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THE PAROUSIA

by James Stuart Russell

THE PAROUSIA IN THE EPISTLE OF JAMES.

The Parousia

There is a special interest attached to this epistle inasmuch as it manifestly belongs to the ‘last days, ’ the closing period of the dispensation. It is a voice to the scattered Israel of God from within the doomed city whose catastrophe was now at hand. It is the last testimony of a faithful witness to the nation both within and without the bounds of Palestine. Though addressed to believing Hebrews, it contains evidences of the degeneracy in the Christian church and the extreme corruption of the nation. Iniquity abounds, and the love of many has waxed cold. But James of Jerusalem, like one of the old prophets of Israel, bears his testimony for truth and righteousness with unfaltering fidelity, till he wins the crown of martyrdom. The direct allusions to the Parousia in this epistle are few in number, but distinct and decisive in character; and it is plain that the whole epistle is written under the deep impression of the approaching consummation.

THE LAST DAYS COME.

James 5:1, 3—‘Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl over your miseries that are coming.... Ye laid up treasure in the last days.’

This bold denunciation of the powerful oppressors and robbers of the poor in the last days of the Jewish State recalls to our minds the warnings of the prophet Malachi: ‘I will come near to you to judgment, and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow and the fatherless; and them that turn aside the stranger from his right, and fear not me, saith the Lord of hosts’. (Mal. 3:5) That judgment was now drawing nigh, and ‘the judge was at the door.’

Nothing can be more frank than the recognition which Alford gives of the historical significance of this commination, and its express reference to the times of the apostle. Accounting for the absence of any direct exhortation to penitence in this denunciation, he says, —

‘That such does not here appear is owing chiefly to the close proximity of judgment which the writer has before him.’ Again he observes, ‘Howl’ [ololuxein] is a word in the Old Testament confined to the prophets, and used, as here, with reference to the near approach of God’s judgments.’ Again: ‘These miseries are not to be thought of as the natural and determined end of all worldly riches, but are the judgments connected with the coming of the Lord: cf. (James 5:8), —‘the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.’ It may be that this prospect was as yet intimately bound up with the approaching destruction of the Jewish city and polity, for it must be remembered that they are Jews who are here addressed.’

The only drawback to this explanation is the unfortunate ‘may be’ in the last sentence. How could a peradventure be thought of in a case so plain? Our concern is with what was in the mind of the apostle, and surely no words can convey a stronger testimony to his conviction that ‘the last days’ and ‘the end’ were all but come.

In his note on (James 5:3), Alford gives the apostle’s meaning with perfect accuracy:—

‘The last days (i.e. in these, the last days before the coming of the Lord), etc.’

It is interesting to find Dr. Manton, a theologian who lived in days when rigorous exegesis was not much practised and Scripture exposition was whatever Scripture might be made to mean, has with great perspicacity discerned the historical significance of this and other allusions of St. James to the Parousia. For example, on the clause, ‘The rust of them shall eat your flesh as it were fire, ’ Monton says, —

‘Possibly there may be here some latent allusion to the manner of Jerusalem’s ruin, in which many thousands perished by fire.’ Again, on the clause, ‘Ye heaped treasure together for the last days, ’ he remarks: ‘There is no cogent reason why we should take this in a metaphorical sense, especially since, with good leave from the context, scope of the apostle, and the state of those times, the literal may be retained. I should, therefore, simply understand the words as an intimation of their approaching judgments; and so the apostle seemeth to me to tax their vanity in hoarding and heaping up wealth when those scattering and fatal days to the Jewish commonwealth were even ready to overtake them.’1

NEARNESS OF THE PAROUSIA.

James 5:7— ‘Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord.’

James 5:8— ‘The coming of the Lord draweth nigh.’

James 5:9— ‘Behold, the judge standeth before the door.’

Three distinct utterances, short, sharp, startling, all significant of the imminent arrival of ‘the day of the Lord.’

Manton’s comment on these passages, though he is haunted by the phantom of the double sense, is, on the whole, excellent:—

‘What is meant here? (James 5:7) Any particular coming of Christ, or His solemn coming to general judgment? I answer, Both may be intended; the primitive Christians thought both would fall out together. 1. It may be meant of Christ’s particular coming to judge these wicked men. This epistle was written about thirty years after Christ’s death, and there was but a little time between that and Jerusalem’s last, so that unto the coming of the Lord is until the overwhelming of Jerusalem, which is also elsewhere expressed by coming, if we may believe Chrysostom and Oecumenius on John 21:22: "If I will that he tarry till I come, " that is, say they, come to Jerusalem’s destruction.’

He then goes on to give an alternative meaning, according to the usage of double-sense expositors.

On the eighth verse, ‘For the coming of the Lord draweth nigh, ’ Manton observes:—

‘Either, first, to them by a particular judgment; for there were but a few years, and then all was lost; and probably that may be it which the apostles mean when they speak so often of the nearness of Christ’s coming. But you will say, How could this be propounded as an argument of patience to the godly Hebrews that Christ would come and destroy the temple and city? I answer, (1) The time of Christ’s solemn judiciary process against the Jews was the time when He did acquit Himself with honour upon His adversaries, and the scandal and reproach of His death was rolled away. (2) The approach of His general judgment ended the persecution; and when the godly were provided for at Pella, the unbelievers perished by the Roman sword, etc.’

On, (James 5:9) ‘Behold, the judge standeth before the door, ’ Manton entirely discards the double sense, and gives the following unexceptionable explanation:—

‘He had said before, ‘The coming of the Lord draweth nigh;’ now he addeth that ‘he is at the door, ’ a phrase that doth not only imply the sureness, but the suddenness, of judgment. See Matt. 24:33: ‘Know that it is near, even at the door;’ so that this phrase intendeth also the speediness of the Jewish ruin.’2

It is easy to see that the pardonable anxiety to find a present didactic and edifying use in all Scripture lies at the foundation of much of the exposition of such divines as Manton, and inclines them to adopt alternative meanings and accommodations, which a strict exegesis cannot admit. But the language of the apostle in this instance stands in need of no elucidation, it speaks for itself. It shows the attitude of expectation and hope in which the apostolic churches waited for the manifestation of their returning Lord. A persecuted church had need of patience under the wrongs inflicted by their oppressors. Their cry was, ‘O Lord, how long?’ They were comforted by the assurance that the day of deliverance was at hand; ‘the judge, ’ the avenger of their wrongs was already ‘at the door;’ ‘Yet a very, very little while, and he who is coming shall come, and shall not tarry.’ How is it possible to reconcile this confident expectation of almost immediate deliverance with a consummation still future after eighteen centuries have passed away? There are but two alternatives possible: either St. James and his fellow-apostles were grossly deceived in their expectation of the Parousia, or that event did come to pass, according to their expectation and the Lord’s prediction, at the close of the aeon, or Jewish age. If we adopt the latter alternative, the only one compatible with Christian faith, we must accept the inference that the Parousia was the glorious appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ to abolish the Mosaic dispensation, execute judgment on the guilty nation, and receive His faithful people into His heavenly kingdom and glory.


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Footnotes

1.  Manton on James 5:2, 3.

2.  Manton on James 5:7-9.

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