James 1:27
Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
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(27) Pure religion . . .—It will be observed that by religion here is meant religious service. No one word can express this obvious interpretation of the original, taken as it must be in completion of the verse before; and certainly “religion” in its ordinary sense will not convey the right idea. Real worship, we may say, pure and undefiled, beheld and acknowledged as such in the presence of God, even the Father—mark the tender pathos of His divine relationship—is this:

To visit the fatherless (or, orphans) and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.—Here is the double proof of the perfect life of holiness, the savour whereof is as perpetual incense before the throne of God. And the help afforded to the helpless, put thus in the first place of the two requirements, will often bring about the second—namely, that spotless condition of unworldliness which marks, and will ever mark, the true servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. Deeds of benevolence may be and are often done by those who are not His; but all who truly belong to Him must live a life which praises Him continually in good works; not, it is hardly needful to say, as a cause—but rather the natural and inevitable result of love for Him, warming the heart within.

Scrupulous indeed were the “religious” contemporaries of James; they would not enter where the image of Divus Cæsar had its votive flame, while they were ceremonially clean for the keeping of their passover—“they went not into the judgment hall lest they should be defiled” (John 18:28). But He whom there they cruelly sought to slay had told them before, though in vain, “that which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man” (Mark 7:20), and “nothing from without can defile him” (James 1:15). What an eternal caution may be learned here against cold reliance upon ritual! What an instance, ever, under all varieties and forms, to be applied to themselves by the erring; persecuting, and deceitful sons of men! while, on the other hand, from these words of the wise Apostle we may be sure what is truest, nay, the only true service, acceptable and accepted, of the Most High—“To visit the fatherless and the widow,” beholding in them a new image of Christ, the Man of Sorrows, is to show pity verily to Him; and at the last such “pure religion” will receive His own approval. “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:40). Blessed be the ears attuned to catch the golden cadence, for it rings in angel voices round the soothers of the sick and sorrow-laden even now!



Jam 1:27.

THIS is a text which is more often quoted and used than understood. The word ‘religion’ has somewhat shifted its meaning from that which it bore at the time of our translation. We understand by it one of two things. For instance, when we speak of the Mohammedan or the Brahminical religion we mean the body of beliefs, principles, and ceremonies which go to make up an objective whole. When we speak of an individual’s religion we generally mean, not that which he grasps, but the act, on his part, of grasping the consciousness of dependence, the attitude of reverence and aspiration and love and its consequences within. But when our translation was made the word meant rather worship than religion, or, to use an expression which has been recently naturalised among us, it meant the ‘cult’ of a God, and that mainly, though not exclusively, by ceremonials, or by oral and verbal praise and petition. Now, it is obvious that that is the meaning of the expression in my text, because otherwise you would have a patently absurd saying. If James meant by ‘religion’ here what we now mean by it, to say that benevolence and personal purity are religion would be just equivalent to and as absurd as saying that a mother’s love is washing and feeding her child, or that anger is a flushed face and a loud voice. The feeling is one thing, the expression of it is another. The feeling is religion, the expression of it is worship. And so if you take the true meaning, not only of the original Greek, but also of the word ‘religion’ at the beginning of the seventeenth century, then you will understand the passage a little better than some of the people that are so often quoting it do.

For the writer is not talking about religion, but about its expression, ‘worship.’ And he says that ‘ true worship, pure and undefiled... is to visit the widows and the fatherless in their affliction, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.’ He has been, in the previous verses, striking at various forms of self-deception, such as that a man should conceive himself to be all right, because he listens to the law, and then goes away and forgets it, or that a man should think himself a real worshipper, while he does not bridle his tongue, and then he states the general principle of my text - worship has for its selectest manifestation and form these two things, beneficence and purity. Now I would deal with these words and seek to point out first -

I. The noble ideal of life that is set before us here.

You observe that there are two great departments into which all the forms of individual duty are, as it were, swept. To put these into plain words, the one is beneficence, as the sum and substance of all our duties to our fellows, and the other is keeping ourselves pure, as the sum and substance of all our duties to ourselves. Now I would notice, for it strikes me as being remarkable, that duties to other people are put first, and duties to ourselves second. I do not know that there is any question of practical morality more difficult for us to settle, with full satisfaction to ourselves, than the relative proportion, in our lives, of care for ourselves, for our own culture, for our own rectification, for our Own growth in grace and righteousness, and our obligations to our fellows. It is very hard for us to note how much we ought to give to the definite purpose of trying to make ourselves better, and how much we ought to give to the other purpose of forgetting ourselves, and seeking for the good of other people. But James, although he does not enter into the difficulties which clog the solution of that question for us individually, does seem to think that the first thing to be looked after is other people, and that in looking after such other people we shall be most efficiently keeping ourselves unspotted from the world. And it is so, for if we get around us, as it were, an atmosphere of sympathy, of unselfish regard, of unwearied effort for the benefit of other people, it is like the thin film or air that may surround some object, and prevent the fire from reaching it for a moment or two. We shall find that by no means the least powerful detergent to purge from us the spots of the world is an honest and thorough-going flinging of ourselves into the necessities and the sorrows of other people.

But I should like to put in a caution here. I believe that there are a great many good folk in this generation who have their hands so full of Christian work that they have no time at all for the development of their own Christian character in any other way, and that they lack an intelligent grasp of the principles of the gospel, and many things that would make their work upon other people a hundred times better, just because they are so busy helping other folk that they have no time at all to look after themselves. And so the Church as a whole to-day has, as I believe, not too much beneficent and religious machinery, for there never can be too much of that - but too much relatively to the strength of the Church to drive it.

Your engine is too big for your boiler, and to this busy generation, in which ‘Christian worker’ has all but blotted out the conception of ‘Christian thinker’ and ‘Christian scholar,’ I believe that it needs to be preached, not so much ‘Look after other people’ as ‘Do not forget yourself.’ ‘Take heed to thyself, and to thy teaching,’ was good counsel for Paul’s young representative, and it is good counsel for us all. ‘What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.’ ‘Visit the widows and the fatherless in their affliction,’ by all means; and ‘Keep yourselves unspotted from the world.’

I suppose that it is scarcely necessary to remark that James does not mean visiting the widows and fatherless to be taken as a complete statement of our duties to others. He Singles out that one form which sympathy and hopefulness will take, as a typical example of the whole class of actions in which love will express itself. Nor need I do more than say in passing that ‘visiting’ means more than calling on - namely, looking after and caring for. The sum of all Christian duties to others, then, is gathered up in hopeful and sympathetic love, and in regard to ourselves James sums them up in what looks, after all, rather an incomplete ideal: ‘Keep yourselves unspotted from the world.’ He does not say with any falsely ascetic twist, ‘Keep yourselves out of the world.’ No! He says, ‘Fling yourselves into it, and when you are in the thickest of the muddy ways, see that no spots and splashes of filth come on your white garments.’ That implies that it is very likely, unless we take very rigid care, that contact with the external world, and with the aggregate of Godless men which makes the world, in the New Testament sense of the phrase, will infect Christian men and women with evil, even when they are going on with their works of beneficence. And I suppose we all know that that is true.

But here you get a very negative view of the sum of Christian duty, Some people preach ‘culture’ James says, ‘Try to keep yourselves clean.’ He realises that there is something more to be done by each of us with ourselves than to develop or draw out and increase that which is in us, that there needs to be another process, and that is to get rid of a great deal that is within us. We must cease to be much of what we are before we can be that which we may be and ought to be. Slay self first that you may live. Cultivate? Yes! and crucify as well.

Nor does James think any the less nobly of the resulting self, because he says that you will form the noblest character mainly by the way of negation. I know, of course, that that is only one-sided; but do we not all know that by reason of the abounding evil around us, and the proclivities more or less dormant, but existing, to much of that evil, which are in our own hearts, we do need that the law of our life should very largely be east in the form ‘Do not.’ Any man who has honestly set himself to the task of moulding his life into the likeness which God would approve, must know that to walk through the wards of an hospital and catch no infection, to stand in a dung-heap and bring away no stench nor foulness clinging to the robes, is as easy as it is to plunge into the world and catch no contagion and no pollution there.

And yet, says James, you have to do that. He sum, up Christian duty in this negative form, that is remarkable, and he flings the whole weight and burden of it on the man himself, that is more remarkable still. And yet we have only to read the rest of the chapter to see that he is not forgetting that there must be a Divine Keeper to keep the keepers, and that we shall never keep ourselves ‘unspotted’ unless we trust to Him who has said ‘I will keep thy feet from falling.’ So we need not wonder at the emphasis that is placed on the human side of the energy that is to be put forth in order to mould men into this character. But I desire to say here what I think some tendencies of good people’s opinions in this day do especially need: that we do not get cleansed, hallowed, sanctified, by faith only, but that the office of faith is to bring into our possession the power which will sanctify us if we use our own efforts. ‘Having therefore these premises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit,’ and not trust to faith alone to make us pure.

II. We have here, secondly, the true and pure worship in such a life.

I need not repeat what I have already said at the beginning of these remarks as to the true bearing of the principle laid down here. Only let me remind you that the writer is not flouting, or putting away out of court, other forms of action which are more frequently called worship. True religion, which expresses itself, according to James, most nobly in the worship of life, must express itself by all the other means which men have for expressing their inmost selves, by the worship of words, by symbolical deed, by a ceremonial as well as by the visiting of the widows and the fatherless, and the keeping oneself unspotted from the world. But what is insisted upon here is that of these two ways - both of them equally natural and equally indispensable, if there be any religion to express - in some aspects the higher and the nobler is the dumb worship of a pure and beneficent life. Now, of course, we are accustomed as Nonconformists to think that texts of this sort hit the adherents of a more elaborate, sensuous, and ceremonial form of worship than finds favour in our eyes, very hard, and sometimes to forget that they hit us quite as hard. There may be quite as real ritualists amongst Nonconformists as there are amongst Anglicans or Roman Catholics - I was going to say amongst Quakers - as amongst the adherents of any form of Christian worship. For it is not the elaboration of the form, but it is the existence of it, that tempts men to trust too much to it. And the baldest - to use a modern term of opprobrium - Nonconformist worship may be just as productive of immoral reliance upon it, on the part of those who adhere to it, as the most elaborate and sensuous ceremonial that fills a cathedral with clouds of incense, and calls upon men to worship simply by looking on at a priest performing his miracle. Dear brethren, you and I need the warning as much as anybody ever did. There are people, I have no doubt, who leave their religion in their pews, and lock it up there in the box along with their hymn books, and whose notion of religion is very little more than coming to a so-called ‘place of worship’ and offering up verbal prayers. There creep in insincerity, unreality, unconscious hypocrisy; there creeps in mechanical, perfunctory utterance of the words of praise, or listening to the voice of the preacher. How many of you think about the hymns you sing, and make them the expression of your own feelings? How many of you fancy that you have spent the Sunday rightly when you go to church and listen more or less attentively to what your minister may have to say to you, and then go out and live a life in flat contradiction to the prayers, and the hymns, and the readings, and the preachings in which you have nominally taken part? Oh, Brethren! let us get into reality, and learn more and more than ever we have done that worship does not mean the external act, but the bowing of the spirit before God, and that amidst the many temptations to insincerity, unreality, and dead, fossil formalism, which adhere to all forms of oral and ceremonial worship, there is as much need to-day as ever there was that we should listen to him who says, ‘What hath thy God required of thee but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?’ ‘Lord! Lord! have we not prophesied in Thy name?’ ‘Depart from Me; I never knew you.’

III. And now let me say one last word as to the only possible foundation for such a life.

It is worship, it is the expression of religion, and only when it is the expression of religion will you find beneficence and purity in their highest and noblest forms. There are people that say, ‘I do not understand the Psalms; they are far too rapturous and emotional for me. I do not care about Paul and his metaphysical theology. I cannot make much of John and his mysticism. Give me James. That is plain common-sense; that is good practical morality. No clouds of darkness, no fine-spun theories.’ Yes, and James has for his fundamental principle that if you want morality you must begin with religion. He believes that visiting the widows and the fatherless in affliction, and keeping oneself unspotted from the world, or, in other words, the highest form of morality, is the body, of which religion is the soul.

I am not going to enter upon that thorny question of the possibility of having an independent theory of ethics without religion, but my point is this - theory or no theory, where will you get the practical power that will work the theory and bring it out of the region of theory into the region of daily life and fact? I know it is extremely narrow, extremely old-fashioned, extremely illiberal, and I believe it is profoundly true. Begin with Jesus Christ and the wish to please Him, and there is the root out of which all these self-regarding and other’s regarding graces and beauties will most surely come. I have no doubt that you can make your model of a life without Christianity, though I fancy that a great deal of the model comes from the Christianity. But after you have got it, then one comes and says, ‘Well! it is all very pretty - a beautiful model; do you think it will work?’ If you want it to work, obtain the fire of the Holy Spirit to get up the steam and then it will work. You must begin with religion if you are to have a vigorous moral life, and your work in the world must be worship if it is to rise to the height of these two great forms of beautiful and noble life, the regard for others and the effort at purity for yourselves.

Do not run away with the perversion of this text which says, ‘I do not frequent churches and chapels; that is not worship. The diffused worship of my life is what God wants.’ Yes, that is what God wants. And you will be most likely to render the diffused worship of a life if you have reservoirs in the life - like Sundays, like hours of private devotion and prayer - from which will flow - and without which I doubt there will not deeply and perennially flow the broad streams of devotion all through your days. ‘Work is worship’ is a monastic motto that is very frequently quoted nowadays. Well, ‘it depends; as they say. Work is worship if there is a reference to God in it, It is not worship unless there is. Brethren, begin where the New Testament begins, with faith in Jesus Christ, and you will end with a worship which harmonises the service of the lip and the service of the life. And if you do not begin so, you may flout the prayers of the Church, and look upon our gatherings together as of very little value, but I doubt extremely whether you will ever have in your life the all-present reference to God which will make common deeds worship, and I doubt whether you will ever succeed either in beneficence to others, or in keeping yourselves unspotted from the world.

1:26,27 When men take more pains to seem religious than really to be so, it is a sign their religion is in vain. The not bridling the tongue, readiness to speak of the faults of others, or to lessen their wisdom and piety, are signs of a vain religion. The man who has a slandering tongue, cannot have a truly humble, gracious heart. False religious may be known by their impurity and uncharitableness. True religion teaches us to do every thing as in the presence of God. An unspotted life must go with unfeigned love and charity. Our true religion is equal to the measure in which these things have place in our hearts and conduct. And let us remember, that nothing avails in Christ Jesus, but faith that worketh by love, purifies the heart, subdues carnal lusts, and obeys God's commands.Pure religion - On the word here rendered "religion" (θρησκεία thrēskeia), see the notes at Colossians 2:18. It is used here evidently in the sense of piety, or as we commonly employ the word religion. The object of the apostle is to describe what enters essentially into religion; what it will do when it is properly and fairly developed. The phrase "pure religion" means that which is genuine and sincere, or which is free from any improper mixture.

And undefiled before God and the Father - That which God sees to be pure and undefiled. Rosenmuller supposes that there is a metaphor here taken from pearls or gems, which should be pure, or without stain.

Is this - That is, this enters into it; or this is religion such as God approves. The apostle does not say that this is the whole of religion, or that there is nothing else essential to it; but his general design clearly is, to show that religion will lead to a holy life, and he mentions this as a specimen, or an instance of what it will lead us to do. The things which he specifies here are in fact two:

(1) that pure religion will lead to a life of practical benevolence; and,

(2) that it will keep us unspotted from the world. If these things are found, they show that there is true piety. If they are not, there is none.

To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction - To go to see, to look after, to be ready to aid them. This is an instance or specimen of what true religion will do, showing that it will lead to a life of practical benevolence. It may be remarked in respect to this:

(1) that this has always been regarded as an essential thing in true religion; because

(a) it is thus an imitation of God, who is "a father of the fatherless, and a judge of the widows in his holy habitation," Psalm 68:5; and who has always revealed himself as their friend, Deuteronomy 10:18; Deuteronomy 14:29; Psalm 10:14; Psalm 82:3; Isaiah 1:17; Jeremiah 7:7; Jeremiah 49:11; Hosea 14:3.

(b) Religion is represented as leading its friends to do this, or this is required everywhere of those who claim to be religious, Isaiah 1:17; Deuteronomy 24:17; Deuteronomy 14:29; Exodus 22:22; Job 29:11-13.

(2) where this disposition to be the real friend of the widow and the orphan exists, there will also exist other corresponding things which go to make up the religious character. This will not stand alone. It will show what the heart is, and prove that it will ever be ready to do good. If a man, from proper motives, is the real friend of the widow and the fatherless, he will be the friend of every good word and work, and we may rely on him in any and every way in doing good.

And to keep himself unspotted from the world - Compare the Romans 12:2 note; James 4:4 note; 1 John 2:15-17 note. That is, religion will keep us from the maxims, vices, and corruptions which prevail in the world, and make us holy. These two things may, in fact, be said to constitute religion. If a man is truly benevolent, he bears the image of that God who is the fountain of benevolence; if he is pure and uncontaminated in his walk and deportment, he also resembles his Maker, for he is holy. If he has not these things, he cannot have any well-founded evidence that he is a Christian; for it is always the nature and tendency of religion to produce these things. It is, therefore, an easy matter for a man to determine whether he has any religion; and equally easy to see that religion is eminently desirable. Who can doubt that that is good which leads to compassion for the poor and the helpless, and which makes the heart and the life pure?

27. Pure … and undefiled—"Pure" is that love which has in it no foreign admixture, as self-deceit and hypocrisy. "Undefiled" is the means of its being "pure" [Tittmann]. "Pure" expresses the positive, "undefiled" the negative side of religious service; just as visiting the fatherless and widow is the active, keeping himself unspotted from the world, the passive side of religious duty. This is the nobler shape that our religious exercises take, instead of the ceremonial offices of the law.

before God and the Father—literally, "before Him who is (our) God and Father." God is so called to imply that if we would be like our Father, it is not by fasting, &c., for He does none of these things, but in being "merciful as our Father is merciful" [Chrysostom].

visit—in sympathy and kind offices to alleviate their distresses.

the fatherless—whose "Father" is God (Ps 68:5); peculiarly helpless.

and—not in the Greek; so close is the connection between active works of mercy to others, and the maintenance of personal unworldliness of spirit, word, and deed; no copula therefore is needed. Religion in its rise interests us about ourselves in its progress, about our fellow creatures: in its highest stage, about the honor of God.

keep himself—with jealous watchfulness, at the same time praying and depending on God as alone able to keep us (Joh 17:15; Jude 24).

Pure religion; true, sincere, genuine, Matthew 5:8 John 15:3.

And undefiled; this seems to reflect upon the hypocritical Jews, whose religion consisted so much in external observances, and keeping themselves from ceremonial defilements, when yet they were sullied with so many moral ones, Jam 1:14 Matthew 23:23 John 18:28; devoured widows’ houses. They thought their religion pure and undefiled; the apostle shows here which is really so before God; in the sight of God, and according to his judgment.

God and the Father; i.e. God who is the Father, and being only explicative, as Ephesians 1:3 5:20: yet this title may be given here to God with respect to what follows, and to show that such acts of charity are acceptable to him that is called the the Judge of widows, and the Father of the fatherless, Psalm 68:5.

To visit; this includes all other acts of charity to them, comforting, counselling, relieving them, &c.

The fatherless and widows; he doth not exclude others from being the objects of our charity and compassion, but instanceth in fatherless and widows, as being usually most miserable, because destitute of those relations which might be most helpful to them; and possibly in those times persecution might increase the number of widows and orphans.

In their affliction; when they had most need; lest any should think it sufficient to visit them that were rich, or in a prosperous condition.

And to keep himself unspotted from the world; untainted by the evil example of men in the world, and free from the lusts of the world, moral pollutions. The apostle doth not here define religion but only instanceth in these two things, good works and holiness of conversation, as testimonies and arguments of the truth of it.

Pure religion and undefiled,.... That which is sincere and genuine, and free from adulteration and hypocrisy:

before God and the Father; or in the sight of God the Father of Christ, and all his people; that which is approved of by him, who is the searcher of hearts, and the trier of the reins of men, "is this": not that the apostle is giving a full definition of true religion; only he mentions some of the effects of it, by which it is known, and without which it cannot be true and genuine; and they are these:

to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction; and not only to see them, and speak a word of comfort to them, but to communicate to them, and supply their wants, as they may require, and according to the ability God has given: where there is true religion in the heart, there is love to God; and where there is love to God, there is love to the saints; and this will show itself to them, in times of affliction and distress; and where this is wanting, religion itself is not pure and undefiled:

and to keep himself unspotted from the world: from the men of the world, who defile by their evil communications; and "from the vices of the world", as the Arabic version renders it, which are of a defiling nature; and, where religion is in its power and purity, and the Gospel of the grace of God comes with efficacy, it teaches to separate from the rest of the world, and to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly.

{19} Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To {z} visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.

(19) The fourth: the true service of God exists in charity towards our neighbours, especially those who need the help of others (fatherless and widows), and purity of life.

(z) To care for them and to help them as much as we can.

Jam 1:27. To θρησκεία μάταιος is opposed θρησκεία καθαρὰ καὶ ἀμίαντος παρὰ τῷ Θεῷ]. Καθαρός and ἀμίαντος are synonymous expressions (Pott, Theile, and others); the second word does not add any new idea to the first. Some expositors (Baumgarten, Bengel, Knapp, Wiesinger) arbitrarily refer the first word to what is internal, and the second to what is external. The second word ἀμίαντος (which occurs only here and in Hebrews 7:20; Hebrews 13:4; 1 Peter 1:4), corresponding to its connection with μιαίνω, μιάσμα, brings more vividly forward purity as a being free from that by which the holy is defiled. The purity of true θρησκεία is, by the words παρὰ τῷ Θεῷ κ.τ.λ., marked as absolute. παρά, in the judgment of, equivalent to ἐνώπιον, as in 1 Peter 2:20; comp. Winer, p. 352 [E. T. 493]; Schirlitz, p. 340. That by this “the attitude of a servant before the face of the commanding lord” (Lange) is indicated, is a pure fiction. To τῷ Θεῷ is emphatically added καὶ πατρί, by which the relation of God, which the author has chiefly in view, is expressed: that of love. God, by reason of His love, can only esteem that worship as pure which is the expression of love. The contents of pure worship is given in the following infinitive clauses, according to its positive and negative side; still James evidently does not intend to give an exhaustive definition, but he merely brings forward—in reference to the wants of his readers—two chief points. Hermas, I. 2, mand. 8, gives a description of these two sides of worship, comprehending as much as possible all particulars. The first point is: the visiting of the widows and the fatherless in their affliction, as a manifestation of compassionate love. If it is said that the particular here stands for the universal (the species pro genere, Hottinger, Theile, and others); yet it is to be observed that elsewhere in the Holy Scriptures compassion is adduced as the most direct proof of love. The verb ἐπισκέπτεσθαι here, as in Matthew 25:36; Matthew 25:43, Jeremiah 23:2, Zechariah 11:16, Sir 7:35, refers to the visiting of the suffering, in order to help them. By the explanation: “to be careful of them” (Lange), the view of a concrete instance is introduced; ὀρφανοί are placed first, in close connection with πατρί,[108] as God in Psalm 68:6 is expressly called Ὁ ΠΑΤῊΡ ΤῶΝ ὈΡΦΑΝῶΝ; see also Sir 4:10 : ΓΊΝΟΥ ὈΡΦΑΝΟῖς Ὡς ΠΑΤΉΡ.

The words ἘΝ Τῇ ΘΛΊΨΕΙ ΑὐΤῶΝ are not an idle addition, but mark the condition in which the orphans and widows are found, to show the necessity and object of ἘΠΙΣΚΈΠΤΕΣΘΑΙ.

In the second infinitive clause, which is added with rhetorical emphasis, ἈΣΥΝΔΕΤῶς,[109] to the first, ἌΣΠΙΛΟΝ stands first as the chief idea. The same expression is in 1 Timothy 6:14; 2 Peter 3:14 (in its proper sense, 1 Peter 1:19). The addition ἈΠῸ ΤΟῦ ΚΌΣΜΟΥ, more exactly defining ἌΣΠΙΛΟΝ ΤΗΡΕῖΝ, is neither dependent merely on ΤΗΡΕῖΝ (Psalm 12:8; Psalm 141:9) nor merely on ἌΣΠΙΛΟΝ, but on the combined idea. The sense is: to preserve himself from the world (ἈΠΌ = ἘΚ, John 17:15; comp. also the form ΠΡΟΣΈΧΕΙΝ ἈΠΌ, Matthew 16:12), so that he is not polluted by it (so also Lange). By ΚΌΣΜΟς not merely earthly things, so far as they tempt to sin (Schneckenburger), nor merely sinful lusts (Hottinger), nor δημώδης καὶ συρφετὸς ὄχλος, ὁ κατὰ τὰς ἐπιθυμίας τῆς ἀπάτης αὑτοῦ φθειρόμενος (Oecumenius; according to Laurentius and others, the homines mundani atque impii), are to be understood; but the idea ΚΌΣΜΟς comprehends all these together; it denotes the whole earthly creation, so far as it is cut off from fellowship with God and stands under the dominion of ἌΡΧΩΝ ΤΟῦ ΚΌΣΜΟΥ (1 John 5:19); thus especially the men who serve it in and with their sinful lusts—but also all earthly possessions by which sinful lust is excited, and to which it not only conforms itself, but converts them into the instruments of its activity.

Christians by means of their divine birth, effected by the word of truth (Jam 1:18), are indeed taken out of the ΚΌΣΜΟς, they are no longer members of it; but, on the other hand, both by the sin which is still in them (chap. Jam 3:2) and by their external intercourse, they stand in connection with the world, on which account they have to preserve themselves from its contaminating influence. This preservation, as it is a work of God (John 17:15), so it is likewise a work of man (1 Timothy 5:22), and therefore a task which believers must continually strive to perform.

[108] The combination ὀρφανοὶ καὶ χῆραι is found only here in the N. T.; it often occurs in the O. T. and Apocrypha, where sometimes ὀρφανοί and sometimes χῆραι are named first.

[109] The asyndeton is thus explained, that James considered the visiting of the orphans, etc., as keeping oneself unspotted from the world, being in contradiction with the peculiar charms of the world. Lange observes: “the two clauses are not simply co-ordinate, but the second is the reverse side or sequence of the first, its pure antithesis.”

Jam 1:27. θρησκεία καθαρὰαὕτη ἐστίν …: As illustrating this, Dr. Taylor (Expos. Times, xvi. 334) quotes the Ποίμανδρος of Hermes Trismegistos: καὶ τοῦτό ἐστιν ὁ θεός, τὸ πᾶντοῦτον τὸν λόγον, ὦ τέκνον, προσκύνει καὶ θρήσκευε. θρησκεία δὲ τοῦ Θεοῦ μία ἐστί, μὴ εἶναι κακόν. Cf. too, the following from the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, Jos. iv. 6: “The Lord willeth not that those who reverence Him should be in uncleanness, nor doth He take pleasure in them that commit adultery, but in those that approach Him with a pure heart and undefiled lips”.—ἐπισκέπτεσθαι ὀρφανοὺς καὶαὐτῶν: this was reckoned among the גמילות חסדים “practice of kindnesses,” which are constantly urged in Rabbinical writings, e.g., Nedarim, 39b, 40a; Ket., 50a; Sanh., 19b. Cf. too, Sir 4:10, γίνου ὀρφανοῖς ὡς πατήρ, καὶ ἀντὶ ἀνδρὸς τῇ μητρὶ αὐτῶν. In the Apoc. of Peter, § 15, occur these words: οὖτοι δὲ ἦσαν οἱ πλουτοῦντες καὶ τῷ πλούτῳ αὐτῶν πεποιθότες καὶ μὴ ἐλεήσαντες ὀρφανοὺς καὶ χήρας, ἀλλʼ ἀμελήσαντες τῆς ἐντολῆς τοῦ Θεοῦ. Cf. also the Apoc. of Paul, § 35.

27. Pure religion] The word still presents the outward aspect of the devout life. Better perhaps, pure worship.

undefiled] The term seems chosen with special reference to the Pharisee’s scrupulous care to avoid anything that caused ceremonial defilement. Comp. John 18:28, “lest they should be defiled,” where the word is that commonly used in the LXX. for polluted, or being “unclean,” as in Leviticus 5:3; Leviticus 11:23. St James reproduces the teaching of our Lord, that the real defilement comes from within, not from without, that true purity is found in “giving alms of such things as we have” (Mark 7:20-23, Luke 11:40).

before God and the Father] The last word seems chosen with a special reference to the duty that follows. We worship the Father when we are like Him in our care for the orphans (Psalm 68:5).

To visit] The Greek word implies somewhat more than that which we commonly attach to the English; “to care for,” “look after,” as in “God hath visited his people” (Luke 7:16).

the fatherless and widows] These were the natural and therefore proverbial types of extremest affliction. Comp. Job 29:12-13; Sir 35:14. We find from Acts 6:1, that they occupied a prominent place in what we may venture to call the “Charity Organisation” of the Church of Jerusalem. Comp. also Acts 9:39; 1 Timothy 5:3-10.

and to keep himself unspotted from the world] The adjective is chosen with special reference to the “undefiled.” The “world” is used as including all the circumstances that tempt to sin, especially perhaps, the mass of unrenewed humanity out of which Christians are called, but into which they are in danger of sinking back. The real defilement to be guarded against was to be found in spiritual contact with that “world,” and not, as the Pharisee thought, in touching cup or garment that was ceremonially unclean. Comp. chap. James 4:4. In this fullest sense of the word, God alone can thus keep a man unspotted, but it is characteristic of St James to lay stress on the co-operation of man’s will, even, we may add, as St Paul does in “keep thyself pure” (1 Timothy 5:22). The teaching of St James finds a striking parallel in that of Philo, who speaks of those who practise “a ritual religion” (using the same word as St James) “instead of holiness” (Philo, p. 173). Comp. also Coleridge, Aids to Reflection, Aph. xxiii. “The outward service (θρησκεία) of ancient religion, the rites, ceremonies, and ceremonial vestments of the old law, had morality for their substance. They were the letter of which morality was the spirit; the enigma of which morality was the meaning. But morality itself is the service and ceremonial (cultus exterior, θρησκεία) of the Christian religion.”

Jam 1:27. Θρησκεία, religion) It is only when a man succours the wretched, and avoids those plunged in the gaiety of the world, that the whole of the worship which he pays to God can be right.—καθαρὰ καὶ ἀμίαντος, pure and undefiled) proceeding from pure love, and removed from the defilement of the world.—ἐπισκέπτεσθαι, to visit) with advice, comfort, kind offices, and of his own accords.—ὀρφανοὺς καὶ χήρας, the fatherless and widows) that is, the afflicted, even those who are not related to us, who are neglected by many. Synecdoche.[18]—ἘΝ Τῇ ΘΛΊΨΕΙ, in their affliction) For if it is done for other reasons, that is not religion.—ἄσπιλον ἑαυτὸν, himself unspotted) That effect is produced, if we abstain from intercourse with those who are of no benefit to us, nor we to them.—τηρεῖν, to guard) with anxious care.

[18] See Append. on SYNECDOCHE.

Verse 27. - God and the Father; rather, our God and Father. The article (τῷ) binds together Θεῷ and Πατρί, so that they should not be separated, as in the A.V. To visit the fatherless... and to keep himself unspotted. Observe that our duty towards our fellow-men is placed first; then that towards ourselves. Ἐπισκέπτεσθαι is the regular word for visiting the sick; cf. Ecclus. 7:35, "Be not slow to visit the sick (μὴ ὄκει ἐπισκέτεσπθαι ἀῥῤωστον)." The fatherless and widows (ὀρφανοὺς καὶ χήρας). These stand here (as so often in the Old Testament) as types of persons in distress; the "personae miserabiles" of the Canon Law (see e.g. Deuteronomy 10:18; Psalm 68:5; Psalm 82:3; Isaiah 1:17; and cf. Ecclus. 4:10). "Be as a father unto the fatherless, and instead of an husband unto their mother; so shalt thou be as the son of the Most High, and he shall love thee more than thy mother doth." To keep himself unspotted. Man's duty towards himself. (For ἄσπιλον, cf. 1 Timothy 6:14; 1 Peter 1:19; 2 Peter 3:14.) From the world. This clause may be connected either with τηρεῖν or with ἄσπιλον, as in the phrase, καθαρὸς ἀπὸ in Acts 20:26.

James 1:27Undefiled (ἀμίαντος)

See on 1 Peter 1:4. The two adjectives, pure and undefiled, present the positive and negative sides of purity.

To visit (ἐπισκέπτεσθαι)

See on Matthew 25:36. James strikes a downright blow here at ministry by proxy, or by mere gifts of money. Pure and undefiled religion demands personal contact with the world's sorrow: to visit the afflicted, and to visit them in their affliction. "The rich man, prodigal of money, which is to him of little value, but altogether incapable of devoting any personal attention to the object of his alms, often injures society by his donations; but this is rarely the case with that far nobler charity which makes men familiar with the haunts of wretchedness, and follows the object of its care through all the phases of his life" (Lecky, "History of European Morals," ii., 98).

To keep (τηρεῖν)

See on 1 Peter 1:4.

Unspotted (ἄσπιλον)

See on 1 Peter 1:19.

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