Wicked rich men are to fear God's vengeance. We ought to be patient in afflictions, after the example of the prophets, and Job: to forbear swearing; to pray in adversity; to sing in prosperity; to acknowledge mutually our several faults; to pray one for another, and to reduce a straying brother to the truth.
Anno Domini 60.
THE first six verses of this chapter have been looked upon as an address to the unbelieving Jews, among whom the Christians lived in their dispersions, and by whom they were persecuted; but they appear to me to have been rather a fine apostrophe. It is evident that this epistle is written in a sublime stile, and abounds with lively images, beautiful similitudes, and other strong figures. Why may not we then look upon these six verses as a remarkable instance of this kind? Indeed there appears to me nothing to hinder us from supposing that they are introduced in a figurative manner; that is, by way of apostrophe. There is a beautiful apostrophe to this purpose, Revelation 18:20 and the speaking by way of apostrophe is not only usual with the sacred writers, (see Deuteronomy 32:1. Jeremiah 22:29. 1 Corinthians 15:55.) but also with the best Greek and Roman writers: and the apostle seems to have introduced it here, that by this image he might give the greater force to those arguments which he was about to offer for the support and encouragement of the Jewish Christians, who were at that time in a state of persecution. For after he had, in this livelymanner, set before them the much heavier calamities which were hanging over the heads of their greatest enemies and most violent persecutors, and just ready to fall upon them, he then finishes the apostrophe; and, addressing himself directly to the Jewish Christians, says with the greatest propriety, Be ye patient therefore, unto the coming of the Lord, &c. That is, in other words, "Be patient, brethren; because the destruction of your enemies, and your deliverance, approach swiftly," James 5:1-11.
Among other effects of impatience, against which the apostle cautions them, he reckons the irreverent use of the name of God, and profane oaths and execrations, into which, in the transport of their criminal passions, some unhappy wretches are ready to fall: and he cautions them to content themselves with a simple affirmation or negation in all their conversation, and to take care to maintain such constant integrity in all their words, that nothing more may be needful to gain them credit, James 5:12. He then requires them to accustom themselves to the frequent exercises of devotion, as what will have the surest tendency to promote the comfort and happiness of their lives in every circumstance, James 5:13. And he advises them, if they be sick, and feel themselves so instigated by the secret workings of the Spirit of grace upon their minds as may encourage them to hope for an extraordinary cure, to send for the elders of the church to pray over them, and anoint them with oil, James 5:14-15.
When they were conscious of having been really to blame, he charges them not perversely to vindicate a conduct which their own hearts condemned, but be frank in acknowledging it, James 5:16.—Then he illustrates the efficacy of the prayers of the righteous by the efficacy of Elijah's prayers, James 5:17-19.—Lastly, that the faithful might be excited to do their utmost, by prayer and other proper means in dependance on Divine grace, to reclaim their brethren who had fallen into sin, he assures them that whosoever turns a sinner from the error of his way, becomes the instrument of obtaining pardon for him through Christ, and may thereby save him from death eternal, James 5:20.
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That shall come upon you.— Which are coming upon you. This latter rendering is,I think, more agreeable to the original than our English version; the word επερχομεναις being a participle of the present tense. Josephus particularly observes (Bell. Jude 1:20. 30. 4:19.) how much the rich men suffered by the Romans in the Jewish war.
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Your riches are corrupted,— By riches here are very probably meant their stores of corn, wine, oil, and other perishing goods, which they used to lay up in great abundance: see James 5:4 and Luke 12:16-19. Dr. Heylin reads it, your stores. Another thing which confirms this conjecture is, that the word σεσηπε, which we render corrupted, signifies any thing's being putrified by being kept too long,—like the manna, Exodus 16:20. Such riches as gold, silver, &c. afterwards mentioned, are not liable to a putrefaction of this kind. We have heretofore observed, that the rich among the ancients used to have many changes of garments ready made up, as many (or more sometimes,) as would serve them all their lives; and those they kept by them, as a considerable part of their possessions. The apostle alludes to this, when he says, Your garments are moth-eaten. See the note on Matthew 22:11.
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Ye have heaped treasure together, &c.— The literal and most exact translation of the words is, Ye have heaped up treasure in the last days; which rendering leads us to the true interpretation of them. By the last days, we understand here the end of the Jewish state; when the temple, city, and polity, were to be all destroyedtogether,andtheRomanswouldspoilthemof all their possessions. Daniel's four monarchies are, according to Mede, the grand calendar in holy scripture, to which the mention of times and seasons in the New Testament ought in general to be referred. These four monarchies were to succeed each other: that was the long line of time; and under the last, (that is, the Roman monarchy,) the kingdom of God was to be erected: the seventy weeks prophesied of, Daniel 9:24 were to be a shorter line of time; cut out of the longer line. And the last days mentioned here, and in the parallel passages of the New Testament, were the conclusion of the seventy weeks, or shorter line of time; when the city and sanctuary, or temple, were to be destroyed with an utter desolation. See 1 Timothy 4:1. Heaping up treasures when that desolation was approaching, could turn to no account, because they had very little or no time to enjoythem; for the rich Jews in their dispersions did many of them share the same fate with those in Judea and Jerusalem.
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Which is of you kept back by fraud,— This was one of their wicked methods of heaping up riches; they were not only covetous and uncharitable, but also unjust: the phrase, crieth, &c. seems to be taken from the customs of the Eastern people, who, when they have suffered an injury, go to the judge with a horrible clamour,torequirevengeance;whichloudclamourtheyrepeatwithgreatvehemence, if the judge seems slow to wrath and punishment; and the same custom prevailed in the dark and feudal ages of Christianity. Those sins are said to cry unto heaven, which so affect the guilty, as to seem with a loud voice to require vengeance from God. It is an observation of the Hebrews, "that when God judgeth his creatures, he is called Aleim, GOD; when he doth mercy unto the world, he is called Jehovah: but when he warreth against the wicked, he is called Sabaoth, the Lord of Hosts;"—the last part of which rule holds in this place.
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Ye have lived in pleasure, &c.— Ye have passed your lives in luxury and voluptuousness; ye have satiated yourselves [every day] as on a day of sacrifice.
It is well known that at their high festivals, or when they offered their eucharistical sacrifices, the Jews used to fare sumptuously, and devote the day to feasting and joy; and very often would drink to excess. How justly was their luxury condemned, when the rich persons here addressed, pampered themselves every day, as other persons used commonly to do on the day of a high sacrifice and festival;—while, notwithstanding their plenty, they neglected the poor, and hoarded up riches to spend luxuriously upon themselves!
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Ye have condemned and killed the Just;— By τον Δικαιον, the Just, some understand our Lord Jesus Christ, who is so termed, Acts 3:14 and in other places. Him the Jews murdered, and he did not resist them; and they did it at the timeof a great festival, when their hearts were elevated with high living and jollity; for which crime particularly wrath was now swiftly coming upon them. All these things maybe alledged in favour of that interpretation;—but I scarce think, says Benson, that the apostle did here refer to the crucifixion of our Lord: for it was chiefly the Jerusalem Jews, and not they of the dispersions, who were his murderers; and how often is the singular number put for the plural?—I should therefore choose to interpret this text of any of the Christians put to death by means of the Jews, who were dispersed among the nations. Our Saviour prophesied that his disciples should meet with such treatment; and St. Paul confessed that, while he was a Jew, he had persecuted some of the Christians to death. Some of the Jews likewise of the dispersions were the occasion of stoning St. Paul himself, till they thought he had been dead. It may possibly be some confirmation that by the Just is meant, not our Lord, but his disciples; that in ch. James 2:6 rich men are represented as then continuing to oppress the Christians by their power, and as dragging them before the heathen tribunals to condemn them: and none were more forward to do this than the unbelieving Jews. Michaelis supports the common interpretation by supposing the relative ος, who, to be understood;—who doth not resist you. His reasons are, first, That it was usual with the Hebrews, and much more with the Arabs, to omit the pronoun relative; which, among the Europeans, is particularly common with the English. Secondly, It was the greatest reproach to kill the innocent, who did not so muchasresist. And then, from commending the Just Man, who had patiently resigned his life, the apostle proceeds torecommend patience to the surviving Christians, from the consideration of all that he had said, James 5:1-6.
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Brethren,— It would have been exceedingly strange if the Christians had condemned and killed any of their own number: what is said, therefore, James 5:6 as well as several other things, prove that James 5:1-6 is an apostrophe to the unbelieving Jews; who were wicked themselves, and persecuted the Christians, but were to come to a speedy and exemplary destruction. His beginning this exhortation with Brethren, and recommending patience to them, from the consideration of the approaching destruction of their rich and potent adversaries, seems a plain intimation that the apostle is turning his address to the Christians, to whom, in the preceding verses, he had not been speaking directly; for they were in a suffering state, and were not in general the persecutors of others. See ch. James 2:6-7.
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For the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.— The apostle by this phrase seems plainly to mean, the coming of the Romans to destroy or carry away captive the Jewish nation: for what God in his providence promises, he himself is very often said to do. See Matthew 27:33.Mark 13:29. Luke 21:20. Indeed it may be asked, What other coming of the Lord was then drawing nigh? Is it not intimated, James 5:1 that very great evils were just ready to fall upon the rich Jews? That they would speedily be punished for their covetousness and luxury, and particularly for their persecuting the Christians?—And it was about a year after the writing of this epistle that the Jewish wars actually broke out, which ended in the destruction of the Jewish nation. Well therefore might it now be said, that the coming of the Lord drew nigh. This was a very proper motive by which to excite the Christians to patience; for the Jews were their principal persecutors, and their destruction approached swiftly. James 5:9. Grudge not, &c.] Μη στεναζετε, groan not, from anger or envy; complain not. Impatience toward each other is here condemned, as impatience under the treatment which they met with from their enemies and persecutors is condemned in the preceding verse; and the Judge might be at the door, ready to condemn the guilty among the Christians, as well as to avenge them of their adversaries.
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Take, my brethren, the prophets, &c.— "You may think that your present calamities are great and heavy, and so indeed they are; but your case is not singular; (Lamentations 1:12.) others have suffered as much before you, and those some of the most eminent and holy men. Learn, therefore, from their example, to suffer ill usage with patience."
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Behold, we count them happy which endure.— "Do we look upon them as forsaken of God, because they were persecuted for righteousness' sake? Or will any wise person say, that their sufferings were any token of the divine displeasure?—On the contrary, Behold we applaud such martyrs and confessors, and pronounce those happy, who have bravely endured the greatest injuries which tyrants and persecutors could inflict, rather than part with their integrity." The apostle speaks of this not only as his own judgment, but that of all Christians who judged aright, and understood the nature of things. And it is indeed a judgment in which all Christians should be agreed. The word Μακαριζειν signifies to pronounce or account others blessed; but the Papists, to countenance their practice of beatifying, or making saints in the church, have translated this text,—Behold, we beatify those who have suffered with constancy.
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But above all things—swear not,— Some consider this verse as joined to what goes before, to intimate that they were to be aware of impatience, and particularly as it might lead them into rash and profane swearing, as men in a passion are more apt to swear. The δε, but, favours this connection; though as the word δε is often used by way of transition only, and this has so much the air of a general rule, it may well be considered as such, and as distinct from the rest. They were not to swear profanely at any time, either in affliction or prosperity; and accordingly the apostle here very strongly condemns the vice in general. When he says, Above or before all things, swear not, it is not to be supposed that he reckons this as the greatest of all crimes; but he condemns it in an earnest manner, as one very great vice to which the Jews were remarkably addicted, and as a horrid habit which required much care and attention to shake it off. See what has been said on this subject, Matthew 5:33-37.
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Is any among you afflicted? &c.— These two directions concerning prayer when they were afflicted, and praise when they were easy and cheerful, seem to refer to private devotion, and not to their public worship: for if one person was afflicted, and another quite easy, what might suit one, would, according to this rule of the apostle, have been unfit for the other: accordingly it is put in the singular number.
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James 5:14.— In the first age of Christianity, the miraculous gifts of the Spirit were very common: it appears too, that when the Christians behaved very unbecoming their character and profession, God sent down some diseases upon them, as a punishment for those particular sins. Such of them as laboured under sickness or other bodily disorders on that account, are here advised to send for the elders of the Christian church, who had generally the power of miraculously healing diseases; that upon the repentance of the sick person, and the inspired prayer of the elders, such diseases might be cured, as one proof that the sins which had occasioned them were remitted.
Is any sick? &c.— The word 'Ασθενεν does not always signify "to labour under a mortal disease," though it appears to do so in this place; for it seems to be supposed of the sick person, concerning whom the apostle is here speaking, that he would have died of that particular disorder, unless his death had been prevented by a miraculous cure. Who the elders were, see on 1 Timothy 5:17. Let them pray over him, says the apostle, having anointed him with oil. In the former part of this direction there seems to be an allusion to the laying on of hands, which was used sometimes in the working of miraculous cures, according to our Lord's order, Mark 16:18. The elders were first to anoint the sick person with oil, and afterwards to lay their hands upon him, and pray for his miraculous cure and recovery. When our Lord first sent out his apostles, we find that they anointed with oil many sick persons, and healed them, Mark 6:13. At other times, those who worked miracles, laid their hands on the persons whom they cured. Acts 9:17. And together with laying on of hands they joined prayer. Acts 28:8. And finally, at other times, they used no external rites, but only spake some words in prayer and otherwise. The anointing with oil,—the laying on of hands,—the making their shadow pass over, and the like, were none of them the causes or means of the cure, but only the external signs, to denote that the miracle was performed in testimony of their mission and doctrine. For the same reason our Lord put his finger into the ears of a deaf man, whom he miraculously cured; and touched the tongue of one that was dumb, when he gave him the power of speech; and put clay on the eyes of one that was blind, when he restored him to his sight. These were none of them causes of the cures, but signs and intimations of Jesus's doing them; and that they were not casual things, or done in the common course of Providence; but by an extraordinary and miraculous power, and as clear attestations to the divine mission and doctrine of him who did them.
It may with propriety be observed upon the passage before us, that one of the greatest abuses of the Christian doctrine has arisen from applying what was peculiar to some persons and cases, to all Christians in general. What though many or most of the things in this epistle be applicable to us, or other Christians in later ages,—will it thence follow, that every thing ought to be so applied? In the same gospel, or epistle, nay, sometimes in the same chapter, we find some rules and directions peculiar to the persons who could work miracles, and others common to all Christians: we ought therefore always to use our reason in interpreting Scripture, and from the nature of the thing determine which are peculiar directions, and which are general rules, and standing precepts. We may, indeed, from the abundance of passages in the New Testament which speak of the miraculous gifts, gather the many and clear evidences which must have attended the first planting of the Christian religion; and thence, as from a thousand other sources, we may very justly conclude, that our religion is true and divine: but we ought not to regard any thing as a rule and direction for us to observe, unless it agree to our circumstances, as well as to the circumstances of the persons to whom it was first and more immediately addressed. This general observation is applicable to many points in divinity; but is made at present with a view to the case before us, and because the church of Rome has represented this anointing of persons with oil in the name of the Lord, as a standing ordinance in the Christian church, which they have termed "The sacrament of extreme unction," and which they would support from the words of the apostle in this text. But they have misapplied the apostle's direction more ways than one: for, first, according to St.
James, the sick person was to be anointed in prospect of a cure; whereas they anoint persons in the agonies of death, and when there is no prospect of their recovery. Secondly, The anointing which the apostle here speaks of, was in order to a miraculous cure of some great bodily disorder; whereas they pretend that they do it to cleanse the soul of the dying person from the remainders of sin, and to remove what would obstruct its passage into heaven. Thirdly, The anointing with oil was not constantly used in working miraculous cures upon sick persons; whereas they are for applying their extreme unction to all Christians in their last moments.
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The prayer of faith shall save, &c.— By the prayer of faith must here be understood, a prayer proceeding from a firm persuasion of mind, that God would assist them miraculously to cure the diseased person. Neither the apostles, elders, nor any other of the Christians, could work miracles, but when the Spirit saw proper, and by an impulse intimated as much to them. For that reason we find strangers were sometimes healed, while some of the Christians continued to labour under sickness, and other great bodily disorders. Philippians 2:26-27. 1 Timothy 5:23. 2 Timothy 4:20. But when they had the prayer of faith, they might with assurance proceed to work a miracle; and such miraculous cures, though worked uponChristians, were very likely means to convert Jews or Heathens, as well as to confirm and establish in their most holyfaith such as had already believed. The phrase shall or will save the sick, means "will prevail with God to cure the diseased person." See Genesis 21:7. The salvation here spoken of, was not eternal salvation, but a miraculous saving from, or curing of some particular bodily disorder:—and so it is explained in the next verse, Pray for one another, that ye may be healed. It is not here said that the anointing with oil, or the laying on of hands, would cure them; nor is it intimated that the elders of themselves could effect the cure: but, upon the prayer of faith, the Lord will raise him up, the miracle being carefully ascribed to the power of our Lord Jesus Christ. The word Καν, rendered and if, in the next clause, might be rendered more properly although; for the apostle does not speak of it as a dubious thing, whether such a person had committed sin or not, but seems evidently to go all along upon the supposition of his having committed some one or more great crimes, which had occasioned that particular disorder. See Deuteronomy 28:15; Deuteronomy 28:68. John 9:2. 1 Corinthians 11:29-32. 1 John 5:16-17. The Popish doctrine of the necessity of absolution by a priest, in order to the remission of the sins of private persons, and their obtaining eternal salvation, has no more foundation here, than their fictitious sacrament of Extreme Unction. See on 1 Corinthians 12:9.
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Confess your faults, &c.— Confess therefore your faults, &c. See Mills, and Wetstein. They were to make a confession of those particular sins which had drawn some remarkable diseases upon them, as a token of the divine displeasure for their unchristian conduct. Their sending for the elders of the church plainly supposes that they had faith to be healed; and the confession of their sins, which they are here ordered to make, as plainly supposes that they were penitent: for, unless they repented of those particular sins which had occasioned the disorders under which they laboured, it does notappear that they obtained a miraculous cure. The confession was to be made by a sick person, in order to his being cured; not by a person in health, in order to his obtaining eternal salvation: and it was to be made to the elders, or to any other Christians, who had the power of miraculously curing diseases, that they might pray for the pardon of those particular crimes, and that the penitent might be released from the punishment under which he had fallen. From these considerations it appears, that the popish doctrine of auricular confession has as little foundation here, as their sacrament of extreme unction, and the necessity of sacerdotal absolution, in order to the remission of sins. They would build several of their novel doctrines on the concluding part of this epistle; but they are like castles in the air, without any foundation or support. From this direction of the apostle, Confess your faults, &c. they have introduced the necessity of private Christians confessing all their sins to a priest; that they may obtain his authoritative absolution, and may be assured of being fully pardoned. By this means, they have brought the people into a blind subjection to, and slavish dependance upon the clergy; by this means they have enticed women to lewdness, and taught vice to the innocent; have dived into the secrets of families and cities, of courts and kingdoms; have betrayed princes and states, as well as private persons, and done infinite mischief in the world: whereas, according to this direction of the apostle, the same persons are here ordered to confess their faults one to another, who in the next sentence are ordered to pray one for another. The priest ought therefore to confess to the people, and desire their prayers and absolution, as well as the people to the priest, in order to have his prayers and absolution; for it is said, Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another.
The effectual fervent prayer, &c.— The prayer of a righteous man under the divine impulse avails much. The word ενεργουμενη signifies, "wrought by the energyof the Spirit." The apostle, says Benson, means a prayer wrought in a man by the Spirit of God, or which proceeded from a prophetic impulse, and by which he knew what success he should have; as plainly appears from what is said in the preceding notes, concerning the miraculous cures which were effected upon such a prayer, and likewise from what isafterwards said concerning the prayer of Elijah. See Ephesians 3:20. Colossians 1:29. 1 Corinthians 12:11.
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Elias was a man subject to like passions, &c.— 'Ομοιοπαθης, A man of a like frail and mortal composition; liable to the evils and afflictions of life, and subject to death, as well as other men: and his saying in this place, that Elijah wasfrail and mortal like other men, seems to have been in order to anticipate an inquiry like that recorded, Sir 48:3-4. "Elijah (they might have said) was an extraordinary prophet; and at last translated without dying; whereas we are only frail men; Why therefore should we expect such favours as were granted to him?" To obviate such a plea, the apostle takes notice, that Elijah was a man only, and not an angel; liable to many calamities, and naturally mortal, like other men; though by the extraordinary favour of God, he was actually translated: and as he was only a weak mortal man, it was not to be thought that he worked his miracles of himself. They proceeded from a divine power, and were effected in answer to his prayer to God. Upon the earth, would more properly be rendered, Upon the land; that is, of Judea. See on Luke 4:25.
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If any of you do err from the truth,— The Christian revelation is often called truth, as containing themost important truths, such as lead men to holiness and happiness. That manner of life which the gospel prescribes, is here compared to a plain path; and such as departed from it into the crooked paths of unholiness or vice, were carefully to be brought under the power of Divine grace into the right way again, by the friendly admonitions and good example of those who had not wandered out of the way. See Galatians 6:1. 2 Timothy 2:24-25.
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From the error of his way— This seems to be in its primary sense the same which is called the committing of sin, James 5:15 for the person erring is here called a sinner; but the expression undoubtedly includes the conversion of any unawakened person to the life of God. A man may err from the truth, by apostacy from the Christian religion, or by a wicked life, and embracing such corrupt doctrines as willadminister to and support his vices, or by an alienation in any way from the life of God. 1 Timothy 6:3. &c. Titus 1:1. In this text it cannot signify apostacy from the Christian doctrine, but some other crime committed bya professing Christian, or his withdrawing from that union with God which he before experienced; for he is called τις εν υμιν, one among you; that is, one who had not cast off the Christian profession, though he had acted in a high degree contrary to it. The phrase of covering sin is found Psalms 32:1; Psalms 35:2.Proverbs 10:12. 1 Peter 4:8 and it is used for one man's kindly overlooking the faults of another; 1 Peter 4:8. It is here to be understood of God's not taking any notice of the faults of justified souls, so as to punish them: when they had repented of and forsaken them, and obtained remission for them, they would be, as it were, covered up and hid from the view of God. The same thing is to be understood by the phrases made use of Psalms 103:12.Isaiah 38:17; Isaiah 43:25.Micah 7:18. Though, by reclaiming a sinner from the error of his way, we may prevent his being punished, and so cover his sins; yet that will not cover any of our own sins, in which we persist impenitently. If we ourselves be indeed, through divine grace, truly holy, we may, by converting others, increase our own reward; Daniel 12:3.; but converting others willnot cover any of those sins which we ourselves have not repented of and forsaken.
Inferences.—Let rich men read the address of the apostle to persons in their circumstances, with holy awe, and with a jealousy over themselves, lest their present prosperity be succeeded by misery, and their joy by weeping and howling; as it undoubtedly will be, if wealth be unjustly gotten, or sordidly hoarded up, or luxuriously employed to pamper their appetites, while the truest and noblest use of it, the relief of the poor, and the benefit of mankind, is forgotten. Especially have they reason to tremble who abuse wealth and power as the instruments of oppression; soon will all their stores be wasted, soon will they become poor and indigent, and find a terrible account remaining, when all the gaieties and pleasures of life are utterly vanished. In the mean time, the saints of God may be among the poor and the oppressed; but let them wait patiently for the day of the Lord, for his coming is near. They sow in tears, but let them comfort their hearts with the view of the harvest; in like manner as the husbandman demands not immediately the fruits of that seed which he has committed to the furrows. Adored be that kind Providence, which gives the former and the latter rain in its season. To him, from whom we have received the bounties of nature, let us humbly look for the blessings of grace, and trust him to fulfil all his promises, both for time and eternity.
And may it ever be remembered by all, and especially by the ministers of the gospel, of how great importance it is to be instrumental in saving a soul from death, an immortal soul from everlasting death; that so they may be animated to the most zealous and laborious efforts for that blessed purpose; and think themselves richly rewarded, though it were for the otherwise unsuccessful labours of a whole life, by succeeding even in a single instance.
Whatever trials we may meet with in this or any other part of duty, may we take the prophets of old, and the apostles of our Lord, for examples of suffering adversity and patience; especially remembering their Lord, and ours; remembering how abundantly the patience of good men has been rewarded, the end of the Lord with respect to holy Job, and many others, who have trod in his steps in succeeding ages; and remembering especially, that the Judge stands at the door, that in a very little time he will appear, not only to put an end to the trials of his faithful servants, but to crown their virtues and graces! In the mean time, the bowels of his compassion are abundant, and he will not be wanting in communicating all necessary consolations and supports. May we be so happy as to be acquainted with those of devotion, that in our affliction we may pray, and in our cheerfulness sing psalms; that we may know by blessed experience the efficacy of such a temper to soften the sorrows of life, and to sweeten its enjoyments. And as we desire to be visited of God in our afflictions, may we with Christian sympathy be ready to visit and relieve others in their sickness, or other kinds of distress. It is indeed the special office of the elders of the church, who should be sent for upon such occasions with readiness, and who, if they be worthy of their office, will attend with pleasure. But it is not their office alone. Let us be ready to pray for each other, in faith and charity; and where offences have been committed, let there be a frank and candid acknowledgment of them on the one side, and as hearty a forgiveness on the other. In a word, let the efficacy of the fervent prayer of the righteous be often reflected on, to excite fervour, and to engage to righteousness, and to lead us to honour those who maintain such a character, and who offer such petitions and supplications; that God may, in answer to their requests, shower down his blessings upon us, that our land may yield its increase, that righteousness may spring up out of the earth, and that in every sense, God, as our own God, may bless us. (Psalms 67:6-7; Psalms 85:11.)
REFLECTIONS.—1st, The apostle addresses himself,
1. To the rich oppressors. Go to now, ye rich men, whose portion is in this world only, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you, both temporal and eternal. Your riches are corrupted, your hoarded stores putrify; and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver is cankered, laid by in useless bags; and the rust of them, which by time they have contracted like iron, shall be a witness against you, to upbraid your covetousness and avarice; and shall eat your flesh as it were fire, bringing down divine vengeance upon your guilty heads: ye have heaped treasure together for the last days, to provide for distant years to come, but they shall be a prey to the destroyers of your city and nation, and be to you a treasure of wrath against the day of wrath. Behold, the hire of the labourers which have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth against you for judgment, and the cries of them which have reaped, complaining of your injustice and oppression, are entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth, who will avenge their quarrel. Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; indulging every brutish appetite, and making provision for the flesh to fulfil the lusts thereof: ye have nourished your hearts as in a day of slaughter; faring sumptuously on the spoils of iniquity, fattening yourselves as beasts for the slaughter. Ye have condemned and killed the just, both the Lord himself, and many of his righteous servants; and he doth not resist you, meekly and patiently resigned to suffer. Note; (1.) Though wicked men may prosper for a while, God keeps a strict account of all their ways, and will bring them to judgment for these things. (2.) Riches are to be used, not to be hoarded in bags, or barns, or wardrobes; then they prove a blessing, else they are only treasures of wrath. (3.) Though the poor may groan under the yoke of oppression without present redress, there is one who heareth their appeal, and will vindicate their cause. (4.) Pleasure, luxury, and indulgence, may for a while lull the sinner's soul asleep; but he will soon be awakened from his short-lived dream, and startled with the fearful looking-for of judgment, when too late he will begin to weep and howl in vain.
2. He addresses himself to the persecuted poor saints. [1.] Be patient, therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord, who will come, and will not tarry, to espouse your cause, and rescue you from the power of your oppressors. Behold the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain, expecting the desired harvest, when he hopes to reap the fruit of all his toils. Be ye also patient; establish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh, when your redemption from every misery will be completed for ever. [2.] Grudge not one against another, brethren; groan not under your sufferings through envy, fretfulness, or desire to revenge; lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door; and that consideration should powerfully plead with you to wait with patience, and refer yourselves entirely to his determination. [3.] Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, faithfully discharging their commission, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience, whose noble behaviour bravely imitate under the like persecutions. Behold, we count them happy which endure with meekness and resignation the will of God, because their end must be peace and blessedness eternal. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, how eminently exemplary, and have seen the end of the Lord, the happy issue which God put to his troubles; or that perfect pattern of submission to the will of God which Jesus himself shewed under all his sufferings: that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy, sympathising with his suffering saints, and delivering them out of all their afflictions. We need not therefore be discouraged under any cross; the victory is secured for every faithful saint, and the end of it shall be their eternal glory.
2nd, The apostle,
1. Warns them against all profane swearing. But 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: except in solemn cases, where an appeal to God is lawful, never exceed a simple affirmation or denial in your conversation, lest ye fall into condemnation, and bring guilt upon your own souls. Note; Swearing is of all sins most unprofitable; and whilst it offers the higher affront to God, affords not even a momentary pleasure to the offender.
2. He teaches them how to behave in adversity and prosperity. Is any among you afflicted, let him pray, humbly spreading his case before the Lord, that he may obtain the needful relief. Is any merry? in prosperous circumstances, and happy, in his soul, let him sing psalms, and praise the gracious giver of every good gift.
3. Is any sick among you? 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, as the symbol of the miraculous power with which the elders were invested; and the prayer of faith shall save and recover the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, which may have brought such a visitation upon him, they shall be forgiven him. Note; The removal of sickness is a great mercy, but the pardon of sin still far greater, for which we are especially called upon to offer up our prayers.
4. Confess your faults one to another, and take shame to yourselves, where you have offended your brother. Or if any thing lies particularly upon your conscience, communicate it to some pious friend, or able minister of Christ, and pray one for another over the sins you confess and bewail, that they may be healed, their guilt pardoned, and their power subdued.
5. He shews the great efficacy of prayer. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much; a memorable example of which we have in the case of Elias, who was a man subject to like passions as we are, liable to many infirmities; and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain, as a punishment upon Ahab and rebellious Israel, and a means to convince them of the greatness of their sins; and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months; so long the land of Israel was parched with drought, and a severe famine followed. And he prayed again, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit; and as the effect of Elijah's prayer was so wonderful, we may comfortably be assured, that when we, like him, pray with faith and fervency, our prayers too shall receive an answer of peace.
6. He concludes with warmly recommending a zeal for the conversion of men's souls. Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, in principle or in practice, backsliding from Christ, and one convert him, recovering him back again to the great Shepherd's fold; let him know, that he which converteth a sinner from the error of his ways, shall save a soul from death, preventing that eternal ruin which must otherwise have ensued, and shall hide a multitude of sins, which, when a sinner is converted, shall be forgiven and blotted out, as well as be the means of preventing all the evil which must have ensued from his ill example and influence. Note; (1.) Nothing is so valuable an acquisition as an immortal soul: one such won to Christ is better than the riches of both the Indies. (2.) Death eternal, of body and soul, is the wages of sin; and unless we are saved from it now, we must be undone for ever.*
* The Reader is referred to the different Authors mentioned often already.