My brothers, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons.…
I. THE SIN AGAINST WHICH THE WARNING IS DIRECTED (vers. 1-4).
1. It is stated, ver. 1. "My brethren," he begins, addressing them in a conciliatory manner, well fitted to gain their compliance. He calls on them not to hold, in a certain way, "the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ." It is this which alike determines the state and forms the character of the really religious. It is only by believing with the whole mind and heart that we are united to the Saviour, and reap the benefits of His great redemption. "Have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ" — that is, hold it not — "with respect of persons." It is more exactly in than with respect of persons, in the practice of anything so obviously opposed to its very nature. And it is strictly "in respectings of persons," the plural being used to indicate the various ways of doing what is here forbidden. By it we are to understand partiality, favouritism, unduly preferring one before another, making a distinction among men, not on the ground of character or real worth, but of outward condition, of worldly position and possessions.
2. It is illustrated (vers. 2-4). "For" — this is what I mean, here is a specimen of the kind of thing I am warning you against — "if there come into your assembly" — that is, your congregation, or place of meeting for divine worship. It brings out the offensiveness of the proceeding, that it took place in the sanctuary, where, even more than in a court of justice, everything of the sort was most unseemly. "If there come in," he says, "a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel" — one who appeared by these marks to be a person of superior position. "With a gold ring," literally, gold-fingered, having his hands adorned probably with more than a single ring, it might be with several. "In goodly apparel" — having a splendid garment, as the word signifies, bright, shining, glittering, either from its colour or its ornaments. But another enters, and what a contrast! "And there come in also a poor man in vile raiment." Here is one of mean condition, as shown by his attire, the dirt and rags with which he is covered. "And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing," marking the deference paid to him by saying, "Sit thou here in a good place" — sit here, near the speaker, in the midst of the assembly, in a comfortable and honourable seat; while your language to the poor is, "Stand thou there" — stand, that is suitable and sufficient for you; and stand there, away at a distance, behind the others, it may be in some remote corner, some inconvenient position; or, "Sit thou here under my footstool"; if you sit at all among us let it be on the ground beneath, at my feet, in a mean, low situation of that kind. Supposing them to act in such a manner, he asks (ver. 4), "Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?" "Are ye not partial in yourselves?" do ye not make distinctions among yourselves, or are ye not at issue with yourselves? Is not this way of acting at variance with your principles as Christians? Is there not a wide difference between the faith you profess and the course you thus pursue? Now, what is it that he condemns? Is it showing any deference to those of larger means and higher station? Certainly not. What he condemns is honouring the rich at the expense of the poor — cringing to the one and trampling on the other, and doing this, besides, in the house of God, in the Church of Christ, where all should meet on the same footing, should be viewed as standing on a common level. Favour is still shown to the rich man, where it is neither his right nor his interest to have any, but to rank along with the poorest of his brethren. This is done at times by softening down or keeping back the truth from fear of offending certain influential classes or parties. We have a noble example of the opposite in the case of Howe when acting as one of Cromwell's chaplains. He found that a fanatical and dangerous notion regarding answers to prayer prevailed at court, and was held strongly by the Protector himself — a notion which some who knew better did their utmost to encourage. Regarding it with abhorrence, Howe thought himself bound, when next called to preach before Cromwell, to expose the fallacies on which it rested, and the pernicious consequences to which it led. "This accordingly he did, doubtless to the no small surprise and chagrin of his audience. During his discourse, Cromwell was observed to pay marked attention; but as his custom was, when displeased, frequently knit his brows, and manifested other symptoms of uneasiness. Even the terrors of Cromwell's eye, however, could not make Howe quail in the performance of an undoubted duty; and he proceeded in a strain of calm and cogent reasoning to fulfil his honourable but difficult task. When he had finished, a person of distinction came up and asked whether he knew what he had done? at the same time expressing his apprehension that he had irretrievably lost the Protector's favour. Howe coolly replied that he had discharged what he considered a duty, and could leave the issue with God. This was worthy of his sacred office, and his own noble character. The same thing is frequently done in the way of pursuing a subservient course of conduct toward the rich with the view of gaining their favour.
II. THE REASONS BY WHICH THE WARNING IS ENFORCED.
1. The poor are the special objects of the Divine regard (ver. 5). "Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith?" He has chosen them in His eternal decree; and in pursuance of this, chosen them by separating them to Himself, through the effectual operation of the Holy Ghost. And whom has He thus chosen? "The poor of this world" — the poor in respect of it, in the things of it, the poor temporally. They constitute the class to which the man in vile raiment belonged. "Rich in faith" — that is, God has chosen them to be this — He has destined them to it, and made them it by His election. "And heirs of the kingdom which He hath promised to them that love Him." The Christian is rich at present. He has large possessions, and these belong to the domain of faith. Bat be has also glorious prospects. Already he is a son, but he is also an heir. His inheritance is a kingdom, than which there is nothing greater, nobler, more coveted here below.
2. The rich had shown themselves the great enemies of Christ's people and person. He appeals to his readers, "Do not rich men oppress you?" lord it over you, exercise their power against you — "and draw you," drag you; for it implies force, violence — "before the judgment-seats." They did so by vexatious law-suits, by false charges, by persecuting measures. Not only so, be asks, "Do they not blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called?" The reference is not to the lives of inconsistent Christians, but to the foul-mouthed charges and curses of avowed enemies of the gospel. The worthy or honourable name intended is that of Christ. What title, then, had this class to such a preference? Did their relation to the Church, either in its members or its Head, call for any special favour at the hands of believers? Quite the reverse.
Parallel VersesKJV: My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons.