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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary
James 2

 

 

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Verse 12

LAW AND LIBERTY

‘The law or liberty.’

James 2:12

‘Law’—merely ‘law’—‘law’ only—is a bondage harsh and severe. ‘Liberty’ alone, and unguarded, passes into licentiousness, runs riot, and becomes tyranny. ‘Law’ needs to be sweetened by ‘liberty,’ and ‘liberty’ is no ‘liberty’ without the fences of law. St. James strikingly blends them, and finds the blending where only it exists—in God’s Word. It would not be too much to say that the Christian religion is the only code in the whole world which ever has united, or can perfectly unite, those two things, so as to make them really one.

See how it is in God’s method.

I. We look at the ‘liberty.’ Every man who becomes a real Christian becomes a free man.

(a) He is free from the past.

(b) He is free for his future.

(c) He is free to go to the Throne of Grace.

(d) He is free to claim every promise.

II. Now see the law—‘the perfect law of liberty.’ God has given, since the creation, four laws to man; but only one of the four can be rightly called a ‘law of liberty.’

(a) The original ‘lam’ of all was the law of conscience, a law which if man had not fallen would have been, we must believe, a perfect guide. But as man is now, conscience is only ‘law’ in so far as it is the reflection of other laws which God has given us.

(b) Secondly. There was a ‘law’ given to Adam and Eve in Paradise. This was a law of prohibition. Therefore it was not a ‘law of liberty.’ Prohibition can never be distinctly liberty.

(c) The next ‘law’ which God gave was the law enacted from Mount Sinai, so ‘perfect’ that St. Paul says to the Galatians, ‘If there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.’ But neither was this a law of liberty.

(d) Fourthly, came the law of the Lord Jesus Christ. See what is the basis and the character of that fourth law. Every other law had failed; no man kept it, or could keep it. If a man’s eternal happiness depended upon any law which could be given, no man, from Adam to the latest man, could have fulfilled the condition. Christ saw that, and He came, and He Himself fulfilled all the law, to the minutest point.

III. What, then, is our ‘law’?—Love; love; love for a law which has been kept for us. For see how it is. As soon as I believe—really believe—in Christ as my Saviour, all my sins are forgiven, my debt to God is paid, and I am free. That sense of freedom is delight. But no one can have that and not love the Giver. If I do not love, I have not it; but if I love, then I am under a law—the law of love; and the law of that love is holiness. And what is holiness? Obedience; likeness; service; usefulness.

Illustration

‘In every revelation of Divine truth contained in the Gospel there is a direct moral and practical bearing. No word of the New Testament is given us in order that we may know truth, but all in order that we may do it. Every part of it palpitates with life and is meant to regulate conduct. There are plenty of truths of which it does not matter whether a man believes them or not in so far as his conduct is concerned. Mathematical truth or scientific truth leaves conduct unaffected. But no man can believe the principles that are laid down in the New Testament and the truths that are unveiled there without these laying a masterful grip upon his life and influencing all that he is.’


Verse 14

FAITH AND WORKS

‘Can faith save him?… Faith without works is dead.’

James 2:14; James 2:26

Salvation through faith is one of the most prominent truths of the Christian religion, and, in spite of some evidence to the contrary, there is nothing in the Epistle of St. James which is contrary to that great teaching.

I. Saving faith.—The answer to the question, ‘Can faith save?’ is assuredly in the affirmative. Faith can and does save men; indeed, there is no salvation without faith. But what is this faith—this saving faith? It is more than mere historical belief. Saving faith is the means by which we become united to a Person—even Jesus Christ; it is the channel through which Divine grace flows into our souls; by it we become one with Christ, and Christ with us. St. James is not referring in this Epistle to those who are thus possessed of a living faith, but rather to those—of whom there are so many in our congregations to-day—who are content with a mere intellectual assent to the Christian faith, and upon whose lives the claims of Christ have no power. This is clear from James 2:19.

II. Saving faith compels love.—Saving faith is that which realises the great truth enshrined in the words of the Apostle—‘Who loved me and gave Himself for me.’ Faith, realising the love of Christ, replies joyfully and gratefully, ‘We love Him, because He first loved us.’

III. If we love Christ we must love Christ’s people.—‘By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, that ye love one another.’ It is faith in and love for Christ that prompt to good works—works of charity, works of love, works of mercy. The man who has a living faith cannot help doing good; it is the fruit of his faith. ‘Faith without works is dead.’ The strength of the impulse to do good is the test of our faith. If you have no care for the poor, the weak, and the suffering, look within, and you will find that while you have a name to live, you are spiritually dead.

Illustration

‘A ferryman in the Highlands, of pious mind and life, had his oars inscribed respectively “Faith” and “Works.” A passenger one day, observing the quaint words, asked what they meant. He then took up the oar “Faith” and attempted to row with it; but the boat merely described a circle and made no progress. He next took up that marked “Works” and attempted to row with it—the same result. He then took up both, and plying them together the boat immediately shot ahead across the lake!’


Verse 26

FAITH AND WORKS

‘Can faith save him?… Faith without works is dead.’

James 2:14; James 2:26

Salvation through faith is one of the most prominent truths of the Christian religion, and, in spite of some evidence to the contrary, there is nothing in the Epistle of St. James which is contrary to that great teaching.

I. Saving faith.—The answer to the question, ‘Can faith save?’ is assuredly in the affirmative. Faith can and does save men; indeed, there is no salvation without faith. But what is this faith—this saving faith? It is more than mere historical belief. Saving faith is the means by which we become united to a Person—even Jesus Christ; it is the channel through which Divine grace flows into our souls; by it we become one with Christ, and Christ with us. St. James is not referring in this Epistle to those who are thus possessed of a living faith, but rather to those—of whom there are so many in our congregations to-day—who are content with a mere intellectual assent to the Christian faith, and upon whose lives the claims of Christ have no power. This is clear from James 2:19.

II. Saving faith compels love.—Saving faith is that which realises the great truth enshrined in the words of the Apostle—‘Who loved me and gave Himself for me.’ Faith, realising the love of Christ, replies joyfully and gratefully, ‘We love Him, because He first loved us.’

III. If we love Christ we must love Christ’s people.—‘By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, that ye love one another.’ It is faith in and love for Christ that prompt to good works—works of charity, works of love, works of mercy. The man who has a living faith cannot help doing good; it is the fruit of his faith. ‘Faith without works is dead.’ The strength of the impulse to do good is the test of our faith. If you have no care for the poor, the weak, and the suffering, look within, and you will find that while you have a name to live, you are spiritually dead.

Illustration

‘A ferryman in the Highlands, of pious mind and life, had his oars inscribed respectively “Faith” and “Works.” A passenger one day, observing the quaint words, asked what they meant. He then took up the oar “Faith” and attempted to row with it; but the boat merely described a circle and made no progress. He next took up that marked “Works” and attempted to row with it—the same result. He then took up both, and plying them together the boat immediately shot ahead across the lake!’

 


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on James 2:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cpc/james-2.html. 1876.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, November 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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