ITS opening words are addressed to the
Suffering, -- exhorting them to steadfastness and submission. |My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations.| The idea of temptation is a comprehensive one in the Scriptures. By it is designated, whatever may become an obstacle or impediment to Christian faith and Christian virtue, -- prosperity and adversity, the world without and the world within; everything which, though it may indeed occasion the overthrow of faith and virtue in the conflict, thus puts them to the test, and may therefore serve also to confirm and strengthen them. In this more general sense it might, in itself considered, be understood here. But it is evident from the connection that here, as in many other passages, are meant the sufferings by which the Christian life is tried. Now to those who sigh under sufferings such as we have described, he addresses not merely the exhortation, to bear them patiently in the prospect of future glory. Far more than this. The feeling of suffering should lose itself in joy. They should do nothing but rejoice. How could James say this? It was because with him all has reference to what is noblest in man, what constitutes his true being, the imperishable, the inner man as it is termed by Paul. And knowing that these temptations, rightly used, must serve for the improvement of the inner man, and for this purpose were ordained of God; he therefore calls upon Christians not to be disquieted, but to rejoice in these sufferings, bearing in mind the end which they must promote for the children of God. The right improvement of suffering, on Christian grounds, is therefore presupposed, as indicated by James in the succeeding words: |Knowing that the trial of your faith worketh patience.| It is here implied, that faith has its appointed process of development and purification in this life, -- a process consisting in an unceasing conflict. Faith is in his view something radically different from, and elevated above, every other governing principle in man; something endued with an inward divine power; which must, however, approve itself in conflict with this opposing power, with all which proceeds from the flesh, from the natural man. There are indeed manifold trials of faith, and to all these the words of James apply. But it is the conflict with external circumstances, which is here especially meant. Here then is it to be tested, whether the faith is genuine, deep-rooted in the inner life; such an one as, through indwelling divine power, is able to overcome the world. The opposite case is presented by Christ, in what he says of the stony ground; where indeed the seed of the word springs up quickly, but soon withers because it has no sap (Luke viii.6); a conviction which is not a firm and deeply rooted one, and in time of temptation vanishes away (v.13). But so long as faith approves itself in this warfare, holds out in the conflict with the world, it demonstrates thereby its divine power. The test becomes an attestation. From the victorious contest faith comes forth with a confirmed constancy, and constancy manifests itself as a fruit of faith. It is by this means that the Christian first learns what he himself possesses.