The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Bishop MacEvily’s Commentary on James 1:17-21

Posted by Dim Bulb on May 5, 2012

This post includes the Bishop’s summary of all of chapter 1, followed by the notes on verses 17-21. Also, I’ve included the Bishop’s paraphrase (in purple) of the text he is commenting on.

A Summary of James Chapter 1~St. James commences this chapter, with the Apostolical salutation (1). He, next, exhorts the converted Jews, to whom this Epistle is directly addressed, to receive with joy, the different afflictions with which they were visited (2, 3). He encourages them to practice the virtue of patience in all its perfection (4), and points out the source from which the true wisdom to understand, and practically conform to these admonitions, is to be derived, and the means of obtaining it, viz., Prayer; one of the conditions of which he mentions (4-7). He next alludes specially to the temptations peculiar to the rich and to the poor, and points out the remedies to be adopted both by one and the other (9-11). He points out the reward, in store for patient andpersevering suffering (12).

He, next, obviates a difficulty which might arise from a false conception of his doctrine, owing to the different respects under which “temptations” might be considered. He says that, viewed in the light of seductions to sin, God is not their cause, but rather man’s own corrupt passions, which, when indulged, end in death (13-16).

Havingpointed out the cause of moral evil, he next proceeds to point out the source of all good (17), and refers particularly to one great blessing for which we are indebted to God’s pure bounty, viz.—our regeneration and call to the faith (18).

He next delivers wholesome instructions regarding the government of the tongue, particularly in reference to religious teaching, and assails the fundamental error, then prevalent, probably deduced from a false conception of the words of St. Paul to the Romans, respecting the sufficiency of faith alone—an error, the refutation of which was one of the principal objects of this Epistle (22). He shows by an example the in-utility of faith without good works (23, 24), and points  out certain works as necessary (26, 27).

Jas 1:17  Every best gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no change nor shadow of alteration.

Far from being the author of evil, it is from Him-the source of all light, physical or moral, natural or supernatural-every good and escellent gift, whether of nature or grace, alone proceeds, descending from his heavenly throne; and, unlike the great luminary, by which light is diffused throughout this earth, and in which there is daily change of position, in his apparent course through the heavens, and alternating vicissitudinous change of shadow, in his annual passage from tropic to tropic, in God there is no change in the distribution of his gifts; now dispensing good, again, evil. He, the ever unchangeable author of all good, dispenses to all who pray to him, with a liberal and plentiful hand.

Having shown the source and true cause of evil, St. James now points out the
origin of all good. This comes “from above,” from heaven, where God in a special manner dwells, from whom “every best gift,” (in Greek, πασα δοσις αγαθη, every good giving), “and perfect gift” proceeds, by which it is implied, that not alone every good gift, but the very giving thereof, comes from God. Some interpreters say, that “every best gift,” and “perfect gift,” refer to the same thing, and are repeated for the sake of greater emphasis. Others make the former refer to all natural gifts, and the latter, which is called “perfect,” or superexcellent, to the supernatural gifts of grace. In this verse, two things are asserted, viz., that everything coming from God is good and excellent, which refutes the impious assertion of Simon Magus, afterwards more fully evolved by the Manichees; and secondly, that God alone is the source of all good, which refutes the errors of Pagan philosophy, afterwards revived by the Pelagians. “The father of lights ;” he is called ” father,” because the first source and author ” of lights,” which may regard the natural lights of the sun, moon, and stars. Light is emblematic of good, as darkness is, of evil, or “lights” may be understood of the intellectual, spiritual lights, whether of nature, grace, or glory; and from God, as their great source, proceed all the good gifts, represented by the light of the heavenly bodies, and the gifts of intellectual knowledge, whether natural or supernatural, actual or habitual. To him, then, we should have recourse, in order perfectly to understand these sublime paradoxes put forward by St. James, regarding the blessings of tribulation, and the joy they should cause in us (verses 2, 3), &c., and as father of all light and knowledge, he will enlighten our understanding to perceive them.

“With whom there is no change,” &c. The Apostle represents God, as a great luminous sun or body of light, diffusing his radiance and blessings throughout all creation; but, he removes from him all the imperfections of our present sun. He need not change from place to place, as our sun, who in his apparent daily motion, makes his place different at morning, noon, and night. To this, the word “change” most probably refers, which, in reference to God, means that there is no change in him, in reference to the distribution of his gifts, now dispensing good; again, evil. “Nor shadow of vicissitude,” which, in reference to the natural sun, refers to his annual motion, when he apparently moves towards the tropics, and from them; and according to his proximity or distance are the shadows cast by him, shortened or lengthened. It is to this alternate lengthening and lessening of the different shadows, that the Greek words for “shadow of alteration,” τροπης αποσκιασμα, refer. In reference to God, it means, that God is the constant and ever liberal source of good, not dealing it out at one time with a sparing, at another, with a liberal hand.

Jas 1:18  For of his own will hath he begotten us by the word of truth, that we might be some beginning of his creature.

And in confirmation and illustration of his being the unchangeable author of every good and perfect gift, we may adduce the fact, that of his free and gratuitous will, without any claim or title of justice on our part, he has given us a new spiritual birth in baptism, whereof faith, conceived from his revealed word of truth, is an indispensable condition; so that by our vocation to the faith we are become, in a certain sense, the choicest and first fruits of creation.

As an illustration of the good gifts conferred on us by God, the Apostle adduces that most excellent of good gifts, our spiritual regeneration in baptism. “Of his own will,” I.e., without any merits of ours; and hence, this was on his part a perfectly gratuitous gift. “Hath he begotten us,” which, most probably, refers to our spiritual birth in baptism, whereby a new spiritual existence was conferred on us. “By the word of truth,” may refer to the form of baptism; or, more probably, to the word of God, conceived through faith, which in adults is an indispensable condition, for receiving a new spiritual regeneration in baptism. The same idea is, very likely, conveyed here, as in chapter 5:26, to the Ephesians: “By the laver of water, in the word of life.”
“That we might be some beginning,” in Greek, απαρχην, first fruits, “of his creature,” may refer to the members of the Church, who are selected by God, in preference to all other men, as his choice portion out of the rest of the mass of mankind. Others understand the words, of those who were first called to the Church and the faith; they were taken from the Jews, and they were the first fruits of such, as were, through their instrumentality in all future ages, to be associated to the Christian Church.

Jas 1:19  You know, my dearest brethren. And let every man be swift to hear, but slow to speak and slow to anger.

This is a gift of the excellence of which you are yourselves fully conscious, and for which, my dearet brethren, you must feel duly grateful. And let every person amongst you be ready and prepared to listen with docility to the word of truth already referred to, and be tardy in acting the part of teacher in giving utterance to it. And let each one control all feelings, and every expression of anger, into which those who have an inordinate pruriency for speaking and disputing with others are apt to fall.

“You know, my dearest,” &c. “You know;” in some Greek copies, it is ωστε
wherefore; in the Codex Vaticanus, ιστε, “you know.”

“And let every man be swift to hear, &c.” St. James now proceeds to deliver wholesome instructions regarding the proper government of the tongue, and the repressing of all feelings of anger. It is commonly supposed by Commentators, that St. James here refers to the abuse of the gift of tongues, accorded to many in the infancy of the Church, to which reference is made (1 Cor 14). The Jewish converts had an inordinate wish, after their conversion, to display the same power of speaking, which they exercised in the synagogue, to the confusion and disorder of the Christian assemblies. St. James cautions them against this abuse. “And slow to anger,” which a spirit of disputation is apt to engender. No doubt, the admonition of St. James here applies to Christians at all times, and recommends a due regard to silence on all occasions, together with a proper regulation of the tongue, and a restraint on the impulse of anger. The admonition conveyed in this verse, together with that subjoined in verse 22, forms a theme whereon St. James dilates, up to chapter 4:12, with the exception of a brief digression, at chapter 2:1-13.

Jas 1:20  For the anger of man worketh not the justice of God.

And first, regarding anger. The man who acts under the influence of anger, far from performing works consistent with real justice, by which we are justified before God, will, on the corU;rary, perform bad works, by which true justice is lost.

Inverting the order of treating the admonitions of the preceding verse, he first refers to anger. In the words of this verse more is conveyed than is expressed; by it is meant, that not only an angry man does not perform good works whereby “the justice of God,” i.e., true justice, is acquired and preserved, but that he performs wicked, evil works.

Jas 1:21  Wherefore, casting away all uncleanness and abundance of naughtiness, with meekness receive the ingrafted word, which is able to save your souls.

Wherefore, in order to live up to the new spiritual birth you have received (verse 18), and more effectually to repress anger, laying aside all uncelanness and defilement of sin, all impure and unclean affections, which defile the soul, but particularly the redundant affections of malevolence and malice, in the spirit of meekness, receive and foster the doctrines of truth already implanted among you, which alone can save you.

He now recommends them to live up to their new spiritual existence (verse 18); and in order thereto, they should avoid evil, by laying aside their vicious affections; and do good, by receiving the word of God with meekness, &c. (verse 21). “All uncleanness.” The Greek word, ρυπαριαν, literally regards the filth adhering to the body. Hence, some understand it of the sordid vice of avarice; others, of impurity. It more probably refers to sinfulness of all kinds, whereby the soul is defiled. “And abundance of malice.” In this is specified the viciousness in general, referred to in the preceding words. It probably regards feelings of malevolence towards our neighbour. This is a source of anger. In the word “abundance,” is conveyed an idea borrowed from agriculture. The husbandman carefully prunes away all superfluous and redundant weeds, whereby the earth is exhausted, and the good seed choked up; so they, too, should carefufly cut away all the noxious affections, of which human nature, in its present fallen state, is so prolific; which, like tares, choke and prevent the growth of the good seed of God’s word and grace in their hearts. “With meekness, receive the ingrafted word.” In the place of vindictive, revengeful desires, they should substitute a spirit of meekness, and in this spirit receive, or rather foster, the doctrines of truth, which, to distinguish them from those truths known by the light of reason, are termed “ingrafted.” In these latter words the Apostle inculcates the admonition given in the first part of verse 19, “be swift to hear,” &c.

2 Responses to “Bishop MacEvily’s Commentary on James 1:17-21”

  1. […] Bishop MacEvily’s Commentary on James 1:17-21. […]

  2. […] Bishop MacEvily’s Commentary on James 1:17-21. […]

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