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Bible Commentaries
James 4

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

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Verses 1-17

James 4:1-2 . From whence come wars and fightings among you? St. James saw in the Spirit the bloody and cruel wars which would rise among christian powers, much the same as among the heathen. He had a clear conviction that the cause of wars is uniformly the same, namely, evil concupiscence, pride, avarice, revenge. The prophet Isaiah assigns the same reason for all wars, the pride of the human heart, Judah envying Ephraim, and Ephraim vexing Judah. Isaiah 11:13. He also adds the promise, that all this envy and contention shall subside in the peaceful reign of righteousness and truth.

The Jews made many insurrections against the Romans, both in Egypt and in Jerusalem, and also in Galilee. Joseph. lib. 20. The Roman governors of Asia were also often engaged in provincial wars: these are contrary to the spirit of the Messiah’s kingdom.

James 4:3 . Ye ask, and receive not. Ye desire fine harvests, riches and commerce: κακως . Ye ask for evil purposes, that ye may aggrandize your families; but providence sees it best to keep you poor, and to visit you with afflictions, that you may profit by his visitations.

James 4:4 . Ye adulterers and adulteresses. This may be understood figuratively to intimate that they boasted of having Jehovah their Maker for their husband, Isaiah 54:5, while living like the heathen in friendship with the world. They reopen the old breach, and incur the ruin which the golden calves brought upon their country.

James 4:5-6 . Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, the spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy? Does it charge the world unjustly, in saying that the thoughts and imaginations of their hearts are only evil continually?

Genesis 6:5. Or the Spirit that dwelleth in us may refer to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which lusteth and wrestleth against the flesh, and which in a double view discovers his operations, by resisting the proud martial spirit of the world, and by giving grace to the humble. This must be understood of the Holy Spirit, as giving more grace, and all other good gifts to them that ask according to the Father’s will.

James 4:8 . Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Though James dedicates his epistle to the twelve tribes scattered abroad by persecution, he found among them some who believed not, or whose religion was at least doubtful; and these therefore he admonishes with great earnestness in several parts of his address. Those who are here admonished are considered, notwithstanding their religious profession, as being far from God, having no real communion with him in their religious duties, possessing the form of godliness but not the power. Their hands and their hearts are also supposed to be defiled, full of oppression, deceit, and fraud; and while they professed to be the people of God, the apostle calls them “sinners.” When conscience is awakened under the word, or by some alarming providence, or when they are in company with good people, they appear to be well-affected towards religion, and to be on the Lord’s side; but when they are in the world and amongst worldly men, they appear to be on the other side. “Double-minded” men, now this, and now that, having no decided character or principle of action.

Cleanse your hands, ye sinners. There is no other way of drawing nigh to God: the prayer of the wicked is to him an abomination, so long as the love of sin has its seat in the heart. A sinner under the power of conscience may indeed cast away some of his sins, and thus think to appease the divine auger; but this will not suffice. Purify your hearts, ye double-minded. Without this there is no entering into the kingdom of heaven, and no fellowship with God on earth. Nothing but true repentance and faith in Jesus can effect this salutary change: other considerations may produce a decent exterior, but this alone can renovate the heart, and give us access to God. Then he will indeed draw nigh to us, as a father and a friend, and will neither leave us nor forsake us. He will be near to us in life, and near in death, when no other arm can help or save us.

James 4:11 . Speak not evil one of another. See the reflections on chap. 3., translated from Bourdaloue.

James 4:13 . To-morrow we will go into such a city, for the purposes of trade and speculation, to realize a fortune, as though future good things were at their command. Men are so engaged in bustle, that they forget God; they forget themselves, and the life to come. They forget that every movement of speculation is dependent on a supreme Cause, who mortifies the pride of vain designs. They forget that human life is but a vapour, and vanishes away as a shadow.

James 4:17 . To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin. God may overlook faults in the world that cannot be overlooked in the church. An opportunity to do good being once lost, may never return. The sowing time occurs but once in the season.


How dreadful is the spirit of war, that man should meet his fellow man with iron in his hand! It was not so till Cain killed his brother. Man is not formed for war: his flesh is delicate, his skin is tender. He has not a lion’s mouth, nor paws like the bear, nor tusks like the tiger and the boar. He has neither a piercing bill, nor talons like the eagle, to tear and devour his prey. Besides, lions do not fight with lions; the war of animals with their own species is merely to force them to retire to a more distant place. But why should man in war superadd the cunning of demons, and employ the engines of destruction against those who are all his brothers, and who personally never did him any wrong?

The scriptures are therefore correct in tracing war back to its source, evil concupiscence, and all the lusts of the flesh. In tracing it back to its father the devil, “who was a murderer from the beginning.” By consequence, the kingdom of Christ, the Prince of peace, is utterly repugnant to war. The Spirit in all good men prays to see the day when they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruninghooks, and never learn war any more.

And if James read such a lecture to speculators in ancient times, when commerce was small, what would he have said to those of our own times, when the mania of getting money is the reigning passion? Its advocates say, that it employs the poor, that it encreases commerce, and enriches the nation. Be it so: but can any political considerations be an adequate apology for the neglect of salvation? Are all the bad passions which take advantage of a neighbour’s ignorance, or necessity, and enhances the price of all commodities, to be converted into public virtues? Are all those passions which hurry men on to forget their conscience, and drown them in perdition, to be indulged without a warning voice against the deceitfulness of riches? Shall pagan poets satirize speculators, and christian pastors hold their peace at the inordinate love of money? Oh earth, earth, hear the word of the Lord!

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on James 4". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/james-4.html. 1835.
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