Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted:…
The counsels contained in these verses spring out of the general exhortation of ver. 2. Riches and poverty are among the "manifold trials" which the subjects of them are to "count all joy." This passage has also a real connection with ver. 8, as the introductory conjunction in the original shows. The connection may be either in the thought that the love of money is a prevailing source of" double-mindedness;" or, that the comparison of one's own outward circumstances with those of one's neighbor may tend, apart from grace, towards spiritual unsteadiness rather than Christian simplicity.
I. TWO SPECIAL FORMS OF TRIAL. (Vers. 9, 10.) There are found together in the Church, as well as in the world outside," the rich brother" and "the brother of low degree." Everywhere inequalities obtain among men, which are of the Lord's appointing. He gives to one man larger intellectual possibilities than to another. In his providence he places one man in a more favorable position than another for the development of his energies. Fortunes vary according to abilities and opportunities, as well as in connection with causes which entail personal responsibility. Now, "the brother of low degree" finds his poverty a trial. It tries his body, by exhausting it with labor. It tries his mind, by placing obstacles in the way of his acquiring knowledge. It tries his heart, by limiting narrowly his enjoyment of the luxury of giving. It tries his temper, by wearing out his patience and inclining him to be fretful and satirical. But "the rich brother" has his trials also, arising out of his riches. The temptations of wealth are more serious, because more subtle, than those of poverty. The rich man's mind is often distracted with care; he finds that "a great fortune is a great slavery." Or, he may suffer the weariness and misery of ennui. Especially is he in danger of allowing his spiritual life to become corrupted by his abundance. A wealthy man is prone to grow high-minded and self-sufficient. He has to contend against the inveterate tendency of our fallen nature to abuse prosperity. When Jeshurun the upright "waxes fat," he is apt to "kick," i.e. to become self-willed, petulant, insolent, and neglectful of God. A rich man needs special grace to make and keep him a Christian.
II. How TO TRIUMPH OVER THE TRIAL OF POVERTY. (Ver. 9.) The apostle, in using here the term "brother," supplies a hint as to the secret of patience and joy under this form of trial. A Christian man may be "of low degree," but he is all the same a "brother." Straitened resources are no barrier, but the reverse, to the love and sympathy of the Lord Jesus; and they should be no barrier to that of his people. Well, the Christian who is in humble life is to "glory in his high estate." He is to accustom his mind to the thought of his exaltation as a believer. He has a real dignity: he is rich toward God. He belongs to the Divine family. "His elder Brother is a King, and hath a kingdom bought for him." He moves already in the best and blessedest society; and he is an heir of the heavenly inheritance. Angel-guardians minister to him, and use the very trial of poverty as a means of investing him with the true riches. What a blessed antidote is there in these things to the ills of penury!
III. How TO TRIUMPH OVER THE TRIAL OF RICHES. (Ver. 10.) The "rich" man here means a wealthy man who is a Christian "brother." There were a very few such persons in the membership of the early Church. Now, to the Christian who is wealthy, his very wealth is a God-sent trial. He is apt to make his material resources a ground of glorying or boasting. But James says here that the rich believer ought to boast "in that he is made low." Although a rich man, let him strive to be "poor in spirit." It is not necessary, at least in ordinary circumstances, that he divest himself of all his goods for Christ's sake. Rather is it desirable that the capital which drives the wheels of our commerce should be in the hands of Christian men, provided they use it aright. But the rich believer should give very liberally out of his profits. He should be a servant of servants to his brethren. He should constantly remember the Divine Giver of his prosperity; and, finding that it is hard to carry the full cup steadily, he should pour it out before the Lord. The greatest honor that can attach to the rich man is that he be a humble Christian. Humility is in his case particularly beautiful and becoming. In spiritual things he is a pensioner upon the charity of Heaven equally with other men. When he realizes his own guilt and sin, he ought to feel the more humbled that Providence is filling his lap out of the horn of plenty. Let him exult in the grace of Christ which has enabled him to pass through "the needle's eye." And let him realize how transient and perishable all earthly riches are. "As the flower of the grass he shall pass away." Some providence may suddenly strip him bare of all his wealth. And at least he will not be able to carry it with him into the next world. Therefore, let him not glory in his outward possessions. The rich Christian brother will triumph over the trial of material prosperity by glorying is his humiliation as sharing with the lowliest the true riches.
IV. THE DOOM OF THE UNGODLY RICH. (Vers. 10, 11.) Although these verses speak directly of the blight which may fall upon the wealth of a Christian man, yet this other thought is suggested none the less. A believer may so use his wealth as to help him towards heaven (Luke 16:9); but an evil rich man will do the very reverse. Material possessions are uncertain and perishable; and the man who joins on his life to them, and identifies his being with them, must inevitably perish, as they do. The sirocco-blast of the eternal storm shall wither up both the "grass" and the "flower." "The rich man shall fade away in his goings," i.e. when engrossed with his commercial journeys and purposes. The wealthy farmer shall be summoned from the world when he is drawing out the plans of his enlarged premises. He shall stumble out into eternity a fool (Luke 12:20). "He is like the beasts that perish" (Psalm 49.). Learn from this subject that neither poverty nor wealth is anything more than a circumstance in a man's life. Each of these conditions brings its blessings and its burdens. Each "doth place us proximate to sin, to suffer the contagion." But a man may through grace rise to equally great attainments in spiritual culture and in purity of life, whether he be very poor or very rich, or possessed of that moderate competency - less perilous than either extreme - for which Agur prayed (Proverbs 30:8). - C.J.
Parallel VersesKJV: Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted: