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James 2:1 . Have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. See James 1:1. The whole of this chapter turns on charity, which is the excellence of pure religion. In the eyes of the omnipresent Being we are all but worms of the dust; and at the throne of grace the prince and the beggar bow in equal rank, and with equal piety and hope. The Lord of glory sheds a lustre on all his members, brightening the countenance far above that of rings and gems.
James 2:5 . Hath not God chosen the poor of this world, rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom. Christ was sent to preach the gospel to the poor, to bind up the broken-hearted, and to comfort all that mourn. Matthew 11:5. Luke 4:18. The apostle also appeals to the Corinthian church, whether it were not obvious that the more numerous converts were from among persons of this description; and to the present day they constitute a large majority of the believing world. 1 Corinthians 1:26-29. There is in this respect a correspondence between the servants and their blessed Lord, who had not where to lay his head. Not only are they the more numerous class of christians, but many among them are the most distinguished for piety, “rich in faith,” as well as heirs of the kingdom.
James 2:14 . What doth it profit, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works. St. Paul has said, “that a man is justified by faith.” St. James here affirms, “that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.” The question then is, how these seemingly contradictory assertions may be fairly reconciled. In order to this we are to consider the following things.
That as these Epistles were written to different persons, so the occasion and subject of them were also different. St. Paul had to do with those who thought to be justified partly by faith in Christ, and partly by their own works, or the works of the law: and therefore his design, in excluding works from justification, was only to deny the sufficiency of the works of the jewish law, or those that were thought meritorious, as being wrought by our own strength. In asserting therefore, in opposition to such works, that we are justified by faith, he meant no more than that we are justified in an evangelical way. In affirming more particularly, that we are justified by faith, he intended a practical belief, including evangelical obedience. St. James wrote to those who confessed the free justification of a sinner through faith in Christ, but who nevertheless did not duly consider that a true lively and justifying faith necessarily brings forth the fruit of righteousness. He therefore proves that where these fruits of faith are wanting, true faith itself is wanting; and that all ungodly and carnal professors of Christ have but a dead faith, which in no respect is able to help or save them; by works meaning no more than evangelical obedience, in opposition to a naked and empty faith. St. Paul’s aim and drift is to prove affirmatively, that true faith unites us to Christ, and thereby saves us. The design of St. James is negatively to prove that a dead unfruitful faith, which is but a bare image of true believing, cannot profit a man. Moreover, they do not speak of justification in the same meaning of the word, but in a different sense.
The justification which St. Paul ascribes to faith without works, means absolution from sins which were committed before believing in Christ; and the not having those sins imputed, but being admitted to peace and favour with God, upon entrance into covenant with him by baptism. This cannot possibly be owing to their good works, because, till interested in Christ, and assisted by his grace, men can have no such works to owe it to. But the justification spoken of by St. James is that other, whereby the scriptures signify the full and final justification of good men, in their last great account, as is evident from the whole tenour of his argument in this place.
But supposing there had been any disagreement in this matter (as indeed there is not) it is most reasonable to follow St. James’s explanation of it, not only because his expressions are so clear and positive as not to be justly liable to any ambiguity, seeing he wrote this sometime after St. Paul wrote the other; and consequently, as he was perfectly instructed by the divine author of both, so he was capable of explaining the true meaning of the other inspired apostle, and to confute those false principles which some men had built upon the mistake of it. And the rather still, because this epistle, in the opinion of several of the ancients, as well as of learned moderns (as were likewise the first epistle of St. John, the second of St. Peter, and that of St. Jude) was written partly to rectify the mistakes which some had fallen into, through their misunderstanding some of St. Paul’s writings.
James 2:26 . As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. James speaks here in the language of the Nazarene christians, many of whom had belonged to the pharisees; but he does not say more in favour of works than Paul. The loose state of oriental morals rendered strong words necessary. Faith is the first to save, to give life and love to the soul, that works may follow. There is no discord between Paul and James; an expletive in most sentences relieves the whole.
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Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on James 2". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29