WARNING AGAINST RESPECT OF PERSONS.
The translation is doubtful, two renderings being possible.
(1) That of the A.V. and R.V., "Hold not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons."
(2) That of the R.V. margin and Westcott and Hort, "Do ye, in accepting persons, hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory?" According to this view, the section commences with a question, as does the following one, James 2:14. According to the former view, which is on the whole preferable, it is parallel to James 3:1. The faith of our Lord. "The faith" here may be either
(2) subjective (tides qua creditur), "Have the faith which believes in," etc..
Our Lord Jesus Christ. Exactly the same title occurs in Acts 15:26, in the letter written from the Apostolic Council to the Syrian Churches—a letter which was probably drawn up by St. James himself. The Lord of glory. The same title is given to our Lord in 1 Corinthians 2:8, and seems to be founded on Psalms 24:7, etc. The genitive, τῆς δόξης, must depend on Κυρίου in spite of the intervening Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ. Similar trajections occur elsewhere; e.g. Hebrews 12:11, where δικαιοσύνης depend, on καρπόν, and, according to a possible view, Luke 2:14. Bengel's view, that τῆς δόξης is in apposition with Κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ can scarcely be maintained, in the absence of any parallel expression elsewhere. Respect of persons (ἐν προσωποληψίαις) literally, reception of faces. The substantive is found here and three times in St. Paul's Epistles—Romans 2:11; Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 3:25; the verb (προσωποληπτεῖν) only here in Colossians 3:9; προσωπολήπτης in Acts 10:31. None of them occur in the LXX., where, however, we find πρόσωπον λαμβάνειν in Le Acts 19:15; Malachi 2:9, etc. (cf. Luke 20:21), for the Hebrew מינִףָ זשָׂגַ. Bishop Lightfoot has pointed out that, in the Old Testament, the expression is a neutral one, not necessarily involving any idea of partiality, and more often used in a good than in a bad sense. "When it becomes an independent Greek phrase, however, the bad sense attaches to it, owing to the secondary meaning of πρόσωπον as a mask,' so that πρόσωπον λαμβάνειν signifies 'to regard the external circumstances of a man'—his rank, wealth, etc.—as opposed to his real intrinsic character. Thus in the New Testament it has always a bad sense." It is exactly this regard to external circumstances against which St. James is warning his readers; and the fact that our Lord Jesus Christ had himself been known, when on earth, as no respecter of persons (Luke 20:21), would give point to his warning. The plural (ἐν προσωποληψίαις) is perhaps used to include the different kinds of manifestations of the sin.
Proof that they were guilty of respect of persons. Observe the insight which this passage gives us into the cha-racier of the assemblies of the early Christians, showing
(1) that the entrance of a rich man was not entirely unknown, but
(2) that it was probably exceptional, because so much was made of him. Notice
(3) συναγωγή used here, and here only in the New Testament, of a Christian assembly for worship (cf. Ignatius, 'Ad Polye.,' c. 4., Πυκνότερον συναγωγαὶ γινέσθωσαν).
A man with a gold ring (ἀνὴρ χρυσοδακτύλιος). The word is found here only. The English Versions (both A.V. and R.V) needlessly limit its meaning. The man was probably bedecked with a number of rings, and had not one only. In goodly apparel. The same phrase is rendering "gay clothing" in James 2:3. The variation is quite unnecessary, the Greek being identical in both places, and rightly rendered by R.V. "fine clothing." It is curious to find a similar needless variation in the Vulgate, which has in veste candida in James 2:2, and veste proeclara in James 2:3.
The copula (καὶ) of the Received Text is certainly spurious. It is found in K, L, but is wanting in א, A, B, C, Vulgate, Syriac, Coptic. B also omits the negative ου). If this manuscript is followed, the sentence must be read as a direct statement, and not as interrogative. But if (with most manuscripts and editions) the interrogative be retained, the translation is still doubtful. Διεκρίθητε ἐν ἑαυτοῖς may mean:
(1) "Are ye not divided in your own mind?" so the Syriac and R.V., which would imply that this respect of persons showed that they were halting between God and the world—in fact, double-minded.
(2) "Do ye not make distinctions among yourselves?" R.V. margin; this gives an excellent sense, but is wanting in authority, as there appears to be no other instance forthcoming of the passive with this meaning.
(3) "Did you not doubt among yourselves?" this (doubt) is the almost invariable meaning of διακρίναομαι in the New Testament, and the word has already been used in this sense by St. James (James 1:6). Hence this rendering is to be preferred. So Huther, Plumptre, and Farrar, the latter of whom explains the passage as follows: "It shows doubt to act as though Christ had never promised his kingdom to the poor, rich in faith; and wicked reasonings to argue mentally that the poor must be less worthy of honor than the rich." Judges of evil thoughts (κριταὶ διαλογισμῶν πονηρῶν); sc. their own (thoughts), which caused them to respect persons. Thus the phrase is equivalent to "evil-thinking judges."
Proof of the sinfulness of respect of persons.
Hearken (ἀκούσατε). This has been noticed as a coincidence with the speech of St. James in Acts 15:13. It is, however, too slight to be worth much (cf. Acts 7:2; Acts 13:16; Acts 22:1). For τοῦ κόσμου τούτου, read τῷ κόσμῳ (א, A, B, C), "poor as to the world;" perhaps "in the estimation of the world." These God chose (to be) rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom, etc. The kingdom; mentioned hero only by St. James (and even here, א, A read ἐπαγγελίας); cf. νόμον βασιλικόν in verse 8. Which he hath promised. As Dean Plumptre has pointed out, "it is scarcely possible to exclude a direct reference to the words of Christ, as in Luke 6:20; Luke 12:31, Luke 12:32; and so we get indirect proof of a current knowledge, at the early period at which St. James wrote, of teaching which was afterwards recorded in the written Gospels."
You have dishonored by your treatment the poor man, whom God chose; while those rich men to whom ye pay such honor are just the very persons who
(1) oppress you and
(2) blaspheme God and Christ.
Poor … rich. In the Old Testament we occasionally find the term "poor" parallel to "righteous" (Amos 2:6; Amos 5:12); and "rich" to "wicked" (Isaiah 53:9). St. James's use here is somewhat similar (see on James 1:9, etc). "Christiani multi ex pauperibus erant: pauci ex divitibus" (Bengel). The "rich men" here alluded to are evidently such as was the Apostle Paul before his conversion.
(1) They dragged the poor Christians before the judgment-seat (ἕλκουσιν ὑμᾶς εἰς κριτήρια). So Saul, "haling (σύρων) men and women, committed them to prison" (Acts 8:3).
(2) They blasphemed the honorable Name by which Christians were called. So Saul thought that he ought to do many things contrary to the Name of Jesus of Nazareth, and strove to make them blaspheme (Acts 26:9-44).
(3) All this they did in person (αὐτοί); "themselves," just as Saul did. No difficulty need be felt about the presence of these rich men in the synagogues of the Christians. It will be noticed that St. James never calls them "brethren." Further, it must be remembered that, at this early date, the Church had not yet learnt by bitter experience the need for that secrecy with which in later days she shrouded her worship. At this time the Christian assemblies were open to any who chose to find their way in. All were welcome, as we see from 1 Corinthians 14:23, etc., where the chance entry of "men unlearned or unbelieving" is contemplated as likely to happen. Hence there is no sort of difficulty in the presence of the "rich man" here, who might be eagerly welcomed, and repay his welcome by dragging them to the judgment-seat. Draw you before the judgment-seats. The account given by Josephus of the death of St, James himself affords a good illustration of the manner in which Christians were liable to this. But the tribunals need not be confined to Jewish ones. Other instances of similar treatment, illustrating the thoughts and language of the passage before us, may be found in Acts 16:19; Acts 17:6; Acts 18:12. Litigation of an entirely different character between Christians themselves is alluded to and condemned by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:1-46.
That worthy Name (τὸ καλὸν ὄνομα); the honorable Name; probably the Name of Christ, by which the disciples were known (Acts 11:26), and for which they suffered (Acts 5:41; 1Pe 5:14 -16). By the which ye are called; literally, which was called upon you (τὸ ἐπικληθὲν ἐφ ὑμᾶς). A similar expression is found in St. James's speech in Acts 15:17, in a quotation from Amos 9:12.
What is the connection with the foregoing? Μέντοι is ignored altogether by the A.V. Translate, with R.V., howbeit if ye fulfill, etc.; Vulgate, tamen. According to Huther, St. James here meets the attempt which his readers might, perhaps, make to justify their conduct towards the rich with the law of love; whilst he grants to them that the fulfillment of that law is something excellent, he designates προσωποληπτεῖν directly as a transgression of the law. Alford thinks that the apostle is simply guarding his own argument from misconstruction—a view which is simpler and perhaps more natural. The royal law. Why is the law of love thus styled? (The Syriac has simply "the law of God.")
(1) As being the most excellent of all laws; as we might call it the sovereign principle of our conduct. Such an expression is natural enough in a Greek writer; but it is strange in a Jew like St. James (in the LXX. βασιλικός is always used in its literal meaning); and as the "kingdom" has been spoken of just before (verse 5), it is better
(2) to take the expression as literal here—"the law of the kingdom" (cf. Plumptre, in loc). Thou shalt love, etc. (Leviticus 19:18). The law had received the sanction of the King himself (Matthew 22:39; Luke 10:26-42).
And are convinced, etc.; better, with R.V., being convicted by the law (ἐλεγχόμενοι ὑπὸ τοῦ νόμου). The Law of Moses directly forbade all respect of persons; see Leviticus 19:15 (three verses above the passage just quoted by St. James), Οὐ λήψῃ πρόσωπον πτωχοῦ οὐδὲ μὴ θαυμάσῃς πρόσωπον δυνάστον.
In this verse the subjunctives τηρήσῃ πταίσῃ, are rightly read by the Revisors, with א, B, C. The Law was express on the need of keeping all the commandments; see Leviticus 19:37 (the same chapter to which St. James has already referred), Καὶ φυλάξωσθε πάντα τὸν νόμον μου καὶ πάντα τὰ προστάγματά μου καὶ ποιήσετε αὐτά). He is guilty of all. The very same thought is found in rabbinical writers (Talmud, 'Schabbath,' fol. 70); a saying of R. Johanan: "Quodsi racist omnia unum vero omitter omnium est singulorum reus." Other passages to the same effect may be seen in Schottgen, 'Horae Hebraicae,' vol. 1. p. 1017, etc.; and cf., 'Pirqe Aboth,' 4.15. Was it a false inference from St. James's teaching in this verso that led the Judaizers of Acts 15:1-44. to lay down the law "Except ye be circumcised after the customs of Moses ye cannot be saved"? "Whosoever shall keep the whole Law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all," might seem to suggest such an inference: "To whom," says St. James himself, "we gave no commandment" (Acts 15:24).
Do not commit adultery … do not kill. The order of the commandments is remarkable; what is now the seventh is placed bolero the sixth. This appears to have been the usual order at that time. In this order our Lord quotes them in Luke 18:20, and St. Paul in Romans 13:9. Philo also has the same order, and expressly comments on it, drawing from it an argument for the heinousness of adultery. In the Vatican Manuscript of the LXX. in Exodus 20:13-2 the order is, "Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not kill." But the Alexandrian Manuscript has the usual order, which is also found in Matthew 19:18 and Mark 10:19 (according to the correct reading).
Conclusion of the subject: νόμος ἐλευθερίας (cf. James 1:25).
A clear reminiscence of our Lord's teaching in the sermon on the mount (Matthew 7:1, etc.; Matthew 5:7): Μακάριοι οἱ ἐλεήμονες ὅτι αὐτοὶ ἐλεηθήσονται. Ἀνέλεος is certainly the right form of the word (א, A, B, C, K), not ἀνιλέως (Receptus with L), and the καὶ of the Textus Receptus is entirely wanting in manuscript authority, and should be deleted. The subject is ended by the abrupt declaration, almost like a cry of triumph, "Mercy glorieth against judgment."
WARNING AGAINST RESTING CONTENT WITH A MERE BARREN ORTHODOXY. Preliminary note: This is the famous passage which led to Luther's depreciation of the whole Epistle, which he termed a "right strawy" one. At first sight it appears, indeed, diametrically opposed to the teaching of St. Paul; for:
(1) St. Paul says (Romans 3:28)," We conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from (χωρίς) works of Law," whereas St. James asserts (verse 26) that "faith without (χωρίς) works is dead," and that man is "justified by works and not by faith only" (verse 24).
(3) St. Paul, or the Pauline author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, appeals to the case of Rahab as an instance of faith (Hebrews 11:31);
St. James refers to her as an example of justification by works (verse 25). The opposition, however, is only apparent; for:
(1) The two apostles use the word ἔργα different senses. In St. Paul it always has a depreciatory sense, unless qualified by the adjective καλὰ or ἄγαθα. The works which he denies to have any share in justification are "legal works," not those which he elsewhere denominates the "fruit of the Spirit" (Galatians 5:22), which are the "works" of which St. James speaks.
(2) The word πίστις is also used in different senses. In St. Paul it is πίστις δἰ ἀγαπῆς ἐνεργουμένη (Galatians 5:6); in St. James it is simply an orthodox creed, "Even the devils πιστεύουσι (verse 19): it may, therefore, be barren of works of charity.
(3) The apostles are writing against different errors and tendencies: St. Paul against that of those who would impose the Jewish Law and the rite of circumcision upon Gentile believers; St. James against "the self-complacent orthodoxy of the Pharisaic Christian, who, satisfied with the possession of a pure monotheism and vaunting his descent from Abraham, needed to be reminded not to neglect the still weightier matters of a self-denying love". [The tendency of the Jews to rely on their claim as "Abraham's children" is rebuked by the Baptist (Matthew 3:9) and by our Lord (John 8:39). So Justin Martyr speaks of the Jews of his day: Οἱ λέγουσιν ὅτι κἂν ἁμαρτωλοὶ ὧσι θεὸν δέ γινώσκωσιν οὐ μὴ λογίσηται αὐτοῖς ἁμαρτίαν.]
(4) The apostles regarded the new dispensation from different standpoints. With St. Paul' it is the negation of law: "Ye are not under Law, but under grace" (Romans 6:14). With St. James it is the perfection of Law. But, as Bishop Lightfoot has pointed out, "the ideas underlying these contradictory forms of expression need not be essentially different." The mere ritual has no value for St. James. Apart from anything higher it is sternly denounced by him (James 1:20, etc). The gospel is in his view a Law, but it is no mere system of rules, "Touch not, taste not, handle not;" it is no hard bondage, for it is a law of liberty, which is in exact accordance with the teaching of St. Paul, that "where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty" (2 Corinthians 3:17). But:
(5) The question now arises. Granting that St. James does not contradict the doctrine of St. Paul, is he not opposing Antinomian perversions of it, and writing with conscious reference to the teaching of the apostle of the Gentiles, and the misuse which some had made of it? To this question different answers have been returned. "So long as our range of view is confined to the apostolic writings, it seems scarcely possible to resist the impression that St. James is attacking the teaching, if not of St. Paul himself, at least of those who exaggerated and perverted it. But when we realize the fact that the passage in Genesis was a common thesis in the schools of the day, that the meaning of faith was variously explained by the disputants, that diverse lessons were drawn from it—then the case is altered. The Gentile apostle and the Pharisaic rabbi might both maintain the supremacy of faith as the means of salvation; but faith with St. Paul was a very different thing kern faith with Maimonides, for instance. With the one its prominent idea is a spiritual life, with the other an orthodox creed; with the one the guiding principle is the individual conscience, with the other an external rule of ordinances; with the one faith is allied to liberty, with the other to bondage. Thus it becomes a question whether St. James's protest against reliance on faith alone has any reference direct or indirect to St. Paul's language and teaching. Whether, in fact, it is not aimed against an entirely different type of religious feeling, against the Pharisaic spirit which rested satisfied with a barren orthodoxy fruitless in works of charity". In favor of this view of the entire independence of the two writers, to which he inclines, Bishop Lightfoot urges:
(a) That the object of the much-vaunted faith of those against whom St. James writes is "the fundamental maxim of the Law," "Thou believest that God is one" (Deuteronomy 6:4); not "the fundamental fact of the gospel," "Thou believest that God raised Christ from the dead" (Romans 10:9).
(b) That the whole tone of the Epistle recalls our Lord's denunciations of the scribes and Pharisees, and seems directed against a kindred spirit. To these we may add:
(c) That the teaching of St. Paul and St. James is combined by St. Clement of Rome ('Ep. ad Corinthians,' c. 12) in a manner which is conclusive as to the fact that he was unaware of any divergence of view between them, whether real or apparent. We conclude, then, that the teaching of St. James has no direct relation to that of St. Paul, and may well have been anterior in time to his Epistles to the Romans and Galatians.
(1) First point: Faith without works is equivalent to profession without practice, and is therefore dead.
Omit the article (with B, C1), and read τί ὀφελος: so also in James 2:16. Can faith save him! rather, with R.V., that faith (ἡ πίστις); the faith in question.
Observe the practical character of the illustration chosen, from works of mercy (cf. James 1:27). Ωσι in James 2:15 should be deleted (omitted by B, C, K); also the disjunctive particle δὲ at the commencement of the verse (with א, B).
Depart in peace (ὑπάγετε ἐν εἰρήνῃ); cf. Acts 16:36. This is something quite different from the fullness of our Lord's benediction, "Go into peace (ὕπαγε εἰς εἰρήνην)" (Mark 5:34; cf. Luke 7:50; Luke 8:48).
Being alone (καθ ἑαυτήν); R.V., in itself. But the rendering of the A.V. appears to be justified by the LXX. in Genesis 43:31, Παρέθηκαν αὐτῷ μόνῳ καὶ αὐτοῖς καθ ἑαυτούς κ.τ.λ..
(2) Second point: Even the devils believe (πιστεύουσι). How worthless, then, must be faith (πίστις) alone!
Yea, a man may say (ἀλλ ἐρεῖτις). The objection in 1 Corinthians 15:35 is introduced by precisely the same words. It is somewhat difficult to see their drift here, as what follows cannot be an objection, for it is just the position which St. James himself adopts. The formula must, therefore, be taken as introducing the perfectly fair retort to which the man who gives utterance to the sentiments of verse 16 lays himself open. Without thy works. Instead of χώρις (א, A, B, C, Latt., Syriac, Coptic), the Received Text has the manifestly erroneous reading ἐκ (K, L), in which it is happily not followed by the A.V.
(1) "Thou believest that God is one," R.V., reading Ὅτι εἷς ὁ Θεός ἐστιν: or
(2) "Thou believest that there is one God," A.V. and R.V. margin, reading Ὅτι εἷς Θεὸς ἐστὶν. The reading, and by consequence the translation, must be considered somewhat doubtful, as scarcely any two uncials read the words in precisely the same order. The illustration is taken from the central command of the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 6:4), indicating that the ease of Jews is under consideration. The following quotations from the Talmud will show the importance attached by the Jews to this command. It is said ('Berachoth,' fol. 13, 6) that whoever in repeating it "prolongs the utterance of the word 'One,' shall have his days and years prolonged to him." Again we are told that when Rabbi Akibah was martyred he died uttering this word "One;" and then came a Bath Kol, which said, "Blessed art thou, Rabbi Akibah, for thy soul and the word 'One' left thy body together."
(3) Third point: Proof from the example of Abraham that a man is justified by works and not by faith only. In Genesis 15:6 we read of Abraham that "he believed in the Lord; and he accounted it to him for righteousness" (LXX., Ἐπίστευσεν Αβραμ τῷ Θεῷ καὶ ἐλογίσθη αὐτῷ εἰς δικαιοσύνην, quoted by St. Paul in Romans 4:3; Galatians 3:6). But years after this we find that God "tested Abraham" (Genesis 22:1). To this trial St. James refers as that by which Abraham's faith was "perfected" (ἐτελειώθη), and by which the saying of earlier years found a more complete realization (cf. Ecclesiasticus 44:20, 21, "Abraham … kept the Law of the Most High, and was in covenant with him … and when he was proved, he was found faithful. Therefore he assured him by an oath, that he would bless the nations in his seed," etc).
Faith without works is dead. The Received Text, followed by the A.V., reads νεκρά, with א, A, C3, K, L, Syriac, Vulgate (Clementine). The Revisers, following B, C1, if, read ἀργή, "barren" (so Vulgate Amiat. by a correction, otiosa).
And he was called the Friend of God. The expression comes from Isa 41:8; 2 Chronicles 20:7 (in the Hebrew, א; LXX., ὅν ἠγάπησα τῷ ἠγαπημένῳ σου). The same title, φίλος Θεοῦ, is given to Abraham by Clement of Rome ('Ad Corinthians,' 10.; 17), and was evidently a standing one among the Jews. Philo actually in one instance quotas Genesis 18:17 as Ἀβραὰμ τοῦ φίλου μου instead of ποῦ παιδός μου. Illustrations from later rabbinical writers may be found in Wetstein, and cf. Bishop Lightfoot on 'Clement of Rome,' p. 61. To this day it is said that Abraham is known among the Arabs as El Khalil, equivalent to "the Friend."
(4) Fourth point: Proof from the case of Rahab the harlot of justification by works (cf. Joshua 2:1-6.; Joshua 6:25). Rahab is mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament in Hebrews 11:31, where she also appears as Ῥαὰβ ἡ πόρνη, and is spoken of as having "received the spies," δεξαμένη τοὺς κατασκόπους cf. ὑποδεξαμένη τοὺς ἀγγέλους here. There, however, she is regarded as an instance of faith (see above in preliminary note). The only other place where her name occurs is in the genealogy of our Lord, in Matthew 1:5, "Salmon begat Booz of Rachab (ἐκ τῆς Ραχάβ)."
Conclusion of the whole matter: "As the body apart from the spirit is dead, even so faith apart from works is dead."
James 2:1-59 -1
Respect of persons is inconsistent with the first principles of Christianity.
1. One great function of Christianity was to create a sphere in which there should be neither Jew nor Gentile, Greek nor barbarian, bond nor free. "All equal are within the Church's gate" is true, not only of the material building, but equally of the spiritual fabric of the Catholic Church, which, like her Divine Head, is no respecter of persons. Bengel well remarks that the equality of Christians, indicated by the name "brethren" (James 2:1), is the foundation of the admonition with which the chapter opens.
2. St. James gives but one instance of the kind of respect of persons which is forbidden, viz. the respect shown to the rich in assemblies of Christians for worship. Other forms of the same sin are common enough and are equally reprehensible, e.g. the homage paid to a man in society because he is rich, without regard to his character and moral worth. At the same time, it must not be forgotten that Christianity accepts as a fact class distinctions, and that we are bidden to give "honor to whom honor is due." "The Christian religion allows not that contempt for even earthly dignities affected by some of her followers, but springing more from envy and unruliness than aught besides. True reverence and submission are in no way condemned by this Scripture, but their excess and gross extreme, the preference for vulgar wealth, the adulation of success, the worship, in short, of some new golden calf" (Punchard).
3. Respect of persons, regard to outward appearances, the gold ring and the gay clothing, evince not merely evil thinking but want of faith (verse 4); i.e. a halting between God, who is no respecter of persons, and the world, which judges only by that which is external. How foolish also to regard the persons of men, when the object of our faith is the Lord of glory himself!
Worldly poverty is by no means inconsistent with true riches
rather it is often accompanied by them, for "God chose the poor as to the world to be rich in faith;" not as if poverty were necessarily accompanied by goodness, or as if all the rich were rejected. But "not many wise after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called;" while "the poor," as a class, "have the gospel preached to them." It has been well said that "the temptations of riches assumed in that age very gross forms of sensuality or of greed; but do they become less dangerous by losing a portion of their grossness?"
The obedience which God requires is absolute.
"Whosoever shall keep the whole Law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all." Why, since the breach of but one command is certainly not as sinful as the breach of all? Because
(1) "the principle of duty and of obedience to all the commandments is one; so that if we choose for ourselves nine commandments to keel), and one to break, we are not doing God's will, but our own;
(2) all the precepts are alike expressions of one Divine will, and rest on one authority;
(3) all the precepts are manifestations of love at work—love first to God, and then to our neighbor; and each particular failure shows defect in this" (Dean Scott). "A garment is torn, though you only take away one piece of it; a harmony in music is spoiled if only one voice be out of tune" (Starke). The perfect figure of the circle is marred by a flaw in any one part of it. So to break one command out of all is to violate the whole principle of obedience. Thus men have no right to pick and choose which commandments they will keep, or to
"Compound for sins they are inclined to,
By damning those they have no mind to."
As Christians, we are not entitled to bow down in the house of Rimmon, nor does the strictest obedience to one command give us a dispensation to break another; e.g. spotless chastity on the part of the unfallen will not atone for Pharisaism and harshness to the fallen, for "if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the Law."
The character of mercy.
The most suggestive commentary on this verse may be found in Shakespeare's lines—
"The quality of mercy is not strain'd;
It droppeth, as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice bless'd;
It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes:
'Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptered sway,
It is enthroned in the heart of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God's
When mercy seasons justice."
('Merchant of Venice,' Acts 4. so. 1)
Faith and works.
I. THE HOLLOWNESS OF PROFESSION WITHOUT PRACTICE; of a mere orthodox creed without the deeds of love, which are as the fruits by which the tree is known. There is no reason to think that the Pharisee of the one parable was unorthodox, or that Dives in another was a heretic; but the faith of each of these was worthless, because not a "faith which worketh by love." The good Samaritan was a stranger and an alien, but did by nature the deeds of the Law; and thus (although "salvation is of the Jews") is held up for an example. The barren fig tree stands forth as the type of profession without practice—a great show of foliage, the ordinary sign that marked the presence of fruit, but after all "nothing but leaves." So is the man who says to his destitute brother, "Depart in peace, get warmed and filled," but gives him none of those things which be needful for the body; and the fate of the fig tree is a warning to all ages of the danger in which such stand.
II. THE NEED OF WORKS.
1. In the case of Abraham his faith was perfected by his obedience.
2. Rahab the harlot was justified by works. Works are necessary for all Christians, wherever they are possible,
(1) as the fruits of faith, and
(2) as the evidences that the faith is genuine.
Hence judgment by works is expressly taught in the New Testament. So in the Athanasian Creed, "They that have done good shall go into life everlasting," etc.
III. On the apparent difference between the teaching of St. James and of St. Paul, see Farrar's 'Early Days of Christianity,' vol. 2. p. 99. "We may thank God that the truth has been revealed to us under many lights; and that by a diversity of gifts the Spirit ministered to each apostle severally as he would, inspiring the one to deepen our spiritual life by the solemn truth that works cannot justify apart from faith, and the other to stimulate our efforts after a holy life by the no less solemn truth that faith cannot justify us unless it be the living faith which is shown' by works. There is in the diversity a deeper unity. The Church, thank God, is 'Circumamicta varietatibus'—clothed in raiment of many hues. St. Paul had dwelt prominently on faith; St. Peter dwells much on hope; St. John insists most of all on love. But the Christian life is the synthesis of these Divine graces, and the works of which St. James so vehemently impresses the necessity, are works which are the combined result of operative faith, of constraining love, and of purifying hope."
HOMILIES BY C. JERDAN
Respect of persons.
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. (Verse 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 respect 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. (Verses 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. 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 (verses 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." (Verse 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. (Verse 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." (Verse 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. (Verses 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.
Stumbling in one point.
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. (Verses 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. (Verses 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. (Verse 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.
Law and judgment.
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" (verse 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" (verse 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, James 1:26; 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 12:34-40; Matthew 7:21-40). 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. (James 1:13) 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, Matthew 6:14, Matthew 6:15; Matthew 7:1; Matthew 18:23-40). 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.
Works the test of faith.
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."
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. (Verse 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 (verses 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 1:1-59). 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—Cui bono? 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.
II. EVIDENCE ADDUCED TO SHOW THIS INSUFFICIENCY. (Verses 15-19)
1. An illustrative case. (Verses 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 3:16-62). 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. (Verse 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. (Verse 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.
Justification by faith and works.
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 13:1-46. 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. (Verses 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 4:1-45.; Galatians 3:6, Galatians 3:7). 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" (verse 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" (verse 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. (Verse 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 11:1-58.; 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 2:9-6; 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 Joshua 2:20 the apostle begins the paragraph with a restatement of his thesis; and in Joshua 2:24 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 (verse 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.
HOMILIES BY T.F. LOCKYER
Respect of persons.
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. (Verses 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. (Verses 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 (verse 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 (verse 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 (verse 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.
Faith and works.
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. (Verses 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. (Verses 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. (Verse 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. (Verse 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 7:16-40). 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. (Verses 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 verse 18 (see above), "accredited to the world as a justified man." So Abraham; so Rahab.
3. Faith perfected by works. (Verse 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 2:1-48.-20), May the faith that appropriates such a life be ours!—T.F.L.