What does it profit, my brothers, though a man say he has faith, and have not works? can faith save him?…
The use of the body, we all know, is to communicate between the soul and the external world — it interposes between the spirit of man and the objects of nature, and is a means of communication between both — conveying to the mind images and impressions, and being again the instrument by which the mind acts upon matter. The eye, the bodily organ, is nothing more than a medium by which the ideas of form and colour are derived from objects of nature. So long as it effects this purpose, it partakes of life — it is a means of linking soul to soul, and man to the world; but when it has ceased to perform such an office, when the spirit has withdrawn from the body to which it belongs, then, although the organ still remains with all the beauty of its admirable mechanism, it no longer partakes of life, for there is no living principle with which it is connected, and for which it serves as a medium of communication. Consider faith as a new principle, or a new sense in the soul, having for its office to give notice of the things belonging to the other world, and you will see that there is great propriety in pronouncing it to be dead, if it be not accompanied by works. You have all, perhaps, had opportunities of witnessing what is termed a dead hand or arm; and what is it to which you apply such a name? It is to a member upon which impressions hurtful to the body may be made, and yet no such intimation conveyed to the mind as would cause the danger to be avoided. And if a man say that he has faith, and yet do not refrain from things that may hurt the soul — if he present himself thoughtlessly in the way of spiritual dangers, and do not manifest by watchfulness and prayer a sense of the temptations to which he is exposed, how can we suppose that the faith which is so inoperative in producing that salutary fear and trembling, in which salvation is to be worked out, can have more life in it than the withered hand from which power and sensation have withdrawn, and which is, in consequence, no longer an agent between the soul of man and the external world. This doctrine that faith may be dead is a very important truth to have communicated, because it has a directly practical tendency. If faith as well as other qualities may decay, it, as well as others, requires exercise to keep its influence alive. We know perfectly well that everything human languishes and decays if suffered to remain in a state of inaction; we know that strength of body and strength of mind both require exercise for their continuance; we know that every sense we possess, by judicious exercise acquires increased power, and that when unexercised its power invariably declines — the doctrine of my text informs us that it is thus with faith also. Let us suppose that there is lodged in the heart of a man a true faith in Christ — the natural result would be that his works should correspond with his belief, and that he will deny his appetites, and moderate his desires, and regulate all his affections in such a manner as to make his life an illustration of his principles. Now, it is evident, that the power of his faith will be increasing, according as it is thus successfully exercised. Every victory it gains over some darling affection, or some tempting sin — every triumph it wins over any sordid or narrow interest, will add to its power — it will be gaining over gradually to its own interest and its own views all those forces in the heart of man which he had lately given as auxiliaries to the passions within him, and the temptations which continually surround him. Ask yourselves, then, are your works such as to strengthen your faith, or is your faith weak, because your works are few? Your hopes of heaven must rest upon your faith, but faith requires works for its support. What is the reason why our faith in the world where we live is so strong? Because we are continually exercised in the works of it — because our senses are impressed by its appearances, and our passions agitated by its excitements, and our minds engaged by its interests. Learn wisdom from the children of this world. Let the powers in us which belong to God derive instruction from our inferior nature, and then we shall have faith in God established within us, firm as is our faith in the world. And what are those means appointed by God to keep our faith alive, the neglect of which will cause its decay? They are the duties which devolve upon us from the relations in which we stand towards God and towards our brethren — the duties which originate in our hopes of heaven and our station upon earth.
(M. O'Sullivan, 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?