on James 4 :3
Ye ask, and receive not - Some think that this refers to their prayers for the conversion of the heathen; and on the pretense that they were not converted thus; they thought it lawful to extirpate them and possess their goods.
Ye ask amiss - Κακως αιτεισθε· Ye ask evilly, wickedly. Ye have not the proper dispositions of prayer, and ye have an improper object. Ye ask for worldly prosperity, that ye may employ it in riotous living. This is properly the meaning of the original, ἱνα εν ταις ἡδοναις ὑμων δαπανησητε, That ye may expend it upon your pleasures. The rabbins have many good observations on asking amiss or asking improperly, and give examples of different kinds of this sort of prayer; the phrase is Jewish and would naturally occur to St. James in writing on this subject. Whether the lusting of which St. James speaks were their desire to make proselytes, in order that they might increase their power and influence by means of such, or whether it were a desire to cast off the Roman yoke, and become independent; the motive and the object were the same, and the prayers were such as God could not hear.
on James 4 :3
Ye ask, and receive not - That is, some of you ask, or you ask on some occasions. Though seeking in general what you desire by strife, and without regard to the rights of others, yet you sometimes pray. It is not uncommon for men who go to war to pray, or to procure the services of a chaplain to pray for them. It sometimes happens that the covetous and the quarrelsome; that those who live to wrong others, and who are fond of litigation, pray. Such men may be professors of religion. They keep up a form of worship in their families. They pray for success in their worldly engagements, though those engagements are all based on covetousness. Instead of seeking property that they may glorify God, and do good; that they may relieve the poor and distressed; that they may be the patrons of learning, philanthropy, and religion, they do it that they may live in splendor, and be able to pamper their lusts. It is not indeed very common that persons with such ends and aims of life pray, but they sometimes do it; for, alas! there are many professors of religion who have no higher aims than these, and not a few such professors feel that consistency demands that they should observe some form of prayer. If such persons do not receive what they ask for, if they are not prospered in their plans, they should not set it down as evidence that God does not hear prayer, but as evidence that their prayers are offered for improper objects, or with improper motives.
Because ye ask amiss - Ye do it with a view to self-indulgence and carnal gratification.
That you may consume it upon your lusts - Margin, "pleasures." This is the same word which is used in James 4:1, and rendered lusts. The reference is to sensual gratifications, and the word would include all that comes under the name of sensual pleasure, or carnal appetite. It was not that they might have a decent and comfortable living, which would not be improper to desire, but that they might have the means of luxurious dress and living; perhaps the means of gross sensual gratifications. Prayers offered that we may have the means of sensuality and voluptuousness, we have no reason to suppose God will answer, for he has not promised to hear such prayers; and it becomes every one who prays for worldly prosperity, and for success in business, to examine his motives with the closest scrutiny. Nowhere is deception more likely to creep in than into such prayers; nowhere are we more likely to be mistaken in regard to our real motives, than when we go before God and ask for success in our worldly employments.
on James 4 :3
4:3 But if ye do ask, ye receive not, because ye ask amiss - That is, from a wrong motive.