THE SUBJECT OF TEMPTATION . This section may be subdivided as follows:—
Digression suggested by the thought of perfection. There can be no true perfection without wisdom, which is the gift of God, and must be sought from him. It is possible that the thought and connection of the passage is due to a reminiscence of Wis. 9:6, "For though a man be never so perfect ( τέλειος ) among the children of men, yet if thy wisdom be not with him, he shall be nothing regarded." But whether this be so or not, the teaching is manifestly founded on our Lord's words with regard to prayer, Matthew 7:7 , "Ask, and it shall be given you;" and Mark 11:23 , "Have faith in God. Verily I say unto you, Whoever shall say … and shall not doubt ( διακριθῇ ) in his heart," etc. τοῦ διδόντος θεοῦ . The order of the words shows that God's character is that of a Giver: "the giving God." His "nature and property" is to give as well as to forgive. Man often spoils his gifts,
God, on the contrary, gives to all
ἁπλῶς : only here in the New Testament, but cf. ἁπλότης in Romans 12:8 ; 2 Corinthians 8:2 ; 2 Corinthians 9:11 , 2 Corinthians 9:13 . Vulgate, affluenter ; A.V. and R.V., "liberally." It is almost equivalent to "without any arriere pensee. " ΄ὴ ὀνειδίζοντος : cf. Ecclesiasticus 41:22, ΄ετὰ τὸ δοῦναι μὴ ὀνείδιζε
The need of wisdom
which Holy Scripture never, without a touch of irony, ascribes to any but God and good men, and which, therefore, is not merely intellectual wisdom, but rather that practical knowledge of things Divine which can enable a man to say with the psalmist, "I am wiser than the aged, because I keep thy commandments." This it is, and not intellect and brilliancy, which is here promised to be given to all that ask in faith. (All through Scripture the use of the terms "wise" and "foolish" should be noticed. It is the "fool" who said in his heart, "There is no God." They are " fools " who make a mock at sin. The "wise" who shall "shine as the brightness of the firmament" are parallel with those "who turn many to righteousness," etc).
2. The reason why so many prayers remain unanswered. Man too often betakes himself to prayer as a dernier ressort when all other means have failed, hoping against hope, not entirely disbelieving and yet not entirely believing; now buoyed up for a moment with hope, and now again sinking into the depths of despair. To such a one there is not merely no promise; we are especially told that be is not to think that he will receive anything from the Lord. "A doubtful petitioner offers not to God a steady hand or heart, so that God cannot deposit in it his gift" (Stier).
"Faith and unfaith can ne'er be equal powers;
Unfaith in aught is want of faith in all."
Wisdom for those who ask it.
The apostle has just been saying that the trials and burdens of life should conduce, if wisely borne, to the purifying of the believing soul, the bracing of its moral energies, and the perfecting of its spiritual life. But how hard it is to bear severe afflictions thus wisely! Every one needs a wisdom above his own, who would "count manifold trials all joy," and "let patience have its perfect work."
I. A UNIVERSAL WASTE . ( James 1:5 ) Wisdom means the right use of knowledge. A man may know a very great deal, and yet not be a wise man. Wisdom classifies the materials of knowledge, and studies to use them so as to build up and beautify the life. It proposes right ends, and chooses the best means by which to reach them. It shows itself not so much in doing the right thing, as in doing it at the proper time. In the highest use of the word, "wisdom" is just another name for piety. It is that state of mind and heart which is produced by the believing reception of gospel truth. The one fool of the Bible is the sinner. The only wise man is he who regards the glory of God as the end of his life, and who makes his acts and habits means to that end. Now, we all naturally lack wisdom, and a thoughtful man realizes this lack most thoroughly in the time of trial. What a rare and difficult attainment is that holy discretion which can welcome even the contrary winds of calamity, and the driving storms of tribulation, because it can make them helpful in steering joyfully towards the desired haven!
II. AN ABUNDANT SOURCE OF SUPPLY . "God, who giveth to all" ( James 1:5 ); literally, "the giving God." The living, loving Jehovah is the one Source and Fountain of wisdom. That is one of his essential attributes; and it is his prerogative to impart it to his creatures. He gives the Holy Spirit to work wisdom in the hearts of believers. Now, the God of wisdom is the Giver of all good things. His resources are infinite, and his gifts are universal and unceasing. In his common providence he imparts blessings to all his creatures—to the barnacle that clings to the rocks, and to the archangel that ministers before the throne. And he is "the giving God" in grace also. "He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not also with him freely give us all things?" So he is ready to bestow wisdom at all times, and especially in the day of trial; he waits to impart to every devout sufferer a wealth of holy patience and of spiritual joy. And the giving God gives liberally and unreproachingly. It is his characteristic habit to be exceedingly bountiful.
III. AS EASY METHOD OF OBTAINING . "Let him ask, and it shall be given him" ( James 1:5 ). Holy wisdom is not the result merely of thought or speculation. No Aristotelian or Baconian method can produce it. No habit of sullen, dogged Stoicism reveals its presence. It is to be had from God, and for the asking. God is the living God, and he is very near us; and we, his children, have the freest access to him. He gives "simply" to those who pray simply. He bestows "liberally" upon those who petition liberally. It is his way "to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think." When Solomon asked only for wisdom, God gave him riches and honor too. When the prodigal requests only the place of a hired servant, his Father assures him of the station and honor of a beloved son. The Lord always gives liberally; never with a grudge—never ungraciously. He always gives with his heart when he opens his hand. Does the consciousness of much personal guilt make any of us slow to "ask of God"? Does our past neglect or abuse of his gifts deprive us of childlike confidence in coming to him? Then let us remember that he "upbraideth not." What a sweet word is that! It limns for our comfort a most touching trait of the character of the giving God. How unlike he is to human benefactors! Instead of reproaching the returning prodigal, he welcomes him with kisses of love. God upbraids no one for his great ignorance, or for his enormous guilt, or for his repeated backslidings, or for his long delay, or for making himself a last resource, or for coming too often, or for asking too much. How easy this God-appointed method of obtaining wisdom! We have only to "ask, and it shall be given" us. And how great the encouragement! "God giveth to all liberally, and upbraideth not."
IV. AN INDISPENSABLE REQUISITE TO SUCCESS . ( James 1:6-8 ) Prayer is not real unless it be the expression of faith. It must issue "from a living source within the will," and be inspired by perfect confidence in God's readiness to help. How much unbelief prevails in our time on the subject of prayer! The scientific temper of the age merely allows a man to "pray to God, if there be a God—to save his soul, if he have a soul." And the forcible words of James, in these three verses, suggest that still, in the case of very many Christians, an imperfect faith in God's readiness to respond to their prayers is one of the greatest defects of their spiritual life. We are apt, even, to speak of evident answers to prayer as unusual, and—when they do occur—as remarkable. Now, the gift of wisdom is promised only to him who asks it with a steady faith, and who evinces the reality of his faith by a life of consistent purpose. God our Father demands the confidence of his children. "Nothing doubting" should be the Christian's motto in prayer. The petitioner must not shift backwards and forwards between faith and doubt, like a tumbling billow of the sea. He must not swing like a pendulum between cheerful confidence and dark suspicion. It must be his fixed persuasion that God is, and that he is the Hearer of prayer. He must expect an answer to his supplications, and be ready to mark the time and mode of it; else he may rest assured that no answer will come. Transient emotions are not religion. It is the men and women within whom faith is the dominant power who take the kingdom of heaven by force. God is all simplicity himself, and he gives with simplicity; so he can have no sympathy with an unstable, double-souled man. A mind that continually vacillates in its choice will be prone in the end to fail in both the purposes between which it has hesitated. Certainly it will not obtain that Divine wisdom which every human heart so greatly needs for the exigencies of adversity. Steadfast faith, and that alone, will give a man singleness of eye, make him strong to keep hold of the angel of the covenant, and draw down upon him the richest blessings of gospel grace.—C.J.
The prayer of faith.
In the former verses the writer, after the apparent paradox of wishing "joy" ( James 1:1 ) to those so persecuted and tried, proceeded ( James 1:2-4 ) to urge, not merely joy in spite, but joy by reason, of these things. For, said he, by these things the faith, which is of so great price, is developed and perfected. It might seem, however, that, with God so purposing, and man thankfully concurring in the Divine purpose, yet, from lack of true discernment, of wise judgment, man might fail to realize the profit of the Divine purpose; might lose, not gain, by the testings. For surely it requires much Christian judgment so to meet temptation, and so to bear trial, that the continued testing, instead of depressing and damaging our life, shall be evermore bearing us upward and onward. And now, in the verses before us, this is provided for. "If any of you lacketh wisdom, let him ask of God." In order that at last we may be "lacking in nothing," God will supply this present lack, which is so urgent. And the general principle, which gives force to this special application, is here set forth. The main thoughts are two—God's giving; man's receiving.
I. GOD 'S GIVING . An essential element of God's nature is self-impartation, if we may reverently speak of him as he has revealed himself. So the inmost significance of the doctrine of the Trinity; so the great fact of the creation. And so to all created things there is a constant streaming forth of God's goodness. Like the shining of the sun. But the streaming forth of God's goodness is conscious, deliberate, free. We may have regretfully to relinquish the etymology which identifies the words "God" and "good;" but never need we relinquish the truth that God is essentially the Good One. "God giveth:"
1. Our life, including existence itself, so sacred as being thus from him; our appetencies and their satisfactions; our powers and scope for use; our ideals and their realization; our idiosyncrasy of life, and of life-history.
2. Our redemption, including the gift of the Son; the Spirit; our penitence; our faith; the blessedness of the new life in God.
3. And now the blended life, in the world and in God; all "good things" ( Matthew 7:11 ). "Liberally;" i.e. simply, absolutely, disinterestedly. Out of the abundance of his goodness. Hence, "to all;" no caprice in such a One. And hence, "upbraideth not." Selfishness gives, grudges, and rebukes; he gives with a perfect love, and hence delights to give. Let us realize this conception of God. How it alters the complexion of life! what effect it has upon character! We may not, indeed, forget his inflexible holiness, his absolute demands on our obedience. This, indeed, the fundamental relationship; so probably the true etymology of "God," as meaning "Ruler." This the one deep significance of the cross, which shows God's holy love. And this the meaning of the absolute call to repent, as preceding the gift of life; an unconditional surrender. Yes, remember that, realize it, act upon it—the truth that God is holy. But , so soon as the barrier of unrepented sin is removed, realize all the infinite affluence of his love—that he delighteth in mercy, that he is emphatically the Good Being, whose goodness is ever surging and streaming forth that it may lavish itself upon his creatures , upon me! As regards your life-history—realize God's yearning love ; the boundless possibilities of your future. As regards your salvation—all grace, in a world of conflict; all glory, in the world of perfected conquest.
II. MAN 'S RECEIVING . The higher the nature of any creature, the more are its development and growth conditional upon its own appropriation of the material of development and growth. Consider, in this respect, mere existences and forces; vegetation; animal life; man. Hence the life of man, the creature of freedom, is at once a life of the greatest perils and of the greatest possibilities. Lordship over the world; mental acquisitions. He may climb so high; he may sink so low! Is it not well thus? Does not our manhood dwindle in proportion as we become mere passive recipients? Illustrate the high manhood of personal achievement by artist and his work—would he care to find his picture finished by an unseen hand? also by enterprise of a people, which calls forth their powers and goes to make them what they are. So the glory of our spiritual life is that it is not necessitated, but free. And so the supreme glory of the kingdom of heaven, as a kingdom of redemption, is that, humanly speaking, it "suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force." Hence, we would become possessors of spiritual blessings, we must possess ourselves of them. If God gives grace freely to free beings such as we are, his giving is conditional upon our asking, and asking in faith. In the nature of things this is reasonable and right. "Let him ask;" that he may realize more fully his own dependence and need; that he may value more truly the blessings sought; that he may learn God's large, free love. Could anything be simpler, more natural? Because of the creaturely relationship, a recipient of the bounty of the Creator; because a conscious, intelligent, free creature, a conscious, free recipient, a suppliant. Ask, and have. "In faith." This the active element in the asking, the appropriating power. To truly realize God's power and blessing, we must have a trustful appreciation of God's purposes of love. So for a wise endurance of trial; so for a wise meeting of temptation. It is better to endure, better to resist; this must be our assurance of faith. Contrast with this the waverer, or doubter; doubting in the sense of hesitating between God and the world, halting between two opinions; most miserable. A double-minded man, to his own cost; unstable; like the surge of the sea. He shall receive nothing, for the true spirit of recipiency is altogether vitiated. The man is shutting his soul towards God even while professing to open it. No, "the just shall live by faith;" by a constant aliveness to spiritual realities; by an earnest, trustful appropriating of spiritual blessings.
The two great lessons: God is single-minded in giving; we are to be single-minded in receiving. But how does this bear on the special gift in question here—spiritual wisdom? This is largely an intuitive faculty of the spiritual life, and it is educated by communion with God's mind and will, which brings our spiritual wisdom into harmony with his own. So the very prayer itself is the instrumentality of the answer to the prayer. And such wisdom, let us remember, is wisdom "unto salvation." A constant choosing between good and evil, which results at last in the total abolition of evil and triumph of good. May we thus prove to the uttermost "what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God"!—T.F.L.