James 1:1

James, in the opening sentence of his letter, "wisheth joy" to the Christian Jews who were scattered over the Roman world (ver. 1). He knew that they were environed with adversity; they suffered from the persecution of the heathen, and from the upbraidings of their unbelieving countrymen. Yet his loving, sympathetic heart wishes them joy even in all time of their tribulation.

I. THE CHRISTIAN SHOULD REJOICE AMIDST TRIALS. (Ver. 2.) It was natural that the readers of the Epistle, when they received this counsel, should ask how they could reasonably be expected to do so.

1. This is possible. Only, however, to the Christian. The worldly-minded man will regard such a suggestion as unnatural, and indeed unintelligible. The Stoic, when plunged into adversity, can at best only school himself to submit to inevitable fate. The Epicurean becomes quite helpless in presence of calamity. Only the man who holds the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ possesses the alchemy by which sorrow may be turned into joy.

2. It is dutiful. To rejoice amidst trials is in the line of all Christian knowledge and faith and hope. The believer knows that God is his Father, and that he "pitieth his children." He is sure that God's arrangements for him must be absolutely the best. He is persuaded that, although God chastises his sons, he has still the heart of a Father. Not only do tribulation and distress not separate the believer from the Divine love; they work for him "more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory." So it belongs to the afflicted Christian to adorn in his own experience this paradox of the renewed life - "Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing."

3. It is often exemplified. Only, however, in the most exalted ranks of the peerage of faith. Moses "accounted the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt." Paul sang hymns to God in the prison of Philippi, although his feet were fast in the stocks. The apostles "rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for Christ's name." Latimer closed his brave career at the stake with the famous words, "Be of good comfort, Master Ridley." Bunyan lay for twelve years in an execrable prison, but he made his cell the vestibule of heaven. Dr. Arnold could say, between the paroxysms of angina pectoris, "Thank God for pain." And from thousands of death-beds, of which the world has never heard, there has gone forth the testimony of God's hidden ones: "We glory in tribulations also."

II. THE REASONS FOR SUCH REJOICING. These may be reckoned. Vers. 3 and 4 supply a basis of judgment.

1. Trial promotes self-knowledge. It is "the proof of your faith" (ver. 3). It tests the reality and the strength of character. The person who stands on the deck of a sinking ship will learn, if he did not know it before, whether he is a hero or a coward. Affliction shows a man "all that is in his heart." The strain caused by some unexpected calamity may reveal defects of character which he would not otherwise discover, or possibilities of holy attainment about which he might never have dreamed.

2. It develops patience. (Ver. 3.) James, throughout his Epistle, exalts and inculcates this grace. His word for it here means "persevering endurance." Christian patience is not the submission of indifference, or merely the determination of an obstinate will; it is inspired by living piety, and is therefore full of intelligence and manliness. Patience consists in the holding still of some parts of our nature in calm waiting upon the Divine will, in order that other parts may be exercised and educated. The apostle's words show that he regards this grace of endurance as inexpressibly precious. He looks upon its possessor as in the truest sense a wise and wealthy man. The man who uses every fresh trial in such a way as only to increase his power of holy endurance is unspeakably a gainer by his calamities, and should receive the congratulations ("greeting") of his brethren rather than their sympathy.

3. It contributes to moral perfection. (Ver. 4.) This is the end which God has in view in all his dealings with his people. He wants them to be "perfect and entire;" that is, complete and all-accomplished in spiritual culture. Now, the habit of persevering and joyful endurance conduces to the maturity and the symmetry of the soul. Sanctified trial educates. Some of the most refined Christian virtues - such, e.g., as resignation and sympathy-can be acquired only in connection with affliction. A delicately balanced Christian spirit is not the outcome of a smooth and unruffled life. life character can approximate in finish to the ideal standard which does not "come out of the great tribulation," and which is not made "perfect through sufferings." This thought is emphasized everywhere in the New Testament, from the Gospels to the Apocalypse. It has interpenetrated all literature. Our life must be "battered with the shocks of doom, to shape and use." "'Tis sorrow builds the shining ladder up," on which our souls climb nearer God. Notice in conclusion:

1. While it is positively unchristian to murmur amid trials, the model Christian frame is not mere submission.

2. It is very comforting to the believer to know that his crosses are sent to promote his perfection.

3. The child of God has here a crucial test of the measure of his spiritual attainment. - C.J.

James, a servant of God.
This Epistle, although Luther stigmatised it as "an epistle of straw," has many claims on our regard. It is the first Christian document that was given to the world, the earliest of all the New Testament Scriptures: It is more like the writings of the Old Testament than any other contained, in the New, and forms a natural transition from the one to the other. To St. James the gospel of Christ was simply the true Judaism, Judaism fulfilled and transfigured. It was the law of Moses, which St. Paul called "the law of bondage," transformed into "the law of liberty." it was the beautiful consummate flower of which the old economy was the bud, the perfect day of which that was the dawn. The first special claim of the Epistle is, then, that it presents us with the earliest view of the truth as it is in Jesus which obtained in the Christian Church; and the second is, that it was written by that "brother of the Lord" who was the first bishop, i.e., the first chief pastor, of the first Christian Church, viz., the Church of Jerusalem. And this "James the brother of the Lord" had much, not of the mind only, but of the very manner of the Lord. The style of St. James is precisely that of his Divine "Brother" plain, simple, direct, pungent, and yet instinct with poetic imagination. The Epistle opens, as most of the apostolic letters open, by announcing the names of the writer and of the persons to whom it was addressed: "James... to the Dispersion." This was the ancient epistolary style in private as well as in public correspondence. We have many instances of it in the New Testament, as, for instance, in Acts 23:26, "Claudius Lysias to the most excellent governor Felix." "James" had a history, and so had "the Dispersion"; and by his history he was marked out as the very man to write to the Jews who were scattered abroad. James was a Jew at heart to the day of his death, though he was also a Christian apostle. Who, then, so suitable as he to instruct men who, though Jews by birth and training and habit, had nevertheless embraced the Christian faith? After the death and resurrection of Christ he became the bishop and pillar of the Church in Jerusalem — a Church which was as much Hebrew as Christian; a Church which shook its head doubtfully when it heard that Gentiles also were being baptized; a Church from which there went forth the Judaisers who dogged St. Paul's steps wherever he went, hindered his work, and kindled a tumult of grief and indignation in his heart. And these Judaisers carried with them" letters of commendation" from St. James, and were for ever citing the authority of "the Lord's brethren" against that of St. Paul. It may be doubted whether he ever really approved the generous course St. Paul took. It is quite certain that, to the end of his life, he was as sincerely a Jew as he was a Christian. Till he was put to death by them, the Jews, the very Pharisees of Jerusalem respected and honoured him, although they hunted many of the Christians, and especially their leaders, to prison and the grave. Writing soon after James had passed away, an ecclesiastical historian tells us that he was holy from his mother's womb. He drank no wine nor strong drink, and no razor ever came on his head. He alone was allowed to go into the holy place of the temple, the shrine sacred to the priests, he was so long and often on his knees that they grew hard like a camel's. When a religious crisis arose, and the Pharisees heard that many were going astray after Jesus, they came to James of all men — the brother of Jesus and the bishop of the Church! — to beg that he would recall the people from their errors, so entirely did they regard him as one of themselves. On the feast-day they placed him on the front of the temple, and adjured him to tell the multitude, since many had gone astray after Jesus, what the true way of salvation was. They were thunderstruck when he gave testimony to the Son of Man as the Lord and Christ foretold by the prophets; but, as soon as they could believe for wonder, they rushed upon him, crying, "Woe! woe! Even the Just One is deceived!" They cast him down from the temple, and beat out his brains with a club. His testimony to Jesus as the Christ can hardly have been very zealous if the Pharisees regarded him as one of themselves, and put him forward to speak against the Son of Man. The fact seems to be that he never regarded Jesus as more than the Jewish Messiah, or the gospel as more than the fulfilling of the law. He did not see that, when a law is fulfilled, it gives place to a higher law. But whatever the defects we may discover in St. James, it is obvious that these very defects adapted him to be an apostle to the Jews. He may have quietly won many to the faith whom a man of a more catholic spirit would have alienated. At least he could help to make the men of Jerusalem better Jews; and that, after all, was the most likely way to make them Christians. But what sort of Jews were those to whom this letter was addressed — the Jews of "the Dispersion"? — and wherein did they differ from the Jews of Jerusalem? When the Jews returned from their captivity in Babylon they left behind them the great bulk of their race. Only a few poor thousands returned; hundreds of thousands preferred to remain in the lands in which they had been settled by their conquerors. As they multiplied and prospered they spread, until they were found in most of the great centres of commerce and learning in the ancient world. So, too, the Jews who had returned to Judaea also multiplied and grew, till the land became too strait for them. Their fathers had been farmers and wine-growers, each tilling his own acres or dressing his own vines. But the sons were compelled by their growing numbers to build cities and to embark in manufacture and traffic. Meanwhile the great heathen empires — Persian, Syrian, Egyptian, Greek, Roman — had thrown the whole world open to them; and of this opening they were quick to avail themselves. It was inevitable that travel and intercourse with many men of many races should widen their thoughts. They could not encounter so many new influences without being affected by them. The influence they most commonly met, and to which they yielded most, was that of Greek thought and culture. Though they retained the faith and the Scriptures of Moses, they read them in a more philosophical and cosmopolitan spirit. Now, if we picture these foreign Jews to ourselves — these "twelve tribes in the Dispersion," as St. James calls them, just as we might speak of "the greater Britain beyond the sea" — if we picture to ourselves these men, far from the land of their fathers, dwelling in busy, populous cities, where they were compelled to hold daily intercourse with men of other creeds and customs than their own, where, so to speak, a larger, freer current of air tended to disperse the mists of local or racial prejudice, we shall readily understand that they were more accessible to new ideas, and especially to any new ideas which came to them from the land of their fathers, than their brethren who remained at home breathing the loaded atmosphere of their ancient city, into which the movements of the outside world could seldom penetrate. The Christian ideas, the good news that He was come for whom their fathers had looked, would be more impartially weighed by these Hellenised and foreign Jews than by the priests and Pharisees who dwelt under the shadow of the temple, and felt that, if Jesus should increase, they must decrease. Nor would the catholicity of the Christian faith, its appeal to men of every race, be so offensive to the tribes of the Dispersion as to the Jews of Judaea.

(S. Cox, D. D.)

I. A MINISTRY CONSCIOUSLY AUTHORISED BY GOD. The pledge of our soldiership, the credentials of our ambassage, are to be found chiefly within us, not without and around,

II. MINISTRY AFFECTIONATELY ADDRESSED TO ALL. The true ministry never seeks to limit its love to one Church, or to square its sympathies to one sect. No scattering, either of denomination or distance, hinders the desire that all may be taught, comforted, sanctified, saved.

III. A MINISTRY OCCASIONALLY WROUGHT BY WRITING. Some things are noticeable about the ministry of writing as compared with that of speech.

1. It is wider in its scope.

2. It is more permanent in its form.

3. It is frequently more easily discharged. Parents, friends, all who write to dear and most distant ones, can discharge a ministry thus.

(U. R. Thomas.)

The world is full of servants of one kind and another.

1. Many are servants through the force of their worldly position.

2. Through the weakness of their intellectual and moral natures.

3. Through the dominant force of an evil passion.

4. Through their effort to pursue a Christly method of life.By striving to bring our daily life into conformity with the Saviour's, by endeavouring to become pure in our nature, spiritual in our ideas, reverent in our dispositions, and unselfish in our activities, we enter upon the highest service of which a human soul is capable.


1. It is a service dedicated to God.

2. It is a service dedicated to the only Saviour of mankind: "And of the Lord Jesus Christ."

3. This service requires the divinest attitudes and truest activities of our moral nature. It must be —

(1)Sincere in its motives.

(2)Pure in its effort.

(3)Willing in its obedience.

(4)Eternal in its duration. The moral relationships of the soul are deeper and more enduring than any other.

4. This service confers the highest dignity upon the moral nature of man.

5. This service presses itself upon our moral nature with the most emphatic claims.

(1)That God is our Creator.

(2)That Christ is our Saviour.


1. James recognises the sorrowful condition and painful circumstances of those to whom he wrote.

2. The service of James was rendered effective by the ministry of the pen,



1. It is jubilant because united to the highest source of joy and hope.

2. Because it has to console the world's sorrow.

3. Are we all engaged in this service?

(Joseph S. Exell, M. A.)

Men are the servants of God either generally or particularly. Generally, they are all the servants of Jesus Christ whosoever profess His religion and promise their service unto Him in the general calling of a Christian. Specially, they are called the servants of God and of Christ who in some chief calling do homage unto God and promote His kingdom. So princes in commonwealths, preachers and ministers in the Church of Christ, are servants of God and of Christ in special service. It we were princes, prelates, angels, yet this is the height of all glory, to rejoice in the service of Christ. Who are we, and what are our fathers' houses, who can imagine greater glory than to be servants unto Christ?

1. Now, this name of servant must teach us humility, that we submit ourselves to Christ, whose servants we are, and for His sake and by His example to serve one another, whereunto He exhorteth (Matthew 20:25-27); whereunto His example in washing His disciples' feet serveth (John 13:4-7, 10, 17). Submit yourselves one to another, deck yourselves inwardly in lowliness of mind, for God resisteth the proud and giveth grace to the humble. Hereof our profession and calling putteth us in remembrance, who are servants by calling, to serve God in spirit and truth, and to serve one another in the fear of God.

2. By our service we are furthermore taught what we owe unto Christ Jesus our Lord, even all service, which is the end of our redemption and cleansing by Christ from our sins (Luke 1:74, 75). Let us, then, in the fear of God, confess Him with our mouths, praise Him with our tongues, believe Him with our hearts, glorify Him in our works, and in all things serve Him as it becometh us; for —

(1)He hath made us, and not we ourselves;

(2)He hath redeemed us, not with corruptible things, as silver and gold, but by His own blood;

(3)He sayeth us from death and delivereth us from peril and trouble;

(4)He advanceth us to glory.

3. Servants ought to imitate such virtues as they find to shine in their masters. We are the servants of Christ; we are bound, therefore, to imitate His meekness, patience, humility, love, long-sufferance, liberality, kindness, forgiveness of offences, and the like virtues, which shone in the whole life of Jesus Christ.

4. Servants must attend upon their masters' will, wait their leisures, rely upon their care for them, seek all necessaries at their hands; so we, the servants of Christ, must do His will in all things, wait His leisure patiently for our deliverance, depend upon His provided care, and in all our necessities have recourse to Him by prayer.

5. That St. James entitleth himself the "servant of Christ," he doth not only intimate that he was the servant, the minister and ambassador of Jesus Christ, the Prince of all the princes of the earth, but also giveth us to understand how carefully he had executed that office unto him committed; and if we diligent]y peruse the writings of the apostles we shall find them no less, in consideration of their faithfulness, in performing their duties, than in regard of their high callings, to have termed themselves the servants of Christ.

6. In that he calleth himself the "servant of Christ" he teacheth us that as many as will be the true servants of Christ must addict themselves wholly unto His service, because no man can serve two masters, God and Mammon, Christ and Belial.

7. That he professeth in open writing that he was the servant of Jesus Christ, and that in those dangerous days when wickedness flourished and Christian religion was persecuted: it teacheth God's saints that they must never be ashamed to confess Jesus Christ.

(R. Turnbull.)

James is not only God's servant by the right of creation and providence, but Christ's servant by the right of redemption; yea, especially deputed by Christ as Lord, that is, as mediator and head of the Church, to do Him service in the way of an apostle; and I suppose there is some special reason for this disjunction, "a servant of God and of Christ," to show his countrymen that in serving Christ he served the God of his fathers, as Paul pleaded (Acts 26:6, 7), that in standing for Christ he did but stand for "the hope of the promise made unto the fathers, unto which promise the twelve tribes, serving God day and night, hope to come."

(T. Manton.)

James, the Lord's kinsman, calls himself the Lord's" servant." Inward privileges are the best and most honourable, and spiritual kin is to be preferred before carnal.

(T. Manton.)

1. The truest relation to Christ is founded in grace, and we are far happier in receiving Him by faith than in touching Him by blood; and he that endeavours to do His will may be as sure of Christ's love as if he were linked to Him by the nearest outward relations.

2. It is no dishonour to the highest to be Christ's servant. James, whom Paul calls "a pillar," calls himself "a servant of Christ"; and David, a king, says (Psalm 84:10).

3. The highest in repute and office in the Church yet are still but servants.

4. In all services we must honour the Father and the Son also (John 5:23). Do duties so as you may honour Christ in them; and so —(1) Look for their acceptance in Christ. Oh! it would be sad if we were only to look to God the Father in duties. But now it is said that "in Christ we have access with boldness and confidence" (Ephesians 3:12), for in Him those attributes which are in themselves terrible become comfortable; as water, which is salt in the ocean, being strained through the earth, becometh sweet in the rivers, that in God which, out of Christ, striketh terror into the soul, in Christ begets a confidence.(2) Look for your assistance from Him. You serve God in Christ —

(a)When you serve God through Christ (Philippians 4:13).

(b)When you have an eye to the concernments of Christ in all your service of God (2 Corinthians 5:15).

(c)When all is done for Christ's sake (2 Corinthians 5:14).

(T. Manton.)

He makes no mention of his apostleship. The explanation may be that it was not called in question, and so did not require to be vindicated or asserted. This title may have been a kind of official designation, indicative, not only of his personal character, but also of his ministerial calling, or it may simply have been expressive of his devotion to the work and will of God in common with all His true people. In either case it was of a simple, unassuming description. He comes down to a level with the rest of his brethren. He claims no distinction but what the whole of them, in substance, possess (Psalm 116:16). And yet, while in this respect low, in another how high the title here taken! We never can get beyond it; no, not in a state of glory — not when at the perfection of our being. No creature, not even the archangel nearest the throne, can climb higher; nor does he desire. It is said of the redeemed inhabitants of the new Jerusalem, "His servants shall serve Him." "And of the Lord Jesus Christ." Here comes in the distinctively Christian element. The Old Testament saints might be, and often were, honoured by being called "the servants of God." James had much of the spirit which animated these ancestral worthies. In his character and habits he resembled one of the ancient priests or prophets. But by what he thus added he marked out himself and his fellow-disciples from all who preceded. The two parts were perfectly consistent, the two masters but one in reality.

(John Adam.)

This title conveys more than the general notion of one who believes in and obeys God and the Lord Jesus Christ. The call he had received, the mission and special field of labour assigned him, are also embodied in the term. It is equivalent to the "servant of the Lord" of the Old Testament, a designation with which only a few of the members of the Hebrew Church were honoured, who were raised up by God for some specific work: the founding of a covenant, as in the case of Abraham and Moses: the inaugurating of some step in advance, or the introduction of some new phase or development of the system, as in the case of Joshua, David, and Zerubbabel. Thus St. James had a special service entrusted to him, which appears in this very Epistle to have been to make an appeal to a particular section of his brethren.

(F. T. Basett, M. A.)

If any modern teacher were to sign himself "a servant of God and of Calvin," or "of Arminius," should we not shrink as from a wanton blasphemy, and charge him with having spoken of a mere man as though he were "the fellow of the Lord of hosts"? Judge, then, what James meant when ha described.himself as equally bound to the service of Jesus and of God.

(S. Cox, D. D.)

Scattered abroad.
What scattering or dispersion is here intended?

1. Either that which was occasioned by their ancient captivities, and the frequent changes of nations, for so there were some Jews that still lived abroad, supposed to be intended in that expression, "Will he go to the dispersed among the Gentiles?" (John 7:35). Or —

2. More lately by the persecution spoken of in the eighth of the Acts. Or —

3. By the hatred of Claudius, who commanded all the Jews to depart from Rome (Acts 18:2). And it is probable that the like was done in other great cities. The Jews, and amongst them the Christians, being everywhere cast out, as John out of Ephesus, and others out of Alexandria. Or —

4. Some voluntary dispersion, the Hebrews living here and there among the Gentiles a little before the declension and ruin of their state, some in Cilicia, some in Pontus, &c.

(T. Manton.)

God looks after His afflicted servants: He moveth James to write to the scattered tribes: the care of heaven flourisheth towards you when you wither.

(T. Manton.)

James had in view Jews, not simply as such, but as Christians; that is, believers of his own nation. They were his special charge; and that it was to them he now wrote, is evident from the nature and design of the Epistle. They were the true Israel. They were the seed of Abraham, not after the flesh only, but also after the Spirit. They were the proper representatives of the holy nation; and as such may have been indicated by the language here used. While they were directly addressed, the Gentile converts were not excluded, for they formed with them one Church and community. Nor did the apostle fail to make most pointed references to the state of things among their antichristian brethren — a state of things by which they were more or less injuriously affected. Their outward condition, as thus scattered abroad, was a kind of reflection of the spiritual condition of God's people in all lands and ages. They are strangers and sojourners on the earth; they are wanderers, wayfarers, at a distance from home, and engaged in seeking a country. They are citizens of heaven; their Father's house and native land are there; their inheritance and their hearts are not below, but above. Their present state is one of dispersion.

(John Adam.)

The pilgrim troops of the law became caravans of the gospel.

(C. Wordsworth.)

When Hebrew met Hebrew, the one saluted the other with "Peace to you"; for they had learned that the real blessedness of life was to be at peace with all the world, themselves, and God. But when Greek met Greek, the one saluted the other with "Joy to you," the Greeks being lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of peace. Of course, when they used this salutation, they did not always recognise its full meaning, any more than we, when we say, "Good-bye," always remember that the word means, that it is a contraction of, "God be with you" But St. James both compels his readers to think of its meaning, by continuing, "Count it all joy when ye fall into manifold trials," and at once proceeds to put a higher, a Christian, meaning into the heathen salutation. His joy, the joy he wishes them, is not that pleasant exhilaration which results from gratified senses or tastes of which the Greeks were conscious when things went to their mind; nor that heightened and happy consciousness of the sweetness of life which they held to be the supreme good. It was rather the "peace" for which the Hebrew sighed; bat that peace intensified into a Divine gladness, elevated into a pure and sacred delight. It was the joy which springs from being restored to our true relations to God and man, from having all the conflicting passions, powers, and aims of the soul drawn into a happy accord. It was that fine spiritual essence which radiates new vigour and delight through all the faculties and affections of nature when we stay ourselves no longer on the changeful phenomena of time, but on the sacred and august realities of eternity. A peace all shot through and through with the rich exhilarating hues of gladness, this was the "joy" which St. James invoked on the twelve tribes of the Dispersion.

(S. Cox, D. D.)

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