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3 The Christian Life The Proof Of Faith
( James 2 )
One great purpose of the Epistle is to press the practical Christian life and thus preserve the believer from severing faith from practice. In the first chapter the practical life of godliness, developed in a new nature, has been set before us. In the second chapter this practical life of godliness is brought forward as the proof of genuine faith.
The life of faith must ever be in striking contrast with the life of the world; it is, moreover, characterised by works of faith. These, then, are the two themes of chapter two: firstly, to warn those who profess the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ against being conformed to this world (verses 1-13); secondly, to warn against the mere profession of faith without the works that are the outcome of faith (verses 14-26).
1. The incompatibility of the life of faith with the life of the world
(Vv. 1-3). In the main, the world estimates men, not according to their moral worth, but by their social position and outward adorning. Those who have the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, are not thus to judge of one another. The man of the world will pay respect to the well-born man with riches and social position; but faith puts us in touch with the Lord of glory. In His presence all men, however high in worldly position, become very small.
(V. 4). Believers are warned against making these worldly distinctions among themselves, and thus entertaining evil thoughts by judging according to the flesh, and thinking contemptuously of a poor man because of his poverty, or adulatingly of a rich man because of his wealth.
(Vv. 5-7). A contrast is then drawn between the way God acts and the way of many who profess to be believers. God hath chosen those who are poor in this world but rich in faith. Though poor in this world, they are heirs to the riches of the coming kingdom promised to those who love God. The great religious profession of the day is thus put to the test. How does it regard the world? How does it treat believers? Above all, what value does it set upon the Name of Christ? Alas! the great profession is exposed in all its emptiness, inasmuch as it respects the rich, despises the poor, oppresses the believer and blasphemes the worthy Name of Christ.
(Vv. 8-9). The apostle is writing to those who, while making a profession of Christianity, were zealous of the law ( Act_21:20 ). How then does their profession of Christianity stand in relation to the essence of the law - the royal law - as presented by Christ? Christendom today has placed itself under law and therefore can in like manner be tested by law. The royal law is the law of love. The Lord could say that to “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” is the first and great commandment, and, He added, the second is like unto it, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” To love God and to love one's neighbour is to fulfil the whole law. It would be impossible to break any other laws if these two laws were kept. The law of love is the royal law that governs every other law. To fulfil this law is to do well. The professed believer who has respect of persons is obviously not loving his neighbour as himself. On the contrary, he thinks more of his rich neighbour than of his poor brother. He is thus convicted of being a transgressor.
(Vv. 10, 11) It would be useless to plead that all the other laws have been kept if this one is broken. To offend in one point is to be guilty of all, even as the snapping of one link in a chain means that the weight suspended by it falls to the ground.
(Vv. 12, 13). If we profess the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, we have a nature that delights to do what God wishes us to do. This indeed is liberty. It follows then that our speech and actions should be in consistency with this law of liberty.
God delights to shew mercy. If we profess the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ and show no mercy, we are not acting according to the dictates of the new nature which delights to exercise mercy rather than judgment. To fail in mercy may bring upon us the governmental chastisement of God.
2. The reality of faith proved by the works of faith
(V. 14). What a man says is tested by what he does. A man may say he has faith, but merely saying he has faith will not profit unless accompanied by works which prove the reality of his faith.
(Vv. 15-17). No one would imagine that it would be the slightest good merely to say to a needy person, “Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled”, and yet do nothing to meet the need. The words, however fair, would be of no profit unless accompanied by deeds. “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.”
(V. 18). Faith works, then, are the proof of faith before men. We cannot see faith; therefore to prove the existence of faith we need something for sight. One may say, “Thou hast faith, and I have works.” He says, as it were, “You boast in your faith and are indifferent to works; but if you have faith show it to me; and how can you show me your faith without works? I can show you my faith by works.”
(Vv. 19, 20). The Jew believed that God is one. This is right; the devils also believe this and their belief makes them tremble, but it does not put them in relationship with God. So a man may believe what is true as to God, and yet have no faith in God. Faith is the outcome of a new nature that trusts in God and proves its existence by its works. The man then that says he has faith and yet is “without works” is a vain man and his faith merely a dead profession. Such is the condition of the vast profession of Christendom in which truths are assented to and “works” are done, but without the faith that brings the soul into personal touch with Christ.
(V. 21). The apostle brings forward two cases from the Old Testament to show, firstly, that faith which has God for its object produces works and, secondly, that the works faith produces have a distinct character. They are faith works, and not simply good works, as men speak.
The apostle first refers to Abraham and shows that he was “justified by works when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar.” By this work he proved that he had such absolute faith in God that he believed God could act in a way contrary to anything ever experienced in the history of man.
(V. 22). Here, then, we see not only works but that “faith wrought with his works.” It is evident, then, that while the apostle speaks of works proving our faith, he refers, not simply to good works such as kindly nature can produce, but only such works as faith can produce. They are faith works; and by such works faith is made perfect. If, on the one hand, the apostle insists upon works as the test of faith before men, on the other hand, he insists upon faith as the test of the works.
(V. 23). Thus, in a practical way, the Scripture was fulfilled which saith, “Abraham believed God.” He very blessedly proved his trust in God, with the result that God owned him and confided in him, calling him the “friend of God”.
(V. 24). It is thus made plain that “by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.” It is, however, equally clear that the apostle is not speaking of justification before God, through atonement for sins, but of justification visible to men. The apostle Paul speaks of justification before God, and then says, “If Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God” ( Rom_4:2 ). James is speaking of justification before men and asks, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works?” As a result he was called “the friend of God”, and this was surely something in which he could glory.
(Vv. 25, 26). In the history of Rahab we see another striking illustration of faith works. She was a woman of bad character, and did that which men would condemn as a betrayal of her country. Yet her act proved that she had such faith in God that, in spite of all appearance to the contrary, she recognised that the Israelites were the favoured of God, and that Jericho was doomed.
Both cases prove that the mere profession of faith is not enough. There must be reality as proved by faith works. “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”
In both cases the works prove the existence of faith in God, but they do so because of their special character. In neither case are they works of which the natural man could approve. Abraham is about to slay his son, and Rahab to transfer her allegiance to God, and, as man would conclude, to betray her country. These are not “good works” as men speak. The practical life of the Christian is, indeed, to be marked by “good works”, as the apostle has already shown by exhorting believers to “visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction.” But the works that prove faith are so contrary to nature that, apart from faith, they would be condemned by every right-minded man. Thus, under the indication of God's will and in submission to it, the faith produces special works, and the works prove the faith.
In the course of the chapter the profession of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ is tested by enquiring:
How does it stand in relation to the poor (verses 1-6);
How does it treat believers (verse 6);
How does it treat the worthy name of Christ (verse 7);
How does it stand in reference to the royal law (verses 8-11);
How does it stand in reference to the law of liberty (verses 12, 13); and finally
How does it stand in relation to works (verses 14-26)?
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Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on James 2". "Smith's Writings". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent