James 2:1-26 . THE SIN OF RESPECT OF PERSONS: DEAD, UNWORKING FAITH SAVES NO MAN.
13. The converse of, "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy" ( Matthew 5:7 ). Translate, "The judgment (which is coming on all of us) shall be without mercy to him who hath showed no mercy." It shall be such toward every one as every one shall have been [BENGEL]. "Mercy" here corresponds to "love," James 2:8 .
mercy rejoiceth against judgment--Mercy, so far from fearing judgment in the case of its followers, actually glorifieth against it, knowing that it cannot condemn them. Not that their mercy is the ground of their acquittal, but the mercy of God in Christ towards them, producing mercy on their part towards their fellow men, makes them to triumph over judgment, which all in themselves otherwise deserve.
14. James here, passing from the particular case of "mercy" or "love" violated by "respect of persons," notwithstanding profession of the "faith of our Lord Jesus" ( James 2:1 ), combats the Jewish tendency (transplanted into their Christianity) to substitute a lifeless, inoperative acquaintance with the letter of the law, for change of heart to practical holiness, as if justification could be thereby attained ( Romans 2:3 Romans 2:13 Romans 2:23 ). It seems hardly likely but that James had seen Paul's Epistles, considering that he uses the same phrases and examples (compare james 2:21 james 2:23 james 2:25 , with Romans 4:3 , Hebrews 11:17 Hebrews 11:31 ; and james 2:14 james 2:24 , with Romans 3:28 , Galatians 2:16 ). Whether James individually designed it or not, the Holy Spirit by him combats not Paul, but those who abuse Paul's doctrine. The teaching of both alike is inspired, and is therefore to be received without wresting of words; but each has a different class to deal with; Paul, self-justiciaries; James, Antinomian advocates of a mere notional faith. Paul urged as strongly as James the need of works as evidences of faith, especially in the later Epistles, when many were abusing the doctrine of faith ( Titus 2:14 , 3:8 ). "Believing and doing are blood relatives" [RUTHERFORD].
What doth it profit--literally, "What is the profit?"
though a man say--James' expression is not, "If a man have faith," but "if a man say he hath faith"; referring to a mere profession of faith, such as was usually made at baptism. Simon Magus so "believed and was baptized," and yet had "neither part nor lot in this matter," for his "heart," as his words and works evinced, was not right in the sight of God. ALFORD wrongly denies that "say" is emphatic. The illustration, James 2:16 , proves it is: "If one of you say" to a naked brother, "Be ye warmed, notwithstanding ye give not those things needful." The inoperative profession of sympathy answering to the inoperative profession of faith.
can faith save him--rather, "can such a faith (literally, 'the faith') save him?"--the faith you pretend to: the empty name of boasted faith, contrasted with true fruit-producing faith. So that which self-deceivers claim is called "wisdom," though not true wisdom, James 3:15 . The "him" also in the Greek is emphatic; the particular man who professes faith without having the works which evidence its vitality.
15. The Greek is, "But if," &c.: the "But" taking up the argument against such a one as "said he had faith, and yet had not works," which are its fruits.
a brother, &c.--a fellow Christian, to whom we are specially bound to give help, independent of our general obligation to help all our fellow creatures.
be--The Greek implies, "be found, on your access to them."
16. The habit of receiving passively sentimental impressions from sights of woe without carrying them out into active habits only hardens the heart.
one of you--James brings home the case to his hearers individually.
Depart in peace--as if all their wants were satisfied by the mere words addressed to them. The same words in the mouth of Christ, whose faith they said they had, were accompanied by efficient deeds of love.
be . . . warmed--with clothing, instead of being as heretofore "naked" ( 2:15 , Job 31:20 ).
filled--instead of being "destitute of food" ( Matthew 15:37 ).
what doth it profit--concluding with the same question as at the beginning, James 2:14 . Just retribution:kind professions unaccompanied with corresponding acts, as they are of no "profit" to the needy object of them, so are of no profit to the professor himself. So faith consisting in mere profession is unacceptable to God, the object of faith, and profitless to the possessor.
17. faith . . . being alone--ALFORD joins "is dead in itself." So BENGEL, "If the works which living faith produces have no existence, it is a proof that faith itself (literally, 'in respect to itself') has no existence; that is, that what one boasts of as faith, is dead." "Faith" is said to be "dead in itself," because when it has works it is alive, and it is discerned to be so, not in respect to its works, but in respect to itself. English Version, if retained, must not be understood to mean that faith can exist "alone" (that is, severed from works), but thus: Even so presumed faith, if it have not works, is dead, being by itself "alone," that is, severed from works of charity; just as the body would be "dead" if alone, that is, severed from the spirit ( James 2:26 ). So ESTIUS.
18. "But some one will say": so the Greek. This verse continues the argument from james 2:14 james 2:16 . One may say he has faith though he have not works. Suppose one were to say to a naked brother, "Be warmed," without giving him needful clothing. "But someone (entertaining views of the need of faith having works joined to it) will say (in opposition to the 'say' of the professor)."
show me thy faith without thy works--if thou canst; but thou canst not SHOW, that is, manifest or evidence thy alleged ( James 2:14 , "say") faith without works. "Show" does not mean here to prove to me, but exhibit to me. Faith is unseen save by God. To show faith to man, works in some form or other are needed: we are justified judicially by God ( Romans 8:33 ); meritoriously, by Christ ( Isaiah 53:11 ); mediately, by faith ( Romans 5:1 ); evidentially, by works. The question here is not as to the ground on which believers are justified, but about the demonstration of their faith: so in the case of Abraham. In Genesis 22:1 it is written, God did tempt Abraham, that is, put to the test of demonstration the reality of his faith, not for the satisfaction of God, who already knew it well, but to demonstrate it before men. The offering of Isaac at that time, quoted here, James 2:21 , formed no part of the ground of his justification, for he was justified previously on his simply believing in the promise of spiritual heirs, that is, believers, numerous as the stars. He was then justified: that justification was showed or manifested by his offering Isaac forty years after. That work of faith demonstrated, but did not contribute to his justification. The tree shows its life by its fruits, but it was alive before either fruits or even leaves appeared.
19. Thou--emphatic. Thou self-deceiving claimant to faith without works.
that there is one God--rather, "that God is one": God's existence, however, is also asserted. The fundamental article of the creed of Jews and Christians alike, and the point of faith on which especially the former boasted themselves, as distinguishing them from the Gentiles, and hence adduced by James here.
thou doest well--so far good. But unless thy faith goes farther than an assent to this truth, "the evil spirits (literally, 'demons': 'devil' is the term restricted to Satan, their head) believe" so far in common with thee, "and (so far from being saved by such a faith) shudder (so the Greek)," Matthew 8:29 , Luke 4:34 , 2 Peter 2:4 , Jude 1:6 , Revelation 20:10 . Their faith only adds to their torment at the thought of having to meet Him who is to consign them to their just doom: so thine ( Hebrews 10:26 Hebrews 10:27 , it is not the faith of love, but of fear, that hath torment, 1 John 4:18 ).
20. wilt thou know--"Vain" men are not willing to know, since they have no wish to "do" the will of God. James beseeches such a one to lay aside his perverse unwillingness to know what is palpable to all who are willing to do.
vain--who deceivest thyself with a delusive hope, resting on an unreal faith.
without works--The Greek, implies separate from the works [ALFORD] which ought to flow from it if it were real.
is dead--Some of the best manuscripts read, "is idle," that is, unavailing to effect what you hope, namely, to save you.
21. Abraham . . . justified by works--evidentially, and James 2:23 , James, like Paul, recognizes the Scripture truth, that it was his faith that was counted to Abraham for righteousness in his justification before God.
when he had offered--rather, "when he offered" [ALFORD], that is, brought as an offering at the altar; not implying that he actually offered him.
22. Or, "thou seest."
how--rather, "that." In the two clauses which follow, emphasize "faith" in the former, and "works" in the latter, to see the sense [BENGEL].
faith wrought with his works--for it was by faith he offered his son. Literally, "was working (at the time) with his works."
by works was faith made perfect--not was vivified, but attained its fully consummated development, and is shown to be real. So "my strength is made perfect in weakness," that is, exerts itself most perfectly, shows how great it is [CAMERON]: so 1 John 4:17 , Hebrews 2:10 , 5:9 . The germ really, from the first, contains in it the full-grown tree, but its perfection is not attained till it is matured fully. So James 1:4 , "Let patience have her perfect work," that is, have its full effect by showing the most perfect degree of endurance, "that ye may be perfect," that is, fully developed in the exhibition of the Christian character. ALFORD explains, "Received its realization, was entirely exemplified and filled up." So Paul, Philippians 2:12 , "Work out your own salvation": the salvation was already in germ theirs in their free justification through faith. It needed to be worked out still to fully developed perfection in their life.
23. scripture was fulfilled-- Genesis 15:6 , quoted by Paul, as realized in Abraham's justification by faith; but by James, as realized subsequently in Abraham's work of offering Isaac, which, he says, justified him. Plainly, then, James must mean by works the same thing as Paul means by faith, only that he speaks of faith at its manifested development, whereas Paul speaks of it in its germ. Abraham's offering of Isaac was not a mere act of obedience, but an act of faith. Isaac was the subject of the promises of God, that in him Abraham's seed should be called. The same God calls on Abraham to slay the subject of His own promise, when as yet there was no seed in whom those predictions could be realized. Hence James' saying that Abraham was justified by such a work, is equivalent to saying, as Paul does, that he was justified by faith itself; for it was in fact faith expressed in action, as in other cases saving faith is expressed in words. So Paul states as the mean of salvation faith expressed. The "Scripture" would not be "fulfilled," as James says it was, but contradicted by any interpretation which makes man's works justify him before God: for that Scripture makes no mention of works at all, but says that Abraham's belief was counted to him for righteousness. God, in the first instance, "justifies the ungodly" through faith; subsequently the believer is justified before the world as righteous through faith manifested in words and works (compare Matthew 25:35-37 , "the righteous," Matthew 25:40 ). The best authorities read, "But Abraham believed," &c.
and he was called the Friend of God--He was not so called in his lifetime, though he was so even then from the time of his justification; but he was called so, being recognized as such by all on the ground of his works of faith. "He was the friend (in an active sense), the lover of God, in reference to his works; and (in a passive sense) loved by God in reference to his justification by works. Both senses are united in John 15:14 John 15:15 " [BENGEL].
24. justified and, not by faith only--that is, by "faith without (separated from: severed from) works," its proper fruits Faith to justify must, from the first, include obedience in germ (to be developed subsequently), though the former alone is the ground of justification. The scion must be grafted on the stock that it may live; it must bring forth fruit to prove that it does live.
25. It is clear from the nature of Rahab's act, that it is not quoted to prove justification by works as such. She believed assuredly what her other countrymen disbelieved, and this in the face of every improbability that an unwarlike few would conquer well-armed numbers. In this belief she hid the spies at the risk of her life. Hence Hebrews 11:31 names this as an example of faith, rather than of obedience. "By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not." If an instance of obedience were wanting. Paul and James would hardly have quoted a woman of previously bad character, rather than the many moral and pious patriarchs. But as an example of free grace justifying men through an operative, as opposed to a mere verbal faith, none could be more suitable than a saved "harlot." As Abraham was an instance of an illustrious man and the father of the Jews, so Rahab is quoted as a woman, and one of abandoned character, and a Gentile, showing that justifying faith has been manifested in those of every class. The nature of the works alleged is such as to prove that James uses them only as evidences of faith, as contrasted with a mere verbal profession: not works of charity and piety, but works the value of which consisted solely in their being proofs of faith: they were faith expressed in act, synonymous with faith itself.
had received . . . had sent--rather, "received . . . thrust them forth" (in haste and fear) [ALFORD].
another way--from that whereby they entered her house, namely, through the window of her house on the wall, and thence to the mountain.
26. Faith is a spiritual thing: works are material. Hence we might expect faith to answer to the spirit, works to the body. But James reverses this. He therefore does not mean that faith in all cases answers to the body; but the FORM of faith without the working reality answers to the body without the animating spirit. It does not follow that living faith derives its life from works, as the body derives its life from the animating spirit.