Commentary Critical and Explanatory
on the Whole Bible
RECKONING ON THE
1. whence--The cause of quarrels is often sought in external
circumstances, whereas internal lusts are the true origin.
wars, &c.--contrasted with the "peace" of heavenly wisdom.
"Fightings" are the active carrying on of "wars." The best authorities
have a second "whence" before "fightings." Tumults marked the era
before the destruction of Jerusalem when James wrote. He indirectly
alludes to these. The members are the first seat of war; thence it
passes to conflict between man and man, nation and nation.
come they not, &c.--an appeal to their consciences.
lusts--literally, "pleasures," that is, the lusts which prompt
you to "desire" (see on
pleasures; whence you seek self at the cost of your neighbor,
and hence flow "fightings."
that war--"campaign, as an army of soldiers encamped within"
[ALFORD] the soul; tumultuously war against the
interests of your fellow men, while lusting to advance self. But while
warring thus against others they (without his knowledge) war against
the soul of the man himself, and against the Spirit; therefore they
must be "mortified" by the Christian.
2. Ye lust--A different Greek word from that in
"Ye desire"; literally, "ye set your mind (or heart) on"
have not--The lust of desire does not ensure the actual
possession. Hence "ye kill" (not as Margin, without any old
authority, "envy") to ensure possession. Not probably in the case of
professing Christians of that day in a literal sense, but "kill and
envy" (as the Greek for "desire to have" should be translated),
that is, harass and oppress through envy
"slay"; through envy, hate, and desire to get out of your way,
and so are "murderers" in God's eyes [ESTIUS]. If
literal murder [ALFORD] were meant, I do not think
it would occur so early in the series; nor had Christians then as yet
reached so open criminality. In the Spirit's application of the passage
to all ages, literal killing is included, flowing from the
desire to possess so David and Ahab. There is a climax: "Ye desire,"
the individual lust for an object; "ye kill and envy," the feeling and
action of individuals against individuals; "ye fight and war," the
action of many against many.
ye have not, because ye ask not--God promises to those who pray,
not to those who fight. The petition of the lustful, murderous, and
contentious is not recognized by God as prayer. If ye prayed,
there would be no "wars and fightings." Thus this last clause is an
answer to the question,
"Whence come wars and fightings?"
3. Some of them are supposed to say in objection, But we do
"ask" (pray); compare
James replies, It is not enough to ask for good things, but we must ask
with a good spirit and intention. "Ye ask amiss, that ye may consume
it (your object of prayer) upon (literally, 'in') your lusts
(literally, 'pleasures')"; not that ye may have the things you need for
the service of God. Contrast
with Mt 6:31, 32.
If ye prayed aright, all your proper wants would be supplied; the
improper cravings which produce "wars and fightings" would then cease.
Even believers' prayers are often best answered when their desires are
4. The oldest manuscripts omit "adulterers and," and read
simply, "Ye adulteresses." God is the rightful husband; the men of the
world are regarded collectively as one adulteress, and
individually as adulteresses.
the world--in so far as the men of it and their motives and acts
are aliens to God, for example, its selfish "lusts"
and covetous and ambitious "wars and fightings"
enmity--not merely "inimical"; a state of enmity, and that
enmity itself. Compare
"love . . . the world . . . the love of the
whosoever . . . will be--The Greek is emphatic,
"shall be resolved to be." Whether he succeed or not, if his
wish be to be the friend of the world, he renders himself,
becomes (so the Greek for "is") by the very fact, "the enemy
of God." Contrast "Abraham the friend of God."
5. in vain--No word of Scripture can be so. The quotation here,
seems to be not so much from a particular passage as one gathered by
James under inspiration from the general tenor of such passages in both
the Old and New Testaments, as
spirit that dwelleth in us--Other manuscripts read, "that God
hath made to dwell in us" (namely, at Pentecost). If so translated,
"Does the (Holy) Spirit that God hath placed in us lust to (towards)
envy" (namely, as ye do in your worldly "wars and fightings")?
Certainly not; ye are therefore walking in the flesh, not in the
Spirit, while ye thus lust towards, that is, with envy
against one another. The friendship of the world tends to breed
envy; the Spirit produces very different fruit. ALFORD attributes the epithet "with envy," in the
unwarrantable sense of jealously, to the Holy Spirit: "The
Spirit jealously desires us for His own." In English
Version the sense is, "the (natural) spirit that hath its dwelling
in us lusts with (literally, 'to,' or 'towards') envy." Ye lust, and
because ye have not what ye lust after
(Jas 4:1, 2),
ye envy your neighbor who has, and so the spirit of envy leads
you on to "fight." James also here refers to
Jas 3:14, 16.
6. But--"Nay, rather."
giveth more grace--ever increasing grace; the farther ye depart
from "envy" [BENGEL].
he saith--The same God who causes His spirit to dwell in
by the Spirit also speaks in Scripture. The quotation here is probably
was generally referred to in
In Hebrew it is "scorneth the scorners," namely, those who think
"Scripture speaketh in vain."
resisteth--literally, "setteth Himself in array against"; even
as they, like Pharaoh, set themselves against Him. God repays sinners
in their own coin. "Pride" is the mother of "envy"
it is peculiarly satanic, for by it Satan fell.
the proud--The Greek means in derivation one who shows
himself above his fellows, and so lifts himself against God.
the humble--the unenvious, uncovetous, and unambitious as to the
7. Submit to . . . God--so ye shall be among "the
Resist . . . devil--Under his banner pride and
envy are enlisted in the world; resist his temptations to these.
Faith, humble prayers, and heavenly wisdom, are the weapons of
resistance. The language is taken from warfare. "Submit" as a good
soldier puts himself in complete subjection to his captain. "Resist,"
stand bravely against.
he will flee--Translate, "he shall flee." For it is a
promise of God, not a mere assurance from man to man
[ALFORD]. He shall flee worsted as he did from
8. Draw nigh to God--So "cleave unto Him,"
namely, by prayerfully
(Jas 4:2, 3)
"resisting Satan," who would oppose our access to God.
he will draw nigh--propitious.
Cleanse . . . hands--the outward instruments of
action. None but the clean-handed can ascend into the hill of the Lord
(justified through Christ, who alone was perfectly so, and as such
purify . . . hearts--literally "make chaste" of your
that is, worldliness) "your hearts": the inward source of all impurity.
double-minded--divided between God and the world. The
"double-minded" is at fault in heart; the sinner in his
9. Be afflicted--literally, "Endure misery," that is, mourn over
your wretchedness through sin. Repent with deep sorrow instead
of your present laughter. A blessed mourning. Contrast
Isa 22:12, 13;
James does not add here, as in
"howl," where he foretells the doom of the impenitent at the
coming destruction of Jerusalem.
heaviness--literally, "falling of the countenance," casting down
of the eyes.
10. in the sight of the Lord--as continually in the presence of
Him who alone is worthy to be exalted: recognizing His presence in all
your ways, the truest incentive to humility. The tree, to grow
upwards, must strike its roots deep downwards; so man, to be exalted,
must have his mind deep-rooted in humility. In
it is, Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, namely, in His
dealings of Providence: a distinct thought from that here.
lift you up--in part in this world, fully in the world to
11. Having mentioned sins of the tongue
he shows here that evil-speaking flows from the same spirit of
exalting self at the expense of one's neighbor as caused the
"fightings" reprobated in this chapter
Speak not evil--literally, "Speak not against" one another.
brethren--implying the inconsistency of such depreciatory
speaking of one another in brethren.
speaketh evil of the law--for the law in commanding, "Love thy
neighbor as thyself"
virtually condemns evil-speaking and judging
[ESTIUS]. Those who superciliously condemn the
acts and words of others which do not please themselves, thus aiming at
the reputation of sanctity, put their own moroseness in the place of
the law, and claim to themselves a power of censuring above the law of
God, condemning what the law permits [CALVIN].
Such a one acts as though the law could not perform its own office of
judging, but he must fly upon the office [BENGEL]. This is the last mention of the law in the New
Testament. ALFORD rightly takes the "law" to be
the old moral law applied in its comprehensive spiritual fulness by
Christ: "the law of liberty."
if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer . . . but a
judge--Setting aside the Christian brotherhood as all alike
called to be doers of the law, in subjection to it, such a one
arrogates the office of a judge.
12. There is one lawgiver--The best authorities read in
addition, "and judge." Translate, "There is One (alone) who is (at
once) Lawgiver and Judge, (namely) He who is able to save and destroy."
Implying, God alone is Lawgiver and therefore Judge, since it is He
alone who can execute His judgments; our inability in this respect
shows our presumption in trying to act as judges, as though we were
who art thou, &c.--The order in the Greek is emphatic,
"But (inserted in oldest manuscripts) thou, who art thou that judgest
another?" How rashly arrogant in judging thy fellows, and wresting from
God the office which belongs to Him over thee and THEM alike!
another--The oldest authorities read, "thy neighbor."
13. Go to now--"Come now"; said to excite attention.
ye that say--boasting of the morrow.
To-day or to-morrow--as if ye had the free choice of either day
as a certainty. Others read, "To-day and to-morrow."
such a city--literally, "this the city" (namely, the one present
to the mind of the speaker). This city here.
continue . . . a year--rather, "spend one year." Their
language implies that when this one year is out, they purpose similarly
settling plans for to come [BENGEL].
buy and sell--Their plans for the future are all worldly.
14. what--literally, "of what nature" is your life? that is, how
evanescent it is.
It is even--Some oldest authorities read, "For ye are."
BENGEL, with other old authorities, reads, "For it
shall be," the future referring to the "morrow"
The former expresses, "Ye yourselves are transitory"; so everything of
yours, even your life, must partake of the same transitoriness.
Received text has no old authority.
and then vanisheth away--"afterwards vanishing as it came";
literally, "afterwards (as it appeared), so vanishing"
15. Literally, "instead of your saying," &c. This refers to "ye
we shall live--The best manuscripts read, "We shall both
live and do," &c. The boasters spoke as if life, action,
and the particular kind of action were in their power, whereas all
three depend entirely on the will of the Lord.
16. now--as it is.
rejoice in . . . boastings--"ye boast in arrogant
presumptions," namely, vain confident fancies that the future is
certain to you
17. The general principle illustrated by the particular example
just discussed is here stated: knowledge without practice is imputed to
a man as great and presumptuous sin. James reverts to the principle
with which he started. Nothing more injures the soul than wasted
impressions. Feelings exhaust themselves and evaporate, if not
embodied in practice. As we will not act except we feel, so if we will
not act out our feelings, we shall soon cease to feel.