Home      Back to Easter 4





Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Epistle

JAMES 1:17-21

Procedure and Results of Sin. A. D. 61. 
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 of turning. 18 Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.  

III. We are taught yet further that, while we are the authors and procurers of all sin and misery to ourselves, God is the Father and fountain of all good, v. 16, 17. We should take particular care not to err in our conceptions of God: "Do not err, my beloved brethren, me lanasthe--do not wander, that is, from the word of God, and the accounts of him you have there. Do not stray into erroneous opinions, and go off from the standard of truth, the things which you have received from the Lord Jesus and by the direction of his Spirit." The loose opinions of Sinon, and the Nicolaitans (from whom the Gnostics, a most sensual corrupt set of people, arose afterwards), may perhaps, by the apostle here, be more especially cautioned against. Those who are disposed to look into these may consult the first book of Irenæus against heresies. Let corrupt men run into what notions they will, the truth, as it is in Jesus, stands thus: That God is not, cannot be, the author and patronizer of any thing that is evil; but must be acknowledged as the cause and spring of every thing that is good: Every good and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, v. 17. Here observe, 1. God is the Father of lights. The visible light of the sun and the heavenly bodies is from him. He said, Let there be light, and there was light. Thus God is at once represented as the Creator of the sun and in some respects compared to it. "As the sun is the same in its nature and influences, though the earth and clouds, oft interposing, make it seem to us as varying, by its rising and setting, and by its different appearances, or entire withdrawment, when the change is not in it; so God is unchangeable, and our changes and shadows are not from any mutability or shadowy alterations in him, but from ourselves."--Baxter. The Father of lights, with whom there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. What the sun is in nature, God is in grace, providence, and glory; aye, and infinitely more. For, 2. Every good gift is from him. As the Father of lights, he gives the light of reason. The inspiration of the Almighty giveth understanding, Job xxxii. 8. He gives also the light of learning: Solomon's wisdom in the knowledge of nature, in the arts of government, and in all his improvements, is ascribed to God. The light of divine revelation is more immediately from above. The light of faith, purity, and all manner of consolation is from him. So that we have nothing good but what we receive from God, as there is no evil or sin in us, or done by us, but what is owing to ourselves. We must own God as the author of all the powers and perfections that are in the creature, and the giver of all the benefits which we have in and by those powers and perfections: but none of their darknesses, their imperfections, or their ill actions are to be charged on the Father of lights; from him proceeds every good and perfect gift, both pertaining to this life and that which is to come. 3. As every good gift is from God, so particularly the renovation of our natures, our regeneration, and all the holy happy consequences of it, must be ascribed to him (v. 18): Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth. Here let us take notice, (1.) A true Christian is a creature begotten anew. He becomes as different a person from what he was before the renewing influences of divine grace as if he were formed over again, and born afresh. (2.) The original of this good work is here declared: it is of God's own will; not by our skill or power; not from any good foreseen in us, or done by us, but purely from the good-will and grace of God. (3.) The means whereby this is affected are pointed out: the word of truth, that is, the gospel, as Paul expresses it more plainly, 1 Cor. iv. 15, I have begotten you in Jesus Christ through the gospel. This gospel in indeed a word of truth, or else it could never produce such real, such lasting, such great and noble effects. We may rely upon it, and venture our immortal souls upon it. And we shall find it a means of our sanctification as it is a word of truth, John xvii. 17. (4.) The end and design of God's giving renewing grace is here laid down: That we should be a kind of first-fruits of his creatures--that we should be God's portion and treasure, and a more peculiar property to him, as the first-fruits were; and that we should become holy to the Lord, as the first-fruits were consecrated to him. Christ is the first-fruits of Christians, Christians are the first-fruits of creatures. 

On Suppressing Corrupt Affections. A. D. 61. 
19 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: 20 For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. 21 Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.  

In this part of the chapter we are required, 

I. To restrain the workings of passion. This lesson we should learn under afflictions; and this we shall learn if we are indeed begotten again by the word of truth. For thus the connection stands--An angry and hasty spirit is soon provoked to ill things by afflictions, and errors and ill opinions become prevalent through the workings of our own vile and vain affections; but the renewing grace of God and the word of the gospel teach us to subdue these: Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath, v. 19. This may refer, 1. To the word of truth spoken of in the verse foregoing. And so we may observe, It is our duty rather to hear God's word, and apply our minds to understand it, than to speak according to our own fancies or the opinions of men, and to run into heat and passion thereupon. Let not such errors as that of God's being the occasion of men's sin ever be hastily, much less angrily, mentioned by you (and so as to other errors); but be ready to hear and consider what God's word teaches in all such cases. 2. This may be applied to the afflictions and temptations spoken of in the beginning of the chapter. And then we may observe, It is our duty rather to hear how God explains his providences, and what he designs by the, than to say as David did in his haste, I am cut off; or as Jonah did in his passion, I do well to be angry. Instead of censuring God under our trials, let us open our ears and hearts to hear what he will say to us. 3. This may be understood as referring to the disputes and differences that Christians, in those times of trial, were running into among themselves: and so this part of the chapter may be considered without any connection with what goes before. Here we may observe that, whenever matters of difference arise among Christians, each side should be willing to hear the other. People are often stiff in their own opinions because they are not willing to hear what others have to offer against them: whereas we should be swift to hear reason and truth on all sides, and be slow to speak any thing that should prevent this: and, when we do speak, there should be nothing of wrath; for a soft answer turneth away wrath. As this epistle is designed to correct a variety of disorders that existed among Christians, these words, swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath, may be very well interpreted according to this last explication. And we may further observe from them that, if men would govern their tongues, they must govern their passions. When Moses's spirit was provoked, he spoke unadvisedly with his lips. If we would be slow to speak, we must be slow to wrath. 

II. A very good reason is given for suppressing: For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God, v. 20. It is as if the apostle had said, "Whereas men often pretend zeal for God and his glory, in their heat and passion, let them know that God needs not the passions of any man; his cause is better served by mildness and meekness than by wrath and fury." Solomon says, The words of the wise are heard in quiet, more than the cry of him that ruleth among fools, Eccl. ix. 17. Dr. Manton here says of some assemblies, "That if we were as swift to hear as we are ready to speak there would be less of wrath, and more of profit, in our meetings. I remember when a Manichee contested with Augustine, and with importunate clamour cried, Hear me! hear me! the father modestly replied, Nec ego te, nec tu me, sed ambo audiamus apostolum--Neither let me hear thee, nor do thou hear me, but let us both hear the apostle." The worst thing we can bring to a religious controversy is anger. This, however it may pretend to be raised by a concern for what is just and right, is not to be trusted. Wrath is a human thing, and the wrath of man stands opposed to the righteousness of God. Those who pretend to serve the cause of God hereby show that they are acquainted neither with God or his cause. This passion must especially be watched against when we are hearing the word of God. See 1 Pet. ii. 1, 2. 

III. We are called upon to suppress other corrupt affections, as well as rash anger: Lay aside all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, v. 21. The word here translated filthiness signifies those lusts which have the greatest turpitude and sensuality in them; and the words rendered superfluity of naughtiness may be understood of the overflowings of malice or any other spiritual wickednesses. Hereby we are taught, as Christians, to watch against, and lay aside, not only those more gross and fleshly dispositions and affections which denominate a person filthy, but all the disorders of a corrupt heart, which would prejudice it against the word and ways of God. Observe, 1. Sin is a defiling thing; it is called filthiness itself. 2. There is abundance of that which is evil in us, to be watched against; there is superfluity of naughtiness. 3. It is not enough to restrain evil affections, but they must be cast from us, or laid apart. Isa. xxx. 22, Thou shalt cast them away as a menstruous cloth; thou shalt say, Get you hence. 4. This must extend not only to outward sins, and greater abominations, but to all sin of thought and affection as well as speech and practice; pasan rhyparian--all filthiness, every thing that is corrupt and sinful. 5. Observe, from the foregoing parts of this chapter, the laying aside of all filthiness is what a time of temptation and affliction calls for, and is necessary to the avoiding of error, and the right receiving and improving of the word of truth: for, 

IV. We are here fully, though briefly, instructed concerning hearing the word of God. 

1. We are required to prepare ourselves for it (v. 21), to get rid of every corrupt affection and of every prejudice and prepossession, and to lay aside those sins which pervert the judgment and blind the mind. All the filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, before explained, must, in an especial manner, be subdued and cast off, by all such as attend on the word of the gospel. 

2. We are directed how to hear it: Receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls. (1.) In hearing the word of God, we are to receive it--assent to the truths of it--consent to the laws of it; receive it as the stock does the graft; so as that the fruit which is produced may be, not according to the nature of the sour stock, but according to the nature of that word of the gospel which is engrafted into our souls. (2.) We must therefore yield ourselves to the word of God, with most submissive, humble, and tractable tempers: this is to receive it with meekness. Being willing to hear of our faults, and taking it not only patiently, but thankfully, desiring also to be molded and formed by the doctrines and precepts of the gospel. (3.) In all our hearing we should aim at the salvation of our souls. It is the design of the word of God to make us wise to salvation; and those who propose any meaner or lower ends to themselves in attending upon it dishonour the gospel and disappoint their souls. We should come to the word of God (both to read it and hear it), as those who know it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth, Rom. i. 16.