THE SUBJECT OF TEMPTATION . This section may be subdivided as follows:—
The value of temptation. Considered as an opportunity , it is a cause for joy.
Patience . υπομονή in general is patience with regard to things , μακροθυμία is rather long-suffering with regard to persons .
Temptation as cause for joy.
What a reversal of the ordinary view, which regards trial and temptation as an unwelcome visitation! Prosperity is the blessing of the old covenant, adversity is the blessing of the new. Temptations should be regarded, not only as probations , i.e. as testing what we are, but as designed also for moral discipline and improvement. The character that has never been tried may be innocent, but it is liable to be crushed. It is lacking in the strength and vigor, which come from the formed habit of resistance, and therefore temptation may be the means of strengthening him who is subjected to it. It thus becomes an opportunity , and as such should be welcomed with joy. It produces patience , that "queen of virtues," which bears up under the heaviest weight, and purifies and ennobles the whole character. Patience must next be allowed her "perfect work;" for the Christian can never consider himself τέλειος till he has come "to the perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ."
"Sweet are the uses of adversity,
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head."
(On temptation regarded as an opportunity , see Mozley's 'Parochial Sermons,' Sermon 2)
A joyful salutation for a time of adversity.
James, in the opening sentence of his letter, "wisheth joy" to the Christian Jews who were scattered over the Roman world (verse 1). He knew that they were environed with adversity; they suffered from the persecution of the heathen, and from the upbraidings of their unbelieving countrymen. Yet his loving, sympathetic heart wishes them joy even in all time of their tribulation.
I. THE CHRISTIAN SHOULD REJOICE AMIDST TRIALS . (Verse 2) It was natural that the readers of the Epistle, when they received this counsel, should ask how they could reasonably be expected to do so.
1. This is possible. Only, however, to the Christian. The worldly-minded man will regard such a suggestion as unnatural, and indeed unintelligible. The Stoic, when plunged into adversity, can at best only school himself to submit to inevitable fate. The Epicurean becomes quite helpless in presence of calamity. Only the man who holds the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ possesses the alchemy by which sorrow may be turned into joy.
2. It is dutiful. To rejoice amidst trials is in the line of all Christian knowledge and faith and hope. The believer knows that God is his Father, and that he "pitieth his children." He is sure that God's arrangements for him must be absolutely the best. He is persuaded that, although God chastises his sons, he has still the heart of a Father. Not only do tribulation and distress not separate the believer from the Divine love; they work for him "more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory." So it belongs to the afflicted Christian to adorn in his own experience this paradox of the renewed life—"Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing."
3. It is often exemplified. Only, however, in the most exalted ranks of the peerage of faith. Moses "accounted the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt." Paul sang hymns to God in the prison of Philippi, although his feet were fast in the stocks. The apostles "rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for Christ's name." Latimer closed his brave career at the stake with the famous words, "Be of good comfort, Master Ridley." Bunyan lay for twelve years in an execrable prison, but he made his cell the vestibule of heaven. Dr. Arnold could say, between the paroxysms of angina pectoris, "Thank God for pain." And from thousands of death-beds, of which the world has never heard, there has gone forth the testimony of God's hidden ones: "We glory in tribulations also."
II. THE REASONS FOR SUCH REJOICING . These may be reckoned. Verses 3 and 4 supply a basis of judgment.
1. Trial promotes self-knowledge. It is "the proof of your faith" (verse 3). It tests the reality and the strength of character. The person who stands on the deck of a sinking ship will learn, if he did not know it before, whether he is a hero or a coward. Affliction shows a man "all that is in his heart." The strain caused by some unexpected calamity may reveal defects of character which he would not otherwise discover, or possibilities of holy attainment about which he might never have dreamed.
2. It develops patience. (Verse 3) James, throughout his Epistle, exalts and inculcates this grace. His word for it here means "persevering endurance." Christian patience is not the submission of indifference, or merely the determination of an obstinate will; it is inspired by living piety, and is therefore full of intelligence and manliness. Patience consists in the holding still of some parts of our nature in calm waiting upon the Divine will, in order that other parts may be exercised and educated. The apostle's words show that he regards this grace of endurance as inexpressibly precious. He looks upon its possessor as in the truest sense a wise and wealthy man. The man who uses every fresh trial in such a way as only to increase his power of holy endurance is unspeakably a gainer by his calamities, and should receive the congratulations ("greeting") of his brethren rather than their sympathy.
3. It contributes to moral perfection. (Verse 4) This is the end which God has in view in all his dealings with his people. He wants them to be "perfect and entire;" that is, complete and all-accomplished in spiritual culture. Now, the habit of persevering and joyful endurance conduces to the maturity and the symmetry of the soul. Sanctified trial educates. Some of the most refined Christian virtues—such, e.g. , as resignation and sympathy-can be acquired only in connection with affliction. A delicately balanced Christian spirit is not the outcome of a smooth and unruffled life. life character can approximate in finish to the ideal standard which does not "come out of the great tribulation," and which is not made "perfect through sufferings." This thought is emphasized everywhere in the New Testament, from the Gospels to the Apocalypse. It has interpenetrated all literature. Our life must be "battered with the shocks of doom, to shape and use." "'Tis sorrow builds the shining ladder up," on which our souls climb nearer God.
Notice in conclusion:
1. While it is positively unchristian to murmur amid trials, the model Christian frame is not mere submission.
2. It is very comforting to the believer to know that his crosses are sent to promote his perfection.
3. The child of God has here a crucial test of the measure of his spiritual attainment.—C.J.
The strange paradox.
He has given them "greeting" ( James 1:1 ), or, literally, wished them "joy." Was this a hitter irony? For in what condition were they? Persecuted, as Jews and especially as Christian Jews; oppressed, the poorer by the richer; and all, in the common heritage of human woe, afflicted in a hundred ways. And does he wish "joy" to these? Yes, even so. And, as though surmising the question, he goes on to insist yet more emphatically on the "greeting" which he has given. Joy? Yes, "count it all joy, when ye fall into manifold temptations." Joy in spite of these things? Rather, joy by reason of these things. Nor was this teaching unique among the apostles of the new faith (comp. Romans 5:3-5 ; 1 Peter 1:6 , 1 Peter 1:7 ). And confirmed by the common experience of Christendom: not merely joy in sorrow, but, by the blessed transmuting power of the gospel, joy wrought out through sorrow, strength out of weakness, life out of death. In the text we have these three truths presented—our religion is a faith, a faith tested, a faith perfected.
I. A FAITH . The fundamental condition of all life is faith. We must believe in ourselves, and in the instincts and promptings of our nature; in the world of nature, with its facts and forces and laws; in the world of men, with the relationships which it involves; and, largely, in the conduct and intents of our fellow-men respecting us; for daily we place practical trust in others in a thousand ways. Yes, faith, not knowledge, is the first condition of all life—faith as checked and regulated by knowledge, truly, and as leading to fuller knowledge; but, primarily and essentially, faith. So with the spiritual life, the life in God; we must, as a first condition, believe in him, in his relation to us, in his will concerning us. But why is faith in him called distinctively "faith," when it is but one application, however important, of a principle which runs through all our manifold life? Because, in this application, it is the new use of a disused faculty; it is faith in One who is saving us; who, in saving, is dealing with us in a way we know not. So our faith, religiously, is our practical realization of spiritual things, and an absolute trust in God as the God of our life and God of our salvation.
II. FAITH TESTED . "Divers testings." What are these? A world of sense, to which we have been enslaved; a world of sin, to which likewise we have been enslaved; and a world of suffering, besetting us on every side. The first testing our practical realization of unseen things; the second, our faith in the dictates of duty; the third, our trust in God, as dealing with us in love. Why is our faith thus tested? To prove it, whether true or false. No real holiness is possible, without the possibility of unholiness; hence what we call, specifically, "temptation." And no real trust is possible, without the possibility of untrust; hence what we call, specifically, "trial." Consider the infinite possible cost of holiness, in the constitution of a moral world. Sin; and, if sin, atonement. But God would allow that price to be paid, that holiness might be secured. Consider the terrible cost of a chastened trust, in the redemption of a moral world: suffering, alas, how bitter and prolonged! But God will allow that price to be paid, that trust may be secured. Yes, he will test. The allusion of δοκίμιον : testing of precious metals. So, "that the testing of your faith, being much more precious," etc. ( 1 Peter 1:7 ). But the figure fails, for a test applied to a dead thing is only a test; whereas a test applied to a living thing becomes more than a test—developing, strengthening that which is tested. So the tree rocked by the storm, the army on the long march. So here: "The proof of your faith worketh patience." Untried innocence develops into holiness, and holiness becomes an enduring holiness, by the testing of "temptation;" trust develops into enduring trust, and endurance becomes more enduring, by the testing of "trial." So, by these "diverse testings," does God work out our salvation. And in and through all there is the glorious power of the great redemption.
III. FAITH PERFECTED . God is working towards an end: "That ye may be perfect and entire, lacking in nothing." "Entire." Hence the diverse testings, by which each part of our character is put to the proof. Importance of a many-sided education; so a many-sided Christian life. God tests us, therefore, in this way and in that way, that, not halt or maimed, but with a completed manhood, we may enter into life. " Perfect. " Not only must each part be proved, but each part put to the hill proof; just as the artist will not only chisel the marble into a complete statue, but also chisel each part of the statue to a perfection of exquisite finish. The goal, then, "perfect and entire;" tested sufficiently, in manifoldness and in continuance, till "lacking in nothing."
"Count it all joy." Yes, a joy sacred and awful, as of the martyr in the flames. But of great tribulation" ( Revelation 7:14 ); and, "They shall walk with me in white, for they are worthy" ( Revelation 3:4 ).—T.F.L.