James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.
James, in the opening 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.
Parallel VersesKJV: James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.