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The main idea running through the whole Epistle of James is that of the permanence of the law and of moral obligation under the Christian dispensation. The law is taken by the sacred writer in its deepest sense; it is to him the expression of absolute good. He does not speak, in fact, so much of particular precepts of the law, as of the law regarded as an indivisible whole, and restored to that unity which is inseparable from spirituality. James ii, 11; iv, 11.; The royal law is a law of love,239239Εἰ μέντοι νόμον τελεῖτε βασιλικὸν. James ii, 8. a perfect law, and a law of liberty.240240Νόμον τέλειον, τὸν τη̂ς ἐλευθερίας. James i, 25. James identifies it with the Word of God: "Be ye doers of the word."241241Γίνεσθε δὲ ποιηταὶ λόγον. James i, 22. If he does not use this expression in the metaphysical sense in which St. John employs it, he attaches to it, nevertheless, a very broad signification. The Word is the manifestation of God, or the sum and substance of the revelation of himself in religious history. Clearly the Word preached by Jesus Christ is pre-eminently the Word of God;242242"Which is able to save your souls." James i, 21. it is, therefore, the supreme law, raised infinitely above the law of Moses. This is no mere external commandment; it is a spiritual law, to be engrafted into the heart of man.243243Τὸν ἔμφυτον λόγον. James i, 21. M. Reuss erroneously detracts from the significance of this expression by regarding it merely as an allusion to the parable of the sower. ("History of Christian Theology in the Apostolic Age," I, 378.)l It is to be observed, that James preserves a complete silence as to the ceremonial law; he says not a single word about it; he makes no allusion to circumcision, to the rites of the Mosaic worship, or to the sacrifices. Had he been truly the representative of the school of Judaizing Christians, so opposed to the spirit and teachings of Paul, he would certainly have protested in his letter against the growing freedom of Christian practice. We find James, in his Epistle, just as we have seen him in the Acts: he does not attach any universal obligation to the observance of the Mosaic law; he himself conforms to its rites only because of his nationality; and he insists alone on the great and eternal principle of all morality—conformity to the will of God.
Thus understood, the law, so far from being opposed to faith, is intimately associated with it; James never separates them. True to his practical point of view, he brings out the indissoluble union of faith and works. Deeply convinced that moral obligation is as real under the Gospel as under the old covenant, he deprecates any teaching which, under pretext of magnifying salvation by faith alone, should lessen the importance of good works. He does not pretend that these suffice for man's justification.244244James speaks of righteousness as imputed: ἐλογίσθη εἰς δικαιοσύνην. James ii, 23. They are produced by a living faith, as the ear is produced from the living blade. "Show me thy faith without thy works," he exclaims, "and I will show thee my faith by my works." James ii, 18. So far from pleading, as he has been accused of doing, the cause of works as opposed to faith, he powerfully defends the rights of faith. He repudiates faith apart from works, because it is then no longer faith; it is dead in (or by) itself245245Νεκρά ἐστιν καθ᾽ ἑαυτήν. James ii, 17. When he says that Abraham was justified by works, he hastens to add that "faith wrought with his works."246246Ἡ πίστις συνήργει τοι̂ς ἔργοις αὐτου̂. James ii, 22. It is not true to assert that James regarded faith simply as confidence in God—the opposite of doubt and wavering—and that in this respect he does not advance beyond the conception of the Old Testament.247247This is M. Reuss's idea. i, 378. He argues that faith should be characterized by holy love, and should thus be distinguished from the faith of devils, which is a light without heat, enlightening without transforming: "they believe and tremble." James ii, 19. To believe without trembling is to rest entirely on the love of God; it is to love him, and such a faith will be manifested by love. There shall be judgment without mercy for him who hath showed no mercy; mercy rises above judgment.248248Κατακαυχᾶται ἔλεος κρίσεως. James ii, 13. Hardness toward others is the more unpardonable in a Christian, because he has himself been the object of infinite compassion. This divine compassion requires that we forgive as we have been forgiven, and leaves us without excuse for harshness and uncharitableness toward our fellow-creatures. The great fact of God's pardon granted to men is clearly stated elsewhere by James. He says of the sick over whom is offered the prayer of faith, that "if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him." James iv, 15. If, then, in the eyes of the sacred writer, the gravest sin is the want of mercy, it follows that the best work is that of showing compassionate love to our neighbor. Love is the center of the moral life, as it is the center of the divine life. Thus faith and works are closely connected; they flow from the same source. Faith is the acceptance of the love of God; works are its realization and reflection. We have in this, as in the old economy, a law, but it is the law of love proclaimed with new power; the two economies meet and form a perfect whole.
In faith divorced from works, James combated intellectual dogmatism, the opus operatum of doctrine, as Paul had combated the opus operatum of legal formalism. Both are the champions of true religion, which has for its basis the royal law of love. We find in James the doctrine of grace very clearly taught. "Every good gift, and every perfect gift, is from above, and cometh down from the father of lights." "Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth." James i, 17, 18. The Spirit of God dwelleth in Christians;249249Τὸ Πνευ̂μα, ὃ κατῴκισεν ἐν ἡμι̂ν. James iv, 5. it is he who gives them grace to walk in the way of holiness. We have here a mystical element introduced, which raises us far above mere Judæo-Christianity.
The great argument urged to prove an irreconcilable difference between the Epistle of James and the form of doctrine presented by Paul, is the entire silence of the former on all the historical facts of the Gospel. He says nothing of the death and resurrection of the Saviour or of his miracles. But if these facts are nowhere distinctly mentioned, they are every-where implied; the views—so clear, so beautiful—of God's forgiveness and mercy expressed by James would be unmeaning without them. The Gospel history silently but surely underlies the whole epistle. Is it not in view of the cross, where the deepest' distress has issued in the most glorious triumph, that James pens the noble words with which his letter opens, "My brethren, count it all joy, when ye fall into divers temptations?" James i, 1. Is not his enlarged and spiritualized conception of the law derived from the words of the Master? With James, as with St. Paul, the object of faith is Jesus Christ, whom, in recognition of his majesty, he calls "the Lord of glory."250250Τοῦ Κυρίου ἡμω̂ν τη̂ς δόξης. James ii, 1. The duty of the Christian is, according to him, to await the "second coming of the Lord."251251Ἕως τη̂ς παρουσίας του̂ Κυρίου. James v, 7. With such declarations as these before us, it is impossible to regard James as an adversary of St. Paul. Doubtless the doctrine of James, as compared with that of the great Apostle, is very rudimentary. There is a vast distance between the vigorous dialectics of the author of the Epistle to the Romans, and the sententious language of the Epistle of James, in which the thread of the argument is constantly broken, or is concealed under the somewhat monotonous stateliness of the oriental style. But the main thought of the writer comes out the more prominently, because it is not incorporated in a broad dogmatic system. The earnest moral tone of this Epistle, with its graphic and striking images, commends it as a healthful tonic to the Christian conscience.
The sacred writer designed his letter for Churches of which he knew the internal condition. It has been wrongly asserted that he had in view only a Judaized and Pharisaic form of Christianity, altogether alien to Pauline doctrine.252252Neander's Introduction to his "Practical Exposition of the Epistle of James." We believe that it was also his intention to oppose certain exaggerations of the teaching of Paul, which had gained currency in the countries bordering on Palestine. A sapless and fruitless Christianity, in which doctrinal controversies took the place of good works, threatened to overspread the Churches in which the opposing parties had come into collision. This is the danger which James is anxious to avert. He condemns these aberrations by the general principle set forth in his epistle; and his arguments go to maintain, not (as has been pretended) the severe asceticism of some writers of the Old Testament, but the permanence of moral obligation under the two economies. It was needful to remind those who were Christians in word only, that they would have to appear before the just Judge. James brought into full relief the severe side of Christianity, without detracting at all from the divine mercy. On the contrary, he reads in that mercy itself a law not less stringent than the law of Moses, and accompanied with the same solemn sanction. Thus closely did he connect the Gospel with the Old Testament, and thus admirably fulfill, not for his contemporaries only, but for all generations, his special mission as the man of a transition period.
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