INTRODUCTION TO James 5
In this chapter the apostle reproves the vices of rich men, and denounces the judgments of God upon them; exhorts the saints to patience under sufferings; warns them from vain and profane swearing, and presses to various duties and branches of religious worship, private and public, and to the performance of several good offices of love to one another. He represents the miseries of wicked rich men as just at hand, James 5:1 because they made no use of their riches, either for themselves, or others, and because of the trust they put in them, heaping them up against a time to come, James 5:2, and because of their injustice in detaining the hire of labourers from them, James 5:4 and because of their wantonness and luxury, James 5:5 and because of their cruelty to the innocent, James 5:6 and such who suffer at their hands are exhorted to exercise patience, from the instance of the husbandman waiting patiently for the fruit of the earth, and the rain to produce it; and from the consideration of the coming of Christ, the Judge, being near at hand, James 5:7 and from the example of the prophets of the Lord, who suffered much, and were patient, and so happy; and particularly from the instance of Job, his patience, the end of the Lord in his afflictions, and his pity and compassion towards him, James 5:10. But of all things the apostle entreats them, that they would take care of profane swearing, and all vain oaths, since these bring into condemnation, James 5:12 and from hence he passes to various exercises of religion; the afflicted he advises to prayer; and those in comfortable circumstances of body and mind to singing of psalms, James 5:13, and such that are sick, to send for the elders of the church to pray over them, and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord, whereby not only the sick man would be delivered from his sickness, the Lord raising him up, but even his sins would be declared to be forgiven, James 5:14. And not only it became the elders to pray for sick persons, but also the saints in general, one for another, and to acknowledge their faults to each other, since the fervent prayer of every righteous man is of great avail with God, James 5:16 of which an instance is given in Elias, whose prayer, though a man subject to like passions as other men, against, and for rain, was very successful, James 5:17. And Christians should not only be concerned for the health of each other's bodies, but also for the good of their souls; wherefore, whenever it is observed that any are straying from the path of truth, methods should be taken to restore them, and turn them from the error of their ways; and whoever is the happy instrument of such a restoration is the means of saving a soul from death, and hiding a multitude of sins, James 5:19.
Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you.Go to now, ye rich men,.... All rich men are not here designed; there are some rich men who are good men, and make a good use of their riches, and do not abuse them, as these here are represented; and yet wicked rich men, or those that were the openly profane, are not here intended neither; for the apostle only writes to such who were within the church, and not without, who were professors of religion; and such rich men are addressed here, who, notwithstanding their profession, were not rich towards God, but laid up treasure for themselves, and trusted in their riches, and boasted of the multitude of their wealth; and did not trust in God, and make use of their substance to his glory, and the good of his interest, as they should have done:
weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you; meaning, not temporal calamities that should come upon them at the destruction of Jerusalem, in which the rich greatly suffered by the robbers among themselves, as well as by the Roman soldiers; for the apostle is not writing to the Jews in Judea, and at Jerusalem; but to the Christians of the twelve tribes scattered in the several parts of the world, and who were not distressed by that calamity; but eternal miseries, or the torments of hell are intended, which, unless they repented of their sins, would shortly, suddenly, and unavoidably come upon them, when their present joy and laughter would be turned into howling and weeping.
Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten.Your riches are corrupted,.... Either through disuse of them; and so the phrase is expressive of their tenaciousness, withholding that from themselves and others which is meet, and which is keeping riches for the owners thereof, to their hurt; or these are corrupted, and are corruptible things, fading and perishing, and will stand in no stead in the day of wrath, and therefore it is great weakness to put any trust and confidence in them:
and your garments are moth eaten; being neither wore by themselves, nor put upon the backs of others, as they should, but laid up in wardrobes, or in chests and coffers, and so became the repast of moths, and now good for nothing.
Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days.Your gold and silver is cankered,.... Or grown rusty like iron, by lying long without use; this is not easily and quickly done, but in length of time gold and silver will change, and contract a rustiness; and so this conveys the same idea of hoarding up riches and laying up money, without making use of it in trade, for the support of the poor, and without distributing it to their necessities:
and the rust of them shall be a witness against you: at the day of judgment; which will be a proof that they have not been employed to such services, and for such usefulness, for which they were designed and given.
And shall eat your flesh as it were fire; that is, a remembrance of this, a sense of it impressed upon them, shall be like fire in their bones; shall distress their minds, gnaw their consciences, and be in them the worm that never dies, and the fire that shall never be quenched:
ye have heaped treasure together for the last days; either for many years, as the fool in the Gospel, for the times of old age, the last days of men, for fear they should then want; or for the last days of the world, or of time, as if they thought they should live for ever: the Vulgate Latin version reads, "ye have treasured up wrath for yourselves in the last days"; instead of riches, as they imagined; and that by their covetousness and wickedness, by a wicked disuse of their riches, and an unrighteous detention of them; but this supplement seems to be taken from Romans 2:5 though the sense is confirmed by some copies which connect the phrase, "as it were fire", in the preceding clause, with this, "ye have treasured up as it were fire"; and the Syriac version renders it, "ye have treasured up fire"; the fire of divine wrath; this is the fruit of treasuring up riches in an ill way, and without making a proper use of them.
Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth.Behold the hire of the labourers, which have reaped down your fields,.... The wages agreed for by the day, with the labourers in their fields, particularly their reapers; which one instance serves for many others; and is the rather mentioned, because reaping is a laborious work, and those who are employed in it have nothing to live upon but their hand labour; and especially because they are made use of in cutting down the corn when it is fully ripe, and in great plenty; wherefore, to detain their just wages from them argues great inhumanity and wickedness; and yet this was what was done by rich men:
which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth; unto God for vengeance, as the blood of Abel did; and shows that such an evil, however privately and fraudulently it may be done, will be made public, and is a crying one:
and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth; that is, the Lord of hosts; of angels, and of men; of the host of heaven, and of the inhabitants of the earth; of Jews and Gentiles, and of rich and poor; and who has power to vindicate the cause of the latter against their rich oppressors, and will do it; his ears are open to their cries, he takes notice of them, and regards them, and will take vengeance on those that injure them. The reference is to Deuteronomy 24:15.
Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter.Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth,.... This is said of other rich men; for all that is here said is not to be understood of the same individuals, but some things of one, and some of another; some made no use of their riches, either for themselves, or others; some did make use of them, and employed the poor, and then would not give them their wages; and others lived a voluptuous and luxurious life, indulged themselves in carnal lusts and pleasures, and gratified the senses by eating, drinking, gaming, and so were dead while they lived. The phrase suggests, that their pleasures were but short lived, but for a season, even while they were on earth; and that hereafter they would not live in pleasure:
and been wanton; through the abundance and plenty of good things, their delicious way of living, and the swing of pleasures which they took; the allusion is to fatted beasts, which being in good pastures, grow fat and wanton:
ye have nourished your hearts as in a day of slaughter, when beasts were slain for some extraordinary entertainment, or for the solemn festivals and sacrifices the Jews, when they lived more deliciously than at other times; and then the sense is, that these rich men fared sumptuously every day; every day was a festival with them; they indulged themselves in intemperance; they ate and drank, not merely what was necessary, and satisfying, and cheering to nature, but to excess, and gorged, and filled themselves in an extravagant manner: the Syriac version, instead of "hearts", reads "bodies" and one copy reads, "your flesh": and the last phrase may be rendered, as it is in the same version, "as unto", or "for the day of slaughter"; and so the Arabic version, "ye have nourished your hearts, as fattened for the day of slaughter": like beasts that are fattened in order to be killed, so were they preparing and fitting up by their sins for destruction.
Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you.Ye have condemned and killed the just,.... Meaning not Christ, the Just One, as some have thought; whom the Jewish sanhedrim condemned as guilty of death, and got the sentence passed upon him, and him to be crucified by Pontius Pilate, on the day of slaughter, at the time of the passover, as some connect the last clause of the preceding verse with this; since the apostle is not writing to the Jerusalem Jews, nor to unbelievers, but to professors of religion; though he might say they did it, because their nation did it: but rather this is to be understood of the poor saints, who were just, through the imputation of Christ's righteousness to them, and lived soberly, righteously, and godly, and were harmless and inoffensive in their conversation: who were evil spoken of, censured, and judged, and condemned in a rash and uncharitable manner by their brethren; or were drawn to the judgment seats by the rich, who obtained a judicial process against them, and procured a sentence of condemnation to pass upon them unrighteously; and who killed them, by taking away their good names from them, and by withholding from them their supplies of life, the fruit of their own labour, whereby their lives were embittered and made miserable:
and he doth not resist you; it being neither in his power, nor in his inclination; but takes it patiently, quietly submits, and makes no opposition: or God does not resist you, as yet; he will do it shortly.
Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain.Be patient therefore, brethren,.... The apostle here addresses himself to the poor who were oppressed by the rich men, and these he calls "brethren" of whom he was not ashamed; when he does not bestow this title upon the rich, though professors of the same religion: these poor brethren he advises to be patient under their sufferings, to bear them with patience,
unto the coming of the Lord; not to destroy Jerusalem, but either at death, or at the last, judgment; when he will take vengeance on their oppressors, and deliver them from all their troubles, and put them into the possession of that kingdom, and glory, to which they are called; wherefore, in the mean while, he would have them be quiet and easy, not to murmur against God, nor seek to take vengeance on men, but leave it to God, to whom it belongs, who will judge his people:
behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth; ripe fruit, which arises from the seed he sows in the earth; and which may be called "precious", because useful both to man and beast; see Deuteronomy 33:14 and between this, and the sowing of the seed, is a considerable time, during which the husbandman waits; and this may be an instruction in the present case:
and hath patience for it until he receive the early and latter rain; the Jews had seldom rains any more than twice a year; the early, or former rain, was shortly after the feast of tabernacles (u), in the month Marchesvan, or October, when the seed was sown in the earth; and if it did not rain, they prayed for it, on the third or seventh day of the month (w); and the latter rain was in Nisan, or March (x), just before harvest; and to this distinction the passage refers.
(u) Bartenora in Misn. Taanith, c. 1. sect. 2.((w) T. Bab. Taanith, fol. 4. 2. & 6. 1. & 10. 1. & Bava Metzia, fol. 28. 1. Maimon. Tephilla, c. 2. sect. 16. (x) Targum, Jarchi, Kimchi, & Miclol Jophi in Joel ii. 23. Vajikra Rabba, sect. 35. fol. 175. 3.
Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.Be ye also patient,.... As well as the husbandman, and like him; and wait for the rains and dews of divine grace to fall, and make fruitful, and for the ripe fruit of eternal life; and in the mean while cheerfully and patiently bear all injuries, and oppressions:
stablish your hearts; though the state of the saints is stable, they being fixed in the everlasting love of God, in the covenant of grace, in the hands of Christ, and on the rock of ages; yet their hearts are very unstable, and so are their frames, and the exercise of grace in them, and need establishing, which God's work; which is often done by the means of the word and ordinances; and these the saints should make use of, for the establishing of their hearts: the sense may be, take heart, be of good cheer, do not be dismayed, or faint, or sink under your pressures, but be of good courage, pluck up your spirits, lift up your heads: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh; when he will render tribulation to them that trouble them, free them from all their sorrows and afflictions, and enter them into the joy of their Lord; which will be either at death, which was not very far off, or at the last day, which was drawing nearer and nearer, and which with God was near; with whom a thousand years are as one day.
Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door.Grudge not one against another, brethren,.... On account of any happiness, temporal or spiritual, which another enjoys; do not inwardly repine at it; or secretly sigh and groan in an envious manner at it, though nothing may be said, as the word used signifies; much less complain of, accuse, and condemn one another, or meditate and seek revenge:
lest ye be condemned; hereafter, at the bar of Christ, by the Judge of the whole earth, who is privy to the secret murmurings and grumblings, and the envious sighs and groans of men; see Matthew 7:1
behold the judge standeth before the door; there is another that judgeth, who is the Lord, and he is at hand; he is just at the door; a little while and he will come, and not tarry; which may refer not to Christ's coming to destroy Jerusalem, but to his second coming to judgment, which will be quickly; for the Gospel times are the last times; there will be no other age; at the end of this, Christ will come.
Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience.Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord,.... Men who have been highly honoured of God, with a gift of prophesying, or foretelling things to come; to whom God revealed his secrets, doing nothing without acquainting them with it; and who were sent forth by him, and prophesied in his name what were made known unto them; and yet, though these were his favourites, they suffered much; as cruel mockings, scourgings, imprisonment, famine, nakedness, and death in various shapes; some being stoned, others sawn asunder, and others killed by the sword; all which they endured with incredible patience. And therefore the apostle proposes them to be taken,
for an example suffering affliction, and of patience; their afflictions were many and great, and yet they were very patient under them; and through faith and patience they went through them, and now inherit the promises; and so are a very proper example and pattern for New Testament saints to follow and copy after.
Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.Behold, we count them happy which endure,.... Affliction, with courage, constancy, and patience, and hold out to the end; for such shall be saved; theirs is the kingdom of heaven; they are happy now, and will be so hereafter: the Spirit of God, and of glory, now rests upon them; and it is an honour done them that they are counted worthy to suffer for Christ; and they will be glorified with him to all eternity; the consideration of which may serve to encourage and increase patience.
Ye have heard of the patience of Job; from the account which is given of him, and his patience, in the book that bears his name; how he behaved under every trial, which came one upon the back of another; as the plundering of his substance, the loss of his children, and of the health of his body; and yet in all this Job sinned not, nor murmured against God, nor charged him foolishly, and was a mirror of patience; and though he afterwards let fall some expressions of impatience, yet he was humbled for them, and brought to repentance: this shows, that as the Apostle James, so the Jews, to whom he writes, believed that there had been really such a man as Job; and that the book which bears his name is an authentic piece of holy Scripture, and contains a narrative of matters of fact; or otherwise this reference to him would have been impertinent. How long Job endured the chastenings of the Lord cannot be said. The Jews (y) say they continued on him twelve months, which they gather from Job 7:3.
And have seen the end of the Lord; that is, the happy end, or exodus, out of all his troubles; which the Lord gave "to him", as the Oriental versions add; for he gave him twice as much as he had before, and blessed his latter end more than his beginning, Job 42:10. Some understand this of the Lord Jesus Christ, both of his great patience in sufferings, in which he is an example to his people, and they would do well to look to, and consider him; and of the end of his sufferings, his glorious resurrection from the dead, and session at the right hand of God, where he is crowned with glory and honour; but the former sense is best:
that the Lord is very pitiful and of tender mercy; as to Job, so to all his people; his paternal relation to them engages his pity towards them; nor does he willingly afflict them; and when he does, he sympathizes with them; he is afflicted with them, and in his pity redeems them; his heart moves towards them, and he earnestly remembers them, and works deliverance for them in his own time and way; and therefore it becomes them to be patient.
(y) Seder Olam Rabba, c. 3. p. 9.
But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation.But above all things, my brethren, swear not,.... As impatience should not show itself in secret sighs, groans, murmurings, and repinings, so more especially it should not break forth in rash oaths, or in profane swearing; for of such sort of swearing, and of such oaths, is the apostle to be understood; otherwise an oath is very lawful, when taken in the fear and name of God, and made by the living God, and is used for the confirmation of anything of moment, and in order to put an end to strife; God himself, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and angels, and good men, are in Scripture sometimes represented as swearing: and that the apostle is so to be understood, appears from the form of swearing prohibited,
neither by the heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath; of the like kind; such as are forbidden, and cautioned, and reasoned against by our Lord, in Matthew 5:34 to which the apostle manifestly refers; See Gill on Matthew 5:34, Matthew 5:35, Matthew 5:36.
But let your yea be yea, and your nay, nay; that is, whenever there is an occasion for affirming, or denying anything, let it be done nakedly, simply, and absolutely, without any form of oath annexed to it; for whatever addition of that kind is made comes from evil, and tends to it, and is evil:
lest ye fall into condemnation; by the Lord; for either false, or rash, or profane swearing; for he will not suffer it to go unpunished; see Exodus 20:7. Some copies read, "lest ye fall into hypocrisy"; or dissimulation, and get into a habit and custom of lying and deceiving, as common swearers do; and so reads the Arabic version.
Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.Is any among you afflicted?.... As the people of God generally are; they are commonly a poor, and an afflicted people; at least there are many among them that are so, and many are their afflictions: those whom Christ loves, as he did Lazarus, are not free from sicknesses and diseases; and these are rather signs of love than arguments against it; and when this is the case of any of the saints, what is to be done?
let him pray; to God that can save him; in the name of Christ; under the influence of the Spirit; believing in the word of promise. Times of afflictions are proper times for prayer; there is then more especially need of it; and God sometimes lays his afflicting hand upon his people, when they have been negligent of their duty, and he has not heard of them for some time, in order to bring them near to him, to seek his face, pay him a visit, and pour out a prayer before him; see Psalm 50:15.
Is any merry? in good heart and spirit, in a good frame of mind, as well as in prosperous circumstances, in soul, body and estate:
let him sing psalms; let him not only be inwardly joyful, as he should be in prosperity, and be thankful to God for his many mercies, temporal and spiritual, he enjoys; but let him express it vocally, and melodiously, by singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs: not that these are the only persons that are to sing psalms, or this the only time, any more than that afflicted persons are the only ones that are to pray, or the time of affliction the only time of prayer; but as affliction more especially calls for prayer, so spiritual joy, and rejoicing in prosperous seasons, for singing of psalms: weeping, and singing of psalms, were thought, by the Jews, inconsistent. Kimchi, on the title of the third psalm, observes, that their Rabbins say, that when David went up the ascent of the Mount of Olives, he wept; and if he wept, why is this called a psalm? and if a psalm, , "why did he weep?"
Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord:Is any sick among you?.... Which is often the case; the bodies of the saints, as well as others, are liable to a variety of diseases; they are sick, and sometimes nigh unto death, as Epaphroditus was: and then,
let him call for the elders of the church; in allusion to the elders of the congregation of Israel, Leviticus 4:15. By these may be meant, either the elder members of the church, men of gravity and soundness in the faith, persons of long standing and experience; who have the gift and grace of prayer, and are not only capable of performing that duty, but of giving a word of counsel and advice to the sick. It was a kind of proverbial saying of Aristophanes the grammarian;
"the works of young men, the counsels of middle aged persons, and , "the prayers of ancient men" (z):''
or rather officers of churches are meant, particularly pastors, who are so called in Scripture; these should be sent for in times of sickness, as well as physicians; and rather than they, since their prayers may be the means of healing both soul and body: so in former times, the prophets of God were sent to in times of sickness, for advice and assistance. It is a saying of R. Phinehas ben Chama (a) that
"whoever has a sick person in his house, let him go to a wise man, and he will seek mercy for him.''
And it follows here,
and let them pray over him; or for him, for the recovery of his health:
anointing him with oil, in the name of the Lord; which some think was only done in a common medicinal way, oil being used much in the eastern countries for most disorders; and so these elders used ordinary medicine, as well as prayer: or rather this refers to an extraordinary gift, which some elders had of healing diseases, as sometimes by touching, and by laying on of hands, or by expressing some words, and so by anointing with oil; see Mark 6:13 which extraordinary gifts being now ceased, the rite or ceremony of anointing with oil ceases in course: however, this passage gives no countenance to the extreme unction of the Papists; that of theirs being attended with many customs and ceremonies, which are not here made mention of; that being used, as is pretended, for the healing of the souls of men, whereas this was used for corporeal healing; that is only performed when life is despaired of, and persons are just going out of the world; whereas this was made use of to restore men to health, and that they might continue longer in it, as follows.
(z) Apud Harpocratian. Lex. p. 125. (a) T. Bab. Bava Bathra, fol. 116. 1.
And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.And the prayer of faith shall save the sick,.... That is, the prayer of the elders, being put up in faith by them, and in which the sick person joins by faith; such a prayer is a means of bringing down from God a blessing on the sick man, and of restoring him to his former health:
and the Lord shall raise him up; from his bed of sickness, on which he is laid, and bring him forth to praise his name, and to fear and glorify him.
And if he have committed sins; not that it is a question whether he has or not, for no man lives without sin, nor the commission of it; but the sense is, if he has been guilty of any sins, which God in particular has taken notice of, and on account of which he has laid his chastising hand upon him, in order to bring him to a sense of them, and to acknowledge them; which is sometimes the case, though not always, at the same time that his bodily health is restored:
they shall be forgiven him; he shall have a discovery, and an application of pardoning grace to him: and indeed the removing the sickness or disease may be called the forgiveness of his sins, which is sometimes the sense of this phrase in Scripture, as in 1 Kings 8:34.
Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.Confess your faults one to another,.... Which must be understood of sins committed against one another; which should be acknowledged, and repentance for them declared, in order to mutual forgiveness and reconciliation; and this is necessary at all times, and especially on beds of affliction, and when death and eternity seem near approaching: wherefore this makes nothing for auricular confession, used by the Papists; which is of all sins, whereas this is only of such by which men offend one another; that is made to priests, but this is made by the saints to one another, by the offending party to him that is offended, for reconciliation, whereby a good end is answered; whereas there is none by the other, and very often bad consequences follow.
And pray for one another, that ye may be healed; both corporeally and spiritually:
the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. Not any man's prayer; not the prayer of a profane sinner, for God heareth not sinners; nor of hypocrites and formal professors: but of the righteous man, who is justified by the righteousness of Christ, and has the truth of grace in him, and lives soberly and righteously; for a righteous man often designs a good man, a gracious man, one that is sincere and upright, as Job, Joseph of Arimathea, and others; though not without sin, as the person instanced in the following verse shows; "Elias, who was a man of like passions", but a just man, and his prayer was prevalent: and not any prayer of a righteous man is of avail, but that which is "effectual, fervent"; that has power, and energy, and life in it; which is with the Spirit, and with the understanding, with the heart, even with a true heart, and in faith; and which is put up with fervency, and not in a cold, lukewarm, lifeless, formal, and customary way: it is but one word in the original text; and the Vulgate Latin version renders it, "daily"; that prayer which is constant and continual, and without ceasing, and is importunate; this prevails and succeeds, as the parable of the widow and the unjust judge shows. Some translate the word "inspired": the Spirit of God breathes into men the breath of spiritual life, and they live, and being quickened by him, they breathe; and prayer is the breath of the spiritual man, and is no other than the reverberation of the Spirit of God in him; and such prayer cannot fail of success: it may be rendered "inwrought"; true prayer is not what is written in a book, but what is wrought in the heart, by the Spirit of God; who is the enditer of prayer, who impresses the minds of his people with a sense of their wants, and fills their mouths with arguments, and puts strength into them to plead with God, and makes intercession for them according to the will of God; and such prayer is always heard, and regarded by him: this has great power with God; whatever is asked, believing, is received; God can deny nothing prayed for in this manner; it has great power with Christ, as Jacob had over the angel, when he wrestled with him; and as the woman of Canaan, when she importuned him, on account of her daughter, and would have no denial: such prayer has often been of much avail against Satan, who has been dispossessed by it; even the most stubborn kind of devils have been dislodged by fasting and prayer: it has often been the means of preserving kingdoms and nations, when invaded by enemies, as the instances of Jehoshaphat and Hezekiah show; and of removing judgments from a people, as was often done, through the prayers of Moses, as when fire and fiery serpents were sent among them; and of bringing down blessings as rain from heaven by Elijah; and of delivering particular persons from trouble, as Peter was delivered from prison, through the incessant prayer of the church for him: and this power, and efficacy, and prevalence of prayer, does not arise from any intrinsic worth and merit in it, but from the grace of the Spirit, who influences and endites it, directs to it, and assists in it; and from the powerful mediation, precious blood, and efficacious sacrifice of Christ; and from the promise of God and Christ, who have engaged, that whatever is asked according to the will of God, and in the name of Christ, shall be done. The Jews have had formerly a great notion of prayer: the power of prayer, they say (b), is strong; and extol it above all other services: they say (c), it is better than good works, or than offerings and sacrifices; and particularly, the prayer of righteous men: says R. Eliezar (d).
"to what is , "prayer of righteous men" like? it is like a shovel: the sense is, that as the shovel turns the corn on the floor, from one place to another, so prayer turns the holy blessed God from wrath to mercy.''
(b) Zohar in Exod. fol. 100. 1.((c) T. Bab. Beracot, fol. 32. 2.((d) T. Bab. Succa, fol. 14. 1. & Yebamot, fol. 64. 1.
Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months.Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are,.... The apostle gives an instance of earnest and fervent prayer, and of the efficacy of it in Elias; who is the same with the prophet Elijah, or Elijah the Tishbite; who, by the Septuagint in Malachi 4:5 is called Elias, as here, and elsewhere, in the New Testament: of him James says, that he was a "man", contrary to the notion of some of the Jewish writers, who affirm, that Elijah was not born of a father and mother, but was an angel, who was clothed with the four elements of the world (e); but he was not only born, but born in sin, as others are, and was by nature no better than others; and he himself confesses that he was no better than his fathers, 1 Kings 19:4. And the apostle further observes; concerning him, that be was "subject to like passions as we are"; both in body and soul; he was subject to hunger and weariness, and was fed by ravens, and by the widow of Zarephath, and by an angel; and he was subject to reproach, affliction, and persecution, being charged by Ahab as a troubler of Israel, and persecuted by Jezebel, who sought his life; he was a mortal man, and liable to death, and requested to die, and must have died, had it not been for the wonderful power of God, which translated him, that he should not see death; and he was not free from sinful passions, as impatience, fear, and unbelief, 1 Kings 17:20. And he prayed earnestly; or prayed in prayer; an Hebraism: it is said (f) of one, that , "he prayed his prayer"; and of others, that , "they prayed prayers"; though the phrase here seems to design something more than bare praying; a praying, not merely externally, or formally, and with the lip only, but with the Spirit, and with the understanding, and with the heart engaged in it, with inwrought prayer. The prophet prayed with much earnestness, with great vehemence and intenseness of Spirit, as this Hebraism denotes; his prayer was fervent, and it was constant, and importunate, and was continued till he had an answer: he may be thought to have prayed each of the seven times he sent his servant to look out for a sign of rain, 1 Kings 18:43, he first prayed,
that it might not rain; this is not recorded in express words, but may be gathered from 1 Kings 17:1 where he says, "as the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew, nor rain, these years, but according to my word"; so the passage is understood by the Jewish interpreters: the phrase, "before whom I stand", is paraphrased by one of them (g) thus; before whom I am used to stand, "in prayer"; and it is a common saying with the Jews, there is no standing ever mentioned, but prayer is intended; See Gill on Matthew 6:5 And the other phrase, "according to my word", is, by another (h), interpreted to this sense, that the rain should not descend naturally, according to the custom of the world, but it should descend when Elijah , "prayed for it", and so it was:
and it rained not on the earth: on the land of Israel, which is only meant; it rained in other parts of the world, for the drought in those times was not universal: and this was,
by the space of three years and six months; which exactly agrees with the words of Christ, Luke 4:25 and this was in judgment upon the land of Israel, for the idolatry it was filled with in the times of Ahab: and this instance of prayer is mentioned, not with a view that it should be imitated; we are not to pray for judgments, unless we have a divine order for it, as Elijah had; but to show the efficacy of prayer made according to the will of God.
(e) Zohar in Gen. fol. 31. 1. & Imre Binah in ib. (f) Ib. in Exod. fol. 4. 2. & in Numb. fol. 79. 2.((g) R. David, Kimchi in loc. (h) Vid. Laniado in loc.
And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.And he prayed again,.... 1 Kings 18:42. Here also is no express mention of his prayer, but it may be concluded from his gestures; and so the Jewish interpreters understand these words, "Elijah went up to the top of Carmel", "to pray, and he cast himself down upon the earth", , "to pray for rain; and he put his face between his knees", "and prayed, and said to his servant, go up now, look toward the sea"; and this he said while he was "in his prayers" (i): and the effect of this his prayer was,
and the heaven gave rain; see 1 Kings 18:45.
And the earth brought forth her fruit: which for the years past it had not; hence there was a sore famine in the land, 1 Kings 18:2. Now the apostle chose to give this example, because it was a common thing for the Jews to ask for rain: we often read of such a doctor, that he prayed for rain, and it came; and of another, that he asked for the rains, and they descended (k): and his view is to observe, that the weakness and infirmities of the saints ought not to discourage them from prayer; and that they should be earnest and fervent in it, as was Elias, a man of like passions with themselves.
(i) Jarchi, Kimchi, Ralbag, & Laniado in loc. (k) T. Bab. Moed Katon, fol. 28. 1. & Taanith, fol. 19. 1. 23. 1. 24. 2. 25. 2. & Yoma, fol. 53. 2.
Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him;Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth,.... Either from Christ, who is the truth, by departing from him, forsaking his ways, worship, and ordinances; or from the Scriptures of truth, not speaking according to them, and embracing notions that are contrary unto them; or from the Gospel, the word of truth, from the doctrine of faith, and from uprightness of life and conversation, after having made a profession of Christianity; for this is to be understood of one who has embraced the Christian religion, become a member of a church, and has walked in the path of truth and holiness, but now fallen into error, either in principle, or in practice, or both:
and one convert him; or turn him from his error, to truth again; for this designs not first conversion, or the turning of a sinner from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God, and from the evil of a man's heart and ways and from a dependence on his own righteousness, to the Lord Jesus Christ, to look to him for righteousness, life, and salvation, which is wholly and entirely God's work, and not man's; but conversion after backslidings; for a restoration from a fallen condition is sometimes so called, Psalm 51:1 and which one brother may be an instrument of to another, by showing him, and setting before him, the evil of his errors, whether in principle or practice; and by instructing him in the doctrines of the Gospel, and in the duties of religion; and by reproving him in meekness, and according to the rules of Christ; which means are sometimes blessed for the gaining of such; and which may be called conversion: and also, this is sometimes done by praying for him; and which seems chiefly to be intended here; for from praying for the healing of the diseases of the body, the apostle proceeds to encourage the saints to pray for one another, for the healing of the diseases of the mind; and suggests, that if prayer avails to the one, it may to the other; and which is the most desirable, and the greatest blessing, as follows.
Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.Let him know,.... And observe it for his encouragement:
that he which converteth a sinner from the error of his way; who is the instrument of restoring a backsliding professor, for such an one is meant by a sinner, and not a profane person; or of turning a poor bewildered believer, who is got out of the way of truth and holiness, into the right way again; or of convincing him of the error of his way, whether it be in point of doctrine, or of duty; and so of bringing him to the fold of Christ again, from whence he has strayed:
shall save a soul from death; not efficiently, but instrumentally, as in 1 Timothy 4:16 for otherwise Christ is the only Saviour; and he will be the means of saving "a soul", which is of more worth than a world; and that from death, the second death which lies in the separation of the soul from God, and in a sense of his wrath; which apostasy threatens with, and leads unto, if grace prevents not. The Alexandrian copy and others, and the Vulgate Latin version read, "his soul"; but the common reading is more emphatic; the Syriac and Arabic versions render it, "his own soul"; and the Ethiopic version, "himself", as respecting him that is the instrument of the conversion of the other, and not the person converted:
and shall hide a multitude of sins; either "his own", as the same versions read; and then the sense is, he shall be blessed with a discovery and application of the forgiveness of all his sins, though they have been many and great; or rather the sins of the person converted. Sin is only covered by the blood and righteousness of Christ; and thereby it is so covered, as not to be seen by the eye of vindictive justice and in such manner as that the persons of those who are covered therewith are all fair, without fault and unreproveable in the sight of God; and though their sins are many, even a multitude, they are blotted out as a thick cloud, and are abundantly pardoned; yea, all their sins are covered, be they ever so many, for God forgives all trespasses, for Christ's sake; and the blood of Christ cleanses from all sin, and his righteousness justifies from all: and whoever is an instrument of bringing a backslider to a sense of the evil of his ways, and to true repentance for the same; as he, upon such repentance, has his iniquities caused to pass from him, or, in other words, to be covered, as from the sight of God, so from his own; he may be said to be the instrument of this also.