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3. The wisdom of all who profess to have embraced it
[Doubtless it is your privilege to be rejoicing in God your Saviour, and in the freeness and fulness of his salvation
-- But you must also keep in view the future judgment, and be acting continually with a reference to it. There is no dispensation given to you to continue in sin: “ Shall you continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid.” The scrutiny which you shall undergo in the last day, so far from being less exact than that of others, will be more strict, in proportion to the advantages you have enjoyed, and the professions you have madea. Your acceptance, it is true, will be solely on account of what the Lord Jesus Christ has done and suffered for you: but the truth of your faith will be tried by the works it has produced: and according to the measure and quality of them will be your reward. I say then, in all that you say and do, have respect to the future judgment, when “ God will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the heart:” and in order to your being approved of God in that day, “walk in love, as Christ has loved you b;" and, whilst you endeavour to "walk in his steps,” “ let the same mind also be in you as was in Christ
a 1 Pet. iv. 17.
b Eph. v. 2.
c Phil, ü. 5.
JUSTIFICATION BY WORKS EXPLAINED.
Jam. ii. 24. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified,
and not by faith only. CERTAINLY, of all the questions that can occupy the human mind, the first and greatest is, “ How shall man be just before God a ?" On this subject men have differed from each other as far as the east is from the west. To this difference the passage before us has not a little contributed. It is therefore most desirable that we enter candidly into the investigation of it, and endeavour to ascertain with all possible precision what is so indispensable to our eternal welfare.
a Job ix. 2.
It is obvious, that the words which I have read to you are a deduction from a preceding argument. We ought therefore carefully to examine the argument itself; for, it is only by a thorough knowledge of the premises that we can understand the conclusion drawn from them. Suppose that I were, as a conclusion of an argument, to say, ' So then man is an immortal being ;' if the argument itself were not investigated, you might understand it as a denial of man's mortality : but, if the argument shewed, that the conclusion referred to his soul alone, the conclusion would be found perfectly consistent with an apparently opposite position, namely, that man is a mortal being. In like manner, if the Apostle's argument in the preceding context be candidly examined, there will be found no real inconsistency between the deduction contained in the text, and an apparently opposite deduction which may be founded on premises altogether different.
Let us consider then,
The first thing to be inquired is, Whence the argument arose ? or, What was the occasion of it?
[St. James was reproving an evil which obtained to a very great extent among the Church in his day; namely, the shewing partiality to the richer members, whilst the poorer were treated with supercilious contempt, and harassed with the most flagrant acts of oppression. Now, as this was directly contrary to the whole spirit of Christianity, he introduced his reproof with these words; " My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons." Now THESE WORDS, DULY NOTICED, WILL GIVE
“ Have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ with respect of persons:" HOLD NOT THE TRUE FAITH IN SO ERRONEOUS AND UNWORTHY A MANNER. He then proceeds to shew, that a faith productive of no better conduct than that, will never justify, never save," the soula: for that it is a dead faith, and not a living one, a mere carcass, and not a living body]
The next thing we have to do is, to trace the steps of his argument
A CLUE TO THE WHOLE.
c ver. 1.
€ ver. 26.
66 If a
[Having reproved the partiality before-mentioned, he shews, that it is alike contrary both to the law and to the Gospel: to the law, the very essence of which is love; (which if any person habitually violates, he violates the whole laws;) and to the Gospel, which inspires its votaries with a more liberal spirits, and declares, that the person who exercises not mercy to his brethren, of whatever class they may be, shall find no mercy at the hands of Godh.
He then appeals to the whole Church; and calls upon them to say, whether any person so holding the faith of Christ can be saved ? and whether all the faith whereon he builds his confidence, be not a nullity, and a delusion? " What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith, such a faith as that, save him i?”
He then proceeds to shew how vain any man's pretences to love would be, if it were as inoperative as this faith. brother or sister be naked, and be destitute of daily food; and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed, and be ye filled, notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profitk?" Could that
person be said to possess any real love?" or would such a love as that be approved and rewarded by God? Certainly not.
“Even so then," says he, " faith, if it have not works, is dead, being alonel:” and any person before whom you might boast of such a faith as that, might justly reply, thy faith without thy works, (which you can never do :) and I will shew thee my faith by my works m;" which is the only test to which such pretensions can be referred. Nay more, such a faith as that is no better than the faith of devils. “The devils believe that there is one God: and they tremble;" but they do not love. So you may believe that Jesus Christ is a Saviour; and you may be partially affected by that persuasion : but, if you do not love, your faith is no better than theirs: and, by pretending to a living and saving faith, when you have nothing but a dead and inoperative faith, you only shew, that you are “ vain,” ignorant, and self-deluded “ mann.”
He now goes on to confirm these assertions by an appeal to the Scriptures themselves. “ Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfecto?” Abraham believed in the promised Seed, “ in whom all the nations of the earth should be blessed.” But what kind of a faith was his? Was it unproductive of holy obedience ? No: it led him to obey the
« Shew me
f ver. 8—11. i
ver. 14. m
8 ver. 12. k
ver. 15, 16.
h ver. 13.
hardest command that was ever given to mortal man, even to slay, and to reduce to ashes upon the altar, that very son, to whom the promises were made, and through whom alone they could ever be accomplished: so that his works evinced the truth and sincerity of his faith; and proved indisputably, that he was accepted of his God. His faith existed before: but now it operated; and " was made perfect by the works which it produced;" just as a tree is then only in a state of complete perfection, when it is laden with its proper fruits. The fruit indeed does not add to the vegetative power that produced it; but it evinces that power, and displays it in full perfection : and so did Abraham's works evince the truth of the faith which previously existed in him, and complete the objects for which it had been bestowed. " And then was fulfilled the Scripture which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called, The friend of God P.” The same he illustrates by another instance from Scripture, even that of Rahab, who evinced the truth of her faith, and was accepted in the exercise of it, when at the peril of her life she concealed the Jewish spies, and sent them home in safety to their own campo.
Now from all this he draws, as an unquestionable deduction, that very truth, which in the first instance he had only asserted; namely, that persons, whatever degrees of faith they might pretend to, could never be accepted of God, unless their faith wrought by love: “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only:" for as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also".]
Thus viewed, the argument is clear from beginning to end. That the terms which are used are strong, is certain : but then they may be accounted for from the general drift of the argument, and its immense importance to the Church of God. The Apostles do not measure words and syllables as we are apt to do, but speak in broad unqualified terms. St. Paul had done so on the subject of a sinner's acceptance by faith alone: and St. James does so on the subject of those vain pretences to faith which were made by many who were destitute of good works : but an attention to the scope of their respective arguments will lead us to a just view, both of the terms which
P ver. 23.
9 ver. 25. I ver. 24, 26. If ver. 25. were put into a parenthesis, the connexion between ver. 24 and ver. 26 would more plainly appear, and the argument stand more full and complete.
they use, and of the conclusions at which they arrive. St. James's argument we have seen. Let us now attend to, II. The conclusion drawn from it
This must accord with the argument on which it is founded. If we make the premises refer to one thing, and the conclusion to another, or, if we make the conclusion broader than the premises, we destroy the argument altogether, and make the Apostle reason, not only as if he were not inspired, but as if he were not endowed with common sense. What then does his conclusion amount to ? it amounts to this:
1. That the future judgment will proceed on grounds of perfect equity
(God could, if it pleased him, assign to every man his portion in the eternal world, according to what he has seen existing in the heart. But it is his intention to shew before the whole universe, that, as the governor and the judge of all, he dispenses rewards and punishments on grounds which are not arbitrary, but strictly equitable. On this account the day of judgment is called “the day of the revelation of the righteous judgment of Gods.” If the judgment were passed on men solely on grounds which none but God could see, it would be impossible for any one to judge of the equity of his proceedings : but when the works of all are brought forth as witnesses of the inward dispositions and habits of their minds, all can see the correctness of the estimate which is formed of men's characters, and the justice of the sentence that is passed upon them. This then is one part of the conclusion which the Apostle arrives at in the words before us: God will not judge of men by their faith, which he alone can discern, but by their works, which all may judge of as soon as ever they are laid before them. A man may pretend to faith of the strongest kind: but the inquiry will be, what effects did it produce ? And, if the fruits which it produced were such as were insufficient to attest its genuine truth and excellence, they will be utterly disregarded; and God will say, " Depart from me, I never knew you, ye workers of iniquity." However confidently the truth and genuineness of it may be asserted by the persons themselves, God will not at all regard it, but will bring every thing to the test which is here established, and condemn or justify every man according to his works“.]
6 Rom. ii. 5.
t Matt. vii. 21-23.
u Matt. xi. 36, 37.