John Wesley's Explanatory Notes
Verse 2. My brethren, count it all joy - Which is the highest degree of patience, and contains all the rest. When ye fall into divers temptations - That is, trials.
Verse 4. Let patience have its perfect work - Give it full scope, under whatever trials befal you. That ye may be perfect and entire - Adorned with every Christian grace. And wanting nothing - Which God requires in you.
Verse 5. If any want - The connexion between the first and following verses, both here and in the fourth chapter, will be easily discerned by him who reads them, while he is suffering wrongfully. He will then readily perceive, why the apostle mentions all those various affections of the mind. Wisdom - To understand, whence and why temptations come, and how they are to be improved. Patience is in every pious man already. Let him exercise this, and ask for wisdom. The sum of wisdom, both in the temptation of poverty and of riches, is described in the ninth and tenth verses. Who giveth to all - That ask aright. And upbraideth not - Either with their past wickedness, or present unworthiness.
Verse 6. But let him ask in faith - A firm confidence in God. St. James also both begins and ends with faith, James 5:15; the hinderances of which he removes in the middle part of his epistle. He that doubteth is like a wave of the sea - Yea, such are all who have not asked and obtained wisdom. Driven with the wind - From without. And tossed - From within, by his own unstableness.
Verse 8. A doubleminded man - Who has, as it were, two souls; whose heart is not simply given up to God. Is unstable - Being without the true wisdom; perpetually disagrees both with himself and others, James 3:16.
Verse 9. Let the brother - St James does not give this appellation to the rich. Of low degree - Poor and tempted. Rejoice - The most effectual remedy against doublemindedness. In that he is exalted - To be a child of God, and an heir of glory.
Verse 10. But the rich, in that he is made low - Is humbled by a deep sense of his true condition. Because as the flower -Beautiful, but transient. He shall pass away - Into eternity.
Verse 11. For the sun arose and withered the grass - There is an unspeakable beauty and elegance, both in the comparison itself, and in the very manner of expressing it, intimating both the certainty and the suddenness of the event. So shall the rich fade away in his ways - In the midst of his various pleasures and employments.
Verse 12. Happy is the man that endureth temptation - Trials of various kinds. He shall receive the crown - That fadeth not away. Which the Lord hath promised to them that love him - And his enduring proves his love. For it is love only that "endureth all things."
Verse 13. But let no man who is tempted - To sin. Say, I am tempted of God - God thus tempteth no man.
Verse 14. Every man is tempted, when - In the beginning of the temptation. He is drawn away - Drawn out of God, his strong refuge. By his own desire - We are therefore to look for the cause of every sin, in, not out of ourselves. Even the injections of the devil cannot hurt before we make them our own. And every one has desires arising from his own constitution, tempers, habits, and way of life. And enticed - In the progress of the temptation, catching at the bait: so the original word signifies.
Verse 15. Then desire having conceived - By our own will joining therewith. Bringeth forth actual sin - It doth not follow that the desire itself is not sin. He that begets a man is himself a man. And sin being perfected - Grown up to maturity, which it quickly does. Bringeth forth death - Sin is born big with death.
Verse 16. Do not err - It is a grievous error to ascribe the evil and not the good which we receive to God.
Verse 17. No evil, but every good gift - Whatever tends to holiness. And every perfect gift - Whatever tends to glory. Descendeth from the Father of lights - The appellation of Father is here used with peculiar propriety. It follows, "he begat us." He is the Father of all light, material or spiritual, in the kingdom of grace and of glory. With whom is no variableness - No change in his understanding. Or shadow of turning - in his will. He infallibly discerns all good and evil; and invariably loves one, and hates the other. There is, in both the Greek words, a metaphor taken from the stars, particularly proper where the Father of lights is mentioned. Both are applicable to any celestial body, which has a daily vicissitude of day and night, and sometimes longer days, sometimes longer nights. In God is nothing of this kind. He is mere light. If there Is any such vicissitude, it is in ourselves, not in him.
Verse 18. Of his own will - Most loving, most free, most pure, just opposite to our evil desire, James 1:15. Begat he us - Who believe. By the word of truth - The true word, emphatically so termed; the gospel. That we might be a kind of first-fruits of his creatures - Christians are the chief and most excellent of his visible creatures; and sanctify the rest. Yet he says, A kind of - For Christ alone is absolutely the first- fruits.
Verse 19. Let every man be swift to hear - This is treated of from James 1:21 to the end of the next chapter. Slow to speak - Which is treated of in he third chapter. Slow to wrath - Neither murmuring at God, nor angry at his neighbour. This is treated of in the third, and throughout the fourth and fifth chapters.
Verse 20. The righteousness of God here includes all duties prescribed by him, and pleasing to him.
Verse 21. Therefore laying aside - As a dirty garment. All the filthiness and superfluity of wickedness - For however specious or necessary it may appear to worldly wisdom, all wickedness is both vile, hateful, contemptible, and really superfluous. Every reasonable end may be effectually answered without any kind or degree of it. Lay this, every known sin, aside, or all your hearing is vain. With meekness - Constant evenness and serenity of mind. Receive - Into your ears, your heart, your life. The word - Of the gospel. Ingrafted - In believers, by regeneration, James 1:18 and by habit, Hebrews 5:14. Which is able to save your souls - The hope of salvation nourishes meekness.
Verse 23. Beholding his face in a glass - How exactly does the scripture glass show a man the face of his soul!
Verse 24. He beheld himself, and went away - To other business. And forgot - But such forgetting does not excuse.
Verse 25. But he that looketh diligently - Not with a transient glance, but bending down, fixing his eyes, and searching all to the bottom. Into the perfect law - Of love as established by faith. St. James here guards us against misunderstanding what St. Paul says concerning the "yoke and bondage of the law." He who keeps the law of love is free, John 8:31, &c. He that does not, is not free, but a slave to sin, and a criminal before God, James 2:10. And continueth therein - Not like him who forgot it, and went away. This man - There is a peculiar force in the repetition of the word. Shall be happy - Not barely in hearing, but doing the will of God.
Verse 26. If any one be ever so religious - Exact in the outward offices of religion. And bridleth not his tongue - From backbiting, talebearing, evilspeaking, he only deceiveth his own heart, if he fancies he has any true religion at all.
Verse 27. The only true religion in the sight of God, is this, to visit - With counsel, comfort, and relief. The fatherless and widows - Those who need it most. In their affliction - In their most helpless and hopeless state. And to keep himself unspotted from the world - From the maxims, tempers, and customs of it. But this cannot be done, till we have given our hearts to God, and love our neighbour as ourselves.
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