In the closing verses of chapter 4 James was addressing those of his
own people belonging to the prosperous commercial class, who professed
to receive Jesus as their Lord. In the opening of the fifth chapter his
thoughts turn to the rich Jews, and these, as we have before mentioned,
were almost to a man found amongst the unbelieving majority. In the
first six verses he has some severe and even scorching things to say
about them, and to them.
The accusation he brings against them is threefold. First he charges
them with fraud, and that of the most despicable character. They took
advantage of the humblest people who were least able to defend
themselves. Second, they were utterly self-indulgent, thinking of
little but their own luxuries. Third, they persecuted and even killed
their brethren who had embraced the faith of Christ, who are spoken of
here as "the just."
As a consequence, self-enrichment was their pursuit and they were
successful in it. They "heaped treasure together." Meanwhile the
labourers who could not defend themselves cried out in their poverty,
and the Christians, who very possibly might have defended themselves,
followed in the footsteps of their Master and did not resist them. The
rich men succeeded famously and seemed to have matters all their own
Appearances however are deceitful. In reality they were but like
brute beasts being fattened for killing. "Ye have nourished your
hearts, as in a day of slaughter," is how James puts it. If Psalm 73 be
read we discover that this is no new thing. Asaph had been greatly
troubled observing the prosperity of the wicked, coupled with the
chastenings and sorrows of the people of God; and he found no
satisfactory solution of the problem until he wentinto the sanctuary of
In the light of the sanctuary everything became clear to him. He saw
that the course to both the godless rich and the plagued and
downtrodden saints could only be rightly estimated as the end of each
came into view. A few moments before he had been near to falling
himself because he had been consumed with envy at the prosperity of the
wicked: now he exclaims, "How are they brought into desolation, as in a
moment!" Asaph himself was one of the godly, plagued all the day long
and "chastened every morning." Yet in the sanctuary he lifts his eyes
to God with joy and confesses, "Thou shalt guide me with Thy counsel,
and afterward receive me to glory." The end of the one was,
brought into desolation. The end of the other,
received to glory. The contrast is complete!
And that contrast is very manifest in our chapter. The amassed
wealth of the rich was corrupted and cankered. Utter misery was coming
upon them. As for the tried saints they had but to wait with patience
for the coming of the Lord; then their glad harvest of blessing would
be reaped, as verses 7 and 8 make manifest.
These inspired threatenings of judgment found an almost immediate
fulfilment in the destruction of Jerusalem under Titus. History informs
us that most Christians took warning and left the city before it was
invested by the Roman armies, while the unbelieving mass were entrapped
and such miseries came upon them as all their weepings and howlings
could not avert. Yet while
a fulfilment it was not
the fulfilment of these words. "Ye have heaped treasure together," it says, "for
the last days." That
means, not merely the last few years of that sad chapter of Jerusalem's
history, but the days just preceding the coming of the Lord.
You will notice how James corroborates his fellow-apostles, Paul,
Peter and John. All four of them present the coming of the Lord as
imminent, as the immediate hope of the believer. They say to us such
things as, "The night is far spent, the day is at hand." "The end of
all things is at hand." "Little children, it is the last time." "The
coming of the Lord draweth nigh." And yet nearly nineteen centuries
have passed since these words were written. Were they mistaken? By no
means. Yet it is not easy to get their exact view-point, and so
understand their words.
An illustration may help. A drama is being enacted on the stage, and
the curtain rises for the last act. It is the first public performance,
and someone who has already witnessed it privately whispers to a
friend, "Now for the finish! It is the last act." Yet nothing seems to
happen. The minutes pass, and the players appear to be absolutely
motionless. Yet there is something transpiring. Very slow, stealthy
movements are going on....Something is slowly creeping on to the stage.
It needs good opera glasses and a very observant pair of eyes behind
them to notice it! The crowd becomes openly impatient, and the man who
said, "Now for the finish," looks a fool. Yet he was perfectly right.
In the days of the Apostles the earth was set for the last act in
the great drama of God's dealings. Yet because God is full of
longsuffering, "not willing that any should perish, but that all should
come to repentance," (2. Pet. 3: 9.) He has slowed down the working of
iniquity. It is a very long time coming to a head-as we count time. It
was perfectly true when the Apostles wrote that the next decisive
movement in the drama was to be God's public intervention, in the
coming of the Lord; though for His coming we are still waiting today.
We shall not wait for it in vain!
His coming is our hope, and these words of exhortation ought to come
to us with tenfold force today. Are we tested, our hearts oppressed
with the burden of unrighted wrongs? "Be ye also patient," is the word
for us. Do we feel unsettled, everything around and within seemingly
insecure and shaking? The message comes to us, "Stablish your hearts."
Does it seem as if we are everlastingly sowing without effect? Do we
plough and wait, and plough and wait, until we are tempted to think
that we are but ploughing sands? "Be patient," is the word for us,
"unto the coming of the Lord." Then we shall enjoy our grand
We must remember however that the Lord's coming will not only mean
the judgment of the ungodly and the uplifting of the saints, but it
will entail the righting of all that has been wrong in the relations of
believers one with another. Verse 9 bears on this. What is more common
than grudges or complainings of believers one against another, and what
more disastrous in its effects upon the spiritual health of the whole
body of saints? Are we inferring that there are no causes of complaint,
nothing that might lead to the cherishing of a grudge? There are
probably more causes than we have any notion of, but let them not be
turned into grudges. He who will sit in judgment, and assess
everything-even as between believers-in perfect righteousness, is
standing with His hand upon the handle of the door ready to enter the
court; and he who is readiest to entertain and nurse a grudge will
probably be himself the first to be condemned.
In all this we should be encouraged by the example of the prophets
who have gone before, and particularly by the case of Job. We see them
suffering affliction, enduring patiently and, in many cases, dying as
the result of their testimony. Job's case was special. Satan was not
permitted to take his life and so remove him from our observation. He
was to live so that we might see "the end of the Lord" in his case. And
what a wonderful end it was! We can see the pity and tender mercy of
God shining through all his disasters as we view them in the light shed
by the finish of his story.
Job's case was just a sample. What God wrought out for him He is
working out for all of us, for He has no favourites. We cannot see to
the finish of our own cases, but in the light of Job's case God invites
us to trust Him, and if we do we shall not grudge against our fellows
any more than Job bore a grudge against his three friends when God had
reached His end with him. Why, Job then was found fervently praying for
his friends instead of grumbling at them! Let us trust God and accept
His dealings, assured that His end according to His tender mercy will
be reached for us at the coming of Jesus, and we shall see it then.
How important it is then that the coming of the Lord should really
be our HOPE. If faith be vigorous it will be kept shining brightly
before our hearts, and then we shall endure with patience, we shall be
lifted above grudges and complaints, and we shall be marked too by that
moderation of language to which verse 12 exhorts us. He who lives in an
atmosphere of truth has no need to fortify his words with strong oaths.
The habitual use of them soon has the contrary effect to that intended.
Even men of the world soon doubt the veracity of the man who cannot be
content with a plain yes or no. The last words of the verse, "lest ye
fall into condemnation" seem to infer this.
While we wait for the coming of the Lord our lives are made up of
many and varying experiences. Going through a hostile world there are
frequent afflictions. Then again there are times of peculiar happiness.
Yet again, seasons of sickness come, and sometimes they come upon us as
the direct result of committing sin. From verse 13 to the end these
matters are taken up.
The resource of the afflicted saint is prayer. We do not always
realize this. So often we merely betake ourselves to kindly friends,
who will listen to the recital of our troubles, or to wealthy and
influential friends, who perchance may be able to help us in our
troubles, and prayer falls into the background, whereas it should be
our first thought. It is affliction which adds intensity to our
prayers. You attend a meeting which may be described as "our usual
prayer-meeting," and it is, we trust, a profitable occasion. But even
so how different it is when a number meet together to pray about a
matter which burdens their hearts to the point of positive affliction.
In meetings of that sort the heavens seem to bow down to touch the
But here, on the other hand, are believers who are merry indeed,
their hearts are full of gladness. It is spiritual gladness, at least
to begin with. The danger is however that it will soon degenerate into
mere carnal jollification. If spiritual gladness is to be maintained it
must have an outlet of a spiritual sort. That spiritual outlet is the
singing of psalms, by which we understand any poetical or metrical
composition of a spiritual sort which can be set to music. The happy
heart sings, and the happy Christian is to be no exception in this.
Just think of the range of song that is within our compass! Earth's
great singers have their portfolios of familiar songs, their
call it. We read that Solomon's songs were one thousand and five, but
how many are ours? In his days the heights and depths of love divine
were not made known as they are in ours. We have the breadth and length
and depth and height of divine revelation and the knowledge of the
knowledge surpassing love of Christ as the subject matter for Christian
song. There are moments, thank God, when very really we break forth
Sing, without ceasing sing,
The Saviour's present grace.
only let us be careful that our singing is of such a character as may further lift us up, and not let us down.
As to sickness the Apostle's instructions are equally plain. It is
viewed as being God's chastening hand upon the saint, very possibly in
the form of direct retribution for his sins. In this the church would
be interested, and the elders of the church should be called in. They,
at their discretion, pray
over him, anointing him with oil in the Lord's name and he is healed,
his sins being governmentally forgiven. It is evident from such a
scripture as 1 John 5: 16 that the elders were to exercise their
spiritual discernment as to whether it was, or was not, the will of God
that healing should be granted. If they discerned it to be His will
then they could pray the prayer full of faith and confidence, which
would be without fail answered in his recovery.
Is this all valid for today? We believe so. Why then is it so little
practised? For at least two reasons. First, it is not an easy matter to
find the elders of THE church though the elders of certain religious
bodies may be found easily enough. The church of God has been ruined as
to its outward manifestation and unity, and we have to pay the penalty
of it. Second assuming the elders of the church are found and that they
come in response to the call, the discernment and faith on their part,
which are called for if they are to offer such a prayer of faith as is
contemplated, are but very rarely found.
The faith, be it observed, is to be on the part of those who pray,
that is of the elders. Nothing is said as to the faith of the one who
is sick, though we may infer that he has some faith in the matter,
sufficient at least to send for the elders in accordance with this
scripture. We may infer too from the words that immediately follow in
verse 16 that he would confess his sins, if indeed he have committed
them. We point this out because this passage has been pressed into
service on behalf of practices not warranted by this or any other
The confession of which verse 16 speaks is however not exactly
confession to elders. It is rather "one to another." This verse has
nothing official about it as verses 14 and 15 have. There is no reason
why any of us should not practice prayer for healing after this sort.
The case supposed is that of two believers, and one has offended
against the other, though neither apparently are entirely free from
blame, and consequently both are suffering in their health. The main
offender comes with heart-felt confession of the wrong he committed.
The other is thereby moved to confess anything which may have been
wrong on his side, and then melted before God they begin to pray for
each other. If they have really forsaken their wrong-doing and are
going in the way of righteousness they may expect to be heard of God
In connection with this Elijah is brought before us. Verse 17 is
particularly interesting inasmuch as the Old Testament makes no mention
of the fact that he prayed that it might not rain, though we are given
very full details of how he prayed for rain at the end of the three and
a half years in 1 Kings 18. He is introduced to us very abruptly in the
opening verse of 1 Kings 17 as telling Ahab that it would not rain, so
this verse in James gives us a peep into scenes before his public
appearance-scenes of private and personal dealings with God. Though of
like passions to ourselves he was righteous, and burning with the
fervency of a passion for the glory of God. Hence he was heard, and he
knew that he was heard with an assurance that enabled him to
confidently tell Ahab what God was going to do. Would that we resembled
him, if only in a small degree!
We may learn in all this what are the conditions of effectual
prayer. Confession of sin, not only to God but to one another;
practical righteousness in all our ways; fervency of spirit and
petition. Fervent prayer is not that which is uttered in loud
stentorian tones, but that which springs from a warm and glowing heart.
The closing verses revert to the thought of our praying for one
another for healing and restoration. Verse 19 alludes to the conversion
or bringing back of an erring brother, and from this we pass almost
insensibly to the conversion of a sinner in verse 20. He who is used of
God in this blessed work is an instrument in saving souls from death
and the covering of many sins. Do we realise what an honour this is?
Some people are for ever on the tack of uncovering sin, whether of
their fellow-believers or of the world. The covering of sins in a
righteous way is what God loves. Let us go in for it with all our hearts.