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1. The Holy Ghost here condemns the wicked sin of partiality, called “respect of persons.” How natural is it for us to think that God can be glorified more through the instrumentality of the rich than the poor, the learned than the illiterate, the noble than the ignoble. For this conclusion we fail to fully apprehend the power of God. Aunt Amanda Smith, born and reared in Negro slavery, ignorant of the alphabet, toiling at the washtub in a basement hovel in New York, is gloriously sanctified by some street preachers. Filled with the Spirit, as the years roll on she becomes the sensation of the Continent, preaching from the Atlantic to the Pacific. She crosses the ocean and preaches to the magnates of the British Empire in Europe and Asia. She goes to Africa and stirs the Dark Continent, preaching to the sable sons and daughters of her native land; thus girdling the globe with her thrilling testimonies to full salvation, and her flaming appeals to flee the wrath to come. Will not her crown outshine that of every bishop except Taylor?
2. “For if a golden ringed man in shining apparel may come into your synagogue, and a poor man may also enter in soiled clothing.”
3, 4. “Are ye not condemned within yourselves, and have you not become the judges of evil reasonings,” i. e., having evil reasonings. This simple description of the partiality shown to the rich, noble, cultured and well dressed people entering our congregations, with simultaneous neglect and depreciation of poor people, dressed in untidy, soiled and perhaps ragged apparel, is universally prevalent at the present day, with few exceptions, outside of the holiness movement. Yet we here see God’s withering condemnation of all such proceedings.
5. “... Hath God not chosen the poor in the world, rich in faith, truly heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him with divine love?” Agapee, which means divine love, is none other than the divine nature imparted to the human spirit by the Holy Ghost in regeneration (Romans 5:5), and synonymous with the spiritual kingdom. Hence the kingdom here referred to as the glorious reward of God’s people, poor in this world, but rich in faith, is none other than the millennium, in which the glorified Savior will rule the world through the instrumentality of His transfigured saints.
6, 7. It is a significant fact that the saints of God in all ages, as a rule, have been poor in the things of this world, while the rich have invariably led the way in the bloody persecutions, which in bygone ages have martyred two hundred millions of God’s people.
8. “If you truly perfect the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor with divine love as thyself,’ you do well.” Your neighbor is every human being on the globe, without regard to race, color, nationality or religion. This commandment of the royal law can not be satisfied with human love, as the word used with the Holy Ghost is agapee, divine love, to which the unregenerated are total strangers, and must so remain till the Holy Spirit pours out the divine agapee into the heart, which always consummates regeneration.
9. “But if you have respect unto persons you commit sin, being convicted by the law as transgressors.” This verse is a withering condemnation of all partiality shown to different classes of people. What a powerful argument is this against the inbred sin of partiality, for which there is no final and effectual remedy but entire sanctification.
10. “For whosoever may keep the whole law and fail in one item, has become guilty of all.” Here is tacit allusion to this occult and universally prevalent sin of partiality. The breachy animal need not elope every panel of the fence, in order to become a transgressor. If he jump the fence in one place, he is in your field, and as truly a transgressor as if he had leaped over every panel encompassing your field. When you commit a single overt act of known sin, you are out of the Lord’s kingdom, over on Satan’s common and a transgressor of the law.
11. This verse is illustrative of the preceding.
12. When you stand before the great white throne you will be judged by the law of liberty. What is this law of liberty? The soul fully and completely sanctified, and thus saved from every inclination to violate the law, is as free as if there were no law. Hence this is the only final qualification for the judgment bar.
13. “For judgment is without mercy to him that doeth no mercy: mercy boasteth over judgment,” i. e., condemnation. Mercy is the twin sister of divine love which is the fulfilling of the law. Romans 13:10. James elaborates with iron logic this powerful argument of thirteen verses against the inbred sin of partiality, i. e., respect of persons, whose only possible remedy is entire sanctification. This sin is so prevalent nowadays as to be passed by among all classes almost unnoticed, yet James assures us that the guilty party will be held responsible for the whole decalogue. The grand achievement of grace is to prepare us for glory. This great and prevalent sin, i. e., respect of persons, is utterly incompatible with the heavenly state, whose crowning glory is perfect love for every creature in all the celestial universe. Hence this subtle, clandestine and serpentine sin of partiality must be totally and eternally eradicated.
FAITH AND WORK
14-18. We see in these verses that the only possible method of manifesting our faith is by our works, the legitimate fruit.
19. “Dost thou believe that there is one God? Thou doest well: the demons also believe and tremble.” The devil and his myrmidons are utterly dead, spiritually, yet possessing wonderful intellectual power. Man is a trinity, similitudinous to God, consisting of spirit, mind and body. The conscience, will and affections constitute the human spirit. The conscience survived the fall, still ringing out the voice of God in the soul of the most abandoned reprobates, always taking God’s side of the controversy. The will, the king of humanity, so long as we remain in sin being on the devil’s side, is turned over to God in conversion, ever afterward deciding with God in every emergency, while depravity still survives in the deep regions of the affections, till eliminated by entire sanctification. The mind embraces the intellect, the judgment, the memory and the sensibilities. Since the apostasy from the apostolic experience of Pentecostal baptism, the pulpits have been mainly filled by dichotomists, confounding the spirit with the mind, and, consequently, preaching mentalities instead of spiritualities. At the present day the popular preachers feed the mind and let the soul starve to death. The churches are thronged with people having nothing but intellectual faith, just like the devils; meanwhile they are spiritually dead. In common parlance, spirit, heart and soul are synonymous. While God says, in the Bible, “Speak comfortably to my people,” the Hebrew says, “Speak to the heart of my people.” During the last five Sundays I have heard five Doctors of Divinity in five great churches of this city (San Francisco) preach at 11 A.M. Those five sermons were to the mind exclusively, giving nothing to the poor soul for the conviction of a sinner, the conversion of a penitent or the sanctification of a Christian; meanwhile the multitudes walk down to hell. The human spirit, and not the mind, is the immortal being, destined to live forever in the flames of hell or the glories of heaven. The Lord multiply the holiness people a thousand times, as it is incumbent on them to give the Gospel to the world.
20-23. Here James refers to the notable case of Abraham when he offered up Isaac on Mount Moriah. Whereas God had repeatedly assured him that Isaac was to be the progenitor of Christ the Savior of the world, when, in flat contradiction, He ordered him to sacrifice his son for a burnt offering, the faith of the patriarch staggered not at the irreconcilable dilemma. Meanwhile he proposes to offer him for a sacrifice; his heroic faith leaps to the conclusion that God will surely raise him from the dead (Hebrews 11:19), and send him home rejoicing to meet his mother. Thus Abraham’s obedience confirmed and perfected his faith.
24. This verse shows conclusively the utter inadequacy and futility of a disobedient faith.
25. “In a similar manner was not Rahab the tavern keeper also justified by works, receiving the spies and sending them another way?” The Hebrew word zonash simply means a woman keeping a public house, without regard to her moral character. In this case we have clear revelation that she was a good woman, a friend of Israel and a believer in Jehovah, and hereby James mentioned her along with Abraham as an example of Christian faith made perfect by obedience. Having espoused the cause of Israel she became the wife of Salmon, a Hebrew, and one of the honored mothers of our Lord.
26. This verse assures us that faith without works is dead, being alone. The plain and simple meaning of dead faith is no faith at all, just as a dead horse is no horse practically. The Bible is a plain book, needing nothing but common sense and the Holy Ghost to understand it. Martin Luther, a great and good man, living in an age when Biblical exegesis was in its infancy, discarded the Epistle of James as spurious, because of its irreconcilable antagonism to the grand Pauline epistles on justification by faith alone, without works. “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without deeds of law.” These apparent contradictions of Paul and James all evanesce on a fair exegesis. Paul is expounding the justification of a sinner whose work is all in Satan’s kingdom, and belongs to him. Hence the utter futility and nonsense in his attempt to procure justification by his good works. Let him do ever so much good work, as a matter of necessity he must do it in the devil’s kingdom, therefore Satan gets it all. Regeneration must bring him into the kingdom of God before he can possibly render obedience to divine law. James is describing the justification of a Christian, as we see abundantly evinced by the case of Abraham offering up Isaac forty-one years after he had been justified as a sinner by faith alone. Genesis 15:0 and Romans 4:22. In the gracious economy there are four justifications:
(1) In infancy, without either faith or works, by the free grace of God in Christ.
(2) In case of the guilty adult sinner by faith alone, when in the full and final abnegation and abandonment of all sin in the profound realization of his utter ruin and meatness for hell fire, in final desperation he casts himself on the mercy of God in Christ. Then the Father freely and fully forgives him for Christ’s sake only. The foolish dogma of a sinner’s justification by works has populated hell with millions, this vainly and ignorantly treating the vicarious atonement of Christ with contempt.
(3) After the sinner has been justified freely by the work of Christ received and appropriated by faith only, he must then be justified as a Christian (not in the sense of pardon, but approval), throughout the remainder of his life. James is addressing Christians, who can not be justified by faith only. A faith which remains alone is Satan’s counterfeit every time. Such a faith never brings justification but condemnation. Justifying faith is always active and obedient. Hence a Christian must constantly prove his faith by his works, like Abraham. When he ceases to obey God, his faith falters, and his experience dies.
(4) When we all stand before the Great White Throne in final judgment, we will be justified by works alone. Revelation 22:12 and Matthew 25:34. Our final judgment will have nothing to do with the heaven or hell problem; but with our reward in heaven and retributions in hell, which will be determined entirely by our works.
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Godbey, William. "Commentary on James 2". "Godbey's Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent