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99

CHAPTER IX.
THE DELUSION OF HEARING WITHOUT DOING.
THE MIRROR OF GOD'S WORD.

"But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deluding your own selves. For if any one is a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a mirror: for he beholdeth himself, and goeth away, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But he that looketh into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and so continueth, being not a hearer that forgetteth, but a doer that worketh, this man shall be blessed in his doing."—St. James i. 22-25.

HERE we reach what on the whole seems to be the main thought of the Epistle—the all-importance of Christian activity and service. The essential thing, without which other things, however good in themselves, become insignificant or worthless, or even mischievous, is conduct. Everything else, if not accompanied by practice, by avoiding evil and doing good, is vain. In Bishop Butler's words, religion "does not consist in the knowledge and belief even of fundamental truth," but rather in our being brought "to a certain temper and behaviour;" or as St. John puts it still more simply, only "he who doeth righteousness is righteous." Suffering injuries, poverty, and temptations, hearing the Word, teaching the Word, faith, wisdom (i. 2, 9, 12, 19; ii. 14-26; iii. 7-13), are all of them excellent; but if they are not accompanied by a holy life, a life of prayer and gentle words and good deeds, they are valueless.

100 There are two or three other leading thoughts, but they are all of them subordinated to this main thought of the necessity for Christian conduct as well as Christian belief and wisdom. One of these secondary thoughts has already been noticed more than once—the blessedness of enduring temptations and other trials; it is specially prominent in the first and last chapters (i. 2-4, 12; v. 7-11). Another of the secondary topics which have a prominent place in the letter is the peril of much speaking. It introduces and closes the section which lies immediately before us (i. 19, 26), and it is dwelt upon at length in the third chapter. Yet a third topic which cannot fail to attract the attention of the reader is the preference given to the poor over the rich as regards their spiritual opportunities, and the stern warnings addressed to all those whose wealth leads them to become tyrannical. This subject is specially prominent in the first, second, and last chapters (i. 10, 11; ii. 1-7; v. 1-6). But all these matters are looked at from the point of view of Christian conduct and service. They are not in any one case the idea which binds together the whole Epistle, but they lead up to it and emphasize it. If we were to single out one verse as in a special way summing up the teaching of the whole letter, we could hardly find one more suitable for the purpose than the first of the four which stand at the head of the present chapter: "Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deluding your own selves." It will be worth while to examine this simple and most practical exhortation somewhat in detail.

It is one of the many sayings in the Epistle which irresistibly remind us of the teaching of Jesus Christ; not as being a quotation from any of His recorded discourses, 101 but as being an independent reproduction of the substance of His conversation by one who was quite familiar with it, but was not familiar with the written Gospels. Had the writer of this letter been well acquainted with any of the four Gospels, he could hardly have escaped being influenced by them, and the echoes of Christ's teaching which we find in its pages would have been more closely in accordance with the reports of His words which they contain. This feature of the Epistle harmonizes well with its being written by the Lord's brother, who must have been very familiar with the Lord's teaching, and who wrote before A.D. 62, i.e. at a time when perhaps not one of our Gospels was written, and when certainly none of them can have had a very wide circulation. More will be said upon this point hereafter (p. 308): for the present it suffices to point out the resemblance between this warning against the delusion of thinking that hearing without doing is of any avail, and the warning which closes the Sermon on the Mount: "Every one which heareth these words of Mine, and doeth them, shall be likened unto a wise man, which built his house upon the rock.... And every one that heareth these words of Mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and smote upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall thereof" (Matt. vii. 24-27).

"Be ye doers of the Word." Both verb and tense are remarkable (γίνεσθε): "Become doers of the Word." True Christian practice is a thing of growth; it is a process, and a process which has already begun, and is continually going on. We may compare, "Become ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves" 102 (Matt. x. 16); "Therefore become ye also ready" (xxiv. 44); and "Become not faithless, but believing" (John xx. 27; where see Westcott's note). "Become doers of the Word" is more expressive than "Be doers of the Word," and a good deal more expressive than "Do the Word." A "doer of the Word" (ποιητὴς λόγου) is such by profession and practice; the phrase expresses a habit. But one who merely incidentally performs what is prescribed may be said to "do the Word." By the "Word" is meant what just before has been called the "implanted Word" and the "Word of truth" (w. 21, 18), and what in this passage is also called "the perfect law, the law of liberty" (ver. 25), i.e. the Gospel. The parable of the Sower illustrates in detail the meaning of becoming an habitual doer of the implanted Word.

"And not hearers only." The order of the words in the Greek is a little doubtful, the authorities being very much divided; but the balance is in favour of taking "only" closely with "hearers" (μὴ ἀκροαταὶ μόνον rather than μὴ μόνον ἀκροαταί); "Be not such as are mere hearers and nothing more." The word for "hearer" occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, excepting in the singularly similar passage in the Epistle to the Romans, which is one of the passages that give support to the theory that either St. Paul had seen this Epistle, or St. James had seen St. Paul's: "Not the hearers (ἀκροαταί) of a law are just before God, but the doers of a law shall be justified," (Rom. ii. 13; see above, p. 57). The verb (ἀκροάομαι) does not occur in the New Testament; but another cognate substantive (ἀκροατήριον), meaning "a place of hearing," is found in the Acts (xxv. 23). In classical Greek this group of words indicates attentive listening, especially in the case of 103 those who attend the lectures of philosophers and the addresses of public speakers. It is thus used frequently in Plato, Aristotle, Thucydides, and Plutarch. It is somewhat too hastily concluded that there is nothing of this kind included either in this passage or in Rom. ii. 13. Possibly that is the very thing to which both St. James and St. Paul allude. St. James, in the address which he made to the so-called Council of Jerusalem, says, "Moses from generations of old hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath" (Acts xv. 21). The Jews came with great punctiliousness to these weekly gatherings, and listened with much attention to the public reading and exposition of the Law; and too many of them thought that with that the chief part of their duty was performed. This habitual public testimony of respect for the Mosaic Law and the traditional interpretations of it, and this zeal to acquire a knowledge of its contents and an insight into its meaning, was the main portion of what was required of them. This, St. James tells them, is miserably insufficient, whether what they hear be the Law or the Gospel, the Law with or without the illumination of the life of Christ. "Being swift to hear" (ver. 19) and to understand is well, but "apart from works it is barren." It is the habitual practice in striving to do what is heard and understood that is of value. "Not a hearer that forgetteth, but a doer that worketh" is blessed, and "blessed in his doing." To suppose that mere hearing brings a blessing is "deluding your own selves." Bede rightly quotes Rev. i. 3 in illustration: "Blessed are they that hear the words of the prophecy, and keep the things which are written therein."

The word here used for deluding (παραλογιζόμενοι) 104 is found nowhere else in the New Testament, excepting in one passage in the Epistle to the Colossians (ii. 4), in which St. Paul warns them against allowing any one to "delude them with persuasiveness of speech." But the word is fairly common both in ordinary Greek and in the Septuagint. Its meaning is to mislead with fallacious reasoning, and the substantive (παραλογισμός) is the Aristotelian term for a fallacy. The word does not necessarily imply that the fallacious reasoning is known to be fallacious by those who employ it. To express that we should rather have the word which is used in 2 Peter i. 16 to characterize "cunningly devised fables" (σεσοφισμένοι μῦθοι). Here we are to understand that the victims of the delusion do not, although they might, see the worthlessness of the reasons upon which their self-contentment is based. It is precisely in this that the danger of their position lies. Self-deceit is the most subtle and fatal deceit. The mere knowledge of the law derived from their attentive listening to it does but increase their evil case, if they do not practise it. "To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin" (iv. 17).

The Jews have a saying that the man who hears without practising is like a husbandman who ploughs and sows, but never reaps. Such an illustration, being taken from natural phenomena, would be quite in harmony with the manner of St. James; but he enforces his meaning by employing a far more striking illustration. He who is a hearer and not a doer "is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a mirror." Almost all the words in this sentence are worthy of separate attention.

"Is like unto a man" (ἔοικεν ἀνδρί). St. James uses the more definite word, which usually excludes 105 women, and sometimes boys also. He does not say, "is like unto a person" (ἀνθρώπῳ), which would have included both sexes and all ages. A somewhat quaint explanation has been suggested by Paes, and adopted as probable elsewhere; viz. that men, as a rule, give only a passing look to themselves in the glass; whereas it is a feminine weakness to be fond of attentive observations. But it is fatal to this suggestion that the word here used for beholding (κατανοεῖν) means to fix one's mind upon, and consider attentively. It is the word used in "Consider the ravens," and "Consider the lilies" (Luke xii. 24, 27). Moreover, the Greeks sometimes do what we very frequently do in speaking of the human race; they employ the male sex as representative of both. This usage is found in the New Testament; e.g. "The queen of the South shall rise up in the judgment with the men (τῶν ἀνδρῶν) of this generation, and shall condemn them.... The men (ἄνδρες) of Nineveh shall stand up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it" (Luke xi. 31, 32). Here it is impossible that the women are not included. And this use of "man" (ἀνήρ) in the sense of human being is specially common in St. James. We have it four times in this chapter (vv. 8, 12, 20, 23), and again in the second (ver. 2) and third (ver. 2).

This man, then, attentively studies his natural face in a mirror. The words for "his natural face" literally mean "the face of his birth" (τὸ πρόσωπον τῆς γενέσεως αὐτοῦ), i.e. the features with which he was born; and the mirror would be a piece of polished metal, which, however excellent, would not reflect the features with the clearness and fidelity of a modern looking-glass. Hence the necessity for attentive observation, the 106 result of which is that the man recognizes his own face beyond all question. But what follows? "He beheld himself, and he has gone away, and he straightway forgot what manner of man he was." The perfect tense between two aorists gives a lively simplicity to the narration (κατενόησεν ... ἀπελήλυθεν ... ἐπελάθετο). This is represented as a common case, though not an invariable one. Most of us know our own features sufficiently well to recognize them in a good representation of them, but do not carry in our minds a very accurate image of them. But what has all this to do with being hearers, and not doers, of the Word?

The spoken or written Word of God is the mirror. When we hear it preached, or study it for ourselves, we can find the reflexion of ourselves in it, our temptations and weaknesses, our failings and sins, the influences of God's Spirit upon us, and the impress of His grace. It is here that we notice one marked difference between the inspiration of the sacred writers and the inspiration of the poet and the dramatist. The latter show us other people to the life; Scripture shows us ourselves.

"Our mirror is a blessed book,

Where out from each illumined page

We see one glorious image look,

All eyes to dazzle and engage,

The Son of God; and that indeed

We see Him as He is we know,

Since in the same bright glass we read

The very life of things below.

Eye of God's Word, where'er we turn

Ever upon us! thy keen gaze

Can all the depths of sin discern,

Unravel every bosom's maze.

107Who that has felt thy glance of dread

Thrill through his heart's remotest cells,

About his path, about his bed,

Can doubt what Spirit in thee dwells?"5151   The Christian Year, St. Bartholomew's Day.

Keble's metaphor is somewhat more elaborate than St. James's. He represents the Bible as a mirror, out of which the reflected image of the Son of God looks upon us and reads our inmost selves. St. James supposes that in the mirror we see ourselves reflected. But the thought is the same, that through hearing or reading God's Word our knowledge of our characters is quickened. But does this quickened knowledge last? does it lead to action, or influence our conduct? Too often we leave the church or our study, and the impression produced by the recognition of the features of our own case is obliterated. "We straightway forget what manner of men we are," and the insight which has been granted to us into our own true selves is just one more wasted experience.

But this need not be so, and in some cases a very different result may be noticed. Instead of merely looking attentively for a short time, he may stoop down and pore over it. Instead of forthwith going away, he may continue in the study of it. And instead of straightway forgetting, he may prove a mindful doer that worketh. Thus the three parts of the two pictures are made exactly to balance. The word for "looking into" is an interesting one (παρακύπτειν). It indicates bending forward to examine earnestly. It is used of Peter looking into the sepulchre (Luke xxiv. 12, a verse of doubtful genuineness); and of Mary Magdalene doing the same (John xx. 11); and of the angels desiring to look into heavenly mysteries (1 Peter i. 12). 108 He who does this recognizes God's Word as being "the perfect law, the law of liberty." The two things are the same. It is when the law is seen to be perfect that it is found to be the law of liberty. So long as the law is not seen in the beauty of its perfection, it is not loved, and men either disobey it or obey it by constraint and unwillingly. It is then a law of bondage. But when its perfection is recognized men long to conform to it; and they obey, not because they must, but because they choose. To do what one likes is freedom, and they like to obey. It is in this way that the moral law of the Gospel becomes "the law of liberty," not by imposing fewer obligations than the moral law of the Jew or of the Gentile, but by infusing into the hearts of those who welcome it a disposition and a desire to obey. Christian liberty is never licence. It is not the relaxation of needful restraints, but the spontaneous acceptance of them as excellent in themselves and beneficial to those who observe them. It is the difference between a code imposed by another, and a constitution voluntarily adopted. To be made to work for one whom one fears is slavery and misery; to choose to work for one whom one loves is freedom and happiness. The Gospel has not abolished the moral law; it has supplied a new and adequate motive for fulfilling it.

"Being not a hearer that forgetteth." Literally, "having become not a hearer of forgetfulness" (οὐκ ἀκροατὴς ἐπιλησμονῆς γενόμενος); i.e. having by practice come to be a hearer, who is characterized, not by forgetfulness of what he hears, but by attentive performance of it.5252   This "characterizing genitive" is not exactly a Hebraism, like "children of wrath," "son of perdition," "son of light," and the like; but the use of the genitive in place of an adjective is more common in Oriental languages, and therefore in Greek which is under Oriental influences. See p. 122. The unusual word "forgetfulness" occurs 109 nowhere else in the New Testament, nor in classical Greek; but it is found in Ecclesiasticus (xi. 27), "The affliction of an hour causeth forgetfulness of pleasure;" and this adds a trifle to the evidence that St. James was acquainted with that book (see above, p. 71). "A hearer of forgetfulness" exactly balances, both in form and in thought, "a doer of work;" and this is well brought out by the Revisers, who turn both genitives by a relative clause: "a hearer that forgetteth," and "a doer that worketh." The Authorized Version is much less happy: "a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work." There is no article in the Greek, and the translation of one genitive by an adjective, and of the other by a genitive, is unfortunate. "A doer of work" (ποιητὴς ἔργου), or "a doer that worketh," is an expression that emphasizes just what St. James wishes to emphasize, viz. the necessity of actively practising what is attentively heard. "A doer" would have sufficed, but "a doer that worketh" makes the idea of habitual action still more prominent.

"This man shall be blessed in his doing" (ἐν τῇ ποιήσει). Once more we have a word which is found nowhere else in the New Testament, but occurs in Ecclesiasticus (xix. 20), and with much the same meaning as here: "All wisdom is fear of the Lord; and in all wisdom there is doing of the law" (ποίησις νόμου). The correspondence between the meaning of St. James and the meaning of the son of Sirach is very close. Mere knowledge without performance is of little worth: it is in the doing that a blessing can be found.

The danger against which St. James warns the 110 Jewish Christians of the Dispersion is as pressing now as it was when he wrote. Never was there a time when interest in the Scriptures was more keen or more widely spread, especially among the educated classes; and never was there a time when greater facilities for gratifying this interest abounded. Commentaries, expositions, criticisms, introductions, helps of all kinds, exegetical, homiletic, historical, and textual, suitable both for learned and unlearned students, multiply year by year. But it is much to be feared that with many of us the interest in the sacred writings which is thus roused and fostered remains to a very large extent a literary interest. We are much more eager to know all about God's Word than from it to learn His will respecting ourselves, that we may do it; to prove that a book is genuine than to practise what it enjoins. We study Lives of Christ, but we do not follow the life of Christ. We pay Him the empty homage of an intellectual interest in His words and works, but we do not the things which He says. We throng and press Him in our curiosity, but we obtain no blessing, because in all our hearing and learning there is no true wisdom, no fear of the Lord, and no doing of His Word.


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