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 3:16-4:3

Posted by Dim Bulb on September 19, 2012

This post begins with the Fr. MacEvilly’s brief summary analysis of all of chapter 3, followed by his commentary on James 3:16-18. After this comes his summary analysis of chapter 4, followed by his commentary on James 4:1-3. In addition, I’ve included (in purple text) his paraphrasing of the verses he is commenting on.

Summary of James chapter 3~St. James resumes, in this chapter, the subject briefly glanced at (James 1:19, James 1:26) regarding the government of the tongue: and after showing the danger caused by the tongue in teaching, others (James 3:1), he proceeds to treat, in a general way, of the faults committed by means of that member. He says, that by governing the tongue, we show that we can keep all our passions under control (James 3:2). He compares the tongue to the bits of horses and the helms of vessels, also to a small spark of fire, which can set a large quantity of timber in a blaze (James 3:3-6).

He next points out the difficulty, and, consequently, the great care to be employed, in subduing the tongue (James 3:7-8); the monstrous and incompatible uses, to which it is applied (James 3:9-10); and from the analogy of nature, from what is impossible in the natural order, he argues against what is inconsistent and opposed in morals (James 3:11-12).

After a lengthened digression regarding the vices of the tongue, he returns to the subject with which he commenced the chapter, regarding those who wish to act in the capacity of teachers, and shows the qualities with which a teacher of others should be gifted (James 3:13-14). He notes the characters of true and false wisdom (James 3:15-18).

Jas 3:16  For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.

For, bitter envy and contention are the parents of confusion and disorderly conduct of every kind, and of all sorts of wicked works.

“Inconstancy,” i.e., disquietude, tumults, and seditions. St. James proves that the wisdom of the envious is “earthly, sensual, &c,” because it is inconstant and turbulent, creating tumults and seditions, clearly observable in the conduct of the heretics, in all ages, but particularly true of modern reformers, as may be seen from the history of their times. The conclusion which St. James wishes us to derive from this verse is, that men acting under the influence of such a spirit cannot be possessed of true wisdom.

Jas 3:17  But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.

But true wisdom, which descends from above, from the throne of God, is distinguished by opposite qualities and characteristics. First, it inculcates, and disposes to, purity both of soul and body; next, it inculcates, and disposes us to cultivate, as far as possible, peace with all men; it is opposed to all vain display and ostentation, or, it is urbane and affable to all; it is not obstinately wedded to self-opinion and judgment; but, easily persuades us to adopt the good measures and advice proposed by good men; it inclines us interiorly, to take compassion on the wretched and miserable; and prompts us to works of beneficence and charity to the poor, which are the good fruits, springing from the virtue of mercy; it is not precipitate in judging of our neighbor’s actions and intentions; or, it has no respect for persons and parties; it is opposed to all hypocrisy, all intriguing, all affectation of superior sanctity.

Having, in the preceding, described true wisdom negatively, the Apostle now
gives its peculiar distinguishing characteristics, quite the opposite of those, by which false wisdom is distinguished. First, it is “chaste,” opposed to “sensual” (verse 15). “It is peaceable, modest, easy to be persuaded,” three qualities opposed to “devilish,” “easy to be persuaded,” not obstinately inflexible in its own judgment, but “consenting to the good.” There is no word corresponding with this, in the Greek. It is, most probably, inserted in the Vulgate, as a fuller explanation of the words, “easy to be persuaded,” as if to say; by “easily persuaded” is not meant, easily persuaded to either good or bad measures, by either good or bad men; but consenting and easily persuaded to good measures, proposed by good men. It is not unusual for the Vulgate translator, wherever the Greek word is susceptible of a two-fold meaning (as the Greek word here, ευπειθης, is), to give both; hence, for one word in the Greek, we have sometimes two, in the Vulgate.— Vide Epistle to Galatians 5:21-23, &c. “Full of mercy,” &c., opposed to “earthly,” to that selfish spirit of avarice, which makes us close our ears to the wants of the poor, and the relief of the necessitous. “Mercy,” refers to the inward feelings of compassion, “and good fruits,” to the external manifestation of these feelings by good works, which spring from it, as fruits from their root. “Without judging.”—(See Paraphrase). “Without dissimulation,” ανυποκριτος.

Jas 3:18  And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.

And the fruit of increasing merits here, and eternal life hereafter, to be reaped from justice, are sown, not in contention, envy, or strive; but in peace, to be possessed by those only, who cultivate peace both with themselves and with others.

“The fruit of justice,”‘may refer to justice itself, so that the words may mean, that justice itself, as a fruit always increasing, is reaped by those who cultivate peace, or (as in Paraphrase), “the fruit of justice,” may mean the fruit, which the seed of justice produces; viz., eternal life, which proceeds from, and is produced by peace, for such as practice and cultivate it.

A Summary of James, Chapter 4~In this chapter, St. James points out the source of the dispositions which he censures, as opposed to that peace recommended by him in the foregoing chapter—viz., the corrupt passions of the human heart (James 4:1). He shows, in the next place, the utter folly of seeking for true happiness in the gratification of these passions, instead of having recourse by prayer to God, from whom alone true happiness can come (James 4:2). And although they have recourse to God, still their prayer is of no effect, for want of the proper dispositions, either as regards the object of petition, or its motive (James 4:3). He then points out how utterly incompatible are the friendship of God and the opposite friendship of the world, enticing us to commit sin, and desert from God (James 4:4). This he illustrates by a reference to the testimony of Sacred Scriptures (James 4:5), and he mentions the claims God has on our undivided service and love (James 4:6).

He next exhorts them to range themselves under the banners of God, and fight manfully against the devil (James 4:7); and in order to battle in the service of God, as they should, he recommends them to enter on a new life of virtue, to do penance for the past, and practice the virtue of true, unaffected humility (James 4:8-10).

He then cautions them against another vice, springing also from pride—viz., the vice of detraction, and all the other vices of the tongue, whereby our neighbour’s character is unjustly injured. He shows the enormity of detraction; because, the man guilty of it constitutes himself a judge of the law (James 4:11), and intrudes into the province of the Supreme Lawgiver (James 4:12).

He censures another fault of the tongue, common among worldly-minded men, consisting in this: that in giving expression to their future resolves, they speak, as if they reposed their entire reliance on their own strength, without any dependence of the will and adorable Providence of God(James 4:13-17).

Jas 4:1  From whence are wars and contentions among you? Are they not hence, from your concupiscences, which war in your members?

From whence, think you, spring these strifes and contests that exist amongst you? Is it not from the corrupt passions and irregular desires of your hearts, which employ the different members of your bodies, as the instruments of the warfare, which they constantly endeavour to sustain in the soul?

“Wars and contentions” (in the Greek, for “contentions” we have, μαχαι = mache, “fights”), probably refer to the same thing—viz., quarrels and disputes, which may be either of a civil or religious nature, to which latter kind the Jews were particularly prone. Some Commentators refer this also to the teachers—it is better, however, extend it to all Christians; and as these words are written for all times, probably the word “wars” may refer to those which St. James foresaw would take place at a future day, even between Christian states. They all originate in their “concupiscences,” i.e., their unsubdued lusts, “which war in your members,” i.e., which employ the members of the body, viz., the eyes, the ears, the tongue, the hands, &c., as instruments of that warfare, which the unsubdued passions of pride, selfishness, avarice, &€., endeavour eternally to carry on in the soul of man.

Jas 4:2  You covet, and have not: you kill and envy and cannot obtain. You contend and war, and you have not: because you ask not.

(Behold both the utter folly of seeking true happiness in the gratification of your corrupt passions, and the total disappointment in which this gratification ends): for, although you obey the dictates of these corrupt passions, still you cannot secure their object; although you indulge in mortal hatred and envy towards whomsoever you think to obstruct your designs; still, you cannot possess that which you seek. You strive and labour hard in pursuit of happiness, and you cannot find it; because, you have not recourse to the proper means of obtaining from God, from whom alone they can proceed (James 1:17), these real and substantial goods, alone capable of satisfying the cravings of the heart; that means is, fervent and humble prayer.

In this verse, he shows the utter folly of seeking for pleasure and real happiness in the gratification of these concupiscences, since this gratification ends in total disappointment. “You covet,” i.e., indulge these passions, “and have not,” and still you cannot secure the object of their gratification. “You kill and envy and cannot obtain.” For “kill,” the reading in some Greek copies is, “you envy and are jealous.” And this reading Estius thinks would make better sense. The reading followed by the Vulgate, φονευετε και ζηλουτε, “you kill and envy,” has, however, the authority of the best manuscripts, in its favour; and the word “kill,” most likely refers to the will and disposition to commit murder, the guilt of which it entails; rather than to the act, although, even amongst the early Christians, some might possibly be found to commit the deed; and what wonder, was not a Judas found among the twelve Apostles to do worse?

“You contend and war, and you have not, because you ask not,” i.e., you strive and labour hard to gratify your desires; and still, you possess not the happiness, of which you are in search, “because you ask not,” because you have not recourse to God by prayer, to obtain these solid and substantial goods, alone capable of satisfying the cravings of the heart, which come only from Him, who is the source of every good gift (James 1:17).

Jas 4:3  You ask and receive not: because you ask amiss, that you may consume it on your concupiscences.

And although you may have recourse to prayer, it is of no use to you, from a want of the proper dispositions; you ask for what you may waste on the guilty gratification of your corrupt passions, instead of seeking for what will advance your spiritual interests, the concerns of your eternal salvation.

The words of this verse are an answer to an objection which the addressees are supposed to make to St. James; we do ask, and this is of no use for us. St. James answers, that their prayers are fruitless, for want of the proper dispositions, either because the object of their petition is bad, and the required feelings of humility, confidence, and perseverance, are wanting, both of which, as to the object and dispositions of their prayer, are included in the word “amiss:” or, because the motive of their prayer may be bad—their object in begging for temporal goods is, “to consume,” to squander them in gratifying their corrupt passions; to such prayers, God will never lend an ear.


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