Gaebelein's Annotated Bible
My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons.II. THE ROYAL LAW: FAITH AND WORKS
Here we have the synagogue mentioned, sufficient evidence that these Jewish believers were still gathering together in the Jewish fashion, and were not an ecclesia, an assembly, gathered out. The Epistle to the Hebrews, written many years after the Epistle of James, exhorted them to leave the camp behind and go outside of it (Hebrews 13:13). Now in the synagogue among unbelieving Jews the rich man with his gold ring and fine clothing was accorded all honor, received the foremost place, while the poor man was told to stand up. (The same spirit prevails in many “churches” too, with their pew rents, sometimes auctioned off to the highest bidder, while the poor are not welcomed in such aristocratic surroundings.) Such a practice is not according to the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, who Him self became poor so that by His poverty we might be rich. Faith, so prominent in the opening chapter of this Epistle, is here again insisted upon. Their action, even, in so small a matter as preference of the rich and influential, was not according to that faith, which worketh by love. “Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world, rich in faith, heirs of the kingdom which He hath promised to them that love Him?”
They had despised the poor, who were believers and walked in faith, while the rich oppressed them and dragged them before the judgment-seats. These of course were not believers, but mere professors, which again shows the mixed conditions of their gatherings. Furthermore, these rich people with their shameful behavior had blasphemed “that worthy Name” by which they were called, the name of the Lord of glory. This respect of persons was a sin against the royal law: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” “If ye have respect to persons ye commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.” If it is the matter of keeping the law, it must be kept in every detail and the entire law “for whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” They were in their consciences still under the law, not having fully seen “the law of liberty” which is the perfect law, flowing as we have learned from the first chapter, from the new nature guided by the Holy Spirit, producing the walk in the Spirit, thus fulfilling the righteousness of the law. James, therefore, appeals to the Ten Commandments as a witness to arouse their consciences. Then he mentions once more the law of liberty. “So speak ye, and so do, as they that be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment shall be without mercy to him that hath shown no mercy. Mercy rejoiceth over judgment.” The perfect law of liberty produces mercy in the believer, but where no mercy is shown, no mercy can be expected, but judgment. “With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again” (Matthew 7:2).
This section of the Epistle has produced much perplexity in the minds of some and led to a great deal of controversy. As it is well known, Dr. Martin Luther, thinking that James tried to answer and contradict Paul’s statement in Romans, called James “an Epistle of straw.” Others also hold that James corrects the Epistles to the Romans and Galatians, the one being the inspired statement unfolding the gospel of grace, the other the defense of that gospel. But how could James answer either Epistle when they were not at all in existence, but written years later? When Paul wrote Romans and Galatians he knew James’ Epistle. But did Paul try to correct James’ argument? Not by any means. Both James and Paul wrote under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Any thought of correcting a mistake impeaches the inerrancy of the Word of God.
There is no difficulty at all connected with this passage. The Holy Spirit through James shows that true faith which justifies before God must be evidenced by works. “What should it Profit, my brethren, though a man say that he hath faith, and have not works? Can faith save?” What kind of faith does he mean? It is a faith which assents to certain dogmas, consisting in a mental, intellectual assent, but it is not the living faith. A living faith manifests itself in works. That is what James insists upon. In their synagogue were those who professed to believe, but they did not show by their actions that they had the faith given by God; they only said that they had faith; works, as the proof of true faith were absent. “If a brother or a sister be naked (the fatherless and widows of the closing verse of the previous chapter), and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?” The answer to this question is, it certainly profits nothing. Such a behavior shows that the professed faith is dead. “So also faith, if it have not works, is dead in itself” The quality of faith is defined in the nineteenth verse. “Thou believest there is one God”--that which the Jew boasts Of, that he believes in one God, and not like the heathen in many gods--”thou doest well; the demons also believe and tremble.” Demons who also believe are still demons; so a man may believe and still be the natural man, live and act as such. The seal of true faith is works.
This the Holy Spirit now illustrates through the case of Abraham and Rahab, so different from each other, the one the Father of the faithful, the other the harlot of Jericho. The works of both bear witness to the character of true faith which produced them. In the case of Abraham he offered up his only son. Of Abraham it was said “he believed God.” That he acted as he did, in unquestioning and unhesitating obedience, was the proof that he believed God. What he did was the seal put on his faith, by which he was justified before God. Rahab also believed, and her faith was demonstrated when she received the spies, hid them and associated herself with the people of God, while she separated herself from her own people. Thus faith was seen as a perfect faith, as the true faith, by works. This is what the Holy Spirit teaches through James. In Romans justification before God is taught, which is by faith only. James does not say that our works justify us before God; such are not needed before an omniscient God, for He sees the faith of the heart, which man does not see. It is in exercise with regard to Him, by trust in His Word, in Himself, by receiving His testimony in spite of everything within and without--this true faith God sees and knows. But when our fellow-men ask, show me, then that faith shows itself by works. It is our justification before man. The argument is concluded by the terse comparison: “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”