James 2
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
In the closing sentences of the preceding chapter James has been speaking of the true cultus or ritual of the Church; and here he warns his readers against a violation of it which they were in danger of committing, and of which indeed they had been already guilty, even when assembled for public worship.

I. THE EVIL HERE CONDEMNED. (Ver. 1.) It is that of Pharisaic contempt of the poor. The apostle does not, of course, mean that social distinctions are nowhere to be recognized by God's people. The Scriptures teach no such doctrine. Bather they enjoin Christians to "render honor to whom honor is due" (Romans 13:7). In ordinary society we are to act with manly deference towards our superiors, whether they be such in age, rank, office, knowledge, wealth, or influence. The apostle refers in this exhortation to the spiritual sphere. He urges that within the sacred circle of our Church life resin, oct is to be paid to religious character, and not to material wealth. A true pure faith in "the Lord of glory" is incompatible with the entire spirit of snobbery, and especially with the maintenance of unchristian distinctions of caste within the Church. The British Churches of the nineteenth century unhappily need the warning of this passage almost as much as the congregations of the Dispersion in the apostolic age (see Kitto's 'Daily Bible Illustrations,' vol. 1. twelfth week, first day).

II. A PRACTICAL ILLUSTRATION OF THE EVIL. (Vers. 2, 3.) The case supposed is in all respects an extreme one; yet how correctly it depicts human nature! It presents the thought of "the influences of clothes," or that "society is founded upon cloth" (Carlyle). The deference paid to the gold-ringed man in presence of the congregation is described with dramatic realism. A cordial welcome greets him when he caters, and he is conducted fussily to a principal seat; while the poor man in the squalid clothing is coldly pointed to a place where he may stand, or at most is permitted to sit in an uncomfortable comer. The apostle's graphic picture suggests to the thoughtful reader other examples of the same sin. We shall mention only one or two. The arrangements for seating a congregation amongst ourselves sometimes show "respect of persons," as in the case of an elevated and luxurious pew for the lord of the manor. Ministers in the pulpit are tempted to avoid enforcing practical duties too pointedly, lest their exhortations and reproofs should be unpalatable to influential families. (Yet how many examples of ministerial fidelity may be readily recalled] Numerous cases are historical: Elijah, Micaiah, John the Baptist, Knox, Howe, Massillon, etc.) Church courts are sometimes prone to mete out different measures to different classes of offenders. Congregations have been known to elect men of substance to spiritual office, rather than those who possessed the requisite qualifications of mind and character; and, on the other hand, members of Churches are sometimes actuated by mean jealousy of a wealthy fellow-worshipper, even to such an extent that they would fain, were it possible, abridge his liberty in the exercise of his ordinary rights as a member of the congregation. In these and many other ways Christian people have often shown themselves to be "evil-thinking judges," and have thereby entailed upon the Church much mischief and damage.

III. THE GROUNDS OF THE CONDEMNATION. The apostle's reproof is faithful, but it is also affectionately tender (vers. 1, 5). He indicates from various points of view the wrongfulness of the partiality which he is denouncing.

1. Mere earthly distinctions should be indiscernible in the presence of "the Lord of glory. (Ver. 1.) There is an argument in the very use here of this great title. Worldly distinctions of wealth and rank should be dwarfed into nothingness before our minds when we realize that those who assemble in the house of God are the guests of the Lord of glory."

2. Respect of persons is inconsistent with sound Christian principle. (Ver. 4.) The believer "looks at the things which are not seen;" and he ought not to do so with a wavering mind or a vacillating will. Ecclesiastical servility towards the rich is a form of mammon-worship; while the one power which the Church should exalt is that of character.

3. "God is no respecter of persons. (Ver. 5.) The New Testament rings with declarations of this truth. The Lord of glory," when he lived on earth, was no sycophant of the rich. He was himself a poor man. He chose the poor rather than the rich to possess spiritual means in his kingdom. In "dishonoring the poor man," therefore, the Church was despising one for whom Christ died, and a possible heir of the heavenly glory.

4. The rich as a class had been the enemies both of Christ and his people. (Vers. 6, 7.) With a few noble exceptions, the upper classes persecuted the Christians in the days of the apostles. They harassed them with lawsuits. They slandered them before the judges. They cursed the blessed Name of Christ which it is the mission of the Church to exalt. It was, therefore, contrary to "the spirit of a sound mind" to court the rich. To do so showed a deficiency of common sense. It indicated a lack of self-respect. And, above all, it was disloyal to the blessed Name. - C.J.

Amongst the other evils of which these Christian Jews were guilty, was the gross evil of respect of persons. James presents the scene graphically, according to his wont. There is the synagogue, with the worshippers gathering for worship, some taking the good places, as it were the chancel-seats, near to the ark with the roll of the Law, and to the table of the Lord; some the lower seats, away from the speaker anti the Word. When, lo, a rich man enters, some stranger to the place, blazing in Tyrian purple, all embroidered o'er with gold, and heavily laden with jeweled rings. And him the officious ministrants conduct with ostentatious honor to the stalls in the chief part of the synagogue. A poor man enters, likewise a stranger, in squalid garb, and. with some contempt of gesture or of tone the deacon points him to a remote place in the building, or bids him sit below the rich man's toot-stool on the ground. So did the Christian Church do homage to the pomp and wealth of the world, and despise the poor. Against this practice James levels his rebuke, and shows the inconsistency and the sin of such respect of persons.

I. THE INCONSISTENCY. He points out the inconsistency of such conduct:

1. With their faith. (Vers. 1, 4.) The faith of Christians is precisely that faculty of their nature by which they discern and espouse spiritual things as distinguished from the things of the world. And in virtue of this faith they are supposed to be raised above the tyranny of world-attractions. The glory of earth does not dazzle them, for their faith has caught the vision of a higher glory, even a heavenly, of which Jesus Christ is Lord. They sit in heavenly places with him. And in virtue of this faith they must estimate a man according to his relation to the invisible world, his relation to Christ and God. There is to them a citizenship, a brotherhood, which takes precedence of all other social claims. How, then, with such a faith, the faith of the Lord of glory, could they be caught with the glitter of rings and of cloth of gold? And how ignore the equal relationships to the spiritual kingdom of God? Their conduct was in utter inconsistency with their belief, their faith; they were double-minded, evil-thoughted judges.

2. Also, with their world-relationships themselves. (Vers. 6, 7.) For they were in the world, though properly not of it. And what were their relations to the several classes of the world as such? Their relation to the rich was unquestionably that of persecuted and persecutors, of oppressed and oppressors (ver. 6). And to such would they cringe and pay homage; to men of such a class? To those likewise who not only oppressed them, but blasphemed the name by which they were called (ver. 7)? The inconsistency of their conduct, then, was sufficiently glaring: they were inconsistent with their professed faith, double-minded, trimming between the world and God; and they were inconsistent with their own relation to the world, for they did reverence to that very power which was often turned against themselves, and against the holy Name they bore.

II. THE SIN. All inconsistency may with truth be charged home upon the inconsistent man as being essentially sinful. But the inconsistent conduct of these Jews was more directly and immediately open to that charge, as being a breach of the royal law, the law of love.

1. The specific sin, i.e. the particular aspect which the sin of uncharity assumed in this special case.

(1) Want of regard for the spiritual interests of the poor. They were brothers in their common need, but these had not treated them as such. The most commanding claim of one on the love and help of another, that of spiritual necessity, had been almost ignored.

(2) Want of considerate tenderness for their special lowliness of estate. The greater their want, the greater should be the regard of Christians for them. So God's special regard for them (ver. 5). So God in Christ (Matthew 11:5).

2. The generic sin, i.e. its general nature, as uncharity, apart from this special manifestation.

(1) Transgression of the law of a King - his will disregarded.

(2) Transgression of a kingly law - the sway of the principle destroyed. Viewed either way, it loses its character of isolated transgression, of a particular fault, and runs up into the dark character of sin! And all sin is essentially one. As has been said, it is "only accident, or fear, or the absence of temptation, that prevents our transgressing" other commandments also (Plumptre); potentially, when one is broken all are broken. Yes; adultery, murder, and all other deadly evil. "Guilty of all." The conclusion of all is, "With what measure we mete, it shall be measured to us again." A law of liberty, but not of liberty to sin. And if we disregard the law that should make us free, for us there is, not love, but judgment. A merciless judgment, if we have been merciless. But if, on the other hand, our hearts have been loving, and. our lives merciful, through the faith of Christ, then judgment shall be disarmed, and we shall learn what those words mean, "Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy." - T.F.L.

In these verses James takes the high ground that "respect of persons" is a transgression of the law by which we are to be judged; anal one which, like every other, involves the guilt of breaking the whole law.

I. TO RESPECT PERSONS IS TO COMMIT SIN. (Vers. 8, 9.) It involves disobedience to "the royal law. This is a noticeable expression. Any Divine commandment may be described as royal," seeing that it emanates from the supreme Sovereign of the universe. Rather, however, may the moral law receive this epithet because it is regal in its own character. God's law is the law of love; and love is kingly. The Divine nature itself is the foundation of virtue; and "God is love." Hence the Divine law is the eternal rule and final standard of rectitude. It possesses supreme excellence and supreme authority. Every other system of legislation, and all other rules of duty, ought to be subordinate to "the royal law." This law, we know, cannot be unjust; for it is a transcript of the moral perfection of the Divine nature, and is therefore the Alpha and Omega of all laws. The royal law is to be fulfilled "according to the Scripture;" for, while its ultimate source is in the nature of God, the one authoritative record of it to which sinful men have access is to be found in the Bible. We must consult "the law and the testimony" if we would ascertain the edicts of the great King, and learn the "newness of the spirit" in which these are to be obeyed. God's Word lays bare before us our half-buried and forgotten moral convictions; it restores the weather-worn inscriptions upon the gravestones of our sin-dead hearts. The apostle cites, as the great precept which forbids respect of persons, the words of Leviticus 19:18, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself - the same precept which our Lord had employed as his summary of the principle underlying the last six commandments. We are to love our neighbor, i.e. any one to whom we have it within our power to become helpful, even although he may be a stranger and a Samaritan. Those who discharge this duty aright do well." But, enlightened love for ones neighbor is inconsistent with respect of persons. We may not limit the precept either to our wealthy neighbor or to our poor neighbor. Indeed, to show partiality is not so much to trait the precept as to discard it altogether. Favoritism is the outcome of selfishness, rather than of the love that "seeketh not its own." Those, therefore, who practice it are not guilty of a trifling impropriety, but of direct and palpable sin, both against the Old Testament law anti "the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus."

II. TO TRANSGRESS IN ONE POINT IS TO TRANSGRESS THE WHOLE LAW. (Vers. 10, 11.) Let no one plead that respect of persons in the Church is so trivial a fault that it ought to be overlooked, especially in view of the social and pecuniary benefits which may be expected to result from it. The apostle assures us that partiality is a sin, and that he who indulges in it disobeys the whole moral law. To unthinking minds this latter assertion may sound very doubtful doctrine, leading them to ask - Is this statement of the nature of casuistry, or is it sober truth in the form of paradox? Does it not seem contrary to true moral perspective to affirm that a man who is noted for his blameless life "becomes guilty of all" when he "stumbles in one point"? Do not some sins, like some diseases, shut out the possibility of others which lie in an opposite direction? But a little consideration will reveal the deep moral truth of this saying. For:

1. The Lawgiver is one. (Ver. 11.) Every precept of the law possesses the same Divine authority. The sixth commandment is invested with the same solemn sanctions as the seventh. "God spake all these words." To disregard any one precept, therefore, is to violate the entire authority by which the whole Law has been ordained. It follows from this that:

2. The Law itself is one. How immeasurably "the royal law" is exalted, in its grand essential unity, above human systems of jurisprudence! The common law of England has to submit to have its defects supplied, and its rigors mitigated, by equity; but how very far yet are our common law and equity and statute law from coalescing into a unity! But the Divine legislation forms a perfect code; for it is a perfect reflection and expression of the mind or' God. The Bible jurisprudence knows no distinction between law and equity. It is independent of glosses and commentaries. It abhors legal fictions. Having for its Author the God of love, its vital unity is found in the principle of loving obedience. "Love worketh no ill to his neighbor: love therefore is the fulfillment of the law" (Romans 13:10). So, to "stumble in one point" is to break the whole law. For, as has been said, the law is a seamless robe, which is torn although only a part be torn; or a musical harmony, which is marred if one voice be singing out of tune; or a necklace of pearls, from which a single pearl cannot be dropped without breaking the string upon which the others hang, and letting them fall to the ground.

3. The spirit of obedience is one. True reverence for the law is inspired by love to the Lawgiver; and therefore obedience is impartial, and strives to be perfect. Our first parents, in eating the forbidden fruit, fell from the spirit of obedience, and dishonored the whole law. In like manner, the man who habitually breaks one of the commandments shows that in principle he is disloyal, and that he would transgress any other precept were he exposed to similar temptation to do so.

CONCLUSION. We should not be able to contemplate this subject without being impressed with such considerations as these:

1. The obligation which rests upon us to render perfect obedience to the law of God.

2. The impossibility of our doing so in our own strength, or during the present life.

3. The necessity of clothing ourselves with the righteousness of Christ. - C.J.

In these weighty words James reminds his readers that they are on their way to a dread tribunal where they shall be judged according to their works, and where with what measure they mete it shall be measured to themselves.

I. THE CERTAINTY OF JUDGMENT. The apostle takes the fact for granted. This certainty is attested by:

1. Human nature, Man possesses intuitively the conviction of his moral responsibility. Conscience anticipates even now the sentence which shall proceed from the bar of God. If he be not our Judge, the deepest dictates of morality are illusions.

2. Divine providence. While there is abundant evidence that the world is under moral government, it is also plain that there are many inequalities which require adjustment. The world is full of unredressed wrongs and undiscovered crimes. Providence itself, therefore, points to a day of rectifications.

3. The Word of God. The Bible everywhere represents the Eternal as a moral Governor; and the New Testament in particular describes the final judgment as a definite future event which is to take place at the second advent of Christ.

II. THE STANDARD OF JUDGMENT. The poor heathen, since they sin without law, shall be judged without law. Those who possess the Bible shall be tried by the higher standard of that written revelation. Believers in Christ, however, shall be "judged by a law of liberty" (ver. 12). This law is, of course, just the moral law viewed in the light of gospel privilege. In the Decalogue, the form which the law assumes is one of outward constraint. As proclaimed from Sinai, it constituted really "an indictment against the human race;" and it was surrounded there with most terrible sanctions. But now, to the Christian, the law comes bound up with the gospel; and the power of gospel grace within the heart places him on the side of the law, and makes it the longer the more delightful for him to obey it. In the believer's ear the law no longer thunders, "Thou shalt not." To him "love is the fulfillment of the law." The commandments, being written now upon his heart, are no longer "grievous" (1 John 5:3). The law has become to him "a law of liberty."

III. THE SUBJECT-MATTER OF JUDGMENT. "So speak ye, and so do" (ver. 12). The standard will be applied to our words and to our actions. The apostle has already touched upon the government of the tongue in James 1:19, 26; and he has dealt with practical conduct in the intervening verses. His teaching here is an echo of that of the Lord Jesus upon the same theme (Matthew 12:34-37; Matthew 7:21-23). A man's habits of speech and action are always a true index of his moral state. If we compare human character to a tree, words correspond to its leaves, deeds to its fruit, and thoughts to its root underground. Words and actions will be judged in connection with "the counsels of the hearts" of which they are the exponents.

IV. THE PRINCIPLE OF JUDGMENT. (Ver. 13.) This doctrine of merciless judgment to the unmerciful is enunciated in many parts of Scripture. It receives especial prominence in the teaching of our Lord (Matthew 5:7; Matthew 6:12, 14, 15; Matthew 7:1; Matthew 18:23-35). We can never, of course, merit eternal life by cherishing a compassionate spirit. But, since mercy or love is the supreme element in the character of God, it is plain that those who do not manifest active pity towards others have not themselves been renewed into his image, and are therefore unsaved. The purpose of the gospel is to restore man's likeness to God, who "is love;" so that the man who exhibits no love shows that he has not allowed the gospel to exercise its sanctifying power within him, and he shall therefore be condemned for rejecting it. But the medal has another side; for the apostle adds, "Mercy glorieth against judgment." This seems to mean that the tender-hearted and actively compassionate follower of Christ need not fear the final judgment. His mercifulness is an evidence that he is himself a partaker of the mercy of God in Christ. He shall lift up his head with joy when he stands before the bar of Heaven (Matthew 25:34-40). His Judge will be the Lord Jesus, over whose cradle and at whose cross mercy and judgment met together. God himself, in order to effect our redemption, sheathed the sword of justice in the heart of mercy; and his redeemed people, in their intercourse with their fellow-men, learn to imitate him by cultivating the spirit of tenderness and forgiveness. Thus it is an axiom in the world of grace, acted on both by God and by his people, that "mercy glorieth against judgment." - C.J.

God has joined faith and works together; but perverse human nature will insist upon putting them asunder. In the apostolic age, Paul met with many people who made works everything, to the neglect of faith; and James met with others who made faith everything, to the neglect of works.. In our time, too, multitudes outside the Church are saying that good conduct is the one thing needful, while orthodoxy of creed is comparatively unimportant.

"For modes of faith let graceless zealots fight;
His can't be wrong whose life is in the right."

(Pope.) Within the Church, on the other hand, many are clinging to a lifeless formal faith - a faith which assents to theological propositions, but which does not influence dispositions. This latter error the apostle here exposes and refutes.

I. THE INSUFFICIENCY OF A BARREN FAITH. (Ver. 14.) The case supposed is not that of a hypocrite, but of a self-deceiver. The man has faith, of a sort; but it is only the cold assent of the intellect. It does not purify his heart, or renew his will, or revolutionize his moral nature, as saving faith always does. Its weakness is seen in the fact that it is unproductive. It does not stir up its possessor to any habit of self-denial or of sympathetic benevolence. This faith coexists, perhaps, with respect of persons (vers. 1-13); or with an unbridled tongue, or a passionate temper, or a disposition to decline accepting the blame of one's own sins (James 1.). How many persons who "say they have faith" by assuming the responsibilities of Church membership, yet "have not works"! How many do not observe family prayer, or impart religious instruction to their children, or make any real sacrifice of their means for Christ's cause, or devote themselves to any personal effort to advance his kingdom! James asks concerning such inoperative faith - Cut booze? And the answer is, that no good use can be made of it. The faith which does not fill one's heart with love to God, and which does not produce practical sympathy towards one's fellow-men, is a spurious, worthless, bastard faith. Such a faith not only leaves its possessor unsaved, but increases the moral deterioration which shall make him the longer the less worth saving.


1. An illustrative case. (Vers. 15-17.) It is the bitterest mockery for a man who is himself living in ease and comfort to say to his shivering starving brother, when he sends him away empty-handed, "Depart in peace; do not give way to despondency; God has said he will never forsake his people; he shall give his angels charge concerning you; and I myself will pray for you. 'Sentimental professions of sympathy which have no outcome of practical help do not "profit either person. They tempt the destitute man to become a misanthrope; and they ruin the moral health of the false sympathizer (1 John 3:16-18). Mere lip-charity is not true charity; and a professed faith which is palpably barren of good works is dead in itself."

2. A direct challenge. (Ver. 18.) This challenge is represented as offered by a true and consistent believer. He defies the professing Christian who divorces faith from practice, to exhibit his faith apart from works. He says in effect, "A believer is to 'let his light shine.' Well, I point to the new life which I am living as the appropriate manifestation of my faith; but, since you neglect good works, it is for you to indicate how you can manifest your faith otherwise." A faith which produces no works is unable to show itself; therefore it is not true faith at all.

3. An actual example. (Ver. 19.) Should any professing Christian of "the Dispersion" have been pluming himself upon his correct theology and. his notional faith, here was a solemn warning to him. Should he have been resting satisfied with the thought that, living in the midst of polytheism, he was holding fast by the Hebrew doctrine of the unity of God, this verse would remind him of the profitlessness of such a conviction, unless it; expanded into the blossoms and fruits of holiness. "The demons believe," and yet they remain demons. The unclean spirits whom Jesus exorcised had plenty of head-knowledge and head-faith about both God and Christ; but their faith was of a kind that made them "shudder" with terror when they realized the great verities. Being a merely intellectual credence, it could not cleanse the soul; it could only produce the "fear" which "hath punishment." Learn, in conclusion, that "with the heart man believeth unto righteousness." True saving faith not only asks, with Paul, "Who art thou, Lord?" but with him also passes from that question to this other, "What shall I do, Lord?" - C.J.

The supposed antagonism between Paul and James. Misapprehension. Paul's great argument is that, not by seeking to fulfill an impossible righteousness do we make ourselves just before God, but by acknowledging our sin and accepting his salvation. James's argument is, that the very faith which saves us is a faith which brings forth after-fruits, or it is not true faith at all. So, then, the "works" to which the one refers are works done with a view to salvation, that God's favor may be won by them; the works to which the other refers are works springing out of salvation, because God's favor has been so freely and graciously bestowed. Let us study James's presentation of this truth - faith as a mere profession; faith as a practical principle.

I. FAITH AS A MERE PROFESSION. All profession which is mere profession is vain, and worse than vain. This needs no proving, and therefore James, in his usual graphic style, illustrates rather than proves the truth.

1. The faith of mere profession is a mockery. (Vers. 15, 16.) Picture the scene which he supposes: "If a brother or sister be naked," etc. What mockery! So is it possible for our "faith to be a consummate caricature of the truths we profess to hold. Take, e.g., the central creed of our religion: I believe in God the Father, the Son, the Holy Ghost." What does this mean to us? That we live to God as our Father, by the grace of his salvation, and through the power of his Spirit? Or are these mere names to us? The world knows. And better no professed faith at all than a faith which is belied by all our life.

2. The faith of mere profession is but the dead semblance of the living thing. (Vers. 17, 20, 26.) Take the living man, and you have spirit, expressing itself in body, and actuating the body in all the active movements of the outer life. But mere body? A ghastly, pseudo-expression, not real; and no movement, no life. The spirit, the living principle, is gone! The analogy: what the spirit is to the expression of the spirit in the bodily form, and to the movements of active life which are carried on through the bodily instrumentality, that faith is to the profession of faith which shows it forth to men, and to the works by which it lives and moves in the world. But mere profession? Corpse-like! For there is no quickening principle there, and consequently no movement of life. So our creeds may be dead bodies, not instinct with any quickening principle, not bringing forth any fruits.

3. The faith of mere profession may consist with the deepest damnation. (Ver. 19.) Orthodoxy? You have it there! But to what result? A shuddering! Oh, let us learn this: a truth that is not wrought into the life is no truth to us; nay, it may but ensure our speedier and more dreadful ruin! Who are the atheists of the present day? Who the Christless ones? To whom was it said, "Thou, which art exalted unto heaven," etc. (Matthew 11:23)? Let us learn, that the belief which now we trifle with, and glibly profess, may one day make us shudder!

II. FAITH AS A PRACTICAL PRINCIPLE. "Can that faith save him?" No, indeed; impossible per se! For whatever saves us must change us; and therefore the faith must he, not mere profession, but vital principle. True faith is trust; what we believe we live by. And faith in Christ, being a trustful surrender to Christ, is essentially operative. It must work; if it have not the "promise and potency" of work, it is not faith at all.

1. Faith manifested by works. (Ver. 18.) So far as there are true works, there is virtually true faith in the Christ of the heart, with whatever error mingled. We are warranted by Christ's own words in saying this: "By their fruits ye shall know them" (Matthew 7:16-20). So, then, true works are an evidence to all of the true faith from which alone they can spring. But the converse is true: a lack of works is sure proof of a lack of faith.

2. Faith justifying by works. (Vers. 21, 23, 24, 25.) Only in so far as the faith is vital and operative does it justify, though the works themselves are really the outcome of the faith, or, more strictly, the result of the salvation of which the faith lays hold. James does not use the phrase, "justified by works," with metaphysical precision, but rather for broad, popular effect; and what he really means is, "justified by a working faith." Mingled with this, there may be likewise the idea in his mind, according to ver. 18 (see above), "accredited to the world as a justified man." So Abraham; so Rahab.

3. Faith perfected by works. (Ver. 22.)

(1) Perfected as a principle by coming to a practical issue - for this the true natural history of all principles of action. Compare the passing of a law and its ultimate application.

(2) Perfected as a principle in itself, by the reaction upon it of its own exercise. For this the law of all exercise: the muscle, the brain. So faith itself the stronger for the very works which it originates and sustains. Abraham again. All which, being translated into perhaps more experimental language, means, "Christ in you;" and the Christ within must live and wink (Galatians 2.-20), May the faith that appropriates such a life be ours! - T.F.L.

The meaning of this notable passage has been much contested, because its teaching seems to many minds to contradict the doctrine of justification by faith. It was this apparent antagonism which led Martin Luther for a time to denounce the whole Epistle of James as a mere handful of "straw." Since his day, however, good men have been coming more and. more to see that Paul and James, so far from opposing one another, are in reality presenting different sides of the same great truth. Paul, in Romans and Galatians, fights against self-righteousness; James, in this Epistle, contends against formalism and licentiousness. James's "faith without works" is not the justifying faith of Romans 3:28 - "working through love;" it is rather the useless faith without love of which Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians 13. The two apostles, as we understand the matter, both treat of the same justification, but they do not contemplate it from the same point of view. Paul looks at justification metaphysically, in its essence as meaning acceptance with God on the ground of the righteousness of Christ; while James views it practically, in its vital connection with sanctification, and its efflorescence in a holy life. The "works" of James are just the "faith" of Paul developed in action. In the verses before us, James continues his illustration of the operative fruit-bearing nature of justifying faith. He adduces two examples from the Old Testament Scriptures.

I. THE EXAMPLE OF ABRAHAM. (Vers. 21-23.) It is remarkable that Paul employs the same illustration in setting forth the doctrine of justification by faith alone; and that he appeals also to the identical Old Testament statement (Genesis 15:6) here quoted respecting Abraham's acceptance (Romans 4.; Galatians 3:6, 7). Paul says that Abraham was justified by faith before Isaac was born; while James says that he was "justified by works, in that he offered up Isaac his son upon the altar" (ver. 21). But James is careful to add, that in this crowning manifestation of his piety the patriarch's faith co-operated with his works. The confidence which Abraham had reposed in God for so many years was the very life of his obedience to the dreadful command to kill his only son; and. the reflex influence of his victorious passage through such an awful ordeal was that his strong trust in God was still further strengthened and "made perfect" (ver. 22). Abraham's faith alone had been "reckoned unto him for righteousness" ever since the day when he first "went out, not knowing whither he went;" but the longer that he persevered in believing, and kept adding practical virtues to his faith, his original justification was the more confirmed. So, as good works are vitally connected with saving faith - being, in fact, wrapped up within it in germ from the beginning - Abraham may be said to have been "justified by works." The faith which saved him was a works-producing faith. And he was so greatly distinguished for the fruitfulness of his faith that he became known in Hebrew history as "the friend of God."

II. THE EXAMPLE OF RAHAB. (Ver. 25.) Her case seems to have been selected because it was so unlike the preceding. Abraham was a Jew, and the father of the chosen nation; Rahab was a heathen woman. Abraham had for many years received a special training in the school of faith; Rahab had enjoyed no training at all. Abraham was a good and pure man; Rahab had lived a loose and sensual life. Yet this degraded Canaanite obtained "like precious faith" with the illustrious patriarch. The same two Old Testament examples are cited also in Hebrews 11.; and certainly they take rank as the two extreme cases selected for special mention in that chapter. The contrast is useful as showing that, invariably, good works are found flowing from a living faith. The object of Rahab's belief is expressed in her own words in Joshua 2:9-11; and her strenuous exertions for the safety of the two spies, made at the risk of her life, bring her faith into prominence, as "working with her works."

CONCLUSION. In ver. 20 the apostle begins the paragraph with a restatement of his thesis; and in vers. 24 and 26, after presenting the scriptural examples respectively, he introduces a triumphant "Q.E.D" He has shown that the faith which lies only in the cold assent of the intellect to a system of divinity is more like a lifeless corpse than a living man (ver. 26). Truly saving faith consists in such a warm personal trust of the heart as will manifest itself in a life of holy obedience. So the ethical in religion ought never to be divorced from the evangelical. Every Christian minister should preach many sermons on distinctively moral subjects, taking care, however, that such discourses are informed with gospel motives. And every member of the Church should practice in the market-place and the workshop the morality of the Sermon on the Mount - not simply because a holy life is the appropriate evidence of faith, but rather because it is the great end in order to which the believer's faith is reckoned fur righteousness. - C.J.

The Pulpit Commentary, Electronic Database.
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