D. M. PANTON, B.A.
The Epistle of James can truthfully be described as a succession of exploding bombs; a fact which may explain why it is so rarely quoted: its drastic commands are, for conventional religion, nothing short of a revolution. But in this very fact we find a priceless diamond. The shock of disagreeable and costly truth is God’s challenge to us all, a dynamic of heaven on the soul for translating truth into life. God’s ideal for His Church is a much more wonderful life than we may have ever realized, or than we may ever have attained.
take some of the most prominent, and the first relates to class. All class distinction is forbidden in
the Church of Christ. "Ye have regard to him that weareth the fine clothing, and say, Sit thou here in a good
place; and ye say to the poor man, Stand thou there, or sit under my footstool”
(Jas. 2: 3). Bishop Gobat writes:- “The
Our second tremendous danger is the neglect or denial of works. “Wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is barren?” (2: 20). The danger is wonderfully illustrated by the fact that it is the great re-discoverer of justification by faith whom James completely stumbles. Martin Luther not only denied all Divine authority in the Apostle’s letter, and said it had no inspiration, but he pronounced it ‘an epistle of straw’, or, as we should say, trash. He expresses exactly the revolt of many evangelicals [today] against the truths of Christian responsibility. Luther says, “The Epistle lacks all evangelical character.” But faith must be proved by some test, and the test that Scripture propounds is holy works: our root is in Christ, but our fruits are a thousand activities for Him: if we have no fruit whatever, there can be no root; and if we have but little fruit, we are barren. The Apostle states both: (1) “Faith, if it have not works, is dead in itself”, (2) “Faith, apart from works, is barren." If a man is without saving faith, he is a corpse: if a [regenerate] believer is without working faith, he is a barren fruit-tree; and our Lord enforces this truth of no justification for reward without works with terrible emphasis. “Every branch in me” - that is, every living branch, every [eternally] saved soul - “that beareth not fruit, he taketh it away" (John 15:: 2): it is not pruned, for fruit; but removed altogether - by death.
The Apostle so ignites our third danger that it flames in a spiritual blitz. “The tongue is a fire, and is set on fire by hell: it is a restless evil, it is full of deadly poison” (3: 6).* As one writer says:- “The spoken word, like an arrow from the quiver, has its mark. Nothing is more unaccountable than the spell that lurks in the spoken word. A kind word will give courage to a despondent heart; and, struck by a cruel word, a gentle spirit has sobbed itself into the grave.” We are what we speak; Christ Himself is summed up as ‘the Word‘; and the spoken, written, or printed word can be just as powerful after we are dead. A cobra entered a West Indian church during the service. A person present slipped out, procured a weapon, and cut off the snake’s head. After the service, in the crowd that gathered, a native touched the dead snake’s head with his foot. He drew back his foot with a cry of pain; and in an hour he was dead. Poison from the tongue can survive death. So the Apostle says:- “Speak not one against another, brethren” (4: 11). One writer puts it thus:- “Calumnies and reproaches are a fire blown up by the breath of hell. The Devil ‘hath been a liar from the beginning’ (John 8: 44), and an accuser of the brethren, and he loveth to make others like himself. Learn, then, to abhor revilings, contentions, and reproaches, as hell flames: these are but the eruptions of an infernal fire” (J. Bolton). In the beautiful words of David:- “I said, I will take heed of my ways, that I offend not with my tongue; I will keep my mouth with a bridle, when the wicked is before me.”
[* The extraordinarily vivid images and graphic language of this Apostle prove that such language is perfectly permissible, even having (as here) the Holy Spirit’s inspiration: each author is to write in the character and with the gifts that God has given him.]
The language of our fourth peril is no less dynamic. “Ye adulteresses” - become such because he is speaking of the Bride of Christ - “know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God?” (4: 4). Not delight in God’s lovely world, which He has Himself pronounced ‘very good’; but friendship with the fallen, evil, human world: worldly interests - politics, art, science, war; worldly pursuits - wealth, fame, power, rank; worldly pleasures - the theatre, the cinema, the dance, the public-house. The Apostle John puts it negatively:- “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2: 15). Love of the world creates, spiritually, a drug-addict. The Bible becomes dull: prayer becomes irksome: worship is abandoned: apostasy is on the doorstep. The words are unutterably solemn:- “Whosoever therefore would be a friend of the world maketh himself an enemy of God."
final danger among those we have selected is named as specially a latter-day
peril. “Go to
now, ye rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are
coming upon you: ye have laid up your treasure in the last days”
(5: 1). How intensely true it is at this moment in the
Apostle’s description of the epoch:- “Ye have nourished your hearts in a day of slaughter."
One of the most drastic words our
Lord ever uttered enforces this truth:- “I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through a
needle’s eye, than for a rich man to
enter into the
One word of the Apostle exceedingly fits the whole situation. “Confess your sins therefore one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The supplication of a righteous man availeth much in its working” - in its effectiveness, its answers (5: 16). In the lovely words of Ambrose:- “Let thy mother the Church weep for thee; let her wash and bathe thy faults with her tears: our Lord doth love that many should become supplicants for one.” This is the golden sequel of it all: we each need the prayers, of us all; and we can all agree to pray for each. And it is James himself who says, “He giveth more grace” (4: 6). Beautifully is the truth put by Archbishop Trench: “The fountain of God’s grace is not a scanty little spring in the desert, round which thirsty travellers meet to strive and struggle, muddying the waters with their feet, pushing one another away, lest those waters be drawn dry by others before they come to partake of them themselves; but a mighty inexhaustible river, on the banks of which all may stand, and of which none may grudge, lest, if others drink largely and freely, there will not remain enough for themselves.”