To go along with my personal reading of the Epistle of James, I plan to be posting a series of posts with some quotes on the epistle. The main point will be to encourage further study and give valuable insight on this book of the Bible. Here is the first post, introducing the epistle and giving some macro-level information. Of course, I think we should give first priority to the epistle itself, but I think some of these thoughts help in understanding the epistle better.
Method and Message
“All through the book of James you get the feeling that there’s the undertone of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is almost the primary teacher, as James articulates his lessons. In many ways, then, James is a practical commentary of application of the Sermon on the Mount. And his goal, by the way, is the same as that of Jesus, to convince his audience that their religion and their religious profession and their religious activities will not benefit them at all unless they manifest true godliness from the heart.” – John MacArthur in a sermon on James
“James provides clear, practical instruction throughout the letter. This is why so many people love this book. Of course, that is why so many people avoid it as well. We want practical advice…the kind that agrees with what we already think. But James is not concerned about telling us what we want to hear. No, he lines up one truth, and then he lines up another; and then, having his listeners just where he wants them, he delivers a third hard-hitting truth right to their situation with all the force of the first two points behind it.” – Mark Dever in The Message of The New Testament
“The Epistle of James is one of the most exciting parts of the New Testament. It has hard-hitting punch and a reality-oriented attitude that catch readers unaware and astound them, while also offering them practical guidelines for life.” – Peter H. Davids in the New International Bible Commentary
“[James] is a book which is rich in spiritual dynamics. It will be motivating and sobering in its message. It is a book of faith, a book of promise and a book of warning.” – John Stevenson, PCA Pastor
“The apostle wrote it upon the same reason, to wit, to prevent or check their misprisions who cried up naked apprehensions for faith, and a barren profession for true religion. Such unrelenting lumps of sin and lust were there even in the primitive times, gilded with the specious name of Christians. ” – Thomas Manton in his exposition on James
“You will notice, just perusing this letter, that this letter is about ethics. To be more specific, it’s about Christian living. It is a very practical letter, but that doesn’t mean it’s an easy letter to read. It’s very easy to understand, but James is so plainspoken that he steps on our toes. And we need that. We need God, by His divinely inspired word, to step on our toes, to enter into our comfort zone, to make us uncomfortable with our sins, to convict us of it and to spur us on to righteous living. And that is precisely what this little book does. It is a moral exhortation. It is an exhortation to Christian living not only as individuals but also in our light in the community, in the family of God.” – From a sermon preached J. Ligon Duncan at Faith Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Missouri in 2002
“There are many proofs that the epistle was written by the author of the speech in Acts 15:13-21—delicate similarities of thought and style too subtle for mere imitation or copying…There are, besides, apparent reminiscences of the Sermon on the Mount, which James may have heard personally or at least heard the substance of it. There is the same vividness of imagery in the epistle that is so prominent a characteristic of the teaching of Jesus.” – A.T. Robertson in Studies in the Epistle of James
“In 1:1 the author identifies himself as ‘James, the servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.’” – Daniel Wallace in James: Introduction, Outline,and Argument
It Is Neglected
“[James] has been a neglected book, for ever since Luther called it an epistle of straw lacking the wheat of the gospel…, Protestants in general have struggled with the work. The result has been that the work has been pushed aside” – Peter H. Davids in the New International Bible Commentary
In Defense of James
“There are also at this day some who do not think [the Epistle of James] entitled to authority. I, however, am inclined to receive it without controversy, because I see no just cause for rejecting it.…Though he seems more sparing in proclaiming the grace of Christ than it behooved an Apostle to be, it is not surely required of all to handle the same arguments. The writings of Solomon differ much from those of David; while the former was intent on forming the outward man and teaching the precepts of civil life, the latter spoke continually of the spiritual worship of God, peace of conscience, God’s mercy and gratuitous promise of salvation. But this diversity should not make us to approve of one, and to condemn the other.” – John Calvin in his commentary on James
“The objections against [James] are of no weight, which are taken from the seeming disagreement between the Apostle Paul, and the writer of this epistle, concerning the doctrine of justification; and from his calling the law the perfect law of liberty, and insisting so much on the doctrine of works; all which will be seen to be agreeable to the other parts of Scripture, and easily reconciled with them; nor is there anything in it unworthy of an apostle and an inspired writer. ” – John Gill in his commentary on James
“[James] hath a just title to our respect and belief, and [James] should be received in the church with the same esteem and reverence which we bear to other scriptures.” – Thomas Manton in his exposition of James
I think these thoughts are helpful in approaching the Epistle of James.
“[T]he people neither see nor feel the necessity of this war…We appear to be selecting a time to begin a war, when our Treasury is empty, and we are destitute of resources to replenish it. Some appear disposed to scout all calculations of expense, and to rely upon patriotism…we must have money–money in large sums–to carry on the war”
“At all events, Canada must be ours [say those who support the war]; and this is to be the sovereign balm, the universal panacea, which is to heal all the wounds we have received…This is to…secure the liberty of the seas hereafter…The conquest of Canada has been represented to be so easy as to be little more than a party of pleasure. We have, it has been said, nothing to do but to march an army into the country…and the Canadians will immediately flock to it and place themselves under our protection. They have been represented as ripe for revolt, panting for emancipation from a tyrannical Government…the mere sight of an army of the United States would immediately put an end to all thoughts of resistance, that we had little else to do only to march…This subject deserves a moment’s consideration”
[Quotes from Samuel Taggart, Massachusetts Congressman and Presbyterian Pastor, in a letter published in the Alexandria Gazette on June 24, 1812.]
“The essential parts of worship we are at no loss to discover, clearly indicated as they are in the history of the Apostolic Church. Praise and Prayer, with the reading and exposition of Scripture, together with the celebration of the Sacraments, are repeatedly referred to as those exercises in which the early Christians engaged. With such worship, though in more elaborate form, the church has always been familiar.” – Robert Johnson
“Not only from the individual heart does God require ascriptions of praise and expressions of confidence, but from the organized congregations of His people, He desires to hear the voice of adoration, contrition, and supplication. The cultivation of such worship, and the offering of it in a manner acceptable to God, is a work worthy of the Church’s most earnest care.
It is to be expected therefore, that in the Word of God there shall be found the principles…which possessing Divine authority, shall carry with it the assurance of its sufficiency for the ends aimed at, and of its suitability to the requirements of the Church in every age.” – Robert Johnson
Ian Clary as posted links to audio from a church history conference Carl Trueman spoke at in Calgary Grace Church in Calgary, Alberta. Clint Humfrey also participates. I have only listened to two of the talks, but so far so good!
“Christians must be careful thinkers, especially those who teach other Christians how to think.”
“[W]e ought to avoid the mistake of making the Bible fit our grid instead of allowing for complementary scriptural ideas to work side by side.”
“Almost every doctrinal error starts with the desire to affirm or to protect some important doctrine. But without careful thinking and delicate nuances, working hard to avoid one mistake will simply lead us to another.”
In particular, the point about falling into “the mistake of making the Bible fit our grid” is, I believe, a prominent pitfall in our day of multimedia where we can instantly hear tons of presentations and read tons of perspectives with little investment. I think this is true because it is easy to hunt out resources that match our particular grid. Nobody is going to argue the abundance of resources is wrong, but it does make certain pitfalls more pronounced.
I think as we see the Church discussing hotly disputed areas, we need to be particularly careful that as we build up our understanding of the scriptures that we genuinely allow at least two corrective “checks” to be constantly in the back of our mind.
1. Am I taking an otherwise valid Biblical emphasis and over-extending it?
2. Am I allowing one part of a valid Biblical tension to flatten my reading and interpretation?
I’m not saying that these are easy questions or we will always have immediately easy answers. I’m just saying that the Church as a whole would profit if we all would do our best to be constantly coming back to them.