Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
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.
James 4:9; but with a difference. There, a call to repentance; here, a denunciation. The very word "howl" recalls old prophecies of doom (Isaiah 13:6; Isaiah 14:31; Isaiah 15:3). So here, the coming doom. The destruction of Jerusalem? Yes; but this only the "beginning of sorrows." The culminating judgments, and the second advent These rich, these delicate-living and pleasure-taking ones? Yes, let them weep and howl; for their miseries are coining upon them!
I. THE SIN OF THE RICH. Professedly religions or not, they were great sinners, and as sinners alone does he regard them. And as sinners he denounces them.
1. Indulgence. "Ye have lived delicately on the earth, and taken your pleasure." What is the law of the true life? A thankful acceptance of such joys as God gives, and increased service in the consecration of such joys. But they? Their pleasure was their all. They were pampering their lusts. Instead of making self a center from which, under God, all blessing should radiate, they made it a center to which all pleasure must converge.
2. Luxury. "Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten.' What is the law of property? A thankful use of such things as God gives, that we and the world may be the better for them. But they? They were guilty of a wanton accumulation of wealth, and so their very plenty was corrupting in its idleness. Like corn in a famine, heaped up and moldering.
3. Selfish oppression. "The hire of the laborers," etc. What is the law of work? A mutual ministry of employers and employed, involving a recognition of the rights of labor. How spoke their Law on this matter, and the prophets (see Leviticus 19:13; Deuteronomy 24:14, 15; Jeremiah 22:13; Malachi 3:5)? But they? The words suggest sufficient. So their indulgence and luxury were not merely selfish in themselves, but at others' expense. They, forsooth, were all in all, and others must work for them, and yet starve and be naked, while they heaped up their riches! Verily, they were thieves and robbers.
4. Ruthless persecution. "Ye have condemned, ye have killed," etc. The historical fact; probably judicial tyranny, these rich men refusing justice to the poor, when pleading against the fraud perpetrated towards them by their rich employers. But what was the essential fact? Him, the Just One, they had virtually condemned and killed! Yes, for so they were filling up the measure of their fathers (see Matthew 23:32; Matthew 27:25). For the spirit which actuated them was the selfsame spirit of unjust cruelty which had actuated those to whom Stephen spoke of the Just One - "of whom," he said, "ye have been the betrayers and murderers." So also James "the Just" was afterwards their victim.
II. THE DOOM OF THE RICH. Sin and judgment, in the ways of God, are ever closely joined. For Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small;
1. Thus their selfish indulgence was but indulgence for the slaughter; they were fattening themselves for the shambles. We are reminded of the time of' the slaughter that came, when "the temple floors ran with blood, and the roofs raged in fire till all was utter desolation (see Punchard, Ellicotts Commentary ).
2. The canker of their wealth was premonitory of the judgment of remorse, that should eat their flesh as fire (Luke 16:24).
3. Their oppression and fraud, likewise, were marked by one eye, and the cries of the oppressed had entered the ears of the Lord of hosts. The Lord of hosts? Yes, power belonged unto him, and it had been written, "He shall deliver the needy when he crieth; the pool also, and him that hath no helper" (Psalm 72:12, etc.).
4. And their murder of the Just One, as it really was? "Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him" (Revelation 1:7). Yes, judgment should come, swift and sure; "for as the lightning," etc. (Matthew 24:27). The great lesson is one of stewardship; let rich and poor alike learn this. And to all there is one Lord, and he cometh! yes, "to judge the earth: with righteousness shall he judge the world, and the people with equity" (Psalm 98:9). - T.F.L.
I. THE EXHORTATION. (Vers. 7, 8, first parts.) To wait constitutes a large portion of religious duty. Indeed, patience is not a segment merely of the Christian character; it is a spirit which is to pervade every fiber of it. In all ages spiritual wants and trials are the same; and believers, therefore, have always the same "need of patience." To "wait upon God" is a frequent exhortation of Scripture. The cultivation of this patience is perfectly consistent with holy activity. It springs from the same root of faith from which good works spring. We show our faith not only by our active "works," but also when we "endure, as seeing him who is invisible." Again, Christian patience is to coexist along with the fullest sensibility of suffering. "Long-suffering" necessarily involves the consciousness of suffering; and so does "patience," as the etymology of the word reminds us. Christian comfort does not come to us in connection with any incapability of sorrow; it comes as the result of the subjugation of the passions, and the cultivation of complete acquiescence in the Divine will. The apostle indicates the limit of this long-suffering - "until the coming of the Lord." What advent does this mean? To the early Hebrew Christians it meant mediately the impending destruction of Jerusalem. To us it means in like manner any interposition of Providence to deliver us from trouble, including our removal by death. But the ultimate reference, both for the early Church and for us, is doubtless to the Lord's final advent at the close of time. Then the Savior shall appear as the Judge of all, and shall forever put an end to tyranny and wrong. The thought of that great event is surely well fitted to "stablish our hearts," i.e. to strengthen them for patient endurance.
II. THE EXAMPLE. (Ver. 7, second part.) As an illustration of his subject, and in order to excite the grace of patience within the hearts of his readers, James introduces an allusion to the pursuits of husbandry. Think, he says, of the long-suffering of the farmer. His is a life of arduous toils and of anxious delays. He must wait for the "early rain" in the late autumn before he can sow his seed; and for the "latter rain" in April, upon which his crops depend for the filling of the ear before the harvest ripens. This patience is necessary. Although sometimes sorely tried, it is reasonable. The "fruit ' which the farmer desires is "precious;" it is worth waiting for. And his long-suffering is also full of hope. It has been rewarded by the bounty of Providence in former years; and besides, if he be a pious man, he remembers the Divine assurance that "seed-time and harvest shall not cease." Now, says the apostle, afflicted Christians are to learn from this example a lesson of long-suffering. Trial and persecution are designed to yield an infinitely more "precious" harvest than that for which the husbandman waits. This harvest is "the fruit of righteousness" - "the fruit of the Spirit." And spiritual fruit takes far longer time to mellow than the natural harvest does. So "it is good for a man quietly to wait" for it. We have the assurance that in spiritual husbandry the ultimate reward is never disappointing. "In due season we shall reap, if we faint not."
III. THE ENCOURAGEMENT. (Ver. 8, second part.) "The coming of the Lord is at hand." This implies, first of all, that the Lord is sure to come. While no farmer possesses an absolute certainty in reference to the harvest on his own particular farm, every one who in the spiritual sphere "sows to the Spirit" may rest assured that the day of an abundant and blessed ingathering will arrive. The Lord Jesus, who came to our world nearly nineteen centuries ago, is to come again, His second coming is the greatest event in the future of the Church. It is the pole-star of her hopes. When he appears, the spiritual harvest shall be reaped. We, accordingly, shall cherish the true spirit of long-suffering, only in so far as we "love his appearing," and realize that the purpose of it is to reward his people and take vengeance upon their enemies. It is a sign that our faith is weak, if we meditate seldom, and pray little, about our Lord's second coming. How different was it in this respect with the apostles and the early Church! But, if the final advent was near in the first century, it is still nearer now; and in the interval what arrears of vengeance have been accumulating! It should be our comfort in the time of trouble to reflect that "the coming of the Lord is at hand." The whole New Testament Church lies under the shadow of the second advent. It will be an event of infinite moment, and therefore it is never far away. To the view of God, with whom "one day is as a thousand years," this event is nigh; and the men of faith learn to see it from God's point of view. Compared, also, with the great eternity on the other side, the second advent seems "at hand." What an encouragement does this thought supply, in the direction of devout patience, both in working and in suffering! It should be at once a spur and an anodyne, to know that the Lord is already on his way. For, when he comes, he will reward all service, and right every wrong, and take his people home to himself. - C. J.
I. THE COMING OF THE LORD.
1. Its nature.
(1) For mercy: "to them that look for him... unto salvation" (Hebrews 9:28). So here, "the end of the Lord," etc. The "end" towards which God always works for his people is their deliverance; so shall it be emphatically then. Nor is the deliverance a cold, deliberate putting-forth of power; he is "full of pity." So he saves out of the fullness of love that yearns towards the oppressed. But the pity and the deliverance are both alike "of grace," for we deserve them not; so we are reminded, in that he is "merciful."
(2) For judgment: "to them that obey not the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath" (Romans 2:8). So here, "the judge standeth," etc. The "end" towards which God is compelled to work, by the sins of men, is their judgment; so emphatically then. And the very pity of his heart becomes intenser indignation, when sin spurns his pity. And the judgment shall be one, therefore, of accumulating penalties; judgment because they "obey not the truth;" yet heavier judgment because they "obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Thessalonians 1:8).
2. Its nearness. Certainly there is a seeming nearness in the apostolic days; how shall it be explained?
(1) Actually, it was very near, the intervening time being compared with the vast eons of God's working; so 2 Peter 3:8. And even we, studying the history of the past, can view the lapse of ages somewhat according to the measurement of God.
(2) Ideally, it was near indeed to those to whom it was the one burning, glowing hope. For illustration, the parting with a much-loved friend for a separation of many years: we dwell so fondly, in the lingering farewells, on the reunion time, that all the long interval is forgotten in the absorbing hope of that better day. So Christ, parting with his disciples: "I will come again" (John 14:3). So the disciples, looking for their Lord: his coming "draweth nigh." Yes, the high mountain-peak stood out so clear and beautiful against the distant sky, that it seemed nigh, almost as one might touch it even now!
(3) Virtually, it was near. There might be many a climb before that mountain-peak should be gained, but each ascent of the intervening hills lessened the distance towards that high summit. So the successive "comings of the Lord, through all the ages, are preparing for and bringing near that advent, which shall be, after all, but the culmination of the judgments and deliverances that are proceeding now.
(4) Potentially, as has well been said, it might be even nearer then than now, for the spiritual alertness of the Church, and the rapidity of the evangelization of the world, were the fulfillment of conditions upon which depends the hasting" of "the coming of the day of God" (see 2 Peter 3:12, margin). So, then, in all these senses it might well be said, "the coming of the Lord is at hand;" "the Judge standeth before the doors."
II. THE PATIENT WAITING. But as yet they must wait, and be patient in their waiting. For when the ideal of their hopes burned feeble and dull, and the weary routine of common life was oppressive to their hearts, how distant, sometimes, might that coming seem! And, seeming distant, it would actually become more distant, for their faith and work would slacken, and so his way would not be prepared. Yes, there must be a looking for their Lord, that they might rightly do his will, and also that they might patiently wait for his appearing. So, then, as regards this patient waiting:
1. Its character.
(1) Endurance of evil: one feature of the economy of redemption. Yes, "we call them blessed;" so James 1:2-4, 12.
(2) Strength of heart: evil without could not touch that inward strength. In this consists the "blessedness" of the enduring. Therefore "stablish your hearts."
(3) Trust in God: a God with us now; a God working for our deliverance hereafter. Having him, we have all things; and hoping in him, we shall not be put to shame.
2. Its encouragements.
(1) The processes of nature may teach us patience: "Behold, the husbandman waiteth," etc.
(2) The prophets of grace teach the same patience: "Take, brethren, for an example," etc. And the patience manifested by them was that of men who can "suffer, and be strong;" an active patience - "spake."
(3) The patience of Job is the typical example of God's dealings, so mysterious and yet so merciful; and of man's faith, so tossed and tried, yet cleaving to the God who, he is sure, will not forsake. One penalty of impatience and unfaith is mutual discontent: "Murmur not one against another." As against this, the reward of patient trust in God is "the peace of God," which "shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." Therefore, for duty's sake, for society's sake, for your own hearts' sake, for Christ's sake, "be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord;" for "yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry" (Hebrews 10:37). - T.F.L.
I. A WARNING AGAINST IMPATIENCE WITH ONE ANOTHER. (Ver. 9.) "Murmur not, brethren," implies that believers are apt within their hearts, if not also openly, to complain of each other. Indeed, it sometimes requires greater patience to bear with composure the little frictions of feeling to which close contact with Christian brethren exposes, than to endure open and overt wrongs at the hands of persons who are not such. The warning has a lesson:
1. For the family circle. What a happy society is that of a well-ordered family, where love reigns between husband and wife, and where the parents enjoy the confidence and obedience of wisely trained children! But this fireside happiness can be enjoyed only in connection with constant mutual forbearance. How prone, sometimes, are even husband and wife to misunderstand each other! And how often are households made unhappy by envying and quarrelling among the children! Let us remember that the persons who live in the same house with us are in the very best position for appraising the value of our Christian profession. They know at least whether we are learning to bear kindly with the infirmities of our own relations, and to endure with patience petty discomforts in domestic life. The grace of God within the soul will enable us to "walk within our house with a perfect heart" (Psalm 101:2).
2. For the business circle. How many offences arise among Christian men when engaged in the toil and strain of commercial competition! One brother grudges the worldly successes of his neighbor; and perhaps his heart harbors against him uncharitable accusations of dishonest dealing. But, as Abraham long ago was content that Lot should appropriate to himself the best of the land rather than that their herdmen should quarrel, so still it will do a Christian man less harm to make sometimes what is financially a bad bargain, than to soil his soul by cherishing evil thoughts regarding any brother believer.
3. For the Church circle. There is apt to be murmuring and grumbling in ecclesiastical life. Sometimes the spiritual office-bearers of a congregation get but little thanks for the work which they do. Sometimes, also, the people forget that they ought to have large mutual patience with one another. The liberal progress-loving member is apt to groan over the attitude of his conservative let-things-alone brother; and the educated and cultured Christian may fail at times to forbear with the man of narrow and exclusive views. The exemplary Church member, while ready at all times to maintain and defend his own opinions, is yet willing gracefully to yield (wherever conscience does not forbid) to what the majority decide upon, that thereby he may promote the general peace and edification.
II. THE SANCTION BY WHICH THIS WARNING IS ENFORCED. (Ver. 9.) James employs a sweetly persuasive motive in the word "brethren." To complain of each other is to sin against the highest and most sacred brotherhood. This motive, however, is only lightly touched, in passing. The apostle backs up his warning with a solemn sanction. Echoing, as he does so often, his Master's words in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:1), he speaks of the bar of God, and of the Lord Christ the Judge. To refuse to forbear with brethren, he says, amounts virtually to an assumption of the judicial office, and will expose one's self to be "judged." For what right have we to judge our brethren? We lack the necessary discrimination; our own hearts are impure; and we shall very soon have ourselves to appear before the judgment-bar. Already, indeed, "the Judge standeth before the doors." He is near at hand, to discharge perfectly those functions which we are so prone to usurp; and, in doing so, to condemn all who may have been guilty of such usurpation.
III. THE ENCOURAGEMENT AFFORDED BY CERTAIN OLD TESTAMENT EXAMPLES. (Vers. 10, 11.) It should cheer us, under this and every other form of trial, to remember how the great seers and saints of old endured their afflictions.
1. The example of the prophets. (Ver. 10.) The Jewish Christians had a deep reverence for the memory of these noble men. The prophets had been the religious teachers of ancient Israel; through them the Divine Spirit himself had spoken. The influence which they exercised while they lived had sometimes been prodigious; indeed, their power was often greater than the power of the sovereign. Yet the lot of the prophets had been one of sore affliction. They were an example to the New Testament Church:
(1) Of suffering. Their trials came upon them as the result of the fidelity with which they "spake in the name of the Lord." It was so with Moses, Elijah, Micaiah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel. The Jews indeed were accustomed to confess that the prophets generally had been persecuted (Matthew 23:30, 37; Acts 7:52; Hebrews 11:36-38). No wonder, then, since trouble fell on these great men, that it should fall on us. We may be well contented to follow in the faith that has been trodden by "the goodly fellowship."
(2) Of long-suffering. We are to think also of the meekness of the prophets when enduring their unparalleled afflictions. They were sorely tried by the murmurings of their "brethren," to whom they spoke the Word of God; yet how patiently they bore it all! They laid hold upon the Divine strength, and thus learned to bear and forbear. And so, despite their infirmities and occasional lapses from patience, of these men "the world was not worthy."
2. The example of Job. (Ver. 11.) Although the Book of Job is a poem, our apostle evidently believed it to have an underlying basis of veritable history. The man Job actually existed; and his proverbial patience is an example to the Church. Think of the dreadful distresses which came thick and fast upon him. By successive strokes he was deprived of property, family, health, reputation, and true sympathy. Yet Job left his sufferings with God. He learned to forbear with the bigotry and stupidity of his friends. He evinced at last, in spite of some serious failures, a spirit of perfect submission to the Divine will. He interceded for his misguided comforters; and God forgave them. Job's case, however, is introduced here chiefly with the view of pointing to "the end" or conclusion which the Lord gave to him (Job 42:12). His God, whom he feared, rewarded signally, even in this life, his wonderful patience. And the great lesson which we should learn from Job's career is "that the Lord is full of pity, and merciful." He is so in the very sending of trial, in the measure of it, in the grace which he gives to bear it, in the unraveling of its merciful purpose, and in the happy issues with which he rewards his people, when they "have been approved" (James 1:12). Trial is a goodly discipline intended to prepare for the "goodly heritage;" and thus they will be "bleared' who shall have "endured." - C.J.
I. THE KIND OF SWEARING WHICH IS HERE PROHIBITED. We believe that James condemns only what is called profane swearing. He exhorts the brethren to abstain from hasty and frivolous oaths. Some commentators, indeed (as De Wette), some philosophers (as Bentham), some Fathers of the early Church (as Chrysostom and Augustine), and some Christian sects (as the Quakers), interpret this command, with that of our Lord in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:34-37), as an absolute condemnation of all kinds of swearing. The prevailing judgment of the Church, however, is that upon solemn occasions oaths may be not only lawful, but sometimes also dutiful. For what does an oath mean? It means, to call upon God to take notice of, and to ratify, some particular assertion. And Christian intelligence suggests that there can be nothing sinful in this, provided it be done only upon a solemn judicial occasion and in a reverent spirit. The words in the third commandment which are emphatic are evidently the words "in vain," it being assumed that there is a lawful use of the Divine Name. Passages are to be found in the Old Testament in which God enjoins upon his people the taking of solemn oaths (Deuteronomy 6:13; Deuteronomy 10:20; Jeremiah 12:16); and it was ordained in the Law given from Sinai, that persons accused of certain offences might clear themselves by an adjuration (Exodus 22:10, 11). Prophets and apostles often attested their inspired messages with an oath: e.g. Elijah (1 Kings 17:1), Micaiah (1 Kings 22:14), Paul (Galatians 1:20; 2 Corinthians 1:23). The Lord Jesus Christ, when put upon his oath by the high priest, accepted the adjuration, although he had before been silent (Matthew 26:63, 64). And, highest of all, Jehovah himself is represented as swearing (Psalm 110:4; Hebrews 6:13). When, therefore, Jesus and James say, "Swear not," they do not forbid solemn oaths, if used sparingly, upon appropriate occasions, and as an act of worship; but only such swearing as is passionate, purposeless, profane.
II. THE NEED THAT THERE IS FOR SUCH A PROHIBITION. Colloquial swearing was a clamant sin among the Hebrews, as it still is among the Orientals. The people generally were adepts in the use of profane expletives. Rabbinical casuistry had devised many subtle refinements with the view of permitting indulgence in the habit on all occasions (Matthew 23:16-22). The scribes taught that while it was sinful to swear expressly by the Divine Name, it was allowable to do so by heaven, by the earth, by the prophets, by Jerusalem, by the temple, by the altar, by the blood of Abel, by one's own head, etc. The extreme commonness of this sin of careless swearing led our Lord, once and again, to rebuke it, and to point out the evil lying under it; and the Apostle James here catches up his spirit, and echoes his words. But we in this country require the apostle's warning perhaps as much as the Christian Jews of "the Dispersion." The strong tendency of human nature to the use of profane language is a remarkable illustration of our depravity. How much profanity, there is in the popular literature of the day, even in that section of it which is considered "high class," and which is read by the cultured portion of the community! This objectionable element in many of our works of fiction is at once a symptom of much evil already existing, and a cause of more. How prevalent also is the sin of swearing in our public streets! It is distressing to overhear the most profane expressions coming sometimes from the lips of the merest children. And even persons who profess to fear God will allow themselves to use his Name - in some mutilated form, it may be - as a needless exclamation; or employ similarly the sacred word which expresses some Divine attribute; or swear by the dread realities of death and eternity. Christians ought to remember that all such forms of speech are an offence against the Majesty of heaven, and a grief to the heart of the Lord Jesus. In this region there should be a clear and wide separation between believers and unbelievers. Lips which use the first petition of the Lord's Prayer - "Hallowed be thy Name," ought never to speak of God and of Divine things except in a spirit of reverent worship.
III. THE EARNESTNESS OF THE PROHIBITION. We have considered the matter of the apostle's counsel; let us look now to his manner in giving it. He writes with burning earnestness. "But above all things, my brethren, swear not;" i.e. guard yourselves with peculiar care against the sin of profanity. We should exercise this special watchfulness for many reasons; amongst these, because:
1. Profane swearing is a great sin. It is utterly opposed to the Christian patience and long-suffering which the apostle has been inculcating. No man dare insult a fellow-creature as many men every day insult the Majesty on high. The great Jehovah should be contemplated with the profoundest reverence; but to swear is to insult him to his face.
2. This sin is very easily committed. Our corrupt nature is prone to it. The temptations which beset us are abundant. Both round oaths and minced oaths are to be heard everywhere. So, James says, "Let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay." The bare word of a Christian man should be enough. Even to say, "Upon my word," is to swear; such an asseveration is contrary to Christian simplicity. If one is strictly truthful, his simple "yes" or "no" will always be believed.
3. Swearing is a ruinous sin. James adds, "That ye fall not under judgment." A foul tongue is the index of a foul heart. Indeed, the two act and react upon one another. The profane man, therefore, is destroying his own soul. He who swears by hell in jest may well tremble lest he go to hell in earnest. The Lord our God will not suffer him to escape his righteous judgment (Deuteronomy 28:58, 59).
CONCLUSION. What need we have to offer the prayer of David - "Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my tips" (Psalm 141:3)! - C. J.
Matthew 26:63, 64), and accepted the position. Paul also (Romans 1:9; 2 Corinthians 1:23; Galatians 1:20; Philippians 1:8) several times in his public communications with the Churches substantiated his words with some solemn formula. No; the world being what it is, imperfect, and some being so far under the influence of higher realities that, when brought consciously into their presence, they will speak truly, through fear, whereas apart from such avowed appeal to God they might not speak truly, it does appear to be quite lawful for society to take advantage even of this lower religious motive to secure true testimony, as before magistrates. And, this being so, the man who needs no such constraint, who lives always as before God, and whose word is therefore as good as his oath, will yet conform to the usages of society for the sake of their general benefit. It is, then, not the use of solemn speech on such public and special occasions that is here prohibited, but artificial asseverations in the common intercourse between man and man. And we may profitably consider - simplicity of speech, and its reward.
I. SIMPLICITY OF SPEECH.
1. And first, as opposed to duplicity. For amongst the Jews certain ingenuities of oath-taking had become a veil for the most flagrant falseness. To the rabbis "the third commandment was simply a prohibition of perjury, as the sixth was of murder, or the seventh of adultery. They did not see that the holy Name might be profaned in other ways, even when it was not uttered; and they expressly or tacitly allowed many forms of oath in which it was not named, as with the view of guarding it from desecration. Lastly, out of the many forms thus sanctioned (as here - Matthew 5:33-37 - and Matthew 23:16-22) they selected some as binding and others as not binding, and thus, by a casuistry at once subtle, irrational, and dishonest, tampered with men's sense of truthfulness" (Plumptre, on Matthew 5:33-37, in Ellicott's 'Commentary'). Our Lord's words, in the sermon on the mount, and afterwards in Matthew 23., were intended to smite through all this sophistry of falsehood; and James, in echoing our Lord's words, "Swear not at all," doubtless has the same end in view. For whether they solemnly invoked God's holy Name, or used some seemingly less solemn formula, or used no formula at all, and yet were false, their lying was in reality lying against God, who is present everywhere, and without whom nothing is real and no speech is sacred. So, then, our Lord's words, and the words of James, smote all the duplicity of the Jews in those days. And does not the same condemnation smite all the prevarications of our day? Whether with or without false oaths, all speech which insinuates the wrong meaning, under whatever cover of seeming veracity, is false, and must for safety's sake be branded with its real name, lying - yes, lying against God! And so all shifty, misleading deeds; all transactions, whether of business or of political life, or in any other sphere, which have for their aim to convey wrong impressions, are lying - lying against God! Oh, let us learn, "Thou God seest me;" and let our yea be yea, and our nay, nay!
2. Again, as opposed to all flippant trifling. Doubtless, then as now, oaths were bandied about lightly from mouth to mouth in irreverent wantonness. This was to trifle with the God to whom the oaths referred. And so still; we make light of him when we lightly use these sacred names! But all flippant speech, whether with or without oaths, is equally a sin against God, if we would rightly regard it. How many there are who can scarcely speak but to jest! to whom life seems one huge comedy! Ah, God is not real to us, when the life which God has given can be so frivolously treated!
3. And yet again, as opposed to all artificial solemnities of common speech for the purpose of attesting its veracity. This leads us back to the thought with which we started. A true character needs "no vouchers. The man who protests his truth is almost certainly a false man; as, if certain coins out of a large number were marked "genuine," we should at once suspect them to be spurious. Or, on the other hand, if they were ascertained to be genuine, we should naturally suspect the coins not so marked to be false; so a fortified manner of speech, if true itself, implies that speech when unfortified is not true. Yes, by our artificial asseverations we lay open our whole converse to suspicion. For all these reasons, then, let your yea be yea, and your nay, nay. Your speech - let it be simple, sacred, true.
II. ITS REWARD.
1. The reward of social life. Think of it - when every man may trust his neighbor! Each of us is contributing his part towards this consummation by simplicity of speech, helping to build up the truthfulness of the world.
2. The reward of the man. And this? The man's own trueness. For, as we have seen (on James 3:1-5), a man's speech makes a man's self; truth or falseness distils through all his nature from his words. And what better reward than this: a brave bearing towards men, a true faith in God? Again, as a reminder, "that ye fall not under judgment." Yes, every false asseveration, every false flippancy, every essentially false solemnity, he notes down; and the day of reckoning is at hand! Our untruth will eat our soul as doth a canker; and then? - our own cankered, hollow self forever I Yes, that shall be our portion. For "all liars shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone; which is the second death." Well may it be said, as was said once (Robertson's 'Sermons,' first series, p. 291), "The first lesson of the Christian life is this - Be true; and the second this - Be true; and the third this - Be true." But how? "I am the Truth." Yes, thank God, this is our refuge. And so shall we "have boldness in the day of judgment; because, as he is, so are we in this world" (1 John 4:17). - T.F.L.
I. THE CASE OF THE AFFLICTED. (Ver. 13.) The believer must not allow his trials to exasperate him. Instead of swearing over them, he should pray over them. That is a graceless heart which, when under the rod, challenges God's sovereignty, or impugns his justice, or distrusts his goodness, or arraigns his wisdom. The child of God prays always, because he loves prayer; and especially when under trial, because then he has special need of it. He prays for a spirit of filial submission; for the improvement of his chastisement; and for the removal of it, if the Lord will. And only those who have proved the efficacy of prayer know how efficacious it is. Even to tell God of our trials helps to alleviate them. Prayer brings the soul near to him who bears upon his loving heart the burden of his people's sorrows. As we pray, our cares and trials pass into the Divine breast, and we are made of one wilt with our Father. But, besides this, our petitions will be directly and substantially answered. God wilt give us either the particular blessing which we ask, or, if that would not be good for us, something still better. When we crave relief from present suffering we may get instead, as Paul did (2 Corinthians 12:7-10), the power of higher moral endurance.
II. THE CASE OF THE LIGHT-HEARTED. (Ver. 13.) Sorrow and joy constantly meet in human life. There are many people who are "cheerful:" some, because they are in easy circumstances; others, because they are of a buoyant disposition. Now, a Christian ought to keep his hilarity from running to waste by expressing his gladness in praise. Cheerfulness naturally overflows into song. And the believer is to use as the vehicle of his joy, not the favorite ditties of the worldly man, which are often full of levity and sometimes tinged with profanity, but "psalms and hymns and spiritual songs." This counsel reminds us that praise is a means of grace, not for the congregation and the family alone, but also for the individual believer. Praise is the art of adoration; and its outward attire is music, the most spiritual of the fine arts. To "psalm" with voice and instrumental accompaniment affords the best safety-valve for joyous emotion. Music
"Gentlier on the spirit lies,
III. THE CASE OF THE SICK. (Vers. 14, 15.) The sick brother is to "call for the presbyters of the Church." This implies that it belongs to the elders, or bishops, to visit the diseased and. infirm. In early times they were to do so, not only to render spiritual aid, but to exercise such "gifts of healings" (1 Corinthians 12:9) as they might possess. It is enjoined, or rather taken for granted, that they would "anoint" the sick man "with oil." Why so? Either because this was the accredited medical panacea in that age (Isaiah 1:6; Luke 10:34), or because oil is a symbol of the gracious influences of the Holy Spirit, the Divine Healer (Mark 6:13). If we judge that the anointing was medicinal, the lesson is that in sickness we are to have recourse both to "the prayer of faith" and to the prescriptions of an enlightened pharmacy. If, however, we regard it as symbolical - perhaps the better view - in that case it would remind all parties that the miraculous cures were effected only by the Holy Spirit, whom the Lord Jesus had given. And so the apostle expressly says that the anointing is to be done "in the Name of the Lord," and that "the prayer of faith" which accompanied it would be followed by a cure. The gift of healing was granted to the apostles as a temporary aid in the work of founding the Christian Church. At first, before the gospel was sufficiently understood, signs and wonders were needed as helps to faith. This gift would cease with the death of the last person who had been endowed with it by the last of the apostles. The injunction to use oil as a symbol was, therefore, only temporary. Many, however, have judged otherwise.
1. Roman Catholics, who base their rite of extreme unction upon this Scripture. But that so-called sacrament differs entirely from the ordinance before us. Here, it is the elders; there, a priest. Here, it is a sick man who is to be restored to health; there, one who is about to die. Here, the object of the anointing is the recovery of the patient; there, it is to prepare him for death.
2. The "Peculiar People" in England, and the "Tunkers in the United States, who in times of illness still rely upon this unction and prayer, rejecting all medical advice. At Mannedorf, in Switzerland, Miss Dorothea Trudel for many years superintended an establishment in which prayer was employed in preference to medicine for the cure even of the most serious diseases. And at Bad Boll, in Würtemberg, Pastor Blumhardt has prosecuted upon a large scale a similar enterprise. Hundreds of cures have been authenticated as having been wrought in these institutions. What, then, are we to say to this? First of all, that the promised recovery is doubtless connected in ver. 15, not with the anointing, but with the prayer, and with the faith which breathed in it. If there were faith on the part of the praying presbyter, and of the sick brother himself, his sickness would be healed; and his sins, of which perhaps his disease was a punishment, would be forgiven. But again, although we do not now look for evidently miraculous cures, the prayer of faith" still pierces the supernatural; and thus it is as reasonable now as ever to pray for the recovery of the sick, provided also we diligently use, at the same time, the best physical means of cure; it is a Divine law, in every department of life, that we must employ the means if we would secure the blessing. During sickness, therefore, we must pray as if all depended upon player; and avail ourselves of medical skill as if we had no other resource than that. But what Christian can doubt the efficacy of prayer as a means of cure? If Jesus Christ and his apostles could heal the sick, may not our Father in heaven still, although in occult ways which medical skill cannot trace, touch the secret springs of human life? and may he not do so in answer to the prayers of his own people? Certainly diseases are under law. But even a medical man has some power to direct the action of the physical laws of disease. And is not the power of the Lawgiver greater still than that of the most eminent physician? Is it not literally omnipotent?
1. Prayer, although by no means of the nature of a charm, is a real medicine for sickness.
2. While this is true, the supreme end of prayer is the attainment of spiritual blessing.
3. We should therefore ask more earnestly for the forgiveness of sins than for temporal mercies. - C.J.
I. The thirteenth verse teaches us that the natural expression of all the Christian's experiences should be Godward. "Is any among you suffering?" How readily we murmur against man, or in heart against God! For the natural effect of pain on the natural heart of man is to make it fretful and impatient. How must it be with the Christian? "Let him pray." Yes; let him hide his suffering in the mighty love of God, like a troubled child flinging itself into its mother's breast! "Is any cheerful?" How readily we vent our joy in levity and hilarious mirth! The true resource is thankful praise. Like the lark mounting up into the morning sky, so should we pour out our full heart to God. And so with all the manifold experiences of life, of which these are but two typical examples: all our life, waking and sleeping, work or rest, pleasure or pain, is to be a life in God. So will all our life run into worship; so shall we "pray without ceasing." And so will those words be fulfilled to us -
"Thrice blest whose lives are faithful prayers, II. Vers. 14 and 15 teach us that in sickness our faith should be in God. 1. In our Lord's public healing, prominence was given to the fact that all healing is of God, but there was the recognition likewise of the use of proper means. Symbolized in his miracles: thus, "looking up to heaven," he "touched his tongue," etc. (Mark 7:33, 34). So in practice prescribed by James: recognition of fact that only God can heal, but also of fact that God uses human means for effecting his healing work - former in exhortation to prayer, latter in direction to anoint with oil, which was perhaps the great symbol of medical remedies (see Mark 6:13; Luke 10:34; also Plumptre, in loc.; and notice the interpretation of these words now by Greek Church, Roman Church, and "Peculiar People"). What to us is the spirit of these directions now? Use the highest appliances of medical skill which God's providence has in these latter days supplied to the world; but in and through all recognize God's working. Pray to God for the exercise of his healing power, and if the sick one be raised up, know that "the Lord" hath raised him up. Yes, the Lord, the living Christ, who is the Healer still. 2. But what is the spiritual concomitant of the bodily healing? "If he have committed sins," etc. These words, as to confession, have been more sadly misinterpreted, and more fatally abused, than the former, as to healing. What is the natural interpretation, as suggested by the whole connection? The sick man may have brought his sickness upon himself as the result of some secret sin; shall the elders pray for him? Yes, they may; but it must not be as for a saint of God. If the intercession is to avail, it must not proceed upon a total misunderstanding of the case, the faith being thus misplaced. No, the sick man must see the righteousness of the chastisement, and own it to his brethren, acknowledging his sin; then may they make penitent confession on his behalf, and "it shall be forgiven him." If he desires their prayers, he must make at least some general acknowledgment of the character of the case. And with this thought another may be mingled. How much more quarrel and offense there is among Christian brethren, poisoning the life of Christian society, and corrupting its usefulness in the world! It was so then, as the chapters before have shown; it is so, alas! now. But when sickness comes, let this, at least, be a time for frank acknowledgment and mutual pardon. Such in part may be James's meaning when he says, "Confess therefore," etc. (ver. 16). III. Then the general principle of prayer is enunciated, with an illustration (vers. 16-18). 1. The operativeness of prayer. "Availeth much." We know not how, as in the case of the rain, but the fact is sure. God does not violate his own laws, but works through them; and, working through them, he yet can answer our supplications. For he lays his hands on the innermost springs that move the forces of the world, and they obey. We see only the succession of second causes; behind all these is the great First Cause, the living God. 2. The condition of availing prayer. "Of a righteous man." Prayer is no talisman, operating with magic effect, but a child asking of a Father. Yes, this the meaning of the word "righteous." Not faultless; for Elijah was of" like passions" with us. But one of the family, adopted through Christ into the household of God. And the prayer of such a one he heareth always. So, then, the truth of all these verses, as we saw at the beginning, is the intimacy of union between our life and God. We see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man. Yes, and upon us his brethren (John 1:51). And the link, on our part? Prayer. Wherefore, "pray always." "For so the whole round earth is every way
II. Vers. 14 and 15 teach us that in sickness our faith should be in God.
1. In our Lord's public healing, prominence was given to the fact that all healing is of God, but there was the recognition likewise of the use of proper means. Symbolized in his miracles: thus, "looking up to heaven," he "touched his tongue," etc. (Mark 7:33, 34). So in practice prescribed by James: recognition of fact that only God can heal, but also of fact that God uses human means for effecting his healing work - former in exhortation to prayer, latter in direction to anoint with oil, which was perhaps the great symbol of medical remedies (see Mark 6:13; Luke 10:34; also Plumptre, in loc.; and notice the interpretation of these words now by Greek Church, Roman Church, and "Peculiar People"). What to us is the spirit of these directions now? Use the highest appliances of medical skill which God's providence has in these latter days supplied to the world; but in and through all recognize God's working. Pray to God for the exercise of his healing power, and if the sick one be raised up, know that "the Lord" hath raised him up. Yes, the Lord, the living Christ, who is the Healer still.
2. But what is the spiritual concomitant of the bodily healing? "If he have committed sins," etc. These words, as to confession, have been more sadly misinterpreted, and more fatally abused, than the former, as to healing. What is the natural interpretation, as suggested by the whole connection? The sick man may have brought his sickness upon himself as the result of some secret sin; shall the elders pray for him? Yes, they may; but it must not be as for a saint of God. If the intercession is to avail, it must not proceed upon a total misunderstanding of the case, the faith being thus misplaced. No, the sick man must see the righteousness of the chastisement, and own it to his brethren, acknowledging his sin; then may they make penitent confession on his behalf, and "it shall be forgiven him." If he desires their prayers, he must make at least some general acknowledgment of the character of the case. And with this thought another may be mingled. How much more quarrel and offense there is among Christian brethren, poisoning the life of Christian society, and corrupting its usefulness in the world! It was so then, as the chapters before have shown; it is so, alas! now. But when sickness comes, let this, at least, be a time for frank acknowledgment and mutual pardon. Such in part may be James's meaning when he says, "Confess therefore," etc. (ver. 16).
III. Then the general principle of prayer is enunciated, with an illustration (vers. 16-18).
1. The operativeness of prayer. "Availeth much." We know not how, as in the case of the rain, but the fact is sure. God does not violate his own laws, but works through them; and, working through them, he yet can answer our supplications. For he lays his hands on the innermost springs that move the forces of the world, and they obey. We see only the succession of second causes; behind all these is the great First Cause, the living God.
2. The condition of availing prayer. "Of a righteous man." Prayer is no talisman, operating with magic effect, but a child asking of a Father. Yes, this the meaning of the word "righteous." Not faultless; for Elijah was of" like passions" with us. But one of the family, adopted through Christ into the household of God. And the prayer of such a one he heareth always. So, then, the truth of all these verses, as we saw at the beginning, is the intimacy of union between our life and God. We see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man. Yes, and upon us his brethren (John 1:51). And the link, on our part? Prayer. Wherefore, "pray always."
"For so the whole round earth is every way
I. THE DUTY. (Ver. 16.) It is twofold.
1. Mutual confession. The subject here is not confession of sin to God, although that is an essential part of true penitence (Proverbs 28:13; 1 John 1:8-10). Neither is it auricular confession to a priest; although the Church of Rome bases her doctrine of the necessity of such mainly upon this passage. That Church, while recommending the confession of venial sins, makes the rehearsal of all mortal sins essential to salvation. But history testifies that the confessional, instead of proving a means of grace, has been to an unspeakable degree a school of wickedness. The confession here spoken of is occasional, not regular. It is particular, not indiscriminate. It is mutual, "one to another," and not on the one part only. It is in order to edification, and not for absolution. Christ has given his ministers no power to pardon sin. "The only true confessional is the Divine mercy-seat" (Wardlaw). The exhortation before us is addressed to the brethren generally, whether presbyters or ordinary members of the congregation. And it is only some sins which it is proper to confess to our fellow-men. There are many "secret faults" of impure thought and corrupt desire on which we should keep the lids closely down. But we ought to confess:
(1) Wrongs done to brethren. If on any occasion we have acted unjustly by a brother, or calumniated him to others, we should, so soon as we come to ourselves, confess our fault, ask his forgiveness, and make all possible reparation. Our Savior has enjoined this (Matthew 5:23, 24). It was a beautiful practice of the primitive Church to see that all quarrels among brethren were made up, in the spirit of Christian love, before the celebration of the Lord's Supper. And the Church of England has an earnest counsel to the same effect in her Communion Service.
(2) Scandalous sins. A scandalous sin is one which, on account of its publicity, is a scandal, and is calculated to bring reproach upon religion. The discipline of the Church requires that such an offence be confessed openly. Discipline is an ordinance of Christ, and is intended to conserve the purity of the Church, as well as the spiritual profit of her members. A good man, therefore, when he has fallen into gross and open sin, should be willing to make public confession before the Church and to his fellow-members.
(3) Sins which deeply wound the conscience. There are occasions when we may profitably speak of such to a pious pastor or to some prudent Christian friend. "Certainly they are then more capable to give us advice, and can the better apply the help of their counsel and prayers to our particular case, and are thereby moved to the more pity and commiseration; as beggars, to move the more, will not only represent their general want, but uncover their sores" (Manton). Happy is the man who has such a friend, if any persons in the world should confer with one another about matters of spiritual experience, it is surely husband and wife. If such never "confess their sins one to another," certainly they are not married in the Lord.
2. Mutual prayer. This is the main advantage to be derived from mutual confession. We should take our friends into our confidence about our sins, that we may induce them with intelligent sympathy to intercede for us. Not only are the spiritual officers of the Church to pray for the sick and the erring; this duty is incumbent upon the whole congregation. Any member who cherishes strong opinions about the remissness of the elders or of the pastor in sick-visitation, should labor as much as possible to supplement their deficiencies. We should all remember at the throne of grace the afflicted of our company, and those who have confessed sin to us. God wants us to pray "for all men," and "for all the saints." To pray for others will help to free us from spiritual selfishness; it will develop within us sympathy for brethren, and thus tend to knit the Church together in love.
II. As ENCOURAGEMENT TO DISCHARGE THIS DUTY. It is an inestimable blessing to be able to engage on our behalf the spiritual sympathy and the earnest applications of our fellow-Christians. We have here:
1. A statement of the power of prayer. (Ver. 16.) It "availeth much." The evolution of events is controlled by the living God, as the First Cause of all things; and prayer occupies the same place in his moral government that other second causes do. God is roused into action by the prayers of his people. Prayer is thus more than merely a wholesome spiritual discipline; it moves the arm of the Almighty, and virtually admits the believer who presents it to a share in the government of the world. The apostle recommends intercessory supplication as peculiarly effectual. The petitioner, however, must be "a righteous man. He who would intercede successfully must himself have faith in Christ - that faith which is made perfect by holy deeds (Psalm 66:18; John 9:31). The supplication" of such a man "availeth much in its working," i.e. when energized by the Holy Spirit, who "maketh intercession for us" (Romans 8:26). Mere routine prayer avails nothing. A form of sound words is not enough. We must put our heart's blood into our request. Indeed, what we desire must be begotten within us of "the spirit of grace and of supplications."
2. An historical example of this power. (Vers. 17, 18.) With such examples the pages of the Old Testament are thickly strewn; but the apostle selects one case only - that of Elijah. Although an extraordinary personage, and a very eminent prophet, Elijah was by no means a demigod: he was "a man of like passions [literally, 'homoeopathic'] with us." He bad the same human nature which we have - the same susceptibilities, dispositions, and infirmities. He, too, had his secret faults, and his presumptuous sins. But, being "a righteous man," he was a man of prayer; and his success as a suppliant should be an example to us. Two special petitions presented by this prophet are cited.
(1) A prayer for judgment. (Ver. 17.) The Old Testament history does not mention the fact that the long drought which fell upon the land of Israel in the days of Ahab was sent in answer to the prayer of Elijah. It was so, however. The prophet had been brooding, among the uplands of Gilead, over the wickedness of the court and of the people; and at length he prayed by the Spirit that Jehovah, for his own glory and for the well-being of the nation, would send this drought upon the land. And God heard him, and closed the windows of heaven for three years and a half.
(2) A prayer for mercy. (Ver. 18.) This request Elijah presented upon Mount Carmel, on the evening of that memorable day when God had answered by fire, and the prophets of Baal had been slain. God had intimated to Elijah at Zarephath that he was about to send rain; and now the prophet wrestled for the fulfillment of the promise, and sent his servant seven times to the mountain-top to watch for the visible answer. And soon "the heaven was black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain." Both of these chapters in Elijah's life illustrate vividly the power that there is in "the prayer of faith." And should any one ask, "Where is the Lord God of Elijah?" the answer is, that he is "with us" yet; and that prayer is still the golden key which opens the door of heaven, and brings us "in its working" salvation manifold. - C.J.
I. A BROTHER GOING ASTRAY. The case supposed is the apostasy of a professing Christian. We must notice, at the outset, the supreme importance which our apostle ascribes here, and throughout his Epistle (James 1:18, 21-23; James 3:14), to "the truth." He strikes as loyal a note as Paul does, regarding the necessity of "consenting" to sound doctrine if one would live the Christian life. He assumes that all backsliding is aberration from the truth. His words cover both forms which apostasy may take - errors of creed and of conduct. A brother may go astray:
1. As regards doctrine. Many in our times, alas! attach small importance to error of this kind. Libertines in practice are apt to be latitudinarians in opinion. Many "moral" men act as if they do not regard any of the doctrines of the creed as vital. Some really pious people seem to believe that the Christian life can be lived with equal success by men holding the most diverse views regarding the central facts of Christianity. But Scripture teaches that it is through the knowledge and faith of certain great truths alone that men's hearts will be imbued with Christian principle, and their lives become acceptable to God. Among the essential doctrines are those of human depravity and inability; the Divine inspiration of Holy Scripture; the supreme Deity of Jesus Christ; his substitutionary atonement; and man's dependence on the gracious indwelling of the Holy Spirit. To deny any of these doctrines is to "err from the truth," and to "fall from grace." Among the causes of such doctrinal aberration are
(1) pride of intellect;
(2) giving one's self over to the guidance of speculation;
(3) aversion of heart to evangelical truth;
(4) the vanity of desiring to be thought independent;
(5) neglect of the means of grace. Or, again, a brother may err.
2. As regards practice. He may turn his back upon the gospel without formally renouncing any of its doctrines. Immorality is a departure from the faith, no less than error in opinion. To "walk in the troth" is to follow holiness. The man, therefore, who professes zeal for orthodoxy, and all the while is wallowing in sin, or becoming entangled with the world, is really a heretic. Such a man is a living lie against the truth. But what temptations there are everywhere to leave the narrow way! And do not professing Christians in large numbers succumb to these? The masses of our home heathen are in a great measure composed of members of Churches who have finally lapsed into worldliness. It is a sure sign of spiritual declension to cease to find pleasure in public worship, and to allow one's place in the house of God to be empty.
II. ANOTHER BROTHER CONVERTING THE ERRING BROTHER. Usually the term "convert" is employed to describe that great moral revolution within the soul which is effected by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit. And, doubtless, we may understand it here in this radical sense, as well as in its secondary meaning when applied to the reclamation of a backsliding believer. For there are members of the visible Church who are not true Christians. They make for some time a fair profession; but by-and-by they visibly fall away. Well, the counsels and prayers and pious example of a fellow-member of the congregation may be blessed to the real conversion of such. But, again, the erring one may be already a believer; and a brother believer may become instrumental in reclaiming him from his apostasy. This also is a conversion, although as such only supplementary to "the great change." Simon Peter was a truly godly man when he denied his Master; yet Jesus called his repentance after that foul sin his "conversion" (Luke 22:32). Some Christians are in this sense converted many times. Their religious life ebbs and flows; and each turn of the tide after a period of declension amounts to a fresh conversion. Of course, it is only God who can "convert a sinner" in either sense. But he employs believers as his instruments. The Holy Spirit bestows his grace in connection with human prayer add effort (Acts 26:18; Luke 1:15, 16; 1 Corinthians 4:15; Philemon 1:19). And any Christian may become such an instrument. James does not say, "If any preacher, or pastor, or elder, convert him;" the work may be accomplished by the humblest member of the congregation. Even a servant-maid, or a little child, may be honored to do it. Each member is bound to seek the spiritual good of every other member. For, we are our "brother's keeper."
III. THE GLORIOUS RESULTS OF SUCH CONVERSION. The full flower of this glory shall bloom in eternity; but its bud appears just now in time. The ultimate result is the salvation of the soul; and the immediate result is the covering of many sins. But who can estimate the blessedness of such an experience? These last burning words of the Epistle remind us of the priceless value of the human spirit. Man is "the image and glory of God." Think of the high endowments of the soul, its lofty powers, its immortal destiny, the price paid for its redemption, and the dreadfulness of its ruin, should it continue unsaved. The unconverted sinner is an heir-apparent to eternal death; and the backsliding professor, if he be not restored, must slip down into the same undone eternity. Now, the glorious effect of conversion is to deliver from the power of sin in the future, and from its guilt in the present. The convert's sins are "a multitude," for every day has contributed to their number; but now they are covered with the Redeemer's merit. The blood-sprinkled mercy-seat hides the violated Law from Jehovah's eye. And what a joy to the sinner to be made the subject of such a conversion! "Blessed is he whose sin is covered" (Psalm 32:1). Where past sin is thus hidden, much future sin is prevented. This, therefore, is the best "turn which one can do to his neighbor - to convert him from the error of his way."
IV. THE ENCOURAGEMENT THUS SUPPLIED TO CHRISTIAN EFFORT. "Let him know" (ver. 20). These animating words express the main thought in the text. The Christian worker must not forget that to restore an erring soul is one of the noblest of achievements. It is a far grander triumph than even to save a man's natural life. Let him remember this for his comfort in thinking of the work which he has already done, and for his encouragement in seeking to do more. It is inspiring to realize that one has plucked brands from the everlasting burning, and helped to add new jewels to Immanuel's crown. God works for this end; and as often as it is gained, there is joy in heaven in the presence of the angels. For this the apostles labored. For this the martyrs bled. For this evangelists toil. Who does not envy the life-work of men like Luther, Wesley, Whitefield, M'Cheyne, when viewed in the light of a Scripture like this? Yet there are many humble Christians who have tasted of this joy, and whose heaven shall be "two heavens," because they have "turned many to righteousness" (Daniel 12:3).
1. Let us beware of backsliding ourselves; and let us ask the Holy Spirit to "see if there be any wicked way in us."
2. Let us be concerned about our erring brethren, and labor to compass their conversion.
3. Let us take encouragement to missionary effort from the melting motive presented in this closing counsel. - C.J.
Conversion - its nature, its agency, its results.
I. ITS NATURE.
1. From falsehood to the truth. All sin implies willful self-deception. There is a way which seemeth right unto a man. Hence the reasonableness of religion; the beauty of holiness. And so conversion presupposes the working of "conviction." Yes, a man must see and feel his mistake, and recognize the truth to which he has shut his eyes, before he can rightly come to God.
2. From wrong to right. For it is not enough to be convinced of error; mere knowledge of the truth can never save. This the mistake of Socrates, identifying virtue with knowledge, and vice with ignorance. No; not merely must the conscience be convinced, but the heart must be influenced, the will must be persuaded. "From the error," truly; but "the error of his way. He has been walking in a wrong way; the way of transgression, of ungodliness. But One says, I am the Way. We must come to him, we must walk in him" (Colossians 2:6). For this is the way of holiness, the way to the Father. Conversion is never true and complete conversion till the converted one can say, "To me to live is Christ" (Philippians 1:21).
II. ITS AGENCY.
1. The power must be of God. Conversion in all its parts is ascribed ultimately to God in Scripture. Do we receive knowledge of the truth? It is because "God is light." Do we receive the truth into our hearts, and live thereby? It is because "God is love."
2. The instrumentality may be of men. May be, not must be. For God can illumine the mind which is untaught of man, and influence the will which is unmoved by man. But the rule is, employment of human means. "Go ye, and make disciples... teaching them "(Matthew 28:19). So here: "he which converteth... shall save." Our high honor; but our solemn responsibility. Yet a responsibility which we cannot shake off. How are we using it?
III. ITS RESULTS.
1. The individual result. "Save a soul from death," Death? Death of the Soul! Understanding darkened; affections corrupted and debased; will depraved; whole order of nature out of course; God gone! Think of it: such capabilities, and such a doom! Ah, this is death indeed; and from this a soul may be saved by us! Yes, recovered to light, purity, strength, goodness, God! Oh, what a joy to put our hands to such a blessed work!
2. The general result. "Cover a multitude of sins." Think of the dark blot on God's universe, the defilement of his ways, which is caused by sin. Think of the atonement of Christ, and the gift of the Spirit, God's own provision for the removal of the blot, the cleansing of the defilement. And then think of the special application of that rich provision of God's grace which we are privileged to make. The glorious result at which he aims shall be, in part at least, produced through us; that "multitude of sins" shall be done away l Yes, for our efforts, the universe shall be fairer, God's ways clearer, and the dawning of that day hastened, when "the Lord shall be to us an everlasting Light, and the days of our mourning shall be ended" (Isaiah 60:19, 20). But the result upon ourselves? The work is a sympathetic work, and its influence must therefore react upon us. Yes, we must be, or become, like what we strive to do. And so our saving love, with its included faith in God through Christ, shall wash us white (1 Peter 4:8). - T.F.L.