In the first article it was seen how believers are to respond to trials. We shall now proceed to examine the source of evil and the best way to deal with it. For convenience, therefore, we shall analyse the chapter as follows:
The first twelve verses were considered last time, so we shall begin at verse 13:
This is a necessary exhortation, for when we pass through trials we can easily get wrong ideas of God. Thus the apostle would point out three important matters:
This is, of course, the Scriptures, the “word of truth”. We have three factors brought to our notice, v. 18:
The “firstfruits” usually speak of the first gathering of that which had been sown and are representative of the oncoming harvest. It can also refer to that which is chief. Here it is used symbolically of believers as the first fruits of redemption, which will reach its climax in the kingdom age. “Creation” or “creatures” are used here, as they are the broadest possible terms which will include every aspect of God’s redemptive plan.
We should observe how the remaining verses proceed from what has just been discussed. James had said, v. 18, that God “begat” us or “brought us forth” by the Word of Truth, and so every believer ought to be “swift to hear”, v. 19. We must also be “slow to speak”: indeed, this expression is developed more fully in chapter 3. “For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God” — this righteousness is of God alone.
We are to lay aside, as a filthy garment, that which belongs to the old nature. Thus we may receive the implanted Word which is able to save us, v. 21, this salvation being experimental in character. In view of the exhortation of verses 19-20, we are to put off all “filthiness” and “naughtiness” (“wickedness” — “malignity”) — which implies a sinful attitude towards each other; we inherit this and must remove it before the Word can be received. Possibly, the agricultural image influenced the selection of the words “filthiness” and “superfluity” (“abundance”) — the ground must be prepared before the seed can sink in and develop.
If a believer must listen to the Word before he tries to proclaim it, he must not be satisfied with a listening that is merely passive; his faith must be demonstrative. Thus the exhortation in verse 22, “Be ye (i.e. make sure you are) doers of the word, and not hearers only”. We must never be like those who are regular in listening to lectures but who never become committed followers. It is possible to hear the Word continually and to treat such hearing as an end in itself, so that the message heard is never made a practical issue. This becomes a type of self-deception: indeed, deception is strongly opposed in this chapter. We are not to be deceived about God, v. 16 R.V.; ourselves, v. 22; or religion, v. 26. We must be hearers, for nothing can substitute this responsibility, but we are not to be “hearers only”. A responsive person is blessed. Words which do not have an abiding effect are soon forgotten, however helpful in themselves they may be, and the advantage drawn from such hearing is both imperfect and temporary. Looking into a “glass” (R.V. “mirror”) is an apt image: the face a person beholds is his own, but it is never quite the same from day to day. He may pay no attention to any part of his face which requires medical care — so is every hearer who does not take heed to the message.
The Word is to be obeyed, vv. 22-24, and obedience will lead to blessing, v. 25: thereby we shall come into a condition of liberty which those under the law did not experience. Thus, this is the safest resistance against temptation — His Word within, illuminating the mind, cleansing the heart, checking the inclinations, and stabilizing the will.
Verses 26-27 define religion practically: in verse 27 we have true religion set out positively and negatively. God is ever mindful of the weaker section of society and demands holy living, which is achieved on the basis of the blood of Christ, through the daily cleansing by the Word, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit.