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Tuesday, July 16th, 2024
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Bible Commentaries
James 2

Carroll's Interpretation of the English BibleCarroll's Biblical Interpretation

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Verses 1-26



James 2:1-26.

The second chapter of James is a discussion of one theme. It is concerning the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ. James attempts no definition, either abstract or theological. But in an intensely practical way he shows the distinction between the true and the false faith in so many particulars that the chapter is a perfect mine of religious wealth. First, the true faith must be held without respect to persons. A man wants to know whether he has faith in Jesus Christ or not, and James gives him the practical side of it. Good and true faith in the Lord Jesus Christ must be without respect of persons. The man who has faith in Jesus must not, in the exercise of that faith, make a discrimination between people of high degree and low degree, between rich and poor people.

There is one plane of humanity and one plan of salvation, just as the eagle had to swoop down and fly into the door of the ark over whose portals the snail crawled.

There was not any top place for the eagle to come in. All who stand upon one plane of humanity are to be favored with absolute impartiality, and as Paul puts it, "In Christ there is neither male nor female, Barbarian, Scythian, Greek nor Jew." In other words, all distinctions based on race, nationality, tribe, property, wealth – everything of that kind is lost sight of in the exercise of true faith in Jesus.

He gives some reasons why there must be no discrimination in the exercise of faith in favor of the rich as against the poor: "You observe that it is from the poor that God calls those who are richest in the faith, and that it is the rich that oppress you, and that if you make discrimination in favor of the rich, and you do that in the church when you meet, you dishonor the poor." This is the first test of faith. It must be without respect to persons.

Second, it must fulfil the royal law, i.e., the words of the King of law: "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." Paul says that love is the fulfilling of the law. James calls the law to love your neighbor as yourself the royal commandment – the king of all the commandments. Who first wrote, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself"? Who originated that? The third test of faith is that it must be held without respect of commandments. This faith in Jesus Christ cannot go to God’s commandments and pick out some of them and say, "I like these; I will keep them," and to others and say, "I do not like these; I will not keep them." He goes on to show the unity and solidarity of the law, and in that way proving that one must not have faith with respect to commandments; that the law is a unit; it is a solid thing, and that if a man is guilty of one thing he is guilty of all. A rope is no stronger than its weakest part, and a chain is no stronger than its weakest link. Suppose a man has stolen $500, and when he is brought into court he says, "I have not killed anybody." The fact that he had not killed anybody does not save him from any other part of the law. Therefore, James says that they must hold their faith without any respect to commandments. In a sermon on this subject I ventured to quote Samuel Butler, an old English poet, who tells of those who Compound for sins they are inclin’d to, By damning those they have no mind to. Many people lay to themselves an unction of complacency by talking about the sins of other people: "Just look at that murderer, or that thief," while they may, though innocent of those particular offenses, be guilty of others just as bad.

A fair illustration of this is what I call "The New England Conscience." I call attention to some points upon which the New England conscience acted very strangely. Nearly all the writers from New England write about the purity of the New England conscience. It has always been a strange conscience to me. That conscience said, "For you to persecute us is sin. It is all right for us to persecute you." That conscience said, "The sin of the Southern slavery will not let us sleep, but our own sectional sins put us to sleep." That conscience said, "It was an awful thing for South Carolina to threaten only to nullify a Federal law, but it was patriotism for us to nullify many times, actually, a Federal law." That New England conscience says, "It is a sin for you people in England to persecute us, but if we whip Roger Williams and burn a few witches that is not sin." That conscience said, "Southern secession is treason, but it is patriotism for us to originate and teach the doctrine of secession as the best thing for ourselves." That conscience said, "It was treason for Beauregard to train his guns upon the Federal flag floating over Fort Sumter," and at the same time it canonized John Brown for pulling down the Federal flag. That conscience said, "It was a sin for the South to disrupt the Constitution, " while they themselves said, "The Constitution was a covenant with death and a league with hell." That conscience pilloried Gen. Early for burning one town, but it glorified Sheridan for burning all the homes in the Shenandoah Valley and Sherman for burning a section seventy miles wide from Atlanta to Savannah. That conscience said that it was a great sin for Federal soldiers to be ill treated in the Civil War, but it was not pained at all at the ill treatment of the Southern soldiers. I doubt not that there are Southern sins of a like nature, for which we condemn Northern people.

James says that when one exercises faith he must exercise it without respect to commandments. He must not discriminate. One man says, "I am a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, but I don’t see any use in being baptized and joining the church." In other words, he says, "It is true that baptism means immersion, but why take a damp road to heaven, seeing that a few drops of water are just as efficacious as the ocean?" A soul that trusts in the Lord Jesus Christ will say, like Paul, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" And then say, "Whereupon, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision." The word of Jesus Christ will be sufficient, and that is what James has to say upon that point.

Then he goes to the next point when he says that this faith must be fruit-bearing. A man may say, "I will show you my faith without my works." James says, "I show you my faith by my works." It must be evidenced to all by work. If a thing has life there must be some sign of that life: "Faith without works is barren." "Faith apart from works is dead." That is what James says. You may have a faith, but just as sure as it never works it is not worth a snap of the finger. Then he gives an illustration in which he says, "If a brother or sister be naked and in lack of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Go in peace, be ye warmed and filled, and yet ye give them not the things needful to the body, what doth it profit?"

But the reader makes a great mistake if he supposes that James’s teaching upon this subject is different from the teachings of the other New Testament writers, our Lord, for ’instance, or Paul, who is sometimes held up in opposition to James. Our Lord says, "Whosoever heareth these sayings of mine and doeth them not, shall be like a man who built his house upon the sand. When the storm came . . . that house fell, and great was the fall thereof," and it was our Lord who said, "If ye love me keep my commandments," and, "Ye are my friends if ye do whatsoever I command you," and it was Paul who said, "It is true, by grace ye are saved through faith and that not of yourselves. But ye are created unto good works." Then, in the letter to Titus he says, "When the kindness and mercy of heaven to man appeared, not by works of righteousness that we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us by the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit." And he goes right on to say this, that it is the grace of God that bringeth salvation; that we should live soberly and godly in this present world.

Both Christ and Paul agree with James that faith must evidence itself in good works. There never would have been any controversy at all if James had not used the word "justify" there in a peculiar sense, just like the word "temptation." "Justify" may be a legal, forensic term, a term of the court. We are justified by faith. That is the acquittal of God. But our Lord uses the word "justify" in quite a different sense. He says, "By your words shall you be justified and by your words shall ye be condemned." So that James has in mind when he discusses justification by works, a thought that was not in the mind of Paul. Paul takes the case of a sinner and is trying to ascertain how that lost sinner can be declared just before God, and he says that it is through faith and apart from works. James takes a Christian, not a sinner, and shows how that Christian’s works justify the Christian’s profession. Just as our Lord said, "The publicans and harlots justified God." That does not mean that they acquitted God, but they vindicated God, being baptized with the baptism of John.

James uses a second illustration in the case of Abraham, who was justified by faith and received salvation, according to Genesis 15. That is when he was converted. It is true in a certain sense that he believed in God, but he was never a converted man until we find him in Genesis 15, that remarkable chapter that introduces so many words. There it is said that Abraham believed, and it is the first time that we come to the word. He believed Jehovah, and when he believed he was converted. Forty years after that, this believer, Abraham, did what God would have him to do in the case of Isaac, and the works justified him. Justified him in what sense? Not in a legal sense, but justified him in the sense of vindicating the profession of faith which he made. They did not make a sinner into a Christian, but justified the profession of the Christian.

I have never yet known a commentator nor a public speaker to give any evidence that he had noticed even this point that James now makes. He says that when forty years after Abraham’s conversion he did what God told him to do, that then was fulfilled the scripture, which said, "And he believed on Jehovah and it was reckoned to him for righteousness." Every time afterward ’in his life that he obeyed God as a Christian he fulfilled the scripture which speaks of his conversion. In other words, it was the verification, "filled full," or "fulfilled." He says, bearing upon what was said forty years before, that it was imputed unto him for righteousness.

Many years ago Dr. J. B. Link was the editor of The Texas Baptist Herald, and he wrote an essay for critical examination, taking this position: "The sinner is justified by faith; the Christian is justified by works." You see the position. I wrote a reply to the article at the time, conceding that a part of the ’idea in his mind was correct. A Christian makes a profession. That Christian is a servant of Jesus Christ; his fidelity to Christ must be attested. If he is faithful, he is declared righteous in his fidelity. In that secondary sense works justify, not in the sense of justifying a sinner in order to that sinner’s becoming a Christian.

Precisely the same thing comes up in the case of Rahab. Her faith saved her. That saving faith was evidenced by works, corresponding to the profession, and these works justified the avowal of her faith, as in that passage in Timothy where Paul says Christ was justified by the Holy Spirit, i.e., the Holy Spirit vindicated Christ, who claimed to be the Son of God. It seems somewhat curious to me that James and Paul, the author of the letter to the Hebrews, both of them selected Rahab, the harlot, i.e., who had been a harlot. The reason that she was selected is that she became an ancestress of the Lord, just like Ruth, the Gentile; just like Bathsheba, who had been the wife of Uriah, and afterward the real wife of David. All of these were the mothers, in the ancestral sense, of Jesus.


1. What is the theme of James 2?

2. What the marks of true faith?

3. What the reasons for not discriminating faith in favor of the rich against the poor?

4. What is the "royal law," and why so called?

5. Who originated it?

6. What is meant by the unity, or solidarity, of the law, and how does James show it?

7. What English poet is quoted here? Compound for sins they are inclined to, By damning those they have no mind to.

8. What modern discriminations are made in the commandments of Jesus?

9. What was Paul’s attitude on this point?

10. What is meant by a dead faith?

11. What James’s illustration of this kind of faith?

12. What the teaching of Jesus on this point?

13. What the teaching of Paul on the same point?

14. What one word used by James caused the controversy about his letter?

15. What its meaning as used by James? by Paul?

16. Illustrate.

17. Why was Rahab selected by James and Paul as an example of faith?

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on James 2". "Carroll's Interpretation of the English Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bhc/james-2.html.
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