WARNING AGAINST RESPECT OF PERSONS .
Conclusion of the subject : νόμος ἐλευθερίας (cf. James 1:25 ).
Respect of persons is inconsistent with the first principles of Christianity.
1. One great function of Christianity was to create a sphere in which there should be neither Jew nor Gentile, Greek nor barbarian, bond nor free. "All equal are within the Church's gate" is true, not only of the material building, but equally of the spiritual fabric of the Catholic Church, which, like her Divine Head, is no respecter of persons. Bengel well remarks that the equality of Christians, indicated by the name "brethren" ( James 2:1 ), is the foundation of the admonition with which the chapter opens.
2. St. James gives but one instance of the kind of respect of persons which is forbidden, viz. the respect shown to the rich in assemblies of Christians for worship. Other forms of the same sin are common enough and are equally reprehensible, e.g. the homage paid to a man in society because he is rich , without regard to his character and moral worth. At the same time, it must not be forgotten that Christianity accepts as a fact class distinctions, and that we are bidden to give "honor to whom honor is due." "The Christian religion allows not that contempt for even earthly dignities affected by some of her followers, but springing more from envy and unruliness than aught besides. True reverence and submission are in no way condemned by this Scripture, but their excess and gross extreme, the preference for vulgar wealth, the adulation of success, the worship, in short, of some new golden calf" (Punchard).
3. Respect of persons, regard to outward appearances, the gold ring and the gay clothing, evince not merely evil thinking but want of faith (verse 4); i.e. a halting between God, who is no respecter of persons, and the world, which judges only by that which is external. How foolish also to regard the persons of men , when the object of our faith is the Lord of glory himself!
Law and judgment.
In these weighty words James reminds his readers that they are on their way to a dread tribunal where they shall be judged according to their works, and where with what measure they mete it shall be measured to themselves.
I. THE CERTAINTY OF JUDGMENT . The apostle takes the fact for granted. This certainty is attested by:
1. Human nature , Man possesses intuitively the conviction of his moral responsibility. Conscience anticipates even now the sentence which shall proceed from the bar of God. If he be not our Judge, the deepest dictates of morality are illusions.
2. Divine providence. While there is abundant evidence that the world is under moral government, it is also plain that there are many inequalities which require adjustment. The world is full of unredressed wrongs and undiscovered crimes. Providence itself, therefore, points to a day of rectifications.
3. The Word of God. The Bible everywhere represents the Eternal as a moral Governor; and the New Testament in particular describes the final judgment as a definite future event which is to take place at the second advent of Christ.
II. THE STANDARD OF JUDGMENT . The poor heathen, since they sin without law, shall be judged without law. Those who possess the Bible shall be tried by the higher standard of that written revelation. Believers in Christ, however, shall be "judged by a law of liberty" (verse 12). This law is, of course, just the moral law viewed in the light of gospel privilege. In the Decalogue, the form which the law assumes is one of outward constraint. As proclaimed from Sinai, it constituted really "an indictment against the human race;" and it was surrounded there with most terrible sanctions. But now, to the Christian, the law comes bound up with the gospel; and the power of gospel grace within the heart places him on the side of the law, and makes it the longer the more delightful for him to obey it. In the believer's ear the law no longer thunders, "Thou shalt not." To him "love is the fulfillment of the law." The commandments, being written now upon his heart, are no longer "grievous" ( 1 John 5:3 ). The law has become to him "a law of liberty."
III. THE SUBJECT - MATTER OF JUDGMENT . "So speak ye, and so do" (verse 12). The standard will be applied to our words and to our actions. The apostle has already touched upon the government of the tongue in James 1:19 , James 1:26 ; and he has dealt with practical conduct in the intervening verses. His teaching here is an echo of that of the Lord Jesus upon the same theme ( Matthew 12:34-37 ; Matthew 7:21-23 ). A man's habits of speech and action are always a true index of his moral state. If we compare human character to a tree, words correspond to its leaves, deeds to its fruit, and thoughts to its root underground. Words and actions will be judged in connection with "the counsels of the hearts" of which they are the exponents.
IV. THE PRINCIPLE OF JUDGMENT . ( James 1:13 ) This doctrine of merciless judgment to the unmerciful is enunciated in many parts of Scripture. It receives especial prominence in the teaching of our Lord ( Matthew 5:7 ; Matthew 6:12 , Matthew 6:14 , Matthew 6:15 ; Matthew 7:1 ; Matthew 18:23-35 ). We can never, of course, merit eternal life by cherishing a compassionate spirit. But, since mercy or love is the supreme element in the character of God, it is plain that those who do not manifest active pity towards others have not themselves been renewed into his image, and are therefore unsaved. The purpose of the gospel is to restore man's likeness to God, who "is love;" so that the man who exhibits no love shows that he has not allowed the gospel to exercise its sanctifying power within him, and he shall therefore be condemned for rejecting it. But the medal has another side; for the apostle adds, "Mercy glorieth against judgment." This seems to mean that the tender-hearted and actively compassionate follower of Christ need not fear the final judgment. His mercifulness is an evidence that he is himself a partaker of the mercy of God in Christ. He shall lift up his head with joy when he stands before the bar of Heaven ( Matthew 25:34-40 ). His Judge will be the Lord Jesus, over whose cradle and at whose cross mercy and judgment met together. God himself, in order to effect our redemption, sheathed the sword of justice in the heart of mercy; and his redeemed people, in their intercourse with their fellow-men, learn to imitate him by cultivating the spirit of tenderness and forgiveness. Thus it is an axiom in the world of grace, acted on both by God and by his people, that "mercy glorieth against judgment."—C.J.
Respect of persons.
Amongst the other evils of which these Christian Jews were guilty, was the gross evil of respect of persons. James presents the scene graphically, according to his wont. There is the synagogue, with the worshippers gathering for worship, some taking the good places, as it were the chancel-seats, near to the ark with the roll of the Law, and to the table of the Lord; some the lower seats, away from the speaker anti the Word. When, lo, a rich man enters, some stranger to the place, blazing in Tyrian purple, all embroidered o'er with gold, and heavily laden with jeweled rings. And him the officious ministrants conduct with ostentatious honor to the stalls in the chief part of the synagogue. A poor man enters, likewise a stranger, in squalid garb, and. with some contempt of gesture or of tone the deacon points him to a remote place in the building, or bids him sit below the rich man's toot-stool on the ground. So did the Christian Church do homage to the pomp and wealth of the world, and despise the poor. Against this practice James levels his rebuke, and shows the inconsistency and the sin of such respect of persons.
I. THE INCONSISTENCY . He points out the inconsistency of such conduct:
1. With their faith. (Verses 1, 4) The faith of Christians is precisely that faculty of their nature by which they discern and espouse spiritual things as distinguished from the things of the world. And in virtue of this faith they are supposed to be raised above the tyranny of world-attractions. The glory of earth does not dazzle them, for their faith has caught the vision of a higher glory, even a heavenly, of which Jesus Christ is Lord. They sit in heavenly places with him. And in virtue of this faith they must estimate a man according to his relation to the invisible world, his relation to Christ and God. There is to them a citizenship, a brotherhood, which takes precedence of all other social claims. How, then, with such a faith, the faith of the Lord of glory, could they be caught with the glitter of rings and of cloth of gold? And how ignore the equal relationships to the spiritual kingdom of God? Their conduct was in utter inconsistency with their belief, their faith; they were double-minded, evil-thoughted judges.
2. Also, with their world-relationships themselves. (Verses 6, 7) For they were in the world, though properly not of it. And what were their relations to the several classes of the world as such? Their relation to the rich was unquestionably that of persecuted and persecutors, of oppressed and oppressors (verse 6). And to such would they cringe and pay homage; to men of such a class? To those likewise who not only oppressed them, but blasphemed the name by which they were called (verse 7)? The inconsistency of their conduct, then, was sufficiently glaring: they were inconsistent with their professed faith, double-minded, trimming between the world and God; and they were inconsistent with their own relation to the world, for they did reverence to that very power which was often turned against themselves, and against the holy Name they bore.
II. THE SIN . All inconsistency may with truth be charged home upon the inconsistent man as being essentially sinful. But the inconsistent conduct of these Jews was more directly and immediately open to that charge, as being a breach of the royal law, the law of love.
1. The specific sin, i.e. the particular aspect which the sin of uncharity assumed in this special case.
2. The generic sin, i.e. its general nature, as uncharity, apart from this special manifestation.
The conclusion of all is, "With what measure we mete, it shall be measured to us again." A law of liberty, but not of liberty to sin. And if we disregard the law that should make us free, for us there is, not love, but judgment. A merciless judgment, if we have been merciless. But if, on the other hand, our hearts have been loving, and. our lives merciful, through the faith of Christ, then judgment shall be disarmed, and we shall learn what those words mean, "Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy."—T.F.L.