James 5 Bible Commentary

John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes

(Read all of James 5)

Verse 1

[1] Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you.

Come now, ye rich — The apostle does not speak this so much for the sake of the rich themselves, as of the poor children of God, who were then groaning under their cruel oppression.

Weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you — Quickly and unexpectedly. This was written not long before the siege of Jerusalem; during which, as well as after it, huge calamities came on the Jewish nation, not only in Judea, but through distant countries. And as these were an awful prelude of that wrath which was to fall upon them in the world to come, so this may likewise refer to the final vengeance which will then be executed on the impenitent.

Verse 2

[2] Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten.

The riches of the ancients consisted much in large stores of corn, and of costly apparel.

Verse 3

[3] Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days.

The canker of them — Your perishing stores and motheaten garments.

Will be a testimony against you — Of your having buried those talents in the earth, instead of improving them according to your Lord's will.

And will eat your flesh as fire — Will occasion you as great torment as if fire were consuming your flesh.

Ye have laid up treasure in the last days — When it is too late; when you have no time to enjoy them.

Verse 4

[4] Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth.

The hire of your labourers crieth — Those sins chiefly cry to God concerning which human laws are silent. Such are luxury, unchastity, and various kinds of injustice. The labourers themselves also cry to God, who is just coming to avenge their cause.

Of sabaoth — Of hosts, or armies.

Verse 5

[5] Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter.

Ye have cherished your hearts — Have indulged yourselves to the uttermost.

As in a day of sacrifice — Which were solemn feast-days among the Jews.

Verse 6

[6] Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you.

Ye have killed the just — Many just men; in particular, "that Just One," Acts 3:14. They afterwards killed James, surnamed the Just, the writer of this epistle.

He doth not resist you — And therefore you are secure. But the Lord cometh quickly, James 5:8.

Verse 7

[7] Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain.

The husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit — Which will recompense his labour and patience.

Till he receives the former rain — Immediately after sowing.

And the latter — Before the harvest.

Verse 8

[8] Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.

Stablish your hearts — In faith and patience.

For the coming of the Lord — To destroy Jerusalem.

Is nigh — And so is his last coming to the eye of a believer.

Verse 9

[9] Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door.

Murmur not one against another — Have patience also with each other.

The judge standeth before the door — Hearing every word, marking every thought.

Verse 10

[10] Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience.

Take the prophets for an example — Once persecuted like you, even for speaking in the name of the Lord. The very men that gloried in having prophets yet could not bear their message: nor did either their holiness or their high commission screen them from suffering.

Verse 11

[11] Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.

We count them happy that endured — That suffered patiently. The more they once suffered, the greater is their present happiness.

Ye have seen the end of the Lord — The end which the Lord gave him.

Verse 12

[12] But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation.

Swear not — However provoked. The Jews were notoriously guilty of common swearing, though not so much by God himself as by some of his creatures. The apostle here particularly forbids these oaths, as well as all swearing in common conversation. It is very observable, how solemnly the apostle introduces this command: above all things, swear not - As if he had said, Whatever you forget, do not forget this. This abundantly demonstrates the horrible iniquity of the crime. But he does not forbid the taking a solemn oath before a magistrate.

Let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay — Use no higher asseverations in common discourse; and let your word stand firm. Whatever ye say, take care to make it good.

Verse 14

[14] Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord:

Having anointed him with oil — This single conspicuous gift, which Christ committed to his apostles, Mark 6:13, remained in the church long after the other miraculous gifts were withdrawn. Indeed, it seems to have been designed to remain always; and St. James directs the elders, who were the most, if not the only, gifted men, to administer at. This was the whole process of physic in the Christian church, till it was lost through unbelief. That novel invention among the Romanists, extreme unction, practised not for cure, but where life is despaired of, bears no manner of resemblance to this.

Verse 15

[15] And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.

And the prayer offered in faith shall save the sick - From his sickness; and if any sin be the occasion of his sickness, it shall be forgiven him.

Verse 16

[16] Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

Confess your faults — Whether ye are sick or in health.

To one another — He does not say, to the elders: this may, or may not, be done; for it is nowhere commanded. We may confess them to any who can pray in faith: he will then know how to pray for us, and be more stirred up so to do.

And pray one for another, that ye may be healed — Of all your spiritual diseases.

Verse 17

[17] Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months.

Elijah was a man of like passions — Naturally as weak and sinful as we are.

And he prayed — When idolatry covered the land.

Verse 18

[18] And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.

He prayed again — When idolatry was abolished.

Verse 19

[19] Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him;

As if he had said, I have now warned you of those sins to which you are most liable; and, in all these respects, watch not only over yourselves, but every one over his brother also. Labour, in particular, to recover those that are fallen.

If any one err from the truth — Practically, by sin.

Verse 20

[20] Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.

He shall save a soul — Of how much more value than the body! James 5:14.

And hide a multitude of sins — Which shall no more, how many soever they are, be remembered to his condemnation.