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 MacEvilly’s Commentary on James 4:13-17

Posted by Dim Bulb on February 23, 2014

For the Bishop’s brief analysis of James chapter 4 see the post on 4:1-10.

13 But who art thou that judgest thy neighbour? Behold, now you that say: To-day or to-morrow we will go into such a city, and there we will spend a year and will traffic and make our gain. Some translations place the question that opens this verse at the end of the preceding verse.

 But who art thou, what right, or authority or control hast thou over any other, thus to presume to sit in judgment on him? Come on, now, and see how foolish and irreligious is your conduct, in another matter, viz., when relying on your own strength, and without a proper acknowledgment of your dependence on God’s holy will and Providence, you say: to-day or to-morrow we shall go into such a city, and remain there, for a year, in traffic and in pursuit of gain. Text in purple indicates the bishop’s paraphrasing of the scripture he is commenting on.

“But who art thou?” &c. “But,” is not in some Greek copies. It is found in the Vatican MS. “Thy neighbour;” in some Greek copies, another: πλησιον (plesion), neighbour, is the reading of the Vatican and Alexandrian MSS. As if he said, wretched worm of the earth, who art thyself one day to be judged, what right or control hast thou over thy fellow-creatures?—who is it authorized thee, thus to sit in judgment on him? “For his own master will he stand or fall.”—Rom. 16:14.

“Behold now you that say,” &c. For “behold” it is the Greek, αγε (age), go to, or come on, as in chap. 5 verse 1. It is merely a form soliciting attention. Some Commentators endeavour to trace a connexion between these words and the foregoing, thus:—Who art thou to judge thy neighbour? you who are so foolish, in the ordinary language of life, as altogether to renounce practically your dependence on divine providence, although your weakness and frail dependence be such as not to be able to promise yourselves a moment’s continuance in existence. This connexion is warranted, in a certain sense, by the division of the verses in the Vulgate. The more probable opinion, however, appears to be (as in Paraphrase), that St. James is censuring another vice of the tongue, then so common among worldly-minded persons, who relied too confidently on their own strength, in the execution of their designs and purposes, and seemed altogether to forget their dependence on God’s adorable providence. Such persons propose to themselves to traffic for years, and to execute other purposes at some future time with a degree of certainty and security, that would imply their independence of God’s providence. It is the irreligious sentiments expressed by such language that St. James here condemns, as appears from verse 1, their “rejoicing in their arrogancies.” In some Greek copies, instead of “we will go, will spend,” &c., it is, let us go, let us spend, &c. But the Vulgate translator has better expressed the sense of St. James, by employing the future Indicative, which more clearly conveys their foolish resolves in regard to the future. Moreover, the future is the reading of the Codex Vaticanus.

14 Whereas you know not what shall be on the morrow.

 (Although you are wholly ignorant of what may happen on the morrow.)

Such foolish men may experience the fate of the rich glutton in the Gospel, who gave up his soul, in the very execution of his projects of self-aggrandizement.—(Luke, 12:20).

15 For what is your life? It is a vapour which appeareth for a little while and afterwards shall vanish away. For that you should say: If the Lord will, and, If we shall live, we will do this or that.

For what is human life on which you thus confidently calculate? (What is it but a thin vapour, which appears for a short time, and afterwards is dissipated and vanishes from our sight)? Instead of such irreligious conduct and language, you should always express, or, at least, imply the following conditions before proposing to yourselves the execution of any purpose: “if the Lord will,” and, “if we shall live.”

The words of the preceding verse (14) and of this, as far as “For that you should say,” are to be read parenthetically. “What is your life?” “It is a vapour,” &c. The Greek has, “γαρ,” (gar) for, it is a vapour, &c. It is like the morning dew, which ascends in thin vapour, and immediately after disappears altogether from our eyes. We frequently meet in sacred Scripture with beautiful comparisons of the same kind “Remember,” (says Job. 7:7), “that my life is but wind … as a cloud is consumed and passeth away,” &c. (Psalm, 143). The conclusion is, that as human life is thus fleeting, precarious, and uncertain, it is the excess of folly, and the height of presumption in them, thus to calculate for certain, on the success and enjoyment of their future projects. “For that you should say.” These words are to be immediately connected with the words, verse 13: “You say, to-day or to-morrow, we shall go into such a city,” &c. “For that you should say,” i.e., instead of which mode of speaking, you should say, “if the Lord wills,” and “if we shall live.” These two conditions should be always expressed, or at least implied, whenever we propose to ourselves the accomplishment of any future project. The example of St. Paul alone shows us how much these forms of expression, recommended by St. James, were at the time in use.—Acts, 18; 1 Cor. 4 and 16; Hebrews, 6; Rom. 1; Philipp. 2 Even among the Pagans, viz., Socrates, Cicero, Cato, &c., such forms were in use.

16 But now you rejoice in your arrogancies. All such rejoicing is wicked.

But now, while employing the language I have censured, you boast and glory in the expression of your arrogant and proud rejection of God’s adorable Providence; all boasting of this sort is wicked and sinful.

In this verse, the Apostle shows that he is condemning dispositions of mind, the opposite of the Christian and religious forms of speech, which he is recommending. He is censuring such persons as attributed the merit of their success to themselves, without a due regard to God’s Providence and assistance. Such conduct on their part is “arrogance,” or pride, since, of themselves, they can do nothing. “All such rejoicing is wicked,” such haughty, presumptuous reliance on our powers is, in every case, evil, because it is a practical lie, and a lie, too, injurious to God’s supreme dominion over his creatures. St. James by no means condemns a prudent provision for futurity, dependent on God’s will and Providence.

17 To him therefore who knoweth to do good and doth it not, to him it is sin.

Of course, as Christians, you must be fully aware of your dependence on God’s Providence; this knowledge, however, only serves to aggravate the sinfulness of your conduct; since the man who knows good and does it not, or acts against it, sins the more, by reason of his knowledge.

The connexion adopted in Paraphrase is: You know, as Christians, all that I am saying: you know your dependence on Providence and the uncertainty of life; now, this knowledge will only aggravate the sinfulness of your impious and unchristian mode of expressing your future resolves. Or, the words of this verse may be only a conclusion drawn from the two foregoing chapters, wherein St. James instructs them in several points of Christian morality; and now, he tells them, that if they hereafter sin in any of the particular points in which he instructed them, the instruction and knowledge imparted will only aggravate their sin; for, sins committed with knowledge are more grievous, than if they were committed in ignorance.


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