James 2:22
See you how faith worked with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?
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(22) Seest thou how . . .?—Better taken simply, and not as a question, Thou seest how, &c.

James 2:22. Seest thou — Or thou seest then, in this instance; how faith wrought together with his works — And animated him to great zeal and self-denial in them. Therefore faith has one energy and operation, works another. And the energy and operation of faith are before works, and together with them. Works do not give life to faith, but faith begets works, and then is completed by them. And by works was faith made perfect — “The command to offer Isaac for a burnt-offering, (Genesis 22:2,) appearing directly contrary to the promise, (Genesis 21:12,) In Isaac shall thy seed be called, Abraham’s faith was thereby put to the severest trial. Yet it was not staggered by the seeming contrariety of the divine revelation: Abraham reasoned with himself, (Hebrews 11:19,) that God was able to raise Isaac even from the dead; and firmly believing that he would actually do so, he therefore set himself to obey the divine command without the least gain-saying. James therefore had good reason to say that Abraham’s faith co-operated with his works in procuring him the promises confirmed with an oath, because it was his faith in God which enabled him to perform the difficult works, requisite to the offering of Isaac as a burnt- offering. He had equally good reason to say, by works his faith was perfected, or rendered complete; because, if, when tried, he had refused to obey, his would not have been a complete faith. In this passage, therefore, 1st, James hath declared that faith and works are inseparably connected, as cause and effect, and that good works must flow from faith as their principle.” 2d, He here fixes the sense wherein he uses the word justified; so that no shadow of contradiction remains between his assertion and St. Paul’s. Abraham returned from that sacrifice perfected in faith, and far higher in the favour of God. Faith hath not its existence from works; for it is before them; but its perfection. That vigour of faith which begets works is then excited and increased thereby: as the natural heat of the body begets motion, whereby itself is then excited and increased: see 1 John 3:22.2:14-26 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.Seest thou - Margin, "Thou seest." Either rendering is correct, and the sense is the same. The apostle means to say that this was so plain that they could not but see it.

How faith wrought with his works - συνήργει sunērgei. Cooperated with. The meaning of the word is, "to work together with anyone; to co operate," 1 Corinthians 16:16; 2 Corinthians 6:1; then to aid, or help, Mark 16:20; to contribute to the production of any result, where two or more persons or agents are united. Compare Romans 8:28. The idea here is, that the result in the case of Abraham, that is, his salvation, or his religion, was secured, not by one of these things alone, but that both contributed to it. The result which was reached, to wit, his acceptance with God, could not have been obtained by either one of them separately, but both, in some sense, entered into it. The apostle does not say that, in regard to the merit which justifies, they came in for an equal share, for he makes no affirmation on that point; he does not deny that in the sight of God, who foresees and knows all things, he was regarded as a justified man the moment he believed, but he looks at the result as it was, at Abraham as he appeared under the trial of his faith, and says that in that result there was to be seen the co-operation of faith and good works. Both contributed to the end, as they do now in all cases where there is true religion.

(By the somewhat unhappy term "merit," the author clearly means nothing more than "principle," as is obvious from his acute and evangelical comment on the verse; as well as from the admirable reconciliation of Paul and James below.)

And by works was faith made perfect - Made complete, finished, or entire. It was so carried out as to show its legitimate and fair results. This does not mean that the faith in itself was defective before this, and that the defect was remedied by good works; or that there is any deficiency in what the right kind of faith can do in the matter of justification, which is to be helped out by good works; but that there was that kind of completion which a thing has when it is fully developed, or is fairly carried out.

22. Or, "thou seest."

how—rather, "that." In the two clauses which follow, emphasize "faith" in the former, and "works" in the latter, to see the sense [Bengel].

faith wrought with his works—for it was by faith he offered his son. Literally, "was working (at the time) with his works."

by works was faith made perfect—not was vivified, but attained its fully consummated development, and is shown to be real. So "my strength is made perfect in weakness," that is, exerts itself most perfectly, shows how great it is [Cameron]: so 1Jo 4:17; Heb 2:10; 5:9. The germ really, from the first, contains in it the full-grown tree, but its perfection is not attained till it is matured fully. So Jas 1:4, "Let patience have her perfect work," that is, have its full effect by showing the most perfect degree of endurance, "that ye may be perfect," that is, fully developed in the exhibition of the Christian character. Alford explains, "Received its realization, was entirely exemplified and filled up." So Paul, Php 2:12, "Work out your own salvation": the salvation was already in germ theirs in their free justification through faith. It needed to be worked out still to fully developed perfection in their life.

Seest thou how faith wrought with his works? He doth not say, works wrought with his faith, as he should have said, if he had intended their concurrence in justification; but

faith wrought with his works, i.e. his faith was not idle, but effectual in producing good works, it being the office and business of faith to respect Christ for sanctification, as well as righteousness, Acts 26:18.

And by works was faith made perfect; either:

1. Faith by producing good works is itself encouraged, heightened, improved; and so not made perfect by any communication of the perfection of works to it, but by being stirred up and exercised as to the internal strength and power of it. Or rather:

2. Faith is made perfect by works declaratively, inasmuch as works evidence and manifest the perfection and strength of faith.

Faith is the cause, and works are the effects; but the cause is not perfected by the effect, only its perfection is demonstrated by it, as good fruit doth not make a tree good, but show that it is so. See 2 Corinthians 12:9. Seest thou how faith wrought with his works,.... Not to justify him before God; for neither faith nor works are ever said in Scripture to justify any man; but his faith being of the right kind, a faith which works by love, it put him upon doing this work, and many others; for this was done in faith, Hebrews 11:17 as all good works are, which are properly such; and where there is true faith, it will influence and engage a man to do good works, as it did Abraham.

And by works was faith made perfect? not with an absolute perfection; for though Abraham's faith was very great, yet there were things lacking in it, and he had his fits and times of unbelief; and had he lived till now, his faith, in this sense, would not have been perfect; and he would have had reason to have used the apostle's petition, Luke 17:5 much less would it have been made thus perfect by works; but the sense is, that hereby his faith was declared to be sincere, unfeigned, true, and genuine; just as love is said to be perfected, 1 John 4:17.

Seest thou how faith {l} wrought with his works, and by works was faith made {m} perfect?

(l) Was effectual and fruitful with good works.

(m) That the faith was declared to be a true faith, through works.

Jam 2:22. The direct inference from the preceding. Since the necessity of faith to the attainment of salvation was not contested by those with whom James disputed, but only the necessity of works; and since James (Jam 2:21) had adduced the example of Abraham to prove that only a faith which is not ἀργή and χωρὶς τῶν ἔργων profits: in this verse it can only be intended to represent how important to Abraham were his works, but not how important to him was his faith. This thought is thus clearly and evidently expressed in the second hemistich: καὶ ἐκ τῶν ἔργων κ.τ.λ. On the other hand, the first hemistich: ὅτι ἡ πίστις συνήργει τοῖς ἔργοις αὐτοῦ, has been generally understood by expositors as if the necessity of faith was intended to be brought forward. In this meaning Bengel says: duo commata, quorum in priore, si illud, fides, in altero opcribus cum accentu pronunciaveris, sententia liquido percipitur, qua exprimitur, quid utravis pars alteri conferat. According to this, James would have expressed in the first hemistich, that faith was not wanting to Abraham, that rather it was this from which his works sprung, that accordingly Abraham was justified ἐξ ἔργων, because they were works of faith. The same explanation is given by Erasmus, Tremellus, Beza, Baumgarten, Gebser, Pott, Kern, and others; also by Hofmann and Wiesinger. But the context is against it, as this thought does not follow as a consequence from Jam 2:21. Those expositors have accordingly understood the passage more correctly who find in the words in question the meaning that the πίστις of Abraham was not dead but operative; Estius: operosa fuit, non otiosa, non mortua (so Calvin, Laurentius, Hornejus, and others), although their interpretation is inaccurate in particulars.

συνήργει] If συνεργεῖν is taken in its strictly literal sense: “to be a συνεργός, to labour or to work along with” (1 Corinthians 16:16; 2 Corinthians 6:1), and is translated: “faith wrought with his works,” the idea of James (according to the usage of the word συνεργεῖν in this meaning) would be, that whilst works wrought, faith participated in their work.[147] But this thought does not correspond with the context, and is, moreover, not in itself to be vindicated, since faith and works are not two principles working along with one another.

Kern, with whom de Wette coincides, takes τοῖς ἔργοις as the dative of reference, and explains it: “faith wrought to his works, i.e. was the operative principle for the production of works.” This gives, indeed, a suitable enough thought, but linguistic usage is against the explanation; besides, it is not the case that “συν has only a vague reference, or, to speak more correctly, no reference at all” (Hofmann). On this account other interpreters, as Hofmann, Wiesinger, Brückner, also Philippi, correctly take συνεργεῖν here in the meaning of: to help (Romans 8:28; 1Ma 12:1). The support which faith gave to works is to be found in this, that as it operates to their production, so also to their accomplishment in correspondence with the will of God.[148] By this explanation a special emphasis is placed on the expression συνήργει, it being thereby brought prominently forward that the faith of Abraham was not ἀργός (-εργός), but exercised an activity, namely, the activity mentioned as helpful to works. Against Lange’s explanation: “faith manifested itself operatively at one with the works,” besides not being linguistically justified, Brückner rightly remarks that here the discourse is not concerning a co-operation of these two points.

The second hemistich is not in antithesis with the first, but constitutes its complement; whilst the faith of Abraham aided his works, faith itself received by works its completion.

ἐτελειώθη] is by many interpreters understood as declarative; Gomarus: fides est causa, opera effectus; causa autem non perficitur a suo effectu, sed perfecta declaratur, ut fructus boni arborem bonam non efficiunt, sed indicant. The same explanation is adopted by Calvin, Laurentius, Baumgarten, Gebser, Bengel, Philippi,[149] and others. Also Wiesinger indicates the same meaning with the remark: “faith could not be proved complete if it were not already so in itself, for the complete work presupposes the complete faith;” but τελειοῦσθαι does not signify to be proved, but to be completed.[150] Certainly the meaning of James cannot be, that faith hitherto incomplete was completed by works, as something which was externally added to faith, since faith is the impulse to the works; but as little is it his meaning, that faith is already complete (τέλειος) before works, and is by works only proved or demonstrated to be so; but faith and works are in his view so closely connected, that faith only when it produces works or by works (ἐξ ἔργων) becomes ever more completely that which it should be according to its nature and destination, and in so far only by works attains to its completion; for as the power of love grows and is completed by the practice of works of love, so does faith grow and is completed by the practice of works in which it manifests itself.[151] Thus was Abraham’s faith only completed when he stood the severest test, and brought his son as an offering upon the altar.[152]

[147] In the first edition of this commentary it is said: “Faith was the συνεργός of his works—that is, it operated not by itself, but with his works. James will here make prominent that with Abraham both were combined, the emphasis, however, according to the context, being placed on τοῖς ἔργοις.” This explanation, which has found favour with von Oettingen and Rauch, is, however, not tenable, as, on the one hand, linguistic usage is against it, and, on the other hand, it was not insisted on by James that the faith of Abraham wrought not alone, but that it was no inactive (inoperative) faith.

[148] The explanation of Hofmann (with whom Wiesinger and Brückner coincide): “that his action would not have been what is represented in an act of willing obedience, unless faith had assisted to its performance,” has this against it, that the principal thought would not thereby be expressed, but must be added. Philippi correctly: Abraham’s faith was no inert faith, but was helpful to his works, namely, to their production and accomplishment, i.e. it assisted him to the performance of good works.

[149] Philippi incorrectly appeals for this meaning to 1 John 2:5, and to ἔσεσθε in Luke 6:35.

[150] Also Hofmann’s explanation: “The τελείωσις of his faith consisted not in this, that it attained from incompleteness to completeness, but in this, that by the action, in which it proved itself, it attained to its complete formation—to its historical accomplishment,” cannot be reckoned as appropriate, because τελειοῦσθαι never means “to be completely formed,” if by this expression a becoming complete is not intended. Lange agrees with the above remark, only he introduces something strange when he says: “Abraham by his faith-offering attained typically and ideally the τελείωσις, which the Jewish Christians were to attain by the full proof of Christian brotherly love out of faith, and which with them all Israel was to attain.”

[151] Luther (in his introduction to First Peter, published by Irmischer, vol. lxx. p. 223 f.) says of the fruits of faith: “Although they belong to our neighbour, that he may be profited thereby, yet the fruit is not external—faith becomes stronger thereby. It is an entirely different strength than that of the body, for this decays and is consumed; but this spiritual strength, the more one uses and exercises it, the stronger it becomes; it decays when one does not exercise it.” See also the appropriate remarks of Hengstenberg (Evang. Kirchenz. 1866, p. 1124 ff.).

[152] When it is objected against this explanation, that faith must already have been perfect in order to produce the perfect work, it is to be observed, that it is in the nature of living faith always to be becoming stronger, in and with the production of works, and thus to perfect itself in its nature more and more. Brückner, indeed, grants that the practice of works has a strengthening reflex efficacy on faith, but observes that by this cannot be meant that faith was not before already sufficient to justify Abraham. But to this it is to be observed, that James does not derive the justification (meant by him) of Abraham from his faith preceding works, but from his faith made perfect by works.Jam 2:22. βλέπεις …: as these words are the deduction drawn from what precedes, it is better to take them in the form of a statement, and not as interrogative.—ἡ πίστις συνήρ γει: this implies a certain modification, with regard to πίστις, of the earlier position taken up by the writer, for in Jam 2:21 he says: “Was not Abraham our father justified by works?” no mention being made of faith; while here faith is accorded an equal place with works; cf. Galatians 5:6, πίστις διʼ ἀγάπης ἐνεργουμένη, concerning which words Lightfoot says that they “bridge over the gulf which seems to separate the language of St. Paul and St. James. Both assert a principle of practical energy, as opposed to a barren, inactive theory”. On συνήργει see Test. of the Twelve Patriarchs, Gad. iv. 7, “But the spirit of love worketh together with the law of God …” (Charles).—καὶ ἐκ τῶν ἔργων ἡ πίστις ἐτελειώθη: it is obvious that “faith” is used here in the highest sense, not merely as an attitude of mind, but as a God-given possession. It must, however, be further remarked that if the Judaism of the Jewish-Christian writer of this part of the Epistle had been somewhat less strong, the words under consideration would probably have been put a little differently; for according to the purely Christian idea of faith, works, while being an indispensable proof of its existence, could not be said to perfect it, any more than the preaching of the faith could be said to perfect the preacher’s belief; though works are the result and outcome of faith, they belong, nevertheless, to a different category.22. Seest thou how faith wrought with his works …?] Better, perhaps, not as a question, Thou seest that … Attention is called, not as the English “how” suggests, to the manner of co-operation, but only to the fact. The tense of the verb emphasises the continued co-operation of Abraham’s faith with his works. The one was all along working together with the other. What St James presses is, not that works can justify without faith, but that faith cannot justify unless it includes “the promise and the potency” of the life that shews itself in acts.

by works was faith made perfect?] Here the tense is changed to that which denotes completion in a single act. It was “by works” (i. e. out of, as from the originating cause) that faith was brought to its completion. The interpretation which sees in the words nothing more than that faith was shewn to be perfect, must be rejected as one of the afterthoughts of controversy. It may be added, however, as pointing to the true reconciliation of St James and St Paul, that the very form of the statement implies that the faith existed prior to the works by which it was made perfect.Jam 2:22. Ὅτι, that) Here are two clauses; and if emphasis is laid on the word faith in the former clause, and on works in the latter, the sense will be plainly seen, by which the bearing of the one part upon the other is clearly expressed.—ἡ πίστις, faith) It was by faith that Abraham offered his son, Hebrews 11:17.—συνήργει, wrought with) Therefore faith has one kind of efficacy and operation (ἐνέργειαν), works another: and indeed faith before works and with them. Works do not give life to faith; but faith produces works, and works make perfect faith.—ἐτελειώθη, was made perfect) He does not say, was made alive. That which faith derives from works is not its reality and truth, for it has a true existence before works, but its perfection and its attaining to the Divine friendship; Jam 2:23. Comp. John 15:10. The vigour of faith, which produces works, is increased, excited, and strengthened by the very act of producing them, just as the natural heat of the body is promoted by the exercise which it first stimulates. See 1 John 3:22. Abraham returned from that sacrifice much more perfect in faith than he had gone to it. The same word, τελειοῦσθαι, is used by Alexander Aphrodisiensis, in his 2d Book, respecting the soul, Chapter III., τρίτος δέ ἐστι, when he describes the intellect as increased by the knowledge of things situated beyond [external to] itself. Faith itself is made perfect, that is, is shown to be true, by works.Wrought with his works (συνήργει τοῖς ἔργοις)

There is a play on the words in the Greek: worked with his works.

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