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Faith and Works
Summary —Respect of Persons. The Royal Law. He Who Keeps the Law Must Offend in Nothing. Faith not a Living Faith if Alone. Its Life Must Be Shown by its Fruits. It is Perfected by Obedience. The Lesson of Abraham's Faith.
1–4. Have not the faith of our Lord. The Gospel, the Christian profession. With respect to persons. God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34), nor should Christians be. God respects character, not dress, or wealth, or earthly rank. 2. Come into your synagogue. See Revision. The place of worship, whether Jewish or Christian. James, a Jewish Christian of the strictest sort, uses the Jewish term. With a gold ring. An indication of wealth in that age, especially in connection with the fine clothing. A poor man, as shown by his mean clothing. 3. And have respect. Show respect not to the character but to the clothes, by giving one a welcome and a good seat, while the other is treated contemptuously, allowed to stand or to sit in a very uncomfortable place. Does not this describe the spirit of half the churches of our time? 4. Are ye not then partial? Show partiality from outward appearance. Judges of evil thoughts. Judge between the two men under the influence of evil thoughts.
5–9. Hath not God chosen the poor, etc.? Ye choose out the rich for favor, but God hath chosen in most part the poor to be rich in faith, etc. See 1 Cor. 1:16, 17. God has made poor men heirs of the eternal inheritance. 6. But ye have despised the poor. Those whom God accepts you reject. Do not rich men oppress you? The oppressors of the poor are usually the rich. They are the money lenders, those who bring suit for debt, and hence draw the poor before the judgment seats. Perhaps also there is an allusion to the fact that they were the persecutors. 7. Do not they blaspheme that worthy name, etc. The name of Christ. There is an allusion either to the fact that they were already called Christians, or that they were baptized in his name. 8. The royal law according to the scripture. The law of love for one's neighbor, which is the fulfillment of the law. See Gal. 5:14. 9. But if ye have respect to persons. Such partiality as that described in verse 3 would break this law, and hence would be a sin, and the sinner would be convicted as a transgressor.
10–13. Whosoever shall keep the whole law. If the law is broken by “respect of persons,” the whole law is broken. He who willfully breaks one command is a law breaker and is guilty before the law. 11. He that said, etc. He that gave one command, gave the other commands. If you break any one of them, you sin against the Divine Lawgiver. 12. So speak ye. So act as one judged by the law of liberty. The Gospel, which is not a law of outward compulsion, but of a new and willing spirit. See Rom. 8:2, 15. 13. He shall have judgment without mercy. We must show mercy if we expect mercy. Our own spirit determines our manner of judgment. See Matt. 6:15. If we love our neighbor, God will love us.
14–18. What doth it profit. Professions are nothing unless their fruit is deeds. Even faith is of no avail unless it demonstrates its life by works. 15. If a brother. A practical application is now made of the royal law. Be naked. Insufficiently clothed. 16. Depart in peace. Express to the needy only kind wishes; that he be warmed by receiving good clothing and fed by food being provided. Such good wishes are worthless unless followed up by active help to the sufferer. 17. Even so faith. Faith that has no power to bring one to obedience and to sway the life is as worthless as good wishes which end in words. Being alone. It cannot stand alone and be of any avail. Only when it shows its power in works is it of the slightest value. 18. A man may say. One may claim works, another faith. They must go hand in hand. One cannot show faith without works. The life lived is the proof of the faith held. If a man lives in obedience to Christ that is proof that he has faith in Christ.
19. Thou believest that there is one God. That is very well, but can that alone save you? Even the demons believe that also. See Matt. 8:29. Evil spirits confessed Christ, but this confession of faith did not save them.
20–24. But wilt thou know, etc. “I will show by proof that the faith that justifies produces works by the case of Abraham, the great father of the faithful.” Faith without works is dead. It has no power to make alive unless it has power over the life. 21. Was not Abraham our father. The father of the Jewish race; also the father of all his children by faith. See Gal. 3:7–9. Justified by works. By a faith which showed itself in works. This is the argument of James, that faith is of no avail unless accompanied by works. Of this all Abraham's life was a demonstration. He was told when in Mesopotamia to go forth into the land God would show him, and “he went forth, not knowing whither;” an act of faith (Heb. 11:8); “By faith he sojourned in the land of promise” (Heb. 11:9). Each of these acts of faith secured Divine approval, but the supremest trial was when he offered Isaac. See notes on Heb. 11:17. This victory of faith was followed by crowning approval and glorious promises. 22. Seest thou how faith wrought. Abraham's faith was a working faith. By works was faith made perfect. The element of works is essential to make it complete. Without works it is an imperfect, “a dead faith.” It must have energy to avail. Abraham's faith “wrought.” 23. And the scripture was fulfilled. The scripture quoted is Gen. 15:6. The case of the offering of Isaac was a complete outward demonstration that Abraham believed God, as the Scripture said. “He was called the friend of God.” Honored as no other mortal had been. See Isa. 41:8, and 2 Chron. 20:7. The Mohammedans still call Abraham El Khalil, “The Friend.” 24. Ye see then, etc. The case of Abraham proves that the justifying faith is a working faith.
25, 26. Rahab the harlot. See notes on Heb. 11:31. This is one of the long roll of examples of faith shown by works given by Paul. 26. For as the body without the spirit. The body is a lifeless, dead thing, without the spirit. So lifeless is faith it shows an energy in works.
Note. —Some have thought, among these Luther, that Paul and James were not in agreement on the subject of faith. Those who thus conclude mistake both these inspired men of God. Paul shows that works without faith will not justify, and hence lays the emphasis on faith; James shows that faith without works will not justify, and lays the emphasis on works. Neither teaches that faith alone, or works alone will justify. Paul, indeed, shows that faith alone is worthless (1 Cor. 13:2), and in Hebrews, chapter 11, he emphasizes works as the demonstration of faith. The two writers are in agreement, and all seeming disagreement is due to the fact that they are seeking to correct different errors, and hence look at the matter from different points of view.
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