THE SUBJECT OF TEMPTATION . This section may be subdivided as follows:—
Return to the subject of temptation. James 1:2 taught that temptation regarded as an opportunity should be a cause for joy. James 1:12 teaches that the endurance of temptation brings a blessing from God, even the crown of life. Comp. Revelation 2:10 , the only other place in the New Testament where the "crown of life" is mentioned; and there also it stands in close connection with the endurance of temptation. Elsewhere we read of the "crown of righteousness" ( 2 Timothy 4:8 ), and the "crown of glory" ( 1 Peter 5:4 ). The genitive ( τὸν στέφανον τῆς ζωῆς ) is probably the gen. epex.," the crown, which is life." ὁ κύριος of the Received Text has but slight authority. It is wanting in A, B, א , ff, and is deleted by the Revisers, following all recent editors. Render, which he promised , etc. The subject is easily understood, and therefore, as frequently in Jewish writings ( e.g. 1 Maccabees), omitted from motives of reverence.
God is not the author of temptation; cf. Ecclesiasticus 15:11, 12, " Say not thou, It is through the Lord that I fell away: for thou oughtest not to do the things that he hateth. Say not thou, He hath caused me to err: for he hath no need of the sinful man." From God ; ἀπὸ θεοῦ (the article is wanting in א , A, B, C, K, L). Contrast ὑπὸ τῆς ἰδίας ἐπιθυμίας . ἀπὸ θεοῦ is a more general expression than ὑπὸ θεοῦ , which would refer the temptation immediately to God. ἀπὸ θεοῦ is frequently used as a kind of adverb divinitus. Cannot be tempted ; ἀπείραστος : an ἅπαξ λεγόμενον . Syriac, "is not tempted with evils;" Vulgate, intentator malorum ; R.V., "cannot be tempted of evil;" R.V. margin, "is untried in evil." Alford has a good note on this word, in which he points out that it has but two meanings:
The rendering of the Vulgate is thus etymologically possible, but is against the context. The use of the word may, perhaps, be extended somewhat wider than the renderings given above would allow, so that it may be paraphrased as "out of the sphere of evils" (Farrar). Neither tempteth he , etc. Here the writer has in his mind the conception of a direct temptation from God. αὐτός is emphatic. Render with R.V., And he himself tempteth no man.
The genesis of sin.
1. Four stages are described.
2. God is not tempted with evil, and he doth not temps to evil. "Ascribe it not to the Father of lights , but to the prince of darkness. But ascribe all good, from the smallest spark to the greatest beam, from the least good giving to the best and most perfect gift of all, to him, the Father of lights'. If there can be no change with the Father of lights, no "shadow east by turning," what folly to suppose that the works of darkness come from him! Temptation may be regarded
In the two former aspects it has been already treated of by the apostle, and has been shown to be a cause for joy. As an allurement it can have no power, unless it meets with some response in man. Thus man has no right to charge his sins upon God, or to make God the author of his temptations. The outward occasion may indeed be from him, sent either as a test or a discipline; but the inward inclination , that which leads a man away and entices him, is entirely evil.
The natural history of evil.
In the previous part of the chapter James has spoken of "temptation" in the general sense of "trial," and as coming mainly in connection with outward circumstances. In this passage he proceeds to speak of it in the sense in which the word is now ordinarily used, as meaning only internal trial by solicitation to sin. Verse 12 marks the transition from the one sense to the other, and predicates "blessedness" of "the man that endureth temptation" in either form.
I. THE GENESIS OF TEMPTATION . (Verses 13, 14) The sacred writers very rarely deal in such abstract psychological analysis as we have in this passage. These verses remind us that there is natural history in the moral world as well as in the physical—"the law of sin and of death" as well as "the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus." There are two conflicting theories always prevalent regarding the origin and development of temptation.
1. The false theory. (Verse 13) Men are prone to ascribe the authorship of temptation to God. This heresy is as old as the garden of Eden and the Fall. Our first parents blamed God for the first sin. And the world has adopted the same excuse, in various forms, ever since. Systems of philosophy have done so. Pantheism, for example, says that man is only a mode of the Divine existence, and that good is God's right hand, while evil is his left, Fatalism teaches that all events—good and evil—come to pass under the operation of a blind necessity. Materialism in our day regards the vilest passions of bad men and the holiest aspirations of believers as alike only products of our physical organism. And the same dreadful error prevails equally in common life. Superstitious persons, from the time of James until ours, have had the impression that their misdeeds are necessitated by the Divine decrees. Some blame their nature for their sins, and ascribe to their Maker the origination of their corrupt propensities, as the poet Burns did once and again in lines of daring blasphemy. Others trace their sins to their circumstances, blaming God's providence for surrounding them with evil influences, which, they submit, lay them under an inevitable necessity of sinning. But the apostle advances reason and argument against this impious theory. Think, he says, of the purity and perfection of the Divine nature. Moral evil has no place in God. There is nothing in him that temptation can take hold of. And if he is not himself open to the seductions of sin, it is impossible that he can be a tempter of others. God is the infinite Light, and sin is darkness. God is the eternal Righteousness, and sin is crookedness. God is the unchangeable Beauty, and sin is deformity. So, he will not and cannot solicit men towards what is opposed to his own nature. He tries and tests men; but he does not tempt them. He does not cause sin; he simply permits it. When we pray, as Christ has taught us to do, "Bring us not into temptation," we beg that God may not in his providence place us in circumstances from which our hearts may take occasion to sin.
2. The true theory. (Verse 14) Temptation originates within the heart of the sinner himself. It is in vain for him to blame his Maker. Sin is no part of our original constitution, and it is not to be excused on the plea of an unfavorable environment. A man sins only when he is "enticed" by the bait, and "drawn away" by the hook of "his own lust." That is, the impelling power which seduces towards evil is the corrupt nature within us. The world and the devil only tempt effectually when they stir up the filthy pool of depraved personal desire. "Lust" includes, besides the appetites of the body, the evil dispositions of the mind, such as pride, malice, envy, vanity, love of ease, etc. Any appeal made from without to these vile principles and affections can be successful only with the consent of the will. Every man is personally responsible for his sin; fur each man's sin takes its rise in " his own lust." Conscience brushes away the cobwebs of the false theory, and assures us all that we are "merely our own traitors." Only one Man has ever lived within whose soul there was no hook or bait of corrupt desire on which any evil suggestion could fasten; and no one but he could say, "The prince of the world cometh, and he hath nothing in me."
II. THE GENEALOGY OF SIN . (Verse 15) "Lust" is throughout this passage personified in allegorical fashion as a harlot, ever striving, like the harlot Folly of Proverbs 9:13-18 , to allure and captivate the will. First, she draws the man "who goes right on his way" out of the path of sound principle and wholesome pleasure; and then she entices him into her embrace with the siren strain, "Stolen waters are sweet." Lust may be said to "conceive," when it obtains the consent of the will, or disarms its opposition. The man who dallies with temptation, instead of meeting it with instant and prayerful resistance, will be sure eventually to succumb to it. From the guilty union of lust with the will, a living sin is born. The embryo corruption becomes developed into a deed of positive transgression. And this is not all. Sin, the progeny of lust, itself grows up from the infancy of mere choice to the adult life of settled habit; and "when it is full-grown," it in turn becomes, as the result of union with the will, the mother of death. It was so with the sin of our first parents in Paradise. It was so with the sin of Achan ( Joshua 7:21 ); he saw, coveted, took, and died. It is so with the sin of licentiousness, which has suggested the figure of this passage; the physical corruption which the practice of sensuality entails is just a sacrament of spiritual death. Death is the fruit of all sin. Sin kills peace; it kills hope; it kills usefulness; it kills the conscience; it kills the soul. The harlot-house of lust and sin becomes the vestibule of perdition. As Milton has it, in a well-known passage of bk. 2. of 'Paradise Lost'—a passage suggested by this very verse—Sin is
"The snaky sorceress that sat
Fast by hell-gate, and kept the fatal key;"
while Death, her son, is "the grizzly Terror" on the other side, which stood
"Fierce as ten furies, terrible as hell."
III. THE GLORY AWAITING HIM WHO ENDURES . ( Proverbs 9:12 ) This comfortable word reminds us of the Beatitudes. The blessedness of which it speaks belongs not only to all Christians who—" letting patience have its perfect work "—endure "temptations" in the sense in which the word is used in Proverbs 9:2 , but to all also who escape victorious from the solicitations of evil desire, referred to in the verses which we have been considering. Notice here:
1. The character of the blessed man. He "loves the Lord," and in the spirit of this love he " endures temptation." Love is the substance of the Christian character, and love "endureth all things." Love alone will enable a man to stamp out lust.
2. His glorious reward. "He shall receive the crown of life." Not a chaplet of parsley, not even a diadem of gold; but a crown composed of life. Eternal life itself will be the believer's reward. Temptation unresisted, as we have seen, is always pregnant with sin and death; but holy endurance entails upon one the gracious reward of spiritual life, which shall be confirmed in spotless purity forever and ever. This glorious blessing is guaranteed; the believer has for it a definite warranty from his Redeemer.
3. The time and condition of its bestowal. It is "when he hath been approved;" i.e. tested as gold or silver in the white heat of the refiner's fire. The one way to the kingdom is the way of persevering endurance. "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life."
1. Flee from spiritual death.
2. Crucify sin.
3. Mortify lust.
4. Cultivate the grace of endurance.
5. Watch and pray against outward occasions of evil.
6. Sprinkle the conscience with the blood of atonement, and wash the soul in the laver of regeneration.—C.J.
Temptation and its history.
We are carried back by the first word to our Lord's pronouncement of the Beatitudes in the sermon on the mount. And here, as there, we are confronted with paradox. The words of the earlier Beatitudes had doubtless come with a shock of astonishment to many, who listened for statements that should accord with their carnal life. "Blessed are"—the proud, the strong, the conquering? Nay; but "the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, the merciful ones." So now. Not," How blessed are they that escape the multiplied ills of life! "but," Blessed is the man that endureth." Here, of course, is a return to the strange "greeting" with which the Epistle opened.
I. THE ENDURANCE OF TEMPTATION . The word must be taken in the broad, generic sense of " testing." Of this there are two forms—enticement to sin, and afflictions of righteousness. It enters into the very essence of a moral universe that there should be testing, and certainly into the moral recovery of a fallen world that the processes of the testing should be intensified. For in a world of innocence, if innocence is to develop into an established holiness, there must be such possibilities of a fall into sin as the very fact of freedom implies; and the resistance of" temptation" (as we specifically call it) involves such self denial as makes well-doing difficult; or, in other words, positive "trials" (as we call them) are necessarily bound up with the righteousness which pursues its way in spite of "temptations" to unrighteousness, and both together constitute the test ( πειρασμός ) of character. And if all this be true of a world of innocence, how much more of a world into which sin has already come! Both the temptations to sin and the trials of righteousness are intensified now, the heart itself being so prone to evil, and the world an evil world. Hence the immense difficulties of salvation from sin. We have an index to this in the intensity of temptation to even a Sinless One in a world of sin, as shown in the conflicts of the Son of man. View the wrestling in the desert, and the agony in the garden! And how much more to us, whose nature is so responsive to the influence of the world! But his conquest is the pledge of ours, if we do but put our trust in him ( John 16:33 ; 1 John 5:4 ). And the beatitude? We cannot write "blessed" over the fierce wrestling in the desert, nor over the agony of blood. But we can over the victorious result. And so with ourselves; not," Blessed is the man that is tossed and troubled;" but, "Blessed is the man that endureth. " For what is the result of the enduring? δόκιμος γενόμενος : we can hardly give the force of these words, save by periphrasis, in our tongue. "Having acquired the quality of triedness;" i.e. having been put to the test, having borne the test, and being now certified as true. Like gold in the fire. And the prize? "The crown of life." Figurative expression as regards the word "crown;" so 1 Peter 5:4 and 2 Timothy 4:8 . Familiar thought of contention for a reward. But, dropping the figure, let us ask what is the "life" itself that is set forth as the crown of our rejoicing? And, for the answer, compare some words of Christ: "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God;" "This is life eternal, to know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent;" "He that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself unto him;" "And my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and. make our abode with him" ( Matthew 5:8 ; John 17:3 ; John 14:21 , John 14:23 ). Such the life; the full fruition of God, which is possible only to a pure soul.
II. TEMPTATION NOT OF GOD . Now as to the source of the temptation, the endurance of which results in blessed life. A right and a left, a good and an evil, are possible alternatives always, and to free creatures that which is possible may become actual. God cannot constrain them to well-doing, or they would cease to be free. In the case, then, of allowing for temptation in the very constitution of a moral world, God may be said to be its source, its author. But how readily men push the responsibility of their actual sin away from themselves to God! They are placed in such and. such circumstances by God, therefore God is the author of the sin to which those circumstances lead. So they argue with their own hearts. But illustrate: a position of trust, with its involved temptations. Does the employer tempt the trusted servant to wrong-doing? Nay, verily. So man is placed in a post of trust by God, and the trust necessarily involves the possibility of a betrayal of trust; but may we therefore say that God tempts us to do wrong? The very thought is blasphemy! Only an evil being can tempt to evil; on the other hand, an essentially holy Being must seek to work out holiness. This is the true genesis of sin: man's will yielding to his desire, not resisting it. The result is the presence of an actual power of sin; for sin is no longer a mere possibility to us, but a positive entity. And again, when the will weds itself to this positive power of sin, as before to the mere desire, the result is death. Just as the fruition of God is the life of a pure soul, so a godless desolation is the death of the soul that has permanently espoused itself to sin. Such the dark pedigree set forth by James.
III. EVERY GOOD GIFT FROM GOD . The negative has been stated in regard to the goodness of God; now we have the positive. The very sufferance of temptation itself is in love, that the highest good of a created universe may be wrought out. And this love is God's essential nature. He cannot, then, work harm in any way. God the author of sin? a good God work this unutterable evil? Nay; "God is Light," and a shadow can only be cast by the resisting will. And in this he is unchangeably the same; there is no parallax in these heavens. And therefore the great pledge and proof of his eternal good will of holy love towards us consists in the fact that he has already begotten us to the new life. He would not lift us from sin to holiness that then he might cast us down to sin again. No; we are "sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance" ( Ephesians 1:13 , Ephesians 1:14 ). And so our new creation is, as it were, the firstfruits of the new creation of all things.
Our danger still is this, that we are tempted to think God is making it hard for us to be good. Our safety is in holding fast to the eternal truth that "God is love;" and that, as the Good One, and Father of all good, he can so control our troublous circumstances and troubled nature, that, if we are only willing to do his will, all things shall work together for our good (see whole of Romans 8:1-39 ).—T.F.L.