James 1

The epistle is not written to any particular assembly of believers,
nor even to the whole church of God. It is addressed rather to "the
twelve tribes which are scattered abroad," and it is this which
accounts for its unusual character. Let us attempt to seize the
view-point from 'which James speaks before we consider any of its

Although the Gospel began at Jerusalem and there won its earliest
triumphs, the Christians of that city were slower than others in
entering into the true character of the faith they had embraced. They
clung with very great tenacity to the law of Moses and to the whole
order of religion which they had received through him, as is evidenced
by such passages as Acts 15, and Acts 21: 20-25. This is not
surprising, for the Lord did not come to destroy the law and the
prophets but rather to give their fulness, as He said. This they knew
but what they were slow to see was that having now got the substance in
Christ, the shadows of the law had lost their value. The enforcing of
that fact is the main theme of the Epistle to the Hebrews, which tells
us, "Now, that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away."
Shortly after those words were written the whole Jewish system,-temple,
altar, sacrifices, priests,-did vanish away in the destruction of
Jerusalem by the Romans.

Up to that point however, they viewed themselves as just a part of
the Jewish people, only with new hopes centred in a Messiah who was
risen from the dead. The same idea was common among the Jewish converts
to Christ, wherever they were found and consequently their tendency was
to still remain attached to their synagogues. An exception to this
state of things was found where the Apostle Paul laboured and taught
"all the counsel of God." In such cases the real character of
Christianity was made manifest and the Jewish disciples were separated
from their synagogues, as we see in Acts 19: 8 and 9. James, as we have
seen, remained in Jerusalem and he wrote his Epistle from this
Jerusalem standpoint, which was right as far as it went and at the time
of his writing.

We might put the matter in another way by saying that the earliest
years of Christianity covered a period of transition. The history of
those years, revealing the transition, is given to us in the Acts,
which begins with the incorporation of the church in Jerusalem,
consisting exclusively of Jews, and ends with the sentence of blindness
finally pronounced upon the Jews as a people and the Gospel specially
sent to the Gentiles. James writes from the standpoint that was usual
amongst Jewish Christians in the middle of that period. It is this
which accounts for the peculiar features of his Epistle.

Although the Apostle addresses himself to the whole of his dispersed
nation he does not for a moment hide his own position as a servant of
the Lord Jesus Christ, who was still rejected by the majority of his
people. Moreover, as we read on, we soon perceive that the believers
amongst his people are really in his mind's eye and that what he has to
say is mainly addressed to them. Here and there we shall find remarks
specifically addressed to the unbelieving mass, as also other remarks
which have the unbelievers in view, though not addressed directly to

Take, for instance, the opening words of verse 2. When he says, "My
brethren," he was not thinking of them merely as his brethren according
to the flesh, as fellow Jews, but as brethren in the faith of Christ.
This is evident if we look at the next verse where their faith is
mentioned. It was faith in Christ, and that alone, which at that moment
differentiated between them and the unbelieving mass of the nation. To
the casual observer all might look alike, for all were waiting on the
same temple services in Jerusalem or attending the same synagogues in
the many cities of their dispersion, yet this immense line of cleavage
existed. The minority believed in Christ, the majority refused Him.
This cleavage was manifested in the lifetime of the Lord Jesus for we
read, "So there was a division among the people because of Him." (John
7: 43). It was perpetuated and enlarged at the time when James wrote,
and as ever the Christian minority was suffering persecution at the
hands of the majority.

They had at this time "divers" or "various" temptations. From
different quarters there came upon them trials and testings which, if
they had succumbed to them, would have tempted them to turn aside from
the simplicity of their faith in Christ. On the other hand, if instead
of succumbing they went through them with God they would be made strong
by enduring, and this would be great gain in which they might well

Hence when the trials came instead of being depressed by them they
were to count it an occasion of joy. What a word this is for us today!
A word amply corroborated by the apostles Paul and Peter: see, Romans
5: 3-5, and 1 Peter 1: 7.

These temptations were permitted of God for the testing of their
faith and they resulted in the development of endurance. But endurance
in its turn became operative in them, and if allowed to have its
perfect work it would carry to completion the work of God in their
hearts. The language is very strong, "perfect and entire, wanting
nothing." In the light of these words we may safely say that temptation
or trial plays a very large part in our spiritual education. It is like
a tutor in the school of God, who is well able to instruct us and to
develop our minds to the point when we graduate as the finished product
of the school. And yet how greatly we shrink from trial! What efforts
we make to avoid it! In so doing we are like unto children who scheme
with great ingenuity to play truant from school, and end up by becoming
dunces. Are we not foolish? And have we not here an explanation of why
so many of us make but little progress in the things of God?

Many of us would doubtless rejoin, "Yes, but these trials make such
demands upon one. Again and again one is entangled in the most
perplexing problems that need superhuman wisdom for their solution."
That is so, and therefore it is that James next instructs as to what
should be done in these perplexing situations. Lacking wisdom we are
simply to ask it of God, and we may be assured of a liberal answer
without a word of reproach; for we are not expected to have
in ourselves that wisdom which is
in God, and
which comes from above. We may assuredly ask God for whatever we lack
and expect a liberal answer, though whether we should always get it
without a word of reproach is another matter. There were occasions when
the disciples asked the Lord Jesus for things which they did not get
without a gentle word of reproof: see, for instance, Luke 8: 24, 25,
and Luke 17: 5-10. But then these were occasions when what was wanted
was faith, and that, being believers, we certainly ought to possess.

How definite and certain is the word-"It shall be given him." Take
note of it, for the more the assurance of it sinks down into our hearts
the more ready we shall be to ask wisdom in faith without any
"wavering" or "doubting." This simple unquestioning faith, which takes
God absolutely at His word, is most necessary. If we doubt we become
double-minded, unsteady in all our ways. We become like sea-waves
tossed about by every wind, driven first in this direction and then in
that, sometimes up and sometimes down. First our hopes run high and
then we are filled with forebodings and fears. If this be our condition
we may ask for wisdom but we have no ground for expecting it, or
anything else, from the Lord.

We rather think that verse 7 is also intended to convey to us this
thought; that he who asks of God, and yet asks with a doubting mind, is
not likely, whatever he may receive, to take
it as from the Lord. Wisdom
or guidance or anything else is asked of God. Instead of there being
calm reliance upon His word the mind is full of questionings and tossed
about between hopes and fears. How can real wisdom and guidance be
received? And if any kind of help is granted how can it be received as
from God? Does not this go far to explain why so many Christians are
troubled over questions concerning guidance? And when God's merciful
providence is exercised towards them and things reach a happy issue,
they do not see His hand in it and receive it as from Him. They
attribute it to their good fortune: they say, as the world would say,
"My luck was in!"

Verses 9 to 12 form a small paragraph by themselves and furnish us
with an instructive example of the point of view that James takes. He
contrasts "the brother of low degree" with "the rich," and not, as we
might have expected, with "the brother of high degree." The rich, as
James uses the term, mean the unbelieving rich, the leading men of
wealth and influence and religious sanctity, who were almost to a man
in deadly opposition to Christ, as is shown to us throughout the Acts
of the Apostles. God had chosen the poor of this world and the rich
played the part of their oppressors, as is stated in chapter 2 of our
epistle, verses 5 and 6. How plainly does the Apostle warn the rich
oppressors of his nation of what lay ahead of them! Great they might be
in the eyes of their fellows but they were like grass in the sight of
God. Grass produces flowers and the fashion of them has much grace
about it, but under the burning heat of the sun all is speedily
withered. So these great Jewish leaders might be most comely in the
eyes of their contemporaries, yet soon they would fade away.

And when the rich fade away here is this "brother," this Christian,
emerging from his trials and receiving a crown of life! Exaltation
reached him even during his life of toil and testing, inasmuch as God
considered him worthy of being tested. Men do not test mud, except it
be that kind of blue clay in which diamonds are found. Base metals are
not cast into the crucible of the refiner, but gold is. God picks up
this poor brother of low degree, who would have been regarded by the
rich of his nation as but the mud of the streets (see, John 7: 47-49)
and exalted him by proclaiming him to be an object composed of gold.
Consequently He permits him to be refined by trials. If we really
understand this we shall be able to say with all our hearts, "Blessed
is the man that endureth temptation." The testing process itself is not
joyous but grievous, as the Apostle Peter tells us, yet by means of it
room is made in our hearts for the inshining of the love of God, and we
become characterized as those that love the Lord. Consequently the
trial issues in a crown of life when the glory appears. The tried saint
may have lost his life in this world but he is crowned with life in the
world to come.

Though the primary thought of this passage is the testing which God
permits to come upon believers, yet we cannot rule out altogether the
idea of temptation, since every test brings with it the temptation to
succumb, by gratifying ourselves rather than glorifying God. Hence when
God tests us we might be so foolish as to charge Him with tempting us.
This it is which leads to the next short paragraph, verses 13 to 15.

God Himself is above all evil. It is absolutely foreign to His
nature. It is as impossible for Him to be tempted with evil as it is
impossible for Him to lie. Equally so it is impossible for Him to tempt
anyone with evil though He may permit His people to be tempted with
evil, knowing well how to overrule even that for their ultimate good.
The real root of all temptation lies within ourselves, in our own
lusts. We may blame the enticing thing which from without was presented
to us, but the trouble really lies in the desires of the flesh within.

Let us lay hold of this fact and honestly face it. When we sin the
tendency is for us to lay a great deal of the blame on our
circumstances, or at all events on things without, when if only we are
honest before God we have no one and nothing to blame but ourselves.
How important it is that we should thus be honest before God and judge
ourselves rightly in His presence, for that is the high road to
recovery of soul. Moreover it will help us to judge and refuse the
lusts of our hearts, and thus sin will be nipped in the bud. Lust is
the mother of sin. If it works it brings forth sin, and sin carried to
completion brings forth death.

Sin in this 15th verse is clearly sin in the act: for other
scriptures, such, for instance as Romans 7: 7, show us that lust itself
is sin in the nature. Only let sin in the nature conceive, and sin in
the act is brought forth.

At this point we shall do well to think of our Lord Jesus and recall
what is stated of Him in Hebrews 4: 15. He too was tempted, tempted in
like manner to ourselves and not only this but tempted like us "in all
things." And then comes that qualification of all importance, "yet
without sin," or more accurately, "sin apart." There was no sin, no
lust in Him. Things which to us had been most alluring found absolutely
no response in Him, and yet He "suffered being tempted" as Hebrews 2:
18 tells us.

It is easy to understand how temptation, if we refuse it, entails
suffering for us. It is because we only turn from it at the cost of
refusing the natural desires of our own hearts. We may not find it so
easy to understand how temptation brought suffering to Him. The
explanation lies in the fact that not only was there no sin in Him but
He was full of holiness. Being God He was infinitely holy, and having
become Man He was anointed by the Spirit of God, and He met all
temptation full of the Spirit. Hence sin was infinitely abhorrent to
Him, and the mere presentation of it to Him, as a temptation from
without, caused Him acute suffering. We, alas! having sin within us,
and having become so accustomed to it, are very little able to feel it
as He felt it.

God, then, far from originating temptation is the Source and Giver
of every gift that is good and perfect. The Apostle is very emphatic on
this point; he would by no means have us err as to it. Verses 16 to 18
are another short paragraph, in which God is presented to us in a very
remarkable way. Not only is He the Source of every good and perfect
gift but also of all that can be spoken of as light. The light of
creation came from Him. Every ray of true light for the heart or
conscience or intellect comes from Him. What we really
know we
know as the result of divine revelation, and He is the "Father" or
"Source" of all such light. Man's lights are very uncertain. The light
of "science" so-called is very variable. It burns brightly, it dies
down, it re-appears, it flares up, it goes out finally extinguished by
an oncoming generation which feels sure it knows more than the outgoing
generation. With the Father of lights, and hence with all light that
really comes from Him, there is no variableness neither shadow of
turning. Blessed be God for that!

There is a third thing in this short paragraph however. Not only is
God the Source of gifts that are good and perfect and lights that do
not vary but also of His people themselves. We too have sprung from Him
as begotten of Him according to His own will. We are what we are
according to His sovereign pleasure and not according to our thoughts
or our wills, which by nature are fallen and debased, and also
according to the "word of truth" by which we have been born of Him.

The devil is the father of lies. The world today is what he has made
it, and he started it with the lie of Genesis 3: 4. In
contradistinction to this the Christian is one who has been begotten by
the word of truth. By-and-by God is going to have a world of truth, but
meanwhile we are to be a kind of firstfruits of that new creation.

Is not this wonderful? A thoughtful reader might have deduced the
fact that a Christian must be a wonderful being, inasmuch as he is
begotten of God. We might have said, "If God is the Source of gifts and
those gifts are good and perfect; if He is the Source of lights and
those lights are without variation or turning; then if He becomes the
Source of beings those beings are sure to be equally wonderful." We are
not however left to deduce it. We are plainly told; and very important
results flow from it as we shall see.

The nineteenth verse begins with the word, "Wherefore" which
indicates that we are now to be introduced to the results flowing from
the truth of the previous verse. Because we are a kind of firstfruits
of God's creatures, as begotten of Him by the Word of Truth, we are to
be "swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath."

Every intelligent unfallen creature is marked by obedience to the
voice of the Creator. Fallen man, alas! shuts his ear to God's voice
and insists upon talking. He would like to legislate for himself and
for everybody else, and hence come the anger and strife which fill the
earth. We were always creatures, but now, born of God, we are a kind of
firstfruits of His creatures. What therefore should mark all creatures
should be specially characteristic of us. Hearing God's word should
attract us. We should run eagerly to it as those who delight to listen
to God.

We only speak aright as our thoughts are controlled by God. If we
think God's thoughts we shall be able to speak things that are right.
But, even if we are swift to hear God's thoughts, we shall only speak
them when first we have assimilated them for ourselves and made them
our own. We assimilate them but slowly and hence we should be slow to
speak. A wholesome sense of how little we have as yet taken in God's
mind will deliver us from that self-confidence and shallow
self-assertiveness which makes men ready to speak at once on any and
every matter.

Further we should be slow to wrath. The self-assertive man, who can
hardly stop to listen to anything but must at once speak his own
opinion is apt to get very angry when he finds that others do not
accept his opinion at his own high valuation of it! On the other hand,
here may be a believer of godly life who pays great heed to God's word
and only speaks with consideration and prayer, and yet his opinion is
equally turned aside! Well, let him be slow to wrath for if it be
merely man's anger it accomplishes nothing that is right in God's
sight. Divine anger will be made to serve His righteous cause, but not
man's anger.

We must remember too that we are a firstfruit of God's creatures a,
born of Him.
Hence not only should we be pattern creatures but we should though
creatures exhibit the likeness of the One who is our Father. All evil
should be laid aside and the word received with meekness. We are in the
first place begotten of the Word; then with meekness we continue to
receive it. These two things also appear in 1 Peter 1: 23-2: 2, where
we are said to be "born again . . . by the word of God," and also
exhorted as new born babes to "desire the sincere milk of the Word."

The Word is spoken of here as "engrafted" or "implanted." This
supposes that it has taken root in us and grown into a part of
ourselves. It is the very opposite of "going in at one ear and coming
out at the other." If the Word merely flows through our minds it
accomplishes for us little or nothing. If implanted in us it saves our
souls. The primary thought here is the saving of our souls from the
snares of the world, the flesh and the devil, a salvation which we all
need moment by moment.

In verse 22 we get a third thing. Not only should we be swift to
hear God's word, not only has it to be
implanted in us, but we must become
doers of it. First the
ear for hearing. Then the
heart, in which it is implanted. Then the
hand governed
by it, so that it comes into outward expression through us. And it is
only when this third thing is reached that the Word is vitally
operative in us. If our hearing does not result in doing our hearing is
in vain.

To enforce this fact the apostle James uses a very graphic
illustration. When a man stands before a mirror his image is reflected
therein for just so long as there he stands. But there is nothing
implanted in the mirror. His face is reflected in it, but without any
subjective effect in the mirror, which is absolutely unchanged, even if
ten thousand things are reflected in turn upon its face. The man
departs, his image vanishes, and all is forgotten. It is just like this
if a man merely hears the Word without any thought of rendering
obedience to it. He gazes into the Word and then goes away and forgets.
If on the other hand we not only look into truth but abide in it, and
hence become doers of the work which is in accordance with truth, we
shall be blessed in our doing. To this matter James refers more fully
in the next chapter when he discusses faith and works.

We must not fail to notice the expression he uses to describe the
revelation which had reached them in Christ. The revelation which the
Jew had known through Moses was a law and writing to Jews, James uses
the same term. Christianity too may be spoken of as
law-the law of Christ- though it is much more than this. In contrast with the law of Moses however it is
the perfect law of
liberty. The law of Moses was
imperfect and

The law of Moses was of course perfect
as far as it went. It was imperfect in the sense that
it did not go an the way. It set forth the bare
minimum of
God's demands so that if man falls short in the smallest
degree-offending in but "one point" (Jas. 2: 10)-he is wholly
condemned. If we want the
maximum of God's thoughts for man
we have to turn to Christ, who fully displayed it in His matchless life
and death, which went far beyond the bare demands of the law of Moses.
In His earliest teachings too He plainly showed that the law of Moses
was not the full and perfect thing. See Matthew 5: 17-48.

In Christ we have the perfect law, even that of liberty. We might
have imagined that if the setting forth of God's minimum produced
bondage the revelation of His maximum would have meant greater bondage
still. But no! The minimum reached us in what we may call the law of
demand, and generated bondage. The maximum reached us in connection with the law of
supply in
Christ, and hence all here is liberty. The highest possible standards
are set before us in Christianity but in connection with a power which
subdues our hearts and gives us a nature which loves to do that which
the revelation enjoins upon us. If a law were imposed upon a dog that
it should eat hay it would prove to be to the poor animal a law of
bondage. impose the same law upon a horse and it is a law of liberty.

It is clear then, from verse 25, that we are to be doers of the work
and not merely hearers of the word. Even our doings however need to be
tested, for a man may seem to be religious, zealous in all his works,
and yet his religion be proved vain by the fact that he does not bridle
his tongue. He has not learned to be "slow to speak" as verse 19
enjoined. In giving rein to his tongue he is giving rein to self.

Now pure and undefiled religion, which will stand in the presence of
God, is of a sort which shuts self out. He who visits the fatherless
and the widows in their affliction will not find much to minister to
the importance or the convenience of self. He will have to be
continually ministering instead of finding that which will minister to
himself, if he moves amongst these afflicted and poor folk. The world
might minister to self in him. Yes, but he keeps himself separate from
the world so that he may not be spotted by its defilements.

"Unspotted from the world" is a strong way of putting it. The world
is like a very miry place in which all too many love to disport
themselves. (see 2 Peter 2: 22). The true Christian does not wallow in
the mire. Quite true! But if he practices pure religion he goes
further. He walks so apart from the miry place that not even splashes
of the mud reach him.

Alas! for the feebleness of our religion. If it consisted in outward
observances, in rites, in ceremonies, in sacraments in services,
Christendom might yet make a fair show of it. Whereas it really
consists in
the outflow of divine love which expresses itself in compassion towards and service to those who have no ability to recompense again, and a
holy separateness from the defiling world-system that surrounds us.