on James 4 :12
There is one lawgiver - Και κριτης, And judge, is added here by AB, about thirty others, with both the Syriac, Erpen's Arabic, the Coptic, Armenian, Ethiopic, Slavonic, Vulgate, two copies of the Itala, Cyril of Antioch, Euthalius, Theophylact, and Cassiodorus. On this evidence Griesbach has received it into the text.
The man who breaks the law, and teaches others so to do, thus in effect set himself up as a lawgiver and judge. But there is only one such lawgiver and judge - God Almighty, who is able to save all those who obey him, and able to destroy all those who trample under feet his testimonies.
Who art thou that judgest another? - Who art thou who darest to usurp the office and prerogative of the supreme Judge? But what is that law of which St. James speaks? and who is this lawgiver and judge? Most critics think that the law mentioned here is the same as that which he elsewhere calls the royal law and the law of liberty, thereby meaning the Gospel; and that Christ is the person who is called the lawgiver and judge. This, however, is not clear to me. I believe James means the Jewish law; and by the lawgiver and judge, God Almighty, as acknowledged by the Jewish people. I find, or think I find, from the closest examination of this epistle, but few references to Jesus Christ or his Gospel. His Jewish creed, forms, and maxims, this writer keeps constantly in view; and it is proper he should, considering the persons to whom he wrote. Some of them were, doubtless, Christians; some of them certainly no Christians; and some of them half Christians and half Jews. The two latter descriptions are those most frequently addressed.
on James 4 :12
There is one lawgiver - There is but one who has a right to give law. The reference here is undoubtedly to the Lord Jesus Christ, the great Legislator of the church. This, too, is a most important and vital principle, though one that has been most imperfectly understood and acted on. The tendency everywhere has been to enact other laws than those appointed by Christ - the laws of synods and councils - and to claim that Christians are bound to observe them, and should be punished if they do not. But it is a fundamental principle in Christianity that no laws are binding on the conscience, but those which Christ has ordained; and that all attempts to make other laws pertaining to religion binding on the conscience is a usurpation of his prerogatives. The church is safe while it adheres to this as a settled principle; it is not safe when it submits to any legislation in religious matters as binding the conscience.
Who is able to save and to destroy - Compare Matthew 10:28. The idea here would seem to be, that he is able to save those whom you condemn, and to destroy you who pronounce a judgment on them. Or, in general, it may mean that he is intrusted with all power, and is abundantly able to administer his government; to restrain where it is necessary to restrain; to save where it is proper to save; to punish where it is just to punish. The whole matter pertaining to judgment, therefore, may be safely left in his hands; and, as he is abundantly qualified for it, we should not usurp his prerogatives.
Who art thou that judgest another? - "Who art thou, a weak and frail and erring mortal, thyself accountable to that Judge, that thou shouldest interfere, and pronounce judgment on another, especially when he is doing only what that Judge permits him to do?" See this sentiment explained at length in the notes at Romans 14:4. Compare the Romans 2:1 note, and Matthew 7:1 note. There is nothing more decidedly condemned in the Scriptures than the habit of pronouncing a judgment on the motives and conduct of others. There is nothing in which we are more liable to err, or to indulge in wrong feelings; and there is nothing which God claims more for himself as his peculiar prerogative.
on James 4 :12
4:12 There is one lawgiver that is able - To execute the sentence he denounces. But who art thou - A poor, weak, dying worm.