James iv.

Notes & Commentary:

Ver. 1. Whence are wars[1] and contentions, in all kinds, but from your lusts and disorderly passions, coveting to have and enjoy what you have not, as to pleasures, riches, honours, &c. (Witham)

Ver. 2. You covet, and have not. Though God has promised that whosoever asks shall receive, (Matthew vii. 8.) yet no wonder you receive not, because you ask amiss, by asking such temporal things as would be prejudicial to your soul, or because you ask not with humility, devotion, and perseverance. (Witham)

Ver. 4. Adulterers: which is here taken in a figurative sense for those who love creatures more than God, the true spouse of their souls; who reflect not that the love and friendship of this world is an enemy to God, and the true manner of serving him. (Witham)

Ver. 5. Do you think that the scripture saith in vain: To envy doth the spirit covet, which dwelleth in you?[2] This verse is obscure, and differently expounded. By some, of an evil spirit in men, by which they covet and envy others for having what they have not. Others understand God’s spirit inhabiting in them; and then it is an interrogation, and reprehension, as if he said: Doth God’s spirit, which you have received, teach or excite you to covet and envy others, and not rather to love and wish their good? And to enable men to do this, God is not wanting, who gives us greater grace, especially to the humble that ask it, though he resists the proud. (Witham) — It is not evident to what part of Scripture St. James here alludes, the exact words are nowhere in the sacred writings. That which seems the most like this text, and the most adapted to his subject, is a passage from Ezechiel, “I will set my jealousy against thee:” (Ezechiel xxiii. 25.) i.e. I have loved thee with the love of jealousy, and I will revenge upon thee my slighted affections. (Calmet)

Ver. 6. But he giveth greater grace. The Holy Spirit which dwelleth in you, giveth you graces in proportion to your fidelity in complying with them, and according to your humility and the love which you bear to your neighbour. (Calmet) — St. James may also mean by these two verses, to exhort the Jews and Gentiles, who were rather jealous of each other, to nourish no jealousy against one another, nor be troubled at the blessing which their neighbour enjoyed from the bountiful hand of the Almighty. Then will God deal to us with a more liberal hand, and will bestow upon us greater graces in proportion as we lay aside all ill-will towards our neighbour. But that he will withhold his hand from the envious man, because he resists the proud, and gives his grace to the humble. Glory is the exclusive property of heaven; whoever, therefore assumes it to himself, makes God his enemy. There is nothing in man since his fall; there is nothing in holy writ which does not preach to us this truth. — N. B.[Nota Bene, Note Well?] These last words, “God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble,” are only in the Septuagint edition, Proverbs iii. 34. The Hebrew and Vulgate read in this place, “He shall scorn the scorners, and to the meek he will give grace.” (Calmet)

Ver. 7. Be subject therefore to God; humble yourselves in his sight, considering your own nothing. (Witham)

Ver. 8. Purify your heart from the love of creatures, so that your affections be not divided betwixt God and this world, like persons of two minds[3] or two souls. (Witham)

Ver. 9. Be afflicted[4] and mourn, and deplore your sins against his divine majesty; punish yourselves, and think not that a mere change of life is sufficient after so many sins committed. (Witham)

Ver. 11. Detract not one another, (nor judge rashly) brethren. Though he spoke so much against the evils of the tongue, he gives them a special admonition against the vice of detraction, so common in the world, as also against rash judgments, which happen so frequently where there are dissensions and divisions. He that detracteth, judgeth, and rashly condemneth his brother, may be said to detract and judge the law, inasmuch as he seems to contemn and condemn the law, by which these sins are forbidden; when, instead of obeying and complying with the law, he rather takes upon himself to act as a judge,[5] without fear of the law and of God, the only lawgiver, who is to judge all our actions, and who alone is able to destroy, or to free us and deliver us from the punishments we have deserved. (Witham)

Ver. 13. To-day or to-morrow, &c. An admonition against that presumption, when persons forget the uncertainty of life, and the vanity of all things in this world, which vanish like a vapour, and can never be relied upon, so as to count upon years and the time to come. All things here appear and disappear in a moment. Take heed, therefore, not to glory or boast in your arrogancies; (ver. 16.) literally, pride; like the rich man, (Luke x.) who thought of nothing but a long and merry life, and was cut off that very night. And being now admonished, reflect that it is sinful to know what is good, what is your duty, and not to comply with it. (Witham)

Ver. 15. For what is your life? it is a vapour. We frequently meet with three beautiful comparisons in holy writ. “Remember that my life is but wind….As a cloud is consumed, and passeth away; so he that shall go down to hell, shall not come up.” (Job vii. 7, 9.) “Man is like to vanity, his days pass away like a shadow.” (Psalm cxliii. 4.) Similar expressions also frequently occur in profane authors.

Nemo tam Divos habuit faventes

Crastinum ut possit sibi polliceri. (Seneca)

With reason then did our Saviour say, “Be you then also ready, for at what hour you think not, the Son of Man will come.” (Luke xii. 40.) (Calmet)


[1] Ver. 1. Unde bella et lites? polemoi kai machai, as also in ver. 2, litigatis et belligeratis, machesthe, kai polemeite. I see no reason to translate it, by lawsuits and pleadings, as Mr. N.

[2] Ver. 5. Ad invidiam concupiscit Spiritus, qui habitat in vobis: pros phthonon epipothei to pneuma o katokesen (habitavit) en umin. Ven. Bede expounds it, nunquid Spiritus GratiƦ….hoc concupiscit ut invideatis alterutrum?

[3] Ver. 8. Duplices animo, dipsuchoi.

[4] Ver. 9. Miseri estote, talaiporesate.

[5] Ver. 11. Parens….exterminabitur, phainomene, aphanizomene.

Bible Text & Cross-references:

The evils that flow from yielding to concupiscence, and being friends to this world. Admonitions against pride, detraction, &c.

1 From whence are wars and contentions among you? Are they not hence? from your concupiscences, which war in your members?

2 You covet, and have not: you kill, and envy, and cannot obtain; you contend and war, and you have not, because you ask not.

3 You ask, and receive not: because you ask amiss; that you may consume it on your concupiscences.

4 Adulterers, know you not that the friendship of this world is the enemy of God? Whosoever, therefore, will be a friend of this world, becometh an enemy of God.

5 Or do you think that the Scripture saith in vain: To envy doth the spirit covet, which dwelleth in you?

6 But he giveth greater grace. Wherefore he saith: *God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.

7 Be subject, therefore, to God, but resist the devil, and he will fly from you.

8 Approach to God, and he will approach to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.

9 Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned into mourning, and your joy into sorrow.

10 Be humbled in the sight of the Lord, and he will exalt you.

11 Detract not one another, brethren. He that detracteth his brother, or he that judgeth his brother, detracteth the law, and judgeth the law. But if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge.

12 There is one law-giver, and judge, who is able to destroy and to deliver.

13 *But who art thou, who judgest thy neighbour? Behold now, you who say: To-day or to-morrow we will go into such a city, and there we will spend a year, and will traffic, and make gain:

14 Whereas, you know not what shall be on the morrow.

15 For what is your life? It is a vapour which appeareth for a little while, and afterwards shall vanish away. For that you should say: If the Lord will; and, if we shall live, we will do this or that.

16 But now you glory in your arrogancies. All such glorying is wicked.

17 To him, therefore, who knoweth to do good, and doth it not, to him it is sin.



6: Proverbs iii. 34.; 1 Peter v. 6.

13: Romans xiv. 4.