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An Exposition Of the Epistles Of Saint Paul And Of The Catholic Epistles Volumes 1&2

Analysis

St. James commences this chapter, with the Apostolical salutation (1). He, next, exhorts the converted Jews, to whom this Epistle is directly addressed, to receive with joy, the different afflictions with which they were visited (2, 3). He encourages them to practise the virtue of patience in all its perfection (4), and points out the source from which the true wisdom to understand, and practically conform to these admonitions, is to be derived, and the means of obtaining it, viz., Prayer; one of the conditions of which he mentions (4–7). He next alludes specially to the temptations peculiar to the rich and to the poor, and points out the remedies to be adopted both by one and the other (9–11). He points out the reward, in store for patient and persevering suffering (12).

He, next, obviates a difficulty which might arise from a false conception of his doctrine owing to the different respects under which “temptations” might be considered. He says that, viewed in the light of seductions to sin, God is not their cause, but rather man’s own corrupt passions, which, when indulged, end in death (13–16).

Having pointed out the cause of moral evil, he next proceeds to point out the source of all good (17), and refers particularly to one great blessing for which we are indebted to God’s pure bounty, viz.—our regeneration and call to the faith (18).

He next delivers wholesome instructions regarding the government of the tongue, particularly in reference to religious teaching, and assails the fundamental error, then prevalent, probably deduced from a false conception of the words of St. Paul to the Romans, respecting the sufficiency of faith alone—an error, the refutation of which was one of the principal objects of this Epistle (22). He shows by an example the inutility of faith without good works (23, 24), and points out certain works as necessary (26, 27).

Paraphrase

1. James, a servant of God (the Father) and of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has a special dominion over us by right of redemption (writes), to the faithful Jews converted to Christianity out of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, scattered all over the earth, wishing them the abundance of spiritual joy and of all blessings conducive to salvation.

2. My brethren, it is not without cause I wish you the abundance of joy, notwithstanding the many temporal afflictions under which you labour; for, I would have you regard it as a subject of pure, unalloyed joy, when you are visited with tribulations and afflictions, in various shapes and forms.

3. For, you should feel perfectly assured, that these afflictions by which your faith is tried and tested, are the cause of producing and increasing the virtue of patience.

4. But let this patience be perfected by the indispensable quality of perseverance, so that you may be perfect by having reached the end, to which patience conducts, viz., eternal life, and be not found wanting in anything required for the crowning and consummation of patience. Or, let your patience be so perfected in its kind, that you may possess all the virtues required for its fulness and integrity; wanting none of the necessary qualities that usually accompany it.

5. But if anyone require the true wisdom (and who does not?) by which to understand the designs of God’s providence in visiting us with afflictions, and to conform to it in practice, let him beg it of God, who liberally dispenses his gifts to all, without exception, who pray for them as they ought, and unlike men, upbraids us not with the gifts received already at his hands; and it shall be given to such a person.

6. But as an indispensable condition for the efficacy of his prayer, he should ask with a firm, undoubted confidence, founded on the principles of faith, of being heard, no way wavering or doubting. For, he who doubts or wavers, is like unto the troubled waves of the sea, when it is raised into billows and tossed up and down by the wind.

7. Let not, then, a person, of this wavering, hesitating character, now hoping, again despairing,—now trusting, again distrusting, in the goodness and power of God—imagine that he will obtain from God the fruit of his faint petition.

8. The man who entertains in his mind different and conflicting thoughts, fluctuating and unsettled opinions, is, on this account, inconstant in all his actions and does nothing; nor will such a person, when approaching the throne of God, now doubting, again confiding, obtain anything for want of the necessary disposition of a firm confidence.

9. Let the poor Christian who is placed in a lowly, humble position, instead of repining at his lot, or, feeling ashamed, rather glory in the exalted state of divine filiation to which he is raised, and in the crown to which it gives him a claim and title.

10. And on the other hand, let the rich and haughty, instead of priding in his riches and despising his poorer brethren, rather feel shame and confusion in the lowly condition to which he will soon be reduced, owing to the fleeting and uncertain nature of riches; for, neither they nor he shall be of greater durability than the flower of the grass.

11. For, no sooner has the sun fully risen with its burning heat, and parched the grass, than the flower thereof falls off, and all the beauty of its appearance is gone; in the same way, will the rich man fade and wither away, in all his pursuits and purposes.

12. Happy is the man, who with persevering patience endures the afflictions and crosses of this life; because, after having passed through the ordeal, by which his virtue had been tried and tested, he shall receive the crown of eternal life, which God has promised those who love him; without which love, no man could, through life, patiently endure tribulation.

13. Let no one presume to say, whenever he is tempted to the commission of sin, that this seductive temptation comes from God; for, although God sends us temptation, in order to try us, he never tempts to the commission of evil. He tempts no one in this way.

14. But every man is tempted to the commission of evil by his own concupiscence, i.e., by the corrupt desires of his own heart; by the inordinate desire of indulging in illicit pleasures, at variance with God’s laws, being drawn away by it from the line of duty, and captivated and ensnared by it.

15. Afterwards, when the seductive blandishments of concupiscence are fully consented to, and it conceives, after the full consent of the will is given, it brings forth sin. But when sin is fully accomplished and consummated, by the external commission of the act, to which concupiscence impels us, it generates, and brings forth as its fruit, spiritual and eternal death.

16. Do not then, my dearest brethren, be led astray by the erroneous and dangerous doctrines, in which it is asserted, that God is the author of evil.

17. Far from being the author of evil, it is from Him—the source of all light, physical or moral, natural or supernatural—every good and excellent gift, whether of nature or grace, alone proceeds, descending from his heavenly throne; and, unlike the great luminary, by which light is diffused throughout this earth, and in which there is daily change of position, in his apparent course through the heavens, and alternating vicissitudinous change of shadow, in his annual passage from tropic to tropic, in God there is no change in the distribution of his gifts; now dispensing good, again, evil. He, the ever unchangeable author of all good, dispenses to all who pray to him, with a liberal and plentiful hand.

18. And in confirmation and illustration of his being the unchangeable author of every good and perfect gift, we may adduce the fact, that of his free and gratuitous will, without any claim or title of justice on our part, he has given us a new spiritual birth in baptism, whereof faith, conceived from his revealed word of truth, is an indispensable condition; so that by our vocation to the faith we are become, in a certain sense, the choicest and first fruits of creation.

19. This is a gift of the excellence of which you are yourselves fully conscious, and for which, my dearest brethren, you must feel duty grateful. And let every person amongst you be ready and prepared to listen with docility to the word of truth already referred to, and be tardy in acting the part of teacher in giving utterance to it. And let each one control all feelings, and every expression of anger, into which those who have an inordinate pruriency for speaking and disputing with others are apt to fall.

20. And first, regarding anger. The man who acts under the influence of anger, far from performing works consistent with real justice, by which we are justified before God, will, on the contrary, perform bad works, by which true justice is lost.

21. Wherefore, in order to live up to the new spiritual birth you have received (verse 18), and more effectually to repress anger, laying aside all uncleanness and defilement of sin, all impure and unclean affections, which defile the soul, but particularly the redundant affections of malevolence and malice, in the spirit of meekness, receive and foster the doctrines of truth already implanted among you, which alone can save you.

22. But you should guard against contenting yourselves with merely receiving and hearing those doctrines of truth, without reducing them to practice by good works, deluding yourself by false and sophistical reasonings on this most important subject.

23. For the man that contents himself with merely hearing the word of God, without reducing to practice the precepts which it inculcates, may be justly likened to a person who views in a looking-glass his natural countenance.

24. And who, after a merely cursory and careless view, goes his way, presently forgets what manner of man he was—what were the faults and blemishes he beheld—and pays no attention to wiping them off, thus deriving no profit from looking into the glass, and unprofitably squandering his time.

25. Whereas, on the other hand, the man who shall have diligently and carefully looked into the law of the gospel, which, unlike the Old Law, perfects and justifies us, making us free sons of God, exempting us from servitude and from the yoke, “which neither we nor our fathers could bear,” and shall continue meditating and reflecting on it, and, instead of hearing its precepts, merely to forget them again, shall faithfully reduce them to practice by good works; such a man shall be happy in following a course of this kind; that is, he shall receive the happiness of justification here, and of glory hereafter.

26. Now, among the works necessary for this happiness is the government of the tongue; for, if any person looks upon himself as really religious, without bridling his tongue, thus deceiving his own heart, while persuading himself that piety is compatible with giving free reins to his tongue, such a man’s Christian faith and profession is vain, and of no use use to him.

27. The religion which is pure and free from spot, not merely in the sight of men, who often imagine religion and piety to exist where it does not; but in the sight of God and our heavenly Father, dictates these acts of mercy; viz., to visit the widows and orphans, so as to relieve their wants and offer them consolation, and to preserve one’s self, as to body and soul, pure and immaculate from the vices of this wicked world.

Commentary

1. “A servant of God,” which is commonly understood to refer to God the Father, “and of our Lord Jesus Christ,” who, by purchase, has a special dominion over us. St. James might be called the servant of God on the several grounds of Creation, Redemption, Call to the Faith, &c.; but in this passage, the word, “servant,” most probably, designates the special engagement to exercise the functions of Apostle. He selects this tide of “servant,” for many reasons, but principally from motives of humility. It is at the same time a most honourable designation; since, to serve God is to reign. From this heading, some interpreters infer that the author of this Epistle was not an Apostle. Hence, besides the two Apostles who bore the name of James, they assert there was a third of the name, not an Apostle—who was the author of this Epistle. But the grounds of this argument are quite weak and futile; for, in some of his Epistles, St. Paul does not assume the title of Apostle, (ex. gr.) to the Thessalonians, Philippians, Philemon. Neither does St. John nor St. Jude, assume the title of Apostle, in their respective Epistles; and yet, no one has denied these to be the productions of Apostles. Besides, the Council of Trent, expressly states that this Epistle was written by “James the Apostle.”—(SS. 4th Decrcto de Canonicis SS. &c.; SS. 14 de Extrem Unct. ch. 1).

“To the twelve tribes which are dispersed.” In the Greek, εν τη διασπορα, which are in the dispersion. It is disputed which “dispersion” of the Jews is referred to here. Some make it refer to that which occurred after the death of St. Stephen (Acts, 8:1). It probably refers to the Jews converted to the faith from among those, who were dispersed throughout the different countries of the earth, after the captivity under Salmanazar (4 Kings, 17), and afterwards, to whom reference is made (Acts, 2:5). “To the twelve tribes.” He directly addresses the Jews converted from the twelve tribes into which the Jewish people were divided, having been specially charged with the Apostleship of the Jews. The Epistle is, however, indirectly addressed to the converted Gentiles also. Its title, “Catholic,” forbids us to confine it to the converted Jews exclusively. Hence, we can say that the “Twelve Tribes,” embrace all spiritual Israel, who are numbered in a manner analogous to the division of carnal Israel; and this is borne out by the numbering of the thousands of saints, out of the different tribes the duodecim millia signati, out of each tribe—(Apocalypse, 7:5–9). “Greeting.” The Greek, χαιρειν, to rejoice, expresses the abundance of spiritual joy, and all blessings conducing to salvation (as in Paraphrase).

2. In the preceding verse, St. James wished the converted Jews, the abundance of all spiritual joy; but, as they might naturally say, what joy could they have, who were, the victims of sufferings and afflictions; he now tells them that they are in the very circumstances wherein they should most rejoice. “All joy,” may mean, perfect joy, unmixed and unalloyed by sorrow; or, “all,” as embracing every subject of joy in this life, so that whatever matter for joy there is in all the goods of this life, is included in this one universal good of tribulation and sufferings; and thus we should rejoice more in tribulation alone, than if we were the sole possessors of all the honours, riches, and pleasures of this earth.

“When you shall fall into divers temptations.” By “temptations,” are meant the crosses, afflictions and persecutions of this life. With these the early Christians were, in a special manner, visited. They are called “temptations,” because sent by God to try and exercise our virtue. “Divers,” by confiscation and plunder of properly, incarceration, scourging, death, &c. This doctrine of St. James, though to the philosopher and worldly wise a paradox (as which of the gospel maxims is not?) is perfectly in accordance with the uniform teaching of Sacred Scripture, wherein we are taught, that afflictions are a proof of the divine regard (Hebrews, 12); that they serve to render us conformable to Jesus Christ, the predestined model of God’s elect (Rom. 8); that they serve to wean us from all inordinate attachment to the world and the things of this life. They are the bitter medicine, which our heavenly physician administers, to cure the corrupt inclinations of our fallen nature and to serve as an antidote against future relapses. They help to remind us that this is not our final resting-place that our happiness is to be found in heaven. The most perfect stage of Christian patience is that recommended here, viz., the bearing of tribulation not only willingly, but with “joy.”

3. The reason of this apparently strange assertion is now assigned by St. James. “Knowing,” i.e., being fully convinced, “that the trying (το δοκιμιον) of your faith” (which he supposes to be effected by tribulation), “worketh patience,” by supplying matter for its continual exercise and increase; since, without suffering, you could suppose no patience.

Is not the reverse stated by St. Paul to the Romans (verse 4)—“Patience worketh trial?” δοκιμην.

There is no contradiction whatever; for, the word “trial,” bears a different meaning in both cases. In this passage, by “trying of your faith,” are meant tribulations, which work patience, by being its object and occasional cause. Hence, “trying,” is here regarded as the act of trying by tribulations, which are the cause or occasion of the virtue of patience; whereas, in St. Paul, “trial,” is regarded as the proof or demonstrated test, the result of patience. The difference in the Greek words in both cases shows the correctness of this answer—(see Romans, verse 4).

4. “And patience hath,” &c. In the Greek, it is, Let patience have, εχετω, a perfect work. And this reading seems preferable; for, the words are plainly hortatory; as appears from the following, “that you may be,” &c., and even in the Vulgate reading there is very little difference as to sense; for, an exhortation is implied. “Perfect work,” may regard the necessity of perseverance in patience; or the perfect fulness of patience accompanied by charity especially, and by the other virtues necessary to constitute its full integrity. Both interpretations are given in the Paraphrase.

5. As the doctrine of the Apostle regarding our rejoicing in tribulation is folly with the world, while it is the true wisdom of God; from God, then, it is to come and to be obtained, by prayer. “If any of you want wisdom.” The word “if,” implies no doubt or hesitation, since all want wisdom; the words mean, whereas, you all want wisdom. By “wisdom,” is understood not only a speculative, intellectual knowledge of the economy and gracious designs of God in sending us afflictions; but also, a practical conformity of will to the same; and this is to come from the grace, which is to be obtained by earnest prayer. “Abundantly.” The Greek word, απλως, literally means, with simplicity or candour, as opposed to private ends or selfish motives; the word is more commonly used to imply, abundant liberality, as here; the other meaning is also included. “And upbraideth not,” i.e., unlike men, who grow tired of always giving, and expect a return, and when importuned for new favours, upbraid us with those already received; God, the liberal and bountiful dispenser of good gifts, is never tired of giving, and never upbraids us, whenever we turn his gifts to a good account. God, it is true, sometimes puts sinners in mind of their ingratitude, as well as of their other sins; but this he does either for their conversion, or, in vindication of his own adorable Providence.

6. “In faith.” One of the conditions for the efficacy of our prayers is, that they should be presented in a spirit of “faith,” by which is commonly understood, the belief in God’s power and willingness to hear us, as far as shall be expedient for us; from this belief follows a firm and undoubting confidence of our being heard, so far as God is concerned. Of course, this confidence must always be accompanied with uncertainty, grounded upon our own unworthiness. “Nothing wavering.” The Greek word, διακρινομενος, means, expending the reasons on both sides. Hence, it means to waver in belief and confidence. “For he that wavereth (in the sense already assigned), is like the wave of the sea, &c.,” i.e., is agitated by various reasons and doubts between hesitation on one side, and confidence on the other; now sees reasons for hoping; again, for desponding. The figure employed by the Apostle, is often used to designate the opposite of calm confidence. When such a man should immoveably adhere to God by faith in his unerring promises, he is tossed here and there by opposite doubts and reasonings.

7. “Let him not think,” for, he will be disappointed in his hopes, “that he shall receive anything,” i.e., the object of his wavering, hesitating petition “from the Lord;” for such diffidence and hesitation is a direct insult to God’s sovereign goodness and liberality.

8. “A double-minded man.” The Greek word, διψυχος means, a man having two souls. By it is meant here, not the hypocrite, who thinks one thing in his heart, and expresses another with his lips—an acceptation in which the word is oftentimes employed—but the man who entertains at the same time in his mind different and conflicting sentiments. Such a person never does anything; he is always hesitating in irresolution. The inference, which St. James wishes to deduce, is implied in the general proposition of this verse, viz., that he cannot approach the throne of God with firm confidence, so as to obtain the fruit of his prayer. “In all his ways,” i.e., his actions and purposes. Most likely, allusion is here made to those vacillating and fainthearted Jewish converts, who, from the pressure of persecution, and for want of due confidence in God, were on the point of abandoning the Christian religion. It is to these the Apostle addresses his Epistle to the Hebrews.

9. St. James passes from general temptations (verses 2, 3) to particular ones, and here refers to the temptations peculiar to poverty and riches; discontent in the former case, pride and arrogance in the latter. It would appear from chap. 9 1 Ep. to Cor. that some among the richer Christians haughtily looked down upon their poorer brethren, many of whom were reduced in circumstances, owing to the generous cession which they made of all their property, At this state of things, the poor man naturally repined; and hence, to remedy this growing evil, St. James tells the poor man to glory in his “exaltation” to the state of divine filiation.—(Vide Paraphrase).

10. “But the rich, in his being low.” Some verb is understood to complete the sense. By some Expositors the word “glory,” is inserted, bearing an ironical meaning. “Let the rich (glory) in his being,” &c. Others, with greater probability, insert the words (“be confounded or feel shame”) “in his being,” &c. It is not at all unusual in Scripture, to supply a verb of contrary signification, to that expressed in the sentence (v.g. St. Paul. 1 Ep. to Tim. chap. 4) “Forbidding to marry, to abstain from food,” i.e., commanding, “to abstain from food.” The rich man should feel humbled were he to consider the lowly, fleeting, and inconstant nature of these riches, in which he places his confidence. “Because as the flower of the grass,” which is its frailest and tenderest part, he shall pass away.

11. By a very striking illustration, he now shows how frail and fleeting is a man’s tenure of riches. “For the sun rose with a burning heat.” This regards the time of day, when the sun is fully risen and its heat most intense. Others understand the Greek word for “burning heat,” τω καυτωνι, to mean the burning wind, called in Arabia, the Simoom, which blows at sun-rise, as is asserted by Oriental travellers. “And the beauty of the shape thereof.” In Greek, προσωπον, of the face thereof, which, by a Hebrew idiom, refers to the external appearance of a thing. “So shall the rich man fade away in all his ways.” “By ways,” are meant his actions, his purposes, his designs of enjoyment, and of aggrandizement. In these latter words is contained the application of the foregoing illustration.

12. The Apostle pronounces the man happy, who patiently and perseveringly endures, with a prospect of future rewards (for, this is the meaning of the Greek verb, υπομενει), the tribulations of this life. “For when he hath been proved,” i.e., shall have tested in the ordeal of tribulation (“gold and silver are tried in the fire, but acceptable men in the furnace of humiliation”), and his virtue proved to be solid and genuine, he shall then receive the crown of eternal life, “which God (in some Greek copies, “which the Lord” in the Codex Vaticanus, which he) has promised to those that love him.” He says, “love him;” because, without the love of God, no man could patiently endure the trials of a long life; and this patience, to be genuine, mass be, what Divines call, an actus imperatus, of charity: for, “charity is patient,” i.e., dictates acts of patience, and without charity the greatest sufferings, even the giving of our bodies to the flames, is worth nothing.—(1 Cor. 13)

13. In this verse, the Apostle considers temptation in a different light from that in which he viewed it, verses 2, 3. There, it was considered as the temptation of trial or probation; in this verse, as the temptation of seduction. It appears that in the time of St. James many dangerous errors were propagated regarding the origin of good and evil. Simon Magus and others had been industriously circulating among the people, that temptations, even when viewed under the light of seductions to evil, come from God; and, not unlikely, they grounded these erroneous doctrines on the mistaken interpretation of the words of the Apostle to the Romans (chap. 1), where God is said to have delivered men to a reprobate sense, &c. St. James here corrects this growing error, and says, that “God is not a tempter of evils,” i.e., by no means tempts us to commit sin; since he tempts no one. Some interpreters give the Greek word, απειραστος, which is rendered into our Version, “a tempter of evils,” a passive signification, of which it is certainly susceptible. “God” is incapable of being tempted to evil, and he tempts no one, i.e., he cannot be tempted himself, nor can he tempt others; just as we say of his veracity, he cannot be deceived nor can he deceive. In order to understand this verse clearly, and reconcile it with the foregoing, it is to be remarked, that in Scripture language, temptation is two-fold; of probation, or trial, of seduction, or deceit. Of the former, which has for object to try our virtue, and show us what we are, God is frequently said to be the author and direct cause (v.g. Genesis, 21 regarding Abraham, also regarding Job, see also Deut. 13:3). Of the latter kind of temptation, which has for object to entice us, by the promises of enjoyment, or impel us by the threats of punishment to commit sin, God cannot be the author; and to it there is reference in this verse and also in the words of the Lord’s Prayer, “and left us not into temptation,” i.e., permit us not by the subtraction of thy grace, to fall into temptation.

14. Here he points out the source of temptation viewed under this latter respect, viz., concupiscence, i.e., the strange proneness to evil and to the gratification of illicit pleasures, at variance with the laws of God, implanted in human nature, in its present fallen state. “Drawn away.” Turned aside from God, and the straight path of duty. “Allured,” the Greek word, δελεαζομενος, means, ensnared and caught as fishes with a bait.

15. The Apostle now describes the different stages in the commission of sin. First, concupiscence tempts us, (verse 14), by working on our weakness, and proposing to us gratification, whether coming interiorly or exteriorly. Next, “then, when concupiscence hath conceived,” (verse 15), which, most probably, means by a lull internal consent, “it bringeth forth (mortal) sin.” If resisted, instead of being a sin, it is a source of merit. Again, “When sin is completed,” i.e., externally committed, “it begetteth,” or, gives birth to “death,” i.e., the spiritual death of the soul here, entailing a liability to eternal death, hereafter. This interpretation, which is adopted by Estius, appears to be the most probable among the many given of this passage.

But it may be objected:—Might it not be said in this interpretation, that concupiscence, when it conceives, begetteth death, since we understand “conceive,” to mean, full internal consent, which constitutes a mortal sin?

Yes, so it might; but, it is only of the external consummation of the deed, which manifests a proneness to sin and fulness of consent difficult to be remedied, and moreover, aggravates the internal consent, and is attended with the injury of a third person, that we can say beyond all exception, “it begetteth death.” And the very absence of time and place, the want of opportunity to commit the external act, although the thought was fully consented to, is, to a cert tin extent, a favour from God, whom St. Augustine (Homil. 22, chap. 6), thus introduces, as addressing the sinner—“Ut adulterium non committeres, suasor deficit; ut suasor deesset, ego feci; locus et tempus defuit, ut hæc dissent, ego feci.”

OBJECTION.—Does not God concur in actions intrinsically bad (v.g.), the hatred of God, from which act, even materially considered, malice can, in no order of things, be conceived to be separated?

RESP.—The concurrence of God in such actions is only what is termed a “concursus generalis” whereby man receives the power to love or hate God. But, that in the exercise of this power, he selects the hating of God, is the act of his own free will.

16. From this verse, it would appear there were some erroneous opinions circulated respecting the origin of good and evil. “Therefore,” is not in the Greek.

17. Having shown the source and true cause of evil, St. James now points out the origin of all good. This comes “from above,” from heaven, where God in a special manner dwells, from whom “every best gift,” (in Greek, παση δοσις αγαθη, every good giving), “and perfect gift” proceeds, by which it is implied, that not alone every good gift, but the very giving thereof, comes from God. Some interpreters say, that “every best gift,” and “perfect gift,” refer to the same thing, and are repeated for the sake of greater emphasis. Others make the former refer to all natural gifts, and the latter, which is called “perfect,” or superexcellent, to the supernatural gifts of grace. In this verse, two things are asserted, viz., that everything coming from God is good and excellent, which refutes the impious assertion of Simon Magus, afterwards more fully evolved by the Manichees; and secondly, that God alone is the source of all good, which refutes the errors of Pagan philosophy, afterwards revived by the Pelagians. “The father of lights;” he is called “father,” because the first source and author “of lights,” which may regard the natural lights of the sun, moon, and stars. Light is emblematic of good, as darkness is, of evil, or “lights” may be understood of the intellectual, spiritual lights, whether of nature, grace, or glory; and from God, as their great source, proceed all the good gifts, represented by the light of the heavenly bodies, and the gifts of intellectual knowledge, whether natural or supernatural, actual or habitual. To him, then, we should have recourse, in order perfectly to understand these sublime paradoxes put forward by St. James, regarding the blessings of tribulation, and the joy they should cause in us (verses 2, 3), &c., and as father of all light and knowledge, he will enlighten our understanding to perceive them.

“With whom there is no change,” &c. The Apostle represents God, as a great luminous sun or body of light, diffusing his radiance and blessings throughout all creation; but, he removes from him all the imperfections of our present sun. He need not change from place to place, as our sun, who in his apparent daily motion, makes his place different at morning, noon, and night. To this, the word “change” most probably refers, which, in reference to God, means that there is no change in him, in reference to the distribution of his gifts, now dispensing good; again, evil. “Nor shadow of vicissitude,” which, in reference to the natural sun, refers to his annual motion, when he apparently moves towards the tropics, and from them, and according to his proximity or distance are the shadows cast by him, shortened or lengthened. It is to this alternate lengthening and lessening of the different shadows, that the Greek words for “shadow of alteration,” τροπης αποσκιασμα, refer. In reference to God, it means, that God is the constant and ever liberal source of good, not dealing it out at one time with a sparing, at another, with a liberal hand.

18. As an illustration of the good gifts conferred on us by God, the Apostle adduces that most excellent of good gifts, our spiritual regeneration in baptism. “Of his own will,” i.e., without any merits of ours; and hence, this was on his part a perfectly gratuitous gift. “Hath he begotten us,” which, most probably, refers to our spiritual birth in baptism, whereby a new spiritual existence was conferred on us. “By the word of truth,” may refer to the form of baptism; or, more probably, to the word of God, conceived through faith, which in adults is an indispensable condition, for receiving a new spiritual regeneration in baptism. The same idea is, very likely, conveyed here, as in chapter 5:26, to the Ephesians. “By the laver of water, in the word of life.” “That we might be some beginning,” in Greek, απαρχην, first fruits, “of his creature,” may refer to the members of the Church, who are selected by God, in preference to all other men, as his choice portion out of the rest of the mass of mankind. Others understand the words, of those who were first called to the Church and the faith; they were taken from the Jews, and they were the first fruits of such, as were, through their instrumentality in all future ages, to be associated to the Christian Church.

19. “You know, my dearest,” &c. “You know;” in some Greek copies, it is ὥστε wherefore; in the Codex Vaticanus, ἵστε, “you know.”

“And let every man be swift to hear, &c.” St. James now proceeds to deliver wholesome instructions regarding the proper government of the tongue, and the repressing of all feelings of anger. It is commonly supposed by Commentators, that St. James here refers to the abuse of the gift of tongues, accorded to many in the infancy of the Church, to which reference is made (1 Cor. 14) The Jewish converts had an inordinate wish, after their conversion, to display the same power of speaking, which they exercised in the synagogue, to the confusion and disorder of the Christian assemblies. St. James cautions them against this abuse. “And slow to anger,” which a spirit of disputation is apt to engender. No doubt, the admonition of St. James here applies to Christians at all times, and recommends a due regard to silence on all occasions, together with a proper regulation of the tongue, and a restraint on the impulse of anger. The admonition conveyed in this verse, together with that subjoined in verse 22, forms a theme whereon St. James dilates, up to chapter 4:12, with the exception of a brief digression, at chapter 2:1–13.

20. Inverting the order of treating the admonitions of the preceding verse, he first refers to anger. In the words of this verse more is conveyed than is expressed; by it is meant, that not only an angry man does not perform good works whereby “the justice of God,” i.e., true justice, is acquired and preserved, but that he performs wicked, evil works.

21. He now recommends them to live up to their new spiritual existence (verse 18); and in order thereto, they should avoid evil, by laying aside their vicious affections; and do good, by receiving the word of God with meekness, &c. (verse 21). “All uncleanness.” The Greek word, ῥυπαριαν literally regards the filth adhering to the body. Hence, some understand it of the sordid vice of avarice; others, of impurity. It more probably refers to sinfulness of all kinds, whereby the soul is defiled. “And abundance of malice.” In this is specified the viciousness in general, referred to in the preceding words. It probably regards feelings of malevolence towards our neighbour. This is a source of anger. In the word “abundance,” is conveyed an idea borrowed from agriculture. The husbandman carefully prunes away all superfluous and redundant weeds, whereby the earth is exhausted, and the good seed choked up; so they, too, should carefully cut away all the noxious affections, of which human nature, in its present fallen state, is so prolific; which, like tares, choke and prevent the growth of the good seed of God’s word and grace in their hearts. “With meekness, receive the ingrafted word.” In the place of vindictive, revengeful desires, they should substitute a spirit of meekness, and in this spirit receive, or rather foster, the doctrines of truth, which, to distinguish them from those truths known by the light of reason, are termed “ingrafted.” In these latter words the Apostle inculcates the admonition given in the first part of verse 19, “be swift to hear,” &c.

22. The Apostle here enters on one of the principal subjects of this Epistle—viz. the refutation of the erroneous doctrine of the sufficiency of faith alone, a doctrine broached, even at this early period. “Deceiving yourselves.” The Greek word for “deceiving,” παραλογιζομενος, means, adopting sophistical reasoning. The sophism by which the heretics, in the days of St. James, as well as in modern times, deceive themselves, is founded on the difference of meaning between the “works of the law,” without which St. Paul says (Rom. 3), we are justified by faith, and the “works” performed by grace and faith, which Catholics require for justification.

23, 24. From this example, and from its applications (verse 25), the necessity of good works is clearly inferred. Such a man, carelessly and hurriedly looking into the mirror (εσοπτρῳ), sees his countenance, but afterwards forgets to wipe off and remove the blemishes which the looking into the mirror may have disclosed to him. To such a person, the looking into the glass proves to be quite useless, of no service whatever; so it is with the man, who merely hears the word of God, without reducing it to practice. In the application of this comparison, the mirror is the word of God, which represents to us what we are, and what we ought to be. “The countenance of a man” is the state of his conscience; the defects in his visage, are the sins whereby the purity of his soul is sullied; to see one’s self in the mirror is to hear the word of God, and remark the difference there is between what we are and what we ought to be, according to the gospel; to forget the state of one’s countenance, is to forget the truths preached; and to neglect removing the blemishes, is to neglect wiping off by tears of repentance, the uncleanness caused by sin, in the soul. How many are there to whom the example of the mirror is perfectly applicable.

25. This is an application by contraries of the example already adduced—“hath looked into.” The Greek word, παρακυψας, means to look into narrowly and closely as is done by those who stoop down to obtain a closer view. “The perfect law,” i.e., the gospel law, which, unlike the old, “that brought nothing to perfection.” (Heb. 7:19), perfects us by grace and justification; “of liberty,” exempting us from servitude and the fear of punishment, so that we can set all the menaces of the law at defiance, it makes us free sons of God, and not slaves of the synagogue; “and hath continued therein,” by making it the subject of meditation, day and night; “this man will be blessed, &c.” Hence, according to St. James, it is only on condition of not forgetting the precepts of the law, and of performing the works which it enjoins, a man will obtain the happiness of justice here and of glory hereafter. Can a stronger argument be adduced in proof of the necessity of good works for justification and eternal life?

26. “If any man think himself,” &c. In some Greek copies, if any man (among you) think, &c.; “among you,” is omitted in the Codex Vaticanus. The Apostle, among the works required, reckons governing the tongue, and restraining it from detraction, rash judgments, self-praise, and other faults, to which persons, who have the character of piety, are liable. “Deceiving his own heart,” while endeavouring to reconcile two things perfectly incompatible, viz.: true religion and the unrestrained indulgence in the vices of the tongue—“this man’s religion,” i.e., his religious practices and profession, are of no avail to him. St. James, then, refers to those vices of the tongue, such as boastful, slanderous, polluting language, which are mortal and deadly sins. Is there any vice more common, than this shocking vice of the tongue, and withal, so little attended to, or scrupled?

27. Lest it might be imagined that the mere act of bridling the tongue, and not injuring our neighbour, would suffice; he now mentions some of the principal works in which pure religion is exercised. “Religion, clean,” in opposition to the vain and empty religion of the Jews, who regarded all its purity as consisting in certain ceremonies and legal purifications, “and undefiled,” in opposition to the impious and impure rites of the Pagans and Heretics—consists in “this,” or rather dictates the following acts; for, the following are the, actus eliciti, (as they are called) of the virtue of mercy, and only the, actus imperati, of religion, “to visit the fatherless,” &c., or, what comes to the same, to administer to their wants, and this is “pure religion,” since there can be no other than a pure motive in relieving such, there being no hope of temporal retribution in the case, “and to keep one’s self unspotted from this world,” i.e., from the vices of this wicked world, principally luxury, avarice, and ambition; for, the great leading maxims of this world are, the concupiscence of the flesh, the concupiscence of the eyes, &c.; the preserving of one’s self from these is “undefiled religion.” This proves the necessity of good works, since it is in the performance of them, “clean,” or pure religion consists.








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