he care to find his picture finished by an unseen hand? also by enterprise of a people, which calls forth their powers and goes to make them what they are. So the glory of our spiritual life is that it is not necessitated, but free. And so the supreme glory of the kingdom of heaven, as a kingdom of redemption, is that, humanly speaking, it "suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force." Hence, we would become possessors of spiritual blessings, we must possess ourselves of them. If God gives grace freely to free beings such as we are, his giving is conditional upon our asking, and asking in faith. In the nature of things this is reasonable and right. "Let him ask;" that he may realize more fully his own dependence and need; that he may value more truly the blessings sought; that he may learn God's large, free love. Could anything be simpler, more natural? Because of the creaturely relationship, a recipient of the bounty of the Creator; because a conscious, intelligent, free creature, a conscious, free recipient, a suppliant. Ask, and have. "In faith." This the active element in the asking, the appropriating power. To truly realize God's power and blessing, we must have a trustful appreciation of God's purposes of love. So for a wise endurance of trial; so for a wise meeting of temptation. It is better to endure, better to resist; this must be our assurance of faith. Contrast with this the waverer, or doubter; doubting in the sense of hesitating between God and the world, halting between two opinions; most miserable. A double-minded man, to his own cost; unstable; like the surge of the sea. He shall receive nothing, for the true spirit of recipiency is altogether vitiated. The man is shutting his soul towards God even while professing to open it. No, "the just shall live by faith;" by a constant aliveness to spiritual realities; by an earnest, trustful appropriating of spiritual blessings. The two great lessons: God is single-minded in giving; we are to be single-minded in receiving. But how does this bear on the special gift in question here - spiritual wisdom? This is largely an intuitive faculty of the spiritual life, and it is educated by communion with God's mind and will, which brings our spiritual wisdom into harmony with his own. So the very prayer itself is the instrumentality of the answer to the prayer. And such wisdom, let us remember, is wisdom "unto salvation." A constant choosing between good and evil, which results at last in the total abolition of evil and triumph of good. May we thus prove to the uttermost "what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God"! - T.F.L.
I. TWO SPECIAL FORMS OF TRIAL. (Vers. 9, 10.) There are found together in the Church, as well as in the world outside," the rich brother" and "the brother of low degree." Everywhere inequalities obtain among men, which are of the Lord's appointing. He gives to one man larger intellectual possibilities than to another. In his providence he places one man in a more favorable position than another for the development of his energies. Fortunes vary according to abilities and opportunities, as well as in connection with causes which entail personal responsibility. Now, "the brother of low degree" finds his poverty a trial. It tries his body, by exhausting it with labor. It tries his mind, by placing obstacles in the way of his acquiring knowledge. It tries his heart, by limiting narrowly his enjoyment of the luxury of giving. It tries his temper, by wearing out his patience and inclining him to be fretful and satirical. But "the rich brother" has his trials also, arising out of his riches. The temptations of wealth are more serious, because more subtle, than those of poverty. The rich man's mind is often distracted with care; he finds that "a great fortune is a great slavery." Or, he may suffer the weariness and misery of ennui. Especially is he in danger of allowing his spiritual life to become corrupted by his abundance. A wealthy man is prone to grow high-minded and self-sufficient. He has to contend against the inveterate tendency of our fallen nature to abuse prosperity. When Jeshurun the upright "waxes fat," he is apt to "kick," i.e. to become self-willed, petulant, insolent, and neglectful of God. A rich man needs special grace to make and keep him a Christian.
II. How TO TRIUMPH OVER THE TRIAL OF POVERTY. (Ver. 9.) The apostle, in using here the term "brother," supplies a hint as to the secret of patience and joy under this form of trial. A Christian man may be "of low degree," but he is all the same a "brother." Straitened resources are no barrier, but the reverse, to the love and sympathy of the Lord Jesus; and they should be no barrier to that of his people. Well, the Christian who is in humble life is to "glory in his high estate." He is to accustom his mind to the thought of his exaltation as a believer. He has a real dignity: he is rich toward God. He belongs to the Divine family. "His elder Brother is a King, and hath a kingdom bought for him." He moves already in the best and blessedest society; and he is an heir of the heavenly inheritance. Angel-guardians minister to him, and use the very trial of poverty as a means of investing him with the true riches. What a blessed antidote is there in these things to the ills of penury!
III. How TO TRIUMPH OVER THE TRIAL OF RICHES. (Ver. 10.) The "rich" man here means a wealthy man who is a Christian "brother." There were a very few such persons in the membership of the early Church. Now, to the Christian who is wealthy, his very wealth is a God-sent trial. He is apt to make his material resources a ground of glorying or boasting. But James says here that the rich believer ought to boast "in that he is made low." Although a rich man, let him strive to be "poor in spirit." It is not necessary, at least in ordinary circumstances, that he divest himself of all his goods for Christ's sake. Rather is it desirable that the capital which drives the wheels of our commerce should be in the hands of Christian men, provided they use it aright. But the rich believer should give very liberally out of his profits. He should be a servant of servants to his brethren. He should constantly remember the Divine Giver of his prosperity; and, finding that it is hard to carry the full cup steadily, he should pour it out before the Lord. The greatest honor that can attach to the rich man is that he be a humble Christian. Humility is in his case particularly beautiful and becoming. In spiritual things he is a pensioner upon the charity of Heaven equally with other men. When he realizes his own guilt and sin, he ought to feel the more humbled that Providence is filling his lap out of the horn of plenty. Let him exult in the grace of Christ which has enabled him to pass through "the needle's eye." And let him realize how transient and perishable all earthly riches are. "As the flower of the grass he shall pass away." Some providence may suddenly strip him bare of all his wealth. And at least he will not be able to carry it with him into the next world. Therefore, let him not glory in his outward possessions. The rich Christian brother will triumph over the trial of material prosperity by glorying is his humiliation as sharing with the lowliest the true riches.
IV. THE DOOM OF THE UNGODLY RICH. (Vers. 10, 11.) Although these verses speak directly of the blight which may fall upon the wealth of a Christian man, yet this other thought is suggested none the less. A believer may so use his wealth as to help him towards heaven (Luke 16:9); but an evil rich man will do the very reverse. Material possessions are uncertain and perishable; and the man who joins on his life to them, and identifies his being with them, must inevitably perish, as they do. The sirocco-blast of the eternal storm shall wither up both the "grass" and the "flower." "The rich man shall fade away in his goings," i.e. when engrossed with his commercial journeys and purposes. The wealthy farmer shall be summoned from the world when he is drawing out the plans of his enlarged premises. He shall stumble out into eternity a fool (Luke 12:20). "He is like the beasts that perish" (Psalm 49.). Learn from this subject that neither poverty nor wealth is anything more than a circumstance in a man's life. Each of these conditions brings its blessings and its burdens. Each "doth place us proximate to sin, to suffer the contagion." But a man may through grace rise to equally great attainments in spiritual culture and in purity of life, whether he be very poor or very rich, or possessed of that moderate competency - less perilous than either extreme - for which Agur prayed (Proverbs 30:8). - C.J.
Luke 12:13-15). A man's manhood is more than everything. But this is only true in all its truth when manhood becomes really manhood. What are we now? The wreck of a splendid ship; the ruins of a glorious temple; discrowned kings. Oh, let our manhood be re-made, let the crown of true royalty be placed on the brow, let Christ dwell in our hearts by faith, and then how little and paltry will seem either the possession or lack of the things which in their folly men call great! This is the exact thought which James urges in the text: "Let the brother of low degree glory in his high estate" - as being a man in Christ; "and the rich, in that he is made low" - in the stripping off of his adventitious greatness, by the estimate of Christianity, that his true greatness may be realized. We have to consider - the exaltation of the poor, the humiliation of the rich.
I. THE EXALTATION OF THE POOR. To Christianity belongs the unique glory of having recognized the worth of man as man, whether with or without the extraneous advantages on which other systems have laid such stress. How was it in cultivated heathendom? The foreigner was a "barbarian," forsooth; and the slave? In some cases worse than the brute beasts! Judaism, too, had become exclusive - nay, worse than exclusive, proudly bigoted - in its relation to other people; and even amongst the Jews themselves there was the same contemptible pride (Matthew 9:11; Luke 18:11; John 7:49). But it remained for Christianity to show that, however bemired and befouled, a human soul is a jewel of the rarest worth. Listen: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor" (Luke 4:18); and, "Go and show John those things which ye do hear and see:... the poor have the gospel preached to them" (Matthew 11:4, 5); and again, "Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God" (Luke 6:20). Now, this is the exaltation of the brother of low degree of which James speaks; the recognition of his "high estate" as possessing a God-made manhood - a manhood endowed with all the privileges and blessings of the salvation of Christ.
1. "In our image, after our likeness" (Genesis 1:26). That the inalienable dignity of "man"! Man's range of swift-winged thought, man's wealth of tender affection, man's intrepidity of heroic purpose; man's discernment of the eternal law of holiness, and power of freely choosing the good which he discerns; and man's immortality; - all these are flashes from the very life of God himself, communicated to man, and constituting man by native right God's child. Man has fallen? Yes, truly. But the very depth of the fall betokens the loftiness of the primal calling; the very degradation tells of the intended dignity.
2. And man's redemption? Oh, words can never tell the worth of the human soul in the sight of God, as evidenced by so wonderful a redemption of the soul of man from the degradation and death of sin. This truly is the sign-manual of the worth of man, as well as of the love of God: "Ye were redeemed... with the precious blood of Christ" (1 Peter 1:18, 19). And the salvation itself? "Heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ:" ye see your calling, brethren! Well may "the brother of low degree glory in his high estate," so created, so redeemed!
II. THE HUMILIATION OF THE RICH. The antithesis is only one of outward seeming, for the rich is really endowed with all the glory of redeemed manhood equally with the poor, if he would but recognize and realize his endowment. But he is tempted to exalt himself by what is really a self-humiliation, and make his manhood depend upon his appendages and trappings. And therefore his real exaltation can only be by what might seem to the world as a self-humiliation. Let him throw off his regard for this vain show, and prize that wealth of human privilege and Divine blessing which are his in common with his "brother of low degree. Let go the shadow and grasp the substance; for these things are yours too, if you will have them, and they are the true riches. This needs no arguing, but it may need enforcing.
1. The false glorying of the world - glitter, pride, and power. The supercilious scorn of the high," as speaking of the "masses," and of them as the "vulgar," the "ignorant," the "plebeian. The essential vulgarity and ignorance is in the people who so speak; their words recoil upon themselves. Again, the false ambition of the low;" they covet those things that are above their reach, and so deserve most strongly the stigma of vulgarity. Yes, the vulgar man is he who cares inordinately about either the possession or the lack of these things; the true patrician is the man who values his manhood infinitely above them all. For these things? "As the flower of the grass" they "pass away." The great statesman and the mighty author - they die like common men. They are one with the grass of the field.
2. A false glorying in the Church. This which James hinted at; this which he directly rebukes in James it. Let us beware. Pride on one side, envy on the other. Both alike betray an utterly false estimate of worldly things in comparison with the "common salvation" of the grace of God. Ah yes! it is the "grace" of the common salvation that abides, and is alike our glory in life and our support in death. The humblest Christian upon whom Christ's Name is truly named ranks as high in the sight of God as the Christian millionaire or prince; and, when death comes, the man of consecrated wealth and the preacher of consecrated gifts die, like the poorest Christian peasant, clinging to the Name of Christ. Therefore, let "the rich' rejoice "in that he is made low;" for what seems his self-humiliation in the eyes of a false world, viz. his light esteeming of things that are but paltry and vain, this is his true exaltation, "which is in the sight of God of great price" (1 Peter 3:3, 4). May it be ours to possess, and duly to prize, "the exceeding riches of his grace, through Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:7)! Amen. - T.F.L.
I. THE GENESIS OF TEMPTATION. (Vers. 13, 14.) The sacred writers very rarely deal in such abstract psychological analysis as we have in this passage. These verses remind us that there is natural history in the moral world as well as in the physical - "the law of sin and of death" as well as "the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus." There are two conflicting theories always prevalent regarding the origin and development of temptation.
1. The false theory. (Ver. 13.) Men are prone to ascribe the authorship of temptation to God. This heresy is as old as the garden of Eden and the Fall. Our first parents blamed God for the first sin. And the world has adopted the same excuse, in various forms, ever since. Systems of philosophy have done so. Pantheism, for example, says that man is only a mode of the Divine existence, and that good is God's right hand, while evil is his left, Fatalism teaches that all events - good and evil - come to pass under the operation of a blind necessity. Materialism in our day regards the vilest passions of bad men and the holiest aspirations of believers as alike only products of our physical organism. And the same dreadful error prevails equally in common life. Superstitious persons, from the time of James until ours, have had the impression that their misdeeds are necessitated by the Divine decrees. Some blame their nature for their sins, and ascribe to their Maker the origination of their corrupt propensities, as the poet Burns did once and again in lines of daring blasphemy. Others trace their sins to their circumstances, blaming God's providence for surrounding them with evil influences, which, they submit, lay them under an inevitable necessity of sinning. But the apostle advances reason and argument against this impious theory. Think, he says, of the purity and perfection of the Divine nature. Moral evil has no place in God. There is nothing in him that temptation can take hold of. And if he is not himself open to the seductions of sin, it is impossible that he can be a tempter of others. God is the infinite Light, and sin is darkness. God is the eternal Righteousness, and sin is crookedness. God is the unchangeable Beauty, and sin is deformity. So, he will not and cannot solicit men towards what is opposed to his own nature. He tries and tests men; but he does not tempt them. He does not cause sin; he simply permits it. When we pray, as Christ has taught us to do, "Bring us not into temptation," we beg that God may not in his providence place us in circumstances from which our hearts may take occasion to sin.
2. The true theory. (Ver. 14.) Temptation originates within the heart of the sinner himself. It is in vain for him to blame his Maker. Sin is no part of our original constitution, and it is not to be excused on the plea of an unfavorable environment. A man sins only when he is "enticed" by the bait, and "drawn away" by the hook of "his own lust." That is, the impelling power which seduces towards evil is the corrupt nature within us. The world and the devil only tempt effectually when they stir up the filthy pool of depraved personal desire. "Lust" includes, besides the appetites of the body, the evil dispositions of the mind, such as pride, malice, envy, vanity, love of ease, etc. Any appeal made from without to these vile principles and affections can be successful only with the consent of the will. Every man is personally responsible for his sin; fur each man's sin takes its rise in "his own lust." Conscience brushes away the cobwebs of the false theory, and assures us all that we are "merely our own traitors." Only one Man has ever lived within whose soul there was no hook or bait of corrupt desire on which any evil suggestion could fasten; and no one but he could say, "The prince of the world cometh, and he hath nothing in me."
II. THE GENEALOGY OF SIN. (Ver. 15.) "Lust" is throughout this passage personified in allegorical fashion as a harlot, ever striving, like the harlot Folly of Proverbs 9:13-18, to allure and captivate the will. First, she draws the man "who goes right on his way" out of the path of sound principle and wholesome pleasure; and then she entices him into her embrace with the siren strain, "Stolen waters are sweet." Lust may be said to "conceive," when it obtains the consent of the will, or disarms its opposition. The man who dallies with temptation, instead of meeting it with instant and prayerful resistance, will be sure eventually to succumb to it. From the guilty union of lust with the will, a living sin is born. The embryo corruption becomes developed into a deed of positive transgression. And this is not all. Sin, the progeny of lust, itself grows up from the infancy of mere choice to the adult life of settled habit; and "when it is full-grown," it in turn becomes, as the result of union with the will, the mother of death. It was so with the sin of our first parents in Paradise. It was so with the sin of Achan (Joshua 7:21); he saw, coveted, took, and died. It is so with the sin of licentiousness, which has suggested the figure of this passage; the physical corruption which the practice of sensuality entails is just a sacrament of spiritual death. Death is the fruit of all sin. Sin kills peace; it kills hope; it kills usefulness; it kills the conscience; it kills the soul. The harlot-house of lust and sin becomes the vestibule of perdition. As Milton has it, in a well-known passage of bk. 2. of 'Paradise Lost' - a passage suggested by this very verse - Sin is
"The snaky sorceress that sat while Death, her son, is "the grizzly Terror" on the other side, which stood "Fierce as ten furies, terrible as hell." III. THE GLORY AWAITING HIM WHO ENDURES. (Ver. 12.) This comfortable word reminds us of the Beatitudes. The blessedness of which it speaks belongs not only to all Christians who - " letting patience have its perfect work " - endure "temptations" in the sense in which the word is used in ver. 2, but to all also who escape victorious from the solicitations of evil desire, referred to in the verses which we have been considering. Notice here: 1. The character of the blessed man. He "loves the Lord," and in the spirit of this love he "endures temptation." Love is the substance of the Christian character, and love "endureth all things." Love alone will enable a man to stamp out lust. 2. His glorious reward. "He shall receive the crown of life." Not a chaplet of parsley, not even a diadem of gold; but a crown composed of life. Eternal life itself will be the believer's reward. Temptation unresisted, as we have seen, is always pregnant with sin and death; but holy endurance entails upon one the gracious reward of spiritual life, which shall be confirmed in spotless purity forever and ever. This glorious blessing is guaranteed; the believer has for it a definite warranty from his Redeemer. 3. The time and condition of its bestowal. It is "when he hath been approved;" i.e. tested as gold or silver in the white heat of the refiner's fire. The one way to the kingdom is the way of persevering endurance. "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life." LESSONS. 1. Flee from spiritual death. 2. Crucify sin. 3. Mortify lust. 4. Cultivate the grace of endurance. 5. Watch and pray against outward occasions of evil. 6. Sprinkle the conscience with the blood of atonement, and wash the soul in the laver of regeneration. - C.J.
while Death, her son, is "the grizzly Terror" on the other side, which stood
"Fierce as ten furies, terrible as hell." III. THE GLORY AWAITING HIM WHO ENDURES. (Ver. 12.) This comfortable word reminds us of the Beatitudes. The blessedness of which it speaks belongs not only to all Christians who - " letting patience have its perfect work " - endure "temptations" in the sense in which the word is used in ver. 2, but to all also who escape victorious from the solicitations of evil desire, referred to in the verses which we have been considering. Notice here: 1. The character of the blessed man. He "loves the Lord," and in the spirit of this love he "endures temptation." Love is the substance of the Christian character, and love "endureth all things." Love alone will enable a man to stamp out lust. 2. His glorious reward. "He shall receive the crown of life." Not a chaplet of parsley, not even a diadem of gold; but a crown composed of life. Eternal life itself will be the believer's reward. Temptation unresisted, as we have seen, is always pregnant with sin and death; but holy endurance entails upon one the gracious reward of spiritual life, which shall be confirmed in spotless purity forever and ever. This glorious blessing is guaranteed; the believer has for it a definite warranty from his Redeemer. 3. The time and condition of its bestowal. It is "when he hath been approved;" i.e. tested as gold or silver in the white heat of the refiner's fire. The one way to the kingdom is the way of persevering endurance. "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life." LESSONS. 1. Flee from spiritual death. 2. Crucify sin. 3. Mortify lust. 4. Cultivate the grace of endurance. 5. Watch and pray against outward occasions of evil. 6. Sprinkle the conscience with the blood of atonement, and wash the soul in the laver of regeneration. - C.J.
III. THE GLORY AWAITING HIM WHO ENDURES. (Ver. 12.) This comfortable word reminds us of the Beatitudes. The blessedness of which it speaks belongs not only to all Christians who - " letting patience have its perfect work " - endure "temptations" in the sense in which the word is used in ver. 2, but to all also who escape victorious from the solicitations of evil desire, referred to in the verses which we have been considering. Notice here:
1. The character of the blessed man. He "loves the Lord," and in the spirit of this love he "endures temptation." Love is the substance of the Christian character, and love "endureth all things." Love alone will enable a man to stamp out lust.
2. His glorious reward. "He shall receive the crown of life." Not a chaplet of parsley, not even a diadem of gold; but a crown composed of life. Eternal life itself will be the believer's reward. Temptation unresisted, as we have seen, is always pregnant with sin and death; but holy endurance entails upon one the gracious reward of spiritual life, which shall be confirmed in spotless purity forever and ever. This glorious blessing is guaranteed; the believer has for it a definite warranty from his Redeemer.
3. The time and condition of its bestowal. It is "when he hath been approved;" i.e. tested as gold or silver in the white heat of the refiner's fire. The one way to the kingdom is the way of persevering endurance. "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life."
1. Flee from spiritual death.
2. Crucify sin.
3. Mortify lust.
4. Cultivate the grace of endurance.
5. Watch and pray against outward occasions of evil.
6. Sprinkle the conscience with the blood of atonement, and wash the soul in the laver of regeneration. - C.J.
I. THE ENDURANCE OF TEMPTATION. The word must be taken in the broad, generic sense of " testing." Of this there are two forms - enticement to sin, and afflictions of righteousness. It enters into the very essence of a moral universe that there should be testing, and certainly into the moral recovery of a fallen world that the processes of the testing should be intensified. For in a world of innocence, if innocence is to develop into an established holiness, there must be such possibilities of a fall into sin as the very fact of freedom implies; and the resistance of" temptation" (as we specifically call it) involves such self denial as makes well-doing difficult; or, in other words, positive "trials" (as we call them) are necessarily bound up with the righteousness which pursues its way in spite of "temptations" to unrighteousness, and both together constitute the test (πειρασμός) of character. And if all this be true of a world of innocence, how much more of a world into which sin has already come! Both the temptations to sin and the trials of righteousness are intensified now, the heart itself being so prone to evil, and the world an evil world. Hence the immense difficulties of salvation from sin. We have an index to this in the intensity of temptation to even a Sinless One in a world of sin, as shown in the conflicts of the Son of man. View the wrestling in the desert, and the agony in the garden! And how much more to us, whose nature is so responsive to the influence of the world! But his conquest is the pledge of ours, if we do but put our trust in him (John 16:33; 1 John 5:4). And the beatitude? We cannot write "blessed" over the fierce wrestling in the desert, nor over the agony of blood. But we can over the victorious result. And so with ourselves; not," Blessed is the man that is tossed and troubled;" but, "Blessed is the man that endureth. For what is the result of the enduring? Δόκιμος γενόμενος: we can hardly give the force of these words, save by periphrasis, in our tongue. "Having acquired the quality of triedness;" i.e. having been put to the test, having borne the test, and being now certified as true. Like gold in the fire. And the prize? "The crown of life." Figurative expression as regards the word "crown;" so 1 Peter 5:4 and 2 Timothy 4:8. Familiar thought of contention for a reward. But, dropping the figure, let us ask what is the "life" itself that is set forth as the crown of our rejoicing? And, for the answer, compare some words of Christ: "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God;" "This is life eternal, to know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent;" "He that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself unto him;" "And my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and. make our abode with him" (Matthew 5:8; John 17:3; John 14:21, 23). Such the life; the full fruition of God, which is possible only to a pure soul.
II. TEMPTATION NOT OF GOD. Now as to the source of the temptation, the endurance of which results in blessed life. A right and a left, a good and an evil, are possible alternatives always, and to free creatures that which is possible may become actual. God cannot constrain them to well-doing, or they would cease to be free. In the case, then, of allowing for temptation in the very constitution of a moral world, God may be said to be its source, its author. But how readily men push the responsibility of their actual sin away from themselves to God! They are placed in such and. such circumstances by God, therefore God is the author of the sin to which those circumstances lead. So they argue with their own hearts. But illustrate: a position of trust, with its involved temptations. Does the employer tempt the trusted servant to wrong-doing? Nay, verily. So man is placed in a post of trust by God, and the trust necessarily involves the possibility of a betrayal of trust; but may we therefore say that God tempts us to do wrong? The very thought is blasphemy! Only an evil being can tempt to evil; on the other hand, an essentially holy Being must seek to work out holiness. This is the true genesis of sin: man's will yielding to his desire, not resisting it. The result is the presence of an actual power of sin; for sin is no longer a mere possibility to us, but a positive entity. And again, when the will weds itself to this positive power of sin, as before to the mere desire, the result is death. Just as the fruition of God is the life of a pure soul, so a godless desolation is the death of the soul that has permanently espoused itself to sin. Such the dark pedigree set forth by James.
III. EVERY GOOD GIFT FROM GOD. The negative has been stated in regard to the goodness of God; now we have the positive. The very sufferance of temptation itself is in love, that the highest good of a created universe may be wrought out. And this love is God's essential nature. He cannot, then, work harm in any way. God the author of sin? a good God work this unutterable evil? Nay; "God is Light," and a shadow can only be cast by the resisting will. And in this he is unchangeably the same; there is no parallax in these heavens. And therefore the great pledge and proof of his eternal good will of holy love towards us consists in the fact that he has already begotten us to the new life. He would not lift us from sin to holiness that then he might cast us down to sin again. No; we are "sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance" (Ephesians 1:13, 14). And so our new creation is, as it were, the firstfruits of the new creation of all things. Our danger still is this, that we are tempted to think God is making it hard for us to be good. Our safety is in holding fast to the eternal truth that "God is love;" and that, as the Good One, and Father of all good, he can so control our troublous circumstances and troubled nature, that, if we are only willing to do his will, all things shall work together for our good (see whole of Romans 8.). - T.F.L.
I. CONSIDER HIS GIFTS. Each of these is "perfect" in its matter, and "good in the manner of its bestowal. While raw sins (ver. 14) and ripe sins (ver. 15) alike spring from one's own lust," "every good gift and every perfect boon is from above." All temporal blessings come from God; and even in this lower province his bounty is supreme. But especially he is the Author of all spiritual blessings - every good gift of grace, and every perfect boon of glory. Jesus Christ came down from heaven. The Holy Spirit is from above. Ministering angels descend the stairway "whose top reacheth to heaven." The regenerated are born from above (ver. 18; John 3:3). The graces of the new life are from God: e.g. wisdom, to bear trials (ver. 5); single-mindedness, to rise above outward circumstances (ver. 8); steadfast endurance of temptation (ver. 12). And, at last, "the holy city, new Jerusalem, shall come down out of heaven from God." It is impossible, then, that God, the universal Benefactor, can be in any way responsible for a man's sin.
II. CONSIDER HIS WORKS. He is "the Father of the lights." What a splendid title! and how suggestive of the purity of God! He is Light in his own nature, and he is Light in all his relations to the universe. He made the starry lights - to which, indeed, the expression seems primarily to refer. He is the Author of all intellectual and spiritual illumination - all Urim and Thummim, "lights and perfections." "The first creature of God in the works of the days was the light of the sense; the last was the light of reason; and his sabbath work ever since is the illumination of his Spirit" (Lord Bacon). Thus Jesus Christ, as Mediator, is "the Light of the world;" and, in relation to the absolute God whom he reveals, he is "Light of light." His people, again, are "children of light;" they reflect the luster of the Sun of righteousness. In God "is no darkness at all;" but sin is darkness, so it cannot proceed from him. He is only "the Father of the lights."
III. CONSIDER HIS NATURE. The expressions in the last two clauses have almost an astronomical savor. They have evidently been suggested by the mention of the upper starry lights. The thought which they present is that, while God is the Creator of sun, moon, and stars, he is not subject, like them, to revolutions and mutations. "With him can be no variation;" literally, "parallax." Parallax, in astronomy, denotes the apparent displacement of a star from its true position; but with "the Father of the lights" there can be no parallax, no real change of place or purpose. "God is always in the meridian." The shadow of the Almighty is not "cast by turning." Astronomy treats of the revolutions and eclipses of the heavenly bodies; while piety reposes upon the unchangeable-ness of the eternal Light. Being in his own nature immutable, God will be "bounteous still to give us only good." He never has been, nor could be, the author of sin.
1. Be grateful for God's gifts.
2. Admire his works.
3. Rejoice in his faithfulness.
4. See that these sentiments fructify in holiness of life. - C.J.
the Father of the lights." Let us think of some of the lights of which God is the Father.
I. SUN-LIGHT. The sun is a great work of God. It is adorned like a "bridegroom;" and it is strong like a "giant." Our whole world, and many others, get all their light from it. The moon takes the sun's place during night; but its light is just sunlight second-hand. Star-light, too, is sun-light, for all the twinkling stars are suns. Now, God made all these upper lights. He made also all light and fire which man has on earth. Every coal-field is just so much "sown" light. Every lump of coal is full of bottled sunshine. Man may strike a light, but only God is its Father.
II. LIFE-LIGHT. The light of life is a higher kind of light than sun-light, and it also comes from God. We see it:
1. In plants. What makes a flower so beautiful? It is the light of life. The eye of the daisy - the "day's eye" - is bright with this light.
2. In animals. Life-light makes the birds sing and the lambs gambol, and fills the air with the buzz of insect gladness. The lion is the king of beasts so long as he has the light of life, but "a living dog is better than a dead lion."
3. In man. In him this light is of a more precious kind, which shall burn on forever. "The soul that rises with us, our life's star," shall never set. It shall blaze on alter the great lights of heaven shall have been put out.
4. In angels. Every angel is "a flame of fire." Those who stand before God's throne are the brightest; they are the seraphim, the shining ones. The angels are "the morning stars," and God is their Father.
III. TRUTH-LIGHT. This gives us the light of knowledge. Every useful book which tells us truth about nature, or the world, or our own bodies and minds, is a light from God. But the highest and best kind of truth is about God himself, and about the way to him. We have this truth in the Bible; and so the Bible is "a lamp shining in a dark place." Those lauds are in darkness which have not the Bible; for it tells of Jesus the Savior, who lived and died and lives again - "the Light of the world," the dear Son of "the Father of the lights."
IV. GRACE-LIGHT. Truth-light is a light outside; but grace-light is one which God kindles within our hearts. Only those persons have the light of grace whose souls are illuminated by God's Holy Spirit. No sooner does he touch our sin-blinded minds and our sin-darkened hearts than they begin to shine with God's light. This new soul-light will "shine more and more unto the perfect day." All the lamps of grace are fed, as well as kindled, by "the Father of the lights."
V. HEAVEN-LIGHT. The home of God there is full of light. In hell, all is darkness; on earth, there is mingled light and darkness; in heaven, there is only light. "There shall be no night there." God and the Lamb are "the light thereof." And everything in heaven reflects its light - the jasper walls, the pearly gates, the golden streets, the crystal river, the white robes, Now it is holiness that is the light of heaven. All there is pure. Grace-light, when a good man dies, blazes up into glory-light. And all the holiness of heaven streams from the Holy, Holy, Holy One - "the Father of the lights."
1. "The Father of the lights" is the Father of little children, and he wants them to call him by that name.
2. He wishes to set the children among his lights. - C.J.
I. THE BEST OF ALL GIFTS. Regeneration is the summum bonum, being a gift which at once supplies man's deepest want, and satisfies all that is highest in his nature. The new birth is a necessity; for man comes into the world destitute of the principle of spiritual life. It is sad that so much of the fashionable literature of the day should ignore this, and represent natural virtue and amiability as everything in character. But regeneration is a fact; as every Christian knows, both from observation and from his own experience. It does not consist in reformation; it is a new "birth" - the re-creation of the whole soul after the Divine image, through the infusion of a new spiritual principle. It involves a new heart, a new self, a new character, a new life.
II. THE SOURCE OF THE GIFT. Where resides the power that can renew the soul? Not in a man himself; one's birth is not one's own act. It is "the Father of the lights" who performs the miracle of regeneration. Such a change can only be effected by his almighty power. To bestow this gift is the special office of God the Holy Ghost; we are "born of the Spirit." And what induces God to confer this invaluable blessing? He gives it "of his own will." He is not constrained to give it by fate. He is not moved by fitful impulse. He is not incited by any deservings on our part, for we have none. He is not even prevailed upon to regenerate, as the result of the work of Christ. The ultimate cause is simply "the good pleasure of his will." It is his nature to love, and bless, and bestow gifts of grace upon the undeserving. Man's will in union with his lust generates sin and death (ver. 15); but the will of "the Father of the lights" imparts new life to dead souls.
III. THE INSTRUMENT OF THE GIFT. "By the Word of truth;" i.e. the gospel of Jesus Christ - the doctrines of grace contained in the Scriptures. The gospel is in our hands as a definite "word," and one which is absolutely and divinely true. While the Holy Spirit is the Agent in regeneration, he employs the Word as the instrument. Although the Scriptures are charged with moral power, man's understanding is so blind, and his affections are so corrupt, that they could never by themselves impart life to any soul; but in the hand of the Spirit the doctrines of grace become "living and powerful." Thousands have been regenerated in connection with the private reading of the Bible, and hundreds of thousands as the result of public preaching. The Word is needed in regeneration as the means of calling forth the new thoughts and feelings, the new desires and resolves, of the new life. Only in connection with the apprehension of revealed truth can a man begin to believe the gospel, or love the Savior, or in any way "exercise himself unto godliness."
IV. THE PURPOSE OF THE GIFT. "That we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures." These words refer to God's gracious purpose towards his people themselves. They suggest the dignity and honor which belong to the regenerate. The image is derived from those provisions of the Hebrew ceremonial law by which the firstfruits of the harvest, and the firstborn of man and beast, were dedicated to God. The consecration of the firstfruits asserted their own intrinsic value as Divine gifts; and it also symbolized and foreshadowed the consecration of the harvest that was to follow. Now, these Hebrew Christians of the dispersion were the precious "firstfruits," in the first century, of the entire world of the redeemed. Similarly, we in this age are the "firstfruits" in relation to the Church that is still future. Not only so, but the entire company of believers of all ages and of both worlds is "the Church of the Firstborn." They are all of them elect, precious, devoted to God. Every regenerate man is a pledge of the ultimate regeneration of the multitude which no man could number; as well as of "the restoration of all things," when the new creation of the world shall be accomplished, and Paradise be restored. In conclusion, have we the assurance that this incomparable gift is ours? Can we say, individually, "He begat us"? What a joy to know, from the marks of grace upon us, that "we have passed out of death into life"! - C.J.
I. A QUICK EAR. "Swift to hear." This precept refers to the acquisition of religious knowledge, whether in connection with reading or hearing. We should be careful as to the entire matter of our reading, making the staple of it not fugitive literature, far less frivolous books, but such as are solid and improving. For directly spiritual instruction we should go seldomer to books about the Bible, and oftener straight to the Word of God itself, that we may hear him speaking in it. We should also be "swift to hear" the oral proclamation of the gospel. "Belief cometh of hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ" (Romans 10:17). His word appeals to the heart more powerfully when spoken by a living earnest man, than when it is read even from the written page of Scripture. We should, therefore, embrace every opportunity of hearing in the sanctuary, and be attentive and teachable, and follow up our hearing with reflection and obedience.
II. A CAUTIOUS TONGUE. "Slow to speak." This exhortation naturally follows the preceding, for the man who is exceedingly fond of hearing himself speak will never be a ready listener. The precept is good for common use in the conduct of our life; but its specific reference in this passage is to caution in the declaration of "the Word of truth." While we are under a sacred obligation to "exhort one another day by day" (Hebrews 3:13), and to "speak often one to another" (Malachi 3:16), we are to be "slow to speak" in the sense of weighing well our words, and of realizing the responsibility which attaches to them. Ministers should preach only what they have carefully thought out; and they should beware of publishing crude speculations on theological subjects. It is right, too, that candidates for the ministry should be required to undergo a lengthened curriculum of training before they are entrusted with the continuous instruction of a congregation (James 3:1, 2; 1 Timothy 3:6).
III. A CALM TEMPER. "Slow to wrath: for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God" (vers. 19, 20). Much speaking tempts to passionate speaking; every one knows what is meant by "the heat of debate." At all times we ought to be "slow to wrath:" to cultivate such a spirit is an important part of the imitation of God. But we should particularly guard against irritation of temper at Church-meetings, and in conversation or conference upon religious subjects. The clergyman must labor to avoid the odium theologicum. The preacher must threaten and warn only in love and tenderness. The hearer must not listen in a captious spirit, or quarrel with the truth when it comes to him in practical form. For an angry heart will destroy edification (ver. 20). Scolding from the pulpit will not "work the righteousness of God" in the hearts of the hearers; and, on the other hand, resentful feelings against the preacher can only hinder regeneration and sanctification.
IV. A PURE HEART. (Ver. 21.) If "the Word of truth" is to sanctify and save, it must be received in a docile, humble, tractable spirit; and this involves the "putting away" of all malice and impurity. Hasty and passionate speech is just a foul overflow from the deep depravity of the heart; and, if we would prevent the overflow, we must cleanse out the dark pool of corruption itself. If we put away the "filthiness" of the heart by a gracious process of earnest renunciation, that filthiness will no longer soil the tongue or spoil the temper. Those who cultivate the quick ear and the cautious tongue and the calm temper, in connection with the purifying of the heart, prepare themselves as good soil for "the implanted Word" (Luke 8:15). The grandest joy of life is to have the scion of the Word so "implanted" that it shall prove itself to be the power of God to the soul's salvation, by working out visibly in the life "the righteousness of God." And the teaching of this passage, is that if a man would attain that blessing, his own will must co-operate with the grace of God and the power of "the Word of truth." - C.J.
I. MEEKNESS. There is evidently a reference, in vers. 19-21, to the deportment of the Jews in their religious gatherings, to which we have more direct reference in ver. 23 and in James 2:1-13. And the words of warning are aimed at one of their most besetting sins; they were clamorous, accusing, wrathful. What examples we have of this spirit, as manifested at their public gatherings for worship, in the accounts of our Lord's first proclamation of his mission in the synagogue of Nazareth (Luke 4:28, 29), and of the first setting-forth of the gospel by Paul in the synagogue of Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13:45)! So perhaps it was also at the Jewish-Christian gatherings; they would contradict, and accuse. Yes; they were impatient of hearing, eager to speak, wrathful in speech; rebutting what seemed the blow of the truth against themselves, turning that blow against others, perhaps against the speaker. What a Babel of confusion! And all this in the thought that they were doing God service! As opposed to this spirit of censorious anger, James urges a quiet, gentle humility in the hearing of the Word.
1. For what was this Word? It was God's Word, his message to the heart. Yes, with whatever of human alloy it might sometimes be mixed, through the infirmity of the speaker, there it was, a thing Divine! There should be, then, in its presence, a certain awe of silence: "Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak." And as this Word was the searching Word of the living God (Hebrews 4:12), there should be the meekness which hears for one's self, not for others - Is there any wrong in me? For this Word was "able to save:" with what solemn gladness should they welcome its healing, cleansing power!
2. Oh, how opposed to all the intended influence of the Word of God was the spirit of passionate assertion and accusation! How it defiled the nature, as with filthiness, making it an utterly unfit receptacle for God's holy truth! And how the "overflowing of wickedness" bore back the living germ of the truth, which being implanted in the heart would save unto the uttermost! Yes, man's wrath, so far from working God's righteousness, utterly hindered that working. The truth was "able to save," but only if the conditions of true humility in the hearer were fulfilled.
II. SELF-KNOWLEDGE. But the very hearing may become a snare: we hear the Word, we "feel" its power, and delude ourselves with the notion that therefore the Word is ours.
1. What is this, but a mere transient sentiment? Like the man with the mirror, beholding a while, then going away and forgetting; so we may gaze into the marvelous mirror of the Word, which shows us so wondrously the fair ideal of truth, the beauty of holiness, and, in contrast, the deformity, the unholiness of our real self. But so likewise, being charmed with the ideal beauty, and equally loathing our sin, we yet may go away and forget what manner of men we are.
2. What is required of us is an abiding practice of the perfect law, that can only result from a continued gazing into its excellence of beauty and consequent knowledge of our own distance kern its perfectness. So Psalm 1:2, which sets forth the Law of God as the very element of the good man's life. For it is a Law which is a living power, evermore working its perfection into our imperfect life. A Law, therefore, of liberty, making us free from sin, as being a law of holiness; and free from servile fear, as being a law of perfect love. Well may the man who abides in the doing of such a Law be designated blest! For while merely to hear the Word and feel its power, and then to go away and forget, is to be drugged as with an opiate that makes us insensible to our danger; on the other hand, to hear and to do, and to abide in the doing, is to realize the bounding gladness of the full flow of living health (see also the beatitude of Psalm 1.).
III. PRACTICAL RELIGION. There is an easy transition, in vers. 26 and 27, kern the hearing of the Word to all the cult of worship. For just as some of these Christian Jews might be satisfied with the mere hearing of the truth as distinct from its practical realization in the daily life, so many of them might rest satisfied at least with the ceremonial cleanness and "service on which their old training had led them to set such exaggerated value. They were very religious" because of their multiplied religious observances, their θρησκεία, their ritual of service; and this "religion' was pure, undefiled, no taint of ceremonial pollution attaching to its performance. And yet the filthy wickedness (ver. 21) of the unbridled tongue? Vain, indeed, is the religiousness of such a one! Nay; the cult of Christianity is the religion of the life, and the ceremonial cleanness is cleanness of conduct and heart.
1. The ritual. Doing good. So Romans 12:1; Hebrews 13:16. A concrete instance is given here, viz. the visiting of the fatherless and widows in their affliction, but only as an instance of the ritual of the law of love. And notice the immense significance of the words," before our God and Father." Such as he is we must be, viz. "pitiful, and of very tender mercy" (see James 5:11).
2. The cleanness. "Unspotted from the world." An evil world, the evil of which was so exhibited by these "clean men in their clamorous evil-speaking. Would they be really clean? There are no works like works of love to hush the anger of the heart. We learn for ourselves, in this age, that no ritual of religion is of any worth as such. Collective worship truly is good, as a means to an end, viz. the replenishment of our life-power, and maintenance of loving relationship with the Father. But as for any cult, as such, Christianity knows none, save that of a holy and loving life. Your ritualism, as Christians? Doing good! In conclusion, the faith that humbly receives God's saving Word, the faith that abides in the knowledge of that Word day and night., the faith that works itself out in the religiousness of a holy love - this is the sum of the whole matter, this is the very essence of the religion of the Lord Jesus Christ. Lord, evermore give us this faith! - T.F.L.
receiver of the Word, and he now proceeds to emphasize the fact that he is also a doer" of it. "Receiving represents the root of the Christian life, and doing" indicates its fruit.
I. THE INJUNCTION. (Ver. 22.) Very many hearers of the gospel are not sufficiently upon their guard against the dreadful danger of being "hearers only." Some, when the service is over, seldom think of anything but going home. Others will pass a remark about the sermon, and then dismiss the subject finally from their thoughts. A few will express more deliberately the pleasure with which they listened to the discourse; but perhaps even these are satisfied merely with having enjoyed it. The purpose of preaching, however, is not that the people may be "very much pleased," but that they may be profited, edified, and inspired to live an upright, generous, godly life. The highest praise that can be bestowed upon a Christian minister is not to tell him how much his preaching is enjoyed on sabbaths, but to let him see how well it is being translated into the life on the other days of the week. We live in a practical age; and the mission of the pulpit is as practical and definite as that of any other institution of our time. It is an agency for man-building. Its work is to promote the doing of the Word of God in the everyday lives of men. Those people, therefore, are the victims of a miserable self-deception who regard "hearing as the sum of Christian duty. Such persons have no idea of the nature of true piety. Their profession is nothing better than an empty form. They may be strictly orthodox in doctrine and evangelical in sentiment; but what does this profit, if their church-going carries with it no power to direct their daily life into the ways of holiness? A theologian is not necessarily a Christian. The hearer only" is on the road to final spiritual ruin.
II. A COMPARISON TO ENFORCE THE INJUNCTION. (Vers. 23-25.) Our Lord had illustrated the same thought by the figure of the wise and foolish builders (Matthew 7:24-27). The simile here is that of two men looking at their faces in a mirror. "The Word of truth" is the spiritual glass in which we may see the reflection of our own souls. The Bible not only reveals the holy God to man; it also discovers sinful man to himself. But the mere hearer, after he has momentarily recognized himself in it, goes on his way and forgets his moral uncomeliness. He finds it convenient not to remember that what he saw was the features of" the old man, which waxeth corrupt after the lusts of deceit." The wise hearer, on the other hand, looks into the mirror that he may learn the law of his renewed life. The gospel law brings no bondage or terror to him. It does not constrain him to an unwilling obedience. It is to him "the perfect law, the law of liberty" (ver. 25), which the Holy Spirit is writing within his heart. The apostle indicates three elements of contrast between the conduct of the two men in relation to the gospel mirror.
1. The one man "beholdeth;" the other "looketh." In the case of the mere hearer it is only a passing, cursory, careless glance of the eye - a look at the mirror, and at himself in it. But, in the case of the wise hearer, it is the serious, eager, anxious gaze of the soul: this man stoops down to take a close look "into" the law of liberty.
2. The one man "goeth away;" the other "continueth" to look. The mere hearer glances hastily and briefly, because uninterestedly, He thinks always of sermons as dull, and is glad to dismiss the subject of religion so soon as the church-service is over. But the wise hearer goes on looking. Ills gaze is persistent and unwearied. He looks so long that what he sees becomes indelibly impressed upon his heart.
3. The one man "straightway forgetteth; "the other is a doer that worketh. The mere hearer soon dismisses the thought of the spots and blemishes which he saw upon his spiritual features when he glanced at them in the gospel mirror. But the wise hearer looks carefully and continuously, because he wants to know himself, and because it is his purpose to be always a "doer." He has learned that it is the business of his life to obey the perfect law of liberty. By the doing of this work he will attain both self-knowledge and self-government. And in the doing of it he shall be "blessed."
CONCLUSION. We learn from this passage, what is insisted upon throughout the whole Bible, that the secret of true human happiness lies in holy obedience to the will of God. - C.J.
I. AN EXAMPLE OF VAIN RELIGIOUS SERVICE. (Ver. 26.) This statement points back to the exhortation of ver. 19. The tongue is an unruly member; it requires to be "held in with the bit and bridle" of Christian principle. A man's words are a true index or evidence of his character; and they also react upon that character, and tend to confirm it for good or evil. Should, therefore, a person who has been for many years a member of a Christian Church indulge always, without restraint, in evil-speaking; should he be in the habit of soiling his tongue with impure, or malicious, or false, or foolish words; what other conclusion can be drawn about his character than just that he is not a true Christian? Such a man is a "hearer only," and therefore either a self-deceiver or a hypocrite. He may cherish some of the sentiments and instincts of religion; but the most sublimated sentiment is quite worthless, if it cannot be translated into everyday life. Where there is no government of the tongue, what avails love for the Church and its services? "This man's religion is vain;" it is an idle, empty, useless, unreal thing - a counterfeit of genuine worship. The apostle's language here is exceedingly strong; but it is the language of inspiration, and it runs parallel with what we read in other parts of Scripture (Matthew 12:36, 37). Many professing Christians may well tremble when they read this verse. How prone we all are to sin with our lips! How constantly we are tempted to idle speaking! Let us guard against the sin of slander, of depreciating goodness, of imputing selfish motives; and against every other form of uncharitable speech. If we do not "keep our mouth with a bridle" (Psalm 39:1), we "deceive our hearts" as to our spiritual state before God; in which case there is danger that all our psalm-singing and sermon-hearing may only help to drag us down to a deeper perdition.
II. AN EXHIBITION OF TRUE RELIGIOUS SERVICE. (Ver. 27) James here submits a rubric for the ritual of the Church. It is to this effect, that the services which God loves are not ceremonial observances, but habits of purity and charity. The moral in our Church life is infinitely more important than the liturgic. Indeed, the moral and spiritual are the great end which our fellowship contemplates, and to that end rites and ceremonies are but the means.
1. The true ritual consists in the maintenance of personal purity in a world of sin. The Christian is a man who, having been once washed all over in the blood of atonement, must labor in the strength of God's Spirit to keep himself from fresh defilement, he is to guard himself against the contaminations of the world, its pursuits, ambitions, counsels, and its grosser pleasures. He must not become an ascetic or a hermit; rather, he is to show to his fellow-men that he can live in the world an unworldly life. It is hard to do so, doubtless; it requires rare moral courage to resist evil, and. to brave the contempt and persecution which such resistance entails. Yet this is the worship to which God calls us. He will not accept our "devotions" if we refuse him our devotion. A holy life is the most beautiful of psalms. It is the blossom and fruit of all other praise. It is grander than the finest cathedral service, for it is the perfect realization of the Divine ideal of worship.
2. The true ritual consists in the exercise of active benevolence in a world of suffering. Christ, when on earth, "went about doing good;" and every Christian is an imitator of Christ. "A doer that worketh" (ver. 25) finds his chief sphere of social activity in kindness to the poor and suffering. We are joined together in the fellowship of the gospel that we may be helpful to our fellow-Christians and our fellow-men who are in affliction and poverty. All our public worship is "vain" if no hearts are made happier, and no firesides warmer, because of it. The Church exists that its members may be inspired to become a fountain of spiritual sympathy to the widow, and a ministry of moral help to the orphan. A congregation can offer no comelier praise than the music of constant acts of loving-kindness and tenderness and self-sacrifice. Where this worship is not rendered, the grandest sanctuary, so called, will be rather only a sepulcher of souls, and the most aesthetic church-service a "vain oblation." The true gospel cultus lies in personal acts of sympathy and kindness, done to the poor out of love to Jesus, and because the poor are his "brethren (Matthew 25:34-40). Every professing Christian should therefore try the reality and strength of his piety by this test: Does he give himself to the celebration of the true full ritual of Christ's house - that which lies in a life of purity and charity? - C.J.