James 5:16
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.
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(16) Confess your faults one to another.—The meaning attributed to the words of this verse by many devout Catholics cannot be established either from the opinion of antiquity, or a critical examination of the Greek text according to modern schools. “We have,” observes Alford, “a general injunction arising out of a circumstance necessarily to be inferred in the preceding example (James 5:14-15). There, the sin would of necessity have been confessed to the elders, before the prayer of faith could deal with it. And seeing the blessed consequences in that case ‘generally,’ says the Apostle, in all similar cases, and ‘one to another universally, pursue the same salutary practice of confessing your sins . . .’ Confess therefore one to another—not only to the elders (presbyters) in the case supposed, but to one another generally—your transgressions, and pray for one another that ye may be healed, in case of sickness, as above. The context here forbids any wider meaning . . . and it might appear astonishing, were it not notorious, that on this passage, among others, is built the Romish doctrine of the necessity of confessing sins to a priest.”

Not that all Roman Catholic divines, indeed, have thus read the injunction. Some of the ablest and greatest have admitted “that we cannot certainly affirm sacramental confession to have been meant or spoken of in this place” (Hooker). How then did the gradual perversion take hold of men’s minds? The most laborious investigation of history and theology will alone answer the question properly; and here only a brief résumé is possible. There can be little doubt that, strictly consonant with the apostolic charge, open confession was the custom of old. Offenders hastened to some minister of God, and in words, by which all present in the congregation might take notice of the fault, declared their guilt; convenient remedies were as publicly prescribed, and then all present joined in prayer to God. But after awhile, for many patent reasons, this plain talk about sins was rightly judged to be a cause of mischief to the young and innocent; and such confessions were relegated to a private hearing. The change was in most ways beneficial, and hardly suspected of being a step in a completely new doctrine. It needed years—centuries, in fact—to develop into the hard system of compulsory individual bondage which cost Europe untold blood and treasure to break asunder. A salutary practice in the case of some unhappy creatures, weakened by their vices into a habit of continual sin, was scarcely to be conceived as a rule thrust upon all the Christian world. Yet such it was, and “at length auricular confession, followed by absolution and satisfaction, was elevated to the full dignity of a necessary sacrament. The Council of Trent anathematises all who deny it to be truly and properly a sacrament instituted by Christ Himself, and necessary to salvation (jure divino); or who say that the method of confessing secretly to the priest alone . . . is alien to Christ’s institution, and of human invention” (Harold Browne). Marvellous perversity of acute brains and worthy sentiment, showing only how steep is the way of error; and how for Christian as for Jew the danger of tradition is perilous indeed. “To conclude,” in the words of Hooker, “we everywhere find the use of confession, especially public, allowed of, and commended by the fathers; but that extreme and rigorous necessity of auricular and private confession, which is at this day so mightily upheld by the Church of Rome, we find not. It was not then the faith and doctrine of God’s Church, as of the Papacy at this present—(1) that the only remedy for sin after baptism is sacramental penitency; (2) that confession in secret is an essential part thereof; (3) that God Himself cannot now forgive sins without the priest; (4) that because forgiveness at the hands of the priests must arise from confession in the offender, therefore to confess unto him is a matter of such necessity as, being not either in deed, or, at the least, in desire, performed, excludeth utterly from all pardon, and must consequently in Scripture be commanded wheresoever any promise of forgiveness is made. No, no; these opinions have youth in their countenance. Antiquity knew them not; it never thought nor dreamed of them” (E. P., vi. iv. 14).

“As for private confession,” says Jewel in his Apology, “abuses and errors set apart, we condemn it not, but leave it at liberty.” Such must be the teaching of any Church which, in the epigram of Bishop Ken, “stands distinguished from all papal and puritan innovations,” resting upon God’s Word, and the earliest, holiest, simplest, best traditions of the Apostles of His dear Son. And if an ancient custom has become a universal practice in the Latin communion, presumed to be of sacramental virtue, scholars will tell us that the notion has never been absent altogether from any branch of the Catholic Church; and that in some shape or form, it lives in most of those societies which sprang into existence at the Reformation largely from abhorrence of the tyranny and misuse of confession.

The effectual fervent prayer . . .—Better, The prayer of a righteous man availeth much in its working. It moves the hand of Him Who moves the world.

“What are men better than sheep, or goats,

That nourish a blind life within the brain,

If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer—

Both for themselves, and those who call them friend?

For so the whole round earth is, every way,

Bound by gold chains about the feet of God.”

In Matthew 14:2, and Mark 6:14, we read of John the Baptist, that “mighty works do show forth themselves in him.” A nearer approach to the sense would be “they work”—energise, if we might coin a word; and such is also the meaning of the present passage—the prayer of the just, pleading, striving fervently, hath power with God, even like Israel of old, and shall prevail (Genesis 32:28). Some divines trace a literal force in the passage, finding in it an allusion to the Energumens of the first century (the “mediums” of that age), who were possessed by demons; that, just as these unhappy beings strove in their bondage, so equally—nay, infinitely more—should Christians “wrestle with the Lord.”

James 5:16. Confess your faults — Whether you are sick or in health; one to another — He does not say to the elders; this may or may not be done, for it is nowhere commanded. We may confess them to any pious person who can pray in faith: he will then know how to pray for us, and will be more excited so to do. And pray one for another, that ye may be healed — Both in soul and body. Let it be observed, 1st, This passage of Scripture, only enjoining true believers to confess their sins to one another, affords no foundation for the Popish practice of auricular confession to a priest. Besides, mutual confession being here enjoined, the priest is as much bound to confess to the people as the people to the priest. 2d, This direction being addressed to women as well as to men, they are required to pray for one another, and even for the men, whether laity or clergy. 3d, There is no mention made here of absolution by a priest, or by any other person. 4th, Absolution, in the sound sense of the word, being nothing but a declaration of the promises of pardon which are made in the gospel to penitent sinners, every one who understands the gospel doctrine may declare these promises to penitent sinners as well as any bishop or priest whatever, and the one has no more authority to do it than the other: nay, every sincere penitent may expect salvation without the absolution of any person whatever: whereas the impenitent have no reason to expect that blessing, although absolved by all the priests in the world. See Dr. Benson. The effectual fervent prayer — Greek, δεησις ενεργουμενη, a singular expression, which Macknight renders, the inwrought prayer; and Doddridge, the prayer wrought by the energy of the Spirit; and Whitby, the inspired prayer, observing, “as they who were inwardly acted by an evil spirit were styled ενεργουμενοι, (persons inwardly wrought upon,) so they who were acted by the Holy Spirit, and inwardly moved by his impulses, were also ενεργουμενοι, inwardly wrought upon, in the good sense: and therefore it seems most proper to apply these words, not to the prayer of every righteous person, but to the prayer offered by such an extraordinary impulse.” Doubtless every prayer of every righteous person is not here intended, but every truly righteous person has the Spirit of Christ, without which no man can belong to him, and is led, more or less, by the Spirit of God, otherwise he could not be a son of God, Romans 8:9; Romans 8:14; and every such a one walks not after the flesh, but after the Spirit, Romans 8:1 : and therefore, if not always, yet sometimes, yea, generally, such a one, as Jude expresses it, (James 5:20,) prays in the Holy Ghost; that is, in and by his influence, and therefore in a spirit of true, genuine prayer, feeling sincere and earnest desires after the blessings which he asks, and being enabled to offer those desires up unto God in faith or confidence, that he shall receive what he asks. And this fervent, energetic prayer is evidently the prayer here intended, and said to avail much, or to be of great efficacy, being frequently and remarkably answered by God’s granting the petitions thus addressed to him.

5:12-18 The sin of swearing is condemned; but how many make light of common profane swearing! Such swearing expressly throws contempt upon God's name and authority. This sin brings neither gain, nor pleasure, nor reputation, but is showing enmity to God without occasion and without advantage It shows a man to be an enemy to God, however he pretends to call himself by his name, or sometimes joins in acts of worship. But the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain. In a day of affliction nothing is more seasonable than prayer. The spirit is then most humble, and the heart is broken and tender. It is necessary to exercise faith and hope under afflictions; and prayer is the appointed means for obtaining and increasing these graces. Observe, that the saving of the sick is not ascribed to the anointing with oil, but to prayer. In a time of sickness it is not cold and formal prayer that is effectual, but the prayer of faith. The great thing we should beg of God for ourselves and others in the time of sickness is, the pardon of sin. Let nothing be done to encourage any to delay, under the mistaken fancy that a confession, a prayer, a minister's absolution and exhortation, or the sacrament, will set all right at last, where the duties of a godly life have been disregarded. To acknowledge our faults to each other, will tend greatly to peace and brotherly love. And when a righteous person, a true believer, justified in Christ, and by his grace walking before God in holy obedience, presents an effectual fervent prayer, wrought in his heart by the power of the Holy Spirit, raising holy affections and believing expectations and so leading earnestly to plead the promises of God at his mercy-seat, it avails much. The power of prayer is proved from the history of Elijah. In prayer we must not look to the merit of man, but to the grace of God. It is not enough to say a prayer, but we must pray in prayer. Thoughts must be fixed, desires must be firm and ardent, and graces exercised. This instance of the power of prayer, encourages every Christian to be earnest in prayer. God never says to any of the seed of Jacob, Seek my face in vain. Where there may not be so much of miracle in God's answering our prayers, yet there may be as much of grace.Confess your faults one to another - This seems primarily to refer to those who were sick, since it is added, "that ye may be healed." The fair interpretation is, that it might be supposed that such confession would contribute to a restoration to health. The case supposed all along here (see James 5:15) is, that the sickness referred to had been brought upon the patient for his sins, apparently as a punishment for some particular transgressions. Compare the notes at 1 Corinthians 11:30. In such a case, it is said that if those who were sick would make confession of their sins, it would, in connection with prayer, be an important means of restoration to health. The duty inculcated, and which is equally binding on all now, is, that if we are sick, and are conscious that we have injured any persons, to make confession to them. This indeed is a duty at all times, but in health it is often neglected, and there is a special propriety that such confession should be made when we are sick. The particular reason for doing it which is here specified is, that it would contribute to a restoration to health - "that ye may be healed." In the case specified, this might be supposed to contribute to a restoration to health from one of two causes:

(1) If the sickness had been brought upon them as a special act of divine visitation for sin, it might be hoped that when the confession was made the hand of God would be withdrawn; or

(2) in any case, if the mind was troubled by the recollection of guilt, it might be hoped that the calmness and peace resulting from confession would be favorable to a restoration to health.

The former case would of course be more applicable to the times of the apostles; the latter would pertain to all times. Disease is often greatly aggravated by the trouble of mind which arises from conscious guilt; and, in such a case, nothing will contribute more directly to recovery than the restoration of peace to the soul agitated by guilt and by the dread of a judgment to come. This may be secured by confession - confession made first to God, and then to those who are wronged. It may be added, that this is a duty to which we are prompted by the very nature of our feelings when we are sick, and by the fact that no one is willing to die with guilt on his conscience; without having done everything that he can to be at peace with all the world. This passage is one on which Roman Catholics rely to demonstrate the propriety of "auricular confession," or confession made to a priest with a view to an absolution of sin. The doctrine which is held on that point is, that it is a duty to confess to a priest, at certain seasons, all our sins, secret and open, of which we have been guilty; all our improper thoughts, desires, words, and actions; and that the priest has power to declare on such confession that the sins are forgiven. But never was any text less pertinent to prove a doctrine than this passage to demonstrate that. Because:

(1) The confession here enjoined is not to be made by a person in health, that he may obtain salvation, but by a sick person, that he may be healed.

(2) as mutual confession is here enjoined, a priest would be as much bound to confess to the people as the people to a priest.

(3) no mention is made of a priest at all, or even of a minister of religion, as the one to whom the confession is to be made.

(4) the confession referred to is for "faults" with reference to "one another," that is, where one has injured another; and nothing is said of confessing faults to those whom we have not injured at all.

(5) there is no mention here of absolution, either by a priest or any other person.

(6) if anything is meant by absolution that is Scriptural, it may as well be pronounced by one person as another; by a layman as a clergyman. All that it can mean is, that God promises pardon to those who are truly penitent, and this fact may as well be stated by one person as another. No priest, no man whatever, is empowered to say to another either that he is truly penitent, or to forgive sin. "Who can forgive sins but God only?" None but he whose law has been violated, or who has been wronged, can pardon an offence. No third person can forgive a sin which a man has committed against a neighbor; no one but a parent can pardon the offences of which his own children have been guilty towards him; and who can put himself in the place of God, and presume to pardon the sins which his creatures have committed against him?

(7) the practice of "auricular confession" is "evil, and only evil, and that continually." Nothing gives so much power to a priesthood as the supposition that they have the power of absolution. Nothing serves so much to pollute the soul as to keep impure thoughts before the mind long enough to make the confession, and to state them in words. Nothing gives a man so much power over a female as to have it supposed that it is required by religion, and appertains to the sacred office, that all that passes in the mind should be disclosed to him. The thought which but for the necessity of confession would have vanished at once; the image which would have departed as soon as it came before the mind, but for the necessity of retaining it to make confession - these are the things over which a man would seek to have control, and to which he would desire to have access, if he wished to accomplish purposes of villany. The very thing which a seducer would desire would be the power of knowing all the thoughts of his intended victim; and if the thoughts which pass through the soul could be known, virtue would be safe nowhere. Nothing probably under the name of religion has ever done more to corrupt the morals of a community than the practice of auricular confession.

And pray one for another - One for the other; mutually. Those who have done injury, and those who are injured, should pray for each other. The apostle does not seem here, as in James 5:14-15, to refer particularly to the prayers of the ministers of religion, or the elders of the church, but refers to it as a duty pertaining to all Christians.

That ye may be healed - Not with reference to death, and therefore not relating to "extreme unction," but in order that the sick maybe restored again to health. This is said in connection with the duty of confession, as well as prayer; and it seems to be implied that both might contribute to a restoration to health. Of the way in which prayer would do this, there can be no doubt; for all healing comes from God, and it is reasonable to suppose that this might be bestowed in answer to prayer. Of the way in which confession might do this, see the remarks already made. We should be deciding without evidence if we should say that sickness never comes now as a particular judgment for some forms of sin, and that it might not be removed if the suffering offender would make full confession to God, or to him whom he has wronged, and should resolve to offend no more. Perhaps this is, oftener than we suppose, one of the methods which God takes to bring his offending and backsliding children back to himself, or to warn and reclaim the guilty. When, after being laid on a bed of pain, his children are led to reflect on their violated vows and their unfaithfulness, and resolve to sin no more, they are raised up again to health, and made eminently useful to the church. So calamity, by disease or in other forms, often comes upon the vicious and the abandoned. They are led to reflection and to repentance. They resolve to reform, and the natural effects of their sinful course are arrested, and they become examples of virtue and usefulness in the world.

The effectual fervent prayer - The word effectual is not the most happy translation here, since it seems to do little more than to state a truism - that a prayer which is effectual is availing - that is, that it is effectual. The Greek word (ἐνεργουμένη energoumenē) would be better rendered by the word energetic, which indeed is derived from it. The word properly refers to that which has power; which in its own nature is fitted to produce an effect. It is not so much that it actually does produce an effect, as that it is fitted to do it. This is the kind of prayer referred to here. It is not listless, indifferent, cold, lifeless, as if there were no vitality in it, or power, but that which is adapted to be efficient - earnest, sincere, hearty, persevering. There is but a single word in the original to answer to the translation effectual fervent. Macknight and Doddridge suppose that the reference is to a kind of prayer "inwrought by the Spirit," or the "inwrought prayer;" but the whole force of the original is expressed by the word energetic, or earnest.


16. The oldest authorities read, "Confess, THEREFORE," &c. Not only in the particular case of sickness, but universally confess.

faults—your falls and offenses, in relation to one another. The word is not the same as sins. Mt 5:23, 24; Lu 17:4, illustrate the precept here.

one to another—not to the priest, as Rome insists. The Church of England recommends in certain cases. Rome compels confession in all cases. Confession is desirable in the case of (1) wrong done to a neighbor; (2) when under a troubled conscience we ask counsel of a godly minister or friend as to how we may obtain God's forgiveness and strength to sin no more, or when we desire their intercessory prayers for us ("Pray for one another"): "Confession may be made to anyone who can pray" [Bengel]; (3) open confession of sin before the Church and the world, in token of penitence. Not auricular confession.

that ye may be healed—of your bodily sicknesses. Also that, if your sickness be the punishment of sin, the latter being forgiven on intercessory prayer, "ye may be healed" of the former. Also, that ye may be healed spiritually.

effectual—intense and fervent, not "wavering" (Jas 1:6), [Beza]. "When energized" by the Spirit, as those were who performed miracles [Hammond]. This suits the collocation of the Greek words and the sense well. A righteous man's prayer is always heard generally, but his particular request for the healing of another was then likely to be granted when he was one possessing a special charism of the Spirit. Alford translates, "Availeth much in its working." The "righteous" is one himself careful to avoid "faults," and showing his faith by works (Jas 2:24).

Confess your faults; some copies have the illative particle, therefore, in the text, but even without that here seems to be a connexion between this and the former verse: he had said, the sick man’s sins should be forgiven upon the elders’ praying; and here he adds, that they must be confessed.

One to another; either, that ye may be reconciled to one another when offended, or rather, confess when admonished or reproved for sin, or wounded in your consciences with the sense of it: and so this is not meant of auricular confession made to a priest, but such as should be made, though especially to ministers, yet, when need is, even to godly, experienced Christians, for the easing and disburdening men’s consciences, and getting the help of others’ prayers.

And pray one for another; both in other ordinary cases, and chiefly npon occasion of your mutual confessions, and those soul-troubles that prompted you to them.

That ye may be healed; not only recover bodily health when sick, but spiritual, when weakened or wounded by sin. Healing is often applied to the soul as well as the body, Matthew 13:15 Luke 4:18 Hebrews 12:13 1 Peter 2:24.

The effectual fervent prayer: our translators use two words (and little enough) to express the significancy of the Greek word in this place: some translate it inwrought; it seems to be a prayer wrought in the soul by the Holy Spirit, and so may imply both the efficiency of God’s Spirit, (the Spirit of supplications, Zechariah 12:10), and the vehemency of holy affections caused by him in prayer, Romans 8:26.

Of a righteous man; one sincerely righteous, and in a gospel sense; the following instance of Elias shows that it is not to be understood of a man absolutely righteous.

Availeth much; is very powerful with God for obtaining what is desired, 1Jo 5:14; whereas God heareth not sinners, Proverbs 15:8,29.

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.

{10} Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. {11} The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

(10) Because God pardons the sins of those who confess and acknowledge them, and not those who justify themselves. Therefore the apostle adds, we ought to freely confer with one another concerning those inward diseases, that we may help one another with our prayers.

(11) He commends prayers by the effects that come of them, that all men may understand that there is nothing more effectual than they are, so that they proceed from a pure mind.

Jam 5:16 annexes a new thought to what has been said, which is, however, as the strongly attested οὖν shows, in close connection. From the special order James infers a general injunction, in which the intervening thought is to be conceived that the sick man confessed his sins to the presbyters for the purpose of their intercession; Christians generally are to practise the same duty of confession toward each other. It is incorrect, with Chrysostom (de sacerd. I. III.) and several ancient and other expositors, to refer the injunction contained in this verse to the above-mentioned relation of the presbyters and the sick to each other, and accordingly to paraphrase it, with Pott: ὑμεῖς ἀσθενούντες ἐξομολογεῖσθε τοῖς πρεσβυτέροις τὰ παραπτώματα ὑμῶν καὶ ὑμεῖς πρεσβύτεροι εὔχεσθε ὑπὲρ τῶν ἀσθενούντων; for by this not only is violence done to the language, but also an intolerable tautology arises. ἀλλήλοις can only be referred to the relation of individual believers to each other, so that Cajetan correctly says: nec hic est sermo de confessione sacramentali. Some expositors incorrectly restrict the general expression παραπτώματα to such sins which one commits against another; Wolf: de illis tantum peccatis sermo est, quae alter in alterum commisit, quorumque veniam ab altero poscit; Bengel: aegrotus et quisquis offendit, jubetur confiteri; offensus orare. The passage treats not of human, but of the divine forgiveness; and thus of sins not as offences against our neighbour, but as violations of the law of God.[245]

καὶ εὔχεσθε ὑπὲρ ἀλλήλων] Το ἐξομολόγησις intercession for one another is to be conjoined; indeed, the former takes place in order that the latter may follow. The contents of the prayer is naturally the divine forgiveness, but the aim to be attained thereby is ὅπως ἰαθῆτε. The word ἰᾶσθαι is in the N. T. used both literally and figuratively (Hebrews 12:13; 1 Peter 2:24). After the example of several expositors (Hottinger, de Wette, Wiesinger), the first meaning has hitherto in this commentary been ascribed to ἰαθῆτε, on account of the connection of this verse with what goes before; but since among ἀλλήλοις are certainly to be understood not only the sick, and James indicates by nothing that his injunction refers only to them, it is more correct to take ἰαθῆτε here, in its proper reference to παραπτώματα, in a figurative sense (Estius, Carpzov, Grotius, Gebser, and others); whether James likewise thought on a bodily healing taking place in the cases occurring (Schneckenburger, Kern) must remain undetermined.

It is to be remarked that the prayer of the presbyters does not exclude the common intercession of the members of the church, and that the efficacy attributed to the latter is not less than that attributed to the former.

πολὺ ἰσχύει δέησις δικαίου ἐνεργουμένη] is added by James for the purpose of strengthening the above exhortation; the asyndeton connection is with him not remarkable. The stress is on πολὺ ἰσχύει, consequently it stands first. δίκαιος, equivalent to the Hebrew צַרִּיק, is, according to the Christian view of James, he who in faith performs the works of νόμος ἐλευθερίας.

With regard to ἐνεργουμένη, expositors have introduced much that is arbitrary. Most take the participle as an adjective belonging to δέησις, and then attempt to explain the expression δέησις ἐνεργουμένη. Oecumenius leaves the word itself unexplained, but he lays stress on the point that the prayer of the righteous is only then effectual when he, for whom it is offered, συμπράττῃ διὰ κακώσεως πνευματικῆς with the suppliant. Michaelis explains it: preces agitante Spiritu sancto effusae; Carpzov: δέησις διὰ πίστεως ἐνεργουμένη; Gebser understands prayer in which the suppliant himself works for the accomplishment of his wish; similarly Calvin: tunc vere in actu est oratio, quum succurrere contendimus iis, qui laborant. According to the usual explanation, ἐνεργουμένη is assumed to be synonymous with ἐνεργής or ἐνεργός (ἐκτενής, Luke 22:44; Acts 12:5), “strenuus,” “intentus,” “earnest,” etc., and this qualification of the prayer of the righteous man is attached to πολὺ ἰσχύει as its condition; Luther: “if it is earnest” (so Wiesinger, and similarly Erasmus, Beza, Gataker, Hornejus, Grotius, Wolf, Baumgarten, Hottinger, Schneckenburger, Theile, Bouman, and others). This explanation, however, has not only, as Wiesinger confesses, N. T. usage against it, but this qualification cannot be taken as the condition of πολὺ ἰσχύει, but is rather the statement of the characteristic nature of the prayer of the righteous man. It would be more correct to adhere to the verbal meaning of the participle (so Pott, whose paraphrases, however: ΠΟΛῪ ἸΣΧΎΕΙ [ΔΎΝΑΤΑΙ] ἘΝΕΡΓΕῖΝ, or: ΠΟΛῪ ἸΣΧΎΕΙ ΚΑῚ ἘΝΕΡΓΕῖ ΔΈΗΣΙς, are arbitrary), and to explain it: the prayer of the righteous man availeth much, whilst it works (not: “if it applies itself to working,” de Wette), i.e. in its working. That it does work is assumed; that, besides working, it ΠΟΛῪ ἸΣΧΎΕΙ, which James brings forward and confirms by the following example of Elias.[246]

[245] Lange primarily understands by this “the sins of the Judaizing disposition.”

[246] Lange translates: “which is inwardly effectual (working),” and thinks that ἐνεργεῖσθαι expresses a passive-active working.

Jam 5:16. ἐξομολογεῖσθεἁμαρτίας: see critical note above. Confession of sins has always played an important part in Judaism; the O.T. word for confession of sins is תודה,[62] the later term, which denotes more particularly the liturgical form of confession, is וידוִי. Private as well as public confession was enjoined, and many forms of confession, both general and particular, exist, among others one for the sick; it was the duty of the Rabbis to urge the sick person to confess his sins. Confession is regarded as a meritorious act: according to Sanhedrin, 103 a, it has the effect of enabling the worst sinners to inherit everlasting life (see, among other authorities, Hamburger’s Realencycl. des Judent, article “Sündenbekenntniss”.). For the custom of the early Church cf. Didache, iv. 14, xiv. 1.—προσεύχεσθε ὑπὲρ ἀλλήλων: the need of intercessory prayer is strongly emphasised in O.T., N.T. and the later Jewish literature, see above and the next note.—πολὺ ἰσχύει δέησις δικαίου ἐνεργουμένη: one is reminded of the well-known instance of Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai (end of first century, A.D.) who, when in need of the prayers of a righteous man on behalf of his sick child, said, “Although I am greater in learning than Chaninah, he is more efficacious in prayer; I am, indeed, the Prince, but he is the steward who has constant access to the King” (Berachoth, 34 b). A curious saying of Rabbi Isaac is contained in Jebamoth, 64 a: “The prayer of the righteous is comparable to a pitchfork; as the pitchfork changes the position of the wheat so the prayer changes the disposition of God from wrath to mercy” (quoted in Jewish Encycl., x. 169). With δικαίου cf. δίκαιον in Jam 5:6. On ἐνεργουμένη see Mayor’s elaborate note.

[62] This word is sometimes used as meaning praise given to God by the act of confession of sins, cf. Ryle, Ezra …, p. 132.

16. Confess your faults one to another …] Better, with the old MSS. Therefore confess—and transgressions instead of faults. The noun includes sins against God as well as against men: the words refer the rule of this mutual confession to the promise of forgiveness as its ground. In details the precept is singularly wide. The confession is not to be made by the layman to the elder, more than by the elder to the layman. In either case the question whether it was to be public or private, spontaneous or carried on by questions, is left open. Examples such as those of Matthew 3:6; Acts 19:18-19, suggest the thought of the public confession of individual sins, which was, indeed, the practice of the Church of the third and fourth centuries, as it was afterwards that of many Monastic orders. A later revival of the custom is found in the “class-meetings” of the followers of John Wesley. The closing words, that ye may be healed, have been thought to limit the counsel thus given to times of sickness. It may be admitted that the words are to be taken primarily of bodily healing, but on the other hand, the tense of the imperatives implies continuous action. The writer urges the habit of mutual prayer and intercession, that when sickness comes, there may be a quicker work of healing in the absence of spiritual impediments to the exercise of supernatural powers working through natural media.

16–20. Prayer and Conversion

The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much] The words “effectual fervent” represent a single participle (energumenè), which is commonly rendered (as in 2 Corinthians 1:6; Galatians 5:6; 1 Thessalonians 2:13) by “working.” That accordingly may be its meaning here: A righteous man’s supplication is of great might in its working. The later ecclesiastical use of the word, however, suggests another explanation. The Energumeni were those who were acted, or worked, on by an evil spirit, and the word became a synonym for the “demoniacs” of the New Testament. It is possible that a like passive meaning may be intended here, and that the participle describes the character of a prayer which is more than the utterance of mere human feeling, in which the Spirit itself is making intercession with us (Romans 8:26).

Jam 5:16. Ἐξομολογεῖσθε, confess) The sick man, and whoever has committed an offence, is ordered to confess: the injured party, to pray. The things to be confessed are those which especially burden the conscience: he to whom the confession is made, knows better how he ought to pray, and is more stirred up to prayer.—ἀλλήλοις, to one another, mutually) Confession may be made to any one who is able to pray.—ὅπως ἰαθῆτε, that ye may be healed) Diseases therefore were prevalent.—πολὺ, much) even to the restoration of health.—ἰσχύει, avails) even for another.—δικαίου, of the just) who is not himself involved in any fall (lapse into sin).—ἐνεργουμένη, having efficacy) Efficacy is followed by a favourable hearing: it is by this that prayer avails. There are therefore three things: (1.) efficacy of prayer; (2.) a favourable hearing; (3.) τὸ ἰσχύειν, the availing. This at length follows from the two former. The first is internal in the mind of him who prays: the third produces effects even on outward things.

Verse 16. - Confess therefore your sins, etc. The authority for the insertion of οῦν (omitted in the Received Text) is overwhelming (א, A, B, K, Vulgate, Syriac, Coptic), as is also that for the substitution of τὰς ἁμαρτίας for τὰ παραπτώματα, which includes the three oldest manuscripts, א, A, B, the two latter of which also read προσεύχεσθε for εὔχεσθε. It is difficult to know exactly what to make of this injunction to confess "one to another," which is stated in the form of an inference from the preceding. The form of the expression, "one to another," and the perfectly general term, "a righteous man," forbid us to see in it a direct injunction to confess to the clergy, and to the clergy only. But on the other hand, it is unfair to lose sight of the fact that it is directly connected with the charge to send for the elders of the Church. Marshall, in his' Penitential Discipline,' is perfectly justified in saying that St. James "hath plainly supposed the presence of the elders of the Church, and their intercession to God for the sick penitent, and then recommended the confession of his faults in that presence, where two or three assembled together in the Name of Christ might constitute a Church for that purpose" ('Penit. Discipline,' p. 80). We may, perhaps, be content with saying, with Bishop Jeremy Taylor, "When St. James exhorts all Christians to confess their sins one to another, certainly it is more agreeable to all spiritual ends that this be done rather to the curate of souls than to the ordinary brethren" ('Dissuasive from Popery,' II. 1:11; cf. Hooker, 'Eccl. Pol.,' 6. 4:5, 7). The effectual fervent prayer, etc.; rather, the petition of a righteous man availeth much in its working. On the distinction between δέησις the narrower, and προσευχή the wider word, see Trench on ' Synonyms,' p. 179. James 5:16Confess (ἐξομολογεῖσθε)

The preposition ἐξ, forth, out, implies full, frank, open confession, and so in every case of its use in the New Testament. See on Matthew 3:6.

Faults (παραπτώματα)

See on Matthew 6:14.

The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much (πολὺ ἰσχύει δέησις δικαίου ἐνεργουμένη)

Lit., much availeth (ἰσχύει, is strong), the prayer of a righteous man working or operating. The rendering of the A. V., besides being unwarranted by the text, is almost a truism. An effectual prayer is a prayer that avails. The Rev. is at once more correct and more natural: The supplication of a righteous man availeth much in its working.

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