Do you think that the scripture said in vain, The spirit that dwells in us lusts to envy?
St. James probably meant to give the sense of Scripture, and not to quote the exact words. Scripture teaches us the truth that "the Spirit which dwelleth in us lusteth to envy," or rather, "desireth enviously."
I. The class of passages to which St. James seems to refer would include those in which God speaks of Himself as a "jealous" God, and impresses upon the minds of the Israelites the undivided nature of the worship He demanded from them. In such passages God is described as requiring the entire affections of His people. His feeling at the withdrawal of these affections from Him in any degree is spoken of as "jealousy." The meaning of the text will then be, "Do you suppose that the Scriptures mean nothing when they speak of the Spirit of God dwelling in you as requiring absolute rule in your hearts, and longing eagerly after you, even to something like envy of any other influence which is gaining the mastery over your hearts?" The word here translated "lusteth" is rendered "long after," where St. Paul says to the Philippians, "God is my record how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ."
II. This meaning of the text will be found, I think, to harmonise with the context. He asks, "Know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God?" and adds, "whosoever, therefore, will be" — lays himself out to be — "the friend of the world is the enemy of God." You must choose between the two. "Ye cannot serve God and Mammon." "Do you think that the Scriptures speak to no purpose when they tell you that God requires your heart in a way which can only be described by saying that His Spirit longeth after you with enviousness and jealousy?"
III. This same view of religion is, as you know, continully brought before us in Scripture. Our Lord tells us that "no man can serve two masters." With a view to testing this singleness of heart in those who desire to be His followers He gave to different persons different commands. He desired one who wished to be with Him to go home to his own house. He called upon the young man who had great possessions to abandon them and follow Him. This unreserved surrender of self to Him was the "one thing needful." Different courses of conduct would test the "willingness" of different persons according as their circumstances or dispositions were different; but in all His disciples the same readiness was necessary in the days when tie walked this earth. In all His disciples the same disposition is necessary now. The design of the gospel is not to set us free on the earth to do as we please; but to place us in our true position as adopted children of God — to turn the heart wholly to Him so that we should not merely have His law written for us as something outside us and hostile to us — as a set of rules for slaves and bondsmen — but written by His Holy Spirit in the fleshy tables of our hearts, as the directions to which our renewed affections would turn with delight.
IV. Nor indeed would any other view of the claims and operation of the Holy Spirit be at all consistent with what we observe of all ruling influences in our minds. We all have some predominant desire or tendency which brings into subjection our other desires and tendencies, and to which they yield. This ruling principle exerts an influence upon everything we do; our other tendencies, as it were, group themselves around it, receive its instructions, and do its bidding. Everything is viewed through it as a medium. You all know what this is. And if any one of you has taken the trouble to ascertain what is, in your own case, the ruling tendency of your mind, you will know that it is a jealous tendency — that it "lusteth or longeth after you enviously."
V. Now if the love of God — a looking to the things not seen — if holiness be our character, we must expect the Holy Spirit to exert such an influence over us as we know other powers to exert over those upon whose characters we decide by our knowledge of their ruling disposition. We must expect the indwelling Spirit to desire no rivalry — to be satisfied with nothing short of "bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ." But what is wonderful is, that persons coming to Church and receiving the Bible — persons who are shocked at open wickedness, and who fancy themselves shocked at it because it is spoken against in God's Word — what is wonderful, I say, is that such persons can pass over as idle words these assertions of the nature of the Spirit's claim on their whole heart, in the practical recognition of which consists that "holiness without which no man shall see the Lord." Of course a view of religion so fundamentally wrong as to ignore this high notion of the yearning and jealous love of God for those in whom He vouchsafes to dwell would necessarily taint and nullify every supposed religious act of him who, in spite of Scripture, resolved to entertain it. But it is in the particular act of prayer that St. James in the passage before us asserts its ruinous tendency. Let us, then, in conclusion, see how it operates to render prayer ineffectual, and to make what ought to be our solemn service an abomination unto the Lord. Prayer may be viewed in either of two ways.
1. It is a means by which God has appointed that we shall receive that continual supply of grace and strength which is essential to the support of our spiritual life. It is thus a source of benefit and blessing for present use. Besides this, the act of prayer is —
2. In itself a training for that higher and more enduring communion with Him which we hope one day to enjoy in His Kingdom. No man prays to any purpose except he prays with a sincere wish — a wish far beyond all other wishes — that God would make him better; that God would do this — do it from the moment the prayer is uttered — and do it evermore unto the end. This must be the sincere and heartfelt longing of every one who hopes to "receive anything of the Lord." This is precisely what, from the nature of the case, the man who is "double-minded" cannot have.
(J. C. Coghlan, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?
WEB: Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, "The Spirit who lives in us yearns jealously"?