Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom is no ficklenss…
The origin of evil is a problem which, in all probability, will never be solved until we reach the world in which there is no evil. And I think we should do well to approach this problem from its brighter rather than from its darker side. I see more hope of our learning what evil is, and even whence it came, if we first ask ourselves what goodness is and whence that came. Now by "goodness" we mean moral goodness; goodness as it exists, or may exist, in man. And by human or moral goodness we mean, not a mechanical and involuntary conformity to law, but a free and willing choice of the righteousness which the law ordains. Moral goodness implies free choice, and how can there be a free choice of that which is good if there be no possibility of choosing evil rather than good? The will of man must have this solemn alternative before it — good or evil — if it is ever to become a good will. God does not make us good, therefore, but He has so made us that we may become good; and in order that we may become good we must be free to choose evil. He is good, perfectly and absolutely good, because His will is fixed in its choice of goodness; and only as our wills rise to that steadfast attitude can we become good. Now if we start from this conception of goodness we shall define its moral opposite, evil, as the wrong choice of the will; we shall say that, just as men become good by freely choosing and doing that which is right, so they become evil by freely choosing and doing that which is wrong. And we shall not blame God for their bad choice, nor for leaving them free to make it; we shall admit that He must leave their will free if they are to be really good, and that, if the will is to be left free, it must be possible for them to choose evil rather than good. Thus we shall reach the conclusion that evil is from man, not from God; that it is not fatal necessity imposed upon them from above, but a wrong choice which they have made when a right choice was open to them. That evil springs from human lust, not from the will of God, St. James has shown us in the verses which precede these; and he now goes on to show how impossible it is that evil should come from God by considerations drawn from what God is in Himself, and from what He has done for us. Even his opening phrase, "Do not err, my beloved brethren," indicates that he is about to resume and carry further the argument with which he has already dealt. Now on this question of the origin of evil men do perpetually err. They ascribe it to a Divine origin. St. James will have no part in such opinions as these. Evil only too certainly is, but he is sure that it is not from God. And he tries to make us sure by giving us the facts and arguments which had most impressed his own mind. His first argument is drawn from the conception he had formed of the nature of God. God cannot be the Author of evil, he argues, because He is the Author of good, because He is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. "Every good gift and every perfect boon" is from Him; or, as the Greek implies, all that comes to us from God is good, and every good gift of His bestowal is perfect as well as good, perfect in kind and degree. But if all He gives is good, and even perfect, how can evil and imperfection spring from Him. As Bishop Sanderson has it, "We are unthankful if we impute any good but to God, and we are unjust if we impute to Him anything but good." St. James, however, is not content with the argument from the acknowledged and absolute goodness of God. With the ease and simplicity which we so much admire in the proverbs and parables of our Lord, he rises into a fine illustration of his argument. The illustration comes to this: "You might as well, and much more reasonably, attribute darkness to the sun as impute evil to God." But mark for a moment with what a natural and unforced ease he passes to his illustration. He had said, "Every good gift and every perfect boon is from above," from yonder fair, pure world on high. And as, in thought, he glances upward to that world, he sees the sun which God has set to rule the day, the moon and the stars which He has set to rule the night. Of these lights God is "the Father," and of all lights. But can the Source and Fountain of all light be the source and fountain of all darkness? Impossible. The sun gives light, and only light. If we are in darkness, that is only because the world has turned away from the sun, of our hemisphere of the world. And, in like manner, God gives good gifts, and only good. Thus, and so naturally, does St. James bring in his illustrative thought. But even yet he is not content with it. The thought grows as he considers it, grows somewhat thus. The Father of the lights must be more perfect than the lights He has called into being. They vary; even the sun for ever shifts its place, and its relation to the earth. But whatever inconstancy there may be in them, there is none in Him who made them. He is good, and doeth good only and continually. And now he advances another step. He argues that evil cannot be of God, because, of His own free will, God sets Himself to counterwork the death which evil works in us, by quickening us to a new and holy life: "Of His own will begat He us, by a word of truth." If we, when we were sinners, were redeemed and made anew by the free action of Divine will, can we for a moment suppose that evil sprang from the will which delivered us from evil? We acknowledge with joyful certainty and gratitude that He who begat us to a new and holy life, when we were "dead in trespasses and sins," must hate the evil from which He delivered us, that He cannot have been the Author of that which He sent His Son to destroy. It may be said, "You who are redeemed and born anew by the grace of God, at the word of His truth, may have reason to believe in His goodness: but what reason has the world at large, the world which is not saved as yet? Perhaps, in logic, it would be a sufficient answer to this objection were we to say: "The world may be saved if it will; God is always trying to save it; but, as we have seen, good as He is, He cannot make men good against their will." Logically, the answer is fair enough; but. our hearts are not to be satisfied by mere logic, and they crave a more tender and hopeful answer than this. Happily, St. James supplies the very answer they crave. God, he says, has begotten us, by some word of truth which met our inward needs, into a new and better life; and therefore we are sure that He hates evil and death. But He has begotten us, not simply that we ourselves may be saved from evil, but also "that we should be a kind of first-fruit of His creatures." Now the consecration of the first-fruits of the earth wan a recognition of God's claim to the whole harvest, and pledge that it should be devoted, in various ways, to His service. This was the great lesson of the first-fruit offering. It was not a tax on payment of which the harvest was to be exempted; it was a confession that it was all the gift of God, and was all due to Him. When, therefore St. James says that the regenerate are kind of first-fruit of the creation, so far from implying that they alone are to be saved, he implies that "all flesh shall see the salvation of God," and that "the whole creation" shall have a part in their redemption.
(S. Cox, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.