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Bible Commentaries

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

James 5

Verses 1-20

James 5:1 . Go to now, or go now, ye rich men. He had taught them humility, because their glory vanished away as the flower of the field: chap. James 1:10. He now calls upon them to weep and howl over the ashes of their tombs and sanctuary, their warehouses and pleasant villas in flames, and Jerusalem the common grave of a ruined nation. It is indubitable that the early christians, from the words of Christ and of the prophets, knew that Jerusalem would be destroyed, and that the event would happen in that generation. The Spirit being poured out on the poor, blood and fire, and vapour of smoke, would attend the enemies of truth. The day that should burn as an oven and consume the wicked, both root and branch, would presently follow the rising of the Sun of righteousness on the church. The approach of the Roman legions against the rebellious city, and the incomparable horrors of the siege, had been three times foretold by our Lord, and always with tears; once in Galilee, once when riding on the untutored colt, and making his entry into Jerusalem, and once in the temple. The apostle therefore merely drops the hint, “Ye see the day approaching.” Hebrews 10:25. Those events, associated with luminous prophecies, greatly confirmed the faithful, and brought many over to the christian faith.

James 5:3-4 . Your gold and silver is cankered, oxidized by lying in your bags and coffers. The rust shall be a witness against you, that you have not fed, as you ought to have done, the widow, the orphan, the blind, the lame; nay, you have withheld the extra rewards of harvest labours, attended with extra exertions. God has pledged himself to hear the cries of the poor.

James 5:5 . Ye have lived in pleasure, eating the fat of sacrifices; epulati, as in Jerome, Ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter. Thus it reads in the Greek, but the spirit of the passage is as in Syrus. You have nourished your bodies, as victims are fed and nourished to the day of slaughter.

James 5:6 . Ye have condemned and killed the just: τον δικαιον . The word is given in the singular, and cannot be applied indefinitely to any particular martyr, as John, Stephen, and James, because in our scriptures it is the common title of Christ, who is called the “Holy One, and the Just.”

Acts 3:14; Acts 7:52. Paul also was called, that he might see that “Just One,” and hear the words of his mouth. Acts 22:14. The reproof administered to these professors indicates that the crucifixion of Christ turned the scale of justice against the Hebrew nation.

James 5:9 . Grudge not one against another: στεναγετε , be not contracted one towards another; let the liberality of God inspire you with liberal sentiments. He will give you the kingdom in due time.

James 5:11 . Ye have heard of the patience of Job. He was the fifth from Abraham in the line of Ishmael, a fit example to be adduced here, because, like Job, the Hebrew christians had sustained joyfully the spoiling of their goods.

James 5:12 . Above all things swear not. See the note on Matthew 5:34. There is a remark in Œcumenius on this text which very much coincides with the society of Friends respecting swearing.

James 5:13 . Is any merry; let him sing psalms. We have given us in the scriptures those delightful odes of thanksgiving, to raise our hearts above the sorrows of life. The primitive christians, it would seem, were eminent for sacred songs. Tertullian says, the wife sings to her husband. Jerome composed many hymns in his day; and those of St. Hilary, we are told, were sung all over France.

James 5:14-15 . Is any sick among you; let him call for the elders of the church, to pray with and to comfort him. Peace of mind has a great tendency to restore the health of the body. Let them anoint him with oil, medically, to remove the complaint. Wise and aged men in those days were the common physicians of the poor. Sir John Chardin mentions a prevalent custom in the east, of applying a large emolient plaister to the abdomen, to remove interior complaints. Or let them anoint him in a religious view, that if it please God the sick may recover. Men then died in the church as we die; but means must not be despised. Our Lord’s disciples anointed many that were sick, and healed them. Mark 6:13. The papists adduce this text in favour of their extreme unction. Aye, but their oil is intended as a sign of pardon, and as a passport to heaven. The oil referred to by the apostle is sanative, that the sick may be healed, and that the joys of remission may exhilirate the heart.

James 5:16 . Confess your faults one to another. This is chiefly relevant to the conscience, and is consoling to the mind. Confession of sin, one to another, is the way to vanquish pride, and to acquire a childlike simplicity. “Nothing,” says Masaillon, “costs a man more than to acknowledge himself guilty. Pride is the first of our propensities; and as the secret conviction of our defects does not permit us to he ignorant, that if we confess ourselves to be what we really are, we shall merit the greatest contempt, we therefore have recourse to a mass of dissimulation concerning all that passes within, so that our whole life is in effect one continued disguise. In all our actions we assume the person of another, and never appear such as we really are. Rien ne coute plus a l’homme, qui de s’avouer coupable.”

“But what is most deplorable is, that our pride enters even into our humiliations; and in such sort, that the avowal of our crimes is no other than the criminal artifice to conceal them; and we carry our hypocrisy even to the foot of the tremendous tribunal, where we go to unbosom the secrets of our conscience, and to be judged before Jesus Christ.

“Now, my brethren, the language of real contrition is humble, simple, natural, sincere; in such sort, that a soul truly touched, neither dissembles nor excuses its faults.” Serm. sur la Confession. Though we reject auricular confession, yet a contrite sinner opening his heart to a minister greatly relieves his conscience.

James 5:17 . Three years and six months. Three years only are mentioned in the old testament, but the six months mentioned by our Saviour, and St. James, were no doubt consonant to the received tradition of the nation. Yet the famine might occasion no more than the loss of three harvests.

James 5:20 . He that converteth a sinner shall save a soul from death. All men by nature are sinners, and therefore need conversion; but those here referred to are the sinners mentioned in James 4:8, who had first been led astray by false teachers, and then became loose in their moral conduct. Such is the influence of false doctrine, that however trivial it may appear at first, it cannot be embraced without impairing the religious character, and bringing after it a train of evils. The sinners here described are said to be going on in the error of their way; not indeed that the way of all sinners is the effect of speculative error, for many go on in an evil course contrary to their convictions, and in violation of their own consciences. Yet in the fullest sense of the term, all sin is the effect of a departure from the truth, and the embracing of false and delusive notions of some kind or other, either in speculation or in practice. In some cases it may issue in pharisaical pride and self-righteousness, in others in antinomian presumption, indulging the vain hope of being saved at last, though living in error and in transgression.

But we are here assured that the way which the sinner has chosen leads to death, not to corporeal death only, but to that which sin produces, even death eternal, or the second death: James 1:15. The sinner’s way might begin in a single error, in a single act of wilful and flagrant transgression, which might have been pardoned on repentance; it is making sin his “way,” his course of action, habitually and perseveringly, that plunges him at last into the abyss of misery and woe, from whence there is no redemption.

How unutterably important therefore, and desirable, is the conversion of a sinner, to save him from such a fearful catastrophe; and how solicitous and laborious ought ministers and private christians to be, that so great a design may be accomplished. He that converteth a sinner shall save a soul from death, an immortal soul, capable of enjoying or suffering more than tongue can tell or heart conceive. All the boasted achievements of armies and navies are trifling when compared with this. If we gain for Christ a single friend only, he may be the means of bringing many more, and the work may go on multiplying and encreasing long after we are silent in the grave.

He shall also hide a multitude of sins. Only a small part of the evils of the human heart have been developed; we have seen the surface only, but cannot explore the depth. Jeremiah 17:9-10. Who can tell how much evil was prevented by the conversion of Manasseh, who had already slain the Lord’s prophets, and filled Jerusalem with innocent blood. Who can estimate the evil prevented by the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the church of God, to say nothing of the good which he afterwards effected. Had none been converted to Christ, the world would ere this have been as Sodom and Gomorrha, and have suffered the vengeance of eternal fire.

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Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on James 5". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. 1835.