Blessed is the man that endures temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life…
In the previous part of the chapter James has spoken of "temptation" in the general sense of "trial," and as coming mainly in connection with outward circumstances. In this passage he proceeds to speak of it in the sense in which the word is now ordinarily used, as meaning only internal trial by solicitation to sin. Ver. 12 marks the transition from the one sense to the other, and predicates "blessedness" of "the man that endureth temptation" in either form.
I. THE GENESIS OF TEMPTATION. (Vers. 13, 14.) The sacred writers very rarely deal in such abstract psychological analysis as we have in this passage. These verses remind us that there is natural history in the moral world as well as in the physical - "the law of sin and of death" as well as "the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus." There are two conflicting theories always prevalent regarding the origin and development of temptation.
1. The false theory. (Ver. 13.) Men are prone to ascribe the authorship of temptation to God. This heresy is as old as the garden of Eden and the Fall. Our first parents blamed God for the first sin. And the world has adopted the same excuse, in various forms, ever since. Systems of philosophy have done so. Pantheism, for example, says that man is only a mode of the Divine existence, and that good is God's right hand, while evil is his left, Fatalism teaches that all events - good and evil - come to pass under the operation of a blind necessity. Materialism in our day regards the vilest passions of bad men and the holiest aspirations of believers as alike only products of our physical organism. And the same dreadful error prevails equally in common life. Superstitious persons, from the time of James until ours, have had the impression that their misdeeds are necessitated by the Divine decrees. Some blame their nature for their sins, and ascribe to their Maker the origination of their corrupt propensities, as the poet Burns did once and again in lines of daring blasphemy. Others trace their sins to their circumstances, blaming God's providence for surrounding them with evil influences, which, they submit, lay them under an inevitable necessity of sinning. But the apostle advances reason and argument against this impious theory. Think, he says, of the purity and perfection of the Divine nature. Moral evil has no place in God. There is nothing in him that temptation can take hold of. And if he is not himself open to the seductions of sin, it is impossible that he can be a tempter of others. God is the infinite Light, and sin is darkness. God is the eternal Righteousness, and sin is crookedness. God is the unchangeable Beauty, and sin is deformity. So, he will not and cannot solicit men towards what is opposed to his own nature. He tries and tests men; but he does not tempt them. He does not cause sin; he simply permits it. When we pray, as Christ has taught us to do, "Bring us not into temptation," we beg that God may not in his providence place us in circumstances from which our hearts may take occasion to sin.
2. The true theory. (Ver. 14.) Temptation originates within the heart of the sinner himself. It is in vain for him to blame his Maker. Sin is no part of our original constitution, and it is not to be excused on the plea of an unfavorable environment. A man sins only when he is "enticed" by the bait, and "drawn away" by the hook of "his own lust." That is, the impelling power which seduces towards evil is the corrupt nature within us. The world and the devil only tempt effectually when they stir up the filthy pool of depraved personal desire. "Lust" includes, besides the appetites of the body, the evil dispositions of the mind, such as pride, malice, envy, vanity, love of ease, etc. Any appeal made from without to these vile principles and affections can be successful only with the consent of the will. Every man is personally responsible for his sin; fur each man's sin takes its rise in "his own lust." Conscience brushes away the cobwebs of the false theory, and assures us all that we are "merely our own traitors." Only one Man has ever lived within whose soul there was no hook or bait of corrupt desire on which any evil suggestion could fasten; and no one but he could say, "The prince of the world cometh, and he hath nothing in me."
II. THE GENEALOGY OF SIN. (Ver. 15.) "Lust" is throughout this passage personified in allegorical fashion as a harlot, ever striving, like the harlot Folly of Proverbs 9:13-18, to allure and captivate the will. First, she draws the man "who goes right on his way" out of the path of sound principle and wholesome pleasure; and then she entices him into her embrace with the siren strain, "Stolen waters are sweet." Lust may be said to "conceive," when it obtains the consent of the will, or disarms its opposition. The man who dallies with temptation, instead of meeting it with instant and prayerful resistance, will be sure eventually to succumb to it. From the guilty union of lust with the will, a living sin is born. The embryo corruption becomes developed into a deed of positive transgression. And this is not all. Sin, the progeny of lust, itself grows up from the infancy of mere choice to the adult life of settled habit; and "when it is full-grown," it in turn becomes, as the result of union with the will, the mother of death. It was so with the sin of our first parents in Paradise. It was so with the sin of Achan (Joshua 7:21); he saw, coveted, took, and died. It is so with the sin of licentiousness, which has suggested the figure of this passage; the physical corruption which the practice of sensuality entails is just a sacrament of spiritual death. Death is the fruit of all sin. Sin kills peace; it kills hope; it kills usefulness; it kills the conscience; it kills the soul. The harlot-house of lust and sin becomes the vestibule of perdition. As Milton has it, in a well-known passage of bk. 2. of 'Paradise Lost' - a passage suggested by this very verse - Sin is
"The snaky sorceress that sat
Fast by hell-gate, and kept the fatal key;"
while Death, her son, is "the grizzly Terror" on the other side, which stood
"Fierce as ten furies, terrible as hell."
III. THE GLORY AWAITING HIM WHO ENDURES. (Ver. 12.) This comfortable word reminds us of the Beatitudes. The blessedness of which it speaks belongs not only to all Christians who - " letting patience have its perfect work " - endure "temptations" in the sense in which the word is used in ver. 2, but to all also who escape victorious from the solicitations of evil desire, referred to in the verses which we have been considering. Notice here:
1. The character of the blessed man. He "loves the Lord," and in the spirit of this love he "endures temptation." Love is the substance of the Christian character, and love "endureth all things." Love alone will enable a man to stamp out lust.
2. His glorious reward. "He shall receive the crown of life." Not a chaplet of parsley, not even a diadem of gold; but a crown composed of life. Eternal life itself will be the believer's reward. Temptation unresisted, as we have seen, is always pregnant with sin and death; but holy endurance entails upon one the gracious reward of spiritual life, which shall be confirmed in spotless purity forever and ever. This glorious blessing is guaranteed; the believer has for it a definite warranty from his Redeemer.
3. The time and condition of its bestowal. It is "when he hath been approved;" i.e. tested as gold or silver in the white heat of the refiner's fire. The one way to the kingdom is the way of persevering endurance. "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life."
1. Flee from spiritual death.
2. Crucify sin.
3. Mortify lust.
4. Cultivate the grace of endurance.
5. Watch and pray against outward occasions of evil.
6. Sprinkle the conscience with the blood of atonement, and wash the soul in the laver of regeneration. - C.J.
Parallel VersesKJV: Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.