Изображения страниц

vered copies of it both to the believing and unbelieving inhabitants of that city, who no doubt circulated it among their brethren in distant countries, by means of such of them as came up to Jeru. salem annually to the feast of Pentecost.


Of the Design of the Apostle James in writing his Epistle. Many of the converted Jews having formerly been of the sect of the Pharisees, who held the doctrines of fate, and of the decrees of God, brought into the church, not these doctrines alone, but the errors which the corrupt part of the nation had built on them; Such as, that God is the author of sin, and that whoever professes the true religion is sure of salvation, whatever his temper or practice might be. In these mistaken notions, the converted Jews seem to have been confirmed, by certain passages of Paul's epistles, which they wrested to their own destruction. For ex, ample, Rom. i. 28, where it is said, that God delivered the Gentiles to a reprobate mind.—Rom. vii. 17. It is no more I who work it out, but sin dwelling in me. See the note on that verse.-Rom, ix. 19. whom he will he hardeneth.-ver, 21. Hath not the potter power over the clay, &c.—ch. xi. 8. And the rest are blinded, as il is written, &c. It seems the Judaizers in the Christian church, not willing to acknowledge, that according to the idiom of the Hebrew language, God is said to do what he permits, inferred from the passages just now mentioned, that the sinful actions of men being all decreed by God, there is no resisting his will ; and that the temptations by which men are seduced to sin, being all appointed of God, he is actually the author of men's sins: Farther, Paul's doctrine of justification by faith without works of law, being considered by the judaizers as a confirmation of their favourite tenet, that nothing is necessary to salvation but the knowledge and profession of the true religion, many of them affirmed, that men are sanctified, and made acceptable to God by knowledge alone. These false teachers corrupted the gospel in this manner, that by rendering it acceptable to the wicked, they might increase the number of their disciples, and draw money from them to spend on their lusts. See Pref. to Jude, sect. 4.

From these pernicious notions flowed that extreme corruption of manners, found among some sects of Christians in the first ages; and particularly among the Simonians, Nicolaitans, and

other heretics of Jewish extraction, of which there are evident traces in the apostolical epistles. (See Pref. to 1 John, sect. 3.) From the same polluted source issued these manifold crimes, for which the unbelieving Jews were infamous and intolerable every where, about the time of the breaking out of the war, which ended in the destruction of Jerusalem, and the dispersion of the nation. See the Illustrations prefixed to 2 Pet. chap. i. and ii.

In this state of the Jewish nation, and of the Christian church in the latter period of the first age, it became absolutely necessary that the apostles of the circumcision, who were then alive, should exert their authority in confuting errors, which were not only ruinous to the souls of men, but most dishonourable to the character of God as the governor of the universe. Wherefore, to expose the dangerous nature of these errors, and to guard the faithful against them, the apostles Peter, see Pref. to 2 Pet. sect. 5. and James, and John, see Pref. to 1 John sect. 3. and Jude, see Pref. to Jude, sect. 4. wrote the seven epistles called Catholic. So Augustine informs us in his treatise of Faith and Good Works, chap. 14.“ A wicked opinion having sprung up, even « in the apostles days, by misunderstanding Paul's arguments, « Peter, John, James, and Jude, aimed in their epistles, principal“ ly at this end, to vindicate the doctrine of Paul from the false “ consequences charged upon it, and to show, that faith without “ works is nothing worth ; but indeed, Paul does not speak of “ faith at large, but only of that living, fruitful, and evangelical « faith, which he himself saith, worketh by love. As for that “ faith void of good works, which these men thought sufficient to “ salvation, he declareth positively against it.” And having men. tioned, that Peter says some passages of his brother Paul's epis. tles had been wrested by unlearned men, Augustine observes, " that Peter calls it wresting, because Paul was in truth of the 6 same opinion with the other apostles, and held eternal life im“ possible to be obtained by any faith which had not the at. « testation of a holy life.” Benson's translation in his note on 2 Pet. i. 9.

But although all the Catholic epistles were written to confute the corrupt doctrines and practices of the unbelieving Jews, and of the Judaizing Christians, in none of whom are these doctrines more strongly opposed than in this epistle of James. For the sentiments which it contains are excellent, the doctrines which it inculcates are perfectly just, and conformable to the spirit of the gospel, the precepts which it enjoins have all a tendency to advance the perfection and happiness of human nature. Moreover, the arguments by which the practice of religion and morality are enforced, are most cogentand affecting, and the language in which they are expressed is beautiful. From all which it follows, that this writing is the production of a person of an enlarged understanding, and of great goodness of heart; which, as Lardner observes, is the very character ascribed to James our Lord's brother, by all the Christian writers who have made mention of him.

[ocr errors]
[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]


View and Illustration of the Exhortations contained in this Chapter. THE

He object of this epistle being to persuade the whole body of the Jewish nation to forsake the many errors and vices into which they had fallen, the apostle first directed his discourse to such of them as were Christians, who, it would seem, were become impatient under the persecution they were suffering for their religion; and the rather, because their unbelieving brethren had endeavoured to persuade them, that the evils under which they laboured were tokens of the divine displeasure. For they applied to individuals those pasages of the law in which God declared he would bless and prosper the Israelitish nation, or curse and afflict it, according as it adhered to, or forsook the law of Moses. Wherefore, to enable the Jewish Christians to judge rightly of the afflictions they were enduring, and to reconcile them to their then suffering lot, the apostle, in the beginning of his epistle, exhorted them to rejoice exceedingly in afflictions as a real advantage, ver. 2.--Because it was intended by God to produce in thein patience, ver. 3.—And if it produced patience, it would contribute to the perfecting of many other virtues in them, ver. 4. In the second place, the apostle exhorted them to pray for wisdom to enable them to make a proper use of their afflictions, and assured them, that God was most willing to grant them that, and every other good gift, ver. 5.—Provided they asked these gifts sincerely, ver. 6.-8.—Thirdly, that the poor among the brethren might be encouraged to bear the hardships of their lot patiently, and that the rich might not be too much cast down, when they were stripped of their riches and possessions by their persecutors, he represented to the poor their great clignity as the sons of God, and the excellent possessions they were entitled to as the heirs of God: On the other hand, the rich he put in mind of the emptiness, instability, and brevity of all human grandeur, by comparing it to a flower whose leaves wither and fall, immediately on their being exposed to the scorching heat of the sun, ver. 9.-11.–Fourthly, to encourage both the poor and the rich, to suffer cheerfully the loss of the transitory goods of this life for Christ's sake, he brought to their remembrance Christ's promise to bestow on them, in recompense, a crown of life, ver. 12.

The apostle next directed his discourse to the unbelieving part of the nation, and expressly condemned thai impious notion

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »