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A PREFACE WHEREIN, BESIDES AN EXPLICATION OF THE TITLE,
SEVERAL NECESSARY PRELIMINARY QUESTIONS
ARE HANDLED AND DISCUSSED.
I INTEND, by the assistance of God's Holy Spirit, in the weekly returns of this lecture, to handle the Epistle of James. It is full of useful and practical matter. I have the rather chosen this scripture that it may be an allay to those comforts which, in another exercise, I have endeavoured to draw out of the 53d of Isaiah. I would, at the same time, carry on the doctrine both of faith and manners, and show you your duties together with your encouragements, lest, with Ephraim, you should only love to tread out the corn, and refuse to break the clods, Hosea x. 11. We are all apt to divorce comfort from duty, and to content ourselves with a `barren and unfruitful knowledge, of Jesus Christ, 2 Peter i. 8; as if all that he required of the world were only a few naked, cold, and inactive apprehensions of his merit, and all things were so done for us, that nothing remained to be done by us. This is the wretched conceit of many in the present age, and therefore, either they abuse the sweetness of grace to looseness, or the power of it to laziness. Christ's merit and the Spirit's efficacy are the commonplaces from whence they draw all the defences and excuses of their own wantonness and idleness. It is true God hath opened an excellent treasure in the church to defray the debts of humble sinners, and to bear the expenses of the saints to heaven; but there is nothing allowed to wanton prodigals, who spend freely and sin lavishly upon the mere account of the riches of grace; as in your charitable bequests, when you leave moneys in the way of a stock, it is to encourage men in an honest calling, not to feed riot and excess. Who ever left a sum for drunkards, or a stock to be employed in dicing and gaming? Again, I confess, whatever grace doth, it doth freely; we have grace for grace,`77χάριν ἀντὶ χάριτος, id est, non pro ullo merito, sed ex me a bonitate, quod alibi distinctius enunciat apostolus, χαρίσματα κατὰ τὴν χάριν.—Rom. xii. 6 (Grot. in locum). John i. 16; that is, grace for grace's sake. But there is a difference between merit and means; a schoolmaster may teach a child gratis, freely, and yet he must take pains to get his learning. And there is a difference between causality 9and order. Mercy is never obtained but in the use of means; wisdom's dole is dispensed at wisdom's gate, Prov. viii. 34. But the use of means doth not oblige God to give mercy; there are conditions which only show the way of grace`s working. Again, I grant that closing with Christ is an excellent duty, and of the highest importance in religion. But in Christ there are no dead and sapless branches; faith is not an idle grace; wherever it is, it fructifieth in good works. To evince all this to you, I have chosen to explain this epistle. The apostle wrote it upon the same reason, to wit, to prevent or check their misprisions who cried up naked apprehensions for faith, and a barren profession for true religion. Such unrelenting lumps of sin and lust were there even in the primitive times, gilded with the specious name of Christians.
The epistle in our translation beareth title thus, The Epistle General of James; in the Greek, Ἰακώβου τοῦ ἀποστόλου ἐπιστολὴ καθολικὴ—the Catholic, or General Epistle of James the Apostle; for the clearing of which, before I enter upon the body of the epistle, give me leave to premise these questions:—
1. Whether this epistle be of divine authority?
2. Concerning the subordinate author or instrument, James, what James this was?
3. What was the time of writing it?
4. The persons to whom it was written.
5. What is the occasion, matter, and scope of it?
6. The reason of that term in the title, catholic or general.
I. Concerning the divine authority of this epistle, I desire to discuss it with reverence and trembling. It is dangerous to loosen foundation stones. I should wholly have omitted this part of my work, but that the difference is so famous; and to conceal known adversaries is an argument of fear and distrust. The Lord grant that the cure be not turned into a snare, and that vain men may not unsettle themselves by what is intended for an establishment! That which gave occasion to doubt of this epistle was some passages in Jerome and Eusebius, in which they seem, at least by reporting the sense of others, to infringe the authority of it. I shall give you the passages, and then show you what little reason there is why they should jostle James out of the canon. The passage of Eusebius runneth thus:—Καὶ τα κατὰ Ἰακώβον, οὗ ἡ πρώτη τῶν ἐπιστολῶν τῶν ὀνομαζομένων καθολικῶν εἰναι λέγεται, ἰστέον ὡς νοθεύεται μὲν· οὐ πολλοι γοῦν τῶν πάλαι αὐτῆς ἐμνημόνευσαν, ὡς οὐδὲ τῆς λεγομένης Ἰοῦδα, μίας καὶ αὐτῆς οὔσης τῶν λεγομένων καθολικῶν· ὅμως δ᾽ ἴσμεν καὶ ταύτας μετὰ τῶν λοίπων ἐν πλείσταις ἐκκλησίαις, &c.;88Euseb., lib. ii. Hist. Eccles., c. 23. that is, ,And these things concerning James, whose epistle that is reported to be, which is the first among the epistles called universal;99So Dr Hamner rendereth that clause, ἰστέον μὲν ὠς νοθεύεται. yet we are to understand that the same is not void of suspicion, for many of the ancients make no mention thereof, nor of Jude, being also one of the seven called universal; yet notwithstanding we know them to be publicly read in most churches:` so far Eusebius. The other passage of Jerome,1010Hieron. in Catal. Eccles. Script. is this:—Jacobus unam tantum scripsit 10epistolam, quae et ipsa ab alio quodam sub ejus nomine edita esse asseritur, licet paullatim tempore procedente obtinuerit auctoritatem; that is, ,James wrote but one epistle, which is also said to be put forth by another in his name, though by little and little in process of time it gained authority in the church.` These are the clauses which first begat a doubt of this epistle, but without reason—these two authors reporting the sense of others rather than their own; and if any part of scripture should be laid aside because some have questioned it, the devil would soon obtain his purpose. One time or another the greatest part of it hath been impeached by men of a wicked and unsober wit, who, when they could not pervert the rule to gratify their purposes, reflected a scorn and contempt upon it. Now it would exceedingly furnish the triumphs of hell if we should think their private cavils to be warrant sufficient to weaken our faith, and besides disadvantage the church by the loss of a most considerable part of the canon; for the case doth not only concern this epistle, but divers others, as the Second of Peter, the Second and Third Epistles of John, the Book of the Revelation, the last chapter of Mark,1111See Hieron., Quest. 3, ad Hedibium et Euthymium. some passages in the 22d of Luke,1212Sextus Senensis Bibl. sanct., lib. i. c. 23, 24. the beginning of the 8th of John,1313Hieron. adversus Pelag., lib. ii. some passages in the 5th chapter of the First Epistle of John. Where would profaneness stay? and, if this liberty should be allowed, the flood of atheism stop its course? But, besides all this, why should a few private testimonies prejudice the general consent of the church, which hath transmitted this epistle to us, together with other parts of the New Testament? For if we go to external testimony, there is no reason but the greater number should carry it. It were easy to instance in councils and fathers, who by an unanimous suffrage have commended this epistle to the faith and reverence of the church. Those canons which commonly go under the name of the apostles1414See Caranza, his Summa Conciliorum, p .7. (though I build not much upon that testimony) decreed it to be received for scripture; so the Council of Laodicea, can. 59; so of Milevis, cap. 7; so the third Council of Carthage, cap. 47; of Orange, cap. 25; Concilium Cabilonense, cap. 33; of Toledo, cap. 3. So for the consent of the most ancient fathers,1515Eusebius himself differenceth it from those that are plainly spurious—lib. iii. Eccles. Hist., c. 25. by whom it is quoted as scripture, as by Ignatius, Epist. ad Ephesios, &c. You may see Brochmand, in Prolog. Epist. Jacob, and Iodocus Coccius, his `Thesaurus Theologicus, tom., i., lib. 6, art. 23; read also Dr Rainold's `De Libris Apocryphis, tom. i., praelect. 4, &c. Out of all which you may see what authority it had among the ancients. Of late, I confess, it hath found harder measure Cajetan and Erasmus show little respect to it; Luther plainly rejecteth it; and for the incivility and rudeness of his expression in calling it stramineam epistolam, as it cannot be denied,1616Doctor Whitaker denyeth it, as not finding it in his works; but it is generally granted that this was Luther's expression, it being found in his German Bibles printed 1528. The words recorded by Brochman are these:—Epistola Jacobi vere straminea epistola est, collata cum Evangelio Johanniw et ejus Epistola prima, et cum Epistolis Paulinis, imprimis quae ad Romanos, Galatas, Ephesios scriptae sunt; nec enim genium indolemque habet evangelicam. So in his Comment, on Genesis, in c. 22, he saith, Facessant de medio adversarii, cum suo Jacobo, quem toties nobis objiciunt. so it is not to be excused. Luther himself seemeth to retract it, speaking of it elsewhere 11with more reverence: Epistolam hanc, quamvis rejectam a veteribus, pro utili tamen et non contemnenda habeo, vel ob hanc causam quod nihil planè humanae doctrinae offerat, ut legem Dei fortiter urgeat; verum ut meam de illa sententiam candide promam extra praejudicium, existimo nullius esse apostoli (Luther Praef. Epist. Jacob.); that is, `This epistle, though not owned by many of the ancients, I judge to be full of profitable and precious matter, it offering no doctrine of a human invention, strongly urging the law of God; yet, in my opinion (which I would speak without prejudice), it seemeth not to be written by any apostle;, which was the error and failing of this holy and eminent servant of God; and therein he is followed by others of his own profession, Osiander, Camerarius, Bugenhag, &c., and Althamerus, whose blasphemies are recorded by Grotius in his `Rivetian Apol. Discuss., p. 170, and by him unworthily urged to reflect a scorn upon our churches. Concerning this Andreas Althamerus, see learned Rivet's reply, in his διάλυσις (Grot. Discuss., p. 480). However, Luther is herein deserted by the modern Lutherans, who allow this epistle in the canon, as is plain by the writings of Hunnius, Montrer, Gerhard, Walther, &c. Brochmand, a learned Lutheran, and Bishop of Zealand, in Denmark, hath written a worthy comment upon this epistle, to whom (though I received him late, and when the work was in a good progress) I have been beholden for some help in this exposition, especially in the critical explication of some Greek words, and most of the quotations out of the Socinian pamphlets, and for whom I acknowledge myself indebted to the courtesy of that learned and worthy gentleman, Colonel Edward Leigh, to whose faithfulness and industry the church of God oweth so much.
The reasons which moved Luther to reject this epistle shall be answered in their proper places. By his own testimony, cited before, it containeth nothing repugnant to other scriptures, and it savoureth of the genius of the gospel, as well as other writings of the apostles; and though he seemeth to make little mention of Christ and the gospel, yet, if you consider it more thoroughly, you will find many passages looking that way. The Epistle of Paul to Philemon hath been hitherto reputed canonical, yet it treateth not of the merits and death of Christ. I confess the style which the apostle useth is more rousing, much of the epistle concerning the carnal Hebrews, as well as those that had taken upon themselves the profession of Christ; in short, it hath a force upon the conscience, and is not only delivered by the church, but sealed up to our use and comfort by the Holy Ghost, as other scriptures are. It was written by an apostle, as other epistles taken into the canon, as the inscription showeth, and there is no reason why we should doubt of this title, more than of Paul's name before his epistles. It is true there were some spurious writings that carried the names of the apostles, as the `Acts of Andrew, the `Liturgy of St James, the `Canons of the Apostles, `Luke's History of the Acts of Paul and Tecla, `Mark's Life of Barnabas, the `Gospel of Paul;, but all these, by the just hand of God, had some mark of infamy impressed 12upon them, by the enforcement of matters false or ridiculous, or contrary to the truth of doctrine or history. But this epistle hath nothing contrary to the truth of religion, nor unbeseeming the gravity of it, and the majesty of other scriptures; therefore, upon the whole, we may pronounce that, it being represented to us with these advantages, it hath a just title to our respect and belief, and should be received in the church with the same esteem and reverence which we bear to other scriptures.
II. Secondly, Concerning the subordinate author, James, there is some controversy about stating the right person, who he was. In the general, it is certain he was an apostle, no epistles but theirs being received into the rule of faith; and it is no prejudice that he styleth himself `the servant of the Lord, for so doth Paul often, as we shall prove anon in the explication of the first verse. But now, among the apostles there were two called by the name of James—James the son of Zebedee, and James the son of Alpheus. Many of the ancients indeed thought there were three of this name—Jacobus major, or of Zebedee; Jacobus minor, or of Alpheus; and James the brother of the Lord, called also Chobliham,1717Which is rendered by Clemens, περιοκὴ τοῦ λάου ἐν δικαιοσύνῃ by Epiphanius,τεῖχος τοῦ λάου. or Oblias, or James the Just, whom they thought not to be an apostle, but Bishop of Jerusalem. Jerome calleth him decimum tertium apostolum, the thirteenth apostle (in Isai. lib. v. cap. 7). Dorotheas maketh him one of the seventy, the first in his catalogue, but without reason. For indeed there were but two Jameses,1818And no more are reckoned by Clemens and Eusebius, yea, by the scripture, among the apostles. See Mat. x. 2, 3, and Mark iii. 17, 18. this latter James being the same with him of Alpheus; for plainly the brother of the Lord is reckoned among the apostles, Gal. i. 19; and called a pillar, Gal. ii. 9; and he is called the brother of the Lord, because he was in that family to which Christ was numbered. Some suppose his mother's sister's son, the son of Mary of Cleophas, who was sister to the Virgin. Now, Cleophas and Alpheus is all one, as a learned author supposeth,1919Herbert Thorndike, `Of the Primitive Government of the Church, pp. 11-13, who discusseth this matter at large, and with satisfaction. though Junius contradicteth it (in Epist. Judae, sub initio); and Rabanus saith, after the death of Alpheus, she married Cleophas. But however it be, this James is the same, which is enough for our purpose. Well, then, there being two, to which of these is the epistle to be ascribed? The whole stream of antiquity carrieth it for the brother of the Lord, who, as I said, is the same with Jacobus minor, or the son of Alpheus; and with good reason, the son of Zebedee being long before beheaded by Herod, from the very beginning of the preaching of the gospel, Acts xii. 2. But this epistle must needs be of a later date, as alluding to some passages already written, and noting the degeneration of the church which was not so very presently. There are some few indeed of another judgment, as Flavius Dexter, Julius Toletanus, Didacus Dazor, and others cited by Eusebius Neirembergius,2020Eusebius Neirembergius de Origene Sacrae Scripturae, lib. xi. cap. 15-19. a Spanish Jesuit, who also bringeth the authority of an ancient Gottish missal to this 13purpose, together with reasons to prove this to be the first New Testament scripture that was written, and all to devolve the honour of the epistle upon the Spanish saint, Jacobus major; which yet is contrary to the decree of the Trent Council, which ascribeth it to James the brother of the Lord. Well, then, James the Less is the person whom we have found to be the instrument which the Spirit of God made use of to convey this treasure to the church. Much may be said of him, but I shall contract all into a brief sum. He was by his private calling an husbandman,2121Clemens, lib. ii. Constit. Apostol., cap. 63. by public office in the church an apostle, and especially called to the inspection of the church in and about Jerusalem, either because of his eminency and near relation to Christ, or for the great esteem he had gained among the Jews; and therefore, when the other apostles were going to and fro disseminating the word of life, James is often found at Jerusalem. (See Gal. i. 18, 19; Acts i. 14, 21; and xv. &c.) For his temper, he was of an exact strictness, exceeding just; and therefore called Oblias, and James the Just; yea, so just, that Josephus maketh the violence offered to him to be one of the causes of the Jewish ruin. (Joseph. Antiq., lib. xx. cap. 16.) Of so great temperance, that he drank neither wine nor strong drink, and ate no flesh. So pious, that his knees were made like a camel's hoof by frequent prayer. His death happened six years before that of Peter, thirty-eight years before that of John, in the sixty-third year of Christ, if chronology be true. He died a martyr; they would have him persuade the people to abandon the doctrine of Christ, which, when he refused, and pressed the quite contrary, he was thrown down from a pinnacle of the temple, and his brains dashed out with a fuller's club, and so gave up the ghost. See these things set forth at large by Eusebius, lib. ii. cap. 23, et ibi citatos.
III. Thirdly, For the time when this epistle was written, it cannot be exactly stated. It is placed first among the catholic epistles, either as first written, or first received into the canon, though in the ranking of it there be a variety. In the Greek Bibles it sustaineth the same place which we assign to it. Some think the Epistle of Peter was first written; but in so great an uncertainty who can determine anything? Certain we are, that it was written after the heresies were somewhat grown, and before Jerusalem drew to its end; for what St James threateneth, St Paul taketh notice of as accomplished, 1 Thes. ii. 16. Speaking of the people of the Jews, he saith, `Wrath is come upon them, εἰς τὸ τέλος, to the uttermost;, which is denounced in chap. v. of our apostle. The critical reader, that would know more of the time and order of this epistle, I refer to Eusebius Neirembergius, lib. xi. De Origine Sacrae Scripturae, cap. 15.
IV. Fourthly, The persons to whom he wrote are specified in the first verse `To the twelve tribes, &c., which we shall explain anon; let it suffice for the present, that he writeth chiefly to those among them that were gained to the faith of Christ, though there be many passages interspersed which do concern the unbelieving Jews. See chap. v. 1, and the reasons there alleged in the exposition.
V. Fifthly, For the occasion, matter, and scope, you may take it 14thus: Certainly one great occasion was that which Austin2222`Excitata fuit tempore apostolorum opinio, sufficere solam fidem ad salutem obtinendam, si vel maxime bona opera negligerentur, contra quam opinionem Apostolicae Epistolae Petri, Johannis, Jacobi, Judae, maxime dirigunt intentionem, ut vehementer adstruant fidem sine operibus nihil prodesse.,—Aug. Lib. de fide et Operibus. taketh notice of, to wit, the growth of that opinion in the apostles, days, that a bare, naked faith was enough to salvation, though good works were neglected. It is clear that some such thing was cried up by the school of Simon. Now, Samaria being nigh to Jerusalem, our apostle, whose inspection was mostly confined to those churches, might rather than others take notice of it. But this concerneth but a part of the epistle; the more general occasion was the great degeneration of faith and manners, and the growth of libertine doctrines, as about God's being the author of sin, the sufficiency of empty faith, and naked profession, &c. When the world was newly ploughed and sowed with the gospel, these tares came up together with the good corn. As also to comfort God's children against the violence of the persecutions then exercised upon them, and to awaken the men of his own nation out of their stupid security, judgments being even at the door, and they altogether senseless; therefore the whole epistle is fraught with excellent instructions how to bear afflictions, to hear the word, to mortify vile affections, to bridle the tongue, to conceive rightly of the nature of God, to adorn our profession with a good conversation, with meekness, and peace, and charity; finally, how to behave ourselves in the time of approaching misery. All these, and many other doctrines, are scattered throughout the epistle, so that you may see it is exceeding useful for these times.
VI. Sixthly, Concerning the title catholic or general epistle, which is the title given all the seven latter epistles; I answer, in some copies it is κανονικὴ, canonical; but probably that is an error. Why then catholic? Many reasons are given. Œcumenius, and out of him Beza, thinketh it is because they were not inscribed to any particular nation or city, as Paul's are to Rome, Corinth, &c. But this holdeth not in all, some of John's being dedicated to private persons, to Gaius and the Elect Lady; and then there must be more than seven, that to the Hebrews being directed to the same persons to which Peter and James wrote theirs. Some say, because they contain universal doctrine, or the public treasure of the universal church; but that would seem to derogate from the other epistles, and to prefer these before them. Pareus thinketh they were merely called so by an inconsiderate custom; but most probably the reason is to vindicate their authenticity, and to distinguish them from the epistles of Barnabas, Ignatius, Clemens, and Polycarp, which, though ancient, never made up any part of the rule of faith, and so not derogate from the other epistles,2323`Ecclesia vetus has epistolas canonicas et catholicas appellavit, non ut aliis quidquam adimeret, sed ut has illis contra nonnullorum sententias adjungeret.,—Junius in Judam, p. 10. but to join these to them. These things premised, I come, by God's assistance, to handle the epistle itself.15
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