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On Tuesday, October 12, 2021, Sir David Amess MP (Conservative), posted the following tweet promoting his upcoming constituency surgery in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex:

These surgeries are an opportunity for constituents to present their problems to their MP. They might be seeking help with schooling, crime or health, among other things. Meetings are face-to-face, one-on-one. One’s MP then cuts through bureaucracy to achieve a successful resolution to the problem.

It seems this type of in-person connection between a member of the public and an elected constituency politician is unique to the UK. Long may it continue.

Two days later, Sir David posted a photo of himself and the Emir of Qatar. Amess was the chairman of the All-party Parliamentary Group fostering good relations between Britain and Qatar:

That same day, the MP for Southend West tweeted his gratitude for the government aid to Southend-on-Sea, no longer a smallish, seaside resort, but a town with a population of 160,000. Sir David has been campaigning tirelessly in Parliament for it to have city status. Winter fuel poverty was another of his big causes:

Little did he realise those would be his final tweets.

Just before noon on Friday, October 15, I was watching a heart-warming segment on GB News about the Westminster Dog of the Year charity event, to be held on October 28 in Victoria Tower Gardens, London. Isabel Oakeshott was interviewing Matt Vickers MP (Conservative) and his dog Karen. Karen was paying attention to the conversation. As soon as it turned to dog-napping, she began barking.

The public can vote up for their favourite MP-dog pairing until October 27. Sir David had already registered with his French bulldog Vivienne. Recently, he said:

If I am feeling down, the dog lifts my spirits as she is always pleased to see me and she makes me smile.

Little did I know watching the GB News segment with Matt Vickers and Isabel Oakeshott that Sir David was minutes away from his last breath.

Amess’s last meeting was a Zoom call about the Children’s Parliament, which pairs up an MP with a young member of the public. The meeting ended at 12:02 p.m.

At 12:05, Sir David was gasping his final breaths, having been stabbed multiple times in the church hall.

The Times reported:

It was just moments after midday on Friday when Sir David Amess had his last appointment.

Richard Hillgrove, a PR professional, shared a call with Amess to discuss the Children’s Parliament, an event where kids are matched with members of parliament to debate the important issues of the day.

As usual, the MP for Southend West was firing on all cylinders, full of buzz and ideas for the event: the running order, the voting system, what software they should use. Hillgrove’s daughter, Lola, 11, had been matched with Amess, who visited her at school so they could have their picture taken.

Hillgrove says he ended the Zoom call at 12.02pm, so that Amess could host a constituency surgery at the Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea. It was his final farewell. By 12.05pm, Amess had been stabbed to death.

A few minutes later, Hillgrove saw the first reports of the murder on television. “I didn’t even realise it was Sir David at first,” he recalled. “I was absolutely horrified, every minute that came passed seemed like an hour, the longer it went, the more concerning it got.”

Eventually the unimaginable news filtered through. Lola came home from school in tears. “I was honoured to have known him,” said Hillgrove. “He was such an inspiration, his engagement was incredible. He made sense of a crazy world.”

The events of Friday afternoon have pierced the quiet provincial calm of Leigh-on-Sea, leaving the tight-knit Essex community fearful and furious. A deep, heavy sadness hangs over this seaside town. Yesterday, the flower bins were empty at the Co-op on Eastwood Road, just 100 yards from where Amess was stabbed 17 times by a 25-year-old man. Every tulip, rose and pansy had been scooped up and deposited at the tribute for the man alternately known as “Sir David” or simply “Dave”.

The Telegraph reported that Amess’s staff, women, witnessed his horrifying murder. Paramedics from an air ambulance worked in vain for two hours trying to stabilise him:

Sir David was attacked seconds later, stabbed repeatedly in front of his horrified staff.

Sir David’s wounds were so many and severe that paramedics were unable to stabilise him sufficiently for a transfer to hospital. After two hours of vain struggle to stem his injuries, the air ambulance took off empty.

The Telegraph spoke with the aforementioned Richard Hillgrove:

Mr Hillgrove recalled how, during their conversation, Sir David had periodically glanced to his right.

He assumes this was towards trusted assistant, Rebecca Hayton, upon whom Sir David, not being the most technologically savvy parliamentarian, relied for help when making video calls.

It was she who witnessed at close quarters the full ferocity of the knife attack, running from the Belfairs Methodist Church hall screaming. Her screams alerted Sir David’s other assistant, Julie Cushion, who was positioned in the church hall lobby.

Shortly after the attack, Stephan Aleyn, a former Southend Conservative councillor, spoke to Ms Cushion.

“She is in absolute bits,” he said. “What she saw is going to stick with her for the rest of her life.

“It was a normal surgery and they were assisting Sir David in helping his constituents.

Julie and Rebecca thought this man was just another constituent who needed help from their MP, when suddenly he launched his attack on Sir David.

“For anyone to witness that sort of shocking, unprovoked assault is awful. It was a lovely, normal, sunny day – then this.”

After stabbing Sir David several times, his assailant sat down next to his body, making no effort to evade police, it has emerged.

A Southend Conservative Party source said: “One of Sir David’s office staff was in the hall with him, and it now appears that after attacking Sir David, this man sat down and waited for police to arrive. It’s absolutely chilling.”

The article says that 999 calls were made at 12:05 p.m. Police, including an armed response unit, and the air ambulance responded immediately. The suspect went quietly with the police:

The 25-year-old suspect was detained inside the church hall and led out to a police van. A knife was recovered.

Amess’s staff must have also contacted a Catholic priest he knew. The Revd Jeffrey Woolnough showed up shortly afterwards and asked police to be admitted to administer Last Rites — or Extreme Unction, as it used to be known. However, he was refused entry:

He was denied entry, however, and so stood on the street with another man reciting the rosary. He described it as a “great disappointment” for a Roman Catholic not to be able to receive the last rites.

“It was remarkably calm by the time I arrived,” Fr Woolnough told The Telegraph.

“I prayed from outside and I just hope David received those. I know he would have done, because any prayer said that is sincere is received by the recipient.

“I was praying the rosary – it’s a half hour prayer going through all of those intentions, asking that whatever was going on in there, for God’s will to be done. That’s all I could pray at that point in time.”

I did not know until he died that Sir David was a devout Catholic, but, given his serene demeanour, sincere smile and gentle wit, it does not surprise me that he was a churchgoer.

The Spectator‘s Melanie McDonagh, also a devout Catholic, expressed her displeasure with the police response regarding Last Rites:

It’s not known whether Sir David was alive when the priest arrived at the scene, but he still should have been there. Nothing should come between a dying man and the mercy of the Church. Of course the police were dealing with a tremendously difficult situation and would have been shocked and confused – how could they not have been? – but it doesn’t excuse this failure of judgment, which we can assume stems from a failure of training.

Essex Police sent The Spectator a statement, which says, in part:

As with any police incident, it is of the utmost importance that we preserve the integrity of a crime scene and allow emergency services to tend to those in need. A cordon is put in place to secure and prevent contamination of the area. Access into a scene is at the discretion of the investigating officers. This is a fundamental part of any investigation to ensure the best possible chance of securing justice for any victim and their family.

McDonagh says that the priest was ‘an emergency service’. I cannot disagree:

The most troubling element of the statement is that the police wanted to ‘allow the emergency services to tend to those in need.’

A priest is an emergency service. In the case of Sir David, the priest was someone who could help see him into the next world, not just keep him in this one. You don’t have to share a belief in the efficacy of confession to go along with this; you just need a very elementary knowledge of and respect for the faith to refrain from standing between a confessor and a dying man. As for the reference to the ‘emergency services administering potentially life-saving treatment,’ Catholic priests are used to operating together with medics for precisely this reason.

You might like to know that Essex police recently engaged in that exercise in cultural conformity, Hate Crime Awareness Week. Perhaps in future, some awareness of Christianity might be part of the training.

Monsignor Kevin Hale, who knew Sir David, told GB News how Catholicism informed the MP’s life. Amess’s mother was a Catholic and she brought him up in the faith:

Monsignor Hale said that Sir David had grown up in the East End of London and attended St Bonaventure’s Roman Catholic School in Newham. It is a secondary school for boys.

The Right Revd Stephen Cottrell, the Anglican Archbishop of York, lived for a time in Amess’s constituency and paid a warm, faith-filled tribute to his former MP and friend in The Telegraph:

It was said of Sir David Amess that though he had opponents, he didn’t have enemies. As we come to terms with the horror of his murder on Friday, this is a distinction worth pondering.

I think of David Amess as a friend. Leigh-on-Sea is my home town and, for ten glorious years as Bishop of Chelmsford, part of the diocese I served. We often met: in parliament, but usually in his constituency, Southend West.

He was, as we have heard over the weekend, a dedicated, zestful, persevering constituency MP. He loved Southend, as I do. He rooted for it. He exemplified that vital, but overlooked, root of our democracy that Members of Parliament may get elected on a party ticket, but, once elected, serve everyone

David Amess was a kind man. The word kind is related to the word kin. When we are kind to someone, it doesn’t mean we necessarily agree with them, or even like them, but that we recognise a kinship, a common humanity and treat them accordingly; or as we sometimes say, “treat them in kind”.

David’s robust kindness came from his Christian faith. He was a devout Christian, a Roman Catholic. But the idea that we human beings belong to one another and have a responsibility to each other is not self-evident. Observation of our behaviour and attitudes shows us the opposite. Our worst desires can be seen everywhere, leading us to separation, fuelled by selfishness, and bearing fruit in hatefulness and the possession of each other.

The picture of humanity that God gives us in Jesus Christ offers something else. In this regard, perhaps the most radical words Jesus ever spoke are the ones most of us know and many of us say every day: “Our Father.” In saying these words we don’t just acknowledge we belong to God, we acknowledge our belonging to each other as kith and kin

David Amess, the friend with whom I sometimes disagreed, had the same values and the same vision. It shaped his life and it is what made him such a loved and effective constituency MP and an exemplar of what our democracy can be.

He was always very kind to me. He supported the Church. He cared. He liked to build coalitions of goodwill so that people could work together. Kindness and kinship, it turns out, gets things done.

My heart goes out to his wife and family and the constituents of Southend West. I am praying for them …

David Amess didn’t wear his faith on his sleeve. He wore it in his heart. That’s the best place for it. It means it runs through your very being.

Late on Friday, the Metropolitan Police’s Counter Terrorism Command took over the case from Essex Police:

Early on Saturday, October 16, it was established that the suspect is a Briton of Somali parentage.

The Mail on Sunday reported that the BBC’s home affairs correspondent, Dominic Casciani, downplayed the suspect’s parental origins:

The BBC‘s home affairs correspondent was accused yesterday of trying to downplay the suspect’s reported Somali origins …

Although every national newspaper with the exception of the Financial Times mentioned that the suspect had Somali ‘origins’, ‘heritage’ or ‘descent’ yesterday, Casciani appeared to wrestle with the issue on Radio 4’s Today programme.

Presenter Nick Robinson asked him: ‘The suspect is a British citizen, but he’s also of Somali origin. Is that regarded as significant?’

Casciani replied: ‘The Somali element – erm, no. The reason why some reporters have established this fact is that there has been some misreporting …’

Twelve hours earlier, he had tweeted: ‘We have learnt from official sources that detectives have established the individual is a UK national, seemingly of Somali heritage. We report this in the interests of accuracy’ …

The BBC says Casciani ‘focuses on stories relating to law, order, society and belonging – including immigration, ethnicity’.

The Telegraph reported on the Met’s discoveries made on Saturday. The suspect lived in London, far from Sir David’s constituency:

On Saturday, officers from the Metropolitan Police’s counter-terrorism team, which is leading the investigation into his death, were searching three addresses in London – at least two of which were believed to be in the east of the capital. One search had ended but the others remained ongoing on Saturday night. The suspect, a British national of Somali origin, is thought to have acted alone and travelled by train from his north London home to Essex to carry out the attack.

The Daily Mail told us that the suspect lives among at least one celebrity in London, the rest of his neighbours clearly well-heeled, and might have spent a week planning the bloody attack:

Ali, who is thought to have been targeted by the Government’s anti-terror Prevent programme, may have lived in Sir David’s Southend West constituency in Essex in the past.

His most recent residence is believed to be in London. Officers have been carrying out searches at three addresses.

The security services are providing assistance to Scotland Yard, which is leading the investigation. Last night, detectives were granted a warrant of further detention, allowing them to keep Ali in custody until Friday.

Police officers were yesterday standing guard outside the North London council house where Ali lives. It is in a street of £2 million three-storey townhouses where the late actor Roger Lloyd Pack, who played Trigger in Only Fools And Horses, used to live.

That day, news emerged that Sir David had received a menacing threat just days before his murder. However, police believe that the two events are unconnected, according to The Telegraph:

The threat to the veteran MP was made in the past few days and reported to police …

It is understood that Essex Police received a report of the threat, but they are not connecting it with Friday’s attack.

John Lamb, the former Mayor of Leigh-on-Sea and a close colleague of the murdered MP, said Sir David had received the “upsetting” threat in the past few days …

Mr Lamb said it had been Sir David’s idea to hold his surgeries in places like the Methodist church, so he could be more accessible to his constituents, rather than in the local Conservative Party offices in Southend.

It is understood this came despite concerns being expressed by some of his staff over the potential security risk at more open venues.

Mr Lamb said: “Sir David used to hold them at the Conservative Association, but that made it hard for older people to see him so around a year ago he started going out into the community. He didn’t want to hide away, he wanted to be visible and accessible. He told me: ‘I want them to be able to see me in their local area’.

Before this, the last time an MP was murdered was in June 2016, just days before the Brexit referendum. A white male fatally stabbed Labour MP Jo Cox outside her own surgery. He was said to have had mental health problems, aggravated by the threat of eviction. His mother was also in poor health. That is not in any way to excuse his horrific crime of murdering a young wife, mother and MP. However, at the time, the media said the motive was because he was pro-Brexit and she was not.

Sir David, along with every other MP, was deeply affected by her death. He mentioned it and attendant security issues in his 2020 book, In Ayes and Ears: A Survivor’s Guide to Westminster, published last November.

He wrote:

The British tradition has always been that Members of Parliament regularly make themselves available for constituents to meet them face to face at their surgeries. Now advice has been given to be more careful when accepting appointments. We are advised to never see people alone, we must be extra careful when opening post and we must ensure that our offices are properly safe and secure. In short, these increasing attacks have rather spoilt the great British tradition of the people openly meeting their elected politicians.

He also said that he had to check the locks on his property and that certain ‘nuisance’ (his word) members of the public occasionally showed up outside his home. Other MPs have installed CCTV cameras on their properties.

Jo Cox’s sister, Kim Leadbeater, is now an MP in her former constituency, Batley & Spen. She tweeted her condolences:

The Emir of Qatar also sent a message of sympathy. Last week, he and Sir David were discussing Afghanistan refugees who are currently living in Qatar, awaiting settlement in other countries:

On Sunday, October 17, the father of the suspect in custody spoke. The Sunday Times reported:

The father of the suspected killer of Sir David Amess said he had been left “traumatised” by his son’s arrest after the stabbing of the veteran Tory MP.

Harbi Ali Kullane, a former adviser to the prime minister of Somalia, confirmed that his British-born son, Ali Harbi Ali, 25, was in custody. Kullane said that anti-terrorist police from Scotland Yard had visited him.

Speaking at his sister’s home in north London last night, Kullane said: “I’m feeling very traumatised. It’s not something that I expected or even dreamt of.”

The suspect was a “self-radicalised” lone operative known to counterterrorist police, according to Whitehall sources. He is believed to have been referred to Prevent, the government’s deradicalisation programme, before allegedly stabbing Amess on Friday

Investigators are examining the theory that he was radicalised online during lockdown.

Officers were yesterday granted a further warrant to detain him until Friday under terrorism laws. Scotland Yard said that early inquiries had uncovered “a potential motivation linked to Islamist extremism”.

Amess, 69, an MP for almost 40 years, was a devout Roman Catholic who was guided in his daily life by his strong faith

Intelligence sources said the suspect had not been on the radar of MI5, which is monitoring more than 3,000 people who it is feared could be plotting a terrorist attack. However, he is believed to be one of thousands of extremists who have been referred to the voluntary Prevent programme after displaying potentially disturbing behaviour such as inflammatory postings on social media.

More than 6,000 people were referred by police and other agencies to the programme in the year ending March 31, 2020.

By the way, referral to the Prevent programme does not include monitoring by police and/or security services.

That day, the Amess family issued a statement thanking the public for their messages of support and urged the Government to grant Southend-on-Sea city status.

The Times reported:

Sir David Amess’s family have said that achieving city status for Southend would be a way of paying tribute to a “patriot and man of peace”.

In their first public comments since the MP’s murder, his family thanked people for the “wonderful, wonderful tributes paid to David following his cruel and violent death. It truly has brought us so much comfort.”

Amess, 69, was married with five children and in a statement tonight they said: “The support shown by friends, constituents and the general public alike has been so overwhelming. As a family it has given us strength.”

They urged people “to set aside their differences and show kindness and love to all” so that some good might come from their father’s death. His family said there was “still so much David wanted to do” insisting: “This is not the end of Sir David Amess MP. It is the next chapter and as a family we ask everyone to support the many charities he worked with.”

They cited his efforts to raise money for a statue of Dame Vera Lynn and said: “Closer to home, David was working hard for Southend to gain city status. In his memory, please show your support for this campaign.”

As I write on Monday, no known motive for Sir David’s gruesome murder has emerged.

Some of his friends believe it was because he was a devout Catholic. I’m not sure about that. I did not know he was one until he died, and I’m a political junkie and frequent viewer of BBC Parliament.

A radical Islamist preacher says it was because Sir David was pro-Israel, as the MP had been an honorary secretary of the Conservative Friends of Israel since 1998.

However, let us not forget Qatar and the current tensions in Somalia.

In Monday’s Times, speculation arose over whether Amess was murdered because he headed the APPG fostering relations between the UK and Qatar. Qatar supports the current regime in Somalia:

Meanwhile, members of the public are calling for those voting for the Westminster Dog of the Year to choose Sir David and Vivienne as a fitting posthumous tribute to the tireless yet cheerful MP, who will be sorely missed.

I will have more on Sir David’s life in tomorrow’s post.

My deepest condolences go to the Amess family, Sir David’s staff and his many friends. May the good Lord grant them His infinite grace and comfort in the days and months ahead.

Eternal rest grant unto your servant David, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul and all the souls of the faithful departed rest in your eternal mercy and peace. Amen.

This blog’s examination of the Epistle of James  — James the Just — concludes with this post. Previous entries discussed James 1:1-16, James 2:6-7 and 11-13 and James 2:19-26.

This is one of those rare occasions where I agree with those theologians who compiled the standard three-year Lectionary used in public worship. I can understand why they suppressed today’s passage, for reasons you’ll read below.

In short, parts of it read like a toxic church charter.

Whilst many Protestants have problems with James’s use of the word ‘works’, which I think of as ‘fruits of faith’ and not semi-Pelagian deeds, what follows has been abused by some fundamentalist and toxic churches, especially those with mandated small groups and public confessions. This is much more difficult to rationalise as it can easily end up hurting the congregant being reviled by his peers and pastor.

As this passage is not in the Lectionary, it is part of my ongoing Forbidden Bible Verses series, also essential to our understanding of Scripture.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary from Matthew Henry and the Revd Gil Rugh (Indian Hills Community Church, Lincoln, Nebraska).

James 5:11-20

11Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

12But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.

The Prayer of Faith

13Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. 17Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.

19My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 20let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

————————————————————————————-

The first six verses of James 5, which are read in church, contain a strong warning to the wealthy Jews exploiting other Jews — originally from Jerusalem — who have converted to Christianity. This post explains more about the socio-political persecution James’s converts were under, not only by wealthy Jews but also the Roman government. James wrote his epistle between 37 and 50 AD. The Romans destroyed the temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD — God’s judgment against these unrepentant Jews?

The rest of James 5 is addressed to his converts who are under great material burden. Peter’s epistles (available on my Essential Bible Verses page), which follow in the biblical canon, are also addressed to James’s audience and have many of the same ‘wisdom’ themes concerning Christian conduct.

James is in the midst of giving his faithful advice in bearing up under their persecution, urging patience (James 5:7-8). Another useful verse is James 5:9:

Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.

This also applies to us in the present day. This is one of the reasons why our parents have taught us how to respond with ‘Fine, thank you — and you?’ when asked how we are. A litany of complaints can cause us unease in reciting them. Similarly, they may cause the listener discomfort in listening to them. God does not wish us to distress others or for us to wallow in self-pity; therefore, we mustn’t grumble. Furthermore, when we grumble, we tend to pass judgment on others who we feel have wronged us. Sometimes we think we’re being picked on when we’re not — something to keep in mind.

One of my late grandmothers-in-law — London born and bred — always answered ‘Mustn’t grumble’ when asked how she was. She was as poor as a churchmouse (!) and suffered from rheumatoid arthritis. Despite that she was a faithful free-will Baptist (originally a Primitive Methodist) and did her best to remain cheerful in spite of her situation. ‘Mustn’t grumble’ was a standard English response to a greeting; sadly, one rarely hears it any more, as younger generations who have not been taught the Bible are likely to respond with a complaint of some sort.

Onto to today’s reading. As he did in James 2:19-26 with Abraham and Rahab, James uses another Old Testament reference in verse 11 — that of Job. James cites Job’s steadfastness in the face of plagues and desertion, urging the Jewish Christian diaspora to do the same. Whatever we undergo as faithful Christians, we are to remember that the Lord is all merciful and He will alleviate our suffering if only we ask. Our travails should strengthen our faith — although in today’s world, many resent God because of them. As parents and teachers used to say, ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’. This used to be called character building. We can pray for more grace and a more resolute faith when we are in adversity. Materially, we can recall President Lincoln’s words, ‘This, too, shall pass’ and it often does; sometimes we need to change our perspective on a situation — here, too, prayer helps enormously. Our God is not a remote Father, but one who loves us with constancy and mercy.

The Revd Gil Rugh adds practical advice regarding patience and steadfastness:

  1. Don’t focus on the situation, or you’ll become angry.
  2. Don’t focus on yourself, or you’ll become filled with self-pity.
  3. Don’t focus on someone to blame, or you’ll begin complaining.
  4. Don’t focus on the present, or you’ll miss the point of what God is wishing to achieve in your life.

Verse 12 instructs us not to ‘swear’. This is a two-fold instruction: against profanity and exaggerated oaths (e.g. ‘I swear on my mother’s grave’).

As to profanity, Matthew Henry explains the background to James’s warning:

Profane swearing was very customary among the Jews, and, since this epistle is directed in general to the twelve tribes scattered abroad (as before has been observed), we may conceive this exhortation sent to those who believed not.

Incidentally, Henry, a Calvinist ‘dissenter’, also accuses the Anglicans of his day (early 18th century) of this sin:

It is a sin that in later years has most scandalously prevailed, even among those who would be thought above all others entitled to the Christian name and privileges. It is very rare indeed to hear of a dissenter from the church of England who is guilty of swearing, but among those who glory in their being of the established church nothing is more common; and indeed the most execrable oaths and curses now daily wound the ears and hearts of all serious Christians.

As for taking the Lord’s name in vain, when He commands us not to (emphases mine):

… how many are there who mind this the least of all things, and who make light of nothing so much as common profane swearing! But why above all things is swearing here forbidden? (1.) Because it strikes most directly at the honour of God and most expressly throws contempt upon his name and authority. (2.) Because this sin has, of all sins, the least temptation to it: it is not gain, nor pleasure, nor reputation, that can move men to it, but a wantonness in sinning, and a needless showing an enmity to God. Thy enemies take thy name in vain, Ps. 139:20. This is a proof of men’s being enemies to God, however they may pretend to call themselves by his name, or sometimes to compliment him in acts of worship. (3.) Because it is with most difficulty left off when once men are accustomed to it, therefore it should above all things be watched against. And, (4.) “Above all things swear not, for how can you expect the name of God should be a strong tower to you in your distress if you profane it and play with it at other times?

As for substitutes for God’s name as Jesus observed in Matthew 23:21 of the use of ‘temple’ for Chi-Eloah (‘the living God’):

And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it.

Henry explains:

The Jews thought if they did but omit the great oath of Chi-Eloah, they were safe. But they grew so profane as to swear … as if it were God; and so advanced it into the place of God; while, on the other hand, those who swear commonly and profanely by the name of God do hereby put him upon the level with every common thing.

As for the second connotation, that of the oath, Christians are to ensure that their words are worthy of the Lord at all times. We are to avoid making false promises, disingenuous affirmations and so on.

Rugh unpacks this for us and acknowledges that some churches have misinterpreted it (highlights here in the original):

do not swear – This command is amplified by a couple of examples and then by a general, all-inclusive statement. This is similar to the instruction of Christ in Matthew 5:33-48. (cf. also Matt, 23:16-22.)

The Jews had devised various ways to invalidate oaths. Thus they regarded some oaths as binding and others as non-binding.

let your yes be yes – The point in this is that the word of a believer is to be totally trustworthy. If everything we say needs to be established by an oath, it is an indication that our general speech is unreliable. In effect, we are liars unless bound by oath. This is the presupposition of the oath taken in our courtrooms.

so that you may not fall under judgment – In this context James warns believers of the danger of judgment for functioning like the world (cf. 5:9).

A question that immediately comes to mind when reading this passage is whether or not a Christian should take an oath in the courtroom. It does not seem that this is the kind of situation in view here. There are times when oaths are legitimately used in the New Testament:

    • Christ responded to an oath – Matthew 26:63,64.
    • Paul used an oath – Romans 1:9; 2 Corinthians 1:23; Galatians 1:20.

An oath is a guarantee of reliability, a confirmation of truthfulness (cf. Heb. 6:16,17). God used an oath to show men the absolute trustworthiness of His promise to help them believe.

It does not seem that every oath in every situation can be ruled out by the command of James. Rather, it is the common, everyday use of oaths that reflects the fact that our word is not reliable (cf. Col. 3:8,9; John 8:44).

Our words are to be a manifestation of our transformed lives. This happens only through personal faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Through faith we are born into the family of God and thus can now manifest the character of God in our words as well as our actions (cf. 2 Cor. 5:14-21).

In verse 13, James reminds his faithful of communicating with the living God in times of good or bad. Those who are suffering are called to prayer, and those for whom things are going well are reminded to praise God in thanksgiving for His many blessings. It is all too tempting, especially today, to be angry with God when life gives us a few lumps. If we only ask Him for more grace and ask the Holy Spirit for fortitude, we will be sustained until such time as our adversity passes. And it is important for us to thank God for the good things in life, not to take them for granted or think that we alone are responsible for our own comfort.

Verses 14 and 15 deal with sickness, resulting sin and healing prayer. These are troublesome verses, which some Christians misinterpret to mean that all illness is punishment for sin. The vast majority of clergy would caution against this interpretation, certainly if it is a congenital condition. It distresses those who are ill, especially with terminal conditions (e.g. cancer), as well as their friends and families. This essay explains the two points of view regarding illness and sin. We should avoid necessarily correlating the two — only God knows for sure — and instead offer our prayers, empathy and comfort.

Our two commentators enlighten us on this passage and on the reasons why Protestants reject the Catholic sacrament of Extreme Unction (now called Prayers for the Sick and Dying).

Rugh says (emphases in the original):

The elders are commanded to pray over the sick person (aorist imperative). This is the prime ministry they perform on behalf of the one who has called them.

anointing him with oil – While the basic command is to pray over him, they are also to anoint him with oil. This has occasioned much discussion as to exactly what is happening.

Some make much of the distinction between the two words used for “anointing” in the Scriptures. The word chrio is used of sacred or religious anointing, while aleipho, the word used by James, is a more mundane word. This is taken to indicate that James is recommending the anointing as a medicinal practice. Thus we have a combination of medicine and prayer.

It is true that anointing with oil was used medicinally in biblical times. However, we should note that it is the prayer that brings about recovery, not the anointing with oil (v. 15)

There is the question of why the elders would be involved in giving the man an oil rubdown or bath if indeed this is a medicinal use of oil. Physicians were available.

Some see the oil as symbolic, representing the Holy Spirit and picturing His ministry in bringing healing through the prayers of the elders.

The Bible makes reference to the common practice of using oil in connection with grooming and bestowing honor.

    • In Matthew 6:17 it is used to express good grooming and joy (cf. Ruth 3:3; 2 Chron, 28:15).
    • In Matthew 26:7 and Luke 7:38,46 it is used as a mark of honor (cf, Ps. 23:5).

(Each of these passages except Matthew 26:7 uses aleipho for “anoint.”)

This seems close to what James had in mind. It seems fitting that the anointing with oil in the name of the Lord pictures the joy and happiness of this occasion (cf. “oil of joy,” Ps. 45:7; “oil of gladness,” Isa. 61:3; Heb. 1:9).

5:15 –
James has already stressed the importance of faith in our prayers (cf. 1:5-8). The prayer of the elders offered in faith is effective in restoring the health of the sick person.

The word translated “will restore” is the normal word for salvation (sozo) and is translated “will save” in 5:20, It is used often in the gospels of restoration to health (cf, Matt. 9:21,22; Mark 5:23,28,34; 6:56; John 11:12; etc.) and that is the idea here.

if he has committed sins (third class condition) – This is the first indication that sin may have been the cause of the illness, This does not say that sin has clearly been the cause, but raises the possibility, While these sins may have been a pattern or repeated, they have been stopped – although the consequences are now being experienced.

they will be forgiven him – God stands ready to forgive, In this case the forgiveness seems related to the healing. The first part of verse 16 seems to support this.

Henry says the following (emphases mine), although it should be noted that the present day Catholic sacrament of the sick and dying is, in the case of the former, administered with the hope of healing in mind. This is why the old name of Extreme Unction is no longer used.

In the times of miraculous healing, the sick were to be anointed with oil in the name of the Lord. Expositors generally confine this anointing with oil to such as had the power of working miracles; and, when miracles ceased, this institution ceased also. In Mark’s gospel we read of the apostle’s anointing with oil many that were sick, and healing them, Mk. 6:13. And we have accounts of this being practiced in the church two hundred years after Christ; but then the gift of healing also accompanied it, and, when the miraculous gift ceased, this rite was laid aside. The papists indeed have made a sacrament of this, which they call the extreme unction. They use it, not to heal the sick, as it was used by the apostles; but as they generally run counter to scripture, in the appointments of their church, so here they ordain that this should be administered only to such as are at the very point of death. The apostle’s anointing was in order to heal the disease; the popish anointing is for the expulsion of the relics of sin, and to enable the soul (as they pretend) the better to combat with the powers of the air. When they cannot prove, by any visible effects, that Christ owns them in the continuance of this rite, they would however have people to believe that the invisible effects are very wonderful. But it is surely much better to omit this anointing with oil than to turn it quite contrary to the purposes spoken of in scripture. Some protestants have thought that this anointing was only permitted or approved by Christ, not instituted. But it should seem, by the words of James here, that it was a thing enjoined in cases where there was faith for healing. And some protestants have argued for it with this view. It was not to be commonly used, not even in the apostolical age; and some have thought that it should not be wholly laid aside in any age, but that where there are extraordinary measures of faith in the person anointing, and in those who are anointed, an extraordinary blessing may attend the observance of this direction for the sick. However that be, there is one thing carefully to be observed here, that the saving of the sick is not ascribed to the anointing with oil, but to prayer: The prayer of faith shall save the sick, etc., v. 15. So that, 4. Prayer over the sick must proceed from, and be accompanied with, a lively faith. There must be faith both in the person praying and in the person prayed for. In a time of sickness, it is not the cold and formal prayer that is effectual, but the prayer of faith.

Verse 16 is another troublesome verse, as some toxic churches demand public confession — one ‘sinner’ in front of the congregation who is ordered to recite his wrongs aloud. Other churches gravitating towards the heinous ‘small group’ which is mistakenly in vogue today, also urge public confession within the group. The group leader later makes notes on what was confessed and the manner adopted when giving this confession; these notes are then given to the vicar or pastor. Never join a small group unless you wish to be humiliated like this.

Henry interprets it in a more sensible way, as in going to someone whom you have hurt or offended, stating your sin towards them with a pledge that you will not do it again — and keeping that pledge.  A public sin, perhaps a politician who has spoken in the press about his support for abortion, may merit a brief voluntary statement to his own congregation acknowledging this sin — provided he has repented. In any event, heartfelt prayer that the person maintains his repentance should follow confession.

In verses 17 and 18, James refers to someone else from the Old Testament: Elijah. This is to demonstrate the power of prayer, something Christians through the ages often discount.  James’s audience was no different. Yet, James says, Elijah fervently prayed — the way we might plead with someone in power — that it not rain, then following it with an equally sincere prayer for rain. God answered both of Elijah’s prayers.

Henry exhorts us to prayer, even if God does not answer it in quite the way we had hoped:

If Elijah by prayer could do such great and wonderful things, surely the prayers of no righteous man shall return void. Where there may not be so much of a miracle in God’s answering our prayers, yet there may be as much of grace.

James’s final verses — 19 and 20 — are exhortations to the faithful to convert sinners to repentance and new life. These, too, are troublesome as some churches and Christians effect false conversions, as dangerous to a man’s soul as sin. We should be careful how we exercise our methods of evangelisation, especially if it involves displays of outer holiness as evidence. We might be creating whited sepulchres.

About Christians who can properly and prayerfully effect conversions with His grace, Henry has this to say:

Those that turn many to righteousness, and those who help to do so, shall shine as the stars for ever and ever.

Next time: Mark 2:13-17

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