From Calvin's Commentaries
The Epistle of James (Volume XXII)
6 But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God
resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.
6 Quin majorem dat gratiam: —
The Spirit, or, Does the Spirit? Some think that the soul of man is
meant, and therefore read the sentence affirmatively, and according to
this meaning, — that the spirit of man, as it is malignant, is so infected
with envy, that it has ever a mixture of it. They, however, think better
who regard the Spirit of God as intended; for it is he that is given to
dwell in us. I then take the Spirit as that of God, and read the sentence
as a question; for it was his object to prove, that because they envied
they were not ruled by the Spirit of God; because he teaches the faithful
otherwise; and this he confirms in the next verse, by adding that he giveth
For it is an argument arising from what is contrary. Envy is a proof
or sign of malignity; but the Spirit of God proves himself to be bountiful
by the affluence of his blessings. There is then nothing more repugnant
to his nature than envy. In short, James denies that the Spirit of God
rules where depraved lusts prevail, which excite to mutual contention;
because it is peculiarly the office of the Spirit to enrich men more and
more continually with new gifts.
I will not stop to refute other explanations. Some give this meaning
that the Spirit lusteth against envy; which is too harsh and forced. Then
they say that God gives more grace to conquer and subdue lust. But the
meaning I have given is more suitable and simple, — that he restores us
by his bounty from the power of malignant emulation. The continuative particle
de< is to be taken adversatively, for ajlla< or ajlla> ge; so have
I rendered it quin, but.
7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will
flee from you.
7 Subjecti igitur estote Deo; Resistite diabolo, et fugiet a vobis;
8 Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands,
ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.
8 Appropinquate Deo, et appropinquabit vobis; mundate manus, peccatores;
purificate corda duplici animo;
9 Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned
to mourning, and your joy to heaviness.
9 Affligimini, lugete et plorate; risus vester in luctum vertatur
et gaudium in moerorem.
10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift
10 Humiliamini coram Deo, et eriget vos.
7. Submit yourselves. The submission which he recommends is that
of humility; for he does not exhort us generally to obey God, but requires
submission; for the Spirit of God rests on the humble and the meek. (Isaiah
57:15.) On this account he uses the illative particle. For as he had declared
that God’s Spirit is bountiful in increasing his gifts, he hence concludes
that we ought to lay aside envy, and to submit to God.
Many copies have introduced here the following sentence: “Wherefore
he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.” But
in others it is not found. Erasmus suspects that it was first a note in
the margin, and afterwards crept into the text. It may have been so, though
it is not unsuitable to the passage. For what some think, that it is strange
that what is found only in Peter, should be quoted as Scripture, may be
easily disposed of. But I rather conjecture that this sentence which accords
with the common doctrine of Scripture, had become then a sort of proverbial
saying common among the Jews. And, indeed, it is no more than what is found
in Psalm 18:27,
“The humble O Lord, thou wilt save;
and the eyes of the proud wilt thou cast down:”
and similar sentences are found in many other passages.
Resist the devil. He shews what that contention is which we ought to
engage in, as Paul says, that our contest is not with flesh and blood,
but he stimulates us to a spiritual fight. Then, after having taught us
meekness towards men, and submission towards God, he brings before us Satan
as our enemy, whom it behooves us to fight against.
However, the promise which he adds, respecting the fleeing of Satan,
seems to be refuted by daily experience; for it is certain, that the more
strenuously any one resists, the more fiercely he is urged. For Satan,
in a manner, acts playfully, when he is not in earnest repelled; but against
those who really resist him, he employs all the strength he possesses.
And further, he is never wearied with fighting; but when conquered in one
battle, he immediately engages in another. To this I reply, that fleeing
is to be taken here for putting to flight, or routing. And, doubtless,
though he repeats his attacks continually, he yet always departs vanquished.
8. Draw nigh to God. He again reminds us that the aid of God
will not be wanting to us, provided we give place to him. For when he bids
us to draw nigh to God, that we may know him to be near to us he intimates
that we are destitute of his grace, because we withdraw from him. But as
God stands on our side, there is no reason to fear succumbing. But if any
one concludes from this passage, that the first part of the work belongs
to us, and that afterwards the grace of God follows, the Apostle meant
no such thing; for though we ought to do this, yet it does immediately
follow that we can. And the Spirit of God, in exhorting us to our duty,
derogates nothing from himself, or from his own power; but the very thing
he bids us to do, he himself fulfills in us.
In short, James meant no other thing in this passage, than that God
is never wanting to us, except when we alienate ourselves from him. He
is like one who brings the hungry to a table and the thirsty to a fountain.
There is this difference, that our steps must be guided and sustained by
the Lord, for our feet fail us. But what some cavil at, and say, that God’s
grace is secondary to our preparation, and as it were the waiting-maid,
is only frivolous; for we know that it is no new thing that he adds now
to former graces and thus enriches more and more those to whom he has already
Cleanse your hands. He here addresses all those who were alienated from
God and he does not refer to two sorts of men, but he calls the same sinners
and double-minded. Nor does he understand every kind of sinners, but the
wicked and those of a corrupt life. It is said in John 9:3,
“God does not hear sinners;”
in the same sense a woman is called a sinner by Luke. (Luke 7:36.) It
is said by the same and the other evangelists, “He drinketh and eateth
with sinners.” He, therefore, does not smite all indiscriminately to that
sort of repentance mentioned here, but those who are wicked and corrupt
in heart, and whose life is base and flagitious or at least wicked; it
is from these he requires a purity of heart and outward cleanliness.
We hence learn what is the true character of repentance. It is not only
an outward amendment of life, but its beginning is the cleansing of the
heart. It is also necessary on the other hand that the fruits of inward
repentance should appear in the brightness of our works.
9. Be afflicted and mourn. Christ denounces mourning on those
who laugh, as a curse, (Luke 6:25;) and James, in what shortly follows,
alluding to the same words, threatens the rich with mourning. But here
he speaks of that salutary mourning or sorrow which leads us to repentance.
He addresses those who, being inebriated in their minds, did not perceive
God’s judgment. Thus it happened that they flattered themselves in their
vices. That he might shake off from them this deadly torpor, he admonishes
them to learn to mourn, that being touched with sorrow of conscience they
might cease to flatter themselves and to exult on the verge of destruction.
Then laughter is to be taken as signifying the flattering with which the
ungodly deceive themselves, while they are infatuated by the sweetness
of their sins and forget the judgment of God.
10. Humble yourselves, or, be ye humbled. The conclusion of what
is gone before is, that the grace of God then be ready to raise us up when
he sees that our proud spirits are laid aside. We emulate and envy, because
we desire to be eminent. This is a way wholly unreasonable, for it is God’s
peculiar work to raise up the lowly, and especially those who willingly
humble themselves. Whosoever, then, seeks a firm elevation, let him be
cast down under a sense of his own infirmity, and think humbly of himself.
Augustine well observes somewhere, As a tree must strike deep roots downwards,
that it may grow upwards, so every one who has not his soul fixed deep
in humility, exalts himself to his own ruin.
11 Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil
of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and
judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the
law, but a judge.
11 Ne detrahatis invicem, fratres; qui detrahit fratri, aut judicat
fratrem suum, detrahit legi, et judicat legem; si autem judicas legem,
non es factor legis sed judex.
11. Speak not evil, or, defame not. We see how much labor James
takes in correcting the lust for slandering. For hypocrisy is always presumptuous,
and we are by nature hypocrites, fondly exalting ourselves by calumniating
others. There is also another disease innate in human nature, that every
one would have all others to live according to his own will or fancy. This
presumption James suitably condemns in this passage, that is, because we
dare to impose on our brethren our rule of life. He then takes detraction
as including all the calumnies and suspicious works which flow from a malignant
and perverted judgment. The evil of slandering takes a wide range; but
here he properly refers to that kind of slandering which I have mentioned,
that is, when we superciliously determine respecting the deeds and sayings
of others, as though our own morosity were the law, when we confidently
condemn whatever does not please us.
That such presumption is here reproved is evident from the reason that
is immediately added, He that speaketh evil of, or defames his brother,
speaketh evil of, or defames the law. He intimates, that so much is taken
away from the law as one claims of authority over his brethren. Detraction,
then, against the law is opposed to that reverence with which it behooves
us to regard it.
Paul handles nearly the same argument in Romans 14, though on a different
occasion. For when superstition in the choice of meats possessed some,
what they thought unlawful for themselves, they condemned also in others.
He then reminded them, that there is but one Lord, according to whose will
all must stand or fall, and at whose tribunal we must all appear. Hence
he concludes that he who judges his brethren according to his own view
of things, assumes to himself what peculiarly belongs to God. But James
reproves here those who under the pretense of sanctity condemned their
brethren, and therefore set up their own morosity in the place of the divine
law. He, however, employs the same reason with Paul, that is, that we act
presumptuously when we assume authority over our brethren, while the law
of God subordinates us all to itself without exception. Let us then learn
that we are not to judge but according to God’s law.