James 4:15: Curing Arrogant Presumption, Part 3

Verse 15:[1] For that ye ought to say, (Acts 18:21; 1 Cor. 4:19; 16:7; Heb. 6:3) If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.

[Instead, etc., ἀντὶ τοῦ λέγειν ἡμᾶς—ζήσωμεν, καὶ ποιήσομεν] The Latin and the Syriac more correctly omit the καὶ/and, although this is often redundant, or is exegetical, and taken for then (Grotius). Instead of this (or, in its place [Erasmus, Estius]) which ye ought to say (or, while it was rather to be said by you [Erasmus, Zegers, Estius]: For he corrects the previously reprehended speech [Estius]), If the Lord will (here he understands His will decretive, or of hidden purpose, not directive; for it is not lawful for us to determine or to establish beforehand anything among ourselves, and then to ask whether it be lawful: For ye have done what ye have resolved to do [Gataker]: With this said, we profess all our actions to be governed by the will and providence of God [Estius, similarly Gataker]) and we live (there is, therefore, a twofold condition here, and both are required conjointly: This latter condition admonishes us concerning our mortality, which is such that we are altogether uncertain concerning the future [Estius]), we shall do (here the καὶ/and is redundant, after the manner of the Hebrews, serving only to tie the consequent to the hypothetical proposition [Piscator]) this or that (Beza, Piscator). Of what is prescribed here we have examples, Acts 18:21; 1 Corinthians 4:19 (Grotius). Thus Romans 1:10; Philippians 2:19, 23, 24; Hebrews 6:3 (Gataker), and in Ben Syra. Never, says he, let a man say that he is going to do anything, except he first say, If the Lord will.[2] And, in Plato, to Alcibiades saying, Ἀλλὰ πῶς χρὴ λέγειν; but what should I have said? Socrates responds, Ὅτι ἐὰν Θεὸς ἐθέλῃ, if God will[3] (Grotius). And in Homer’s Iliad β´:28, Αἴκε Θεοὶ γ᾽ ἐθελῶσιν, etc., if the gods will, etc. And in Cicero’s On Duties[4] 1, if the Gods will, with the Gods willing. Solimannus ordered the prince to be decapitated, because, when he had promised to remove from the scene the son confounding the royal state, he had not added, if God will. Christians out to make use of holy and religious forms of speech (Gataker). Nevertheless, it is not always necessary thus to speak (Gataker, thus Estius); for those pious men do not speak in this manner, Genesis 35:3; 45:28; Romans 15:28; neither is it always to be repeated in petitions, If thou will; but the virtual intention is sufficient (Gataker). Yet sometimes this condition is to be expressed verbally, as opportunity might allow, for the sake of piety and modesty (Estius).

For that ye ought to say: it is the real acknowledgment of God’s providence, and the dependence of all our affairs upon him, which is here required; and this is to be done, either expressly with the mouth in such like forms of speech as this is, so far as is needful for our glorifying God, and distinguishing ourselves from those that are profane, as hath been customary with the saints in Scripture, Acts 18:21; Romans 1:10, and other places, but always inwardly, and in the heart. If the Lord will; i.e. with his providential or directive will, which as yet we do not know, and therefore we say: If the Lord will: for all our counsels and determinations must be regulated by his preceptive or directive will, which we do know; and therefore, with respect to that will, we are not to say: We will do this, or that, if God will, i.e. commands it, but we must first see that it be commanded, and then resolve to do it if God will, that is, if in his providence he shall permit us. If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that; some read the words: If the Lord will, and we shall live, we will do this, or that; and then the latter copulative and is redundant, and the sense is, that all our actions depend not only upon our living, but upon God’s willing; God may permit us to live, and yet not permit us to do this or that. But if we take the words according to our reading: If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that, the meaning is, that both our life and actions depend upon the will of God, nor the one, nor the other, is in our power. And so here is a double check to the vain boasts of those that were so peremptory in their resolutions, without considering the frailty of their own lives, or the dependence of their actions upon God’s will, when both the one and the other are at his disposal.

[1] Greek: ἀντὶ τοῦ λέγειν ὑμᾶς, Ἐὰν ὁ Κύριος θελήσῃ, καὶ ζήσομεν, καὶ ποιήσομεν τοῦτο ἢ ἐκεῖνο.

[2] Sentence 11.

[3] Plato’s Alcibiades.

[4] De Officiis.

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