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The Prayer of Faith

13 Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. 14Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. 16Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. 17Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest.

19 My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, 20you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

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13. afflicted—referring to the "suffering affliction" (Jas 5:10).

let him pray—not "swear" in rash impatience.

merry—joyous in mind.

sing psalms—of praise. Paul and Silas sang psalms even in affliction.

14. let him call for the elders—not some one of the elders, as Roman Catholics interpret it, to justify their usage in extreme unction. The prayers of the elders over the sick would be much the same as though the whole Church which they represent should pray [Bengel].

anointing him with oil—The usage which Christ committed to His apostles was afterwards continued with laying on of hands, as a token of the highest faculty of medicine in the Church, just as we find in 1Co 6:2 the Church's highest judicial function. Now that the miraculous gift of healing has been withdrawn for the most part, to use the sign where the reality is wanting would be unmeaning superstition. Compare other apostolic usages now discontinued rightly, 1Co 11:4-15; 16:20. "Let them use oil who can by their prayers obtain recovery for the sick: let those who cannot do this, abstain from using the empty sign" [Whitaker]. Romish extreme unction is administered to those whose life is despaired of, to heal the soul, whereas James' unction was to heal the body. Cardinal Cajetan [Commentary] admits that James cannot refer to extreme unction. Oil in the East, and especially among the Jews (see the Talmud, Jerusalem and Babylon), was much used as a curative agent. It was also a sign of the divine grace. Hence it was an appropriate sign in performing miraculous cures.

in the name of the Lord—by whom alone the miracle was performed: men were but the instruments.

15. prayer—He does not say the oil shall save: it is but the symbol.

save—plainly not as Rome says, "save" the soul. but heal "the sick": as the words, "the Lord shall raise him up," prove. So the same Greek is translated, "made (thee) whole," Mt 9:21, 22.

and if … sins—for not all who are sick are so because of some special sins. Here a case is supposed of one visited with sickness for special sins.

have committed—literally, "be in a state of having committed sins," that is, be under the consequences of sins committed.

they—rather, "it": his having committed sins shall be forgiven him. The connection of sin and sickness is implied in Isa 33:24; Mt 9:2-5; Joh 5:14. The absolution of the sick, retained in the Church of England, refers to the sins which the sick man confesses (Jas 5:16) and repents of, whereby outward scandal has been given to the Church and the cause of religion; not to sins in their relation to God, the only Judge.

16. The oldest authorities read, "Confess, THEREFORE," &c. Not only in the particular case of sickness, but universally confess.

faults—your falls and offenses, in relation to one another. The word is not the same as sins. Mt 5:23, 24; Lu 17:4, illustrate the precept here.

one to another—not to the priest, as Rome insists. The Church of England recommends in certain cases. Rome compels confession in all cases. Confession is desirable in the case of (1) wrong done to a neighbor; (2) when under a troubled conscience we ask counsel of a godly minister or friend as to how we may obtain God's forgiveness and strength to sin no more, or when we desire their intercessory prayers for us ("Pray for one another"): "Confession may be made to anyone who can pray" [Bengel]; (3) open confession of sin before the Church and the world, in token of penitence. Not auricular confession.

that ye may be healed—of your bodily sicknesses. Also that, if your sickness be the punishment of sin, the latter being forgiven on intercessory prayer, "ye may be healed" of the former. Also, that ye may be healed spiritually.

effectual—intense and fervent, not "wavering" (Jas 1:6), [Beza]. "When energized" by the Spirit, as those were who performed miracles [Hammond]. This suits the collocation of the Greek words and the sense well. A righteous man's prayer is always heard generally, but his particular request for the healing of another was then likely to be granted when he was one possessing a special charism of the Spirit. Alford translates, "Availeth much in its working." The "righteous" is one himself careful to avoid "faults," and showing his faith by works (Jas 2:24).

17. Elias … like passions as we—therefore it cannot be said that he was so raised above us as to afford no example applicable to common mortals like ourselves.

prayed earnestly—literally, "prayed with prayer": Hebraism for prayed intensely. Compare Lu 22:15, "With desire I have desired," that is, earnestly desired. Alford is wrong in saying, Elias' prayer that it might not rain "is not even hinted at in the Old Testament history." In 1Ki 17:1 it is plainly implied, "As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word." His prophecy of the fact was according to a divine intimation given to him in answer to prayer. In jealousy for God's honor (1Ki 19:10), and being of one mind with God in his abhorrence of apostasy, he prayed that the national idolatry should be punished with a national judgment, drought; and on Israel's profession of repentance he prayed for the removal of the visitation, as is implied in 1Ki 18:39-42; compare Lu 4:25.

three years, &c.—Compare 1Ki 18:1, "The third year," namely, from Elijah's going to Zarephath; the prophecy (Jas 5:1) was probably about five or six months previously.

18. prayed … and—that is, "and so." Mark the connection between the prayer and its accomplishment.

her fruit—her usual and due fruit, heretofore withheld on account of sin. Three and a half years is the time also that the two witnesses prophesy who "have power to shut and open heaven that it rain not."

19. The blessing of reclaiming an erring sinner by the mutual consent and intercessory prayer just recommended.

do err—more literally, "be led astray."

the truth—the Gospel doctrine and precepts.

one—literally, "any"; as "any" before. Everyone ought to seek the salvation of everyone [Bengel].

20. Let him—the converted.

know—for his comfort, and the encouragement of others to do likewise.

shall save—future. The salvation of the one so converted shall be manifested hereafter.

shall hide a multitude of sins—not his own, but the sins of the converted. The Greek verb in the middle voice requires this. Pr 10:12 refers to charity "covering" the sins of others before men; James to one's effecting by the conversion of another that that other's sins be covered before God, namely, with Christ's atonement. He effects this by making the convert partaker in the Christian covenant for the remission of all sins. Though this hiding of sins was included in the previous "shall save," James expresses it to mark in detail the greatness of the blessing conferred on the penitent through the converter's instrumentality, and to incite others to the same good deed.