Go to now, you rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come on you.…
The three most important things about a man's wealth are these: How it was obtained; how it was enjoyed; how it is used. Lucre is not filthy itself; but if obtained by unjust means it becomes filthy lucre; or if it be enjoyed selfishly, lavishly, and carnally, it becomes filthy lucre; or if employed to carry out crafty and wicked designs by corrupting men to become instruments for evil in the hands of its owner, it is filthy lucre. It is to men who have so obtained and employed wealth that James calls out in tones of tremendous warning. In the midst of the shouts of their revelry he calls them to weep, in words spoken in tones of the old prophets (see Isaiah 13.). It is a call to arouse them from their self-contentment and self — sufficiency; dispositions frequently caused by great riches. He prophesies that miseries are coming upon them. He seems to hear the footfall of the approaching days of misery — misery that could not be warded off by all the wealth which they had gathered around them. In the picturesque phrases which follow, James alludes to the various kinds of wealth in his day. If a man acquired wealth beyond his own house and garden, what was he to do with it? There were three classes of things in which he ordinarily invested it — grain, clothes, and gold and silver coin. The first might be used in several ways. It might be stored for a rise in breadstuffs, something like our modern "corners in grain"; or it might be transported and sold; or it might be kept stored in vaults for the owner's use if there should come at any time a famine or a war. With such wealth one might say (Luke 12:19), When the calamities came, the grain, which had been kept up at a high price, thus increasing the suffering of the poor, had become rotten in the bins. Another form of accumulation was in the shape of costly raiment, and even of plainer garments in greater quantities. In our day this kind of accumulation is almost unknown, because the fashions are so constantly varying. Not so then. As the prizes taken in ancient wars, we often hear of fine garments as amongst the treasures. In regard to that species of wealth James said: "Your garments have become moth-eaten"; and so he said of coin: "Your gold and silver are rusted." Long kept out of circulation, and thus increasing the embarrassment of society, they had become spotted in the secret and safe places where they bad been concealed. The words of James must have brought back to his readers the exhortation of Christ (Matthew 6:19, 20). He announced to them that the rust of their money should rise up against them and condemn them, and come down upon them and punish them, that is, should eat into them, with an agony that should be like the burning of one's flesh; for their avarice, which had led them to such great injustice, which had warmed their hearts and burned out their neighbours, should be in them like the flaming fire. Here, again, we have the old prophetic thunder (Psalm 21:9; Isaiah 10:16; Jeremiah 5:14; Ezekiel 15:7; Ezekiel 28:18). To the Jews who lived when James wrote, this soon came to be literally true; for their substance and their flesh were destroyed when the city and the temple were burned. Josephus tells us that the flames consumed their dead bodies and their substance and their wardrobes. Whatever was spared from the flames fell into the hands of the Romans; and so it came to pass that the treasures which had been heaped up to produce for thrum a long season of quiet and comfort were all swept away; for they had planted their seed in a garden that lay over the heart of a volcano which was soon to burst. Their doing was aggravated by the injustice they bad used in the accumulation of their hoarded property. They had violated the law of justice and, as well, the law of benevolence, and had broken the precept of Moses (Leviticus 19:13; Leviticus 24:14, 15). Perhaps there is no portion of the denunciation which could be brought home to the modern Christian community more decisively than this. The crying sin against the rich in every large city is the sin of keeping back the hire which belongs to the labourers. In addition to covetousness and oppression, James presents to the conscience the sin of voluptuousness. Supposing a certain amount of enjoyment to be possible to any one man in his lifetime, it is plain that the excesses of one day make drafts upon another day; it may be, upon all days. If he have a thousand days to live, and ten thousand dollars be put at his command, it is plain that he will have the purchasing power of ten dollars for every day in his life. But if he spend fifty dollars a day in the first hundred days, it is quite plain that he would have less than six dollars a day during the remaining nine hundred. And if he spend a hundred dollars a day for the first hundred days, the remaining nine hundred would be spent in absolute penury. This is a rigid mathematical calculation, which does not do justice to the case, for life is composed of so many factors, and each man has so many faculties and connections that an impairment of a man is a wider injury than the removal of anything which can be represented by numbers. To these destructive excesses great wealth tempts any man, no matter what may be his moral qualities. The fourth sin with which James charges the rich, the worldly, and the wanton Jews of his day, is the oppression of the righteous, even to the taking of their lives. If the application of the verse be made either to the good in general, or to the Lord Jesus in particular, there is something very striking in the omission of the conjunction, "Ye have condemned, ye have killed, the Just," expresses the rapidity of the action and result of their maliciousness. They seemed so afraid that after condemning a good man He should escape slaughter, that they hurried up His death, although, as a lamb before the shearers is dumb, He opened not His mouth.
(C. F. Deems, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you.