What does it profit, my brothers, though a man say he has faith, and have not works? can faith save him?…
In the fourteenth verse we find the apostle putting a question, and asking, "What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works: can faith save him?" Here the important word in the question is the word "say" though a man say he hath faith. The apostle does not write it thus — "What does it profit if a man have faith?" That indeed would be a direct contradiction to the whole of Scripture; for, wherever our acceptance before God is spoken of, "faith" is spoken of as the instrumental cause of that acceptance. But he asks, What good will it do a man to say he has faith, while he shows no proof that he has it in his works? Will such a faith as that (for that is the exact force of the Greek article in the original) — will such a faith as that save him? He then illustrates and explains this in the following verses, by another question, which our common sense at once answers, and by a case, of which a very child can see the force. We remark, then, that the drift of St. James's reasoning, as we have seen it hitherto, is not to affirm that our works are the ground of our acceptance and the instrumented cause of our justification, but simply that they are the evidences and fruits of that faith which justifieth. So that, while the principle of faith, being seated in the heart (for "with the heart man believeth unto righteousness") is not seen or discerned by any, but is hidden within the heart, as the living sap is hidden within the tee; yet the good works, which are the inseparable fruits of faith, and follow after justification, are evident, as the apples, leaves, and blossoms prove, though we cannot see it, that the sap of life is at work within the tree. We see that, so far from St. James being at variance with St. Paul, the two inspired apostles perfectly agree. St. James here brings forward the same passage from Genesis 15:6, as St. Paul quotes in Romans 4:5; and therefore both the apostles must mean the same things, as both bring forward the same passage of the Word of God. The object o! the apostle St. Paul, in that passage of his Epistle to the Romans, is to show the way in which we are accepted before God; of St. James, in this passage, to show what is the proof of our acceptance before men. St. James, however, seeing that many laid claim to this faith who had it not, saw it necessary to show that saving faith must be justified, i.e., proved to be saving faith before men by works of righteousness, that, where no works of righteousness were to be seen in the life, there then could be no saving faith in the heart; and that those who talked of faith, and said they had faith when they gave no evidence of it before men in their lives, had not that faith of Abraham, who, because he trusted and believed God's word, was able to give up his son, his only son; or Rahab, who, because she believed, risked her life to receive the spies, and so found it. We see, then, that the one apostle, St. Paul, shows us that we are justified by faith alone, the other, St. James, that the faith on account of which we are justified is never alone or without works; and that, if it is alone, it is not saving faith, but the faith (if it may be called such) of devils and hypocrites. Let us remember that, though good works are not the ground of our acceptance — for that rests entirely on Christ's finished work; "and we ever look to be found in Him, not having our own righteousness, but the righteousness which is of God by faith" — still they are sweet evidences of our acceptance, as they show that our "faith is the faith of God's elect"; because it is "not barren nor unfruitful": they prove that we are "trees of righteousness, which the Lord hath planted"; because they are full of sap; because they bring forth their fruit in its season; because, having been planted in the house of the Lord, they flourish in the courts of the house of our God; because they bring forth more fruit in their age; and because they have faith for their fixed, unswerving root, fastened unto Christ; drinking life and nourishment from His grace and fulness; therefore their boughs are clad with the fair fruit of "virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, loving-kindness, godliness, and charity."
(W. Weldon. Champneys, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?