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THE GENERAL EPISTLE OF JAMES - Chapter 1 - Verse 1
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THE GENERAL EPISTLE OF JAMES
ANALYSIS OF THE CHAPTER.
This chapter seems to comprise two general classes of subjects; the statement in regard to the first of which is complete, but the second is only commenced in this chapter, and is continued in the second. The first is the general subject of temptation and trial, (Jas 1:1-15;) the second is the nature of true religion:—the statement that all true religion has its origin in God, the source of purity and truth, and that it requires us to be docile and meek; to be doers of the word; to bridle the tongue, and to be the friends of the fatherless and the widow, Jas 1:16-27.
I. The general subject of temptation or trial, Jas 1:1-15. It is evident that those to whom the epistle was directed were, at that time, suffering in some form, or that they were called to pass through temptations, and that they needed counsel and support. They were in danger of sinking in despondency; of murmuring and complaining, and of charging God as the author of temptation and of sin. This part of the chapter comprises the following topics:
(1.) The salutation, Jas 1:1.
(2.) The subject of temptations or trials. They were to regard it, not as a subject of sorrow, but of gladness and joy, that they were called to pass through trials; for, if borne in a proper manner, they would produce the grace of patience—and this was to be regarded as an object worth being secured, even by much suffering, Jas 1:2-4.
(3.) If in their trials they felt that they had lacked the wisdom which they needed to enable them to bear them in a proper manner, they had the privilege of looking to God, and seeking it at his hand. This was a privilege conceded to all; and if it were asked in faith, without any wavering, it would certainly be granted, Jas 1:5-7.
(4.) The importance and value of stability, especially in trials; of being firm in principle, and of having one single great aim in life. A man who wavered in his faith would waver in everything, Jas 1:8.
(5.) An encouragement to those who, in the trials which they experienced, passed through rapid changes of circumstances. Whatever those changes were, they were to rejoice in them as ordered by the Lord. They were to remember the essential instability of all earthly things. The rich especially, who were most disposed to murmur and complain when their circumstances were changed, were to remember how the burning heat blasts the beauty of the flower, and that in like manner all worldly splendour must fade away, Jas 1:9-11.
(6.) Every man is blessed who endures trials in a proper manner, for such an endurance of trial will be connected with a rich reward —the crown of life, Jas 1:12.
(7.) In their trials, however; in the allurements to sin which might be set before them; in the temptations to apostatize, or to do anything wrong, which might be connected with their suffering condition, they were to be careful never to charge temptation, as such, on God. They were never to allow their minds to feel for a moment that he allured them to sin, or placed an inducement of any kind before them to do wrong. Everything of that kind, every disposition to commit sin, originated in their own hearts, and they should never allow themselves to charge it on God, Jas 1:13-15.
II. The nature of true religion, Jas 1:16-27.
(1.) It has its origin in God, the source of every good gift, the Father of lights, who has of his own will begotten us again, that he might raise us to an exalted rank among his creatures. God, there- fore, should be regarded not as the author of sin, but as the source of all the good that is in us, Jas 1:16-18.
(2.) Religion requires us to be meek and docile; to lay aside all disposition to dictate or prescribe, all irritability against the truth, and all corruption of heart, and to receive meekly the ingrafted word, Jas 1:19-21.
(3.) Religion requires us to be doers of the word, and not hearers only, Jas 1:23-25.
(4.) Religion requires us to bridle the tongue, to set a special guard on our words, Jas 1:26.
(5.) Religion requires us to be the friends of the fatherless and the widow, and to keep ourselves unspotted from the world, Jas 1:27.
It is remarkable that James does not call himself an apostle; but this does not prove that the writer of the epistle was not an apostle, for the same omission occurs in the epistle of John, and in the epistle of Paul to the Philippians, to the Thessalonians, and to Philemon. It is remarkable, also, considering the relation which James is supposed to have borne to the Lord Jesus as his "brother," (Ga 1:19; Intro. & 1,) that he did not refer to that as constituting a ground of claim to his right to address others; but this is only one instance out of many, in the New Testament, in which it is regarded as a higher honour to be the "servant of God," and to belong to his family, than to sustain any relations of blood or kindred. Compare Mt 12:50. It may be observed also, (compare the Intro. 1,) that this term is one which was peculiarly appropriate to James, as a man eminent for his integrity. His claim to respect and deference was not primarily founded on any relationship which he sustained many honour of birth or blood, or even any external office—but on the fact that he was a "servant of God."
And of the Lord Jesus Christ. The "servant of the Lord Jesus" is an appellation which is often given to Christians, and particularly to the ministers of religion. They are his servants, not in the sense that they are slaves, but in the sense that they voluntarily obey his will, and labour for him, and not for themselves.
To the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad. Gr., "The twelve tribes which are in the dispersion," or of the dispersion, (en th diaspora) This word occurs only here and in 1 Pe 1:1, and Joh 7:35. It refers properly to those who lived out of Palestine, or who were scattered among the Gentiles. There were two great "dispersions" —the eastern and the western. The first had its origin about the time when the ten tribes were carried away to Assyria, and in the time of the Babylonian captivity. In consequence of these events, and of the fact that large numbers of the Jews went to Babylon, and other eastern countries, for purposes of travel, commerce, etc., there were many Jews in the east in the times of the apostles. The other was the western "dispersion," which commenced about the time of Alexander the Great, and which was promoted by various causes, until there were large numbers of Jews in Egypt and along Northern Africa, in Asia Minor, in Greece Proper, and even in Rome. To which of these classes this epistle was directed is not known; but most probably the writer had particular reference to those in the east. See the Intro., % 2. The phrase "the twelve tribes," was the common term by which the Jewish people were designated, and was in use long after the ten tribes were carried away—leaving, in fact, but two of the twelve in Palestine. See Barnes on "Ac 26:7".
Many have supposed that James here addressed them as Jews, and that the epistle was sent to them as such. But this opinion has no probability; for
(1) had this been the case, he would not have been likely to begin his epistle by saying that he was "a servant of Jesus Christ," a name so odious to the Jews; and
(2) if he had spoken of himself as a Christian, and had addressed his countrymen as himself a believer in Jesus as the Messiah, though regarding them as Jews, it is incredible that he did not make a more reference to the principles of the Christian religion; that he no arguments to convince them that Jesus was the Messiah; he did not attempt to convert them to the Christian faith. It should be added, that at first most converts were made from those who had been trained in the Jewish faith, and it is not improbable that one in Jerusalem, addressing those who were Christians out of Palestine would naturally think of them as of Jewish origin, and would be likely to address them as appertaining to the "twelve tribes." The phrase "the twelve tribes" became also a sort of technical expression to denote the people of God—the church.
Greeting. A customary form of salutation, meaning, in Greek, to joy, to rejoice; and implying that he wished their welfare. Compare Ac 15:23.
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