Go to now, you rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come on you.…
What shall we say then? Is it not lawful at all to resist injuries, but shall we suffer ourselves to be spoiled, robbed, injured, smitten, and murdered without resisting? by not withstanding them shall we animate them, encourage them to further mischief? Hereunto I answer, though it be commanded us that we shall not resist, and commended in the righteous men that they did not resist their oppressions, yet it followeth not that the righteous may not at all resist. For, touching the commandment of Christ and His apostle, it is apparent that they spake of impatient resisting, and of such resisting as was joined with greedy desire of private revenge, in which manner the saints of God are everywhere forbidden to resist. In other respects it is not unlawful to resist, but either by avoiding their oppressions; either by telling the wicked of their injuries or, finally, by repelling force by force; when we cannot have the lawful aid of magistrates it is lawful to resist the wicked when they oppress us, which doctrine may be warranted out of the infallible word of truth. Our Saviour Christ commanded His disciples to fly from city to city when they were persecuted, and so by avoiding injuries to make resistance, as it were, to their persecutors. And when Himself was in danger of stoning He conveyed Himself from them, and did not suffer the Jews to wreak their wrath upon Him. Neither by avoiding and shunning their injuries is it lawful only to resist the wicked, but also by telling them of the wicked oppressions and extreme cruelty which they show towards their brethren, though in the meantime our bodies be subject to their tyrannous outrage and fury (John 18:22, 23). The first sin and evil condemned in these wicked rich men against whom St. James dealeth is their fraudulent detaining of their hirelings' wages, whereof he giveth special example in their harvest labourers. Yet for so needful, so painful and profitable a work they were unrewarded and their wages detained by fraud from them, no doubt an extreme point of evil dealing. The greatness of their sin the apostle amplifieth in most effectual manner, "Behold," saith he, "the hire of the labourers which have reaped your fields, which is by you kept back by fraud crieth, and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of hosts." First, saith he, "Behold "of which speech there are divers uses. Sometimes it is used far a greater evidence and certainty of a thing. St. Jude, citing the words of Enoch for a great evidence of the Lord's coming to judge the world, useth this phrase of speech: "Behold the Lord cometh with thousands of His saints, to give judgment against all men," &c. In like manner, in this place, to assure them that their wickedness was certainly gone up into the cares of the Lord the apostle breaketh out in this manner: "Behold the hire of the labourers," &c. Sometimes it is used in strange and wonderful things, which rarely are heard or seen, as Isaiah entreating of the extraordinary, rare, and wonderful manner of Christ's conception, in this wise expresseth it: "Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel." Our apostle, either to assure them of their punishment, or as wondering at the hard dealing of the wicked, may not amiss in this sense be thought to use it: "Behold the hire of your labourers," &c., as a thing to be wondered at, that you would be so hard hearted as to defraud their labourers of their hire, the apostle breaketh out and saith, "Behold the hire of your labourers," etc.
2. The hire of those labourers which reaped their fields was detained. This amplifieth their wickedness. To detain the wages of any labourer who by the toil and moil of his body, and in the sweat of his face, eateth his bread cannot be but a great sin; but to deny them their wages, by whom our fields are reaped, our corn and grain gathered into our garners, is no doubt a grievous sin before God.
3. The wages of their hired servants was by fraud kept back. To detain the wages of the hireling and servant, which for his living worketh with men, is an evil and sin by the law and Word of God forbidden (Leviticus 19:13). To withhold the daily relief of a man from him, what is it, but as much as lieth in us, to take his life from him; for we keep back the thing whereby he liveth, and this is murder before the Lord.And this sin of fraudulent detaining the wages of the hired servants is divers ways committed.
1. When the hireling's wages are stopped altogether under some colourable pretence and intended matter, not right, not true, not just, but deceitful.
2. Moreover, this cruelty is done, and sin committed, when the wages are deceitfully deferred longer than the poor can well spare it.
3. Men become guilty hereof also when, through fraud, they misreckon the poor hireling being simple, or ally ways diminish of the wages of the labourer.
4. Finally, by changing the wages of the servant and workman to their hurt and damage.
5. To conclude, this sin is mightily amplified in that the cry thereof is said to ascend and come to the cars of the Lord of hosts. Here God is called the Lord of hosts, which attribute is oftentimes given unto Him because He hath all His creatures always ready as an innumerable and infinite host to fight at His pleasure against the wicked for the maintenance of His glory and defence of His servants. They shall be glad to do His commandment, and when need is they shall be ready upon earth, and when their hour is come they shall not overpass the commandment. St. James, therefore, partly for the terror of the wicked, who in due time shall feel the weight of His revenging hand, and partly for the comfort of His afflicted servants whose wages wicked men hold back by fraud, calleth Almighty God the Lord of hosts, as having a power always prepared, and an army evermore in readiness, to fight against His enemies and to defend His saints. .Now, if the cries of their detained wages which work in our bodily and earthly harvest be entered into the ears of the Lord of hosts, how much more fearful judgment shall be pronounced against them — under how wretched condition are they who, by fraud or by force, keep back the wages of them that labour in the heavenly and spiritual harvest of the Lord? who sow the furrows of your hearts with the Divine seed of the Word of truth, and should reap the increase of their labours with great joyfulness. The first evil then in this place condemned is their fraudulent detaining of their labourers' wages, the cry whereof entered into the ears of the Lord of hosts. This second evil and sin for which the apostle threateneth their destruction to the wicked is their sensuality and carnal life, which consisteth briefly in three thing.
3. Riotousness and excessive banqueting.
1. Pleasure here signifieth the deliciousness of men in this life, whereunto they give themselves that they, faring deliciously every day, may spend their time and life in pleasure like Epicures, by the which they are not only condemned as injurious unto others, but also are accused as misspending that which they detain from their workmen upon their own pleasures and delights.
2. Their sensuality also showeth itself in the wantonness of their lives, whereby carnal uncleanness is understood (Romans 13:13). Thereunto also most rich men are given. For riches minister matter of living deliciously; delicious living pricketh forward to fleshliness and bodily uncleanness. St. Cyril saith: "In those which flow in prosperity, honour, and all worldly wealth, there is a sting of desire of deliciousness more vehement, and the mind moved with concupiscence is (as it were)carried away with the whole bridle, none staying it."
3. Of their sensuality the last and third branch is that they nourished their hearts as in the day of slaughter. Whereby their continual study to banquet and make merry is noted that their whole life might be, as it were, a continual day of feasting, by which they grew as fat as pork or brawn for Satan the devil to feed on in the day of judgment. The Hebrews call the days of feasting the days of slaughter, because at great feasts there is great killing, great slaughter. Calves from the stall, sheep from the fold, oxen from the pasture, kids from the goats, lambs from the ewes, deer from the forest, buck from the chase, fish from the sea, fowl from the fen, birds from the air, capons from the coop, pheasant from the wood, partridge from the covey, rabbit from the warren, and infinite the like are then slam to be devoured. The third sin and evil for which these men are subject to this judgment is their cruelty, which in these two things appeareth.
1. That they condemn the righteous men.
2. That they condemn them not only, but slay them when they make no resistance.
1. The wicked men of this world condemn the righteous at their pleasures, they give what sentence they lust against the just and godly men, they judge the innocent at their wills, if in all things they do not please them, which is great cruelty and a thing abominable before God (Proverbs 17:15).
2. Neither do these only wrongfully judge and condemn the righteous, but also they slay him, and he resisteth them not, this is fierceness and intolerable cruelty. Now, the righteous are slain divers ways.
(1) In heart by hatred, "He that hateth his brother in his heart is a murderer," saith St. John.
(2) In tongue by slander, therefore Christ containeth it under the nature of murder, making it subject to like judgment(3) By denying help in their misery wherein we suffer them to perish without succour.
(4) When by fraud or force, when by greedy courteousness or cruel extortion, whereby our hands are imbued by the blood of our brethren we take or hold from them, that which is their own; whereby, as much as in us lieth, we murder them.
(5) When, finally, we bereave men of their lives, which all agree with this place of St. James, and are found in the rich wicked men of this world. For —
1. They hate the godly poor men in their hearts.
2. They slander them with their tongues.
3. They withdraw their helping hands from them.
4. They detain their right from them.
5. And, to conclude, they cause their lives oftentimes to be taken from them, who, albeit themselves by themselves, do not always these things; yet by their means and power these are done, therefore are they said to do it.Finally, there are times and seasons when by repelling force by force it is lawful to resist. When Christians are so narrowly bestead and so straightly beset with their enemies, as that they cannot have the aid of civil powers and lawful magistrates of the commonwealth, but must either resist by force, or be in danger of the loss of their lives and goods without all recovery or recompense; in such a case to resist I hold it lawful altogether. So that it be done in a moderate defence of ourselves, without private malice or desire of shedding of blood.
Parallel VersesKJV: Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you.