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James 4:13-17

13 Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain:

13 Age nunc, qui dicitis, Hodie et cras eamus in civitatem, et transigamus illic annum unum, et mercemur et lucremur;

14 Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.

14 Qui nescitis quid cras futurum sit; quae enim est vita nostra? vapor est scilicet ad exiguum tempus apparens, deinde evanescens:

15 For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.

15 Quum dicere debeatis, Si Dominus voluerit, et vixerimus, faciemus hoc vel illud.

16 But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil.

16 Nunc autem gloriamini in superbiis vestris; omnia gloriatio talis, mala est.

17 Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.

17 Qui ergo novit facere bonum, nec facit, peccati reus est.

 

13 Go to now. He condemns here another kind of presumption, that many, who ought to have depended on God’s providence, confidently settled what they were to do, and arranged their plans for a long time, as though they had many years at their own disposal, while they were not sure, no not even of one moment. Solomon also sharply ridicules this kind of foolish boasting, when he says that

“men settle their ways in their heart,
and the Lord in the mean time rules the tongue.”
(Proverbs 16:1.)

And it is a very insane thing to undertake to execute what we cannot pronounce with our tongue. James does not reprove the form of speaking, but rather the arrogance of mind, that men should forget their own weakness, and speak thus presumptuously; for even the godly, who think humbly of themselves, and acknowledge that their steps are guided by the will of God, may yet sometimes say, without any qualifying clause, that they will do this or that. It is indeed right and proper, when we promise anything as to future time, to accustom ourselves to such words as these, “If it shall please the Lord,” “If the Lord will permit.” But no scruple ought to be entertained, as though it were a sin to omit them; for we read everywhere in the Scriptures that the holy servants of God spoke unconditionally of future things, when yet they had it as a principle fixed in their minds, that they could do nothing without the permission of God. Then as to the practice of saying, “If the Lord will or permit,” it ought to be carefully attended to by all the godly.

But James roused the stupidity of those who disregarded God’s providence, and claimed for themselves a whole year, though they had not a single moment in their own power; the gain which was afar off they promised to themselves, though they had no possession of that which was before their feet.

14 For what is your life? He might have checked this foolish license in determining things to come by many other reasons; for we see how the Lord daily frustrates those presumptuous men who promise what great things they will do. But he was satisfied with this one argument, who has promised to thee a life for tomorrow? Canst thou, a dying man, do what thou so confidently resolvest to do? For he who remembers the shortness of his life, will have his audacity easily checked so as not to extend too far his resolves. Nay, for no other reason do ungodly men indulge themselves so much, but because they forget that they are men. By the similitude of vapor, he strikingly shews that the purposes which are founded only on the present life, are altogether evanescent.

15 If the Lord will. A twofold condition is laid down, “If we shall live so long,” and, “If the Lord will;” because many things may intervene to upset what we may have determined; for we are blind as to all future events. 135135     The words may be rendered thus, “If the Lord will, we shall both live and do this or that.” So that living and doing are both dependent on God’s will. By will he means not that which is expressed in the law, but God’s counsel by which he governs all things.

16 But now ye rejoice, or, glory. We may learn from these words that James condemned something more than a passing speech. Ye rejoice, or, glory, he says, in your empty boastings. Though they robbed God of his government, they yet flattered themselves; not that they openly set themselves up as superior to God, though they were especially inflated with confidence in themselves, but that their minds were inebriated with vanity so as to disregard God. And as warnings of this kind are usually received with contempt by ungodly men — nay, this answer is immediately given, “known to ourselves is what is offered to us, so that there is no need of such a warning;” — he alleges against them this knowledge in which they gloried, and declares that they sinned the more grievously, because they did not sin through ignorance, but through contempt.


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