James 1:1-27 . INSCRIPTION: EXHORTATION ON HEARING, SPEAKING, AND WRATH.
14. Every man, when tempted, is so through being drawn away of (again here, as in James 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. 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" ( James 1:12 ) which "patience" or endurance ends in, when it has its "perfect work" ( James 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 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. 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 ( James 1:15 ), so the "perfect boon" is in contrast to "sin when it is finished," bringing forth death ( 2 Peter 1:3 ).
from above--(Compare James 3:15 ).
Father of lights--Creator of the lights in heaven (compare Job 38:28 [ALFORD]; Genesis 4:20 Genesis 4:21 , Hebrews 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" ( 1 John 1:5 ), He cannot in any way be the Author of sin ( James 1:13 ), which is darkness ( John 3:19 ).
no variableness . . . shadow of turning--( Malachi 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. ( John 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 ( 1 Peter 1:3 1 Peter 1:23 ). In contrast to "lust when it hath conceived, bringeth forth sin, and sin . . . death" ( James 1:15 ). Life follows naturally in connection with light ( James 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" ( 1 Corinthians 15:20 1 Corinthians 15:23 ): 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, Romans 8:19 Romans 8:23 , 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--as your evil is of yourselves, but your good from God. However, the oldest manuscripts and versions read thus: "YE KNOW IT (so Ephesians 5:5 , Hebrews 12:17 ), my beloved brethren; BUT (consequently) let every man be swift to hear," that is, docile in receiving "the word of truth" ( james 1:18 james 1:21 ). The true method of hearing is treated in James 1:21-27 , and James 2:1-26 .
slow to speak--( Proverbs 10:19 , Proverbs 17:27 Proverbs 17:28 , Ecclesiastes 5:2 ). A good way of escaping one kind of temptation arising from ourselves ( James 1:13 ). Slow to speak authoritatively as a master or teacher of others (compare James 3:1 ): a common Jewish fault: slow also to speak such hasty things of God, as in James 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--( james 3:13 james 3:14 , 4:5 ). Slow in becoming heated by debate: another Jewish fault ( Romans 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 James 1:2 . Hastiness of temper hinders hearing God's word; so Naaman, 2 Kings 5:11 , Luke 4:28 .
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 ( James 3:18 ). The oldest and the received reading is "worketh," produceth not. best reading means "worketh," that is, practiceth not:
21. lay apart--"once for all" (so the Greek): as a filthy garment. Compare Joshua's filthy garments, Zechariah 3:3 Zechariah 3:5 , Revelation 7:14 . "Filthiness" is cleansed away by hearing the word ( John 15:3 ).
superfluity of naughtiness--excess (for instance, the intemperate spirit implied in "wrath," james 1:19 james 1:20 ), which arises from malice (our natural, evil disposition towards one another). 1 Peter 2:1 has the very same words in the Greek. So "malice" is the translation, Ephesians 4:31 , Colossians 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 ( Matthew 5:37 ), with which James' Epistle is so connected.
with meekness--in mildness towards one another [ALFORD], the opposite to "wrath" ( James 1:20 ): answering to "as new-born babes" ( 1 Peter 2:2 ). Meekness, I think, includes also a childlike, docile, humble, as well as an uncontentious, spirit ( Psalms 25:9 , 45:4 , Isaiah 66:2 , Matthew 5:5 , 11:28-30 , Matthew 18:3 Matthew 18:4 ; contrast Romans 2:8 ). On "receive," applied to ground receiving seed, compare Mark 4:20 . Contrast Acts 17:11 , 1 Thessalonians 1:6 with 2 Thessalonians 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 ( Deuteronomy 6:6 , 11:18 , Psalms 119:11 ). ALFORD translates, "The implanted word," referring to the parable of the sower ( Matthew 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 ( james 5:15 james 5:20 ).
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 ( Matthew 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--the logical self-deceit ( James 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. 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 ( James 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 Ezekiel 33:31 ). "Contemplate" here, and in James 1:23 , implies that, though cursory, yet some knowledge of one's self, at least for the time, is imparted in hearing the word ( 1 Corinthians 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 ( 1:25 , 2 Peter 1:9 ).
25. looketh into--literally, "stoopeth down to take a close look into." Peers into: stronger than "beholdeth," or "contemplated," James 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, Matthew 5:48 ), and making us truly walk at liberty ( Psalms 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 ( james 1:1 james 2:8 james 2:10 james 2:12 , John 8:31-36 , John 15:14 John 15:15 ; compare 1 Corinthians 7:22 , Galatians 5:1 Galatians 5:13 , 1 Peter 2:16 ). The law is thus not made void, but fulfilled.
continueth therein--contrasted with "goeth his way," James 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 ( Psalms 19:11 ).
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 ( Micah 6:7 Micah 6:8 ) as visiting the fatherless, &c., and keeping one's self unspotted from the world" ( Matthew 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 Acts 26:5 , "after the straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee." Colossians 2:18 , "worshipping of angels."
bridleth not . . . tongue--Discretion in speech is better than fluency of speech (compare james 3:2 james 3:3 ). Compare Psalms 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 . . . 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 ( Psalms 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 ( John 17:15 , Jude 1:24 ).