Come now, you who are rich, weep and wail for the misery to come upon you.
James 2:6, 7). His words regarding them are words of stern denunciation. Like one of the old Hebrew prophets, he curses them in the name of the Lord. Its design in doing so, however, must have been in unison with his life-work as a Christian apostle, laboring in "the acceptable time;" he sought, by proclaiming the terrors of the Lord, to persuade to repentance and a holy life. The paragraph breaks naturally into three sections. Ver. 1 refers to the future; vers. 2, 3 to the present; vers. 4-6 mainly to the past. We shall consider these three sections in the inverse order.
I. THE CAUSES OF JUDGMENT IN THE PAST. (Vers. 4-6.) James mentions three.
1. Heartless injustice. (Ver. 4.) The humane Law of Moses forbade that the wages of the hired laborer be kept back even for a single night (Deuteronomy 24:14, 15); but these wicked men had paid no heed to that Law. They had grown rich by defrauding the poor. Instead of relieving the needy by a liberal charity, they had not even paid the lawful debts which they owed them. And does not this sin linger in the heart of Christendom? What was American slavery but just a crushing of the poor? What was villeinage in our own country but a defrauding of the laborers? It is net yet a century since the Scotch collier was attached by law to the coal-work where he had been born - the right to his services being bought and sold with the mine itself. In more recent times our poets have once and again given voice to great social wrongs in weeds that have rung like a tocsin through the land (e.g. Mrs. Browning's 'Cry of the Children,' and Hood's 'Song of the Shirt'). Or, to take the form of labor referred to in ver. 4, we may ask - Is the condition of the English ploughman even yet what it ought to be, and what our rich landlords ought to help to make it? James says that the robbing of the poor is a "crying" sin. The victims themselves cry; and even their wages, fraudulently withheld, "cry out" also from the coffers of the rich. But there is One who has ears to ear, and a heart to resent, the injustice. "The Lord of hosts" will avenge the poor of the people who trust in him.
2. Lavish luxuriousness. (Ver. 5.) The wealthy, wicked Jews sinned, not only against righteousness, but against temperance. They were luxurious in their living, and prodigal in their expenditure. And this wasteful life of theirs was largely maintained at the expense of the poor whom they defrauded. It was "the hire of the laborers" that had built their magnificent palaces, and bought the beds of ivory upon which they lay. They did all this "on the earth," and as if they "should still live forever" (Psalm 49:9) here. They forgot that in their godless self-indulgence they were acting like "mere animals, born to be taken and destroyed" (2 Peter 2:12). Unconscious of impending ruin, they were still living voluptuously; like the fat ox, which continues to revel among the rich pastures on the very morning of the "day of slaughter."
3. Murderous cruelty. (Ver. 6.) By "the righteous," or "just," many understand the Lord Jesus Christ; this statement being a historic allusion to the scenes of Gabbatha and Calvary. And it is very probable that the murder of our Lord was in the apostle's mind. But we judge that the words are rather to be regarded as describing a prevalent practice of the wicked rich in every age. They apply to the death of Jesus Christ, but also to that of Stephen, and to that of James the brother of John; and they were soon to be illustrated again in the martyrdom of the writer himself. For our apostle, by reason of his integrity and purity, was surnamed "the Righteous;" and he was by-and-by condemned and killed by the scribes and Pharisees of Jerusalem. But why all this oppression of "the righteous"? It is inflicted simply because they are righteous. Every holy life is an offence to evil men. Because Christ was holy, he was crucified. Because Stephen was "full of faith and of the Holy Spirit," he was stoned. Because James was truly righteous, he was thrown from the battlements of the temple, and killed with a fuller's club. Finally, the apostle adds, "He doth not resist you." The righteous man submits patiently to your persecuting violence. He endures your murderous cruelty with holy meekness. Jesus did so (Isaiah 53:7). Stephen did so (Acts 7:60). James presently would do so: he is said to have offered the very prayer for his murderers which his crucified Master had done. Such patient endurance, however, only increases the guilt of the persecutors, and shall make their doom more awful.
II. THE FIRST DROPPINGS OF JUDGMENT IN THE PRESENT. (Vers. 2, 3.) The material for their punishment was being prepared, in accordance with the law of retribution, out of the very wealth on which they doted. "Of our pleasant vices" Divine Providence makes "instruments to plague us." "Your riches are corrupted;" that is, their treasures of grain and fruits were already rotting in the storehouses. Since these were not being used to feed the hungry, God's curse was upon them all. "Your garments are moth-eaten;" because these rich men did not clothe the naked out of their costly wardrobes, the moth was cutting up these with his remorseless little tooth. "Your gold and your silver are rusted;" that is, their money, not being used for doing good, lay in their treasure-chests morally cankered by the base avarice which kept it there. And that rust shall not only eat up the wealth itself; it shall also gnaw the conscience of its faithless possessor. It shall be a witness-bearer to his sin, and an executioner of it, is punishment, By-and-by, the remorseful thought of his unused riches shall torture his soul as with the touch of burning fire. (Vide T. Binney on 'Money,' p. 126.) These men had "laid up their treasure in the last days;" that is, immediately before the coming of the Lord in judgment to make an end of the entire Hebrew polity. And their wealth would avail them nothing in the presence of that great catastrophe. These corrupting treasures of theirs would corrupt still further into treasures of wrath. After the first droppings would come the deluge.
III. THE FULL FLOOD OF JUDGMENT IN THE FUTURE. (Vex. 1.) The "miseries" spoken of refer primarily to the sorrows connected with the impending siege and ruin of Jerusalem. These were to fall with especial severity upon the influential classes; and the Hebrews of the Dispersion, in whatsoever land they might be, were to share them. The wealthy men among the unbelieving Jews had sinned most; so they were to suffer most. Well, therefore, might they "weep" at the prospect, as only Orientals can weep; and "howl" as only brute beasts can do. But these words point onward further in history than to the destruction of Jerusalem. The full flood of "miseries" which providence is preparing shall overtake the ungodly rich only at the Lord's second coming, when he shall appear to judge the whole world. The ruin of Jerusalem was but a faint foreshadowing of the" eternal destruction" of the wicked which shall begin at that day (Matthew 24.). These "miseries" suggest solemn thoughts of the doom of eternity.
1. To remember the moral government of God, and to make ready to meet him in the judgment (vers. 1-6).
2. The sin of the wicked prepares its own punishment (vers. 2, 3).
3. One of the greatest social wants of our time is that of mutual sympathy between the capitalist and the laborer (ver. 4).
4. A Christian should avoid debt as he would avoid the devil (ver. 4).
5. The right use of wealth is not to spend it upon self-indulgence, but to do good with it (ver. 5).
6. A man has reason to suspect the purity of his own character, if no one ever persecutes him (ver. 6). - C. J.
Matthew 6:20; Luke 12:33). Of that treasure there would "in the last days" be no loss, nor any bitter lamentation over it. No enemy could touch it. And in "the day of the Lord" — the day of final account — it would tell in their favour as the evidence of the genuineness of their faith and love. The wealth of those addressed by James was not only selfishly hoarded, it was obtained by criminal oppression and cruelty (ver, 4). This "keeping back by fraud" — under false and unworthy pretexts — of the reapers' wages, to which they were rightfully entitled, was a fearful violation to explicit Divine precepts (see Leviticus 19:13; Deuteronomy 24:14, 15). And it "cried" — cried against the unrighteous oppressor; cried to God; cried for just retribution; cried — in the same sense in which God said to Cain — "The voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto Me from the ground." And, as God heard the voice of the blood of a murdered brother, so did He hear that of the "hire" of the defrauded labourers. Let Christians avoid even the remotest approach to such oppression. They ought to be examples of righteousness and love as the children of a just and merciful God. We have next, the manner in which they laid out their riches. We have seen how they were made: we learn now how they were used (ver. 5). The verse expresses the extreme of self-indulgence; the gratification of every sensual desire. Like the infatuated king of Israel, "in the days of his vanity," "whatsoever their eyes desired they withheld not from them; they restrained not their hearts from any joy." The clause — "ye have nourished your hearts as in a day of slaughter," is by many understood to mean their pampering themselves as in a day of killing for social festivity. But the meaning seems rather to be that they were pampering themselves as beasts were fed and fattened for a day of slaughter. They were preparing themselves for the knife. While thus "feeding themselves without fear," they were "only fitting themselves for final destruction." Their "joy would be turned to sorrow; their mirth to heaviness." And, in addition to all this, while at the same time in full consistency with it, they were persecutors. "Ye have condemned and killed the just" (ver, 6). This by some interpreted as having reference to Christ Himself: "the just" being in the singular number — "the just" or "the just one." And without doubt this is one of His distinguishing designations. But, on the other hand, "He doth not resist you" is in the present time; and agrees better, consequently, with a charge of present persecution unto death, than with one relating to a deed so long past. This, therefore, favours the interpretation which makes it refer to the persecution of Christ's followers, who resembled Him in character; of which we have so beautiful an exemplification in the case of the first martyr, Stephen. That there were persecutors still troubling the Church is evident from the admonitions to patience under such troubles, which immediately follow (vers. 7, 8). Let us conclude with one or two reflections.
Ye rich men, weep and howl.I. THE COMING OF JUDGMENT. "Weep and howl" — weep, and do it in this open, violent manner, with loud, bitter cries of distress — do it wailing, shrieking, howling as was, and still is, so customary among the Orientals in times of mourning. Lament thus "for," or over, "the miseries that shall come upon you" — more exactly and impressively, "which are coming on," are already even now impending. These miseries were not simply those which in all circumstances the love and abuse of money entail, but specially, and in addition to them, the temporal judgments which were about to visit the guilty parties in this instance. They were to be the peculiar objects of vengeance; their treasures were to be rifled, their possessions wrenched from them, and stripped bare, they were to be subjected to hardships, all the heavier because of the pleasures once enjoyed and the losses thus sustained.
II. THE COMMENCEMENT OF JUDGMENT. "Your riches are corrupted" either their possessions of all kinds, these being afterwards spoken of in detail, or, as distinguished from what follows, those hoarded stores of grain, fruits, and other provisions, in which the wealth of Orientals largely consisted. To the latter the term "corrupted" could most properly be applied. They were rotting, perishing. "Your garments are moth-eaten." In eastern countries one of the most valuable possessions was a stock of costly clothing, a number of dresses, wardrobes filled with a great variety of articles of apparel. They were moth-eaten — a way in which articles of dress, when long kept and little used, are often wasted, destroyed. "Your gold and silver is cankered" — rusted, corroded. The original word implies that it is so not partially, but entirely — as it were through and through its whole substance. This does not take place in regard to silver and gold as it does to iron and steel; but they are spoken of as undergoing the change to which metals generally are subject; and there is that which corresponds to it n their case, for they get discoloured, blackened, tarnished, wasted, corrupted-looking. "And the rust of them shall be a witness against you" — literally, "shall be for a testimony to you" — "and shall eat your flesh as it were fire." In the moth-eaten garments, the cankered silver and gold, their sin no doubt appeared, but appeared in the judgments which had followed it, for in that process of destruction which had commenced there was the avenging hand of God visible. This is the prominent thing — the punishment already begun. The very objects on which they prided themselves, which they made an idol of, were smitten; and n every hole of the cloth, every spot on the money, there was a sign of the consumption that was coming on themselves, of the destruction that was impending over them, the servants of the mammon of unrighteousness. There was a testimony in their wasted, blackened stores — a testimony borne to the worm that dieth not, and the fire that cannot be quenched. "Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days." Treasure has been understood here in the figurative sense of a store of wrath, vengeance to be opened and emptied at the time mentioned. But it is obviously to be taken literally, and as referring to their material riches as detailed in the preceding verses. The "last days" are those introducing and issuing in the season of judgment which was approaching — the last days of the Jewish Church and nation, and, in many cases of the individual persons themselves; for what multitudes were then to perish by the sword, by famine, by disease, by captivity? They had gathered wealth for a season like this, when they could not enjoy it, could not retain it — when it was to become the prey of the rapacious invaders, or of the more needy and desperate of their own countrymen. But the literal translation of the original is "in the last days" — they had heaped treasure together, not for, but in the period thus designated. These days were already upon them — the days were begun, and hastening to their terrible close; and it was at a season like that, one fitter far for repentance and reformation, one calling them to break off their sins by righteousness, to prepare for impending judgment by turning to the Lord — one specially imposing on them the obligation to lay up treasure, not on earth but in heaven, where no moth or rust can corrupt, and where no thieves can break through and steal — it was then that they devoted their efforts to the gathering of riches, the storing of fruits, garments, and the precious metals. Here was the deepest guilt, here the most reckless, unprincipled infatuation.
III. THE CAUSES OF JUDGMENT.
1. Injustice. The wages of the workman should be paid honestly and punctually. To withhold it is a flagrant wrong, and such a wrong was committed by the rich men whose conduct the apostle is here denouncing. They kept it back "by fraud." And in various ways may such fraud be perpetrated. The master may not pay at all the stipulated and earned wages. He may receive the service without remunerating the servant. Or he may make unjust deductions from the amount which has been agreed on. He may take advantage of his position and power, and on certain pretexts give less than was bargained for by the other party. And what is still more common, he may beat down the price of labour, and pay for it most inadequately. He may turn to account the competition which prevails and the necessities of the poor, so as to get work done for greatly less than its proper value. This hire, dishonestly retained, is represented by James as crying. Yes, from the coffers where it was treasured up, a loud, piercing call for vengeance rose to high heaven. Often, often, the oppressed are not listened to on earth, however just their claim and urgent their pleading. But they are heard in heaven. Here their cries are said to have "entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth." He was able to vindicate the cause of the defrauded reapers who groaned and supplicated. He could call to account, and overwhelm with destruction, those who trampled on their dependents, and set all human law and right at defiance.
2. Luxury. "Ye have lived in pleasure" — that is, in a self-indulgent, sumptuous, effeminate manner. In the qualification, "on the earth," there is an implied contrast with another region, where vengeance was stored .up, and their portion was to be one of want and misery. "And been wanton." This word conveys to us the idea of lewdness, lustfulness; but what is intended here is luxuriousness, voluptuousness. It does not necessarily involve indulgence in gross excesses, in coarse and degrading impurities. It intimates that the persons were devoted to earthly enjoyments, and regardless of expense in procuring them, for the term is expressive of extravagance, wastefulness. "Ye have nourished your hearts as in a day of slaughter." They have satiated, pampered their hearts, for there were seated the tastes and appetites which they gratified; there the craving for, and the sense of satisfaction, repletion, as they fed and dressed, fattened and adorned their bodies. And they had been doing this "as in," or simply, "in a day of slaughter." They were on the brink of destruction. God was about to draw His glittering sword and smite them in His anger. And yet in these circumstances they disregarded all warnings and signs; they revelled and wantoned as if they were perfectly secure. They were sunk in brutish insensibility. It was thus with the antediluvians: for they did eat and drink, they were married and given in marriage, until the flood came and took them all away.
3. Violence — violence going the length even of blood, of murder. Stephen was the first of a band of early martyrs whom the Jews, in the malignant unbelief, had put to death for their adherence to the gospel. The holiness, the righteousness of these victims of fanatical fury, instead of saving them, had excited the rage and drawn down the vengeance of their adversaries. "And he doth not resist you" — not only or chiefly because of a want of power, but because of the meekness of his character, his patience, endurance, long-suffering. He submits to your murderous violence. He commits his cause to God, and allows you to do your utmost, striving to exhibit the spirit of his crucified Master. And this made their guilt the greater. Their cruelty was the less excusable. It had no provocation.
1. Surely the poorest Christian has no reason to envy the wealthy but wicked man of the world; no, even though he were to suffer, and suffer unto death, at his hands. The poorest Christian is "rich in faith, and an heir of the kingdom which God hath provided for them that love Him." He has God Himself for his portion — a portion infinite in preciousness and fulness of blessing, and unfailing and everlasting in duration. Let him cherish "godliness with contentment," and he is a happy man — happy in enjoyment, and happier in hope.
2. There may be rich men whose wealth has been acquired by honest means — who have been chargeable with no extortion; and who, in the use of their wealth, have not at all rioted in sensuality and libertinism, or abused the superiority which it imparted in evil-entreating and persecuting the godly. Let not such, on this account, sit at ease and flatter themselves with safety. Your riches may be a snare to you, notwithstanding. You may trust in your wealth. It may take away your heart.
3. Let Christians, whom Providence, in whatever measure, has favoured with this world's wealth, remember the true use of riches. Bear in mind that in bestowing wealth upon you the universal Proprietor alienates nothing from Himself. Of the gold and the silver which He puts into your coffers He continues to say, just as He does of all yet in the bowels of the earth — "The silver is Mine and the gold is Mine." And His command is, "Honour the Lord with thy substance, and" — not with the paltry remnants after all thine own selfish cravings have been fully satiated, but — "with the first-fruits of all thine increase."
(R. Wardlaw, D. D.)
(H. W. Beecher.)
New Cyclo. of Illustrations.Gotthold saw a bee flutter for a while around a pot of honey, and at last light upon it, intending to feast to its heart's content. It, however, fell in, and, being besmeared in every limb, miserably perished. On this he mused, and said, "It is the same with temporal prosperity, and that abundance of wealth, honour, and pleasure, which are sought for by the world as greedily as honey is by the bee. A bee is a happy creature so long as it is assiduously occupied in gathering honey from the flowers, and by slow degrees accumulating a store of it. When, however, it meets with hoard like this, it knows not what to do, and is betrayed into ruin."
(New Cyclo. of Illustrations.)
(W. Armlet, D.D.)
Your riches are corrupted.1. Sordid sparing is a sure sign of a worldly heart. God gave us wealth, not that we should be hoarders, but dispensers. Seneca calleth covetous men chests. We think them men, and they are but coffers; who would envy a trunk well stored? Well, then, beware of "withholding more than is meet" (Proverbs 11:24), of a delight in hoarding; it is a sure note that the world has too much of your heart.
2. Keeping things from public use till they be corrupted or spoiled is sordid sparing. When you lay them not out upon God, or others, or yourself, you are justly culpable. The inhabitants of Constantinople would afford no money to the Emperor Constantinus Palaeologus when he begged from door to door for a supply for the soldiers; but what was the issue? the barbarous enemy won the city and got all. The like story there is of Musteatzem, the covetous caliph of Babylon, who was such an idolater of his wealth and treasures that he would not dispend anything for the necessary defence of his city, whereupon it was taken, and the caliph famished to death, and his mouth, by Haalon, the Tartatian conqueror, filled with melted gold.
3. Covetousness bringeth God's curse upon our estates. He sendeth corruption, and the rust, and the moth. There is nothing gotten by tenacity, by greedy getting, or close withholding. Not by greedy getting; when men will snatch an estate out of the hands of Providence, no wonder if God snatch it away again; ill gains are equivalent to losses (Micah 6:10). Not by undue withholding; it draweth man's curse and God's too upon us (see Proverbs 11:26). God can easily corrupt that which we will not bestow, and cause a worm to breed in manna. Certainly there is a "withholding that tendeth to poverty" (Proverbs 11:24).
4. There is corruption and decay upon the face of all created glory, Riches corrupted, garments moth-eaten, gold and silver cankered. It is madness to set up our rest in perishing things, "Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not" (Proverbs 33:5)? It is not only against grace, but reason; confidence should have a sure and stable ground. Well, then, take Christ's advice (Matthew 6:19, 20).
5. From the diversity of the terms — moth, corruption, canker, note that God hath several ways wherewith to blast our carnal comforts. Sometimes by the moth, sometimes by the thief, by rust or robbery; they may either rot, or be taken from us. Well, then, let the greater awe be impressed upon your thoughts.
(A. Plummer, D. D.)Ego perdam te, ne tu perdas me. That is, "I will destroy you, lest you should destroy me." Thus, if the world be not put to death here, it will put us to death hereafter.
Your garments are motheaten.
(H. W. Beecher.)
The hire of the labourers.1. When through greatness you challenge their labours without reward, as the gentry use the peasants of many countries, "Woe be to him that useth his neighbour without wages" (Jeremiah 22:13), meaning Jehoiakim, who, in his pompous buildings used his subjects' labour without hire.
2. When you give them not a proportionate hire, working upon their necessities, for then a great part of their labour is without reward; and it is flat covetousness to "exact all your labours" (Isaiah 58:3), when your reward is scanty and short.
3. When by cunning ye defraud them of their reward, either through bad payment or crafty cavils. The Lord saith, "I will be a swift witness against those that oppress the hireling in his wages" (Malachi 3:5). So it is in the text, "by fraud kept back." God knoweth what is oppression, though veiled under crafty pretences.
4. When you diminish or change their wages, as it is said of Laban that he changed Jacob's wages ten times (Genesis 31:41).
5. When you delay payment. God commanded the Jews to do it before sunset (see Deuteronomy 24:14, 15; Leviticus 19:30). It is a maxim of the law that not to pay it at the time is to pay the less, because of the advantage of improvement; and in the text it is said, "kept back by fraud," though not wholly taken away, yet "kept back" entitled them to sin. The Lord, you know, rewardeth His servants ere they have done their work; we have much of our wages aforehand, &c.
(T. Manton.)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.
(R. Turnbull.)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.)
Scientific Illustrations and Symbols.The king vulture will not permit any other bird to begin its meal until his own hunger is satisfied. The same habit may be seen in many other creatures, including some men, the more powerful lording it over the weaker, and leaving them only the remains of the feast instead of permitting them to partake of it on equal terms. If the king vulture should not happen to be present when the dead animal has reached a state of decomposition, which renders it palatable to vulterine tastes, the subject vultures would pay but little regard to the privileges of their absent monarch, and would leave him but a slight prospect of getting a meal on the remains of the feast. Thus the greedy disposition, whether in the high or low, never concerns itself about the want of others.
(Scientific Illustrations and Symbols.)
(P. H. Gosse, in "Good Words.")
Scientific Illustrations and Symbols.The unscrupulous money-getter is not necessarily an able man. On the contrary, he often appears dull and stupid. But he is rapacious, cruel, and cunning, and he owes his success to these qualities. Notwithstanding the applause with which society greets his performances, they have much the same inspiration as those of the glutton. The glutton is thought but a dull animal, but his mode of catching deer shows much the same proportion of intelligence as that which is exhibited by the money-getter, or by the Arctic fox when he arranges cods' heads as baits to catch crows. The glutton climbs into a tree in the neighbourhood of a herd, carrying up with him a quantity of a kind of moss of which the deer are fond, and when be sees any one of the herd approaching, he lets a portion of the moss fall. If the deer stops to eat, the glutton instantly descends on its back, and torments it by tearing out its eyes and other violence to such a degree that, either to get rid of its enemy, or to put an end to its sufferings, it beats its head against the trees till it falls down dead; for when the glutton has once fixed himself by his claws and teeth, it is impossible to dislodge him. After killing the deer he divides the flesh into convenient portions, and conceals them in the earth for future provision. In this he shows himself to be as prudential as the money-getter, who at the end of a nefarious financial success places his profits in various securities, and the balance in his bank for future use.
(Scientific Illustrations and Symbols.)
Ye have lived in pleasure.leyden and drawing-rooms and concerts. Now, there is no doubt that if she wasted her money as most monarchs do, she would bring a great deal of temporal prosperity to some of our West-end tradesmen. But when we think of it, that temporary prosperity of the comparative few would be a great loss to the nation as a whole. Let me take a concrete example of this. The Queen holds a drawing-room. A young lady of high rank and of great wealth is to be "presented." For this purpose she procures a court dress, which, with all its finery and lace and jewellery, is worth, say, £400. That sum of money has been calculated by a great authority to be the equivalent of 50,000 hours of labour — labour of the most tedious kind and fatal to the eyes. What is the advantage of expenditure of that luxurious sort? This poor, vain child wears it once or twice, and then the fruits of all that arduous toil is thrown away. Now, suppose the dressmakers and others had spent those 50,000 hours in making cheap, warm, and beautiful dresses for the half-clad and starving poor. Would they not have added a deal more to the sum of human health and happiness? Let us take another example. Some time ago a friend of mine was in the provinces, and was driving along the road near one of the great provincial palaces which belong to the British nobility. He began to speak of the aristocratic family who owned that estate. "Ah," said the man who was driving him, "we used to have a great deal of aristocratic company coming down here, and much money was spent on dinner-parties and wines. There was plenty of amusement. But now that the property has fallen into the hands of the heir, there is no more of that, and everything is going to the bad." Now, from this man's narrow point of view it appeared a dreadful matter that the old state of things was not continued. But look at the other side of the picture. The owner of that estate had also a very large property, inhabited by the poor, in one of the most miserable parts of London, full of public houses and hovels where the people were living in abject misery. The estate had been neglected for generations. Now, in the old time, when a handful of the rural tradesman were making money out of the prodigality and extravagance of the owner of the property, this London estate was utterly' neglected, and thousands of the poor were suffering untold agonies. But the present owner having a conscience and being a Christian, instead of using the revenue for the purpose of diffusing a little trade among a handful of people in the country, is living a quiet life in a very simple home, and is using all the resources of her property to blot out the liquor-shops and the houses of infamy, and to build proper dwellings for the poor, where for generations they have been occupying hovels. Although a handful of people in a remote part of the provinces may suffer a certain amount of loss, it is an untold gain to thousands of people and to the human race that the wealth of that great property is no longer wasted in the old way. It is impossible to waste and save at the same time. Luxury and economy are as diametrically opposed as darkness and light. Luxury is any expenditure that is both costly and superfluous. I do not say a word about any little superfluity that does not cost much and which may give as much pleasure as it is worth. But when the superfluity is a very costly one, then it becomes a luxury, and must be denounced by every Christian and by every lover of the human race. It is astonishing what ingenious arguments have been used from time to time in defence of luxury. It has been argued, for example, that luxury is necessary to keep machinery at work. But, as Laveleye says, the object of machinery is to give us more leisure as well as more products. It is quite clear that in the better times which are coming we must not only give fair wages for every piece of work done, but we must also give men leisure to spend with their families, and to cultivate the higher aims of life. But there is another reply to this argument, and it is this. The money which is saved from luxury will give much more employment to machinery in other and healthier directions than it now gives in doubtful ways. It is very important in this particular discussion to remember that money is not hoarded now. If a man happens to have a good deal of money he does not bury it; that money is saved. When economy has saved money it is spent in employing labour. That is always a great gain to the human race. This brings us to the point from which we started, and is a fresh refutation of the delusion that luxury is good for trade. A distinguished French economist tells a good anecdote about himself, and shows how he discovered that prodigality was not an advantage to the human race; that it was an absolute and total delusion; and that the human race has no deadlier enemy than the spendthrift. On one occasion, when M. Say was a young man, he went to dine with his uncle, who produced some exceeding beautiful wineglasses, which he subsequently broke into pieces. He justified this extraordinary conduct by saying that every one must get a living, and he thought that by destroying his wineglasses he was a benefactor of the human race. That is a very simple illustration, but it precisely illustrates a widespread delusion which exists in West London, that waste and extravagance and destruction are beneficial and make trade. It was, of course, a matter of fact that if he broke six wineglasses it was to the benefit of some one in the neighbourhood, for he sent a servant the next day to buy some more. This incident set young Say thinking. "If my uncle is really doing good, he had better proceed to smash all his crockery, and then to smash all his furniture, and then all the glass in the windows of his house; for glaziers, painters, and carpenters would be employed; and from this point of view his destructiveness would be a great benefit." When the argument is worked out, every one sees that there must be some delusion in it. If waste is for the good of trade, those Communists who set fire to many of the finest buildings in Paris were great benefactors. It has employed thousands of masons and painters to replace those buildings. Yes, but when you reflect, the answer is this: If none of this destruction had taken place, the money that has been used by the French Government to restore the public monuments, schools, and museums that were burnt would still be at their disposal, and might have been used to pay for other monuments, schools, railways, and museums. They would have retained their old property and had other property as well. Money is never well spent except, first, when it satisfies real human wants, and secondly, when it makes permanent improvements.
(H. P. Hughes, M. A.)1. A sin very natural to us. There were but two common parents of all mankind — Adam the protoplast, and Noah the restorer, and both miscarried by appetite: the one fell by eating, and the other by drinking. We had need be careful (Luke 21:34).
2. The sin is natural to all, but chiefly incident to the rich. There is, I confess, a difference in tempers; wealth maketh some covetous, and others prodigal; but the usual sin in the rich is luxury. Pride, idleness, and fulness of bread were the sins of Sodom, and they are usually found in great men's houses; they should be the more wary.
3. Though delicate living be a sin incident to wealthy men, yet their abundance doth not excuse it. God gave wealth for another purpose than to spend it in pleasures. Intemperance is odious to God, be it in any whatsoever they be.
4. Luxury is living in pleasure. God alloweth us to use pleasures, but not to live in them; to take delights, but not they should take us; to live always at the full is but a wanton luxury.
(T. Manton, D. D.)time in which they were engaged in their ungodly gain. Now he proceeds to show where they were doing this, in the land, the land of Israel, which was on the very point of being given over to the avenger. In the former chapter the visiting of the city by the rich for the purposes of gain had been adverted to, now he supposes them ripen the spot, and the day of vengeance at hand. Jerusalem was the central spot on which the thunderbolt was about to fall that would paralyse all Israel, Hebrews and Hellenists. As a matter of history it is well known that vast numbers of the Dispersion were involved in the catastrophe of the holy city. This passage, however, though addressed to, and by direct implication comprising the Dispersion, yet evidently conveys a prophetic warning and denunciation against the whole family of Israel, on whom the judgment was about to descend.
(F. T. Bassett, M. A.)
New Cyclopoedia of Illustration.It is said to have been a plan sometimes practised in the Middle Ages, to send poisoned flowers to princes or great persons, when a plot was laid against their life. Whether the fact be true or not, the moral it may suggest is true.
(New Cyclopoedia of Illustration.)
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
(J. C. Lees, D. D.)
(Quarles)The pleasures of sense will surfeit, and not satisfy; the pleasures of religion will satisfy, but not surfeit.
Ye have nourished your hearts.Luke 21:36). Ah! do but consider how many reasons we have to be wary in our pleasures. Will the inconveniences they bring to your estates mow you? "He that loveth corn, and wine, and oil, shall be poor" (Proverbs 23:21). How often hath the belly brought the back to rags? Or will the mischiefs they bring upon the body move you? Lust, which is but the last end and consummation of all pleasures, sucketh the bones, and, like a cannibal, eateth your own flesh (Proverbs 5:11). Ah! but chiefly think of the inconveniency which your precious souls sustain; your hearts will be nourished and fattened. Pleasure infatuateth the mind, quencheth the radiancy and vigour of the spirit, the generous sprightliness of the affections. So the apostle speaketh of persons given to pleasures, that they are past feeling (Ephesians 4.); they have lost all the smartness and tenderness of their spirits. Oh! that men would regard this, and take heed of nourishing their hearts while they nourish their bodies. You should starve lust when you feed nature; or, as Austin, come to your meat as your medicine, and use these outward refreshments as remedies to cure infirmities, not to cause them; or, as Bernard, refresh the soul when you feed the body, and by Christian meditations on God's bounty, Christ's sweetness, the fatness of God's house, &c., keep the heart from being nourished whenever you repair nature.
Ye have condemned and killed the just.Acts 1:23; Acts 18:7; Colossians 4:11) was evidently the Latin equivalent of this epithet, and it probably answered to the Chasidim or Assideans of an earlier stage of Jewish religious history. It is as if a follower of George Fox had addressed the judges and clergy of Charles II's. reign, and said to them, "Ye persecuted the friend, and he does not resist you."
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