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Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.
THE GENERAL EPISTLE OF JAMES Commentary by A. R. Faussett
This is called by Eusebius ([Ecclesiastical History, 2.23], about the year 330 A.D.) the first of the Catholic Epistles, that is, the Epistles intended for general circulation, as distinguished from Paul's Epistles, which were addressed to particular churches or individuals. In the oldest manuscripts of the New Testament extant, they stand before the Epistles of Paul. Of them, two only are mentioned by Eusebius as universally acknowledged (Homologoumena), namely, the First Epistle of Peter, and the First Epistle of John. All, however, are found in every existing manuscript of the whole New Testament.
It is not to be wondered at that Epistles not addressed to particular churches (and particularly one like that of James, addressed to the Israelite believers scattered abroad) should be for a time less known. The first mention of James' Epistle by name occurs early in the third century, in Origen [Commentary on John 1:19, 4.306], who was born about 185, and died A.D. 254. Clement of Rome ([First Epistle to the Corinthians, 10]; compare Jas 2:21, 23; [First Epistle to the Corinthians, 11]; compare Jas 2:25; Heb 11:31) quotes it. So also Hermas [Shepherd] quotes Jas 4:7. Irenĉus [Against Heresies, 4.16.2] is thought to refer to Jas 2:23. Clement of Alexandria commented on it, according to Cassiodorus. Ephrem the Syrian [Against the Greeks, 3.51] quotes Jas 5:1. An especially strong proof of its authenticity is afforded by its forming part of the old Syriac version, which contains no other of the disputed books (Antilegomena, [Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 3.25]), except the Epistle to the Hebrews. None of the Latin fathers before the fourth century quote it; but soon after the Council of Nicea it was admitted as canonical both by the East and West churches, and specified as such in the Councils of Hippo and Carthage (397 A.D.). This is just what we might expect; a writing known only partially at first, when subsequently it obtained a wider circulation, and the proofs were better known of its having been recognized in apostolic churches, having in them men endowed with the discernment of spirits, which qualified them for discriminating between inspired and uninspired writings, was universally accepted. Though doubted for a time, at last the disputed books (James, Second Peter, Second and Third John, Jude, and Revelation) were universally and undoubtingly accepted, so that no argument for the Old Testament Apocrypha can be drawn from their case: as to it the Jewish Church had no doubt; it was known not to be inspired.
Luther's objection to it ("an Epistle of straw, and destitute of an evangelic character") was due to his mistaken idea that it (Jas 2:14-26) opposes the doctrine of justification by faith, and not by works, taught by Paul. But the two apostles, while looking at justification from distinct standpoints, perfectly harmonize and mutually complement the definitions of one another. Faith precedes love and the works of love; but without them it is dead. Paul regards faith in the justification of the sinner before God; James, in the justification of the believer evidently before men. The error which James meets was the Jewish notion that their possession and knowledge of the law of God would justify them, even though they disobeyed it (compare Jas 1:22 with Ro 2:17-25). Jas 1:3; 4:1, 12 seem plainly to allude to Ro 5:3; 6:13; 7:23; 14:4. Also the tenor of Jas 2:14-26 on "justification," seems to allude to Paul's teaching, so as to correct false Jewish notions of a different kind from those which he combatted, though not unnoticed by him also (Ro 2:17, &c.).
Paul (Ga 2:9) arranges the names "James, Cephas, John," in the order in which their Epistles stand. James who wrote this Epistle (according to most ancient writers) is called (Ga 1:19), "the Lord's brother." He was son of Alpheus or Cleopas (Lu 24:13-18) and Mary, sister of the Virgin Mary. Compare Mr 15:40 with Joh 19:25, which seems to identify the mother of James the Less with the wife of Cleopas, not with the Virgin Mary, Cleopas' wife's sister. Cleopas is the Hebrew, Alpheus the Greek mode of writing the same name. Many, however, as Hegesippus [Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 23.1], distinguish the Lord's brother from the son of Alpheus. But the Gospel according to the Hebrews, quoted by Jerome, represents James, the Lord's brother, as present at the institution of the Eucharist, and therefore identical with the apostle James. So the Apocryphal Gospel of James. In Acts, James who is put foremost in Jerusalem after the death of James, the son of Zebedee, is not distinguished from James, the son of Alpheus. He is not mentioned as one of the Lord's brethren in Ac 1:14; but as one of the "apostles" (Ga 1:19). He is called "the Less" (literally, "the little," Mr 15:40), to distinguish him from James, the son of Zebedee. Alford considers James, the brother of the Lord, the author of the Epistle, to have been the eldest of the sons of Joseph and Mary, after Jesus (compare Mt 13:55), and that James the son of Alpheus is distinguished from him by the latter being called "the Less," (that is, junior). His arguments against the Lord's brother, the bishop of Jerusalem, being the apostle, are: (1) The Lord's brethren did not believe on Jesus at a time when the apostles had been already called (Joh 7:3, 5), therefore none of the Lord's brethren could be among the apostles (but it does not follow from Joh 7:3 that no one of them believed). (2) The apostles' commission was to preach the Gospel everywhere, not to be bishops in a particular locality (but it is unlikely that one not an apostle should be bishop of Jerusalem, to whom even apostles yield deference, Ac 15:13, 19; Ga 1:19; 2:9, 12. The Saviour's last command to the apostles collectively to preach the Gospel everywhere, is not inconsistent with each having a particular sphere of labor in which he should be a missionary bishop, as Peter is said to have been at Antioch).
He was surnamed "the Just." It needed peculiar wisdom so to preach the Gospel as not to disparage the law. As bishop of Jerusalem writing to the twelve tribes, he sets forth the Gospel in its aspect of relation to the law, which the Jews so reverenced. As Paul's Epistles are a commentary on the doctrines flowing from the death and resurrection of Christ, so James's Epistle has a close connection with His teaching during His life on earth, especially His Sermon on the Mount. In both, the law is represented as fulfilled in love: the very language is palpably similar (compare Jas 1:2 with Mt 5:12; Jas 1:4 with Mt 5:48; Jas 1:5; 5:15 with Mt 7:7-11; Jas 2:13 with Mt 5:7; 6:14, 15; Jas 2:10 with Mt 5:19; Jas 4:4 with Mt 6:24; Jas 4:11 with Mt 7:1, 2; Jas 5:2 with Mt 6:19). The whole spirit of this Epistle breathes the same Gospel-righteousness which the Sermon on the Mount inculcates as the highest realization of the law. James's own character as "the Just," or legally righteous, disposed him to this coincidence (compare Jas 1:20; 2:10; 3:18 with Mt 5:20). It also fitted him for presiding over a Church still zealous for the law (Ac 21:18-24; Ga 2:12). If any could win the Jews to the Gospel, he was most likely who presented a pattern of Old Testament righteousness, combined with evangelical faith (compare also Jas 2:8 with Mt 5:44, 48). Practice, not profession, is the test of obedience (compare Jas 2:17; 4:17 with Mt 7:2-23). Sins of the tongue, however lightly regarded by the world, are an offense against the law of love (compare Jas 1:26; 3:2-18 with Mt 5:22; also any swearing, Jas 5:12; compare Mt 5:33-37).
The absence of the apostolic benediction in this Epistle is probably due to its being addressed, not merely to the believing, but also indirectly to unbelieving, Israelites. To the former he commends humility, patience, and prayer; to the latter he addresses awful warnings (Jas 5:7-11; 4:9; 5:1-6).
James was martyred at the Passover. This Epistle was probably written just before it. The destruction of Jerusalem foretold in it (Jas 5:1, &c.), ensued a year after his martyrdom, A.D. 69. Hegesippus (quoted in Eusebius [Ecclesiastical History, 2.23]) narrates that he was set on a pinnacle of the temple by the scribes and Pharisees, who begged him to restrain the people who were in large numbers embracing Christianity. "Tell us," said they in the presence of the people gathered at the feast, "which is the door of Jesus?" James replied with a loud voice, "Why ask ye me concerning Jesus the Son of man? He sitteth at the right hand of power, and will come again on the clouds of heaven." Many thereupon cried, Hosanna to the Son of David. But James was cast down headlong by the Pharisees; and praying, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do," he was stoned and beaten to death with a fuller's club. The Jews, we know from Acts, were exasperated at Paul's rescue from their hands, and therefore determined to wreak their vengeance on James. The publication of his Epistle to the dispersed Israelites, to whom it was probably carried by those who came up to the periodical feasts, made him obnoxious to them, especially to the higher classes, because it foretold the woes soon about to fall on them and their country. Their taunting question, "Which is the door of Jesus?" (that is, by what door will He come when He returns?), alludes to his prophecy, "the coming of the Lord draweth nigh . behold the Judge standeth before the door" (Jas 5:8, 9). Heb 13:7 probably refers to the martyrdom of James, who had been so long bishop over the Jewish Christians at Jerusalem, "Remember them which have (rather, 'had') the rule (spiritually) over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God; whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation."
His inspiration as an apostle is expressly referred to in Ac 15:19, 28, "My sentence is," &c.: "It seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us," &c. His episcopal authority is implied in the deference paid to him by Peter and Paul (Ac 12:17; 21:18; Ga 1:19; 2:9). The Lord had appeared specially to him after the resurrection (1Co 15:7). Peter in his First Epistle (universally from the first received as canonical) tacitly confirms the inspiration of James's Epistle, by incorporating with his own inspired writings no less than ten passages from James. The "apostle of the circumcision," Peter, and the first bishop of Jerusalem, would naturally have much in common. Compare Jas 1:1 with 1Pe 1:1; Jas 1:2 with 1Pe 1:6; 4:12, 13; Jas 1:11 with 1Pe 1:24; Jas 1:18 with 1Pe 1:3; Jas 2:7 with 1Pe 4:14; Jas 3:13 with 1Pe 2:12; Jas 4:1 with 1Pe 2:11; Jas 4:6 with 1Pe 5:5, 6; Jas 4:7 with 1Pe 5:6, 9; Jas 4:10 with 1Pe 5:6; Jas 5:20 with 1Pe 4:6. Its being written in the purest Greek shows it was intended not only for the Jews at Jerusalem, but also for the Hellenistic, that is, Greek-speaking, Jews.
The style is close, curt, and sententious, gnome following after gnome. A Hebraic character pervades the Epistle, as appears in the occasional poetic parallelisms (Jas 3:1-12). Compare "assembly": Greek, "synagogue," Jas 2:2, Margin. The images are analogical arguments, combining at once logic and poetry. Eloquence and persuasiveness are prominent characteristics.
The similarity to Matthew, the most Hebrew of the Gospels, is just what we might expect from the bishop of Jerusalem writing to Israelites. In it the higher spirit of Christianity is seen putting the Jewish law in its proper place. The law is enforced in its everlasting spirit, not in the letter for which the Jews were so zealous. The doctrines of grace, the distinguishing features of Paul's teaching to the Hellenists and Gentiles, are less prominent as being already taught by that apostle. James complements Paul's teaching, and shows to the Jewish Christians who still kept the legal ordinances down to the fall of Jerusalem, the spiritual principle of the law, namely, love manifested in obedience. To sketch "the perfect man" continuing in the Gospel law of liberty, is his theme.
Jas 1:1-27. Inscription: Exhortation on Hearing, Speaking, and Wrath.
The last subject is discussed in Jas 3:13-4:17.
1. James-an apostle of the circumcision, with Peter and John, James in Jerusalem, Palestine, and Syria; Peter in Babylon and the East; John in Ephesus and Asia Minor. Peter addresses the dispersed Jews of Pontus, Galatia, and Cappadocia; James, the Israelites of the twelve tribes scattered abroad.
servant of God-not that he was not an apostle; for Paul, an apostle, also calls himself so; but as addressing the Israelites generally, including even indirectly the unbelieving, he in humility omits the title "apostle"; so Paul in writing to the Hebrews; similarly Jude, an apostle, in his General Epistle.
Jesus Christ-not mentioned again save in Jas 2:1; not at all in his speeches (Ac 15:14, 15; 21:20, 21), lest his introducing the name of Jesus oftener should seem to arise from vanity, as being "the Lord's brother" [Bengel]. His teaching being practical, rather than doctrinal, required less frequent mention of Christ's name.
scattered abroad-literally "which are in the dispersion." The dispersion of the Israelites, and their connection with Jerusalem as a center of religion, was a divinely ordered means of propagating Christianity. The pilgrim troops of the law became caravans of the Gospel [Wordsworth].
greeting-found in no other Christian letter, but in James and the Jerusalem Synod's Epistle to the Gentile churches; an undesigned coincidence and mark or genuineness. In the original Greek (chairein) for "greeting," there is a connection with the "joy" to which they are exhorted amidst their existing distresses from poverty and consequent oppression. Compare Ro 15:26, which alludes to their poverty.
2 My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations;
2. My brethren-a phrase often found in James, marking community of nation and of faith.
all joy-cause for the highest joy [Grotius]. Nothing but joy [Piscator]. Count all "divers temptations" to be each matter of joy [Bengel].
fall into-unexpectedly, so as to be encompassed by them (so the original Greek).
temptations-not in the limited sense of allurements to sin, but trials or distresses of any kind which test and purify the Christian character. Compare "tempt," that is, try, Ge 22:1. Some of those to whom James writes were "sick," or otherwise "afflicted" (Jas 5:13). Every possible trial to the child of God is a masterpiece of strategy of the Captain of his salvation for his good.
3 Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.
3. the trying-the testing or proving of your faith, namely, by "divers temptations." Compare Ro 5:3, tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience (in the original dokime, akin to dokimion, "trying," here; there it is experience: here the "trying" or testing, whence experience flows).
patience-The original implies more; persevering endurance and continuance (compare Lu 8:15).
4 But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.
4. Let endurance have a perfect work (taken out of the previous "worketh patience" or endurance), that is, have its full effect, by showing the most perfect degree of endurance, namely, "joy in bearing the cross" [Menochius], and enduring to the end (Mt 10:22) [Calvin].
ye may be perfect-fully developed in all the attributes of a Christian character. For this there is required "joy" [Bengel], as part of the "perfect work" of probation. The work of God in a man is the man. If God's teachings by patience have had a perfect work in you, you are perfect [Alford].
entire-that which has all its parts complete, wanting no integral part; 1Th 5:23, "your whole (literally, 'entire') spirit, soul, and body"; as "perfect" implies without a blemish in its parts.
5 If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
5. English Version omits "But," which the Greek has, and which is important. "But (as this perfect entireness wanting nothing is no easy attainment) if any," &c.
lack-rather, as the Greek word is repeated after James's manner, from Jas 1:4, "wanting nothing," translate, "If any of you want wisdom," namely, the wisdom whereby ye may "count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations," and "let patience have her perfect work." This "wisdom" is shown in its effects in detail, Jas 3:7. The highest wisdom, which governs patience alike in poverty and riches, is described in Jas 1:9, 10.
liberally-So the Greek is rendered by English Version. It is rendered with simplicity, Ro 12:8. God gives without adding aught which may take off from the graciousness of the gift [Alford]. God requires the same "simplicity" in His children ("eye . single," Mt 6:22, literally, "simple").
upbraideth not-an illustration of God's giving simply. He gives to the humble suppliant without upbraiding him with his past sin and ingratitude, or his future abuse of God's goodness. The Jews pray, "Let me not have need of the gifts of men, whose gifts are few, but their upbraidings manifold; but give me out of Thy large and full hand." Compare Solomon's prayer for "wisdom," and God's gift above what he asked, though God foresaw his future abuse of His goodness would deserve very differently. James has before his eye the Sermon on the Mount (see my Introduction). God hears every true prayer and grants either the thing asked, or else something better than it; as a good physician consults for his patient's good better by denying something which the latter asks not for his good, than by conceding a temporary gratification to his hurt.
6 But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.
6. ask in faith-that is, the persuasion that God can and will give. James begins and ends with faith. In the middle of the Epistle he removes the hindrances to faith and shows its true character [Bengel].
wavering-between belief and unbelief. Compare the case of the Israelites, who seemed to partly believe in God's power, but leaned more to unbelief by "limiting" it. On the other hand, compare Ac 10:20; Ro 4:20 ("staggered not . through unbelief," literally, as here, "wavered not"); 1Ti 2:8.
like a wave of the sea-Isa 57:20; Eph 4:14, where the same Greek word occurs for "tossed to and fro," as is here translated, "driven with the wind."
driven with the wind-from without.
tossed-from within, by its own instability [Bengel]. At one time cast on the shore of faith and hope, at another rolled back into the abyss of unbelief; at one time raised to the height of worldly pride, at another tossed in the sands of despair and affliction [Wiesinger].
7 For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.
7. For-resumed from "For" in Jas 1:6.
that man-such a wavering self-deceiver.
think-Real faith is something more than a mere thinking or surmise.
anything-namely, of the things that he prays for: he does receive many things from God, food, raiment, &c., but these are the general gifts of His providence: of the things specially granted in answer to prayer, the waverer shall not receive "anything," much less wisdom.
8 A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.
8. double-minded-literally, "double-souled," the one soul directed towards God, the other to something else. The Greek favors Alford's translation, "He (the waverer, Jas 1:6) is a man double-minded, unstable," &c.; or better, Beza's. The words in this Jas 1:8 are in apposition with "that man," Jas 1:7; thus the "us," which is not in the original, will not need to be supplied, "A man double-minded, unstable in all his ways!" The word for "double-minded" is found here and in Jas 4:8, for the first time in Greek literature. It is not a hypocrite that is meant, but a fickle, "wavering" man, as the context shows. It is opposed to the single eye (Mt 6:22).
9 Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted:
9, 10. Translate, "But let the brother," &c. that is, the best remedy against double-mindedness is that Christian simplicity of spirit whereby the "brother," low in outward circumstances, may "rejoice" (answering to Jas 1:2) "in that he is exalted," namely, by being accounted a son and heir of God, his very sufferings being a pledge of his coming glory and crown (Jas 1:12), and the rich may rejoice "in that he is made low," by being stripped of his goods for Christ's sake [Menochius]; or in that he is made, by sanctified trials, lowly in spirit, which is true matter for rejoicing [Gomarus]. The design of the Epistle is to reduce all things to an equable footing (Jas 2:1; 5:13). The "low," rather than the "rich," is here called "the brother" [Bengel].
10 But the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away.
10. So far as one is merely "rich" in worldly goods, "he shall pass away"; in so far as his predominant character is that of a "brother," he "abideth for ever" (1Jo 2:17). This view meets all Alford's objections to regarding "the rich" here as a "brother" at all. To avoid making the rich a brother, he translates, "But the rich glories in his humiliation," namely, in that which is really his debasement (his rich state, Php 3:19), just as the low is told to rejoice in what is really his exaltation (his lowly state).
11 For the sun is no sooner risen with a burning heat, but it withereth the grass, and the flower thereof falleth, and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth: so also shall the rich man fade away in his ways.
11. Taken from Isa 40:6-8.
heat-rather, "the hot wind" from the (east or) south, which scorches vegetation (Lu 12:55). The "burning heat" of the sun is not at its rising, but rather at noon; whereas the scorching Kadim wind is often at sunrise (Jon 4:8) [Middleton, The Doctrine of the Greek Article]. Mt 20:12 uses the Greek word for "heat." Isa 40:7, "bloweth upon it," seems to answer to "the hot wind" here.
grace of the fashion-that is of the external appearance.
in his ways-referring to the burdensome extent of the rich man's devices [Bengel]. Compare "his ways," that is, his course of life, Jas 1:8.
12 Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.
12. Blessed-Compare the beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:4, 10, 11).
endureth temptation-not the "falling into divers temptations" (Jas 1:2) is the matter for "joy," but the enduring of temptation "unto the end." Compare Job 5:17.
when he is tried-literally, "when he has become tested" or "approved," when he has passed through the "trying" (Jas 1:3), his "faith" having finally gained the victory.
the crown-not in allusion to the crown or garland given to winners in the games; for this, though a natural allusion for Paul in writing to the heathen, among whom such games existed, would be less appropriate for James in addressing the Jewish Christians, who regarded Gentile usages with aversion.
of life-"life" constitutes the crown, literally, the life, the only true life, the highest and eternal life. The crown implies a kingdom (Ps 21:3).
the Lord-not found in the best manuscripts and versions. The believer's heart fills up the omission, without the name needing to be mentioned. The "faithful One who promised" (Heb 10:23).
to them that love him-In 2Ti 4:8, "the crown of righteousness to them that love His appearing." Love produces patient endurance: none attest their love more than they who suffer for Him.
13 Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man:
13. when . tempted-tried by solicitation to evil. Heretofore the "temptation" meant was that of probation by afflictions. Let no one fancy that God lays upon him an inevitable necessity of sinning. God does not send trials on you in order to make you worse, but to make you better (Jas 1:16, 17). Therefore do not sink under the pressure of evils (1Co 10:13).
of God-by agency proceeding from God. The Greek is not "tempted by," but, "from," implying indirect agency.
cannot be tempted with evil, &c.-"Neither do any of our sins tempt God to entice us to worse things, nor does He tempt any of His own accord" (literally, "of Himself"; compare the antithesis, Jas 1:18, "Of His own will He begat us" to holiness, so far is He from tempting us of His own will) [Bengel]. God is said in Ge 22:1 to have "tempted Abraham"; but there the tempting meant is that of trying or proving, not that of seducement. Alford translates according to the ordinary sense of the Greek, "God is unversed in evil." But as this gives a less likely sense, English Version probably gives the true sense; for ecclesiastical Greek often uses words in new senses, as the exigencies of the new truths to be taught required.
14 But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.
14. Every man, when tempted, is so through being drawn away of (again here, as in Jas 1:13, the Greek for "of" expresses the actual source, rather than the agent of temptation) his own lust. The cause of sin is in ourselves. Even Satan's suggestions do not endanger us before they are made our own. Each one has his own peculiar (so the Greek) lust, arising from his own temperament and habit. Lust flows from the original birth-sin in man, inherited from Adam.
drawn away-the beginning step in temptation: drawn away from truth and virtue.
enticed-literally, "taken with a bait," as fish are. The further progress: the man allowing himself (as the Greek middle voice implies) to be enticed to evil [Bengel]. "Lust" is here personified as the harlot that allures the man.
15 Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.
15. The guilty union is committed by the will embracing the temptress. "Lust," the harlot, then, "brings forth sin," namely, of that kind to which the temptation inclines. Then the particular sin (so the Greek implies), "when it is completed, brings forth death," with which it was all along pregnant [Alford]. This "death" stands in striking contrast to the "crown of life" (Jas 1:12) which "patience" or endurance ends in, when it has its "perfect work" (Jas 1:4). He who will fight Satan with Satan's own weapons, must not wonder if he finds himself overmatched. Nip sin in the bud of lust.
16 Do not err, my beloved brethren.
16. Do not err in attributing to God temptation to evil; nay (as he proceeds to show), "every good," all that is good on earth, comes from God.
17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.
17. gift . gift-not the same words in Greek: the first, the act of giving, or the gift in its initiatory stage; the second, the thing given, the boon, when perfected. As the "good gift" stands in contrast to "sin" in its initiatory stage (Jas 1:15), so the "perfect boon" is in contrast to "sin when it is finished," bringing forth death (2Pe 1:3).
from above-(Compare Jas 3:15).
Father of lights-Creator of the lights in heaven (compare Job 38:28 [Alford]; Ge 4:20, 21; Heb 12:9). This accords with the reference to the changes in the light of the heavenly bodies alluded to in the end of the verse. Also, Father of the spiritual lights in the kingdom of grace and glory [Bengel]. These were typified by the supernatural lights on the breastplate of the high priest, the Urim. As "God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all" (1Jo 1:5), He cannot in any way be the Author of sin (Jas 1:13), which is darkness (Joh 3:19).
no variableness . shadow of turning-(Mal 3:6). None of the alternations of light and shadow which the physical "lights" undergo, and which even the spiritual lights are liable to, as compared with God. "Shadow of turning," literally, the dark "shadow-mark" cast from one of the heavenly bodies, arising from its "turning" or revolution, for example, when the moon is eclipsed by the shadow of the earth, and the sun by the body of the moon. Bengel makes a climax, "no variation-not even the shadow of a turning"; the former denoting a change in the understanding; the latter, in the will.
18 Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
18. (Joh 1:13). The believer's regeneration is the highest example of nothing but good proceeding from God.
Of his own will-Of his own good pleasure (which shows that it is God's essential nature to do good, not evil), not induced by any external cause.
begat he us-spiritually: a once-for-all accomplished act (1Pe 1:3, 23). In contrast to "lust when it hath conceived, bringeth forth sin, and sin . death" (Jas 1:15). Life follows naturally in connection with light (Jas 1:17).
word of truth-the Gospel. The objective mean, as faith is the appropriating mean of regeneration by the Holy Spirit as the efficient agent.
a kind of first-fruits-Christ is, in respect to the resurrection, "the first-fruits" (1Co 15:20, 23): believers, in respect to regeneration, are, as it were, first-fruits (image from the consecration of the first-born of man, cattle, and fruits to God; familiar to the Jews addressed), that is, they are the first of God's regenerated creatures, and the pledge of the ultimate regeneration of the creation, Ro 8:19, 23, where also the Spirit, the divine agent of the believer's regeneration, is termed "the first-fruits," that is, the earnest that the regeneration now begun in the soul, shall at last extend to the body too, and to the lower parts of creation. Of all God's visible creatures, believers are the noblest part, and like the legal "first-fruits," sanctify the rest; for this reason they are much tried now.
19 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath:
19. Wherefore-as your evil is of yourselves, but your good from God. However, the oldest manuscripts and versions read thus: "Ye know it (so Eph 5:5; Heb 12:17), my beloved brethren; BUT (consequently) let every man be swift to hear," that is, docile in receiving "the word of truth" (Jas 1:18, 21). The true method of hearing is treated in Jas 1:21-27, and Jas 2:1-26.
slow to speak-(Pr 10:19; 17:27, 28; Ec 5:2). A good way of escaping one kind of temptation arising from ourselves (Jas 1:13). Slow to speak authoritatively as a master or teacher of others (compare Jas 3:1): a common Jewish fault: slow also to speak such hasty things of God, as in Jas 1:13. Two ears are given to us, the rabbis observe, but only one tongue: the ears are open and exposed, whereas the tongue is walled in behind the teeth.
slow to wrath-(Jas 3:13, 14; 4:5). Slow in becoming heated by debate: another Jewish fault (Ro 2:8), to which much speaking tends. Tittmann thinks not so much "wrath" is meant, as an indignant feeling of fretfulness under the calamities to which the whole of human life is exposed; this accords with the "divers temptations" in Jas 1:2. Hastiness of temper hinders hearing God's word; so Naaman, 2Ki 5:11; Lu 4:28.
20 For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.
20. Man's angry zeal in debating, as if jealous for the honor of God's righteousness, is far from working that which is really righteousness in God's sight. True "righteousness is sown in peace," not in wrath (Jas 3:18). The oldest and best reading means "worketh," that is, practiceth not: the received reading is "worketh," produceth not.
21 Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.
21. lay apart-"once for all" (so the Greek): as a filthy garment. Compare Joshua's filthy garments, Zec 3:3, 5; Re 7:14. "Filthiness" is cleansed away by hearing the word (Joh 15:3).
superfluity of naughtiness-excess (for instance, the intemperate spirit implied in "wrath," Jas 1:19, 20), which arises from malice (our natural, evil disposition towards one another). 1Pe 2:1 has the very same words in the Greek. So "malice" is the translation, Eph 4:31; Col 3:8. "Faulty excess" [Bengel] is not strong enough. Superfluous excess in speaking is also reprobated as "coming of evil" (the Greek is akin to the word for "naughtiness" here) in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:37), with which James' Epistle is so connected.
with meekness-in mildness towards one another [Alford], the opposite to "wrath" (Jas 1:20): answering to "as new-born babes" (1Pe 2:2). Meekness, I think, includes also a childlike, docile, humble, as well as an uncontentious, spirit (Ps 25:9; 45:4; Isa 66:2; Mt 5:5; 11:28-30; 18:3, 4; contrast Ro 2:8). On "receive," applied to ground receiving seed, compare Mr 4:20. Contrast Ac 17:11; 1Th 1:6 with 2Th 2:10.
engrafted word-the Gospel word, whose proper attribute is to be engrafted by the Holy Spirit, so as to be livingly incorporated with the believer, as the fruitful shoot is with the wild natural stock on which it is engrafted. The law came to man only from without, and admonished him of his duty. The Gospel is engrafted inwardly, and so fulfils the ultimate design of the law (De 6:6; 11:18; Ps 119:11). Alford translates, "The implanted word," referring to the parable of the sower (Mt 13:1-23). I prefer English Version.
able to save-a strong incentive to correct our dulness in hearing the word: that word which we hear so carelessly, is able (instrumentally) to save us [Calvin].
souls-your true selves, for the "body" is now liable to sickness and death: but the soul being now saved, both soul and body at last shall be so (Jas 5:15, 20).
22 But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.
22. Qualification of the precept, "Be swift to hear": "Be ye doers . not hearers only"; not merely "Do the word," but "Be doers" systematically and continually, as if this was your regular business. James here again refers to the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 7:21-29).
deceiving your own selves-by the logical fallacy (the Greek implies this) that the mere hearing is all that is needed.
23 For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass:
23. For-the logical self-deceit (Jas 1:22) illustrated.
not a doer-more literally, "a notdoer" [Alford]. The true disciple, say the rabbis, learns in order that he may do, not in order that he may merely know or teach.
his natural face-literally, "the countenance of his birth": the face he was born with. As a man may behold his natural face in a mirror, so the hearer may perceive his moral visage in God's Word. This faithful portraiture of man's soul in Scripture, is the strongest proof of the truth of the latter. In it, too, we see mirrored God's glory, as well as our natural vileness.
24 For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.
24. beholdeth-more literally, "he contemplated himself and hath gone his way," that is, no sooner has he contemplated his image than he is gone his way (Jas 1:11). "Contemplate" answers to hearing the word: "goeth his way," to relaxing the attention after hearing-letting the mind go elsewhere, and the interest of the thing heard pass away: then forgetfulness follows [Alford] (Compare Eze 33:31). "Contemplate" here, and in Jas 1:23, implies that, though cursory, yet some knowledge of one's self, at least for the time, is imparted in hearing the word (1Co 14:24).
and . and-The repetition expresses hastiness joined with levity [Bengel].
forgetteth what manner of man he was-in the mirror. Forgetfulness is no excuse (Jas 1:25; 2Pe 1:9).
25 But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.
25. looketh into-literally, "stoopeth down to take a close look into." Peers into: stronger than "beholdeth," or "contemplated," Jas 1:24. A blessed curiosity if it be efficacious in bearing fruit [Bengel].
perfect law of liberty-the Gospel rule of life, perfect and perfecting (as shown in the Sermon on the Mount, Mt 5:48), and making us truly walk at liberty (Ps 119:32, Church of England Prayer Book Version). Christians are to aim at a higher standard of holiness than was generally understood under the law. The principle of love takes the place of the letter of the law, so that by the Spirit they are free from the yoke of sin, and free to obey by spontaneous instinct (Jas 2:8, 10, 12; Joh 8:31-36; 15:14, 15; compare 1Co 7:22; Ga 5:1, 13; 1Pe 2:16). The law is thus not made void, but fulfilled.
continueth therein-contrasted with "goeth his way," Jas 1:24, continues both looking into the mirror of God's word, and doing its precepts.
doer of the work-rather, "a doer of work" [Alford], an actual worker.
blessed in his deed-rather, "in his doing"; in the very doing there is blessedness (Ps 19:11).
26 If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain.
26, 27. An example of doing work.
religious . religion-The Greek expresses the external service or exercise of religion, "godliness" being the internal soul of it. "If any man think himself to be (so the Greek) religious, that is, observant of the offices of religion, let him know these consist not so much in outward observances, as in such acts of mercy and humble piety (Mic 6:7, 8) as visiting the fatherless, &c., and keeping one's self unspotted from the world" (Mt 23:23). James does not mean that these offices are the great essentials, or sum total of religion; but that, whereas the law service was merely ceremonial, the very services of the Gospel consist in acts of mercy and holiness, and it has light for its garment, its very robe being righteousness [Trench]. The Greek word is only found in Ac 26:5, "after the straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee." Col 2:18, "worshipping of angels."
bridleth not . tongue-Discretion in speech is better than fluency of speech (compare Jas 3:2, 3). Compare Ps 39:1. God alone can enable us to do so. James, in treating of the law, naturally notices this sin. For they who are free from grosser sins, and even bear the outward show of sanctity, will often exalt themselves by detracting others under the pretense of zeal, while their real motive is love of evil-speaking [Calvin].
heart-It and the tongue act and react on one another.
27 Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
27. Pure . and undefiled-"Pure" is that love which has in it no foreign admixture, as self-deceit and hypocrisy. "Undefiled" is the means of its being "pure" [Tittmann]. "Pure" expresses the positive, "undefiled" the negative side of religious service; just as visiting the fatherless and widow is the active, keeping himself unspotted from the world, the passive side of religious duty. This is the nobler shape that our religious exercises take, instead of the ceremonial offices of the law.
before God and the Father-literally, "before Him who is (our) God and Father." God is so called to imply that if we would be like our Father, it is not by fasting, &c., for He does none of these things, but in being "merciful as our Father is merciful" [Chrysostom].
visit-in sympathy and kind offices to alleviate their distresses.
the fatherless-whose "Father" is God (Ps 68:5); peculiarly helpless.
and-not in the Greek; so close is the connection between active works of mercy to others, and the maintenance of personal unworldliness of spirit, word, and deed; no copula therefore is needed. Religion in its rise interests us about ourselves in its progress, about our fellow creatures: in its highest stage, about the honor of God.
keep himself-with jealous watchfulness, at the same time praying and depending on God as alone able to keep us (Joh 17:15; Jude 24).