Try out the new BibleStudyTools.com. Click here!

James 1:2-8

XXI.

James 1, 2-8.—My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience hare her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. 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. 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. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.

The questions which have been raised in reference to the author of this epistle, however interesting they may be to the historical critic, are of very little exegetical importance. Whether it be the work of James the son of Zebedee, as the old Syriac translators, and perhaps some others thought, or of James the son of Alphcus, which has been the prevalent opinion in all ages of the church, or James the brother of the Lord, not a member of the apostolic body, but the bishop or pastor of the church at Jerusalem, of whom contemporary history relates that he was called the Just or Righteous, and whose death, at the hands of the infuriated Zealots, is described by the same author as an immediate cause or occasion of the Fall of JeruBalem; these are alternative hypotheses, our choice of which cannot materially affect our view of the design and meaning of the book itself.

The doubts respecting its canonical authority among the ancients, as in the case of the Epistle to the Hebrews, sprang from its having been addressed to Jews or Jewish Christians, and not made known to the Gentile churches until after some time had elapsed. The like doubts, entertained by Luther and some other modern writers, have been founded on a supposed contrariety between the teachings of James and Paul, as to the fundamental doctrine of justification. The little currency which this opinion has obtained among believing readers and interpreters shows that its supposed ground is imaginary, and that there is no reason even for assuming two divergent types of Christian doctrine, an ingenious figment which has been carried to extremes by certain German theologians of our own day. A key to all the difficulties of the case is furnished by the simple supposition that the epistle presupposes what is taught in other parts of the New Testament, and is intended, not to communicate the fundamental truths of Christianity, but to correct abuses of them which had already shown themselves, perhaps especially in certain portions of the church and under certain circumstances, among which one was probably the influence of persecution, and the peculiar trials and temptations which it brought along with it, and in which the apostle here exhorts his readers to rejoice, just as Paul, in still more general terms, exhorts " us to rejoice always."

This positive injunction of the Christian ethics

may seem too difficult, if not impossible, to be obeyed. And even if the natural repugnance to suffering can be so far vanquished as to make distress itself a subject and occasion of rejoicing, the moral sense still shrinks "from what is here commanded, to rejoice in temptation. The paradox is not to be removed by violently changing the established meaning of the word, which never means affliction simply, but in every case conveys the idea of a moral trial, or a test of character. The petition which our Lord himself prescribes, "Lead us not into temptation," cannot be a mere deprecation of adversity, as something painful. Had not popular usage lowered the meaning of our own word " trial" as applied to providential changes, so that it now expresses little more than pain or privation, it would correspond exactly to the Greek term here used, and applied to sufferings or afflictions, not as such, or as mere chastisements, or means of grace, but as tests or touchstones of the sufferer's dis-. positions and affections, of his faith, and patience, and obedience, to which the term is as legitimately applicable as it is to those direct solicitations to evil which are commonly denoted by the word "temptation."

But even this word temptation strictly denotes trial, i. e., moral trial, trial of character, and merely comprehends within it that specific mode of trial which consists in direct attempts to make men sin, by exciting their sinful dispositions, setting before them the unlawful object, and affording them the means and opportunity of actual transgression. All this, I say, which is the ordinary meaning of the word voi. Ii.—17*

"temptation," is but one form—though undoubtedly the worst form—of that whole testing process which the term in Greek as well as English primarily signifies. The question whether it is here used in its narrower or wider sense may be determined by the context, where the fruit of sanctified temptation is described as patience, patient endurance. But the fruit and remedy of temptation in the ordinary sense is not the habit of endurance but of strong resistance. To be patient under the suggestions of the devil, the seductions of the world, and the corruptions of our own heart, would imply acquiescence, not to say complacency in evil. A temptation, to which patience is the proper antidote, must be specifically a temptation to impatience, insubordination, a rebellious and repining temper, and these are just the sinful dispositions and affections to which we are tempted by a state of suffering. We must therefore understand the words as having reference to those providential trials of men's faith and patience in which they are rather passive than active, and under which their appropriate duty is not so much resistance as submission. But even these trials and temptations are not to be sought for or solicited. It is not in voluntary, wilful subjection to them through our own fault, or in the indulgence of our own perverse ambition to be martyrs or confessors, that we are encouraged or commanded to rejoice, but when we " fall into " them or among them, so as to be quite encompassed and enveloped by them, as the traveller from Jerusalem to Jericho, in the parable of the good Samaritan, "fell among" thieves or robbers; the original expression

being just the same in either case, and in the only other place where it occurs, (Acts 27, 41,) although applied to a kind of trial altogether different, the running of a ship aground, it still suggests the same idea of unstudied, unintentional, unforeseen emergencies, and therefore makes it still more certain that the trials in which we are commanded to rejoice are not those into which we presumptuously rush, but those into which we unintentionally fall, and which, for that very reason, are better suited to make proof of our obedience to the will of God, and of our trust in his power and willingness to keep us. The difficulty of complying with this general injunction may appear to be enhanced by the variety of outward forms and circumstances under which the work of providential trial may be carried on, including all the numberless and nameless " ills that flesh is heir to."

How can all these be reduced to one description, or provided for by one prescription? Though it may be rational and right, and therefore must be possible, if not always easy, to rejoice in one variety of such temptations, it does not follow necessarily that it is possible or right in all. But this objection or misgiving as to the extent of the apostle's requisition, is anticipated and precluded by himself in the express use of the epithet "divers," manifold, multiform, diversified, the sensible quality originally signified being that of variety in colours, particoloured, piebald, motley, and therefore well adapted, by a natural association, to express in a lively manner the idea of diversity in general, as if he had said—however varied the complexion of, the trials into which you fall, or by which you are encompassed, I tell yon still to " count it joy " and "all joy," not by a figure of speech or paradoxical abuse of language; so that, according to the famous saying of a great diplomatist, it serves to conceal thought rather than express it, saying one thing and meaning another; not in a limited degree, as implying that a little joy may possibly be squeezed out of the heart surcharged with grief; not with a stoical apathy, affecting to confound or identify pain and pleasure, joy and sorrow; but in the true sense, and the full sense, and the Christian sense of the expression, let us count our providential trials " all joy," nothing but joy, as Paul tells the Ephesians, Christ has abounded towards us "in all wisdom and prudence ;" and exhorts them to walk worthy of their vocation " with all lowliness and meekness," (Eph. 1, 8; 4, 2,) all kinds and all degrees of wisdom in the one case, and of meekness in the other. So here, it is not the mere name, or the mere pretence, or some infinitesimal degree of joy, that believers under trial are to exercise, but " all joy" as opposed to none, and to too little, and to every kind of counterfeit. So far from grieving or repining when you fall into divers trials, " count it all joy." But as we know, both from Scripture and experience, that "no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous, and that afterward {v<nepov) it yield eth the peaceable fruit of righteousness to them which are exercised thereby," (Heb. 12, 11,) it is not unreasonable to suppose that the joy here required is not a joy to be experienced in the very article or stress of the temptation, but a joy to be engendered by a believing, grateful retrospection of the trial after it is past, or at least, after the first shock is over, and the soul is able to reflect upon it. This is perfectly consistent with the form of expression (orav ■irepnrearjre) which might even be translated to mean "when" or "after," "ye have fallen into divers trials," so as, at least, to suggest the idea, that this is not a joy to be indulged in prospect of the trial or temptation, which might too easily degenerate into a proud, presumptuous, selfconfident defiance, or even a fanatical solicitation of such trials, which is something very different from the humble, grateful joy of having been subjected to them for a wise and gracious purpose, and brought through them, and then out of them in safety.

This precise determination of the time at which the joy is to be exercised, as not the time of actual endurance, much less that of previous expectation, but rather that of subsequent reflection—I mean subsequent, if not to the whole trial, yet at least to its inception—this, I say, may throw some light on two points which have been already mentioned, but perhaps not yet made wholly clear. The first is the paradoxical aspect of the exhortation to rejoice in that which necessarily involves pain and suffering. The paradox, to say the least, may seem less startling if we understand the text as calling upon men to rejoice, not that they are suffering, or while they suffer, although even this does not transcend the limits of experience, as we know from the triumphant joy of martyrs at the stake, and of many a lowlier believer on his deathbed, but that they have suffered, that it has pleased God, without their own concurrence, to afford them the occasion of attesting their fidelity, and patience, and submission to his will. Such joy, in the recollection of past trials, has so many analogies in general experience, that it cannot even be called "paradoxical" without injustice.

The other point on which the same consideration may throw some light, is the choice of an expression which, although it primarily signifies no more than moral trial or a test of character, in general usage does undoubtedly denote a positive solicitation to do wrong. For even in this worst sense of temptation, it may be a subject of rejoicing, not beforehand, no, nor in the very crisis of the spiritual conflict; but when that is past, and when the soul, Udconscious of its danger till it could no longer be avoided, looks back upon the fearful risk from which it has escaped, not merely with gratitude for its deliverance, but with unaffected joy that there was such a risk to be delivered from, because it has now served to magnify God's grace, and at the same time to attest its own fidelity. Just as the soldier, who would have been guilty of the grossest rashness and the most unpardonable violation of his orders, if he had deliberately thrown himself into the way of a superior enemy, may—when unexpectedly surrounded and attacked, he has heroically cut his way through—rejoice, not only in his safety, but in the very danger which compelled him to achieve it.

But the joy experienced in the case before us is not merely retrospective, but prospective also. It is not an ignorant or blind joy, but is founded in knowledge, knowledge not only of the principles on which

men ought to act, but of the consequences which may be expected from a certain course of action or of suffering; for as we have already seen, it is of passive, rather than of active or positive obedience, that James is speaking. The trials or temptations of the Christian are the test or touchstone of his faith, both in the strict and comprehensive sense. They put to the proof his trust in God, his belief of what God says, of what he promises. But in so doing, they afford the surest test of his religion, of his whole religious character. Specific trust in God's veracity and faithfulness is not and cannot be an independent, insulated quality, or act, or habit. It must have its causes and effects homogeneous to itself in the man's creed, in his heart, in his life. Among these is a definite reliance on God's mercy, not as a mere attribute of the divine nature, but as offered and exercised in a specific form, the only form in which it can be offered or received by sinners. The text says nothing expressly of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, but every believer in this Saviour who peruses the epistle, feels that it is presupposed, assumed, or taken for granted, so that the contracted form of speech here used, conveys to such a reader all that is expressed in the beginning of the second chapter, where the one word "faith " is amplified into the " faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Glorious," or "the Lord of Glory." What is there said explicitly, is here said by necessary implication. He who could use the longer form, could not use the shorter without meaning to suggest more than he says. There is therefore no violence whatever done to the apostle's language, when we understand him to describe temptation as a test of sincere belief in Christ as "the only name given under heaven among men whereby we must be saved" from sin as well as punishment, and not of mere reliance on the power and willingness pf God to deliver or preserve from suffering. In both these senses, or in both these applications and extensions of the term, faith is necessarily included in the religious character, of which a test is furnished by providential trials or temptations.

But it does not merely furnish present evidence of faith. It produces a permanent effect upon the character. It generates a habit—that of patient endurance, that of steadfast perseverance in the way of God's commandments. For of patience, as of faith, it may be said that it cannot stand alone, it cannot exist independently of other virtues, other graces, other traits of Christian character. The principle of active and passive obedience is the same. He who will not do God's will cannot endure it in a Christian spirit. He can only endure it in the way of punishment. Evangelical patience presupposes, includes, or carries with it evangelical obedience or activity. It therefore comprehends a very large part of experimental and practical religion, and to say that it is fostered and matured by trial, is to say that trial or temptation, in the sense here put upon the term, is an important means of grace, of spiritual growth, and instead of being angrily complained of or sullenly repined at as a hardship or a cruelty, ought not indeed to be desired or courted any more than medicines, especially when composed of poisons, should be used as ordinary food; but when administered, without our agency or even option, by the Great Physician, should be thankfully submitted to, and afterwards rejoiced in, as a potent agency of God's appointment which produces great effects, not by a sudden or immediate change, but as the original expression seems to mean, by a gradual and long-continued alterative process; for the trial of our faith " worketh out," elaborates, and as it were laboriously cultivates a habit of persistent and unwavering obedience and submission to the will of God, both in the way of doing and suffering.

That the patience thus commended is not an inert and sluggish principle, much less a mere condition of repose, but something active in itself and tending to activity in others, is evident enough from the apostle's exhortation, not to hinder it or check it in its operation, but to give it free scope, let it have its perfect work or full effect. Could this be said of mere inertia, or even patient nonresistance? Is it not implied, or rather is it not expressly said that this divine inrofiovfi, this principle and habit of patient continuance in doing and suffering the will of God, is not a mere superfluous embellishment of Christian character, a work of supererogation added to its necessary elements by way of doing more than man needs or than God requires, but itself an element that cannot be dispensed with, and without which neither sufferers nor actors in God's service can be "perfect and entire, wanting nothing." How many, in compounding their ideal of a perfect Christian character, forget to put in patience, and how many, who in theory acknowledge its necessity, refuse to let it "have its perfect work " in their experience and practice!

All this affords abundant room for wise discrimination and a sound discretion. It is evidently not a matter which can be disposed of or conducted to a safe and happy issue by mere audacity or force of will, by cutting knots which ought to be untied, or by a reckless disregard of delicate distinctions and perplexing questions which arise from the very nature both of God and man, and from their mutual relations, and which can neither solve themelves, nor be solved by any intellectual force short of wisdom in the highest sense; not mere knowledge, not even genuine and solid knowledge, much less the capacity of barren speculation, but wisdom in the noble sense attached to it even by profane philosophers, intellectual powers and resources under the control of moral principle, and faithfully applied to moral uses; a wisdom shown in the selection of the highest ends, and in the application of the most effective means to gain them. This wisdom, the idea of which was familiar to the wisest of the heathen, has been realized only in the school of revelation. And woe to him who undertakes, without it, to solve the intricate and fearful problem of man's character and destiny! This can be done successfully, and even safely, only by the wise man, and in the actual use and exercise of real wisdom. He who attempts it otherwise can only be regarded ,as a madman throwing about firebrands, arrows, and death, and saying, Am I not in sport? This is no arbitrary or unmeaning requisition, for unless we abandon the very definition and idea of true wisdom as chimerical, we cannot possibly conceive of any higher or more necessary use to which its possessors

can apply it, or for which those who have it not are bound to seek it.

But how, or where? they may be ready to demand. In what quarter, or by what means is this transcendent, superhuman wisdom, to be made available for those who need it? If no exertion of man's unassisted reason, no reach of speculation, no variety of knowledge, no extent of observation, no depth of experience, can supply this want even to the wisest, what shall he do who lays claim to so much dignity, but feels himself to be deficient in this most essential point? My brethren, whoever does feel this deficiency, whoever in his own conviction does lack wisdom, and does really desire to have it, is the very man who has no right or reason to despair of it—the very one for whom this scripture makes express provision—first, by pointing out the only source from which his want can be supplied, and then by assuring him that he may confidently draw upon it. "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God." The " if" is not expressive of a doubt, but presupposes an unquestionable fact, or rather the doubt which it does seem to express relates not to the fact itself, but to the sense of it—not to the actual necessity and absence of true wisdom in the case of every fallen man, of every sinner to be saved, for this is certain and notorious, attested both by revelation and experience, but to the consciousness of this deficiency, the want of which is part and parcel of our native blindness; nothing but wisdom can reveal our folly We do not even feel our mental maladies until the healing process is begun, in strict accordance with the wisest saying of the wisest of the ancient Greeks, that he knew nothing certainly, except that he knew nothing. This epigrammatic maxim is the shell or wrapper of a very profound truth, to have discovered which is the highest honour of the man who uttered it—a truth, however, which to him and to the wisest of his followers was a mere negation,' one of sweeping magnitude and awful import, but a negation still; the positive correlative of which was, what "the world by wisdom" was for ages striving after without ever grasping, till at length God pitied them; and seeing that the world, with all its wisdom, knew not God, was pleased to save them that believe by the foolishness of preaching,—by the promulgation of a new philosophy which seemed mere folly to the wise men of the world, as it reduced their wisdom to the simple and most unphilosophical acknowledgment of Socrates, and made the conscious lack of wisdom as to spiritual matters indispensable as a condition of reception into its school among its disciples; and to those who felt it, and confessed it, simply saying, "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God."

My hearers, familiar, elementary, and almost tritical as. this may seem to our eyes, bleared and dazzled by the blaze of gospel light, it was a grand discovery and a vast advance upon the previous achievements of the human mind. It is like uncovering the sun to those who have been trying to strike light from the flint, or digging for it under ground. All that the schools of Greece and Egypt and the East had been saying for a course of ages was—let no man think that he lacks wisdom, for he has it in himself—or at most, if any man lack wisdom, let him come to me; but when the voice of the Evangelizing Angel whom John saw in his apocalyptic vision became audible, the schools were silent, and the oracles were dumb, before that simple precept to which we attach so little value—" If any one of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God." But this asking of God was to the Greeks a mockery. Even those who believed in God had no conception of immediate spiritual intercourse with God, still less of intellectual illumination, sent directly from him. They knew what it was to work out wisdom for themselves, or to seek for wisdom at the hands of human sages; but this was a new idea— "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God." And that not as a ceremony, but a means, a certain means of acquisition—not of God the unknown and the unapproachable, but God the giver, God who gives, who actually gives, has given, will give again, will give forever. This is no rash venture, but a matter of experience. You are only asked to do what others, nay, what multitudes have done before you— ask of God, of God himself. "What, directly, without any mediation, without any but his Son's, without any influence but that of his Spirit, which is his own, without the intervention of philosophers or priests, without circuitous or ceremonial methods of approach! As simply as a child asks food of a parent, "if any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God," "of God the giver, God who giveth,"—who habitually giveth, not to certain favoured nations, castes, or individuals, but to all men—not to Greeks or Jews alone, not to philosophers or priests alone, but to all men— yes, to all men, i. e. all who ask, all who really desire it, all who ask aright.

Like other great discoveries, it seems almost incredible that this should never have been stumbled on before; that among the numberless expedients for supplying the deficiencies of human wisdom, this should never have occurred, in its simplicity, to any of the heathen sages, "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who actually giveth unto all men." How? In what way? In what spirit % There is something really sublime in the simplicity with which this question is here answered. It is not only simple, but simplicity itself. "He giveth simply." The very grandeur of this phrase has hindered and embarrassed its interpretation. It seems to say too little, when in fact it says too much for us to compass. It seems to be irrelevant, when nothing can be more precisely adapted to the end proposed. The doubtful and secondary meanings which have been preferred, if not inadmissible, are all superfluous. "He giveth liberally" is suggested rather than expressed; "he giveth simply " is the naked sense of the original—or perhaps it may be rendered more precisely still, "he simply gives,"—he gives—he gives—and that is all. He does not give, and not give, as some men too often do; he does not give and take as some men do; he does not give and nullify the kind act by unkind words or disclosing unkind motives; he does not give as many a proud human benefactor gives, and then upbraid the beneficiary with his wants, his weakness, his unworthiness, his former gifts,—" he simply gives ;" "he gives to all men and upbraideth not." This human propensity to mar the value of a gift by mixtures of unkindness or ill-timed severity, was so familiar to the ancients as to be embodied in their proverbs. But from all these mixtures, and from others like them, and from every thing that poisons human favours, God's are infinitely, wholly free. The best of men give only to some objects, and with some accompanying drawbacks; but he simply gives,—he gives to all men and upbraideth not.

My brethren, for such a giver is it too much to expect, that he who asks shall ask in faith and in sincerity, desiring what he asks, believing in God's willingness and power to bestow it? If God giveth, simply giveth, and upbraideth not, is it too much to require that man should ask, and doubt not, and dissemble not, and waver not? If God gives simply, singly, with a pure, unmixed, unqualified benevolence, is it too much to require that man should not ask doubly, hypocritically—no; nor even with a double mind or soul in a less offensive sense, the sense of instability and vacillation, sometimes wishing, sometimes not—now asking this, now that—asking, and then refusing to receive the very thing before desired. Respect for even human benefactors requires that the petitioner should know his own mind before asking, and not lightly change it after asking. And is less respect due to that glorious Giver, who, with every reason to refuse still giveth, and with every right to make distinctions giveth unto all men alike? and with every right and every reason to accompany his gifts with hard conditions, and with harsh upbraidings, simply giveth, freely giveth and upbraideth not? Is it too much for him to say of every one who asketh, "let him ask in faith, nothing wavering," either in trust or purpose—not at variance with himself—not self-contradictory in his petitions—not a man of two minds, or of two souls, or of two hearts, but of one, and that one fixed on God, on Christ? No; so easy and so reasonable a condition scarce deserves the name, especially as he who asks it gives it. Well might the wisest of the Fathers pray, "Give what thou requirest, and require what thou wilt!" It is an insult of the grossest kind to God the giver, to bring into his presence a mind tossing with tumultuous and inconsistent passions, like the troubled sea which cannot rest, but casteth up mire and dirt. "Let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord," but only he who, through divine grace, can exclaim—" My heart is fixed, oh God, my heart is fixed!" The man whose heart is wavering and double is not merely deficient in his prayers, but in his whole religious character, of which his prayers are but an index; he is inconsistent and inconstant, fickle and "unstable in all his ways." While he thus reasons he cannot therefore expect God to give him wisdom, that transcendent wisdom, without which patience cannot have her perfect work, or extract her spiritual food out of the medicine of trial and the poison of temptation. And yet this is our last resort; if this fail us, there is no hope elsewhere. Whither shall we turn in search of wisdom but to Him who giveth freely unto all men and upbraideth not. We come back therefore to the conclusion, that if any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God.