James 4
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Gazing upon the fair portraiture of the heavenly wisdom with which James 3. closes, we perhaps feel as if we could make tabernacles for ourselves in its peaceful presence, that we might continue always to contemplate its beauty. Immediately, however, James brings us down again from the holy mount into the quarrelsome and murderous world. He points us to the "wars" and "fightings" that rage throughout the human family. He returns to the "bitter jealousy and faction" that eat like a gangrene into the heart of the Christian Church. For the congregations which the apostles themselves formed were tainted with the same impurities which cling to the Church in our own time.

I. THE PREVALENCE OF STRIFE AMONG CHRISTIANS. (Ver. 1) In the believing communities of" the Dispersion" there were many elements of discord. The time was one of political agitation and of social turbulence. Within the Churches there were sometimes bitter theological disputes (James 3.). And in private life these Jewish Christians were largely giving themselves up to the besetting sin, not only of Hebrew nature, but of human nature; they struggled for material self-aggrandizement, and in doing so fell into violent mutual conflict. But do not quarrels and controversies of the same kind rage still? Christian nations go to war with one another. Employers and workmen array themselves against each other in hostile camps. Churches cherish within their bosoms the viper of sectarianism. Fellow-believers belonging to the same congregation cease to be on speaking terms with one another, and perhaps indulge in mutual backbiting. How sad to contemplate the long "wars" waged in hearts which should love as brethren, and to witness those outward "fightings" which are their inevitable outcome!

II. THE ORIGIN OF STRIFE. (Vers. 1, 2.) "Whence" comes it? asks James; and he appeals in his answer to the consciences of his readers. The source of strife is in the evil desires of the heart. Usually, it is true, all wars and fightings are traced no further than to some outward cause. One nation attacks another professedly to maintain the country's honor, or perhaps to rectify an unscientific frontier. Trade strikes and locks-out are to be explained by an unsatisfactory condition of the labor market. Ecclesiastical contentions are all alike justified by some assumed necessity in the interests of truth, and sometimes also by a misinterpretation of the words, "first pure, then peaceable" (James 3:17). And the personal quarrels that break out among individual Christians are sure to be ascribed to severe and gratuitous provocation. But here, true to his character as the apostle of reality, James sweeps away these excuses as so many dusty cobwebs. He drags out into the blaze of gospel light the one true origin of strife. "Wars" and "fightings have their fountain within the soul, and not without. They come of your pleasures," i.e. of the cravings of your carnal hearts. it is royal pride, or the lust of power, or sometimes the mischievous impatience of an idle army, that "lets slip the dogs of war" between nations. It is avarice and envy that foment the social strife between capital and labor. It is the spirit of Diotrephes that produces the evils of sectarianism. It is the wild and selfish passions of the natural heart that stir up the animosities and conflicts of private life. These passions "war in your members;" issuing from the citadel of "Mansoul," they pitch their camp in the organs of sense and action. There they not only "war against' the regenerated nature (1 Peter 2:11), and against one another, but against one's neighbor, - clamouring for gratification at the expense of his rights and his welfare. This truth is further expanded in ver. 2, and in a way which recalls James 1:14, 15; or which suggests the analysis of sin given by Thomas a Kempis: "Primo occurrit menti simplex cogitatio; deinde fortis imaginatio; postea delectatio et motus pravus et assensio." The first stage is that of unreasonably desiring something which we have not. The second is that of murderously envying those whose possessions we covet - cherishing such feelings as David did towards Uriah the Hittite, or Ahab towards Naboth. The third stage is that of open contention and discord - "ye fight and war." But common to all the stages is the consciousness of want; and at the end of each, as ver. 2 reminds us, this consciousness becomes further intensified. Ye "have not;" "cannot obtain;" "ye have not," - even after all your fierce strivings. The war-spirit, therefore, is generated by that unrest of the soul which only the God of peace can remove. It has its source in that devouring hunger of the heart which only the bread of God can appease. And to cure it we must ascertain what the great nature of man needs, in order to make him restful and happy.

III. THE REMEDY FOR STRIFE. (Vers. 2, 3.) It lies in prayer. If we would have our nature restored to restfulness, we must realize our dependence upon God. To struggle after the world in our own strength will tend only to foster the war-spirit within us. Perhaps we have not hitherto directly consulted the Lord about our worldly affairs. If not, let us begin to do so now. Or perhaps we have "asked amiss," in praying chiefly for what would gratify only the lower elements of our nature, or requesting blessings with a view to certain uses of them which would not bear to be mentioned before his throne. We cannot e.g. expect God to answer the prayer that our worldly business may prosper, if we secretly resolve to employ what success he sends in catering for self glorification. The things that we ask must be what we need for the Lord's service; and we must honestly purpose so to use them. The cultivation of the true spirit of devotion is the way to contentment with our lot in life. We shall secure peace among the powers and passions of the heart, if we "seek first our Father's kingdom and his righteousness." Regular soul-converse with God will exorcise the demons of discord, and call into exercise the gracious affections of faith, submission, gratitude, and peace.


1. The wickedness of the war-spirit.

2. The defilement and degradation which result from allowing selfish motives to govern the heart.

3. The blessedness of making God our Portion, and of resting contented with our allotted share of temporal good.

4. The duty of forgiving our enemies, and of promoting peace in the Church and in society. - C.J.

He has just been speaking of peace. But this leads him to survey the actual state of things: disputes, strifes, murders. (For condition of Jewish society at this time, see Plumptre's notes: "rife with atrocities.") And he will ascend to the origin of them. Whence come they? They proceed from the restlessness of the unregenerate nature, seeking, but seeking in vain, its satisfaction in the world. These two topics, then, are introduced to us: dissatisfaction with the world; satisfaction in God.

I. DISSATISFACTION WITH THE WORLD. Man's nature consists of higher and lower, spiritual and psychical, the one designed by God to govern and regulate the other. But without such governance the desires of the lower life are riotous and rampant, and the members of the ungoverned man are the battle-ground for base cravings. And from the man himself the battle is projected into the world.

1. But what is the result of this unbridled craving for the world? A nature that is never satisfied.

(1) Baffled desires and efforts towards the world. Ever more and more inflamed, for there is a certain infiniteness in man's cravings; ever more and more disappointed, for there is a palling finiteness in the world towards which man's infinite cravings go forth.

(2) The non-existence of desires towards God, who alone can satisfy. "Ye ask not" (ver. 2); or, "Ye ask amiss;" not sincerely for God's blessing itself, but merely for the selfish gratification of worldly desires (ver. 3).

2. And what the guilt of this condition? The guilt of absolute ungodliness!

(1) The world-desires themselves, unbridled and lawless as they are, are evidence of divorce from God (ver. 4).

(2) The spirit of envy which they provoke is absolutely opposed to God (ver. 5). Yes, it is from below.

II. SATISFACTION IN GOD. But, it may be said, we are naturally so prone to sin; we covet, we envy, as being to the manner born. Yes, truly; and only God's grace can suffice. But God's grace can suffice, and it is abundantly given (ver. 6).

1. Let us notice the terms upon which this grace is given.

(1) Towards God: humility (ver. 10), and submission (ver. 7).

Towards the tempter: resistance (ver. 7).

(3) Towards sin: repentance

(a) of the will - cleansing the hands and purifying the heart (ver. 8);

(b) of the feelings (ver. 9).

(4) Towards God, again: drawing nigh, as to a Refuge (ver. 8).

2. And the results of this craving after God?

(1) God's nearness to man (ver. 8; so John 1:51; John 17:22, 23).

(2) Man's exaltation to God (ver. 10).

So, virtually, in the ascension of Christ; so actually by-and-by (John 14:3). The same old war in the members, from the beginning until now. It must be put down by a more righteous war. A war which demands all the abounding grace of God. Let us learn, then, sternness towards sin; strong trust towards God. And so he will give the victory. - T.F.L.

Here the apostle follows up the words of rebuke and warning with which the chapter opened. The doctrine which he enunciates is uncompromising; and his language startling, as welt as solemn.

I. THE ANTAGONISM BETWEEN THE LOVE OF THE WORLD AND THE LOVE OF GOD. (Ver. 4.) This painful epithet, "Ye adulteresses," is the key-note of the chord which James strikes in his appeal. God is the rightful spiritual Husband of every professing Christian; and thus, if such a one embraces the world, he or she resembles a woman who turns away from her lawful husband to follow other lovers. The world is an evil world, alien in its principles and pursuits from the will and glory of God; and therefore "the friendship of the world" is incompatible with the love of him. But what precisely is this "friendship"? It does not lie

(1) in habits of friendly intercourse with worldly men; or

(2) in the diligent pursuit of one's daily occupation; or

(3) in an appreciation of creature comforts and innocent pleasures.

Worldliness does not depend upon outward acts or habits. It is a state of the heart. The word denotes the spirit and guiding disposition of the unbeliever's life - the will to "be a friend of the world." Since, accordingly, this friendship represents direct opposition to the Divine will, every man who seeks it first and most declares himself by that very act "an enemy of God."

II. CONFIRMATION OF THIS TRUTH. (Vers. 5, 6.) We accept as accurate the Greek reading of ver. 5 which has been adopted by the Revisers, together with their translation: "Or think ye that the Scripture speaketh in vain? Doth the Spirit which he made to dwell in us long unto envying?" The apostle, accordingly, confirms his representation regarding the antagonism between the love of the world and the love of God by:

1. The tenor of Scripture teaching. The sacred writers with one consent take up an attitude of protest against worldliness. They uniformly assume that "the friendship of the world is enmity with God." They urge the duty of moderation in one's desires, and of contentment with the allotments of Providence. The worldly disposition, which shows itself in covetousness and envy and strife, is opposed both to the letter and the spirit of Holy Scripture. And the moral teaching of God's Word on this subject is not "in vain." The Bible means what it says. In all its utterances it is solemnly earnest.

2. The consciousness of the renewed heart. "Doth the Spirit [i.e. the Holy Spirit] which he made to dwell in us long unto envying?" If the Holy Ghost, speaking in the written Word, condemns the spirit of envy, he does so also in the law which he writes upon the hearts of Christ's people. Some of those to whom this Epistle was addressed had "bitter jealousy and faction in their hearts" (James 3:14): it was seen in their worldly "wars" and "fightings." But the apostle appeals to their consciences to confess whether such a state of mind was not due to their walking "after the flesh' instead of "after the Spirit." They knew well that the power of the Holy Ghost within their souls, in so tar as they yielded themselves to it, produced always very different fruit from that of envy and strife (Galatians 5:19-23; James 3:14-18).

3. The substance of the Divine promises. (Ver. 6.) "Grace" is the name for the influence which the Holy Spirit exerts upon the heart in order to its regeneration and sanctification. And how does grace operate, but just by killing the love of the world within the soul, and breathing into it the love of God? He, by his Spirit, gives to his believing people "more grace," i.e. supplies of grace greater in force and volume than the strength of their depravity, or the temptations against which they have to contend. Not only so, but those who employ well the grace which they already possess, shall receive more in ever-increasing measure (Matthew 25:29). And "the humble," who realize must deeply that they do not deserve any grace at all, are those upon whom God has always bestowed the most copious supplies. The further we depart from pride, which is the fruitful mother of envy and strife, the more freely and abundantly shall we receive that supernatural energy which will drive the love of the world out of our hearts (Proverbs 3:34).

CONCLUSION. Let us impress upon our minds the intensity with which God abhors pride. All history echoes the truth that "he setteth himself in array against the proud." Take the case of Pharaoh, of Nebuchadnezzar, of Haman, of Wolsey, of Napoleon. For ourselves, therefore, let us "fling away ambition" in every form. Especially let us crucify spiritual pride. "Many laboring men have got good estates in the Valley of Humiliation;" and if we go there "in the summer-time" of prosperity we shall learn the song of the shepherd boy -

"He that is down needs fear no fall;
He that is low no pride;
He that is humble ever shall
Have God to be his Guide."

(Bunyan.) = - C.J.

This passage is a powerful and heart-stirring appeal to those professing Christians whose hearts had been full of worldly "pleasures" (ver. 3), and whose hands had been occupied with "wars and fightings." Within these four verses there are no fewer than ten verbs in the imperative mood; but the cardinal precept of the whole paragraph is the exhortation to submission, with which it both opens and closes. The other counsels in vers. 7-9 have reference to elements of conduct which are included in subjection to the Divine will.

I. THE DUTY OF SUBMISSION TO GOD. (Vers. 7, 10.) The immediate connection of "therefore" in ver. 7 is with the quotation at the close of ver. 6. "God sets himself in array against the proud; therefore, be subject unto God." You must either willingly humble yourselves, or be precipitately humbled by Divine Providence. "God giveth grace to the humble; therefore, be subject unto God." Clothe yourselves with humility, that you may enjoy this "grace." "Be subject" to the Captain of your salvation, as a good soldier is to his commander. Subjection to God includes:

1. Acquiescence in his plan of salvation. These Christian Jews of the Dispersion were to' avoid the sin of the Hebrew nation generally, in "not subjecting themselves to the righteousness of God" (Romans 10:3). And we "sinners of the Gentiles" must throw away that pride of self-righteousness which tempts us also to reject a method of redemption from which all boasting is excluded. We must make the blood of Jesus our only plea, and surrender our hearts to the gracious operations of the Holy Spirit.

2. Obedience to his law. If we submit ourselves to the righteousness of God in the gospel, we shall begin to reverence and admire and obey the moral law. We shall be willing that God should reign over us and rule within us. We shall allow him to control us in body and mind, in intellect and conscience, in heart and will, in act and habit. We shall forsake our sins. We shall long and labor to be holy.

3. Acceptance of his dealings in providence. We are to be contented with the lot in life which God has assigned to us. We are to be willing to receive evil as well as good at his hand. We must bear affliction patiently, not because it is useless to murmur, but because it is wrong to do so. In our times of sorrow we must not challenge God's sovereignty, or impugn his justice, or arraign his wisdom, or distrust his love. The spirit of Christian submission says, "Let us also rejoice in our tribulations" (Romans 5:3).

II. ELEMENTS OF CHARACTER WHICH ENTER INTO THIS SUBMISSION. These are set forth in the body of the passage (vers. 7-9).

1. We must resist Satan. (Ver. 7.) To "be subject unto God" necessarily involves resistance to God's great enemy. Human nature has in it the element of combativeness; and the greater any man's force of character, he is likely to be the more thorough a hater. But the Christian should not "fight and war" with his fellow-believers; his quarrel is to be with Satan, and with Satan's works. We are to "resist" the devil; we must not dispute or parley with him. We must not "give place" to him (Ephesians 4:27) by cherishing covetousness or envy; for, if we allow him any place at all, he may speedily take possession of the entire area of the heart. If, on the contrary, we "stand up against" Satan, "he will flee" from us. The power of the truth, the power of faith, the power of prayer, will silence his artillery. There is no giant temptation which may not be overcome with some small stone out of the brook of Holy Scripture, if we hurl it from the sling of faith, and with an arm guided by the Holy Spirit.

2. We must come near to God. (Ver. 8.) The design of all Satan's assaults is to prevent us from doing so; and the best way in which to "resist" him is resolutely to "draw nigh." What a blessed privilege to us sinners to be allowed to approach to the holy, just, and merciful Jehovah! He has opened for us a new and living way of access by the blood of Jesus. We draw near

(1) when we pray, for prayer is just the converse of the soul with God;

(2) when our deepest soul-longings go out towards him, who alone can be our Portion; and

(3) when, along with our supplications and our heart-yearnings, we live a pure and godly life. Nor shall any man who truly seeks God seek him in vain. God will be propitious to him, and visit him, and take up his abode with him.

3. We must put away our sins. (Vers. 8, 9.) For we cannot really "draw nigh" to God if we persist in hugging them. The act of coming near involves repentance; it carries with it resolutions and endeavors after amendment. We must "cleanse our hands" from the open sins of which our neighbors may be cognizant, and "purify our hearts" from those secret faults which are known only to God. Self-loathing should possess us when we realize our covetousness and double-mindedness, our divided affections and unstable spiritual purposes. Our repentance must be such as to involve us in misery; and we must cry out to God for pardon. Does any one object that we have in this a somewhat gloomy picture of the religious life? The answer is, that such is only a representation of it upon one side. Here we see the shadows of the life of grace; but its shadows are only the reflection of its joys. It is a blessed mourning of which the text speaks; and they that mourn thus "shall be comforted." Godly repentance is the true humility; and it conducts to the highest exaltation. "He shall exalt you" (ver. 10), giving you always "more grace" in this life, and a rich reversion of glory in the life to come. - C.J.

Here James still continues his warning against the spirit of selfishness and worldliness. In these two verses he issues a solemn interdict against the habit of calumny and unjust censure of brethren. For evil-speaking is one of the most familiar manifestations of that spirit of strife which he has already rebuked.


1. Fundamentally it is directed against evil-judging. The apostle's words are to be interpreted according to their spirit. He does not condemn all judging. God has implanted within us the critical faculty, the judgment; and we cannot avoid using it. Indeed, it is a Christian duty to pronounce upon conduct and character. We require to do so within our own breasts for our own moral guidance; while to judge publicly is a function of the civil magistrate and of Church rulers. What James condemns here is evil-judging - all judging that is censorious or calumnious. We are not to judge rashly, harshly, uncharitably. Even good Christians are tempted to transgress in this matter in many ways: e.g. from listening to mere rumor, from trusting to our own first impressions, from narrow-mindedness, from self-conceit, from mistaken views of the sufferings of others, from forgetting that we cannot look into our neighbors' hearts. In forming our judgments of conduct and character we should have regard to such principles as these:

(1) We have no right to come to an unfavorable conclusion unless we possess full knowledge of all the facts.

(2) We ought to guard against undue severity of judgment.

(3) We must not allow bad motives to warp our decisions.

(4) When acts are capable either of a favorable or an unfavorable construction, we are bound in charity to take the favorable view.

2. But the prohibition refers also to the expression of our judgments. It forbids evil, speaking. The vilest form of this sin consists in the willful creation of false reports against brethren. To originate such is literally diabolical. True Christians may seldom fall into this lowest and guiltiest form of calumny; but how readily do some of us yield ourselves to the circulation of slanders which have been poured into our ears! How frequently do we "take up a reproach against our neighbor" (Psalm 15:3)! We find it lying in our way, and we pick it up and pass it on, whereas we ought to allow it to remain where it is. Alas! even in Christian circles a small and slight rumor will sometimes expand speedily into a huge inflated calumny, which will scatter mischief and misery along its path. And even mere idle speaking degenerates into evil-speaking. Gossip soon becomes backbiting; scandal grows out of tittle-tattle. It is so much easier to talk of persons than of principles, that our dinner and tea parties, instead of being occupied with profitable subjects of conversation, are sometimes largely given over to the retail of scandal. We should ever bear in mind such principles as the following for our guidance in the expression of our judgments concerning others:

(1) The end of speech is to bless and serve God, while evil-speaking is work done for Satan.

(2) We should direct attention to the excellences rather than to the defects of our neighbor's character.

(3) When we require in private life to use the language of condemnation, we ought to condemn principles rather than persons.

(4) We should tell his fault to the erring brother himself rather than to others.

II. THE GROUNDS OF THE PROHIBITION. One strong argument is introduced incidentally, in the use of the words "brethren" and "brother." Depreciatory and calumnious language towards one another is subversive of the whole idea of brotherhood. It is inconsistent with the recognition of the common brotherhood of the race, and tenfold more so in relation to the special spiritual brotherhood of believers. The apostle, however, submits expressly two grounds for his condemnation. To judge and speak evil is:

1. To condemn the Divine Law. (Ver. 11.) "The law" refers to the moral code which was given by Moses, and fulfilled and made honorable by Jesus Christ. It is the same which James has spoken of in James 1. as "the law of liberty." Of this law the second great commandment is, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" - a precept which embraces within it the "judge not" of the Lord Jesus (Matthew 7:1). But the man who speaks evil of his brother virtually condemns the New Testament ethics as unsound, and pronounces the moral law to be unworthy of obedience.

2. To usurp the functions of the Divine Judge. (Vers. 11, 12.) Our proper place and work as Christians is that of humble submission to the authority of the law. If, however, we speak evil regarding our fellows, we in so doing withdraw altogether from the attitude of subjection. In "judging our brother" we climb up to the judicial bench; we usurp the seat of him who administers the law, and who is not himself under it. But how frightful the impiety that is involved in such usurpation! "One only is the Lawgiver and Judge;" he alone pronounces infallible judgments, and possesses power to execute them. His sentences are spoken for doom; yet he loves to "save," and it gives him" no pleasure" to "destroy."


1. The presumptuousness of evil-judging. "Who art thou that judgest thy neighbor?" Man lacks the requisite knowledge and wisdom and purity.

2. The duty of cultivating love of the brethren.

3. The importance of copying in our lives the perfect character of the godly man, as mirrored in Psalm 15:4. The reasonableness of fearing God, as the one true and final Judge. - C.J.

The besetting sin of the Jews; the besetting sin of man: evil-speaking. But to speak evil, is to judge; and who are we, that we should judge? One is the Judge, even God.

I. THE JUDGMENT OF MAN. In some cases, where great public ends are to be served, man seems to be justified in exercising a power of delegated judgment; so the magistrate, the minister, the historian. But even here the power is qualified; the judgment of motives is not absolute. The besetting sin, however, is to judge of motives where only the act is known; and, which generally accompanies the former, to conjecture the act where little is definitely known. So in the world; so, alas, in the Church! But why is this judgment, why is this evil-speaking, wrong? There is a law against which it sins - the law of love. Indicated in "the Law" (Galatians 6:2); also in the word "brother." Yes, a law which has said, "Judge not" (see Matthew 7:1). But such judgment has a more uniquely evil relation to law than this.

1. False relation to law: "Speaketh against the law, judgeth the law." What a subtle hypocrisy is this! When we think we are championing the law by our censorious speaking, we are in reality blaming it, condemning it; for we are virtually denying its right to teach us charity! So do we sit in judgment, forsooth, on the law itself.

2. True relation to law. "A doer." By charity, we recognize the validity and rectitude of the great law of charity, and ourselves obey its precepts. This law, let us remember, is impersonated in Christ. If, then, we do not bow to its sway, we do not receive Christ; and, not receiving Christ, we have no salvation.

II. THE JUDGMENT OF GOD. The great principle is here stated that, ultimately and absolutely, there is one Lawgiver, one Judge.

1. The legislative authority of God: rooted in his very nature, as God. And the special law of love rooted in this, that "God is love."

2. The judicial authority of God. He discerns infallibly the sin of the creature.

(1) As being himself perfectly good: an essential requisite. The mirror and the breath. So that infinite holiness!

(2) As being the One to whom all sin is adversely related. Whatever its exact bearings directly, it is essentially hostile to God. And as in him we live and move and have our being, its hostility is immediately known by God.

3. The executive authority of God. "Able to save, and to destroy."

(1) To save: taking into blessed fellowship with himself, as having affinity.

(2) To destroy: casting off from himself, as being alien (see 2 Thessalonians 1:9). Be there is nothing arbitrary in the judgment of God, from first to last. The legislative, the judicial, the executive functions are all rooted in his nature, and in the essential relation of that nature to us. "Who," then, "art thou that judgest thy neighbor?" Actually judging, not thy neighbor, but the law; nay, not the law, but the great God from whom all law springs, and to whom it all returns! May God save us from this! - T.F.L.

The subject here is another prevalent manifestation of pride and worldliness; namely, the propensity to indulge in presumptuous self-reliance in relation to the future.

I. THE SPIRIT OF VAIN CONFIDENCE WHICH THE APOSTLE REBUKES. (Ver. 13.) He appeals directly to worldly-minded merchants and money-makers. The Jews, like ourselves, have been a nation of shopkeepers. In these early times many of them carried the products of one country to the commercial centers of another. The same trader might be found one year at Antioch, the next at Alexandria, the following year at Damascus, and the fourth perhaps at Corinth. Now, the apostle solemnly rebukes those who formed their business plans without taking into account the providence of God, or even the uncertainty of human life. He is very far from stigmatizing commercial enterprise as a form of worldliness. He does not censure the formation of business schemes even for long years to come, provided such be contemplated in subordination to the Divine will, and be not allowed to interfere with spiritual consecration to his service. What he condemns is the spirit of self-sufficiency in regard to the continuance of life and activity and success (Psalm 49:11; Isaiah 56:12; Luke 12:19). He rebukes the practical atheism which would shut out God from business arrangements. And his "Go to now" is quite as much needed among us Gentiles of the nineteenth century as it was among the Jews of the first. In presence of the innumerable business interests of our time, and amidst the wasting anxieties of competition, how prone men are to ignore the eternal laws, and exclude from their calculations the sovereign will of the great Disposer! How apt busy men are to act as if they were the lords of their own lives! When we allow the spirit of worldliness to steal over our souls like a creeping paralysis, then we begin to "boast ourselves of tomorrow."

II. THE GROUNDS OF THE REBUKE. (Vers. 14-17.) The apostle reminds his readers that this confident expectation of a successful future betrays:

1. A foolish and irrational spirit. (Ver. 14.) Although man is endowed with reason, he often neglects to use his reason. These merchant Jews of "the Dispersion" knew thoroughly well the brevity arid frailty of human life, but were in danger of allowing their proud thoughts to efface from their consciousness so commonplace a truth. They forgot that we" know net what shall be on the morrow." In the political world "the unexpected generally happens." In the commercial world what startling surprises occur! - poor men raised to affluence, and rich men reduced to sudden poverty. And the duration of our lives is as uncertain as any other event. "For," asks James, "what is your life?" What is it like? What is its most prominent outward characteristic? "Ye are a vapor;" human life is like the morning mists that mantle the mountain. It spreads itself out, indeed, as vapor does; for it is manifold in its schemes and cares and toils; but, like vapor, it is flail and transient. We know this to be true, but how little do we realize it! We form plans about our business and family affairs, plans about our houses and fields, plans to improve our social status; and we forget that all these are dependent upon an unknown quantity - our continuance in life and health, our possession of the future, and of property in it. Now, in all this, do not we act quite irrationally? How can our calculations be correct, when we leave out the factor of the frailty of life? This thought should be uppermost in our minds. It is the part of a wise man often to reflect that he will soon be in eternity. Again, this vain confidence reveals:

2. An impious and wicked spirit. (Vers. 15-17.) It is impious to forget to carry the will of the supreme Disposer into all our calculations, and to neglect to qualify our plans by a reference to that will. It is wicked for a finite and sinful man to cherish the proud confidence that he may map out the future of his life at his own pleasure. To act as if the keys of time were in one's own keeping, and as if one could ensure life and health, like papers locked up in a fire-resisting safe, involves an arrogance which has in it the essence of all sin. "All such glorying is evil;" for it originates in pride, which is the fountain-head of sin. It is the spirit which makes an idol of self, and which would practically thrust out God from his own world. The apostle concludes with a general moral statement on the subject of the relation between knowledge and responsibility. Our guilt will be the greater if we do not practice what we clearly know (ver. 17). But every professing Christian knows perfectly well the uncertainty of life. How aggravated, then, is our sin, when we "boast ourselves of tomorrow!"

III. THE DUTY OF REALIZING OUR DEPENDENCE ON THE LORD'S WILL. (Ver. 15.) We should always remember that our times are in the hands of the Lord Jesus, and be ready upon every fitting occasion to acknowledge it, not only with submission, but with confidence and joy. Some good men habitually say or write "D.V.," while others equally in their hearts recognize the Lord's will, although they do not often refer to it after such fashion. The great matter is for every one really to permeate his business life with religion, and to live up to the measure of his spiritual knowledge. Thomas Fuller's remarks on this subject are excellent in spirit: "Lord, when in any writing I have occasion to insert these passages, 'God willing,' 'God lending me life,' etc., I observe, Lord, that I can scarce hold my hand from encircling these words in a parenthesis, as if they were not essential to the sentence, but may as well be left out as put in. Whereas, indeed, they are not only of the commission at large, but so of the quorum, that without them all the rest is nothing; wherefore hereafter I will write those words fully and fairly, without any enclosure about them. Let critics censure it for bad grammar, I am sure it is good divinity" ('Good Thoughts in Bad Times'). - C.J.

The life of the savage is characterized by an almost total lack of true foresight; no calculations of the future. True civilization, on the contrary, is largely built up on the principle of far-seeing prudence. Yet there may be a false use of a true principle. And so it may come to pass that we manifest an unchristian reliance on the future, and an absorbed engrossment in plans for its direction. It is this which James condemns, He sets forth the false glorying, and, over against the false, the true.


1. A false love of the world. "Trade, and get gain." So the parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:16-21). And the essence of such sinful worldliness is this: "Layeth up treasure for himself. But the gains on which men's hearts are set may be other than these material ones: position, power, fame, intellectual achievements. It matters not what they are, if they be sought covetously and selfishly, they come under the condemnation era false love of the world.

2. A false view of life. Spend a year there." So the parable, as above. Really?

(1) The transiency of life in itself. "A vapor." As compared with the ages of history. How that dwindles our little day! As compared with the life of God (Psalm 90:4; Psalm 39:5).

(2) The permanence of its spiritual results: left for inference, how immensely important every moment now! So Psalm 90:12; Psalm 39:13. The glorying is evil, then, whether of speech or of heart. For the principle is not one of words. A man may talk piously of the brevity of life and of the will of God, while really his heart is as essentially worldly as that of the man who makes no pretensions to better things.

II. THE TRUE GLORYING. So also the contrasted glorying, "If the Lord will," etc., is not one of words - " D.V.," and the like. Use of words not unimportant as regards practical results; but it is really the attitude of the heart which God regards, and which constitutes us what we are. So, then, "he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord" (1 Corinthians 1:31).

1. A trite view of life. "If the Lord will, we shall live."

(1) His governance of human vicissitudes: "The Lord reigneth." Fate, chance, human willfulness - all governed by his will.

(2) His regard for human destiny: educating us. That mighty future, shall we be made ready for it? Yes; for "he that spared not," etc. (Romans 8:32).

2. A true love of the world. "Do this or that." A living will runs through all these things, and it is given to us to blend our wills with it, and so help to work out God's design.

"If on our daily course our mind
Be set to hallow all we find-" that is the secret of a true, a godly love of the world. We have knowledge of these things, for we have "tasted the powers of the world to come" (Hebrews 6:5). Therefore, what shall be our sin, if still our glorying is in the world (see John 9:41)? Oh, to us, as from heaven, the warning comes: "Ye Christians, arouse yourselves, and live for heaven and God!" - T.F.L.

The Pulpit Commentary, Electronic Database.
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