The Catholic Epistles.

The Epistle of James.

Scope and Divisions of the Epistle of James.

The epistle now before us has a character which makes it unique in the New Testament. It is an epistle distinctly to the twelve tribes as such; and although it is perfectly clear, as even in the opening words, that James speaks as a "servant of the Lord Jesus Christ," and that he is writing for those who have the faith of the Lord Jesus, still we find in his epistle the evidence of that condition of things which we know in fact obtained for long at Jerusalem among a people converted to Christ, and yet all of them zealous of the law. The Gentiles had, as we know, been acknowledged as having, while remaining such, the blessing of the gospel; but the maintenance of the law necessarily maintains still a distinction, in some degree at least, such as will obtain in that millennial kingdom for which we look. There, all will be believers in a common Lord; yet, nevertheless, Israel's pre-eminence will be manifest as the special people of God. The epistle to the Hebrews, one would say, could not have been written as yet, and there is no exhortation whatever to go outside the camp; on the contrary, the mention of the synagogue would seem to imply — if we do not consider the use of the word a mere adaptation to the Christian assembly — that they met still in common with others of Israel. It was truly a synagogue, a gathering together, and yet not properly an ecclesia (assembly), a "gathering out." The exhortations as to the rich are in the same line with this. They can hardly be addresses to those who were distinctly believers in the Lord Jesus, and yet they agree perfectly with the character of a letter to the twelve tribes that are of the dispersion. This character of the epistle it would be wrong to overlook, as it surely has its instruction for us, and we can understand how in this connection its character should be that of practical exhortation, rather than of doctrine. James as we know dwells upon practice, upon the conduct flowing from faith, the works by which faith is made perfect. The epistle may thus fairly be said to exhibit its character in that part of it which has been, perhaps, most dwelt upon, — certainly most contended about, — his peculiar doctrine of justification by faith. Paul has already left room for this, so that there is no possible collision. He has taken up the same example of Abraham which James adduces, but in order to say, "If Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory." Does he deny, then, that he was justified by works? No, surely, but he adds, as a corrective of any wrong thought from this, "But not before God." Justification before God is not James' theme, then. It is a justification of the believer by his faith, for which that faith has to be seen in the fruits that prove it living, but prove it, therefore, clearly to man, but not to God. This, of course, remains to be considered when we take it up in the epistle. It plainly is in accordance with the whole character of it. The works must be works of faith. They are not merely what men call "good works." They must not lack this element of faith in them and this he shows us, for example, in the behavior of those who, in the synagogue, put the poor man in a good place, as recognizing where true glory is in Him who was the Lord of glory.

So, at the beginning of the epistle, the various trials in which they are to rejoice is but the proving of a faith which worketh patience and if this faith wrought patience, if it had perfect work, then they were "perfect and entire, lacking in nothing." Thus, too, while the brother of low degree glories in the exaltation which the gospel of Christ has brought him, the rich, on the other hand, with his eyes upon the unseen, is to glory rather in his humiliation, recognizing the temporary character of all human things. The word by which God has begotten to a new life is that which they are to receive with meekness, — the engrafted word, — and thus to be doers of it, and not mere hearers, deceiving their own selves. Thus faith is no less in James' estimation than in Paul's, although it may be set before us in a different way.

The divisions are:
1. (James 1.) The power of faith.
2. (James 2:1-13.) "Against such there is no law."
3. (James 2:14-26.) The manifestation of faith by works.
4. (James 3, 4.) The walk through the world.
5. (James 5.) The end and conditions of the way.

Notes.

Division 1. (James 1.)

The power of faith.

In the epistle to the twelve tribes it is remarkable, and cannot be without its meaning, that the writer should be James, or Jacob, as the word is. It is the letter of a New Testament Jacob, who has learned the lesson, in fact, which Jacob in his day was so slow to learn, but which was the lesson of his life — the lesson which turned him from a Jacob into Israel, "a prince with God." But what was that lesson? It was the lesson contained in the word "Bethel," "the house of God;" God seen in it in His desire to come near to man, yea, to have an abiding place with him. The door of the house is open to him in vision, and a ladder let down, upon which the angels ascend and descend in the exercise of gracious ministry. There is not, of course, the nearness which we apprehend in the house of God. It is but the rudimentary idea of it; and upon Jacob's spirit there is the awe of it, rather than any sense of nearness; yet he says, "If God will be with me," and promises that he will set up God's house for Him, which, in fact, however little the manner of it might be in Jacob's thought, man was to do. But what Jacob has to realize is the ways that become this house. He is, alas, Jacob still. His footing with God he would fain put on the ground of a bargain, a coarse idea of what was to come afterwards for his descendants — the legal covenant. Yet the true thought of holiness such as becomes God's house is scarcely in his mind at all. He is still Jacob "the supplanter," or "heel-catcher," one who lays hold with his hand for his own advantage, with small scruple. He has to suffer long the consequences of this. Even when he seeks God's blessing, as we know he did seek, yet the grasp of the hand is seen. He cannot trust God to give. He bargains keenly with his careless brother, as afterwards he bargains with Laban also for his daughter, and gets overreached in it. When he comes back into th land, he is to meet the consequences of his early wrong-doing. He bows before his "lord Esau," whom he would conciliate with a gift. But for God to meet him, there must be, first of all, what we find in Peniel, where the wrestling is at last not on his side, but on God's, although he can wrestle sufficiently in withstanding God to find himself, to his cost, with a dislocated thigh. Even so, it is a way of blessing. The wrestler can now only cling, but it is just as he learns how to cling and not to wrestle, — that is, the way of faith instead of the way of works, — his blessing comes.

James has learnt the lesson. It is faith that he upholds ever. He joys in that humiliation in which, whatever the trial of it, he is cast upon God and finds Him for his need. He has learnt that God "giveth to all liberally and upbraideth not," and thus to ask that it shall be given him. Is it not all through just the creature taking his true place with God; and therefore, because God is good, finding the blessing of it? Here faith is fruitful indeed, and finds its recompense.

1. James then writes as "the bondman of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ to the twelve tribes that are of the dispersion, greeting." It is the salutation which we find in the letter from Jerusalem with regard to the question of law to the Gentiles, and we have no wishing them grace and peace, according to the customary form with Paul, and also with Peter. Grace is indeed mentioned but twice in the epistle. It is practical conduct, evidently, that is in question all through, and not even the springs of conduct; for faith gives us hardly that. Faith is the channel, and not the spring. Grace is the spring, and only that. But he is writing to those who, as the twelve tribes of the dispersion, are showing how God has been wrestling with them, and He would show them now the way of blessing from it. They are to account it all joy when they fall into various temptations, knowing that the proving of their faith worketh patience. This is what it always means, this working of God with His own, which is but to bring out the faith in which He delights, and to produce in them that subjection to His hand and will which is all that is needed for blessing. "Let patience have its perfect work," then we are "perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." How blessed an assurance is this! and yet how hard we find it often — the exercise of this patience — which detects in us too that element of distrust which makes the hardness of it! Perfect apprehension of the Father's cup will make us ask with the perfect Example, who needed no putting down for exaltation, "The cup which My Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it?" That question is unanswerable when once we know this Father, and that He is ours.

"Perfect and complete, lacking in nothing" — how wonderful an assurance it is, and how simple it seems, the way to it! It is simplicity itself; but the trouble is, we are not simple. How short a creed is involved in it! — nothing but the most simple and evident orthodoxy! God is almighty, all-wise, all-good; and God is for us. What must be the issue of that?

2. The blessedness of prayer comes in naturally as a corollary to this, and the thing that above all we lack, in that exercise of patience of which the apostle has just spoken, is evidently wisdom. If God's will is all, the great point is to know His will. And for this we want, not simply knowledge as to this matter or that matter, but wisdom — the power to apply the truth we have, so as to see how God is working, to discern His ways. Little for us, indeed, is there to do when we are in the presence of God, although it may please Him in His grace to put something into our hands; and then, of course, it is a joy to have the privilege of serving Him in it. But the first thing for all this is guidance, that wisdom which is not always either the conscious application of this or that principle, but which becomes to one habituated to it almost an instinct, as we may say; although, indeed, it has a far higher character than this; and sometimes, too, the wisdom is really unconscious altogether. We do better than we know just because we are given up into the hands of this higher Wisdom to work through us. God would not make machinery of us. He uses heart, mind, everything for Himself — uses us according to our nature, never loses sight of that nature which He has given us; but then it pertains just to this wisdom to realize creature nothingness, and that God's ways, after all, are not discerned everywhere — that they are too wonderful for us, and that the greatest possible wisdom is often that of just committing ourselves into His hands, assured that we have His guidance because we seek His guidance, and He cannot disappoint the faith that counts on Him.

This may have its counterfeit, it is true, and we must realize that. How easy it is just to get upon our knees and ask God to lead us, and then follow our hasty impulses after all! Who shall save us from the mistaking one of those things for the other? How can we give an answer to this? It is in the sanctuary that we must learn it. It is in drawing near to God, there, where the pride of man is humbled and the impulses of nature find complete control. There is no absolute rule by which we can discern what wisdom is. We are to ask God "who giveth to all liberally and upbraideth not, and it shall be given" us. In inspiration we cannot but remember how prophets spoke more wisely than they knew, so that they had to look at their own prophecies to find that which was in them, which they had not discovered; and such may be with us the far-reaching result of our actions that, if led of Him, we shall find that we have acted much better than we knew. He "giveth liberally." There is in such grace as this of which we are speaking a largeness and breadth which show it to be divine; and thus the simplest, poorest child of God, the one most consciously ignorant, just in the consciousness of that ignorance may both act and speak so of the ability that God giveth that the highest wisdom amongst men shall not come near it for the excellence that is in it; and true faith is just of this character, that it makes God all, and draws thus out of the full fountain, never seeking it in vain.

Thus the apostle insists upon it here that he who asks should "ask in faith, nothing doubting." Is it hard to do that? We are told immediately how it is that it is hard — whence the doubt comes. "He that doubteth is like a wave of the sea, driven of the wind and tossed" — open to the influences of things around, which the eye contemplates the moment God is not before it. The apostle is very emphatic here. Let not that man think that he shall receive anything from the Lord." But of what is he speaking? Not of the exercises that an honest soul may have in discerning what the way of the Lord is, but the instability which results from a double mind, the strife of our own wills with God's will, the desire to have Him act according to our mind instead of desiring to act according to His mind. It is plain that we are not in the way to get wisdom so. Yet how much of our prayer is often just this kind of strife with God! and how often there is a thought that if we had only energy of faith in this way, we might really in some sense bend Him to our will! But that would be no blessedness. His will is that which is perfect. To call ours "imperfect" would be to put honor on it.

No doubt there are things which God is indeed ready to give, which yet He waits for us to have faith in Him about, and He may keep us waiting until we have more the faith that honors Him; but this is a different matter altogether. If we ask wisdom, how can He deny us? But if that means wisdom to carry out some self-devised way or plan, the wisdom that He gives, if we are in earnest, must be wisdom to abandon it. Thus it is as the Lord has said: "If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done for you." There is where our will is such a grand success, when His words abide in us, when they mold and govern us, when they are that upon which we live, and thus become the very sap and substance of our thoughts. Then, indeed, shall we know what the power of prayer is; and Jacob's power with the angel, when he prevailed, was the power he found after his own strength was broken down, and there was but the clinging to God for blessing — blessing in which He always delights, and which He cannot deny us.

3. Now we have the place in which this puts us morally. The brother of low degree glories in his exaltation. The gospel fills up the valleys as surely as it levels the mountains. This exaltation is not for a moment and to pass away, while the earthly things that exalt men necessarily pass. Thus the rich, if he be indeed the possessor of faith, glories in his humiliation — in that mercy of God which has made him conscious of the transitoriness of all here, so that in the very things he has he is but Another's steward. For him, also, there has been a higher exaltation, which makes him content that the other should pass, as pass he knows it will. If the things do not die, we die out of them; and how quickly the comeliness passes even from that which still exists! There is but one unfading inheritance where all is eternally as fresh as at the beginning. This is faith's realization, and for it that which passes has thus the stamp of vanity upon it at all times.

4. But there are trials that come from these various conditions of life through which we pass. The poor man may find his poverty a trial; and he has a nature still within him which may easily feel the solicitation of things around; but the temptation has its own part under the hand of God, in giving him, in his endurance of it, that "crown of life which the Lord hath promised to them that love Him." He may have lost his life, as the Lord expresses it, in this world, but he shall keep it unto life eternal, and find it there in what triumphant fashion — "shall reign in life," as the apostle has taught us to say!

But then, as to the solicitation, there is a careful guard here. When a man is tempted, he must not say, "I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil things, and Himself tempteth no one with evil." The trial of faith is a very different thing. The devil solicits with evil; but then he finds in us that which he counts upon as being ready to yield to the temptation; and, in fact, any one is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own lust. This is the only thing that can make him accessible. God is over all in the way of permitting the external solicitation, but the internal is of man himself. There, he is master of himself, and thus responsible for the issue ever being against him. Here, that which begins in pleasure ends naturally in death. "Lust, when it hath conceived, bringeth forth sin; and sin, when it is completed, bringeth forth death."*

{*There are two thoughts as to temptation, or trial, (for there is but one word in the Greek for both the English words): that which tries by suffering, and that which tries by allurement. Thus persecution and sinful pleasure are both trials, though we usually speak of the latter as "temptation." So long as it is without, it can be resisted; but if it meet with a response in the heart, it shows that sin is already there. In this sense our blessed Lord could not be tempted, for there was nothing in Him to entice Him away. The "divers temptations" of verse 3 are doubtless trials by suffering, though the test may come in the other way. — S.R.}

5. Now we are once more brought back to a realization of how, indeed, God is for us, and who He is that is thus for us. "Every good gift and every perfect gift" comes down from Him, and there is no possibility of change, no shadow of turning, with Him. Nothing that is from Him is other than a good gift if we will only use it and value it as such. He is "the Father of lights," Himself Light; the display of this light is seen in His ways with us — a wondrous spectrum indeed, in which the glory of the light is displayed in its many-colored rays! With these we are familiar as the jewels of the priest's breastplate, the embodiment of the light in those gems upon which the names of the tribes were engravers. We have them again in the jewels of the eternal city, the perfect display of God's attributes upon which all is founded there, and which, therefore, gives indeed an eternal foundation — God displayed in His own nature; — who can change this in any one respect? How blessed to be able in faith to trace Him in this way! — righteousness is now seen, in some sense, as distinct from love, so that we may even in our folly be questioning whether love be in it. But these different rays are but the various display of that which in itself is one — love in light and light in love, never divorced from one another. Can we be even righteous in that in which we show not love? or can that be love which has not righteousness in it? Here is the nature which we have received from "the Father of lights" Himself, for "according to His own will He begat us by the word of truth," and the children manifest the Father.* But what, then, must He be in all His dealings with these children that He has begotten? How can there be any contradiction, in any of His ways, to that love in which He has begotten them for Himself? And we are those, the apostle intimates, who are a kind of first-fruits of His creatures — those in whom His creative thought as to man has first come rightly to its bloom and manifestation. How wonderful a being is man in that respect, when we see him in the Man Christ Jesus, and realize this to have been God's thought from the beginning: man, with whom God dwells forever, and in whom the divine heart can find response and hold communion!

{*Let us notice, again, as in 1 Peter 1:23, that this begetting is "by the word of truth." It is sovereign, for it is "of His own will." But we must not forget that the sovereign grace operates through His word. We see this truth enlarged upon in 2 Thess. 2:13, 14, where divine election is linked with the sovereign call through the gospel. — S.R.}

Let us therefore answer to this, exhorts the apostle. "Let every one be swift to hear," ready to take the place of those who need instruction; "slow to speak," as conscious of infirmity; "slow to wrath," because of the weakness of an impulsive nature, the wrath of man working not the righteousness of God; thus, laying "aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness," we are ready to "receive with meekness the engrafted Word which is able to save" our souls. The Word which we receive is the Word which characterizes our nature itself. It is the engrafted Word, that in which the old stock and the old fruits are judged, and which gives in its reception the competency for fruit which is to God's taste. Thus the power of salvation — that is, of our deliverance from the various things which beset us by the way — is found in that word of God. which He has given us. By it the divine nature grows, and the soul is delivered from the power of things around by the blessing which is ministered to it. It is only as abiding in the good that we can resist the evil. It is only in the enjoyment of what is ours that we can be really weaned and separated from all that, while in us, is yet contrary to us.

But of this Word, then, we have to be "doers," and "not hearers only." It is impossible rightly to hear without there being effect of it; and how, one would think, could there be possibility of deceiving oneself after this fashion? Yet there is what answers to the figure here, a man beholding his natural face as in a mirror, and going away, straightway to forget what manner of man he is. But to him in whom the word of God, as that by which he has been begotten, has become his very nature, — an engrafted Word, it remains for him a law the most absolute that can be, — the law of his nature, thus a law of liberty; for there is no liberty like that of doing that which it is in our very nature to do. Thus there is abiding in it. The Word is that in which the soul finds its chosen portion and delight. It is a law without legality; it is a sweet attraction which wins, not drives. Such an one cannot be a forgetful hearer of that which so completely holds and captivates him. He is thus "a doer of the work;" for a man will do according to that which is in his heart, as "out of the heart," also, "the mouth speaketh." So out of the heart will come the work, and such an one shall be blessed indeed in his doing, happy in the activity itself, happy in the fruit of that activity. On the other hand, anything that counts for religion which does not reach to this is vain, if the tongue is not bridled by it, if there is no activity of love that goes out in a scene so calculated by its need to draw it out. "Pure and undefiled religion before God, even the Father," (how well the reminder of that name comes in here!) "is this, to visit the orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world."*

{*James has much to say of the use of the tongue, the gateway of the heart, and the indicator of its state. The failure to control this shows a spirit unsubject to God. On the other hand, mere words without fruit is valueless. In striking contrast with both uses of the tongue is that pure and undefiled religion spoken of here. The reader need hardly be reminded that it is religion and not life — the fruits and not the roots — that is spoken of here. To fail to see this is to make the mistake of those who would find the way of salvation set forth in the sermon on the mount. There are two proofs of this religion, answering in general to the "love" and "light" of the nature of God: the outgoing of pity and care for those destitute of earthly support — suited objects of a Father's love and that separation from the defilements of the world — all that is not of the Father (1 John 2). Thus the reality of true religion is manifested both positively and negatively.}

Division 2. (James 2:1-13.)

"Against such there is no law."

We have now what is very characteristic of the epistle, according to what we have seen as to it. It is addressed to those still under the law — not assuredly as seeking by it life or righteousness, (for they would be no Christians who did that,) but still bound by it, as people say still, as a rule of life; only carrying this further as Jews, than men would now carry it, — although there is a teaching, reviving even in the present day, in which it is contended that, after all, the Christian Jew is still a Jew, and that he is right to cleave, as such, to the ordinances given to his fathers. This is the state of things which we find amongst those addressed in the epistle, to whom as yet the word to go outside the camp had not come. Thus, as we said in Acts, they would persuade the apostle of the Gentiles himself to go with those among them who were under a vow in such a way as to show that he himself walked orderly and kept the law. At the same time we have to remember, in what is before us here, that the "righteousness of the law," all its moral perfection, "is fulfilled in us who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit;" and that against the fruits of the Spirit there is no law. This is as far as the teachings of the apostle here go. He is kept by the divine wisdom of inspiration from anything that would seem yet to bind the law upon those who were, as we have seen, in conscience under it. He appeals simply to its witness, and condemns even by it such as did not manifest a Christian conduct. It is indeed faith that the apostle is really insisting on all the way through, but faith "worketh by love," and "love is the fulfilling of the law;" so that it is easy to convict by it that in which faith does not work. That is what we shall find is done here.

1. This faith is fixed upon one blessed Person in whom God has revealed a glory so far beyond any other, that, in respect of it, there is no glory at all. James presses how this must of necessity influence one in matters which may be considered of the smallest importance. The poor place given in a synagogue to a poor man (the apostle, as has already been noticed, uses a Jewish term) may exemplify this. One cannot hold the faith with regard to the Lord of glory unobscured where there is respect of persons after this manner. If one finds glory in the gold ring and the fine clothing of one, and promoting him to a good place while banishing to another the poor man with his vile raiment, is not this, asks the apostle, to make a difference among themselves and to become judges with evil thoughts? Alas, how many Christians today may fail to see the point of the apostle. Are there not, then, these differences, and is there not such a thing as place amongst men, which is in the meantime to be respected, even though we know it is not going to last eternally? Nevertheless, it is plain what is said here, and the apostle emphasizes it. Hearken, my beloved brethren, hath not God chosen the poor as to this world?" Are they not the very people amongst whom Christians are, for the most part, found? Are they not those most ready to lay hold of the true riches, as "heirs of the kingdom which God hath promised to them that love Him"? We see in how practical a way Christianity would manifest itself in those times of its first freshness, and yet even already was not that first freshness tending somewhat to fade?

2. But, as a matter of fact, the case that the apostle is putting is not hypothetical. He has to urge upon those he is addressing that they have "despised" the poor. One would judge that this state of things must already have been becoming common, or he would hardly speak of it in this way to the many whom he was addressing: "But ye have despised the poor," he says. And this was all the worse in view of the notorious oppression on the part of the rich, for whom that which was the blessed grace of Christianity was but a mere "strait gate." "How hardly," asks the Lord Himself, "shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!"* But thus the edge that it had for their consciences only roused them to violence. "Do not the rich oppress you and drag you before the judgment-seats? Do they not blaspheme that excellent name by which ye are called?" "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" was the royal law according to Scripture. In the second table it is plain that it was, in fact, supreme, that which gave the spirit of all the rest. This respect of persons, therefore, was a sin against the law also, for it was the neighbor as the neighbor that it required one to love; and here, it is plain, no earthly distinctions could be of force. If, then, they had respect of persons, they committed sin, and were convicted by the law itself as transgressors. And it was in vain to plead the keeping of other points; they were but questions of detail. If a man were to yield true obedience, it would have to be entire obedience, and a man was a transgressor, therefore, if he violated any one point. It would not do to say, "I am no adulterer," if a man killed his neighbor; and the law was, in fact, now, according to the new covenant which had come in for Christians, if not for the nation, a law of liberty. "I will write my laws," says the Lord, "upon their hearts." A law written upon the heart becomes the nature of the man in whom this takes place, so that there is no slavery in obedience, but delight. And by this law of liberty, plainly, Christians then were to be judged; that is to say, it was to be expected from them that they would answer to the character implied in it; and the lack of mercy shown would necessarily bring down judgment upon the one who showed no mercy; but "mercy glorieth over judgment;" yet they were, in fact, judging the poor man for his poverty.

{*In an apostate world the child of God will find himself identified more with its sorrows than its joys, with adversity rather than prosperity. This has been seen just previously in the "pure religion." Here we are reminded that God has chosen the poor to be rich in faith, while the rich have "received" their "consolation." Our blessed Lord was Himself poor, and His associations were largely with the lowly. In the Gospel of Luke we have frequent words as to the dangers of wealth — the rich fool in Luke 12, the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16, and the young ruler in Luke 18. All this refers, of course, to mere possession of riches. We can thank God for all exceptions where wealth did not blind the eyes. But the general principle remains — one to be heeded especially in these days of money-getting and money-worship. — S.R.}

Division 3. (James 2:14-26.)

The manifestation of faith by works.

We come now to that part of the epistle which has been more commented on, perhaps, certainly more misinterpreted, than any other part. Faith, as we have seen, is indeed, in a certain sense, the apostle's subject all the way through. The works upon which he dwells are the works of faith. If that is not found in them, they are no good works for him. On the other hand, faith that hath not works is not faith. It is not to the dishonor of faith to say so: no, his argument is, that faith is such a fruitful principle that if the tree be there, its fruit will be surely found. The apostle's subject here is the manifestation of faith by works. He is not in the least speaking of justification before God, as we have already said. That is not his subject, nor has the apostle Paul, whose subject it is, left such an important modification of his doctrine (as by many this is thought to be) to come in this disjointed manner from the mouth of another long afterwards. If it were indeed so, it would be a hopeless matter to follow the reasoning of any one writer by itself. He might have left out some important thing which should have been considered, and the absence of which would vitiate the whole argument. As has already been said, the apostle Paul distinctly leaves room for what James says here, when he says of Abraham that if he were justified by works he would have whereof to glory, and adds, "but not before God." No one can find, throughout what is said here, any hint that a man is justified by works before God. The whole question is one of the reality of profession. Christians are professedly believers, but what doth it profit if any one say he hath faith but hath not works? It is simply a question of saying it — professed faith. But can faith that is in profession merely, as here, save him? It was but a fair word. Who would think that it could profit if any were naked or lacking daily food, and one should say to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," and yet do nothing to furnish them with that which was needful? What would they think of it? The profession of faith merely would be nothing better than such a profession of works, which would falsify itself at once to any one. Faith, then, that has not works is dead in itself. There is no principle of fruit in it, and this, for us, is the test of its reality. We see at once that he is not thinking of God who knows the heart, but of man who does not know it, and who can only judge of it by the outward conduct. "Some one will say, Thou hast faith, and I have works. Show me thy faith apart from works, and I will show thee my faith by my works." It is plain that that is the only possible way, and it is equally plain that it is simply a question of manifestation before man. He does, indeed, assert that the faith that saves is that which is fruitful, but who questions that? and who could possibly desire to have it otherwise? It is a blessed thing to know that that which in itself is the humblest thing possible, and which turns one away from self to Another, is yet that which, by bringing into the presence of the great unseen realities, must of necessity have its corresponding fruit in life and walk. He takes in the mere Jew here, orthodox in his monotheism; but what had it wrought in him? It was, surely, well to believe that God is One, and the demons believe that too, but their faith is thus far fruitful that at least it makes them shudder; but the faith that is merely of lip, and cannot demonstrate itself, is really of no value.

And now he brings forward the case of Abraham, our father, to whose faith God Himself had borne witness. It is not, of course, in his purpose here to cite the Scripture which speaks thus simply as sufficient, however sufficient it was to that there was faith in Abraham. He does not say, as Paul does, that Abraham was justified by faith when "he believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness." Was that not true, then? It must certainly have been true, for the Scripture itself asserts it. But his point is that this faith, as to which God had pronounced, issued in works which justified Abraham as a believer — justified what was said by God, that "he believed God." Thus, he does not refer to what the fifteenth of Genesis brings before us, but takes us on to what came long years after in that magnificent display of faith on Abraham's part, when he offered Isaac his son, his only son, upon the altar, at the command of God. Plainly, that was a work that needed itself to be justified by the faith that was in it. It was a faith which this rendered indisputable. It was plain to see how faith wrought with his works in this case, and by works the faith was made perfect; that is, it came thoroughly to fruition. Paul's argument is as to the justification of the ungodly; James' is as to the justification of one already accepted as a believer. It is a justification which we have to pronounce. The Scripture was here fulfilled which saith, "Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness." It was not merely now that Scripture spoke, but that Abraham's conduct spoke as to the truth of the Scripture. God had said that Abraham believed Him. His own conduct made it plain he did so. Thus he came into the blessed place of one whom God could call His friend; and thus "we see that a man is justified by works, and not by his faith only;" for if he had only his faith to speak of, no one could take account of it at all.

In Rahab the harlot we find even more conspicuously, in one way, the truth of this. She was but "Rahab the harlot." There were no good works, in the way men speak, that she could produce, surely, for her justification; but the works which justified her now were simply works that evidenced her faith, and which had all their value in it. She realized that the messengers were, as it were, the messengers of God. She saw and owned God in them. In that way she received them, although they had come to spy out the city in which she dwelt, that they might destroy it. Plainly, if it were not before God that she bowed in this, her works were not merely unprofitable, but only evil. The seeing God made the whole difference. It was God Himself who was pronouncing the judgment: how could she resist Him? Thus she had a faith which did not ennoble her: it was, as we know, accompanied, in fact, by deception, although such deception, no doubt, as men think all right in similar cases. But if the apostle were seeking moral works by which faith was to be enriched, works which had in themselves that natural excellence which men see in works of charity and such like, certainly he would not have taken up the poor harlot Rahab as an example of them. No, it is simply the evidence of faith that he is seeking, and that in order to show us that profession merely is nothing; there must be reality; and "as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also." It is mere barren orthodoxy, as we are accustomed to say; and yet, with a Jew, how much his faith counted for! There was, and there is continually, the need of the warning; and the warning is simple enough if, instead of taking merely fragmentary expressions, we look at what is put before us here in its proper connection. He will not dishonor faith, as men so often dishonor it, by putting it as if it were something merely to stand side by side with works, so that one is to be estimated by the two together. No, says the apostle, the faith is that which produces the works, the life of them, and that which makes a man's works to be acceptable to God in order to be acceptable at all. Such is the character of the faith that saves, and that does not make it, then, the works that save, or that help to save. The works simply distinguish it from the mere barren profession, which, barren as it is, men will at all times seek to make something of.

Division 4. (James 3, 4.)

The walk through the world.

The whole epistle of James, as we have seen, is of that character which we call "practical." We may expect, however, that in a fourth division practice will come in some special way before us. We have it, therefore, in what follows now. He has just shown us that faith is the first necessity for it, and that it is from faith that everything that is right in this way springs. Now he comes simply to look at the practice in itself, the walk through the world, the world having that character which we know so well, and which is God's ordained testing for the Christian. This is the good of it, the testing by it; and the apostle brings before us, in the first place, that which, where it is found in full reality, shows indeed the perfect man.

1. But notice, then, that this perfect man is manifested as such by being able to govern himself, and that he is recognized as having in him that which in itself is perfectly untamable by any power merely of man. It is remarkably and beautifully brought out by the prophet Isaiah, as to the perfect Servant of whom he speaks in his fifty-third chapter, that under the greatest stress of trial that could possibly be conceived, a trial which went on to the awful death which the Lord suffered, "He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He opened not His mouth" — He was perfect master of Himself under all circumstances. And again, as the prophet bears witness, while on the one hand "He had done no violence," on the other "neither was there any deceit in His mouth." Violence comes from the abuse of power; deceit is the resource of weakness. In the Lord there could be neither. The perfect trial was but perfect manifestation of supreme excellence. His was unique obedience to the will of God, while accompanied at the same time with perfection of another kind, which made Him able to realize all the weakness of which He was the subject, He to whom sin was suffering only, and the sorest possible suffering, even to the bearing of its heavy burden upon the tree.

The apostle is speaking, then, of the government of the tongue; and he begins with that in which the line has carefully to be drawn between good and evil. "My brethren," he says, "be not many teachers, knowing that we shall receive the greater judgment; for in many things we all offend." Yet there is nothing clearer in Scripture than that, whatever one receives in the way of truth from God, he is responsible to minister it in whatever way lies open to him, for the help of others. The mere fact of the possession of that which is infinite riches to the soul that possesses it makes it a responsibility, which love at once must recognize, to minister it to others. Thus, in a sense, all may be teachers, while, of course, not in the sense in which the apostle is speaking here. There is the special gift of a teacher; and, inasmuch as it is special, it is not for every one to assume that he has it. It is the assumption of such a place as this, of which the apostle is speaking. As already said, there is need of careful discrimination, and that we should not turn his words into discouragement with regard to that in which our responsibility is so strongly emphasized. Priscilla was a woman; and, says the apostle, "I suffer not a woman to teach;" yet Priscilla and Aquila take Apollos and instruct him in the word of God more perfectly. Was she right? It is surely very clear that she was, and that Paul always recognizes her in an unmistakable way as eminent among women. Let us understand clearly that that which love moves us to, it gives at the same time authority for doing. It needs no authority but that which lies in its own compelling power. Love is the humblest thing that can be. It seeketh not its own; its delight is to pour itself out, to abnegate itself; and therefore, of necessity, it would at once guard one from any self-assumption. We may any of us teach that which we know, without the least pretension to be, as it were, by profession teachers; just as we may and must evangelize, — that is, carry the gospel to those who have it not, — without in the least assuming by this to be, in the proper sense, evangelists. Here love will be found that which gives wisdom for every condition. True love is not blind and foolish, but deep-sighted. Love guides and governs in all that it incites us to. If we assume the responsibility of the teacher's place, then, as the apostle says here, we shall receive a "greater judgment;" and who can question it? A greater responsibility means a greater judgment; that is to say, God will require from us in proportion to the place we have. Is He not right? and can we expect anything else? And this is a warning, therefore, as to assumption. It is not meant, in the least, to be a hindrance to anything that love may impel to. But indeed, as the apostle says, "in many things we all offend,"* and in word how easy it is to offend! In this case, if it be a questionof putting forth that which purports to be interpretation or application of the word of God, how necessary to realize the responsibility in handling that which, as the word of God, comes authoritatively to the souls of men! Here too, if we did not know God's grace, with the greatest gift we should be tongue-tied. It was he that did not trust this grace in his master who went and hid his lord's money — was unable, therefore, to use it for the very purpose for which it was entrusted to him. We are as responsible to use as we are responsible not to abuse. We cannot escape from responsibility on either hand. How blessed to know, in the consciousness that still "in many things we all offend," a grace upon which we can cast ourselves and go forward, if only there be with us the governing sense of whom we serve, and the serious desire to serve Him in it!

{*"In many things we all offend" is hardly to be taken as a statement of the actual life of the believer. On the contrary, the apostle in this very connection is warning against yielding to this tendency. It would seem to be a general statement of the proneness of all to offend, just as the tongue is prone to be unruly. But grace enables us to live without offence not in the way of sinless perfection in ourselves, but rather as glorifying God's power to keep down the innate tendencies of the flesh. — S.R.}

But the apostle goes on more fully into this question of the tongue. "If any offend not in word, he is a perfect man, able to bridle also the whole body." And yet how easily we let our tongues run on! In fact, the place that the apostle gives the tongue is that which governs the whole body. The bit in the horse's mouth is a small thing in itself, and yet the whole body is turned by it. The ships, in the midst of violent winds that act upon them, yet are turned about by a very small rudder, according to the direction that the helmsman gives. So, we may think little of the tongue, although it is the very thing by which we boast so much, but, verily, "How much wood can be kindled by how small a fire!" And here he breaks out into a description of it which is startling in its vehemence. "The tongue is a fire. The world of iniquity among our members is the tongue, which defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature, and is set on fire of hell." Of course, he is speaking of it as unrestrained by the fear of God, or unguided by the power of the Spirit. How much might we speak of the wonderful power of the tongue on the other side! What a ministry of comfort and blessing is in it! But the best gifts are in their perversion just as fruitful for evil as they are good when used aright. The sweetest ties, the most precious relationships that God has instituted amongst men, are just in the same proportion fruitful for evil in their perversion. Nevertheless there is, no doubt, a special need for such a warning as this with regard to the tongue. How apt we are to be careless about it! How apt we are to release it somewhat from the control that we ought to exercise over it! How soon, if it escapes from such control, it does the damage which we know a little fire may! How much further evil may a little evil in it — mere unguarded words, as we say — excite in others! It is an untamable evil, says the apostle; that is, of course, naturally. We have always to govern it, saints as we may be. The liberty which is truly ours does not extend, as we know, to a liberty with regard to that body which is still unredeemed, which is dead because of sin; and among Christians, where is there, in fact, any source of evil, and so readily allowed to manifest itself, as the tongue? "It is a restless evil," says the apostle, always seeking expression, yet "full of death-bringing poison." "We bless the Lord on the one hand, and curse men on the other; men whom God has made in His own likeness. Blessing and cursing come out of the same mouth. How thorough an inconsistency, as the apostle urges! In nature you do not find such things. The fountain does not send forth sweet and bitter water out of the same opening; nor a fig tree yield olives; nor a vine, figs; nor can that which is salt produce sweet water. Nature itself in this way rebukes one who was meant to be the lord of nature, as the image of Him who is the Governor over all. He has, alas, yielded himself to the government of another, and thus he has lost the power of government, largely, over nature, but above all over himself. The child of God away from God displays in full reality the power of the fall, and, as the apostle urges here, the tongue is an eminent example of this.

2. Out of the heart the mouth speaketh. We have begun with the utterance of the mouth. Now we go on to that which is more in the heart itself. "Whoso is wise and intelligent among you, let him show out of good behavior his works in meekness of wisdom; but if ye have bitter emulation and strife in your hearts, boast not, and lie not against the truth."* This is the spirit of the world, and the corruption that is in the world is through lust. It is the fruit of a heart unsatisfied with God, with that which alone can satisfy, and as a consequence there is of necessity a restless seeking of what will do this. The world cannot furnish it, and hence it goes on, only with more and more urgency and bitterness all the time. This is not a wisdom which cometh down from above. It is "earthly, sensual, demoniacal." It is first "earthly." It brings in no motive that is not of earth. The word for "sensual" is one that we have had before as "natural." It is "psychic," soul-led; "sensual" is probably here the best translation we can give to it. The soul is that which, as we have seen, divorced from the spirit, is only bestial. In it are found the instincts and appetites that have to do with the maintenance of life, and nothing more. With the presence of the spirit man has that which penetrates this soul-life, and makes it capable of higher things; but there is nothing of that here. The spirit has not its supreme place, the man is soul-led, soul-governed. This is the kind of wisdom here, which, however, has another and deeper significance still. It is not only "earthly, sensual," but "demoniacal;" Satan being the prince of the world, a more disastrous influence is over man than could be found even in his mere fallen nature. There is a "spirit that worketh in the children of disobedience," the communication of a wisdom in some sense higher than their own, but at the same time only more evil. This, then, alas, is the spirit of the world. Man is not his own master, even while he vainly talks of liberty and means most earnestly to do his own will and nothing else. But these wills among men are various, and in strife with one another. Thus emulation and strife are the necessary accompaniments of all wisdom which comes not from above. There is disorder and every evil thing.

{*We seem to have here the two kinds of outflow from the heart, like the two kinds of fruit from the same tree — a thing impossible in nature, but too frequently found in man. There is either the good works of meekness and wisdom, or the envy and strife which boast, but really give the lie to God's truth. This seems to be the force of this last clause: strife and envy lead to boasting and a denial of the truth. Hence the believer is warned. — S.R.

On the other hand, the wisdom that is from above is first pure. There is in it singleness and simplicity of heart. There is no double-mindedness or duplicity. It is without mixture, refusing the alliance with evil. The apostle emphasizes that this wisdom is, first of all, pure. It is from Him who is light, in whose presence everything is seen for what it is, and evil has necessarily its rightfully abhorrent aspect. Thus the wisdom from above is "first pure, then peaceable." There is no lukewarmness, no indifference to evil: there is no peace that can be made with it; but where purity is maintained, its natural character can show itself even towards the failing and the froward. It is "gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without contention," (where there is not truth and right to contend for there is no spirit of it,) "without hypocrisy;" and the fruit of righteousness is found in the peace which is thus maintained: "The fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace." Thus it springs from righteousness and returns to righteousness again. "The effect of righteousness is peace," but the effect of such peace is again righteousness.

The apostle pursues the earthly wisdom of which he has been speaking to its results. "Whence come wars and whence come fightings among you? Come they not hence, even of your pleasures" (the gratification of your lusts), "which war in your members? Ye lust, and have not." There is, in fact, no power that can satisfy this. It is condemned, by its very nature, to dissatisfaction. "Ye kill, and are envious, and cannot obtain." We see that we are being shown the natural tendencies of things as they work out in the world around. James is speaking, as one may say, in the synagogue, in a mixed congregation, in which more than the saints are before him. Ye fight and war. Ye have not, because ye ask not." It is indeed impossible for prayer to live in such an atmosphere, as we see at once; and yet even here the subtlety of the human heart can come in, as it has devised among the heathen false gods who are but the images of lust themselves, and who can therefore be appealed to in behalf of these. Alas, Christians 'too may ask and receive not, because they ask amiss, to consume it in their pleasures. We know perfectly well, alas, that self-indulgence can be found in those who are Christians also, and we may seek even from God Himself that which, after all, as He sees it, is merely something that may minister to this spirit.

The apostle flames out here as contemplating, evidently, those who are pledged to God, but who are not abiding in the satisfaction yielded by that which is their own. "Adulteresses: know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God?" He is contemplating those espoused to Christ, and yet giving themselves to another; and, alas, how easy it is to forget that the friendship of the world is enmity with God. Does not that seem often a little strong, perhaps? There it must remain as the immutable Word of inspiration, and let us face it fully. The world and God are on opposite sides, and can never be brought together. We may choose with which we will be; with both we cannot really be. "Whosoever, therefore, is minded to be a friend of the world maketh himself an enemy of God." How well would it be if we let such strong yet wholesome admonition search us to the very bottom! How well the question comes just here, "Think ye that the Scripture speaketh in vain?" How often it seems in vain even for the children of God themselves! But "the Spirit, then, who has taken His abode in us, does He desire enviously?" This certainly seems to be the force of what is here, and it must therefore be a question, not an affirmation, as the common version makes it. "The Spirit who hath taken His abode in us" cannot mean the mere human spirit, and therefore envious desire can only be intended to be put in contrast with that which is His mind, a contradiction to Himself, which is emphasized by giving it the form of a question, as we must. We know, surely, that the Spirit of God that dwelleth in us can have nothing to do with the envious desires of the heart which go out after the world for satisfaction. Nay, "He giveth more grace." What do we need, but to realize what this grace of God is, and what it has made our own, to have every unsatisfied lust stilled; and instead of grasping for ourselves, we acquire the lowliness that waits upon God, and to which He can minister. "God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble."

3. He leads us now more into the sanctuary, to estimate things in the presence of God. Where God is, He must rule; and if we will be the arbiters of our own portion, we must, of necessity, be away from God. "Be subject, therefore, to God; resist the devil," — for he is always near if God be far away, — "and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to you." A place before Him, even a place in Christ, is one thing; the desire for what that place implies is another. Thus, it can be said to those who in one sense are nigh, "Draw nigh to God;" and there is still this condition to be fulfilled in order that He may draw nigh to us. We are "no more strangers and foreigners." He expects from us the affections of children, of those that desire intimacy; but this can only be ours in a way conformable to His own nature. Thus, the word follows, "Cleanse your hands, ye sinners, and purify your hearts, ye double-minded." The pleasures that men seek away from God need to be turned — as they will surely yet turn — into affliction for them. Let the soul anticipate this, and instead of rejoicing in such a condition, "be afflicted, and mourn, and weep; let the laughter be turned to mourning, and the joy to heaviness." No way for us but to anticipate the judgment of Him who judges not harshly, but according to truth. Let us humble, in His presence, the pride of heart which would dictate to Him, and account our own wills better than His will for us. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He shall exalt you. If we exalt ourselves, He will surely abase us. He that humbleth himself shall as surely find exaltation, but it will be in His own manner.

But if we speak of judgment, and rightly exercise it with regard to ourselves, we have to remember here also that it is not for us to judge our brother. To judge evil is right, of course, and necessary; to judge of that which we have to do is our responsibility always, and therefore of all with which we associate ourselves; but, after all, there must always be with this the reserve, as to those whose ways may be involved in this, that there is One alone who knows the heart, and can give perfect judgment. We are to beware therefore of taking the place of the judge instead of that of obedience simply, which is our own. To act as in the judgment-seat is really, says the apostle, to judge the very law itself; it is to take it away from Him to whom only the law gives it. One only is the Lawgiver and Judge, who can carry out every decision, "who is able to save and to destroy." What right have we to anticipate His judgment?*

{*This seems to be the meaning of this somewhat obscure passage. The Lawgiver is the only judge. To anticipate His judgment is really to sit in judgment upon the law for not having provided for immediate penalty. For me to judge before the time is to condemn the law as being dilatory. — S.R.}

There is another form of this forgetfulness of God to which the apostle turns — a very common one. "Go to now, ye that say, Today or tomorrow we will go into such a city, and spend a year there, and trade, and get gain; ye who know not what will be on the morrow." It is not, as we see directly, that he means to forbid all exercise of thought as to the morrow, but only the spirit of those who plan without God, who forget the uncertainty of everything here: "For what is your life? it is even a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away." It is the spirit of self-confidence he is condemning, which boasts of what it can do without God: "For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, and we shall live, we will also do this or that; but now ye glory in your vauntings. All such glorying is evil."

He adds a word now which should forever settle the question of sinless perfection for a Christian: "To him who knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin."* This is much more, of course, than the prohibition of positive evil. There is a negative evil which we have carefully to keep before us. The responsibility of knowing what it is good to do is one that, while we may in a general way allow it, yet deserves far deeper consideration than we often would even desire to give it. How solemn it is to think of all the good that we might do, and yet have not done! How slow we are to recognize that this, too, is sin! We are so apt to claim for ourselves a kind of freedom here which is not Scriptural freedom; and there is no doubt, also, that we may abuse a text like this to legality, if there be legality in our hearts. We are to be drawn, not driven. Yet the neglect of that which is in our hand to do, — which we, perhaps, do not realize our capacity for, and that only through a spirit of self-indulgence or a timidity which is not far removed from this, — such neglect, how hard it is to free ourselves of it, and how much do we miss in this way of that which would be fruitful in blessing for ourselves as well as for others! for, indeed, we can never sow fruit of this kind without reaping what we have sown; and the good that we can do to others, even if it requires the most thorough self-sacrifice, yet will be found in the end to have yielded more than it cost, and to have wrought in the interests of him who has not considered even or sought this.

{*This clause is introduced by "therefore," which connects it with what has preceded. Just the force of this connection is not at once seen. Some have connected it with what immediately precedes — the shortness of life. In view of that, neglect is a sin. Others, probably, are nearer the truth who regard it as a summing up in view of the principles which have been dwelt upon. The apostle has shown the right and wrong manner of life. If there is a disregard of his word, for those who now know how to do good, it is sin. — S.R.}

Division 5. (James 5.)

The end and the conditions of the way.

In this closing part of the epistle we are warned, as naturally, of the end at hand. It is most blessed comfort to realize that it is so, and yet we may need it as warning too. The way and the end are here put before us together, as they are, indeed, inseparable. The way has an ending proper to itself, and it is always right seriously to contemplate this. We may abuse the liberty of grace, not, indeed, by overvaluing it, but by our conception of what this means. The apostle's word, "That, after having preached to others, I may not myself be cast away," is taken either to qualify God's grace itself, and to make us imagine that the apostle, after all, had some right and reasonable doubt of what might be the end with him; or else, by those who know the gospel better, it is simply put aside, left out of consideration, as if there were no meaning in it; and yet how fruitful for us should be the contemplation of the way by which, and by which alone, God brings us home! It belongs to that discernment of good and evil which the same apostle has told us comes to us as those who are accustomed to be exercised about it. "By reason of use, we have our senses exercised to discern both good and evil." But James, as we realize in the way he speaks here, is still and ever in the synagogue. He is contemplating ends of the most opposite character, for opposite classes of people, to whom he addresses himself. There are the rich on the one hand, living luxuriously and in oppression of the poor. There are those who, in another spirit, are waiting for the coming of their Lord, but who need to be exhorted to patience because of the evil. Yet while we cannot but realize the different classes to whom he addresses himself, it does not follow that there is no profit for every one of us in the contemplation of this. The fact is that all prophecy, which is ever hastening on towards the end, and putting in the light of the end the present, to be illumined by it, has large use for us in this very way. We look at the world as a whole unit. We see the principles upon which men act, and how they work out in result. God, who makes all manifest at the end, is thus brought in everywhere, and we learn more deeply in His presence the character of the things which are contrary to Him, as well as the character of those which please Him. This is what we find in this last division.

1. He addresses himself in the first place to the rich. He threatens them with divine judgment. In his stern, strong language he bids them weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon them. Their riches, he says, are corrupted, and their garments moth-eaten; their gold and silver are eaten away, and their rust only remains, to be a testimony against them, and to eat their own flesh as fire. They have heaped up their treasure in the last days, ignoring entirely that they are the last days. With no thought of the coming judgment, they let the hire of the laborers who have harvested their fields, kept back wrongfully by them, cry in the ever-wakeful ears of the Lord of Hosts, (the "Lord of Sabaoth"). They have lived luxuriously on the earth in self-indulgence. They have nourished their hearts in a day of slaughter, when, as the thought suggests, their tables must be heaped up at whatever cost; nay, they have condemned and killed the just, suffering it unresistingly. It is perfectly plain, therefore, the class which is contemplated here.

But he turns to others who are the sufferers, and to whom the word is an exhortation to patience until He comes who will set all things right. In all that which seems for themselves so vain, in the labor barren to themselves, and which yields nothing except to the hand of the oppressor, he would have them yet consider themselves as laborers for God, as husbandmen waiting for the precious fruit of the earth, which must receive the early and the latter rain before it can be harvested. Harvest there will yet be of another sort than they may now deem. They are to be patient, stablishing their hearts, for indeed the coming of the Lord has drawn nigh. They are to avoid the fretfulness which so easily results from just these things which call for patience. Those that are brethren in a common faith may even thus easily murmur against one another. It may be in view of the better lot that some may seem to have; but the Judge of all standeth before the doors, and for suffering and patience they may take as examples the prophets who have spoken in the name of the Lord; most blessed, surely, to have been such, yet they are the very types of those persecuted and wronged for that very speaking; and in the endurance which is thus called for, have they not seen the blessing? Did they not know of the endurance of Job; and in his case was not the end of the Lord seen, that indeed the Lord, spite of all that might seem contradictory to it, is "full of compassion, and pitiful"?

The apostle here closes with a solemn warning against oath-making, the special force of which for Jews we may see in our Lord's "sermon on the mount" (Matt. 5:33-37). The law, with that recognition of human strength which as law it necessarily implied, condemned only the "forswearing," while permitting the "swearing." But the powerlessness of man has been amply demonstrated, and the Lord teaches that now it is this which is to be recognized in the common language of those who "cannot make one hair white or black." How thoroughly is that faith, which is the apostle's theme here, united with such complete giving up of self-confidence as faith supposes! We have had one example of this in the rebuke of all absolute promises as to "what shall be on the morrow." The present exhortation is akin to that; and the lesson of self-distrust, by reason of its great unpalatableness to us, needs to be in various ways enforced.

2. Through all these exhortations, the emphasis, as one can easily see, is upon faith; and that is the great subject of the epistle. The fruitfulness of faith, of course, is pressed, as we know; but that only the more distinctly shows the prominence of it here; so in all that follows now to the end. In various conditions the one sufficiency is God. The one appeal is to Him. "Doth any among you suffer evil? Let him pray: not take things into his own hand, but refer them to Another. "Is any mirthful?" Let his joy be in God, and uttered to Him. "Is any sick, let him call for the elders of the assembly, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up" — a passage which, by some, has been used to deny the lawfulness of all natural means, as inconsistent really with this faith in God and appeal to Him; but we must take Scripture generally to decide in a matter of this kind, and not what is evidently, in some ways at least, exceptional. It awakens questions, moreover, which are hard to answer in the present condition of things. Where shall we find the elders of the assembly now if they are to be, at least, appointed in the regular way that we find in Scripture? Certainly one very distinct thing with regard to these is that the assembly did not, and could not, appoint them. Witness the apostle's sending Titus to do so in Crete, or the specifications with regard to eldership given to Timothy at Ephesus; where already, as we know, there were elders that had been appointed before. Timothy, himself a young man and not an elder, was evidently an unsuited person for this, if there was any succession in the matter, if elders could appoint elders. The appointment is more distinctly assigned to Titus; without the thought, clearly, of the assemblies themselves being able to appoint them. In the history of the Acts it was the apostles that did so; still not the assembly. We have no apostles, manifestly, and no apostolic delegates, no one who can prove that he has a commission in such matters. No doubt, if we are content merely to think of those who fulfil the character required, without any official appointment, then we may avoid this difficulty; but it is plain we are only following an inference of our own in this case, and not the plain word of God with regard to it. Moreover, the anointing with oil in the name of the Lord seems to be the claim of an authority which those of whom we are speaking would be the last to assert. No doubt the emphasis is laid here upon the "prayer of faith," to save the sick; and the prayer of faith certainly should not be lacking with us. We need not doubt how much we should gain if there were a more simple and constant reference to the Lord in these matters, and we cannot but remember the example of old of one who sought not to the Lord, but to the physicians, and died. The use of means that are in our hand may easily be perverted to the slighting of this way of faith; and it would certainly be far better to leave out the means in any case rather than to leave out the Lord. The distinct and united acknowledgment of our dependence upon Him in all these cases is due from us, and we suffer loss if God is not acknowledged; but then for this, no elders or anointing can be needed, and the prescription of these things makes it evident that something more is contemplated here than simply the prayer of faith. Even so, there is no prohibition of means, if there be no prescription of them; and in God's ordinary way of working He certainly works by them. He could sustain us at any time without food, but we do not ordinarily expect Him to do this, although the food may profit nothing except the Lord please to use it. We cannot but remember in this way the prescription of a little wine to Timothy, while at the same time he was in the very midst of an assembly which had its regularly appointed elders. In Judaism let us remember how, at the beginning of it, God was pleased to act miraculously in a marked way; and in the beginning of Christianity in Jerusalem, we find the same signs and miracles accompanying the Word. This was a most suited testimony to the new doctrine being published, a testimony which was also recognized in our Lord's case by the Jews as that which was to establish a new doctrine (Mark 1:27). The waning of all miraculous powers when once the testimony was established is marked, and cannot be denied. People may impute it, as they do impute it, to a lack of faith on the part of Christians; but with regard to such things one might certainly expect faith to be manifested as much as in other things. In fact, they would be things most earnestly clung to, for the manifest benefit and the display of power in them. On the other hand, the prevalence of corruption which, whatever may be our own individual views of truth, cannot but be acknowledged, would naturally make it less suited that the Church so failing should still preserve her ornaments; but the reason for the decline of miracles is evidently other than this. In the history of the Acts we find an apparent absence of such things, where, for instance, as in Berea, men were employed with the Word itself to test the doctrine by it. Although in general, as the Lord promised, miraculous signs did follow at the beginning those who believed, yet even then this was never universally true. It could not be pleaded as the necessary mark of Christian faith. "Are all workers of miracles?" says the apostle; and the question in itself supposes a negative answer. Thus, if a whole assembly lacked, there was no necessary failure, and need be no disappointment in this case; while in Corinth their "coming behind in no gift" was no necessary evidence of a right state of soul. It seems even, one would say, a matter of course that God never meant our daily lives to be full of manifest miracles. He never meant to demonstrate the truth after that fashion. He would leave it, rather, to its own inherent and spiritual power. Men easily crave miracles; but the whole generation in the wilderness, the constant witness of these, nevertheless perished for their unbelief. The miracles work no faith, although they might, and would, awaken attention to that which God presented as an object for faith; yet to those who believed in Christ, when they saw the miracles, He did not commit Himself (John 2:23-25). Every way it should be plain today that what goes for such amongst men commonly is no longer the mark upon true faith or the truth itself which calls for faith. The same things exactly can be wrought by those who deny Christian fundamentals as by those who profess them; and where is the evidence then? No set of men in the present day can be found who can adjust broken bones without surgery. If God wanted to show what He was doing, do we think that a broken bone would be a greater difficulty to Him than anything else?

Moreover, the signs and wonders of the time of the end are spoken of as rather giving evidence to falsity than to truth, to Antichrist than to Christ; and there will be signs and wonders wrought yet, which, as the Lord has said, would deceive, if it were possible, even the very elect. Thus, then, we can easily understand (and especially in such an epistle as the present — an epistle to that nation to whom God had testified by signs and wonders of old, and would repeat to them now, in evidence that Christ was in nothing behind Moses) how we should find a reference of this kind to powers which might connect themselves with the elders of the Christian assembly, and yet understand why James should leave us, as it were, at a loss how to apply these things to ourselves. We can never be wrong in believing that the prayer of faith is still really the power that will save the sick, let means be used or not used; but the use of means seems in general rather according to the Lord's mind than against it. His common way is to work through that which He has Himself ordained, and there are plainly herbs for the healing of men. The very presence of such powers is proof that the Lord has given them; and if He has given them, it is for us. Faith can acknowledge Him in these, as well as be perfectly happy in trusting Him apart from all consideration of these. The prohibition of them, if God designed it, would surely be furnished to us.

Moreover, God at no time intended that things should be left, as it were, absolutely in man's hands, even though it were the hand of faith, as the doctrines taught suppose. The prayer of faith may be that which saves the sick, and yet, after all, that be far from meaning that we can find in every case a faith which should do so. God has His own will and His own way; and while we can always reckon upon Him to answer the soul that looks to Him, yet the way of His answer we do not always know. The apostle prays that the thorn in the flesh might depart from him, but it did not depart. God turned it to greater blessing. That was an answer to the prayer, but it was not such an answer as men usually count as that. Could any one suppose that among Christians, if everything were absolutely right, the sick would always be raised up, that death would hardly obtain at all, except in the extremest old age? We may imagine any such fancies, but fancies they are, and nothing else. Yet it is plain there is an appeal to God advocated here which we are always right in making, and from which we may always expect an answer in the goodness of Him whom we address. More than this, the Lord may give distinct light as to His mind that will enable one, as to anything, to ask with assurance, without the possibility of denial. If we are near enough to God for this, we have cause indeed to be thankful; but we had better be humble about it, and be very sure that we have it before we claim it.

The apostle adds here with regard to a very possible case, that the sickness contemplated might be the result of sin itself — that if he be one that hath committed sin, it shall be forgiven him. Here is a case in which it is plain that appeal to God is of the greatest necessity. But we may be perfectly sure that here, also, it could not be within the will of others to secure this, but that there must be in the recipient of this forgiveness the state of soul in which God can grant it.

The apostle adds a more general admonition as to which there is no difficulty: "Confess" therefore, "your sins one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed." This still, however, needs wisdom for its application. The confession of sin itself may be looked at, as men look so much at confession to a priest, as if it were to work something merely as confession. Apart from the recognized need of confessing to another that in which we have wronged him, there may be, and no doubt are, cases where it would be good for any one burdened with the sense of wrong-doing to unburden himself, and find the help of another's prayers. The acceptance of the humiliation of it may be good in itself; but, on the other hand, there is no general rule but will have its exceptions; or, rather, there is no principle that does not need wisdom in application. Nothing will do away with the need of this.

But the apostle enlarges here upon the value of prayer. "The fervent supplication of the righteous man," he says, "availeth much." Plainly, "the righteous man" here is one who is so simply, out and out for God, so that there is nothing to hinder the confidence in Him which this supposes. Elijah is adduced as an example here, a man who stood for God when all Israel was departing from Him; but, as he notes here, a man of like passions with ourselves — notes it, evidently, for our encouragement. We are apt to make exceptions of such men to excuse ourselves, alas, even from the blessing which was theirs in consequence of what they were. His infirmities are made known to us in the very record given to us of his faith; but the man of God was in him most eminent. Thus it was for the honor of God that "he prayed fervently that it might not rain;" not to serve any end of his own apart from this; and such prayers are of the sort that have wisdom in them, and secure answers. Thus he prayed, and it rained not on the earth for three years and six months; and again he prayed, and the heaven gave rain and the earth brought forth her fruit. The power of prayer can never be separated from the character of the man who prays, although God is pitiful, and can hear any man in his extremity; that is true, but that is not the prayer that is recorded here, or the prayer of which we can really say that it has power in it.

3. The apostle closes with one word of mingled exhortation and encouragement: "My brethren, if any one among you err from the truth, and one restore him, let him know that he that turneth back a sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins." It is the restoration of a believer, but who has wandered from God, that is contemplated here. The word used in our common version, "one convert him," naturally tends to make us think of that which we ordinarily call conversion now. But the Lord talks, as we know, of Peter's conversion when he too had erred from the truth, and the Lord's grace brought him back. In the language of James, if, not in the epistle to the Hebrews, a converted man may be a sinner still; and, as we know, the saving of a soul from death does not necessarily mean a salvation from death eternally, but from that judgment of God which we have seen instanced in Corinth, where many were weak and sickly among them, and many slept. In this way, a multitude of sins would be covered, not simply by the love that individually covereth sins, of which we read elsewhere, but by the labor of that love for the restoration of a soul, which is the sure way, in the government of God over His people, for a multitude of sins to be covered.