Against Fightings and Their Source;
Worldly Lusts; Uncharitable Judgments, and Presumptuous Reckoning on the
1. whence—The cause of quarrels is often
sought in external circumstances, whereas internal lusts are the true
wars, &c.—contrasted with the
"peace" of heavenly wisdom. "Fightings" are the active carrying on of
"wars." The best authorities have a second "whence" before "fightings."
Tumults marked the era before the destruction of Jerusalem when James
wrote. He indirectly alludes to these. The members are the first seat
of war; thence it passes to conflict between man and man, nation and
come they not, &c.—an
appeal to their consciences.
lusts—literally, "pleasures," that is,
the lusts which prompt you to "desire" (see on Jas
4:2) pleasures; whence you seek self at the cost of your
neighbor, and hence flow "fightings."
that war—"campaign, as an army of
soldiers encamped within" [Alford] the
soul; tumultuously war against the interests of your fellow men, while
lusting to advance self. But while warring thus against others they
(without his knowledge) war against the soul of the man himself, and
against the Spirit; therefore they must be "mortified" by the
2. Ye lust—A different Greek word
from that in Jas 4:1. "Ye
desire"; literally, "ye set your mind (or heart) on" an
have not—The lust of desire does not
ensure the actual possession. Hence "ye kill" (not as Margin,
without any old authority, "envy") to ensure possession. Not probably
in the case of professing Christians of that day in a literal sense,
but "kill and envy" (as the Greek for "desire to have" should be
translated), that is, harass and oppress through envy [Drusius]. Compare Zec 11:5, "slay"; through envy, hate, and
desire to get out of your way, and so are "murderers" in God's eyes
[Estius]. If literal murder [Alford] were meant, I do not think it would
occur so early in the series; nor had Christians then as yet reached so
open criminality. In the Spirit's application of the passage to all
ages, literal killing is included, flowing from the desire to
possess so David and Ahab. There is a climax: "Ye desire," the
individual lust for an object; "ye kill and envy," the feeling and
action of individuals against individuals; "ye fight and war," the
action of many against many.
ye have not, because ye ask not—God
promises to those who pray, not to those who fight. The petition of the
lustful, murderous, and contentious is not recognized by God as
prayer. If ye prayed, there would be no "wars and fightings."
Thus this last clause is an answer to the question, Jas 4:1, "Whence come wars and fightings?"
3. Some of them are supposed to say in
objection, But we do "ask" (pray); compare Jas 4:2. James replies, It is not enough to ask
for good things, but we must ask with a good spirit and intention. "Ye
ask amiss, that ye may consume it (your object of prayer) upon
(literally, 'in') your lusts (literally, 'pleasures')"; not that ye may
have the things you need for the service of God. Contrast Jas 1:5 with
Mt 6:31, 32. If ye prayed
aright, all your proper wants would be supplied; the improper cravings
which produce "wars and fightings" would then cease. Even believers'
prayers are often best answered when their desires are most
4. The oldest manuscripts omit "adulterers
and," and read simply, "Ye adulteresses." God is the rightful husband;
the men of the world are regarded collectively as one
adulteress, and individually as adulteresses.
the world—in so far as the men of it
and their motives and acts are aliens to God, for example, its selfish
4:3), and covetous and
ambitious "wars and fightings" (Jas 4:1).
enmity—not merely "inimical"; a state
of enmity, and that enmity itself. Compare 1Jo 2:15, "love … the world … the
love of the Father."
whosoever … will be—The
Greek is emphatic, "shall be resolved to be." Whether he
succeed or not, if his wish be to be the friend of the world, he
renders himself, becomes (so the Greek for "is") by the
very fact, "the enemy of God." Contrast "Abraham the friend of
5. in vain—No word of Scripture can be
so. The quotation here, as in Eph 5:14, seems to be not so much from a
particular passage as one gathered by James under inspiration from the
general tenor of such passages in both the Old and New Testaments, as
Nu 14:29; Pr 21:20; Ga 5:17.
spirit that dwelleth in us—Other
manuscripts read, "that God hath made to dwell in us" (namely, at
Pentecost). If so translated, "Does the (Holy) Spirit that God hath
placed in us lust to (towards) envy" (namely, as ye do in your worldly
"wars and fightings")? Certainly not; ye are therefore walking in the
flesh, not in the Spirit, while ye thus lust towards, that is,
with envy against one another. The friendship of the world tends
to breed envy; the Spirit produces very different fruit. Alford attributes the epithet "with envy," in
the unwarrantable sense of jealously, to the Holy Spirit: "The
Spirit jealously desires us for His own." In English
Version the sense is, "the (natural) spirit that hath its dwelling
in us lusts with (literally, 'to,' or 'towards') envy." Ye lust, and
because ye have not what ye lust after (Jas 4:1, 2), ye envy your neighbor who has, and so
the spirit of envy leads you on to "fight." James also here
refers to Jas 3:14, 16.
6. But—"Nay, rather."
giveth more grace—ever increasing
grace; the farther ye depart from "envy" [Bengel].
he saith—The same God who causes His
spirit to dwell in believers (Jas 4:5), by the Spirit also speaks in
Scripture. The quotation here is probably from Pr 3:34; as probably Pr 21:10 was generally referred to in Jas 4:5. In Hebrew it is "scorneth
the scorners," namely, those who think "Scripture speaketh in
resisteth—literally, "setteth Himself
in array against"; even as they, like Pharaoh, set themselves against
Him. God repays sinners in their own coin. "Pride" is the mother of
4:5); it is peculiarly
satanic, for by it Satan fell.
the proud—The Greek means in
derivation one who shows himself above his fellows, and so lifts
himself against God.
the humble—the unenvious, uncovetous,
and unambitious as to the world. Contrast Jas 4:4.
7. Submit to … God—so ye shall be
among "the humble," Jas 4:6; also
4:10; 1Pe 5:6.
Resist … devil—Under his banner
pride and envy are enlisted in the world; resist his
temptations to these. Faith, humble prayers, and heavenly wisdom, are
the weapons of resistance. The language is taken from warfare. "Submit"
as a good soldier puts himself in complete subjection to his captain.
"Resist," stand bravely against.
he will flee—Translate, "he
shall flee." For it is a promise of God, not a mere assurance
from man to man [Alford]. He shall flee
worsted as he did from Christ.
8. Draw nigh to God—So "cleave unto
30:20, namely, by prayerfully
3) "resisting Satan," who
would oppose our access to God.
he will draw nigh—propitious.
Cleanse … hands—the outward
instruments of action. None but the clean-handed can ascend into the
hill of the Lord (justified through Christ, who alone was perfectly so,
and as such "ascended" thither).
purify … hearts—literally "make
chaste" of your spiritual adultery (Jas 4:4, that is, worldliness) "your hearts":
the inward source of all impurity.
double-minded—divided between God and
the world. The "double-minded" is at fault in heart; the
sinner in his hands likewise.
9. Be afflicted—literally, "Endure
misery," that is, mourn over your wretchedness through sin. Repent
with deep sorrow instead of your present laughter. A blessed
mourning. Contrast Isa 22:12, 13; Lu 6:25. James does not add here, as in Jas 5:1, "howl," where he foretells the
doom of the impenitent at the coming destruction of
heaviness—literally, "falling of the
countenance," casting down of the eyes.
10. in the sight of the Lord—as
continually in the presence of Him who alone is worthy to be exalted:
recognizing His presence in all your ways, the truest incentive to
humility. The tree, to grow upwards, must strike its roots deep
downwards; so man, to be exalted, must have his mind deep-rooted in
humility. In 1Pe 5:6, it
is, Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, namely, in His
dealings of Providence: a distinct thought from that here.
lift you up—in part in this world,
fully in the world to come.
11. Having mentioned sins of the tongue (Jas 3:5-12), he shows here that
evil-speaking flows from the same spirit of exalting self at the
expense of one's neighbor as caused the "fightings" reprobated in this
Speak not evil—literally, "Speak not
against" one another.
brethren—implying the inconsistency of
such depreciatory speaking of one another in brethren.
speaketh evil of the law—for the law
in commanding, "Love thy neighbor as thyself" (Jas 2:8), virtually condemns evil-speaking and
judging [Estius]. Those who
superciliously condemn the acts and words of others which do not please
themselves, thus aiming at the reputation of sanctity, put their own
moroseness in the place of the law, and claim to themselves a power of
censuring above the law of God, condemning what the law permits [Calvin]. Such a one acts as though the law
could not perform its own office of judging, but he must fly
upon the office [Bengel]. This is the
last mention of the law in the New Testament. Alford rightly takes the "law" to be the old moral
law applied in its comprehensive spiritual fulness by Christ: "the law
if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer
… but a judge—Setting aside the Christian
brotherhood as all alike called to be doers of the law,
in subjection to it, such a one arrogates the office of a
12. There is one lawgiver—The best
authorities read in addition, "and judge." Translate, "There is One
(alone) who is (at once) Lawgiver and Judge, (namely) He who is able to
save and destroy." Implying, God alone is Lawgiver and therefore Judge,
since it is He alone who can execute His judgments; our inability in
this respect shows our presumption in trying to act as judges, as
though we were God.
who art thou, &c.—The order in the
Greek is emphatic, "But (inserted in oldest manuscripts) thou,
who art thou that judgest another?" How rashly arrogant in judging thy
fellows, and wresting from God the office which belongs to Him over
thee and THEM alike!
another—The oldest authorities read,
13. Go to now—"Come now"; said to excite
ye that say—boasting of the
To-day or to-morrow—as if ye had the
free choice of either day as a certainty. Others read, "To-day
such a city—literally, "this the city"
(namely, the one present to the mind of the speaker). This city
continue … a year—rather, "spend
one year." Their language implies that when this one year is out, they
purpose similarly settling plans for to come [Bengel].
buy and sell—Their plans for the
future are all worldly.
14. what—literally, "of what nature" is
your life? that is, how evanescent it is.
It is even—Some oldest authorities
read, "For ye are." Bengel, with other
old authorities, reads, "For it shall be," the future referring to the
"morrow" (Jas 4:13-15). The former expresses, "Ye yourselves
are transitory"; so everything of yours, even your life, must partake
of the same transitoriness. Received text has no old authority.
and then vanisheth away—"afterwards
vanishing as it came"; literally, "afterwards (as it appeared), so
15. Literally, "instead of your saying,"
&c. This refers to "ye that say" (Jas 4:13).
we shall live—The best manuscripts
read, "We shall both live and do," &c. The boasters
spoke as if life, action, and the particular kind of action were
in their power, whereas all three depend entirely on the will of the
16. now—as it is.
rejoice in … boastings—"ye boast
in arrogant presumptions," namely, vain confident fancies that the
future is certain to you (Jas 4:13).
17. The general principle illustrated by the
particular example just discussed is here stated: knowledge without
practice is imputed to a man as great and presumptuous sin. James
reverts to the principle with which he started. Nothing more injures
the soul than wasted impressions. Feelings exhaust themselves and
evaporate, if not embodied in practice. As we will not act except we
feel, so if we will not act out our feelings, we shall soon cease to