REBUKE OF QUARRELS ARISING FROM PRIDE AND GREED . A terribly sadden transition from the "peace" with which James 3:1-18 . closed.
The difficulty of the passage is well shown by the hesitation of the Revisers. The first clause is rendered, "Or think ye that the Scripture speaketh in vain?" but as an alternative there is suggested in the margin, "Or think ye that the Scripture saith in vain?" as if the following clause were a quotation from Scripture. And of this following clause three possible renderings are suggested.
Worldliness enmity with God.
Here the apostle follows up the words of rebuke and warning with which the chapter opened. The doctrine which he enunciates is uncompromising; and his language startling, as welt as solemn.
I. THE ANTAGONISM BETWEEN THE LOVE OF THE WORLD AND THE LOVE OF GOD . ( James 4:4 ) This painful epithet, "Ye adulteresses," is the key-note of the chord which James strikes in his appeal. God is the rightful spiritual Husband of every professing Christian; and thus, if such a one embraces the world, he or she resembles a woman who turns away from her lawful husband to follow other lovers. The world is an evil world, alien in its principles and pursuits from the will and glory of God; and therefore " the friendship of the world" is incompatible with the love of him. But what precisely is this "friendship"? It does not lie
Worldliness does not depend upon outward acts or habits. It is a state of the heart. The word denotes the spirit and guiding disposition of the unbeliever's life—the will to "be a friend of the world." Since, accordingly, this friendship represents direct opposition to the Divine will, every man who seeks it first and most declares himself by that very act "an enemy of God."
II. CONFIRMATION OF THIS TRUTH . (Verses 5, 6) We accept as accurate the Greek reading of verse 5 which has been adopted by the Revisers, together with their translation: "Or think ye that the Scripture speaketh in vain? Doth the Spirit which he made to dwell in us long unto envying?" The apostle, accordingly, confirms his representation regarding the antagonism between the love of the world and the love of God by:
1. The tenor of Scripture teaching. The sacred writers with one consent take up an attitude of protest against worldliness. They uniformly assume that "the friendship of the world is enmity with God." They urge the duty of moderation in one's desires, and of contentment with the allotments of Providence. The worldly disposition, which shows itself in covetousness and envy and strife, is opposed both to the letter and the spirit of Holy Scripture. And the moral teaching of God's Word on this subject is not "in vain." The Bible means what it says. In all its utterances it is solemnly earnest.
2. The consciousness of the renewed heart. "Doth the Spirit [ i.e. the Holy Spirit] which he made to dwell in us long unto envying?" If the Holy Ghost, speaking in the written Word, condemns the spirit of envy, he does so also in the law which he writes upon the hearts of Christ's people. Some of those to whom this Epistle was addressed had "bitter jealousy and faction in their hearts" ( James 3:14 ): it was seen in their worldly "wars" and "fightings." But the apostle appeals to their consciences to confess whether such a state of mind was not due to their walking "after the flesh' instead of "after the Spirit." They knew well that the power of the Holy Ghost within their souls, in so tar as they yielded themselves to it, produced always very different fruit from that of envy and strife ( Galatians 5:19-23 ; James 3:14-18 ).
3. The substance of the Divine promises. (Verse 6) "Grace" is the name for the influence which the Holy Spirit exerts upon the heart in order to its regeneration and sanctification. And how does grace operate, but just by killing the love of the world within the soul, and breathing into it the love of God? He, by his Spirit, gives to his believing people "more grace," i.e. supplies of grace greater in force and volume than the strength of their depravity, or the temptations against which they have to contend. Not only so, but those who employ well the grace which they already possess, shall receive more in ever-increasing measure ( Matthew 25:29 ). And "the humble," who realize must deeply that they do not deserve any grace at all, are those upon whom God has always bestowed the most copious supplies. The further we depart from pride, which is the fruitful mother of envy and strife, the more freely and abundantly shall we receive that supernatural energy which will drive the love of the world out of our hearts ( Proverbs 3:34 ).
CONCLUSION . Let us impress upon our minds the intensity with which God abhors pride. All history echoes the truth that "he setteth himself in array against the proud." Take the case of Pharaoh, of Nebuchadnezzar, of Haman, of Wolsey, of Napoleon. For ourselves, therefore, let us "fling away ambition" in every form. Especially let us crucify spiritual pride. "Many laboring men have got good estates in the Valley of Humiliation;" and if we go there "in the summer-time" of prosperity we shall learn the song of the shepherd boy—
"He that is down needs fear no fall;
He that is low no pride;
He that is humble ever shall
Have God to be his Guide."
War or peace?
He has just been speaking of peace. But this leads him to survey the actual state of things: disputes, strifes, murders. (For condition of Jewish society at this time, see Plumptre's notes: " rife with atrocities.") And he will ascend to the origin of them. Whence come they? They proceed from the restlessness of the unregenerate nature, seeking, but seeking in vain, its satisfaction in the world. These two topics, then, are introduced to us: dissatisfaction with the world; satisfaction in God.
I. DISSATISFACTION WITH THE WORLD . Man's nature consists of higher and lower, spiritual and psychical, the one designed by God to govern and regulate the other. But without such governance the desires of the lower life are riotous and rampant, and the members of the ungoverned man are the battle-ground for base cravings. And from the man himself the battle is projected into the world.
1. But what is the result of this unbridled craving for the world? A nature that is never satisfied.
2. And what the guilt of this condition? The guilt of absolute ungodliness!
II. SATISFACTION IN GOD . But, it may be said, we are naturally so prone to sin; we covet, we envy, as being to the manner born. Yes, truly; and only God's grace can suffice. But God's grace can suffice, and it is abundantly given ( James 4:6 ).
1. Let us notice the terms upon which this grace is given.
(a) of the will—cleansing the hands and purifying the heart ( James 4:8 );
(b) of the feelings ( James 4:9 ).
2. And the results of this craving after God?
So, virtually, in the ascension of Christ; so actually by-and-by ( John 14:3 ). The same old war in the members, from the beginning until now. It must be put down by a more righteous war. A war which demands all the abounding grace of God. Let us learn, then, sternness towards sin; strong trust towards God. And so he will give the victory.—T.F.L.