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Reviews | The Epistle of James

The Epistle of James

Neville Smart


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The Christadelphian review (from November 1955)

The Epistle of James

HOW welcome an addition to our literature is this study of the Epistle of James by bro. Neville Smart! In eleven chapters and two hundred pages this compact book belies in its size the great amount of study and research which has been undertaken for its writing. It is not therefore a book to be hurried through. Despite its incisive and clear style one needs to read and read again. “The sincere milk of the word” is here replaced by “meat” for the adult appetites of those to whom the digestion of God’s word is a joy and a rejoicing unto life eternal and not a pill to be swallowed.

In the opening words of the first chapter headed “The Author and his Readers”, bro. Smart says: “The forthright and authoritative tone of this epistle indicates a writer of forceful character and of considerable prestige amongst the Jewish believers in the early church”. We are at once reminded of the Lord who “taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes”. The authority of God’s word so apparent in “the Word made flesh” inevitably shows itself in those who imbibe it. Different from human authority the word of God produces the apparent opposites of forthrightness and humility. These qualities that the writer finds in the Apostle James are reflected throughout his book and he is not afraid to quote from others and append a bibliography. They produce in turn in the reader the humble feeling that we know nothing yet as we ought to know.

The fact that James makes no claim of human kinship with Jesus strikes the keynote of a true humility. The epistle’s opening words, “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ”, are in keeping with the absence of emphasis in the Scriptures of mere blood relationships. “Before God there is no respect of persons”, says the writer. “That James came to the forefront in the affairs of the early church was due not so much to the fact of his relationship with Jesus as to the qualities that were latent in his own personality, and which themselves no doubt owed much to that relationship.”

We are led naturally to accept the fact that the Scriptures mean what they say and that James was “the Lord’s brother”, and that the efforts of some to argue otherwise have been due to motives of giving support to a false theology.

The second and third chapters deal with the “General Characteristics” and “The Plan of the Epistle” respectively. In the former the parallel column method of comparison between passages of scripture is introduced, and it is used with great effect both here and elsewhere through the book. In fact parallelism is the peculiar form of Hebrew poetry and not rhyme and rhythm as in English, and the parallel thoughts form of this typically Hebrew writing are well brought out. In this manner is shown one of the most remarkable features of the epistle, the close connection it shows with the teaching of Jesus especially in the Sermon on the Mount. Matt. 5:34–37 is paralleled with James 5:12; Matt. 6:19 with 5:2–3, and so on.

“The Essential Argument” is the fourth and longest chapter and is embodied in the words, “Be ye doers of the word, not hearers only, deceiving your own selves” (1:22). This is developed in detail, and attention is drawn to the Apostle’s close affinities of thought with the books of Job, the Proverbs and with some of the Psalms, as elsewhere with Peter’s first epistle. The essential thought is carried over into chapter six on “Faith and Works”, which is, however, mainly devoted to showing the essential harmony of the teaching of Paul and James and the absurdity of any imagined contradiction the one of the other as though opposing “Works” to “Faith”.

“The Respect of Persons” of the previous chapter five is quite searching. James is not concerned with the gold-ringed brother invited to occupy one of the chief seats (2:2), but very much with those who are responsible for paying such attentions. Bro. Smart says, “Rich men are not inevitably vain, and to the wealthy brother who is also humble the partial attentions of his fellows may well be a considerable embarrassment”. “Are ye not divided in your own mind?— is the Apostle’s comment, echoing “A doubleminded man is unstable in all his ways” (1:8) which is a theme running prominently through the epistle. Here the mind is divided between God and Mammon, as elsewhere between faith and doubt, and in the next chapter, “The Power of the Tongue”, between blessing and cursing. The immediate background of James’s comments on the tongue is apparent as a background of the next three chapters, “Jealousy and Contention”, “Presumptuous Judgments and Projects” and “Patience in Affliction”: the concluding words of the last being an exhortation from our Lord’s own warning as to the dangers of the tongue’s waywardness. “Let ours too be the Yea, yea and Nay, nay lest we also likewise perish.”

The final chapter on “Sickness and Sin” deals with a subject which when allied with prayer is of considerable difficulty to some. The statement of the Apostle on the healing work of the disciples, “Let them pray over him anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord”, is put in a reasonable context. “How slowly does the human mind come to an appreciation of what the Scriptures mean by prayer”, writes bro. Smart in this connection, and proceeds to show our need to “pray without ceasing”.


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