James 4


The origin of wars and contentions, and the wretched lot of

those who are engaged in them, 1, 2.

Why so little heavenly good is obtained, 3.

The friendship of the world is enmity with God, 4, 5.

God resists the proud, 6.

Men should submit to God, and pray, 7, 8.

Should humble themselves, 9, 10.

And not speak evil of each other, 11, 12.

The impiety of those who consult not the will of God, and

depend not on his providence, 13-15.

The sin of him who knows the will of God, and does not do it,

16, 17.


Verse 1. From whence come wars and fightings] About the time

in which St. James wrote, whether we follow the earlier or the

later date of this epistle, we find, according to the accounts

given by Josephus, Bell. Jud. lib. ii. c. 17, &c., that the Jews,

under pretence of defending their religion, and procuring that

liberty to which they believed themselves entitled, made various

insurrections in Judea against the Romans, which occasioned much

bloodshed and misery to their nation. The factions also, into

which the Jews were split, had violent contentions among

themselves, in which they massacred and plundered each other. In

the provinces, likewise, the Jews became very turbulent;

particularly in Alexandria, and different other parts of Egypt, of

Syria, and other places, where they made war against the heathens,

killing many, and being massacred in their turn. They were led to

these outrages by the opinion that they were bound by their law to

extirpate idolatry, and to kill all those who would not become

proselytes to Judaism. These are probably the wars and fightings

to which St. James alludes; and which they undertook rather from a

principle of covetousness than from any sincere desire to convert

the heathen. See Macknight.

Come they not hence-of your lusts] This was the principle from

which these Jewish contentions and predatory wars proceeded, and

the principle from which all the wars that have afflicted and

desolated the world have proceeded. One nation or king covets

another's territory or property; and, as conquest is supposed to

give right to all the possessions gained by it, they kill, slay,

burn, and destroy, till one is overcome or exhausted, and then the

other makes his own terms; or, several neighbouring potentates

fall upon one that is weak; and, after murdering one half of the

people, partition among themselves the fallen king's territory;

just as the Austrians, Prussians, and Russians have done with the

kingdom of Poland!-a stain upon their justice and policy which no

lapse of time can ever wash out.

These wars and fightings could not be attributed to the

Christians in that time; for, howsoever fallen or degenerate, they

had no power to raise contentions; and no political consequence to

enable them to resist their enemies by the edge of the sword, or

resistance of any kind.

Verse 2. Ye lust, and have not] Ye are ever covetous, and

ever poor.

Ye kill, and, desire to have] Ye are constantly engaged in

insurrections and predatory wars, and never gain any advantage.

Ye have not, because ye ask not.] Ye get no especial blessing

from God as your fathers did, because ye do not pray. Worldly

good is your god; ye leave no stone unturned in order to get it;

and as ye ask nothing from God but to consume it upon your evil

desires and propensities, your prayers are not heard.

Verse 3. Ye ask, and receive not] Some think that this refers

to their prayers for the conversion of the heathen; and on the

pretence that they were not converted thus; they thought it lawful

to extirpate them and possess their goods.

Ye ask amiss] κακωςαιτεισθε. Ye ask evilly, wickedly. Ye

have not the proper dispositions of prayer, and ye have an

improper object. Ye ask for worldly prosperity, that ye may

employ it in riotous living. This is properly the meaning of the

original, ιναενταιςηδοναιςυμωνδαπανησητε, That ye may expend

it upon your pleasures. The rabbins have many good observations

on asking amiss or asking improperly, and give examples of

different kinds of this sort of prayer; the phrase is Jewish and

would naturally occur to St. James in writing on this subject.

Whether the lusting of which St. James speaks were their desire to

make proselytes, in order that they might increase their power and

influence by means of such, or whether it were a desire to cast

off the Roman yoke, and become independent; the motive and the

object were the same, and the prayers were such as God could not


Verse 4. Ye adulterers and adulteresses] The Jews, because of

their covenant with God, are represented as being espoused to him;

and hence their idolatry, and their iniquity in general, are

represented under the notion of adultery. And although they had

not since the Babylonish captivity been guilty of idolatry;

according to the letter; yet what is intended by idolatry, having

their hearts estranged from God, and seeking their portion in this

life and out of God, is that of which the Jews were then

notoriously guilty. And I rather think that it is in this sense

especially that St. James uses the words. "Lo! they that are far

from thee shall perish; thou hast destroyed all them that go a

whoring from thee." But perhaps something more than spiritual

adultery is intended. See Jas 4:9.

The friendship of the world] The world was their god; here

they committed their spiritual adultery; and they cultivated this

friendship in order that they might gain this end.

The word μοιχαλιδες, adulteresses, is wanting in the Syriac,

Coptic, AEthiopic, Armenian, Vulgate, and one copy of the Itala.

Whosoever-will be a friend of the world] How strange it is

that people professing Christianity can suppose that with a

worldly spirit, worldly companions, and their lives governed by

worldly maxims, they can be in the favour of God, or ever get to

the kingdom of heaven! When the world gets into the Church, the

Church becomes a painted sepulchre; its spiritual vitality being


Verse 6. But he giveth more grace] μειζοναχαριν, A greater

benefit, than all the goods that the world can bestow; for he

gives genuine happiness, and this the world cannot confer. May

this be St. James' meaning?

God resisteth the proud] αντιτασσεται. Sets himself in battle

array against him.

Giveth grace unto the humble.] The sure way to please God is

to submit to the dispensation of his grace and providence; and

when a man acknowledges him in all his ways, he will direct all

his steps. The covetous man grasps at the shadow, and loses the


Verse 7. Submit-to God] Continue to bow to all his decisions,

and to all his dispensations.

Resist the devil] He cannot conquer you if you continue to

resist. Strong as he is, God never permits him to conquer the man

who continues to resist him; he cannot force the human will. He

who, in the terrible name of JESUS, opposes even the devil

himself, is sure to have a speedy and glorious conquest. He flees

from that name, and from his conquering blood.

Verse 8. Draw nigh to God] Approach HIM, in the name of

Jesus, by faith and prayer, and he will draw nigh to you-he will

meet you at your coming. When a soul sets out to seek God, God

sets out to meet that soul; so that while we are drawing near to

him, he is drawing near to us. The delicacy and beauty of these

expressions are, I think, but seldom noted.

Cleanse your hands, ye sinners] This I think to be the

beginning of a new address, and to different persons; and should

have formed the commencement of a new verse. Let your whole

conduct be changed; cease to do evil learn to do well. Washing or

cleansing the hands was a token of innocence and purity.

Purify your hearts] Separate yourselves from the world, and

consecrate yourselves to God: this is the true notion of

sanctification. We have often seen that to sanctify signifies to

separate a thing or person from profane or common use, and

consecrate it or him to God. This is the true notion of

kadash, in Hebrew, and αγιαζω in Greek. The person or thing thus

consecrated or separated is considered to be holy, and to be God's

property; and then God hallows it to himself. There are,

therefore, two things implied in a man's sanctification: 1. That

he separates himself from evil ways and evil companions, and

devotes himself to God. 2. That God separates guilt from his

conscience, and sin from his soul, and thus makes him internally

and externally holy.

This double sanctification is well expressed in Sohar, Levit.

fol. 33, col. 132, on the words, be ye holy, for I the Lord am

holy: , a man sanctifies

himself on the earth, and then he is sanctified from heaven. As a

man is a sinner, he must have his hands cleansed from wicked

works; as he is double-minded, he must have his heart sanctified.

Sanctification belongs to the heart, because of pollution of mind;

cleansing belongs to the hands, because of sinful acts.

See Clarke on Jas 1:8,

for the signification of double-minded.

Verse 9. Be afflicted, and mourn] Without true and deep

repentance ye cannot expect the mercy of God.

Let your laughter be turned to mourning] It appears most

evidently that many of those to whom St. James addressed this

epistle had lived a very irregular and dissolute life. He had

already spoken of their lust, and pleasures, and he had called

them adulterers and adulteresses; and perhaps they were so in the

grossest sense of the words. He speaks here of their laughter and

their joy; and all the terms taken together show that a dissolute

life is intended. What a strange view must he have of the nature

of primitive Christianity, who can suppose that these words can

possibly have been addressed to people professing the Gospel of

Jesus Christ, who were few in number, without wealth or

consequence, and were persecuted and oppressed both by their

brethren the Jews and by the Romans!

Verse 10. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord] In

Jas 4:7

they were exhorted to submit to God; here they are exhorted to

humble themselves in his sight. Submission to God's authority

will precede humiliation of soul, and genuine repentance is

performed as in the sight of God; for when a sinner is truly

awakened to a sense of his guilt and danger, he seems to see,

whithersoever he turns, the face of a justly incensed God turned

against him.

He shall lift you up.] Mourners and penitents lay on the

ground, and rolled themselves in the dust. When comforted and

pardoned, they arose from the earth, shook themselves from the

dust, and clothed themselves in their better garments. God

promises to raise these from the dust, when sufficiently humbled.

Verse 11. Speak not evil one of another] Perhaps this

exhortation refers to evil speaking, slander, and backbiting in

general, the writer having no particular persons in view. It may,

however, refer to the contentions among the zealots, and different

factions then prevailing among this wretched people, or to their

calumnies against those of their brethren who had embraced the

Christian faith.

He that speaketh evil of his brother] It was an avowed and

very general maxim among the rabbins, that "no one could speak

evil of his brother without denying God, and becoming an atheist."

They consider detraction as the devil's crime originally: he

calumniated God Almighty in the words, "He doth know that in the

day in which ye eat of it, your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall

be like God, knowing good and evil;" and therefore insinuated that

it was through envy God had prohibited the tree of knowledge.

Speaketh evil of the law] The law condemns all evil speaking

and detraction. He who is guilty of these, and allows himself in

these vices, in effect judges and condemns the law; i.e. he

considers it unworthy to be kept, and that it is no sin to break


Thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge.] Thou rejectest

the law of God, and settest up thy own mischievous conduct as a

rule of life; or, by allowing this evil speaking and detraction,

dost intimate that the law that condemns them is improper,

imperfect, or unjust.

Verse 12. There is one lawgiver] καικριτης, And judge, is

added here by AB, about thirty others, with both the Syriac,

Erpen's Arabic, the Coptic, Armenian, AEthiopic, Slavonic,

Vulgate, two copies of the Itala, Cyril of Antioch, Euthalius,

Theophylact, and Cassiodorus. On this evidence Griesbach has

received it into the text.

The man who breaks the law, and teaches others so to do, thus

in effect set himself up as a lawgiver and judge. But there is

only one such lawgiver and judge-God Almighty, who is able to save

all those who obey him, and able to destroy all those who trample

under feet his testimonies.

Who art thou that judgest another?] Who art thou who darest to

usurp the office and prerogative of the supreme Judge? But what

is that law of which St. James speaks? and who is this lawgiver

and judge? Most critics think that the law mentioned here is the

same as that which he elsewhere calls the royal law and the law of

liberty, thereby meaning the Gospel; and that Christ is the

person who is called the lawgiver and judge. This, however, is

not clear to me. I believe James means the Jewish law; and by the

lawgiver and judge, God Almighty, as acknowledged by the Jewish

people. I find, or think I find, from the closest examination of

this epistle, but few references to Jesus Christ or his Gospel.

His Jewish creed, forms, and maxims, this writer keeps constantly

in view; and it is proper he should, considering the persons to

whom he wrote. Some of them were, doubtless, Christians; some of

them certainly no Christians; and some of them half Christians and

half Jews. The two latter descriptions are those most frequently


Verse 13. Go to now] αγενυν. Come now, the same in meaning

as the Hebrew habah, come, Ge 11:3, 4, 7.

Come, and hear what I have to say, ye that say, &c.

To-day, or to-morrow, we will go] This presumption on a

precarious life is here well reproved; and the ancient Jewish

rabbins have some things on the subject which probably St. James

had in view. In Debarim Rabba, sec. 9, fol. 261, 1, we have the

following little story; "Our rabbins tell us a story which

happened in the days of Rabbi Simeon, the son of Chelpatha. He

was present at the circumcision of a child, and stayed with its

father to the entertainment. The father brought out wine for his

guests that was seven years old, saying, With this wine will I

continue for a long time to celebrate the birth of my new-born

son. They continued supper till midnight. At that time Rabbi

Simeon arose and went out, that he might return to the city in

which he dwelt. On the way he saw the angel of death walking up

and down. He said to him, Who art thou? He answered, I am the

messenger of God. The rabbin said, Why wanderest thou about thus?

He answered, I slay those persons who say, We will do this, or

that, and think not how soon death may overpower them: that man

with whom thou hast supped, and who said to his guests, With this

wine will I continue for a long time to celebrate the birth of my

new-born son, behold the end of his life is at hand, for he shall

die within thirty days." By this parable they teach the necessity

of considering the shortness and uncertainty of human life; and

that God is particularly displeased with those ...

"Who, counting on long years of pleasure here,

Are quite unfurnished for a world to come."

And continue there a year, and buy and sell] This was the

custom of those ancient times; they traded from city to city,

carrying their goods on the backs of camels. The Jews traded thus

to Tyre, Sidon, Caesarea, Crete, Ephesus, Philippi, Thessalonica,

Corinth, Rome, &c. And it is to this kind of itinerant mercantile

life that St. James alludes. See at the end of this chapter.

Verse 14. Whereas ye know not] This verse should be read in a

parenthesis. It is not only impious, but grossly absurd, to speak

thus concerning futurity, when ye know not what a day may bring

forth. Life is utterly precarious; and God has not put it within

the power of all the creatures he has made to command one moment

of what is future.

It is even a vapour] ατμιςγαρεστιν. It is a smoke, always

fleeting, uncertain, evanescent, and obscured with various trials

and afflictions. This is a frequent metaphor with the Hebrews;

see Ps 102:11;

My days are like a shadow: Job 8:9;

Our days upon earth are a shadow: 1Ch 29:15;

Our days on the earth are a shadow, and there is no abiding.

Quid tam circumcisum, tam breve, quam hominis vita longissima?

Plin. l. iii., Ep. 7. "What is so circumscribed, or so short, as

the longest life of man?" "All flesh is grass, and all the

goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field. The grass

withereth, and the flower fadeth, because the breath of the Lord

bloweth upon it. Surely the people is like grass." St. James had

produced the same figure, Jas 1:10, 11.

But there is a very remarkable saying in the book of

Ecclesiasticus, which should be quoted: "As of the green leaves of

a thick tree, some fall and some grow; so is the generation of

flesh and blood: one cometh to an end, and another is born."

Ecclus. xiv. 18.

We find precisely the same image in Homer as that quoted above.

Did the apocryphal writer borrow it from the Greek poet?





Il. l. vi., ver. 146.

Like leaves on trees the race of man is found,

Now green in youth, now withering on the ground

Another race the following spring supplies;

They fall successive, and successive rise.

So generations in their course decay;

So flourish these, when those are pass'd away.


Verse 15. For that ye ought to say] αντιτοιλεγεινυμας.

Instead of saying, or instead of which ye should say,

If the Lord will, we shall live] I think St. James had another

example from the rabbins in view, which is produced by Drusius,

Gregory, Cartwright, and Schoettgen, on this clause: "The bride

went up to her chamber, not knowing what was to befall her there."

On which there is this comment: "No man should ever say that he

will do this or that, without the condition IF GOD WILL. A

certain man said, 'To-morrow shall I sit with my bride in my

chamber, and there shall rejoice with her.' To which some

standing by said, im gozer hashshem, 'If the Lord

will.' To which he answered, 'Whether the Lord will or not,

to-morrow will I sit with my bride in my chamber.' He did so; he

went with his bride into his chamber, and at night they lay down;

but they both died, antequam illam cognosceret." It is not

improbable that St. James refers to this case, as he uses the same


On this subject I shall quote another passage which I read when

a schoolboy, and which even then taught me a lesson of caution and

of respect for the providence of God. It may be found in Lucian,

in the piece entitled, χαρωνηεπισκοπουντες, c. 6: επιδειπνον


εφη. καιμεταξυλεγοντοςαποτουτεγουςκεραμιςεπιπεσουσαουκ

οιδοτουκινησαντοςαπεκτεινεναυτον. εγελασαουνουκ

επιτελεσαντοςτηνυποσχεσιν. "A man was invited by one of his

friends to come the next day to supper. I will certainly come,

said he. In the mean time a tile fell from a house, I knew not

who threw it, and killed him. I therefore laughed at him for not

fulfilling his engagement." It is often said Fas est et ab hoste

doceri, " we should learn even from our enemies." Take heed,

Christian, that this heathen buffoon laugh thee not out of


Verse 16. But now ye rejoice in your boastings] Ye glory in

your proud and self-sufficient conduct, exulting that ye are free

from the trammels of superstition, and that ye can live

independently of God Almighty. All such boasting is wicked,

πονηραεστιν, is impious. In an old English work, entitled, The

godly man's picture drawn by a Scripture pencil, there are these

words: "Some of those who despise religion say, Thank God we are

not of this holy number! They who thank God for their unholiness

had best go ring the bells for joy that they shall never see God."

Verse 17. To him that knoweth to do good] As if he had said:

After this warning none of you can plead ignorance; if, therefore,

any of you shall be found to act their ungodly part, not

acknowledging the Divine providence, the uncertainty of life, and

the necessity of standing every moment prepared to meet God-as you

will have the greater sin, you will infallibly get the greater

punishment. This may be applied to all who know better than they

act. He who does not the Master's will because he does not know

it, will be beaten with few stripes; but he who knows it and does

not do it, shall be beaten with many; Lu 12:47, 48. St. James

may have the Christians in view who were converted from Judaism to

Christianity. They had much more light and religious knowledge

than the Jews had; and God would require a proportionable

improvement from them.

1. SAADY, a celebrated Persian poet, in his Gulistan, gives us

a remarkable example of this going from city to city to buy and

sell, and get gain. "I knew," says he, "a merchant who used to

travel with a hundred camels laden with merchandise, and who had

forty slaves in his employ. This person took me one day to his

warehouse, and entertained me a long time with conversation good

for nothing. 'I have,' said he, 'such a partner in Turquestan;

such and such property in India; a bond for so much cash in such a

province; a security for such another sum.' Then, changing the

subject, he said, 'I purpose to go and settle at Alexandria,

because the air of that city is salubrious.' Correcting himself,

he said, 'No, I will not go to Alexandria; the African sea (the

Mediterranean) is too dangerous. But I will make another voyage;

and after that I will retire into some quiet corner of the world,

and give up a mercantile life.' I asked him (says Saady) what

voyage he intended to make. He answered, 'I intend to take

brimstone to Persia and China, where I am informed it brings a

good price; from China I shall take porcelain to Greece; from

Greece I shall take gold tissue to India; from India I shall

carry steel to Haleb (Aleppo;) from Haleb I shall carry glass

to Yemen (Arabia Felix;) and from Yemen I shall carry printed

goods to Persia. When this is accomplished I shall bid farewell

to the mercantile life, which requires so many troublesome

journeys, and spend the rest of my life in a shop.' He said so

much on this subject, till at last he wearied himself with

talking; then turning to me he said, 'I entreat thee, Saady, to

relate to me something of what thou hast seen and heard in thy

travels.' I answered, Hast thou never heard what a traveller

said, who fell from his camel in the desert of Joor? Two things

only can fill the eye of a covetous man-contentment, or the earth

that is cast on him when laid in his grave."

This is an instructive story, and is taken from real life. In

this very way, to those same places and with the above specified

goods, trade is carried on to this day in the Levant. And often

the same person takes all these journeys, and even more. We learn

also from it that a covetous man is restless and unhappy, and that

to avarice there are no bounds. This account properly illustrates

that to which St. James refers: To-day or to-morrow we will go

into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and

get gain.

2. Providence is God's government of the world; he who properly

trusts in Divine providence trusts in God; and he who expects

God's direction and help must walk uprightly before him; for it is

absurd to expect God to be our friend if we continue to be his


3. That man walks most safely who has the least confidence in

himself. True magnanimity keeps God continually in view. He

appoints it its work, and furnishes discretion and power; and its

chief excellence consists in being a resolute worker together with

him. Pride ever sinks where humility swims; for that man who

abases himself God will exalt. To know that we are dependent

creatures is well; to feel it, and to act suitably, is still


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