My brothers, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons.…
In the closing sentences of the preceding chapter James has been speaking of the true cultus or ritual of the Church; and here he warns his readers against a violation of it which they were in danger of committing, and of which indeed they had been already guilty, even when assembled for public worship.
I. THE EVIL HERE CONDEMNED. (Ver. 1.) It is that of Pharisaic contempt of the poor. The apostle does not, of course, mean that social distinctions are nowhere to be recognized by God's people. The Scriptures teach no such doctrine. Bather they enjoin Christians to "render honor to whom honor is due" (Romans 13:7). In ordinary society we are to act with manly deference towards our superiors, whether they be such in age, rank, office, knowledge, wealth, or influence. The apostle refers in this exhortation to the spiritual sphere. He urges that within the sacred circle of our Church life resin, oct is to be paid to religious character, and not to material wealth. A true pure faith in "the Lord of glory" is incompatible with the entire spirit of snobbery, and especially with the maintenance of unchristian distinctions of caste within the Church. The British Churches of the nineteenth century unhappily need the warning of this passage almost as much as the congregations of the Dispersion in the apostolic age (see Kitto's 'Daily Bible Illustrations,' vol. 1. twelfth week, first day).
II. A PRACTICAL ILLUSTRATION OF THE EVIL. (Vers. 2, 3.) The case supposed is in all respects an extreme one; yet how correctly it depicts human nature! It presents the thought of "the influences of clothes," or that "society is founded upon cloth" (Carlyle). The deference paid to the gold-ringed man in presence of the congregation is described with dramatic realism. A cordial welcome greets him when he caters, and he is conducted fussily to a principal seat; while the poor man in the squalid clothing is coldly pointed to a place where he may stand, or at most is permitted to sit in an uncomfortable comer. The apostle's graphic picture suggests to the thoughtful reader other examples of the same sin. We shall mention only one or two. The arrangements for seating a congregation amongst ourselves sometimes show "respect of persons," as in the case of an elevated and luxurious pew for the lord of the manor. Ministers in the pulpit are tempted to avoid enforcing practical duties too pointedly, lest their exhortations and reproofs should be unpalatable to influential families. (Yet how many examples of ministerial fidelity may be readily recalled] Numerous cases are historical: Elijah, Micaiah, John the Baptist, Knox, Howe, Massillon, etc.) Church courts are sometimes prone to mete out different measures to different classes of offenders. Congregations have been known to elect men of substance to spiritual office, rather than those who possessed the requisite qualifications of mind and character; and, on the other hand, members of Churches are sometimes actuated by mean jealousy of a wealthy fellow-worshipper, even to such an extent that they would fain, were it possible, abridge his liberty in the exercise of his ordinary rights as a member of the congregation. In these and many other ways Christian people have often shown themselves to be "evil-thinking judges," and have thereby entailed upon the Church much mischief and damage.
III. THE GROUNDS OF THE CONDEMNATION. The apostle's reproof is faithful, but it is also affectionately tender (vers. 1, 5). He indicates from various points of view the wrongfulness of the partiality which he is denouncing.
1. Mere earthly distinctions should be indiscernible in the presence of "the Lord of glory. (Ver. 1.) There is an argument in the very use here of this great title. Worldly distinctions of wealth and rank should be dwarfed into nothingness before our minds when we realize that those who assemble in the house of God are the guests of the Lord of glory."
2. Respect of persons is inconsistent with sound Christian principle. (Ver. 4.) The believer "looks at the things which are not seen;" and he ought not to do so with a wavering mind or a vacillating will. Ecclesiastical servility towards the rich is a form of mammon-worship; while the one power which the Church should exalt is that of character.
3. "God is no respecter of persons. (Ver. 5.) The New Testament rings with declarations of this truth. The Lord of glory," when he lived on earth, was no sycophant of the rich. He was himself a poor man. He chose the poor rather than the rich to possess spiritual means in his kingdom. In "dishonoring the poor man," therefore, the Church was despising one for whom Christ died, and a possible heir of the heavenly glory.
4. The rich as a class had been the enemies both of Christ and his people. (Vers. 6, 7.) With a few noble exceptions, the upper classes persecuted the Christians in the days of the apostles. They harassed them with lawsuits. They slandered them before the judges. They cursed the blessed Name of Christ which it is the mission of the Church to exalt. It was, therefore, contrary to "the spirit of a sound mind" to court the rich. To do so showed a deficiency of common sense. It indicated a lack of self-respect. And, above all, it was disloyal to the blessed Name. - C.J.
Parallel VersesKJV: My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons.