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80

CHAPTER VII.
THE EXALTATION OF THE LOWLY, AND THE FADING AWAY OF THE RICH.
THE METAPHORS OF ST. JAMES AND THE PARABLES OF CHRIST.

"But let the brother of low degree glory in his high estate: and the rich in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away. For the sun ariseth, with the scorching wind, and withereth the grass; and the flower thereof falleth, and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth: so also shall the rich man fade away in his goings."—St. James i. 9-11.

IN this section St. James returns to what is the main thought of the first chapter, and one of the main thoughts of the whole Epistle, viz. the blessedness of enduring temptations, and especially such temptations as are caused by external trials and adversity. He adds another thought which may help to console and strengthen the oppressed Christian.

The Revisers have quite rightly restored the "But" (δέ) at the beginning of this section. There seems to be absolutely no authority for its omission; and we may conjecture that the earlier English translators ignored it, because it seemed to them to be superfluous, or even disturbing. The Rhemish Version, made from the Vulgate (Glorietur autem), is the only English Version which preserves it; and Luther (Ein Bruder aber) preserves it also. The force of the conjunction is to connect the advice given in this section with the items 81 of advice already given. They form a connected series. "Count it all joy, when ye fall into manifold temptations.... But (δέ) let patience have its perfect work. ... But (δέ) if any lacketh wisdom, let him ask of God.... But (δέ) let him ask in faith.... But (δέ) let the brother of low degree glory in his high estate: and the rich in that he is made low."

The meaning of this last item in the series is by no means clear. Various interpretations have been suggested, and it is difficult or even impossible to arrive at a conclusive decision as to which of them is the right one. But we may clear the ground by setting aside all explanations which would make "the brother of low degree" (ὁ ταπεινός) to mean the Christian who is lowly in heart (Matt. xi. 29), and "the rich" (ὁ πλούσιος) the Christian who is rich in faith (ii. 5) and in good works (1 Tim. vi. 18). Both words are to be understood literally. The lowly man is the man of humble position, oppressed by poverty, and perhaps by unscrupulous neighbours (ii. 3), and the rich man, here, as elsewhere in this Epistle, is the man of wealth who very often oppresses the poorer brethren (i. 11; ii. 6; v. 1).

What, then, is the meaning of the "high estate" (ὕψος) in which the brother of low degree is to glory, and of the "being made low" (ταπείνωσις), in which the rich man is to do the same? At first sight one is disposed to say that the one is the heavenly birthright, and the other the Divine humiliation, in which every one shares who becomes a member of Christ; in fact, that they are the same thing looked at from different points of view; for what to the Christian is promotion, to the world seems degradation. If this were correct, then we should have an antithesis analogous to that 82 which is drawn out by St. Paul, when he says, "He that was called in the Lord, being a bond-servant, is the Lord's freeman: likewise he that was called, being free, is Christ's bond-servant" (1 Cor. vii. 22). But on further consideration this attractive explanation is found not to suit the context. What analogy is there between the humiliation in which every Christian glories in Christ and the withering of herbage under a scorching wind? Even if we could allow that this metaphor refers to the fugitive character of earthly possessions, what has that to do with Christian humiliation, which does not depend upon either the presence or the absence of wealth? Moreover, St. James says nothing about the fugitiveness of riches: it is the rich man himself, and not his wealth, that is said to "pass away," and to "fade away in his goings." Twice over St. James declares this to be the destiny of the rich man; and the wording is such as to show that when the writer says that "the rich man shall fade away in his goings" he means the man, and not his riches. "His goings," or "journeys," very likely refers to his "going into this city to spend a year there, and trade, and get gain" (iv. 13); i.e. he wastes himself away in the pursuit of wealth. But what could be the meaning of wealth "fading away in its journeys"? Evidently, we must not transfer what is said of the rich man himself to his possessions.

It is a baseless assumption to suppose that the rich man here spoken of is a Christian at all. "The brother of low degree" is contrasted, not with the brother who is rich, but with the rich man, whose miserable destiny shows that he is not "a brother," i.e. not a believer. The latter is the wealthy Jew who rejects Christ. Throughout this Epistle (ii. 6, 7; v. 1-6) 83 "rich" is a term of reproach. This is what is meant by the Ebionite tone of the Epistle; for poverty is the condition which Ebionism delights to honour. In this St. James seems to be reproducing the thoughts both of Jesus Christ and of Jesus the son of Sirach. "Woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation. Woe unto you, ye that are full now! for ye shall hunger" (Luke vi. 25, 26. Comp. Matt. xix. 23-25). "The rich man hath done wrong, and is very wroth besides: the poor man is wronged, and he must intreat also.... An abomination to the proud is lowliness; so the poor are abomination to the rich" (Ecclus. xiii. 3, 20).

But when we have arrived at the conclusion that the "being made low" does not refer to the humiliation of the Christian, and that the rich man here threatened with a miserable end is not a believer, a new difficulty arises. What is the meaning of the wealthy unbeliever being told to glory in the degradation which is to prove so calamitous to him? In order to avoid this difficulty various expedients have been suggested. Some propose a rather violent change of mood—from the imperative to the indicative. No verb is expressed, and it is said that instead of repeating "let him glory" from the previous clause, we may supply "he glories," as a statement of fact rather than an exhortation. The sentence will then run, "But let the brother of low degree glory in his high estate; but (δέ) the rich glorieth in his being made low;" i.e. he glories in what degrades him and ought to inspire him with shame and grief. Others propose a still more violent change, viz. of verb; they would keep the imperative, but supply a word of opposite meaning: "so let the rich man be ashamed of his being made 84 low." Neither of these expedients seems to be necessary, or indeed to be a fair treatment of the text.4444   1 Tim. iv. 3, where commanding is understood from forbidding, is not strictly parallel: "forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats." The context is such as to prevent any misunderstanding of the loosely worded sentence. See Moulton's Winer, p. 777; also Bede, who rightly remarks, "Subauditur a superiore versa, glorietur. Quod per irrisionem quæ Græce ironia vocatur, dictum esse constat ... ut humiliatus in æternum pereat cum purpurato illo divite qui Lazarum despexit egentem." It is quite possible to make good sense of the exhortation, without any violent change either of mood or of verb. In the exhortation to the rich man St. James speaks in severe irony: "Let the brother of low degree glory in his high estate; and the rich man—what is he to glory in?—let him glory in the only thing upon which he can count with certainty, viz. his being brought low; because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away." Such irony is not uncommon in Scripture. Our blessed Lord Himself makes use of it sometimes, as when He says of the hypocrites that they have their reward, and have it in full (ἀπέχουσι: Matt. vi. 2, 5, 16).

Whether or no this interpretation be accepted—and no interpretation of this passage has as yet been suggested which is free from difficulty—it must be clearly borne in mind that no explanation can be correct which does not preserve the connexion between the humiliation of the rich man and his passing away as the flower of the grass. This fading away is his humiliation, is the thing in which he is to glory, if he glories in anything at all. The inexorable "because" must not be ignored or explained away by making the wealth of the rich man shrivel up, when St. James twice over says that it is the rich man himself who fades away.

85 The metaphor here used of the rich man is common enough in the Old Testament. Man "cometh forth like a flower, and is cut down" (ὥσπερ ἄνθος ἀνθῆσαν ἐξέπεσεν LXX.), says Job, in his complaint (xiv. 2); and, "As for man, his days are as grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth. For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more," says the Psalmist (ciii. 15, 16). But elsewhere, with a closer similarity to the present passage, we have this transitory character specially attributed to the ungodly, who "shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb" (Ps. xxxvii. 2). None of these passages, however, are so clearly in St. James's mind as the words of Isaiah: "All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: the grass withereth, the flower fadeth; because the breath of the Lord bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth; but the word of our God shall stand for ever" (Isa. xl. 6, 7). Here the words of St. James are almost identical with those of the Septuagint (ὡς ἄνθος χόρτου· ἐξηράνθη ὁ χόρτος καὶ τὸ ἄνθος ἐξέπεσεν ... ἐξηράνθη χόρτος, ἐξέπεσεν τὸ ἄνθος); and, as has been already pointed out (p. 59), this is one of the quotations which our Epistle has in common with that of St. Peter (1 Peter i. 24).

"Grass" throughout is a comprehensive term for herbage, and the "flower of grass" does not mean the bloom or blossom of grass in the narrower sense, but the wild flowers, specially abundant and brilliant in the Holy Land, which grow among the grass. Thus, in the Sermon on the Mount, what are first called "the lilies (τὰ κρίνα) of the field" are immediately afterwards called "the grass (τὸν χόρτον) of the field" (Matt. vi. 28, 30).

86 "The scorching wind" (ὁ καύσων) is one of the features in the Epistle which harmonize well with the fact that the writer was an inhabitant of Palestine. It is the furnace-like blast from the arid wilderness to the east of the Jordan. "Yea, behold, being planted, shall it prosper? shall it not utterly wither when the east wind toucheth it? It shall wither in the beds where it grew" (Ezek. xvii. 10). "God prepared a sultry east wind; and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah, that he fainted" (Jonah iv. 8). The fig-tree, olives, and vine (iii. 12) are the chief fruit-trees of Palestine; and "the early and latter rain" (v. 7) points still more clearly to the same district.

It has been remarked with justice that whereas St. Paul for the most part draws his metaphors from the scenes of human activity—building, husbandry, athletic contests, and warfare—St. James prefers to take his metaphors from the scenes of nature. In this chapter we have "the surge of the sea" (ver. 6) and "the flower of the grass" (ver. 10). In the third chapter we have the "rough winds" driving the ships, the "wood kindled by a small fire," "the wheel of nature," "every kind of beasts and birds, of creeping things, and things in the sea," "the fountain sending forth sweet water," "the fig-tree and vine" (vv. 4, 5, 6, 7, 11, 12). In the fourth chapter human life is "a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away" (ver. 14). And in the last chapter, besides the moth and the rust, we have "the fruit of the earth," and "the early and latter rain" (vv. 2, 3, 7, 18).

These instances are certainly very numerous, when the brevity of the Epistle is considered. The love of nature which breathes through them was no doubt learned and cherished in the village home at Nazareth, 87 and it forms another link between St. James and his Divine Brother. Nearly every one of the natural phenomena to which St. James directs attention in this letter are used by Christ also in His teaching. The surging of the sea (Luke xxi. 25), the flowers of the field (Matt. vi. 28), the burning of wood (John xv. 6), the birds of the air (Matt. vi. 26; viii. 20; xiii. 4, 32), the fountain of sweet water (John iv. 10-14; vii. 38), the fig-tree (Matt. vii. 16; xxi. 19; xxiv. 32), the vine (John xv. 1-5), the moth (Matt. vi. 19), the rust (Matt. vi. 19), and the rain (Matt. v. 45; vii. 25). In some cases the use made by St. James of these natural objects is very similar to that made by our Lord, and it may well be that what he writes is a reminiscence of what he had heard years before from Christ's lips; but in other cases the use is quite different, and must be assigned to the love of nature, and the recognition of its fitness for teaching spiritual truths, which is common to the Lord and His brother. Thus, when St. James asks, "Can a fig-tree, my brethren, yield olives, or a vine figs?" we seem to have an echo of the question in the Sermon on the Mount, "Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?" And when St. James tells the rich oppressors that their "garments are moth-eaten; their gold and their silver are rusted," is he not remembering Christ's charge, "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon the earth, where moth and rust do consume, and where thieves break through and steal"? But in most of the other cases there is little or no resemblance between the similes of Christ and the figurative use of the same natural phenomena made by St. James. Thus, while Jesus uses the flowers of the field to illustrate God's care for every object in the universe, and 88 the superiority of the glory which He bestows over that with which man adorns himself, St. James teaches thereby the transitory character of the glory which comes of riches; and while Christ points to the rain as illustrating God's bounty to good and bad alike, St. James takes it as an illustration of His goodness in answer to patient and trusting prayer.

It is manifest that in this matter St. James is partly following a great example, but partly also following the bent of his own mind. The first, without the second, would hardly have given us so many examples of this kind of teaching in so small a space. St. John had equal opportunities with St. James of learning this method of teaching from Christ, and yet there are scarcely any examples of it in his Epistles. Possibly his opportunities were even greater than those of St. James; for although he was at most the cousin of the Lord, whereas St. James was His brother, yet he was present during the whole of Christ's ministry, whereas St. James was not converted until after the Resurrection. But there is this great difference between Christ's teaching from nature and that of St. James: St. James recognizes in the order and beauty of the universe a revelation of Divine truth, and makes use of the facts of the external world to teach spiritual lessons; the incarnate Word, in drawing spiritual lessons from the external world, could expound the meaning of a universe which He Himself had made. In the one case it is a disciple of nature who imparts to us the lore which he himself has learned; in the other it is the Master of nature, who points out to us the meaning of His own world, and interprets to us the voices of the winds and the waves, which obey Him.


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