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Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Epistle

James 4:6-11


III. We are taught to observe the difference God makes between pride and humility.  
God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble, v. 6. This is represented as the language of scripture in the Old Testament; for so it is declared in the book of Psalms that God will save the afflicted people (if their spirits be suited to their condition), but will bring down high looks (Ps. xviii. 27); and in the book of Proverbs it is said, He scorneth the scorners, and giveth grace unto the lowly, Prov. iii. 34. Two things are here to be observed:-- 1. The disgrace cast upon the proud: God resists them; the original word, antitassetai, signifies, God's setting himself as in battle array against them; and can there be a greater disgrace than for God to proclaim a man a rebel, an enemy, a traitor to his crown and dignity, and to proceed against him as such? The proud resists God; in his understanding he resists the truths of God; in his will he resists the truths of God; in his will he resists the laws of God; in his passions he resists the providence of God; and therefore no wonder that God sets himself against the proud. Let proud spirits hear this and tremble--God resists them. Who can describe the wretched state of those who make God their enemy? He will certainly fill with same (sooner or later) the faces of such as have filled their hearts with pride. We should therefore resist pride in our hearts, if we would not have God to resist us. 2. The honour and help God gives to the humble. Grace, as opposed to disgrace, is honour; this God gives to the humble; and, where God gives grace to be humble, there he will give all other graces, and, as in the beginning of this sixth verse, he will give more grace. Wherever God gives true grace, he will give more; for to him that hath, and useth what he hath aright, more shall be given. He will especially give more grace to the humble, because they see their need of it, will pray for it and be thankful for it; and such shall have it. For this reason, 

IV. We are taught to submit ourselves entirely to God:  
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you, v. 7. Christians should forsake the friendship of the world, and watch against that envy and pride which they see prevailing in natural men, and should by grace learn to glory in their submissions to God. "Submit yourselves to him as subjects to their prince, in duty, and as one friend to another, in love and interest. Submit your understandings to the truths of God; submit your wills to the will of God, the will of his precept, the will of his providence." We are subjects, and as such must be submissive; not only through fear, but through love; not only for wrath, but also for conscience' sake. "Submit yourselves to God, as considering how many ways you are bound to this, and as considering what advantage you will gain by it; for God will not hurt you by his dominion over you, but will do you good." Now, as this subjection and submission to God are what the devil most industriously strives to hinder, so we ought with great care and steadiness to resist his suggestions. If he would represent a tame yielding to the will and providence of God as what will bring calamities, and expose to contempt and misery, we must resist these suggestions of fear. If he would represent submission to God as a hindrance to our outward ease, or worldly preferments, we must resist these suggestions of pride and sloth. If he would tempt us to lay any of our miseries, and crosses, and afflictions, to the charge of Providence, so that we might avoid them by following his directions instead of God's, we must resist these provocations to anger, not fretting ourselves in any wise to do evil. "Let not the devil, in these or the like attempts, prevail upon you; but resist him and he will flee from you." If we basely yield to temptations, the devil will continually follow us; but if we put on the whole armour of God, and stand it out against him, he will be gone from us. Resolution shuts and bolts the door against temptation. 

V. We are directed how to act towards God, in our becoming submissive to him, v. 8-10. 
1. Draw nigh to God. The heart that has rebelled must be brought to the foot of God; the spirit that was distant and estranged from a life of communion and converse with God must become acquainted with him: "Draw nigh to God, in his worship and institutions, and in every duty he requires of you." 
2. Cleanse your hands. He who comes unto God must have clean hands. Paul therefore directs to lift up holy hands without wrath and doubting (1 Tim. ii. 8), hands free from blood, and bribes, and every thing that is unjust or cruel, and free from every defilement of sin: he is not subject to God who is a servant of sin. The hands must be cleansed by faith, repentance, and reformation, or it will be in vain for us to draw nigh to God in prayer, or in any of the exercises of devotion. 
3. The hearts of the double-minded must be purified. Those who halt between God and the world are here meant by the double-minded. To purify the heart is to be sincere, and to act upon this single aim and principle, rather to please God than to seek after any thing in this world: hypocrisy is heart-impurity; but those who submit themselves to God aright will purify their hearts as well as cleanse their hands. 
4. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep. "What afflictions God sends take them as he would have you, and by duly sensible of them. Be afflicted when afflictions are sent upon you, and do not despise them; or be afflicted in your sympathies with those who are so, and in laying to heart the calamities of the church of God. Mourn and weep for your own sins and the sins of others; times of contention and division are times to mourn in, and the sins that occasion wars and fightings should be mourned for. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to heaviness." This may be taken either as a prediction of sorrow or a prescription of seriousness. Let men think to set grief at defiance, yet God can bring it upon them; none laugh so heartily but he can turn their laughter into mourning; and this the unconcerned Christians James wrote to are threatened should be their case. They are therefore directed, before things come to the worst, to lay aside their vain mirth and their sensual pleasures, that they might indulge godly sorrow and penitential tears. 
5. "Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord. Let the inward acts of the would be suitable to all those outward expressions of grief, affliction, and sorrow, before mentioned." Humility of spirit is here required, as in the sight of him who looks principally at the spirits of men. "Let there be a thorough humiliation in bewailing every thing that is evil; let there be great humility in doing that which is good: Humble yourselves." 

VI. We have great encouragement to act thus towards God: 
He will draw nigh to those that draw nigh to him (v. 8), and he will lift up those who humble themselves in his sight, v. 10. Those that draw nigh to God in a way of duty shall find God drawing nigh to them in a way of mercy. Draw nigh to him in faith, and trust, and obedience, and he will draw nigh to you for your deliverance. If there be not a close communion between God and us, it is our fault, and not his. He shall lift up the humble. Thus much our Lord himself declared, He that shall humble himself shall be exalted, Matt. xxiii. 12. If we be truly penitent and humble under the marks of God's displeasure, we shall in a little time know the advantages of his favour; he will lift us up out of trouble, or he will lift us up in our spirits and comforts under trouble; he will lift us up to honour and safety in the world, or he will lift us up in our way to heaven, so as to raise our hearts and affections above the world. God will revive the spirit of the humble (Isa. lvii. 15), He will hear the desire of the humble (Ps. x. 17), and he will at last life them up to glory. Before honour is humility. The highest honour in heaven will be the reward of the greatest humility on earth. 

Caution against Slander; Caution against Presumption. A. D. 61. 
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.  

In this part of the chapter, 

I. We are cautioned against the sin of evil-speaking:  
Speak not evil one of another, brethren, v. 11. The Greek word, katalaleite, signifies speaking any thing that may hurt or injure another; we must not speak evil things of others, though they be true, unless we be called to it, and there be some necessary occasion for the; much less must we report evil things when they are false, or, for aught we know, may be so. Our lips must be guided by the law of kindness, as well as truth and justice. This, which Solomon makes a necessary part of the character of his virtuous woman, that she openeth her mouth with wisdom, and in her tongue is the law of kindness (Prov. xxxi. 26), must needs be a part of the character of every true Christian. Speak not evil one of another, 1. Because you are brethren. The compellation, as used by the apostle here, carries an argument along with it. Since Christians are brethren, they should not defile nor defame one another. It is required of us that we be tender of the good name of our brethren; where we cannot speak well, we had better say nothing than speak evil; we must not take pleasure in making known the faults of others, divulging things that are secret, merely to expose them, nor in making more of their known faults than really they deserve, and, least of all, in making false stories, and spreading things concerning them of which they are altogether innocent. What is this but to raise the hatred and encourage the persecutions of the world, against those who are engaged in the same interests with ourselves, and therefore with whom we ourselves must stand or fall? "Consider, you are brethren." 2. Because this is to judge the law: He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law. The law of Moses says, Thou shalt not go up and down as a tale-bearer among thy people, Lev. xix. 16. The law of Christ is, Judge not, that you be not judged, Matt. vii. 1. The sum and substance of both is that men should love one another. A detracting tongue therefore condemns the law of God, and the commandment of Christ, when it is defaming its neighbour. To break God's commandments is in effect to speak evil of them, and to judge them, as if they were too strict, and laid too great a restraint upon us. The Christians to whom James wrote were apt to speak very hard things of one another, because of their differences about indifferent things (such as the observance of meats and days, as appears from Rom. xiv.): "Now," says the apostle, "he who censures and condemns his brother for not agreeing with him in those things which the law of God has left indifferent thereby censures and condemns the law, as if it had done ill in leaving them indifferent. He who quarrels with his brother, and condemns him for the sake of any thing not determined in the word of God, does thereby reflect on that word of God, as if it were not a perfect rule. Let us take heed of judging the law, for the law of the Lord is perfect; if men break the law, leave that to judge them; if they do not break it, let us not judge them." This is a heinous evil, because it is to forget our place, that we ought to be doers of the law, and it is to set up ourselves above it, as if we were to be judges of it. He who is guilty of the sin here cautioned against is not a doer of the law, but a judge; he assumes an office and a place that do not belong to him, and he will be sure to suffer for his presumption in the end. Those who are most ready to set up for judges of the law generally fail most in their obedience to it.