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The Epistle Of James Practically Explained by Augustus Neander

§ 2. Personal relations and religious development of James.

In reference to the personality of James, the fact is an important one that he did not belong to the number of the Apostles. The Apostles were formed out of those disciples, who had attached themselves to the Redeemer with minds still undeveloped, and yielding with childlike susceptibility wholly to his influence. They had not been previously formed in another school, before coming into connection with him. Their whole development they had received in intercourse with him; and hence they were fitted, in a peculiar manner, to become vessels of his all-transforming grace, to receive in themselves a faithful impress of his image, and to serve as instruments for the diffusion of his word and his spirit through all ages. With Paul it was far otherwise. He had, indeed, this in common with the rest of the Apostles, viz. that he could bear testimony as an eye-witness to the Risen Christ, and had received an immediate, personal impression of him. But he had come to Christ, with a well-defined system formed in a wholly different school; and hence, in his case, the new man in Christ must present in its development the strongest possible contrast with his earlier character.

Unlike to both of these cases was that of James. He was a brother of the Lord according to the flesh. All those passages of the Gospels in which |brothers of the Lord| are mentioned, together with Matt. i.25, are most naturally explained on the supposition, that after the birth of Jesus Mary bore still other sons. These were the |brothers of the Lord,| of whom James was one. Inasmuch as marriage and the production of offspring, like everything belonging to our nature, was to be sanctified through Christ, there is nothing in such a supposition which is at all questionable, nothing derogatory to the dignity of the mother of Christ, or to his own. If anything offensive is found in it, it is owing solely to a mistaken veneration of Mary, and to that false ascetic tendency, whose views of the unholiness of the married state, and of the superiority of celibacy, are entirely at variance with the spirit of Christianity. On the contrary, it is only when thus seen in contrast with the usual course of nature, that the birth of Jesus, as effected by supernatural agency, appears in its true light and its true significance. Christ, as the miraculously begotten son of Mary, then appears in contrast with the offspring of Mary according to the laws of natural descent; the contrast between the natural and the supernatural (as Paul designates it, Gal. iv.23 and 29), between him that is born after the spirit and him that is born after the flesh; the contrast which pervades the whole process of development in the kingdom of God.

James was therefore, in his religious development, distinguished from the other preachers of the Gospel, in that it neither proceeded so entirely and from its first beginnings from Christ himself as was the case with the other Apostles, -- nor formed itself out of such a contrast between the earlier and the later, as appears in the case of Paul. His path of development, originating elsewhere, moved on for a time independently beside that circle of influences, which had formed itself from and around Christ, and not till a later period became wholly united with it.

Now it might seem, indeed, that one so closely connected with the Lord as his own brother, the daily witness of his life and actions, was the one fitted above all others to become his disciple; that one so pre-eminently favored from the first, must have been in many respects in advance of the Apostles themselves. On this view was founded the judgment of the common Jewish Christians, that they were bound to exalt James above all other preachers of the Gospel, and to pay special respect to his authority.

In the estimation thus formed of him, by the standard of the merely external natural relation to Christ, we perceive the intermingling of the Jewish spirit in the conception of Christianity, -- its opposite constituting the true Christian stand-point; as, in general, the disposition to the outward and formal in religious things is Jewish, while the tendency to the inward and spiritual belongs to the nature of Christianity. The internal and external stand not seldom in inverse proportion to each other. He who stood in the nearest external relations to the revelation of the kingdom of God, to the manifestation of the divine in humanity, to the appearance of the Son of God, -- might inwardly be farthest from it, and so remain if he stopped at the external manifestation, if he accustomed himself to see only with the bodily eye, and through this habit was hindered from penetrating with the eye of the spirit to that which was within. This we see in the whole relation of the Jews to the kingdom of God, and to the Messiah who proceeded from the midst of this people, destined to prepare the way for his manifestation. Christ himself testifies, in opposition to this outward Jewish tendency, that the external natural relation is of no account; that all depends rather on the inward relation, formed by the direction of the mind and heart; that not natural relationship, but submission of the soul, can alone bring one into union with him. So on one occasion, when he was occupied with his life-work, the preaching of the Gospel, among those who listened to his words with eager and receptive hearts; he repelled those who would interrupt him on the plea that his nearest kindred, his mother and brethren, desired to see him. Pointing to the circle of disciples, in whom the seed of the divine word was received into the good soil of receptive and retentive hearts, he said: |My mother and my brethren are THESE, who hear the word of God and do it.| (Luke viii.21, Mark iii.34, 35.) Thus the essential point is not, how one is related to him by natural descent, but how he is in spirit related to the divine will revealed by him. Here also belongs the incident related Luke xi.27, 28. A woman, powerfully affected by the divine impression of his words, cried out from the midst of the listening multitude: |Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the breasts which thou hast sucked!| |Yea rather,| he replied, implying the vanity of this supposed advantage, |blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it!| Prophetic warnings! Not only against that externalizing tendency, as shown in the admixture of the old Jewish spirit with Christianity, -- but against that same spirit as it has often, in later times and under other forms, reappeared in the Christian Church!

Thus the very thing, which might seem most favorable to the religious development of James, turned to his disadvantage. The saying which Christ used in reference to his fellow-townsmen among whom the greater part of his life had been spent, and who had been eye-witnesses of his progressive development from childhood, -- |A prophet is of no honor in his own country,| -- applies with equal force to the case of James and his brothers. For the very reason, that they had from the first been eye-witnesses of the human earthly development of the Son of Man, they were not able to penetrate beyond the outward human veil. It became to them a stone of stumbling. True they afterwards witnessed the revelation of the Son of God, both in the inward power of the divine life perceptible only to the inwardly awakened sense for the divine, and in those proofs of power exhibited in his miracles. Still the faith, thus at times awakened, gave way continually to that skepticism proceeding from the prejudices of the natural man, who judges only after the flesh and by the outward appearance; and thus, during the whole earthly life of Christ, they remained in this state of vacillation, wavering between faith and unbelief. But when that stone of stumbling was taken out of their way, and the Son of God no longer stood before their eyes in the earthly veil of the Son of Man; when He, who was believed dead, showed himself victorious over death and living in divine power, to those whose weak faith required such confirmation; it was then, that the decisive and final direction was given to the development of the religious life of James (1 Cor. xv.7). From this time forward we see in him the decided, unwavering, zealous witness of the faith in that Jesus, as his Messiah, Lord and Saviour, who had been his own brother according to the flesh. (James i.1.)

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