“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.” ~James 4:7-10
Matthew Henry writes:
“We are taught to submit ourselves entirely to God: Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you, v. 7.
Christians should forsake the friendship of the world, and watch against that envy and pride which they see prevailing in natural men, and should by grace learn to glory in their submissions to God. “Submit yourselves to him as subjects to their prince, in duty, and as one friend to another, in love and interest. Submit your understandings to the truths of God; submit your wills to the will of God, the will of his precept, the will of his providence.”
We are subjects, and as such must be submissive; not only through fear, but through love; not only for wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. “Submit yourselves to God, as considering how many ways you are bound to this, and as considering what advantage you will gain by it; for God will not hurt you by his dominion over you, but will do you good.”
Now, as this subjection and submission to God are what the devil most industriously strives to hinder, so we ought with great care and steadiness to resist his suggestions. If he would represent a tame yielding to the will and providence of God as what will bring calamities, and expose to contempt and misery, we must resist these suggestions of fear. If he would represent submission to God as a hindrance to our outward ease, or worldly preferments, we must resist these suggestions of pride and sloth. If he would tempt us to lay any of our miseries, and crosses, and afflictions, to the charge of Providence, so that we might avoid them by following his directions instead of God’s, we must resist these provocations to anger, not fretting ourselves in any wise to do evil.
“Let not the devil, in these or the like attempts, prevail upon you; but resist him and he will flee from you.” If we basely yield to temptations, the devil will continually follow us; but if we put on the whole armour of God, and stand it out against him, he will be gone from us. Resolution shuts and bolts the door against temptation.
V. We are directed how to act towards God, in our becoming submissive to him, v. 8–10.
1. Draw nigh to God. The heart that has rebelled must be brought to the foot of God; the spirit that was distant and estranged from a life of communion and converse with God must become acquainted with him: “Draw nigh to God, in his worship and institutions, and in every duty he requires of you.”
2. Cleanse your hands. He who comes unto God must have clean hands. Paul therefore directs to lift up holy hands without wrath and doubting (1 Tim. 2:8), hands free from blood, and bribes, and every thing that is unjust or cruel, and free from every defilement of sin: he is not subject to God who is a servant of sin. The hands must be cleansed by faith, repentance, and reformation, or it will be in vain for us to draw nigh to God in prayer, or in any of the exercises of devotion.
3. The hearts of the double-minded must be purified. Those who halt between God and the world are here meant by the double-minded. To purify the heart is to be sincere, and to act upon this single aim and principle, rather to please God than to seek after any thing in this world: hypocrisy is heart-impurity; but those who submit themselves to God aright will purify their hearts as well as cleanse their hands.
4. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep. “What afflictions God sends take them as he would have you, and by duly sensible of them. Be afflicted when afflictions are sent upon you, and do not despise them; or be afflicted in your sympathies with those who are so, and in laying to heart the calamities of the church of God.
Mourn and weep for your own sins and the sins of others; times of contention and division are times to mourn in, and the sins that occasion wars and fightings should be mourned for.
Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to heaviness.” This may be taken either as a prediction of sorrow or a prescription of seriousness. Let men think to set grief at defiance, yet God can bring it upon them; none laugh so heartily but he can turn their laughter into mourning; and this the unconcerned Christians James wrote to are threatened should be their case. They are therefore directed, before things come to the worst, to lay aside their vain mirth and their sensual pleasures, that they might indulge godly sorrow and penitential tears.
5. “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord. Let the inward acts of the would be suitable to all those outward expressions of grief, affliction, and sorrow, before mentioned.” Humility of spirit is here required, as in the sight of him who looks principally at the spirits of men. “Let there be a thorough humiliation in bewailing every thing that is evil; let there be great humility in doing that which is good: Humble yourselves.”
We have great encouragement to act thus towards God: He will draw nigh to those that draw nigh to him (v. 8), and he will lift up those who humble themselves in his sight, v. 10. Those that draw nigh to God in a way of duty shall find God drawing nigh to them in a way of mercy.
Draw nigh to him in faith, and trust, and obedience, and he will draw nigh to you for your deliverance. If there be not a close communion between God and us, it is our fault, and not his. He shall lift up the humble. Thus much our Lord himself declared, He that shall humble himself shall be exalted, Mt. 23:12.
If we be truly penitent and humble under the marks of God’s displeasure, we shall in a little time know the advantages of his favour; he will lift us up out of trouble, or he will lift us up in our spirits and comforts under trouble; he will lift us up to honour and safety in the world, or he will lift us up in our way to heaven, so as to raise our hearts and affections above the world. God will revive the spirit of the humble (Isa. 57:15), He will hear the desire of the humble (Ps. 10:17), and he will at last life them up to glory.
Before honour is humility. The highest honour in heaven will be the reward of the greatest humility on earth.”