on James 1 :14
But every man is tempted - Successfully solicited to sin, when he is drawn away of his own lust - when, giving way to the evil propensity of his own heart, he does that to which he is solicited by the enemy of his soul.
Among the rabbins we find some fine sayings on this subject. In Midrash hanaalam, fol. 20, and Yalcut Rubeni, fol. 17, it is said: "This is the custom of evil concupiscence, יצר הרע yetser hara: To-day it saith, Do this; to-morrow, Worship an idol. The man goes and worships. Again it saith, Be angry."
"Evil concupiscence is, at the beginning, like the thread of a spider's web; afterwards it is like a cart rope." Sanhedrim, fol. 99.
In the words, drawn away by his own lust and enticed, ὑπο της ιδιας επιθυμιας εξελκομενος και δελεαζομενος, there is a double metaphor; the first referring to the dragging a fish out of the water by a hook which it had swallowed, because concealed by a bait; the second, to the enticements of impure women, who draw away the unwary into their snares, and involve them in their ruin. Illicit connections of this kind the writer has clearly in view; and every word that he uses refers to something of this nature, as the following verse shows.
on James 1 :14
But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust - That is, the fountain or source of all temptation is in man himself. It is true that external inducements to sin may be placed before him, but they would have no force if there was not something in himself to which they corresponded, and over which they might have power. There must be some "lust;" some desire; some inclination; something which is unsatisfied now, which is made the foundation of the temptation, and which gives it all its power. If there were no capacity for receiving food, or desire for it, objects placed before us appealing to the appetite could never be made a source of temptation; if there were nothing in the soul which could be regarded as the love of acquisition or possession, gold would furnish no temptation; if there were no sensual propensities, we should be in that quarter above the power of temptation.
In each case, and in every form, the power of the temptation is laid in some propensity of our nature, some desire of that which we do not now possess. The word rendered "lust" in this place (ἐπιθυμίας epithumias), is not employed here in the narrow sense in which it is now commonly used, as denoting libidinousness. It means desire in general; an earnest wish for anything. Notes, Ephesians 4:22. It seems here to be used with reference to the original propensities of our nature - the desires implanted in us, which are a stimulus to employment - as the desire of knowledge, of food, of power, of sensual gratifications; and the idea is, that a man may be drawn along by these beyond the prescribed limits of indulgence, and in the pursuit of objects that are forbidden. He does not stop at the point at which the law requires him to stop, and is therefore guilty of transgression. This is the source of all sin. The original propensity may not be wrong, but may be perfectly harmless - as in the case of the desire of food, etc. Nay, it may furnish a most desirable stimulus to action; for how could the human powers be called forth, if it were not for this? The error, the fault, the sin, is, not restraining the indulgence where we are commanded to do it, either in regard to the objects sought, or in regard to the degree of indulgence.
And enticed - Entrapped, caught; that is, he is seized by this power, and held fast; or he is led along and beguiled, until he falls into sin, as in a snare that springs suddenly upon him.
Επιθυμια Epithumia in the New Testament, is sometimes employed in a good sense, Luke 22:15; Philippians 1:23; 1 Thessalonians 2:17; often in a bad sense, as in Mark 4:19; John 8:44; Romans 1:24; Romans 6:12; Romans 7:7; 1 John 2:16; but there is no difficulty in making the distinction; the context easily determining the matter. And this passage in James seems at once to fix down on επιθυμιας epithumias the sense of evil or corrupt desire. That it can mean a "harmless propensity;" or that it is a propensity on whose character the apostle does not at all pronounce, is incredible. It is said to "draw away a man and entice him;" to "conceive and bring forth sin:" and a principle from which such fruit springs cannot be very harmless. Without doubt, the apostle traces the whole evil of temptation, which some falsely ascribed to God, to the sinful desires of the human heart; and, as our author remarks, he seems to take the common sense view without entertaining any thought of nice philosophical distinction. We cannot for a moment suppose the apostle to say - "the evil is not to be traced to God, but to a harmless propensity."
The whole passage, with the words and figures which are used, show that the idea in the apostle's mind was that of an enticing harlot. The επιθυμια epithumia is personified. She persuades the understanding and will into her impure embrace. The result of this fatal union is the "conception" and ultimate "bringing forth" of actual sin, which again brings forth death. This is the true genealogy of sin (McKnight); and to say that the επιθυμια epithumia, or evil desire, of which the apostle says that it is the "origo mali," is harmless, - is to contradict him, and Paul also, who in a parallel passage says that he had not known the επιθυμια epithumia, or inward desire after forbidden objects, to be sinful, unless the law had enlightened him and said "thou shalt not covet." Mr. Scott has spoken in strong terms of the folly of some parties who understand επιθυμια epithumia. Here only of the desire of sensual gross indulgence, to the exclusion of other sinful desires; but the extreme of interpreting it as meaning nothing sinful at all, deserves equal reprehension. The reader, however, will notice that the author does not venture on this assertion. He says "it may be so," and otherwise modifies his view.)
on James 1 :14
1:14 Every man is tempted, when - In the beginning of the temptation. He is drawn away - Drawn out of God, his strong refuge. By his own desire - We are therefore to look for the cause of every sin, in, not out of ourselves. Even the injections of the devil cannot hurt before we make them our own. And every one has desires arising from his own constitution, tempers, habits, and way of life. And enticed - In the progress of the temptation, catching at the bait: so the original word signifies.