But the sufferings of the oppressed Christians are ever before the mind of James. Having spoken of these sufferings as trials for the verifying of their faith, he now extols as happy the righteous who endures temptation; since, by thus approving himself, he would win the victor's crown of eternal life, which the n Lord has promised to all who love him. But how shall we reconcile with this the warning, not to ascribe temptations to God, which James immediately adds? Does he not regard God, as having himself ordained these sufferings as a means of testing faith? But there are different applications of this term, and we must distinguish between outward and inward temptation. The difficulties which beset one from without, may serve to awaken in him the latent power of the higher life. But they may also show his inward weakness, -- may become the point of connection for that which stands opposed to the divine life. That which might otherwise have been the means of attesting, his faith or Christian virtue, through his own fault becomes temptation to unbelief or to sin. Thus the outward temptation becomes an inward one, and thereby endangers the soul. When Christ bids us pray: Lead us not into temptation, this can certainly be no other than inward temptation; for his disciples were to be left behind, in the midst of those temptations of the world which should serve as tests of their faith. The object of the petition must have been, that the outward might not become an inward temptation. In like manner, James, in his use of the word, passes from one of these related ideas to the other.
But he must have found special reason for this warning in the peculiar state of these churches; and the explanation is to be sought in that same spirit of externalizing, of which we have already spoken. As this spirit shows itself in the conception of what is good, so does it also in the conception of sin. At no time have there been wanting grounds of excuse for sin; which men have regarded as something cleaving to them from without, and have sought its origin in merely external causes, instead of tracing it to its inward source in the faulty direction of the will. So it would seem that many in these churches excused themselves, on the plea that they were in subjection to a higher power, which hurried them away into sin. The Almighty, whom no one is able to withstand, has plunged them into these temptations. To this James replies: |Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God;| for as God cannot be tempted by aught that is evil, being elevated above all evil, so neither from him can temptation to sin proceed. The Holy One can tempt none to sin. He then lays open the fountain of temptation in man's own bosom, and describes the process by which the sinful tendency gains ground in progressive steps, till its final development in outward act. The source of temptation, he represents as lying in those desires inherent in every man, by which he is excited and led away; which lie in wait for him, as it were, but which he has power to withstand. They gain strength only because they are not resisted; because he who might subject them to himself, submits himself to them. Thus prevailing, thus ripened into fruit, lust bringeth forth sin; and sin completed in act is followed by death.
We are by no means to infer, as is clear from the connection of thought in this passage, that these desires are not in their own nature sinful; or that the prevailing sinful tendency of the will would not involve death, even if it should find no expression in outward act, as though all turned on the outward act alone. The thought is this: Evil, from the first breaking forth of desire, proceeds on in ascending stages of development, until, -- overpowering all the opposing influences of the higher life, -- it is consummated in act. In this consummation in act is shown an increased strength of sin; and though man was previously able, by overcoming the enticements to sin, to maintain and to reestablish in himself the true life; yet now, through sin which has gained the victory over him, he falls a prey to death. James, therefore, warns them against indulging in such false and delusive ideas, as that God can be the author of evil.