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The Epistle Of James Practically Explained by Augustus Neander

James i. 4, 5

But James well understood the character of the churches whom he addressed; and that among them the idea of faith was liable to the perversion of which we have spoken. It is everywhere his aim to counteract this one-sided tendency to the particular and the external. Hence he adds, that even if faith had thus approved itself as steadfast, in these outward conflicts with the world, yet this one thing alone would not constitute the Christian life. In manifold directions, must faith pervade the entire life, and manifest its power. |Let steadfastness,| he adds (or as Luther translates it, patience), |have its perfect work.| Luther understood this of time; it was to approve itself as perfect by persevering even to the end. But from the connection with what follows, and from the whole connection and course of thought in the Epistle, we should rather understand it thus: To the faith which has approved itself as steadfast, must correspond all the works pertaining to faith, the entire sum of the acts in which faith expresses its inward character. But James, in reference to the unity of the whole Christian life, designates the entire Christian course, all Christian action, as one perfect work, -- as must be the case in order to correspond to true faith. Thus we can rightly understand what he immediately adds: |that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing;| implying that with persevering faith connects itself the whole sum of the true Christian walk. By completeness is not meant an absolute perfection, nowhere to be found in the Christian life on earth; but, as often elsewhere in the Scriptures, all which belongs to Christian maturity, to what Paul terms Christian manhood, -- as by wholeness (|entire|) is meant the exclusion of whatever would mar the Christian life. When he desires that they may be wanting in nothing, he has in mind the aggregate of all qualities, powers, and capacities which Christianity develops, when its efficacy is fully proved as a leaven for the entire nature of man. Hence he subjoins a direction, intended to encourage them under the consciousness of any deficiency in this respect. He shows them what they must themselves do, if they would attain to that also, in which they are still deficient. What he might have expressed in wholly general terms, applicable to everything in which they might be conscious of deficiency, he applies (with his usual preference for the specific over the general idea) to that point especially wherein these particular churches might feel, or ought to feel, their need. Above all things was needed true wisdom, to give to the whole life its proper reference to the kingdom of God. Wisdom, or prudence (for which in the original the same word is used, -- the prudence grounded in wisdom and subservient to it, the prudence of wisdom, of Christian love, being alone regarded as genuine) is by our Lord himself often held up as the chief object of attainment. But, as already remarked, there prevailed in these churches, as a fruit of the Jewish spirit, a proneness to a vain show of wisdom, to the over-estimation of mere knowledge, the conceit of knowledge and wisdom. So much the more did. they need to be admonished, that true wisdom is based upon humility; that it is not to be learned in the schools from Doctors of the Law; that it can be obtained only from the fountain of eternal light. Hence James adds to what he has already said, |If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally [with simplicity], and upbraideth not: and it shall be given him.| Thus he counsels them, when they feel the consciousness of their deficiencies, to turn to God in prayer. God is designated as he who gives with simplicity, i. e. out of pure love, for the mere sake of giving, -- simplicity being here contrasted with a liberality apportioned and limited by self-interest. He is represented as he who reproaches no one with his benefits, but who is ever ready still to give, if there only exists a susceptibility for his gifts. They should not turn then to such teachers as hold back from them a part of the truth, impart to them grudgingly, and reproach them with their indebtedness; but to the love of a Heavenly Father, who gives without measure and is ever ready to give.

It is prayer, therefore, which James represents as the condition required of the believer, in order that he may share in the communication from that heavenly fountain. This is the necessary relation between impacting and receiving in divine things. God alone being the Creator and Bestower, the human spirit can here only hold the attitude of a recipient. And this direction of the spirit, in order to receive what God is ready to impart, consists in prayer. The direction of the soul towards God in the feeling of personal need, and in the conviction that God alone can and will satisfy it, the longing towards God of the spirit hungering and thirsting after wisdom, -- this is prayer. To seek the truth from God, and to pray, are one and the same thing. The whole life of the spirit, filled with this longing and impelled by it towards God, is prayer. So in those words of Christ, -- to seek, to knock, in order to find the hid treasure, and to pray, are all classed together: |Ask and it shall be given you, seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you.| (Matt. vii.7.)

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