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4:1-10. Here is a long envelope stanza on wars and fightings among men. 4:2.
“ You desire and do not have." The genesis of evil is here traced somewhat in the same way as in chapter 1 :15, which see and note on it. The germ here is found in desire for what we do not have and in the sins of David Sam. II : 1), and of Ahab (1 Kings 21 : 2-4). That desire becomes the master passion of a man's soul and hurries him on to crimes from which he would at first have started back with horror and the deepest dismay
“ You do not have because you do not ask.”
Here is the secret of many a man's restless cravings and ever-recurring disappointments. He never once stops to make his wants the subject of true and earnest prayer.
Compare Philip 4:6. With S. James, as with S. Paul, prayer is ever the condition of contentment and joy. 4:4.
“ You ask and do not receive." But such men do ask, S. James here admits, but he shows what kind of asking it is. They only ask that they may spend what they get on their lusts. All such asking is vain. No prayer which is simply for the satisfaction of our base nature can be answered by our heavenly Father, except to our hurt.
“ The friendship of the world is enmity with God.” Here is another echo from the Sermon on the Mount (S. Matth. 6 : 24; S. Luke 16: 13).
“ God resisteth the proud
But giveth grace to the humble." S. James the Wise quotes again from that book of Wis. dom, Proverbs 3 : 34.
“ Resist the devil and he will flee from you." This rule points to the true field for the exercise of the fighting element which enters into man's nature. Not in strife and bitterness against each other, not in setting ourselves against the will of God, but in taking our stand against the enemy of God and man are the disciples of Christ to show that they are indeed men. See S. Matth. 4: I-II. 4:8. “Draw near to God.
And he will draw near to you." Primarily this may mean, draw near to God in prayer. But it must ever be kept in mind that such drawing near is only effective in so far as it is true and earnest and shows such a disposition in a continual approximation of char. acter and life. We must walk with God as Enoch walked (Gen. 5: 24). 4: II-12.
Another envelope stanza on backbiting. 4:9. “Be afflicted and mourn and weep.”
Here again, as so often in this letter, can be traced the direct influence of the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount (S Matth. 5:4).
4: 13. “ Come now, you who say,” etc.
Here is a condemnation of such plans for the future as our Lord refers to in the Parable of the Rich Fool (S. Luke 12 : 16).
4:14. “And you do not know, what shall happen tomorrow."
See S. Matth. 6:34. S. James partly reproduces that teaching of our Lord and that in Prov. 27: 1.
“ But now you glory in your vauntings.” The word for vauntings is the same as that translated “the pride of life” in 1 John 2 :
: 16, that is, its braggart boastfulness, not the innocent gladness of living. It is
rather the trust of the godless such as the Psalmist refers to in Psalm 10:6. It is the mistaken confidence of even such a noble man as Job in chapter 19: 18, before the Almighty instructs him by trouble and loss and pain.
4:17. “ So to him who knows how to do good and does not do it.”
Chances to do good lie about us on every side. Omission in such cases is often far worse than commission. More souls are in jeopardy at times for things left undone than for things done. To leave undone what we know we ought to do, is sin, even if there is no outward act of what men call crime or vice.
5:1-6. Another envelope stanza on the rich. “ For your miseries which are coming on you.”
These words had their first fulfilment in the woes which preceded the destruction of Jerusalem. But these were but the first in the series which are to attain their completeness only in the final Advent. 5:2.
“ Your riches are corrupted.
Your clothes are moth-eaten." Here and in the line which follows is the union of the two chief forms of wealth in the East. Compare S. Matth. 6:19; Acts 20 : 33.
5:3. “ Will eat your flesh like fire."
The rust spreads from the riches to the life itself. And when they fail and leave behind only the sense of wasted opportunities and the memories of wicked pleasures the soul will shudder at their work as the flesh shudders at the touch of fire.
“ In the last days."
S. James shared the belief of other New Testament writers that they were living “in the last days ” of the
world's history and that the great coming of the Lord was near (i S. John 2:18; 1 Cor. 15:51; 1 Thess. 4:15). For those to whom he was writing, however, his words had real and abiding meaning. They were actually living “ in the last days ” of Jerusalem and Jerusalem's law and religious polity. In the chaos and desolation of its fall which soon followed their heaped-up treasure availed them little. In fact the very wealth on which they had bestowed so much care and anxiety marked them out as the first to be attacked and plundered.
5:4. “Look, the wages of the laborers," etc.
The Jewish law condemned those who kept back the wages of the laborer over night (Lev. 19:13). Jeremiah (22:13) had uttered a woe against him “who uses his neighbor's service without wages.” Malachi (3:5) had spoken of the swift judgment which should come on those “who oppressed the laborer in his wages.” 5:5. “ You have nourished your hearts
In a day of slaughter." The rich men of Judæa were but fattening themselves, as beasts are fattened, for the slaughter which is surely coming.
“ You condemned, you killed the doer of right." This is as if a follower of George Fox had addressed the judges and clergy of Charles the Second's reign, and said to them: You persecuted the Friend, and he does not resist you.
Compare Wisdom of Solomon 2 : 12-16, 5:1-5. 5:11. “ Have seen the end of the Lord.”
You have seen what God did in the end of Job's trial. Learn from it how great a deliverance he will also work
Four stanzas. The first of these reminds us of a part of the Sermon on the Mount (S. Matth. 5:33– 37). The others are distinctively peculiar to S. James. 5:5:13 “ Is any among you suffering :
Let him pray:” The precepts here put forth point to the principle that worship is the truest and best expression of both sorrow and joy
5:14. 'Anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.”
The contest shows that this was done as a means to a cure. Compare S. Mark 6:13; S. Luke 10:34. Friction with olive oil was prescribed by Celsus for fever. Herod the Great used oil baths as a remedy (Joseph Ant. 17:6, $ 5). See also S. Mark 7:33; 8:23: S. John 9:6). The early Christians are instructed to use what medical means they are acquainted with, in dependence on God's blessing sought by trustful prayer.
See Ecclesiasticus 38:1-15.
5:20. “ Will cover a multitude of sins."
Compare i S. Peter 4:8, and note on it. See also Prov. 10:12.
The sins which are here said to be covered are those of the man converted. The context makes this plain. Yet in the very fact of converting another, we are blessed ourselves and gain favor with God. In this way our own sins also can be said to be covered. For in such an act love reaches its highest point. It of necessity includes faith in God which is the condition of forgiveness.