James 5

Then in James 5 we have a solemn word for rich men, to weep and howl for their miseries that shall come upon them. Will any man argue still that this means the saints of God? Are they the persons called to weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon them? Are they told to weep and howl? “Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver are cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together”—not exactly “for the last days.” This would be hardly intelligible. What there can be little doubt the Holy Spirit meant us to gather is, “Ye have heaped together riches in the last days.” This aggravated the selfishness of their ways and their indifference to others. It is bad enough to heap treasure at any time; but to heap it up in the last days was to add not a little to the evil in the Lord’s eyes. “Is it a time,” said the indignant prophet, to his covetous and deceitful attendant, “to receive money, and to receive garments, and olive-yards, and vineyards, and sheep, and oxen, and men-servants, and maid-servants?” Was it a time, when God was dealing with unwonted power and grace even for Gentiles? Was this the time for an Israelite to lie for profit and get gain by it? And so here; when the last days were proclaimed by God’s word in solemn warning, the heaping up of treasure in such days as these was indeed most offensive to Him.
“Behold, the hire of the laborers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabbath. Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter. Ye have condemned and killed the just.” What an unexpected moral link! The apostle shows that the spirit of heaping up riches in the last days is the same that in other circumstances slew Jesus Christ the righteous. It is not a connection that we could have anticipated, but it is just such a one as would be discerned by the Holy Spirit ever sensitive to the Lord’s glory; and so in fact it is as we may feel on reflection. It was this selfishness that came into direct personal collision with the Lord of glory, “who, though He was rich, yet for our sakes became poor, that we through His poverty might be made rich.”, We can understand that those whose one object was their own importance, glory, and ease in this world, necessarily felt that such an one was a living witness against them, and convicted them of flagrant opposition to the grace of God, who taught by Jesus in word and deed that it is more blessed to give than to receive. For this doctrine and practice the Pharisees were quite unprepared. (See Luke 16.) Accordingly their hatred grew until it resulted in the cross of the Lord; and hence this is one of the elements, though of course not the only one, which calls down the judgment of God; and the Spirit of God so treats it here: “Ye have killed the just.” The allusion is to the Lord, not the just in general, but the Just One, even Christ, “and He doth not resist you.”
Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. “Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and the latter rain. Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.”
Then he calls them again so much the more to avoid a murmuring spirit against one and another, because the judge stood at the door. He exhorts them to endurance and to patience. This reappears as a final appeal. We had it at the commencement of the chapter; we have it again here that it should by all means be remembered. “Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience. Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.”
Then another snare is connected with this for avoidance: “Above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation.” What has the apostle in view here? The oath before a magistrate? In no way does Scripture slight that solemn obligation. The Lord Himself respected the adjuration of the high-priest; and in no passage whatever do we see a depreciatory allusion to a judicial oath in the sermon on the mount, or, in what James says here, or in any other part of the Bible, but the contrary. The Lord was addressing Jewish disciples, James writes to the twelve tribes of Israel who are in the dispersion; but what they both set their faces against was the habit of bringing in religious asseverations for the purpose of confirming their word every day, besides the profaning of the Lord’s name in matters of this life. This in point of fact weakens instead of establishing what is said; for it is evident that whatever is uncalled for gives no strength to an assertion, but is just a fruit and proof of weakness. Where there is simple truth, nothing is needed but the quiet statement of the fact.
There were no people so prone to ordinary swearing as the Jews. Accordingly, I have not the slightest doubt that what our Lord and His servants reprobated was the introduction of an oath in common conversation; and this, it is plain, does not apply to an oath administered by a magistrate. Indeed, it seems to me in itself sinful for a man to refuse an oath (supposing its form otherwise unobjectionable) if required to do so by proper authority. It would be to me a virtual denial of God’s authority in civil government here below. I believe, therefore, that it is the bounden duty of every man to whom an oath is put, to take it in the fear of the Lord. I admit it must be put by competent authority. Therefore we are not to assume that the passage in Matthew 5, or this portion of James, has the smallest reference to judicial swearing. How could one think that those who indulge in such thoughts show any real intelligence as to the word of God? They certainly exhibit a certain care for conscientiousness. This is not in the least denied. But we have to take care that we are guided of God in this, which is important in the present day when we know that the spirit of the age is endeavoring to blot out God in all that touches man here below. The Lord was silent until adjured by the high-priest: was not His conduct thus perfectly consistent with His own teaching? An oath, therefore, should not be refused when put by a magistrate. I am supposing, of course, that there is nothing in the terms of the oath that would involve false doctrine or countenance a superstition. For instance, in a Roman Catholic country there might be reference to the virgin, or angels, or saints. Such an oath I do not think that a Christian man would be at liberty to take. But I am supposing now that a person is required in the name of God to declare what he believes to be the truth in a matter of which he is a witness, the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. It appears to me that so far from his being at liberty to refuse this, he is on the contrary guilty, through ignorance, of no small sin in caviling about the matter.
The rest of the chapter takes up another subject—the case of God’s discipline. It is governmental. “Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.” This does not mean expressly the inspired psalms. Persons are apt to think of the psalms of David whenever there is the introduction of the word. Doubtless old habits and associations lead to this; but there is no ground for it in the Bible. No more is meant here than that, being happy, he is to give vent to his joy in the praise of the Lord. It is nothing more. “Is any among you sick? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.” This we know was an old custom. It was used even by those who were clothed with miraculous power. When the apostles were sent forth of our Lord, they were directed by Him to anoint the sick with oil. (Mark 6) And so here the elders were to act in the same remarkable style. Nor do I deny that there are answers to prayer of a very striking kind. I do not call these answers miraculous powers, because the true power of this kind is that exercised by a person raised up of the Lord for the purpose, and who knows that he can count upon it in the case where He pleases to show it; whereas in an answer to prayer there is a trial and exercise of faith about it, just as with those who were praying for Peter when he was in prison. There was no miracle in their part of the business, as far as they were concerned. There was a remarkably direct intervention of God, but it was in no way connected with any gift of miracles committed to the people who were praying. “And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up.” Here it is a question of God’s judgment. The person is chastened in sickness for some evil; it is now judged; grace intervenes, and God heals.
Then comes the general spirit of confession. “Confess your faults one to another, and pray for one another, that ye may be healed.” It is the true love that interests itself, not only in that which is good, but even in what is, alas the fruit of unjudged evil. But there is a careful abstinence from urging confession to the elders, I cannot doubt, in the far-seeing wisdom of God, who loves souls and hates superstition. “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” ‘Elias is cited in support of this. Finally we have, “Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.” It is doubtless put in a general form. At the same time it only confirms, as it appears to me, what has already been shown to be the comprehensive character of the epistle.
In the next lecture we shall enter, if the Lord will, on what belongs more to the ordinary train of our Christian associations.