|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
2:14-26 Those are wrong who put a mere notional belief of the gospel for the whole of evangelical religion, as many now do. No doubt, true faith alone, whereby men have part in Christ's righteousness, atonement, and grace, saves their souls; but it produces holy fruits, and is shown to be real by its effect on their works; while mere assent to any form of doctrine, or mere historical belief of any facts, wholly differs from this saving faith. A bare profession may gain the good opinion of pious people; and it may procure, in some cases, worldly good things; but what profit will it be, for any to gain the whole world, and to lose their souls? Can this faith save him? All things should be accounted profitable or unprofitable to us, as they tend to forward or hinder the salvation of our souls. This place of Scripture plainly shows that an opinion, or assent to the gospel, without works, is not faith. There is no way to show we really believe in Christ, but by being diligent in good works, from gospel motives, and for gospel purposes. Men may boast to others, and be conceited of that which they really have not. There is not only to be assent in faith, but consent; not only an assent to the truth of the word, but a consent to take Christ. True believing is not an act of the understanding only, but a work of the whole heart. That a justifying faith cannot be without works, is shown from two examples, Abraham and Rahab. Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness. Faith, producing such works, advanced him to peculiar favours. We see then, ver. 24, how that by works a man is justified, not by a bare opinion or profession, or believing without obeying; but by having such faith as produces good works. And to have to deny his own reason, affections, and interests, is an action fit to try a believer. Observe here, the wonderful power of faith in changing sinners. Rahab's conduct proved her faith to be living, or having power; it showed that she believed with her heart, not merely by an assent of the understanding. Let us then take heed, for the best works, without faith, are dead; they want root and principle. By faith any thing we do is really good; as done in obedience to God, and aiming at his acceptance: the root is as though it were dead, when there is no fruit. Faith is the root, good works are the fruits; and we must see to it that we have both. This is the grace of God wherein we stand, and we should stand to it. There is no middle state. Every one must either live God's friend, or God's enemy. Living to God, as it is the consequence of faith, which justifies and will save, obliges us to do nothing against him, but every thing for him and to him.
Verse 19. -
(1) "Thou believest that God is one," R.V., reading Ὅτι εῖς ὁ Θεός ἐστιν: or
(2) "Thou believest that there is one God," A.V. and R.V. margin, reading Ὅτι εῖς Θεὸς ἐστὶν. The reading, and by consequence the translation, must be considered somewhat doubtful, as scarcely any two uncials read the words in precisely the same order. The illustration is taken from the central command of the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 6:4), indicating that the case of Jews is under consideration. The following quotations from the Talmud will show the importance attached by the Jews to this command (Farrar, 'Early Days,' etc., p. 83). It is said ('Berachoth,' fol. 13, 6) that whoever in repeating it "prolongs the utterance of the word 'One,' shall have his days and years prolonged to him." Again we are told that when Rabbi Akibah was martyred he died uttering this word "One;" and then came a Bath Kol, which said, "Blessed art thou, Rabbi Akibah, for thy soul and the word 'One' left thy body together."
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
Thou believest that there is one God,.... These words are a continuation of the address of the man that has works, to him that boasts of his faith without them, observing to him, that one, and a main article of his faith, is, that there is one God; which is to be understood in the Christian sense, since both the person speaking, and the person spoken to, were such as professed themselves Christians; so that to believe there is one God, is not merely to give into this article, in opposition to the polytheism of the Gentiles, or barely to confess the God of Israel, as believed on by the Jews, but to believe that there are three persons, Father, Son, and Spirit, and that these three are the one God; wherefore this article of faith includes everything relating to God; as to God the Father, his being and perfections, so to Christ, as God, and the Son of God, and the Messiah, &c. and to the Holy Spirit; and to believe all this is right:
thou doest well; for that there is but one God, is to be proved by the light of nature, and from the works of creation and providence, and has been owned by the wisest of the Heathens themselves; and is established, by divine revelation, in the books both of the Old and of the New Testament; what has been received by the Jews, and is well known by Christians, to whom it is set in the clearest light, and who are assured of the truth of it: but then
the devils also believe; the Arabic version reads, "the devils likewise so believe"; they believe the same truth; they know and believe there is but one God, and not many; and they know that the God of Israel is he; and that the Father, Son, and Spirit, are the one God; they know and believe him to be the most high God, whose servants the ministers of the Gospel are; and they know and believe that Jesus is the Holy One of God, the Son of God, and the Messiah, Acts 16:17.
And tremble; at the wrath of God, which they now feel, and at the thought of future torments, which they expect, Mark 5:7 and which is more than some men do; and yet these shall not be saved, their damnation is certain and inevitable, 2 Peter 2:4 wherefore it follows, that a bare historical faith will not profit, and cannot save any; a man may have all faith of this kind, and be damned; and therefore it is not to be boasted of, nor trusted to.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
19. Thou—emphatic. Thou self-deceiving claimant to faith without works.
that there is one God—rather, "that God is one": God's existence, however, is also asserted. The fundamental article of the creed of Jews and Christians alike, and the point of faith on which especially the former boasted themselves, as distinguishing them from the Gentiles, and hence adduced by James here.
thou doest well—so far good. But unless thy faith goes farther than an assent to this truth, "the evil spirits (literally, 'demons': 'devil' is the term restricted to Satan, their head) believe" so far in common with thee, "and (so far from being saved by such a faith) shudder (so the Greek)," Mt 8:29; Lu 4:34; 2Pe 2:4; Jude 6; Re 20:10. Their faith only adds to their torment at the thought of having to meet Him who is to consign them to their just doom: so thine (Heb 10:26, 27, it is not the faith of love, but of fear, that hath torment, 1Jo 4:18).
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