17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh
down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow
17 Omnis donatio bona et omne donum perfectum desursum est, descendens
a Patre luminum; apud quem non est transmutatio, aut conversionis obumbratio.
18 Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should
be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
18 Is sua voluntate genuit nos veritatis, ut essemus primitiae quaedam
16. Do not err. This is an argument from what is opposite; for
as God is the author of all good, it is absurd to suppose him to be the
author of evil. To do good is what properly belongs to him, and according
to his nature; and from him all good things come to us. Then, whatever
evil he does, is not agreeable to his nature. But as it sometimes happens,
that he who quits himself well through life, yet in some things fails,
he meets this doubt by denying that God is mutable like men. But if God
is in all things and always like himself, it hence follows that well-doing
is his perpetual work.
This reasoning is far different from that of Plato, who maintained that
no calamities are sent on men by God, because he is good; for though it
is just that the crimes of men should be punished by God, yet it is not
right, with regard to him, to regard among evils that punishment which
he justly inflicts. Plato, indeed, was ignorant; but James, leaving to
God his right and office of punishing, only removes blame from him. This
passage teaches us, that we ought to be so affected by God’s innumerable
blessings, which we daily receive from his hand, as to think of nothing
but of his glory; and that we should abhor whatever comes to our mind,
or is suggested by others, which is not compatible with his praise.
God is called the Father of lights, as possessing all excellency and
the highest dignity. And when he immediately adds, that there is in him
no shadow of turning, he continues the metaphor; so that we may not measure
the brightness of God by the irradiation of the sun which appears to us.
18. Of his own will. He now brings forward a special proof of
the goodness of God which he had mentioned, even that he has regenerated
us unto eternal life. This invaluable benefit every one of the faithful
feels in himself. Then the goodness of God, when known by experience, ought
to remove from them all a contrary opinion respecting him.
When he says that God of his own will, or spontaneously, hath begotten
us, he intimates that he was induced by no other reason, as the will and
counsel of God are often set in opposition to the merits of men. What great
thing, indeed, would it have been to say that God was not constrained to
do this? But he impresses something more, that God according to his own
goodwill hath begotten us, and has been thus a cause to himself. It hence
follows that it is natural to God to do good.
But this passage teaches us, that as our election before the foundation
of the world was gratuitous, so we are illuminated by the grace of God
alone as to the knowledge of the truth, so that our calling corresponds
with our election. The Scripture shews that we have been gratuitously adopted
by God before we were born. But James expresses here something more, that
we obtain the right of adoption, because God does also call us gratuitously.
(Ephesians 1:4, 5.) Farther, we hence learn, that it is the peculiar office
of God spiritually to regenerate us; for that the same thing is sometimes
ascribed to the ministers of the gospel, means no other thing than this,
that God acts through them; and it happens indeed through them, but he
nevertheless alone doeth the work.
The word begotten means that we become new men, so that we put off our
former nature when we are effectually called by God. He adds how God begets
us, even by the word of truth, so that we may know that we cannot enter
the kingdom of God by any other door.
That we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. The word tina<,
“some,” has the meaning of likeness, as though he had said, that we are
in a manner firstfruits. But this ought not to be restricted to a few of
the faithful; but it belongs to all in common. For as man excels among
all creatures, so the Lord elects some from the whole mass and separates
them as a holy offering, to himself. It is no common nobility into which
God extols his own children. Then justly are they said to be excellent
as firstfruits, when God’s image is renewed in them.
19 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear,
slow to speak, slow to wrath:
19 Itaque, fratres mei dilecti, sit omnis homo celer ad audiendum,
tardus autem ad loquendum, tardus ad iram:
20 For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.
20 Ira enim hominus justitiam Dei non operatur.
21 Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness,
and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your
21 Quapropter deposita omni inmunditie, et redundantia malitiae,
cum mansuetudine suscipite insitum sermonem qui potest servare animas vestras.
19. Let every man. Were this a general sentence, the inference
would be farfetched; but as he immediately adds a sentence respecting the
word of truth suitable to the last verse, I doubt not but that he accommodates
this exhortation peculiarly to the subject in hand. Having then set before
us the goodness of God, he shews how it becomes us to be prepared to receive
the blessing which he exhibits towards us. And this doctrine is very useful,
for spiritual generation is not a work of one moment. Since some remnants
of the old man ever abide in us, we must necessarily be through life renewed,
until the flesh be abolished; for either our perverseness, or arrogance,
or sloth, is a great impediment to God in perfecting in us his work. Hence,
when James would have us to be swift to hear, he commends promptitude,
as though he had said, “When God so freely and kindly presents himself
to you, you also ought to render yourselves teachable, lest your slowness
should cause him to desist from speaking.”
But inasmuch as we do not calmly hear God speaking to us, when we seem
to ourselves to be very wise, but by our haste interrupt him when addressing
us, the Apostle requires us to be silent, to be slow to speak. And, doubtless,
no one can be a true disciple of God, except he hears him in silence. He
does not, however, require the silence of the Pythagorean school, so that
it should not be right to inquire whenever we desire to learn what is necessary
to be known; but he would only have us to correct and restrain our forwardness,
that we may not, as it commonly happens, unseasonably interrupt God, and
that as long as he opens his sacred mouth, we may open to him our hearts
and our ears, and not prevent him to speak.
Slow to wrath. Wrath also, I think, is condemned with regard
to the hearing which God demands to be given to him, as though making a
tumult it disturbed and impeded him, for God cannot be heard except when
the mind is calm and sedate. Hence, he adds, that as long as wrath bears
rule there is no place for the righteousness of God. In short, except the
heat of contention be banished, we shall never observe towards God that
calm silence of which he has just spoken.
21. Wherefore lay apart. He concludes by saying how the word
of life is to be received. And first, indeed, he intimates that it cannot
be rightly received except it be implanted, or strike roots in us. For
the expression, to receive the implanted word, ought to be thus explained,
“to receive it, that it may be really implanted.” For he alludes to seed
often sown on and ground, and not received into the moist bosom of the
earth; or to plants, which being cast on the ground, or laid on dead wood,
soon wither. He then requires that it should be a living implanting, by
which the word becomes as it were united with our heart.
He at the same time shews the way and manner of this reception, even
with meekness. By this word he means humility and the readiness of a mind
disposed to learn, such as Isaiah describes when he says,
“On whom does my Spirit rest, except on the humble and meek?” (Isaiah
Hence it is, that so far profit in the school of God, because hardly
one in a hundred renounces the stubbornness of his own spirit, and gently
submits to God; but almost all are conceited and refractory. But if we
desire to be the living plantation of God, we must subdue our proud hearts
and be humble, and labor to become like lambs, so as to suffer ourselves
to be ruled and guided by our Shepherd.
But as men are never thus tamed, so as to have a calm and meek heart,
except they are purged from depraved affections, so he bids us to lay aside
uncleanness and redundancy of wickedness. And as James borrowed a comparison
from agriculture, it was necessary for him to observe this order, to begin
by rooting up noxious weeds. And since he addressed all, we may hence conclude
that these are the innate evils of our nature, and that they cleave to
us all; yea, since he addresses the faithful, he shews that we are never
wholly cleansed from them in this life, but that they are continually sprouting
up, and therefore he requires that care should be constantly taken to eradicate
them. As the word of God is especially a holy thing; to be fitted to receive
it, we must put off the filthy things by which we have been polluted.
Under the word kaki>a, he comprehends hypocrisy and obstinacy as well
as unlawful desires or lusts. Not satisfied with specifying the seat of
wickedness as being in the soul of man, he teaches us that so abounding
is the wickedness that dwells there, that it overflows, or that it rises
up as it were into a heap; and doubtless, whosoever will well examine himself
will find that there is within him an immense chaos of evils.
Which is able to save. It is a high eulogy on heavenly truth, that we
obtain through it a sure salvation; and this is added, that we may learn
to seek and love and magnify the word as a treasure that is incomparable.
It is then a sharp goad to chastise our idleness, when he says that the
word which we are wont to hear so negligently, is the means of our salvation,
though for this purpose the power of saving is not ascribed to the word,
as if salvation is conveyed by the external sound of the word, or as if
the office of saving is taken away from God and transferred elsewhere;
for James speaks of the word which by faith penetrates into the hearts
of men, and only intimates that God, the author of salvation, conveys it
by his Gospel.