We are instructed to “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded” (James 4:8).
The great duty required of us here primarily entails our returning to God from our wandering away from Him. In Zechariah 1:3, the Lord declared unto Israel, “Turn ye unto me, saith the LORD of hosts, and I will turn unto you, saith the LORD of hosts.” Again, the Lord said in Malachi 3:7, “Return unto me, and I will return unto you, saith the LORD of hosts.”
He calls us to draw near to Him. Though He knows that we have turned away from Him, how lovingly and tenderly He calls us to stay near Him! Oh, the graciousness of this invitation! He is calling us to return to Him from our backsliding, cold indifference and meaningless formalism. He counsels us to live in His presence with ardent prayers and cheerful devotedness to Him, for “glory and honour are in his presence; strength and gladness are in his place” (1 Chronicles 16:27).
We must draw nigh to God with a firm resolution to seek Him. We must draw nigh unto Him with sincerity of heart to serve Him. We must desire close communion with our God that we may grow in our faith and knowledge of His goodness and His perfect will. We must stand by Him in obedience to do all His good pleasure.
If there is no close communion between God and you, it is your fault and not His. He is calling you to draw nigh unto Him. “Come,” He says. So, as Hebrews 10:22 says, “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.”
God gives you great encouragement to draw near unto Him, by assuring you that “he will draw nigh to you”. You are not asked to draw near to a God who is disinterested in you. He is most willing to have you and hold you close to Him. He will make you know His presence, His grace and His greatness. Turn to Him; He will meet you there. Call on Him in repentance and faith; He will answer you. He promises you that He will draw nigh unto you. If you seek Him, He will be found of you. As Hosea 6:1-2 says, “Come, and let us return unto the LORD: for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up. After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight.” So, arise and return to the loving presence of your God. Say now, like the prodigal son, “I will arise and go to my father” (Luke 15:18).
It was also advised, “Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.” Have you noticed that here James calls his readers “sinners” and “double minded”? Who are they?
Among those who are gathered in the churches of Jesus Christ, there are those who continue to entangle themselves with sin. Sinners are those who transgress the righteous laws of God, and conduct themselves in a manner that is displeasing to God. The word “double minded” refers to those who are fickle-minded and unstable in their faith and devotion to God. The double-minded are those who vacillate between God and the world. Here James calls them all to repentance.
He tells them to “cleanse your hands” and “purify your hearts”. Both “cleanse “and “purify” are verbs that refer to ceremonial cleansing, a figure that spoke eloquently to Jewish as well as Gentile converts. Those words remind them of the need to put away their sins before they approach God, who is pure and holy. The words “hands” and “hearts” point them to their actions and affections. It is an indispensable requisite that we cease from our sinful actions and passions when we draw nigh unto God.
So David said, “I will wash mine hands in innocency; so will I compass thine altar, O LORD” (Psalm 26:6). The apostle Paul directs us in 1 Timothy 2:8, “I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.” We must cease from everything unjust or cruel, and be free from the defilement of sin. He who serves the Lord cannot be a servant of sin. The worshippers of God must be pure-hearted, i.e. sincere and single-minded to please God. They must cease from everything worldly, carnal and displeasing to God.
It is hypocrisy to come to God with hands and hearts that are impure. Jesus cited Isaiah in Matthew 15:8-9, “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me”. In Matthew 23, Jesus repeatedly condemned the hypocrisy of the Jewish leaders. He did not mince His words: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” He then rebuked them sharply, “Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also” (Matthew 23:26). Let us serve Him in sincerity and holiness.