James 1

Verse 29. For our God is a consuming fire.] The apostle quotes

De 4:24, and by doing so he teaches us this great truth, that sin

under the Gospel is as abominable in God's sight as it was under

the law; and that the man who does not labour to serve God with

the principle and in the way already prescribed, will find that

fire to consume him which would otherwise have consumed his sin.

Additional remarks on verses Heb 12:22-24.

On the whole, I think the description in these verses refers to

the state of the Church here below, and not to any heavenly state.

Let us review the particulars: 1. As the law was given on Mount

Sinai, so the Gospel was given at Mount Sion. 2. As Jerusalem

was the city of the living God while the Jewish dispensation

lasted, (for there was the temple, its services, sacrifices, &c.,)

the Christian Church is now called the heavenly Jerusalem, the

city of the living God. In it is the great sacrifice, in it that

spiritual worship, which God, the infinite Spirit, requires. 3.

The ministry of angels was used under the old covenant, but that

was partial, being granted only to particular persons, such as

Moses, Joshua, Manoah, &c., and only to a few before the law, as

Abraham, Jacob, &c. It is employed under the new covenant in its

utmost latitude, not to a few peculiarly favoured people, but to

all the followers of God in general; so that in this very epistle

the apostle asserts that they are all ministering spirits, sent

forth to minister to them that shall be heirs of salvation. 4. At

the giving of the law, when the Church of the old covenant was

formed, there was a general assembly of the different tribes by

their representatives; in the Gospel Church all who believe in

Christ, of every nation, and kindred, and tongue, form one grand

aggregate body. Believers of all nations, of all languages, of

all climates, however differing in their colour or local habits,

are one in Christ Jesus; one body, of which he is the head, and

the Holy Spirit the soul. 5, The first-born under the old

dispensation had exclusive privileges; they had authority,

emolument, and honour, of which the other children in the same

family did not partake: but under the new, all who believe in

Christ Jesus, with a heart unto righteousness, are equally

children of God, are all entitled to the same privileges; for,

says the apostle, ye are all children of God by faith in Christ,

and to them that received him he gave authority to become the

children of God; so that through the whole of this Divine family

all have equal rights and equal privileges, all have GOD for their

portion, and heaven for their inheritance. 6. As those who had

the rights of citizens were enrolled, and their names entered on

tables, &c., so that it might be known who were citizens, and who

had the rights of such; so all the faithful under the new covenant

are represented as having their names written in heaven, which is

another form of speech for, have a right to that glorious state,

and all the blessings it possesses; there are their possessions,

and there are their rights. 7. Only the high priest, and he but

one day in the year, was permitted to approach God under the Old

Testament dispensation; but under the New, every believer in Jesus

can come even to the throne, each has liberty to enter into the

holiest by the blood of Jesus, and, to real Christians alone it

can be said, Ye are come-to God the Judge of all-to him ye have

constant access, and from him ye are continually receiving grace

upon grace. We have already seen that the righteous perfect, or

the just men made perfect, is a Jewish phrase, and signified those

who had made the farthest advances in moral rectitude. The

apostle uses it here to point out those in the Church of Christ

who had received the highest degrees of grace, possessed most of

the mind of Christ, and were doing and suffering most for the

glory of God; those who were most deeply acquainted with the

things of God and the mysteries of the Gospel, such as the

apostles, evangelists, the primitive teachers, and those who

presided in and over different Churches. And these are termed the

spirits διακαιωντετελειωμενων, of the just perfected, because

they were a spiritual people, forsaking earth, and living in

reference to that spiritual rest that was typified by Canaan. In

short, all genuine Christians had communion with each other,

through God's Spirit, and even with those whose faces they had not

seen in the flesh. 9. Moses, as the servant of God, and mediator

of the old covenant, was of great consequence in the Levitical

economy. By his laws and maxims every thing was directed and

tried; and to him the whole Hebrew people came for both their

civil and religious ordinances: but Christians come to Jesus, the

mediator of the new covenant; he not only stands immediately

between God and man, but reconciles and connects both. From him

we receive the Divine law, by his maxims our conversation is to be

ruled, and he gives both the light and life by which we walk;

these things Moses could not do, and for such spirituality and

excellence the old covenant made no provision; it was therefore a

high privilege to be able to say, Ye are come-to Jesus the

mediator of the new covenant. 10. The Jews had their blood of

sprinkling, but it could not satisfy as touching things which

concerned the conscience; it took away no guilt, it made no

reconciliation to God: but the blood of sprinkling under the

Christian covenant purifies from all unrighteousness; for the

blood of the new covenant was shed for the remission of sins, and

by its infinite merit it still continues to sprinkle and cleanse

the unholy. All these are privileges of infinite consequence to

the salvation of man; privileges which should be highly esteemed

and most cautiously guarded; and because they are so great, so

necessary, and so unattainable in the Levitical economy, therefore

we should lay aside every weight, &c., and run with perseverance

the race that is set before us. I see nothing therefore in these

verses which determines their sense to the heavenly state; all is

suited to the state of the Church of Christ militant here on

earth; and some of these particulars cannot be applied to the

Church triumphant on any rule of construction whatever.




Chronological Notes relative to this Epistle.

-Year of the Constantinopolitan era of the world, or that used

by the Byzantine historians, and other eastern writers, 5569.

-Year of the Alexandrian era of the world, 5563.

-Year of the Antiochian era of the world, 5553.

-Year of the world, according to Archbishop Usher, 4065.

-Year of the world, according to Eusebius, in his Chronicon,


-Year of the minor Jewish era of the world, or that in common

use, 3821.

-Year of the Greater Rabbinical era of the world, 4420.

-Year from the Flood, according to Archbishop Usher, and the

English Bible, 2409.

-Year of the Cali yuga, or Indian era of the Deluge, 3163.

-Year of the era of Iphitus, or since the first commencement of

the Olympic games, 1001.

-Year of the era of Nabonassar, king of Babylon, 810.

-Year of the CCXth Olympiad, 1.

-Year from the building of Rome, according to Fabius Pictor,


-Year from the building of Rome, according to Frontinus, 812.

-Year from the building of Rome, according to the Fasti

Capitolini, 813.

-Year from the building of Rome, according to Varro, which was

that most generally used, 814.

-Year of the era of the Seleucidae, 373.

-Year of the Caesarean era of Antioch, 109.

-Year of the Julian era, 106.

-Year of the Spanish era, 99.

-Year from the birth of Jesus Christ according to Archbishop

Usher, 65.

-Year of the vulgar era of Christ's nativity, 61.

-Year of Porcius Festus, governor of the Jews, 1.

-Year of Vologesus, king of the Parthians, 12.

-Year of Domitius Corbulo, governor of Syria, 2.

-Jesus, high priest of the Jews.

-Year of the Dionysian period, or Easter Cycle, 62.

-Year of the Grecian Cycle of nineteen years, or Common Golden

Number, 5; or the second embolismic.

-Year of the Jewish Cycle of nineteen years, 2, or the year

before the first embolismic.

-Year of the Solar Cycle, 14.

-Dominical Letter, it being the first after the Bissextile, or

Leap Year, D.

-Day of the Jewish Passover, according to the Roman computation

of time, the XIth of the calends of April, or, in our common

mode of reckoning, the twenty-second of March, which happened

in this year on the day after the Jewish Sabbath.

-Easter Sunday, the IVth of the Calends of April, named by the

Jews the 22d of Nisan or Abib; and by Europeans in general, the

29th of March.

-Epact, or age of the moon on the 22d of March, (the day of the

earliest Easter Sunday possible,) 14.

-Epact, according to the present mode of computation, or the

moon's age on New Year's day, or the Calends of January, 22.

-Monthly Epacts, or age of the moon on the Calends of each month

respectively, (beginning with January,) 22, 24, 22, 23, 24, 25,

26, 27, 28, 28, 0, 0.

-Number of Direction, or the number of days from the

twenty-first of March to the Jewish Passover, 1.

-Year of the reign of Caius Tiberius Claudius Nero Caesar, the

fifth Roman monarch, computing from Octavianus, or Augustus

Caesar, properly the first Roman emperor, 8.

-Roman Consuls, C. Caesonius Paetus and C. Petronius



He addresses the dispersed of the twelve tribes, 1.

Shows that they should rejoice under the cross, because of the

spiritual good which they may derive from it, especially in

the increase and perfecting of their patience, 2-4.

They are exhorted to ask wisdom of God, who gives liberally to

all, 5.

But they must ask in faith, and not with a doubting mind, 6-8.

Directions to the rich and the poor, 9-11.

The blessedness of the man that endures trials, 12.

How men are tempted and drawn away from God, 13-15.

God is the Father of lights, and all good proceeds from him,


Cautions against hasty words and wrong tempers, 19-21.

We should be doers of the word, and not hearers merely, lest we

resemble those who, beholding their natural face in a glass,

when it is removed forget what manner of persons they were,


We should look into the perfect law of liberty, and continue

therein, 25.

The nature and properties of pure religion, 26, 27.


Verse 1. James, a servant of God] For an account of this

person, or rather for the conjectures concerning him, see the

preface. He neither calls himself an apostle, nor does he say

that he was the brother of Christ, or bishop of Jerusalem; whether

he was James the elder, son of Zebedee, or James the less, called

our Lord's brother, or some other person of the same name, we know

not. The assertions of writers concerning these points are worthy

of no regard. The Church has always received him as an apostle of


To the twelve tribes-scattered abroad] To the Jews, whether

converted to Christianity or not, who lived out of Judea, and

sojourned among the Gentiles for the purpose of trade or commerce.

At this time there were Jews partly travelling, partly sojourning,

and partly resident in most parts of the civilized world;

particularly in Asia, Greece, Egypt, and Italy. I see no reason

for restricting it to Jewish believers only; it was sent to all

whom it might concern, but particularly to those who had received

the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ; much less must we confine it

to those who were scattered abroad at the persecution raised

concerning Stephen, Ac 8:1, &c.; Ac 11:19, &c. That the twelve

tribes were in actual existence when James wrote this epistle, Dr.

Macknight thinks evident from the following facts: "1.

Notwithstanding Cyrus allowed all the Jews in his dominions to

return to their own land, many of them did not return. This

happened agreeably to God's purpose, in permitting them to be

carried captive into Assyria and Babylonia; for he intended to

make himself known among the heathens, by means of the knowledge

of his being and perfections, which the Jews, in their dispersion,

would communicate to them. This also was the reason that God

determined that the ten tribes should never return to their own

land, Ho 1:6; 8:8; 9:3, 15-17. 2. That, comparatively speaking,

few of the twelve tribes returned in consequence of Cyrus's

decree, but continued to live among the Gentiles, appears from

this: that in the days of Ahasuerus, one of the successors of

Cyrus, who reigned from India to AEthiopia, over one hundred and

twenty-seven provinces, Es 3:8,

The Jews were dispersed among the people in all the provinces of

his kingdom, and their laws were diverse from the laws of all

other people, and they did not keep the king's laws; so that, by

adhering to their own usages, they kept themselves distinct from

all the nations among whom they lived. 3. On the day of

pentecost, which happened next after our Lord's ascension,

Ac 2:5, 9,

There were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every

nation under heaven; Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, &c.; so

numerous were the Jews, and so widely dispersed through all the

countries of the world. 4. When Paul travelled through Asia and

Europe, he found the Jews so numerous, that in all the noted

cities of the Gentiles they had synagogues in which they assembled

for the worship of God, and were joined by multitudes of

proselytes from among the heathens, to whom likewise he preached

the Gospel. 6. The same apostle, in his speech to King Agrippa,

affirmed that the twelve tribes were then existing, and that they

served God day and night, in expectation of the promise made to

the fathers, Ac 26:6. 6. Josephus, Ant. i. 14, cap. 12, tells us

that one region could not contain the Jews, but they dwelt in most

of the flourishing cities of Asia and Europe, in the islands and

continent, not much less in number than the heathen inhabitants.

From all this it is evident that the Jews of the dispersion were

more numerous than even the Jews in Judea, and that James very

properly inscribed this letter to the twelve tribes which were in

the dispersion, seeing the twelve tribes really existed then, and

do still exist, although not distinguished by separate

habitations, as they were anciently in their own land.

Greeting.] χαιρειν. Health; a mere expression of benevolence,

a wish for their prosperity; a common form of salutation; see

Ac 15:23; 23:26; 2Jo 1:11.

Verse 2. Count it all joy] The word πειρασμος, which we

translate temptation, signifies affliction, persecution, or trial

of any kind; and in this sense it is used here, not intending

diabolic suggestion, or what is generally understood by the word


Verse 3. The trying of your faith] Trials put religion, and

all the graces of which it is composed to proof; the man that

stands in such trials gives proof that his religion is sound, and

the evidence afforded to his own mind induces him to take courage,

bear patiently, and persevere.

Verse 4. Let patience have her perfect work] That is,

Continue faithful, and your patience will be crowned with its full

reward; for in this sense is εργον, which we translate work, to be

understood. It is any effect produced by a cause, as interest

from money, fruit from tillage, gain from labour, a reward

for services performed; the perfect work is the full reward.

See many examples in Kypke.

That ye may be perfect and entire] τελειοι, Fully instructed,

in every part of the doctrine of God, and in his whole will

concerning you. ολοκληροι, having all your parts, members, and

portions; that ye may have every grace which constitutes the mind

that was in Christ, so that your knowledge and holiness may be

complete, and bear a proper proportion to each other. These

expressions in their present application are by some thought to be

borrowed from the Grecian games: the man was τελειος, perfect, who

in any of the athletic exercises had got the victory; he was

ολοκληοος, entire, having every thing complete, who had the

victory in the pentathlon, in each of the five exercises. Of this

use in the last term I do not recollect an example, and therefore

think the expressions are borrowed from the sacrifices under the

law. A victim was τελειος, perfect, that was perfectly sound,

having no disease; it was ολοκληρος, entire, if it had all its

members, having nothing redundant, nothing deficient. Be then to

the Lord what he required his sacrifices to be; let your whole

heart, your body, soul, and spirit, be sanctified to the Lord of

hosts, that he may fill you with all his fulness.

Verse 5. If any of you lack wisdom] Wisdom signifies in

general knowledge of the best end, and the best means of attaining

it; but in Scripture it signifies the same as true religion, the

thorough practical knowledge of God, of one's self, and of a


Let him ask of God] Because God is the only teacher of this


That giveth to all men liberally] Who has all good, and gives

all necessary good to every one that asks fervently. He who does

not ask thus does not feel his need of Divine teaching. The

ancient Greek maxim appears at first view strange, but it is

literally true:-


"The knowledge of ignorance is the beginning of knowledge."

In knowledge we may distinguish these four things:-

1. INTELLIGENCE, the object of which is intuitive truths.

2. WISDOM, which is employed in finding out the best end.

3. PRUDENCE, which regulates the whole conduct through life.

4. ART, which provides infallible rules to reason by.

Verse 6. Let him ask in faith] Believing that God IS; that he

has all good; and that he is ever ready to impart to his creatures

whatever they need.

Nothing wavering.] μηδενδιακρινομενος. Not judging

otherwise; having no doubt concerning the truth of these grand and

fundamental principles, never supposing that God will permit him

to ask in vain, when he asks sincerely and fervently. Let him not

hesitate, let him not be irresolute; no man can believe too much

good of God.

Is like a wave of the sea] The man who is not thoroughly

persuaded that if he ask of God he shall receive, resembles a wave

of the sea; he is in a state of continual agitation; driven by the

wind, and tossed: now rising by hope, then sinking by despair.

Verse 7. Let not that man think] The man whose mind is

divided, who is not properly persuaded either of his own wants or

God's sufficiency. Such persons may pray, but having no faith,

they can get no answer.

Verse 8. A double-minded man] ανηρδιψυχος. The man of two

souls, who has one for earth, and another for heaven; who wishes

to secure both worlds; he will not give up earth, and he is loth

to let heaven go. This was a usual term among the Jews, to

express the man who attempted to worship God, and yet retained

the love of the creature. Rabbi Tanchum, fol. 84, on De 26:17,

said: "Behold, the Scripture exhorts the Israelites, and tells

them when they pray, lo yiyeh lahem shetey

lebaboth, that they should not have two hearts, one for the holy

blessed God, and one for something else." A man of this character

is continually distracted; he will neither let earth nor heaven

go, and yet he can have but one. Perhaps St. James refers to

those Jews who were endeavoring to incorporate the law with the

Gospel, who were divided in their minds and affections, not

willing to give up the Levitical rites, and yet unwilling to

renounce the Gospel. Such persons could make no progress in Divine


Verse 9. Let the brother of low degree] The poor, destitute

Christian may glory in the cross of Christ, and the blessed hope

laid up for him in heaven; for, being a child of God, he is an

heir of God, and a joint heir with Christ.

Verse 10. But the rich, in that he is made low] εντη

ταπεινωσει. In his humiliation-in his being brought to the foot

of the cross to receive, as a poor and miserable sinner,

redemption through the blood of the cross: and especially let him

rejoice in this, because all outward glory is only as the flower

of the field, and, like that, will wither and perish.

Verse 11. For the sun is no sooner risen] We need not pursue

this metaphor, as St. James' meaning is sufficiently clear: All

human things are transitory; rise and fall, or increase and

decay, belong to all the productions of the earth, and to all its

inhabitants. This is unavoidable, for in many cases the very

cause of their growth becomes the cause of their decay and

destruction. The sun by its genial heat nourishes and supports all

plants and animals; but when it arises with a burning heat, the

atmosphere not being tempered with a sufficiency of moist vapours,

the juices are exhaled from the plants; the earth, for lack of

moisture, cannot afford a sufficient supply; vegetation becomes

checked; and the plants soon wither and die. Earthly possessions

are subject to similar mutations. God gives and resumes them at

his pleasure, and for reasons which he seldom explains to man. He

shows them to be uncertain, that they may never become an object

of confidence to his followers, and that they may put their whole

trust in God. If for righteousness' sake any of those who were in

affluence suffer loss, or spoiling of their goods, they should

consider that, while they have gained that of infinite worth, they

have lost what is but of little value, and which in the nature of

things they must soon part with, though they should suffer nothing

on account of religion.

Verse 12. Blessed is the man that endureth temptation] This

is a mere Jewish sentiment, and on it the Jews speak some

excellent things. In Shemoth Rabba, sec. 31, fol. 129, and in

Rab. Tanchum, fol. 29, 4, we have these words: "Blessed is the man

shehayah omed benisyono who stands in his

temptation; for there is no man whom God does not try. He tries

the rich, to see if they will open their hands to the poor. He

tries the poor, to see if they will receive affliction and not

murmur. If, therefore, the rich stand in his temptation, and give

alms to the poor, he shall enjoy his riches in this world, and his

horn shall be exalted in the world to come, and the holy blessed

God shall deliver him from the punishment of hell. If the poor

stand in his temptation, and do not repine, (kick back,) he shall

have double in the world to come." This is exactly the sentiment

of James. Every man is in this life in a state of temptation or

trial, and in this state he is a candidate for another and a

better world; he that stands in his trial shall receive the crown

of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him. It

is only love to God that can enable a man to endure the trials of

life. Love feels no loads; all practicable things are possible to

him who loveth.

There may be an allusion here to the contests in the Grecian

games. He is crowned who conquers; and none else.

Verse 13. Let no man say] Lest the former sentiment should be

misapplied, as the word temptation has two grand meanings,

solicitation to sin, and trial from providential situation or

circumstances, James, taking up the word in the former sense,

after having used it in the latter, says: Let no man say, when he

is tempted, (solicited to sin,) I am tempted of God; for God

cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he (thus) any man.

Thus the author has explained and guarded his meaning.

Verse 14. But every man is tempted] Successfully solicited to

sin, when he is drawn away of his own lust-when, giving way to the

evil propensity of his own heart, he does that to which he is

solicited by the enemy of his soul.

Among the rabbins we find some fine sayings on this subject.

In Midrash hanaalam, fol. 20, and Yalcut Rubeni, fol. 17, it is

said: "This is the custom of evil concupiscence, yetser

hara: To-day it saith, Do this; to-morrow, Worship an idol. The

man goes and worships. Again it saith, Be angry."

"Evil concupiscence is, at the beginning, like the thread of a

spider's web; afterwards it is like a cart rope." Sanhedrim, fol.


In the words, drawn away by his own lust and enticed, υποτης

ιδιαςεπιθυμιαςεξελκομενοςκαιδελεαζομενος, there is a double

metaphor; the first referring to the dragging a fish out of the

water by a hook which it had swallowed, because concealed by a

bait; the second, to the enticements of impure women, who draw

away the unwary into their snares, and involve them in their ruin.

Illicit connections of this kind the writer has clearly in view;

and every word that he uses refers to something of this nature, as

the following verse shows.

Verse 15. When lust hath conceived] When the evil propensity

works unchecked, it bringeth forth sin-the evil act between the

parties is perpetrated.

And sin, when it is finished] When this breach of the law of

God and of innocence has been a sufficient time completed, it

bringeth forth death-the spurious offspring is the fruit of the

criminal connection, and the evidence of that death or punishment

due to the transgressors.

Any person acquainted with the import of the verbs

συλλαμβανειντικτειν, and αποκυειν, will see that this is the

metaphor, and that I have not exhausted it. συλλαμβανω signifies

concipio sobolem, quae comprehenditur utero; concipio foetum;-

τικτω, pario, genero, efficio;-αποκυεω ex απο et κυω,

praegnans sum, in utero gero. Verbum proprium praegnantium, quae

foetum maturum emittunt. Interdum etiam gignendi notionem

habet.-MAIUS, Obser. Sacr., vol. ii., page 184. Kypke and


Sin is a small matter in its commencement; but by indulgence it

grows great, and multiplies itself beyond all calculation. To use

the rabbinical metaphor lately adduced, it is, in the

commencement, like the thread of a spider's web-almost

imperceptible through its extreme tenuity or fineness, and as

easily broken, for it is as yet but a simple irregular

imagination; afterwards it becomes like a cart rope-it has, by

being indulged produced strong desire and delight; next consent;

then, time, place, and opportunity serving, that which was

conceived in the mind, and finished in that purpose, is

consummated by act.

"The soul, which the Greek philosophers considered as the seat

of the appetites and passions, is called by Philo τοθηλυ, the

female part of our nature; and the spirit τοαρρεν, the male

part. In allusion to this notion, James represents men's lust as

a harlot; which entices their understanding and will into its

impure embraces, and from that conjunction conceives sin. Sin,

being brought forth, immediately acts, and is nourished by

frequent repetition, till at length it gains such strength that in

its turn it begets death. This is the true genealogy of sin and

death. Lust is the mother of sin, and sin the mother of

death, and the sinner the parent of both." See Macknight.

Verse 16. Do not err] By supposing that God is the author of

sin, or that he impels any man to commit it.

Verse 17. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above]

Whatever is good is from God; whatever is evil is from man himself.

As from the sun, which is the father or fountain of light, all

light comes; so from GOD, who is the infinite Fountain, Father,

and Source of good, all good comes. And whatever can be called

good, or pure, or light, or excellence of any kind, must

necessarily spring from him, as he is the only source of all

goodness and perfection.

With whom is no variableness] The sun, the fountain of light

to the whole of our system, may be obscured by clouds; or the

different bodies which revolve round him, and particularly the

earth, may from time to time suffer a diminution of his light by

the intervention of other bodies eclipsing his splendour; and his

apparent tropical variation, shadow of turning; when, for

instance, in our winter, he has declined to the southern tropic,

the tropic of Capricorn, so that our days are greatly shortened,

and we suffer in consequence a great diminution both of light and

heat. But there is nothing of this kind with God; he is never

affected by the changes and chances to which mortal things are

exposed. He occupies no one place in the universe; he fills the

heavens and the earth, is everywhere present, sees all, pervades

all, and shines upon all; dispenses his blessings equally to the

universe; hates nothing that he has made; is loving to every man;

and his tender mercies are over all his works: therefore he is not

affected with evil, nor does he tempt, or influence to sin, any

man. The sun, the source of light, rises and sets with a

continual variety as to the times of both, and the length of the

time in which, in the course of three hundred and sixty-five days,

five hours, forty-eight minutes, and forty-eight seconds, it has

its revolution through the ecliptic, or rather the earth has its

revolution round the sun; and by which its light and heat are, to

the inhabitants of the earth, either constantly increasing or

decreasing: but God, the Creator and Preserver of all things, is

eternally the same, dispensing his good and perfect gifts-his

earthly and heavenly blessings, to all his creatures, ever

unclouded in himself, and ever nilling EVIL and willing GOOD. Men

may hide themselves from his light by the works of darkness, as

owls and bats hide themselves in dens and caves of the earth

during the prevalency of the solar light: but his good will to his

creatures is permanent; he wills not the death of a sinner, but

rather that he may come unto him and live; and no man walks in

wretchedness or misery but he who will not come unto God that he

may have life. See diagram and notes at the end of this chapter.

See Clarke on Jas 1:27.

Verse 18. Of his own will begat he us] God's will here is

opposed to the lust of man, Jas 1:15;

his truth, the means of human salvation, to the sinful means

referred to in the above verse; and the new creatures, to the sin

conceived and brought forth, as above. As the will of God is

essentially good, all its productions must be good also; as it is

infinitely pure, all its productions must be holy. The word or

doctrine of truth, what St. Paul calls the word of the truth of

the Gospel, Col 1:5, is the means which God uses to convert


A kind of first fruits] By creatures we are here to understand

the Gentiles, and by first fruits the Jews, to whom the Gospel

was first sent; and those of them that believed were the first

fruits of that astonishing harvest which God has since reaped over

the whole Gentile world. See Clarke on Ro 8:19, &c. There is

a remarkable saying in Philo on this subject, De Allegoris, lib.

ii. p. 101: God begat Isaac, for he is the father of the perfect

nature, σπειρωνενταιςψυχαις, sowing seed in souls, and

begetting happiness.

Verse 19. Swift to hear] Talk little and work much, is a

rabbinical adage.-Pirkey Aboth, cap. i. 15.

The righteous speak little, and do much; the wicked speak much,

and do nothing.-Bava Metzia, fol. 87.

The son of Sirach says, cap. v. 11: γινουταχυςεντηακροσει

σουκαιενμακροθυμιαφθεγγουαποκρισιν. "Be swift to hear, and

with deep consideration give answer."

Slow to wrath] "There are four kinds of dispositions," says

the Midrash hanaalam, cap. v. 11: "First, Those who are easily

incensed, and easily pacified; these gain on one hand, and lose on

the other. Secondly, Those who are not easily incensed, but are

difficult to be appeased; these lose on the one hand, and gain on

the other. Thirdly, Those who are difficult to be incensed, and

are easily appeased; these are the good. Fourthly, Those who are

easily angered, and difficult to be appeased; these are the


Those who are hasty in speech are generally of a peevish or

angry disposition. A person who is careful to consider what he

says, is not likely to be soon angry.

Verse 20. The wrath of man] A furious zeal in matters of

religion is detestable in the sight of God; he will have no

sacrifice that is not consumed by fire from his own altar. The

zeal that made the Papists persecute and burn the Protestants, was

kindled in hell. This was the wrath of man, and did not work any

righteous act for God; nor was it the means of working

righteousness in others; the bad fruit of a bad tree. And do they

still vindicate these cruelties? Yes: for still they maintain

that no faith is to be kept with heretics, and they acknowledge

the inquisition.

Verse 21. All filthiness] πασανροπαριαν. This word

signifies any impurity that cleaves to the body; but applied to

the mind, it implies all impure and unholy affections, such as

those spoken of Jas 1:15, which pollute the soul; in this sense

it is used by the best Greek writers.

Superfluity of naughtiness] περισσειανκακιας. The

overflowing of wickedness. Perhaps there is an allusion here to

the part cut off in circumcision, which was the emblem of impure

desire; and to lessen that propensity, God, in his mercy, enacted

this rite. Put all these evil dispositions aside, for they blind

the soul, and render it incapable of receiving any good, even from

that ingrafted word of God which otherwise would have saved their


The ingrafted word] That doctrine which has already been

planted among you, which has brought forth fruit in all them that

have meekly and humbly received it, and is as powerful to save

your souls as the souls of those who have already believed. I

think this to be the meaning of εμφυτονλογον, the ingrafted word

or doctrine. The seed of life had been sown in the land; many of

them had received it to their salvation; others had partially

credited it, but not so as to produce in them any saving effects.

Besides, they appear to have taken up with other doctrines, from

which they had got no salvation; he therefore exhorts them to

receive the doctrine of Christ, which would be the means of saving

them unto eternal life. And when those who were Jews, and who had

been originally planted by God as altogether a right vine,

received the faith of the Gospel, it is represented as being

ingrafted on that right stock, the pure knowledge of the true God

and his holy moral law. This indeed was a good stock on which to

implant Christianity. This appears to be what the apostle means

by the ingrafted word, which is able to save the soul.

Verse 22. But be ye doers of the word] They had heard this

doctrine; they had believed it; but they had put it to no

practical use. They were downright Antinomians, who put a sort of

stupid, inactive faith in the place of all moral righteousness.

This is sufficiently evident from the second chapter.

Deceiving your own selves.] παραλογιζομενοιεαυτους. Imposing

on your own selves by sophistical arguments; this is the meaning

of the words. They had reasoned themselves into a state of carnal

security, and the object of St. James is, to awake them out of

their sleep.

Verse 23. Beholding his natural face in a glass] This

metaphor is very simple, but very expressive. A man wishes to see

his own face, and how, in its natural state, it appears; for this

purpose he looks into a mirror, by which his real face, with all

its blemishes and imperfections, is exhibited. He is affected

with his own appearance; he sees deformities that might be

remedied; spots, superfluities, and impurities, that might be

removed. While he continues to look into the mirror he is

affected, and wishes himself different to what he appears, and

forms purposes of doing what he can to render his countenance

agreeable. On going away he soon forgets what manner of person he

was, because the mirror is now removed, and his face is no longer

reflected to himself; and he no longer recollects how disagreeable

he appeared, and his own resolutions of improving his countenance.

The doctrines of God, faithfully preached, are such a mirror; he

who hears cannot help discovering his own character, and being

affected with his own deformity; he sorrows, and purposes

amendment; but when the preaching is over, the mirror is removed,

and not being careful to examine the records of his salvation, the

perfect law of liberty, Jas 1:25,

or not continuing to look therein, he soon forgets what manner of

man he was; or, reposing some unscriptural trust in God's mercy,

he reasons himself out of the necessity of repentance and

amendment of life, and thus deceives his soul.

Verse 25. But whoso looketh into the perfect law] The word

παρακυψας, which we translate looketh into, is very emphatic,

and signifies that deep and attentive consideration given to a

thing or subject which a man cannot bring up to his eyes, and

therefore must bend his back and neck, stooping down, that he may

see it to the greater advantage. The law of liberty must mean the

Gospel; it is a law, for it imposes obligations from God, and

prescribes a rule of life; and it punishes transgressors, and

rewards the obedient. It is, nevertheless, a law that gives

liberty from the guilt, power, dominion, and influence of sin; and

it is perfect, providing a fulness of salvation for the soul: and

it may be called perfect here, in opposition to the law, which was

a system of types and representations of which the Gospel is the

sum and substance. Some think that the word τελειον, perfect, is

added here to signify that the whole of the Gospel must be

considered and received, not a part; all its threatenings with its

promises, all its precepts with its privileges.

And continueth] παραμεινας Takes time to see and examine the

state of his soul, the grace of his God, the extent of his duty,

and the height of the promised glory. The metaphor here is taken

from those females who spend much time at their glass, in order

that they may decorate themselves to the greatest advantage, and

not leave one hair, or the smallest ornament, out of its place.

He being not a forgetful hearer] This seems to be a reference

to De 4:9: "Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul

diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have

seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy

life." He who studies and forgets is like to a woman who brings

forth children, and immediately buries them. Aboth R. Nathan,

cap. 23.

Shall be blessed in his deed.] In Pirkey Aboth, cap. v. 14, it

is said: "There are four kinds of men who visit the synagogues, 1.

He who enters but does not work; 2. He who works but does not

enter. 3. He who enters and works. 4. He who neither enters nor

works. The first two are indifferent characters; the third is the

righteous man; the fourth is wholly evil."

As the path of duty is the way of safety, so it is the way of

happiness; he who obeys God from a loving heart and pure

conscience, will infallibly find continual blessedness.

Verse 26. Seem to be religious] The words θρησκος and

θρησκεια, which we translate religious and religion, (see the

next verse,) are of very uncertain etymology. Suidas, under the

word θρησκευει, which he translates θεοσεβειυπηρετειτοιςθεοις,

he worships or serves the gods, accounts for the derivation thus:

"It is said that Orpheus, a Thracian, instituted the mysteries (or

religious rites) of the Greeks, and called the worshipping of God

θρησκευειν threskeuein, as being a Thracian invention."

Whatever its derivation may be, the word is used both to signify

true religion, and superstition or heterodoxy. See Hesychius,

and See Clarke on Jas 1:27.

Bridleth not his tongue] He who speaks not according to the

oracles of God, whatever pretences he makes to religion, only

shows, by his want of scriptural knowledge, that his religion is

false, ματαιος, or empty of solid truth, profit to others, and

good to himself. Such a person should bridle his tongue, put the

bit in his mouth; and particularly if he be a professed teacher of

religion; ho matter where he has studied, or what else he has

learned, if he have not learned religion, he can never teach it.

And religion is of such a nature that no man can learn it but by

experience; he who does not feel the doctrine of God to be the

power of God to the salvation of his soul, can neither teach

religion, nor act according to its dictates, because he is an

unconverted, unrenewed man. If he be old, let him retire to the

desert, and pray to God for light; if he be in the prime of life,

let him turn his attention to some honest calling; if he be young,

let him tarry at Jericho till his beard grows.

Verse 27. Pure religion, and undefiled] Having seen something

of the etymology of the word θρησκεια, which we translate

religion, it will be well to consider the etymology of the word

religion itself.

In the 28th chapter of the 4th book of his Divine Instructions,

LACTANTIUS, who flourished about A. D. 300, treats of hope, true

religion, and superstition; of the two latter he gives Cicero's

definition from his book De Natura Deorum, lib. ii. c. 28, which

with his own definition will lead us to a correct view, not only

of the etymology, but of the thing itself.

"Superstition," according to that philosopher, "had its name

from the custom of those who offered daily prayers and sacrifices,

that their children might SURVIVE THEM; ut sui sibi liberi

superstites essent. Hence they were called superstitiosi,

superstitious. On the other hand, religion, religio, had its name

from those who, not satisfied with what was commonly spoken

concerning the nature and worship of the gods, searched into the

whole matter, and perused the writings of past times; hence they

were called religiosi, from re, again, and lego, I read."

This definition Lactantius ridicules, and shows that religion

has its name from re, intensive, and ligo, I bind, because of that

bond of piety by which it binds us to God, and this he shows was

the notion conceived of it by Lucretius, who laboured to dissolve

this bond, and make men atheists.

Primum quod magnis doceo de rebus, et ARCTIS


For first I teach great things in lofty strains,

And loose men from religion's grievous chains.

Lucret., lib. i., ver. 930, 931

As to superstition, he says it derived its name from those who

paid religious veneration to the memory of the dead, (qui

superstitem memoriam defunctorem colunt,) or from those who,

surviving their parents, worshipped their images at home, as

household gods; aut qui, parentibus suis superstites, colebant

imagines eorum domi, tanquam deos penates. Superstition,

according to others, refers to novel rites and ceremonies in

religion, or to the worship of new gods. But by religion are

meant the ancient forms of worship belonging to those gods, which

had long been received. Hence that saying of Virgil:-

Vana superstitio veterumque ignara deorum.

"Vain superstition not knowing the ancient gods."

Here Lactantius observes, that as the ancient gods were

consecrated precisely in the same way with these new ones, that

therefore it was nothing but superstition from the beginning.

Hence he asserts, the superstitious are those who worship many and

false gods, and the Christians alone are religious, who worship

and supplicate the one true God only. St. James' definition

rather refers to the effects of pure religion than to its nature.

The life of God in the soul of man, producing love to God and man,

will show itself in the acts which St. James mentions here. It is

pure in the principle, for it is Divine truth and Divine love. It

is undefiled in all its operations: it can produce nothing unholy,

because it ever acts in the sight of God; and it can produce no

ungentle word nor unkind act, because it comes from the Father.

The words καθαρακαιαμιαντος, pure and undefiled, are supposed

to have reference to a diamond or precious stone, whose perfection

consists in its being free from flaws; not cloudy, but of a pure

water. True religion is the ornament of the soul, and its

effects, the ornament of the life.

To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction] Works

of charity and mercy are the proper fruits of religion; and none

are more especially the objects of charity and mercy than the

orphans and widows. False religion may perform acts of mercy and

charity; but its motives not being pure, and its principle being

defiled, the flesh, self, and hypocrisy, spot the man, and spot

his acts. True religion does not merely give something for the

relief of the distressed, but it visits them, it takes the

oversight of them, it takes them under its care; so επισκεπτεσθαι

means. It goes to their houses, and speaks to their hearts; it

relieves their wants, sympathizes with them in their distresses,

instructs them in Divine things and recommends them to God. And

all this it does for the Lord's sake. This is the religion of

Christ. The religion that does not prove itself by works of

charity and mercy is not of God. Reader, what religion hast thou?

Has thine ever led thee to cellars, garrets, cottages, and houses,

to find out the distressed? Hast thou ever fed, clothed, and

visited a destitute representative of Christ?

The subject in Jas 1:11 suggests several reflections on the

mutability of human affairs, and the end of all things.

1. Nature herself is subject to mutability, though by her

secret and inscrutable exertions she effects her renovation from

her decay, and thus change is prevented from terminating in

destruction. Yet nature herself is tending, by continual

mutations, to a final destruction; or rather to a fixed state,

when time, the place and sphere of mutability, shall be absorbed

in eternity. Time and nature are coeval; they began and must

terminate together. All changes are efforts to arrive at

destruction or renovation; and destruction must be the term or

bound of all created things, had not the Creator purposed that his

works should endure for ever. According to his promise, we look

for a new heaven and a new earth; a fixed, permanent, and endless

state of things; an everlasting sabbath to all the works of God.

I shall confirm these observations with the last verses of that

incomparable poem, the Faery Queene, of our much neglected but

unrivalled poet, Edmund Spenser:-

"When I bethink me on that speech whylear,

Of mutability, and well it weigh;

Me seems, that though she all unworthy were

Of the heaven's rule; yet very sooth to say,

In all things else she bears the greatest sway;

Which makes me loath this state of life so tickle,

And love of things so vain to cast away;

Whose flow'ring pride, so fading and so fickle,

Short Time shall soon cut down with his consuming sickle.

Then gin I think on that which Nature sayd,

Of that same time when no more change shall be,

But stedfast rest of all things, firmly stayd

Upon the pillours of eternity,

That is contrayr to mutability:

For all that moveth, doth in change delight:

But thenceforth all shall rest eternally

With him that is the God of Sabaoth hight:

O that great Sabaoth God, grant me that Sabaoth's sight!"

When this is to be the glorious issue, who can regret the

speedy lapse of time? Mutability shall end in permanent

perfection, when time, the destroyer of all things, shall be

absorbed in eternity. And what has a righteous man to fear from

that "wreck of matter and that crush of worlds," which to him

shall usher in the glories of an eternal day? A moralist has

said, "Though heaven shall vanish like a vapour, and this firm

globe of earth shall crumble into dust, the righteous man shall

stand unmoved amidst the shocked depredations of a crushed world;

for he who hath appointed the heavens and the earth to fail, hath

said unto the virtuous soul, Fear not! for thou shalt neither

perish nor be wretched."

Dr. Young has written most nervously, in the spirit of the

highest order of poetry, and with the knowledge and feeling of a

sound divine, on this subject, in his Night Thoughts. Night vi.

in fine.

Of man immortal hear the lofty style:-

"If so decreed, th' Almighty will be done.

Let earth dissolve, yon ponderous orbs descend

And grind us into dust: the soul is safe;

The man emerges; mounts above the wreck,

As towering flame from nature's funeral pyre;

O'er desolation, as a gainer, smiles;

His charter, his inviolable rights,

Well pleased to learn from thunder's impotence,

Death's pointless darts, and hell's defeated storms."

After him, and borrowing his imagery and ideas, another of our

poets, in canticis sacris facile princeps, has expounded and

improved the whole in the following hymn on the Judgment.

"Stand the Omnipotent decree,

Jehovah's will be done!

Nature's end we wait to see,

And hear her final groan.

Let this earth dissolve, and blend

In death the wicked and the just;

Let those ponderous orbs descend

And grind us into dust.

Rests secure the righteous man;

At his Redeemer's beck,

Sure to emerge, and rise again,

And mount above the wreck.

Lo! the heavenly spirit towers

Like flames o'er nature's funeral pyre;

Triumphs in immortal powers,

And claps her wings of fire.

Nothing hath the just to lose

By worlds on worlds destroy'd;

Far beneath his feet he views,

With smiles, the flaming void;

Sees the universe renew'd;

The grand millennial reign begun;

Shouts with all the sons of God

Around th' eternal throne." WESLEY

One word more, and I shall trouble my reader no farther on a

subject on which I could wear out my pen and drain the last drop

of my ink. The learned reader will join in the wish.

"Talia saecla suis dixerunt, currite, fusis

Concordes stabili fatorum numine Parcae.

Aggredere O magnos (aderit jam tempus!) honores,

Cara Deum soboles, magnum Jovis incrementum.

Aspice convexo nutantem pondere mundum,

Terrasque, tractusque maris, coelumque profundum:

Aspice, venturo laetentur ut omnia saeclo.

O mihi tam longae maneat pars ultima vitae,

Spiritus, et quantum sat erit tua dicere facta!"

VIRG. Eclog. iv.

There has never been a translation of this, worthy of the poet;

and to such a piece I cannot persuade myself to append the

hobbling verses of Mr. Dryden.

2. Taken in every point of view, Jas 1:17 is one of the most

curious and singular in the New Testament. It has been well

observed, that the first words make a regular Greek hexameter

verse, supposed to be quoted from some Greek poet not now extant;

and the last clause of the verse, with a very little change, makes

another hexameter:-



"Every goodly gift, and every perfect donation,

Is from the Father of lights, and from above it descendeth."

The first line, which is incontestably a perfect hexameter, may

have been designed by St. James, or in the course of composition

may have originated from accident, a thing which often occurs to

all good writers; but the sentiment itself is immediately from

heaven. I know not that we can be justified by sound criticism in

making any particular distinction between δοσις and δωρημα� our

translators have used the same word in rendering both. They are

often synonymous; but sometimes we may observe a shade of

difference, δοσις signifying a gift of any kind, here probably

meaning earthly blessings of all sorts, δωρημα signifying a free

gift-one that comes without constraint, from the mere benevolence

of the giver; and here it may signify all spiritual and eternal

blessings. Now all these come from above; God is as much the

AUTHOR of our earthly good, as he is of our eternal salvation.

Earthly blessings are simply good; but they are imperfect, they

perish in the using. The blessings of grace and glory are supreme

goods, they are permanent and perfect; and to the gift that

includes these the term τελειον, perfect, is here properly added

by St. James. There is a sentiment very similar to this in the

ninth Olympic Ode of Pindar, l. 41:-



Man, boast of naught: whate'er thou hast is given;

Wisdom and virtue are the gifts of Heaven.

But how tame is even Pindar's verse when compared with the

energy of James!

3. In the latter part of the verse, παρωουκενιπαραλλαγηη

τροπηςαποσκιασμα, which we translate, with whom is no

variableness, neither shadow of turning, there is an allusion to

some of the most abstruse principles in astronomy. This is not

accidental, for every word in the whole verse is astronomical. In

his πατηρτωνφωτων, Father of lights, there is the most evident

allusion to the SUN, who is the father, author, or source of all

the lights or luminaries proper to our system. It is not only his

light which we enjoy by day, but it is his light also which is

reflected to us, from the moon's surface, by night. And it is

demonstrable that all the planets-Mercury, Venus, the Earth, the

Moon, Mars, Ceres, Pallas, Juno, Vesta, Jupiter, Saturn, Saturn's

Rings, and Herschel, or the Georgium Sidus, with the four

satellites of Jupiter, the seven satellites of Saturn, and the six

satellites of the Georgium Sidus, thirty-one bodies in all,

besides the comets, all derive their light from the sun, being

perfectly opaque or dark in themselves; the sun being the only

luminous body in our system; all the rest being illumined by him.

The word παραλλαγη, which we translate variableness, from

παραλλαττω, to change alternately, to pass from one change to

another, evidently refers to parallax in astronomy. To give a

proper idea of what astronomers mean by this term, it must be

premised that all the diurnal motions of the heavenly bodies from

east to west are only apparent, being occasioned by the rotation

of the earth upon its axis in an opposite direction in about

twenty-four hours. These diurnal motions are therefore performed

uniformly round the axis or polar diameter of the earth, and not

round the place of the spectator, who is upon the earth's surface.

Hence every one who observes the apparent motion of the heavens

from this surface will find that this motion is not even, equal

arches being described in unequal times; for if a globular body,

such as the earth, describe equally the circumference of a circle

by its rotatory motion, it is evident the equality of this motion

can be seen in no other points than those in the axis of the

circle, and therefore any object viewed from the centre of the

earth will appear in a different place from what it does when

observed from the surface. This difference of place of the same

object, seen at the same time from the earth's centre and surface,

is called its parallax.

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