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We have in this Chapter, an interesting Statement, of the Conduct to be observed by the Lord's People, towards the Lord's Poor. And also, a blessed Account of the Works of Faith, as distinguished from a dead Faith, of a mere hearsay Knowledge!
My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. (2) For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; (3) And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: (4) Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts? (5) Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? (6) But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? (7) Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called? (8) If ye fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, ye do well: (9) But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors. (10) For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. (11) For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law. (12) So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty. (13) For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath showed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.
I have brought all these verses into one view, not for that they all refer to one, and the same subject; but to compress as much as possible, into a little compass. Very beautifully, as well as graciously, the Chapter opens, with calling upon the whole Church, of regenerated believers, as brethren of one family, to consider of relationship, and to have the same love, one for another. And to be sure, there cannot be an argument upon earth, more persuasive. And equally sure I am, that while a child of God, keeps in remembrance that tie, and feels the common equality, both in nature and grace; there will be no respect of Persons, more than the Lord himself hath in his providences appointed. In our Churches, however, made up as they are of nominal and real Christians; distinctions will be preserved by the former; and what, the Apostle here saith of partiality to the person in gay clothing, and neglect of the man in poor apparel, are but too visible. Indeed, had James been supposed to have been present, in our modern Churches, he could not have drawn the characters more truly. But I beg it may be observed, that this is chiefly, if not altogether, applicable to carnal worshippers. I should blush to have it said, if it could be said with truth, of any real and regenerated child of God, that he said to a brother in Christ, stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool.
Reader! do not hastily pass away from this very lovely description, which, by the pen of the Apostle, the Holy Ghost hath given of the Lord's people. The words are put, in a way of question; but they decide the thing while asking of it, God hath chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom. Not simply poor, in outward things; though for the most part, the Lord's people are, every way poor, in body and in spirit; but spiritually poor in their own attainments; for the riches of faith, find larger scope for exercise, where the soul is always laying humble before God! Sweet is that scripture of the Lord, by the Prophet to this amount, Zephaniah 3:12 .
I do not think it necessary to swell these pages of the Poor Man's Commentary, with observations, on what is so plain as to need none. And everything, within the limits of those verses, is like the Prophet's vision, he that runs may read it. One point just let me remark on what the Apostle hath said, of a single offence committed against the law, becoming a breach of all. The fact is undeniable. And it were much to be wished, that the world at large, would consider the justice, and equity of it; for it would tend, under the grace of God, to carry conviction, to every man's heart, that all have sinned, and come short of the glory of the Lord; and, consequently, no flesh can be justified in the sight of God.
Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, is guilty of all. And for this plain reason. Because that one breach, as fully shews the contempt for the law giver, as the breach of all. The man could not have committed this one breach, before that he had first lost all reverence to the divine sanction. And, therefore, it is not on account of his obedience to God, that he doth not break all; but because the temptation to other breaches are wanting. If causes operated, with equal strength to break many, there would be no restraint in the fear of God, to keep back. And, therefore, all the world are found alike guilty before God; though all mankind, do not alike commit the same offences. The child of God, knows this, after regeneration hath passed upon him, in the workings and plague of his own heart. And it is to such only, Christ becomes exceedingly precious, who though they are kept by grace through faith, unto salvation; know, like Paul, that in them, that is in their flesh, dwelleth no good thing, Romans 7:0 .
What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? (15) If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, (16) And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? (17) Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. (18) Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works. (19) Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. (20) But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? (21) Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? (22) Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? (23) And the Scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. (24) Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. (25) Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? (26) For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
I include all these verses, under one reading, as willing to bring the doctrine contained in them, into one view. Perhaps, no part of the word of God, hath been so little attended to, with an eye to the divine teaching, as this short but interesting passage of the Apostle; and conclusions have been drawn from it by the carnal; yea, and (for want of asking wisdom from God upon the occasion) by not a few of the Lord's people also, who have been much exercised in mind, unable to enter into a clear apprehension of the meaning. I beg the Reader to grant me a few moments indulgence. And I venture to hope, under the Lord the Spirit's enlightening grace, we shall find that nothing can be more clear than the Apostle's intention, in what is here said.
And, first, in order to give the fullest scope to the supposed misunderstanding, between Paul and James, on the subject of faith, I shall beg to bring before the Reader the words of each. The first of these great Apostles speaks so decidedly of justification only by faith, and without the deeds of the law; that no form of language can possibly be stronger, in confirmation of the doctrine. By the deeds of the law, there shall no flesh be justified in his sight. Being justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, Romans 3:24; Romans 3:24 . But to him that worketh not; but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. For the promise that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed through the law; but through the righteousness of faith. For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect, Romans 4:13-14; Romans 4:13-14 . Christ is become of no effect to you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace, Galatians 5:4 . Not of works, lest any man should boast, Ephesians 2:9 . Nor if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain, Galatians 2:21 . So much for Paul on the subject of faith.
I need not go over what the second of those great Apostles James, hath said on the subject: it is now before us. And nothing can be more plain, or express, in his statement on the subject of works. His concluding sentence, sums up all he had said before. For as the body without the spirit is dead; so faith without works is dead also. Now on the supposition, that both those holy men, taught, and inspired, as both were by the Holy Ghost, were speaking of one and the same thing; there would be indeed much cause for suspension, which to regard. Sentiments in that case, so very opposite, would raise fears and doubts, and distresses in the awakened and regenerated mind. But blessed be God, there is not the smallest cause for exciting any apprehension; The Apostles are in perfect harmony with each other. And James, so far from militating against what Paul hath said on the subject, doth very blessedly confirm the whole, and his observations, when rightly considered, strengthen the precious arguments of Paul, on the great subject of justification alone by faith. And this under the Lord's grace, will fully appear by the few following considerations.
First. Let us enquire what works those were, which James so much dwells upon? We may safely answer at once; not works of godliness or morality. For the two persons James brings forward in proof, when speaking of their being justified by works, very plainly manifests to the contrary. Was not Abraham our father justified by works? Abraham, when called of God, was an idolater. And Paul speaking of Abraham's good works; declared that he had not whereof to glory before God, Romans 4:2 . An idolater indeed, could have nothing to glory of before God. The Lord had declared before, concerning man, that all flesh had corrupted itself, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart, was only evil continually, Genesis 6:5 . And was Abraham an exception? And with respect to Rahab the harlot, could she be justified by the works of religion, or by works of virtue or morality; who, though faithful to God, was certainly unfaithful to man? Can anything upon earth be more plain and self-evident, from the history of these very persons, the Apostle brings forward in proof, that whatever works James had in view when he declared faith without works was dead being alone, it was impossible he could mean works of godliness, or virtue, or morality.
Secondly. Upon the supposition, that the good works James insisted upon as evidences of faith, and without which he saith faith itself is dead, being alone, had respect to the holiness and purity of a man's own heart; this would be directly contrary to the whole system of the Gospel; which, through all the word of God, is declared to be a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ came into the world to save sinners, 1 Timothy 1:15 . And in this sense, neither Abraham nor Rahab, nor all the Patriarchs, Apostles, or Prophets, could find justification in themselves before God. The doctrine of grace, is wholly founded in the reverse of good works. For if it be of works, then is it no more of grace; otherwise grace is no more grace. And the first and last, and ultimate design of the Gospel is, that in the Lord, shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory, Isaiah 45:25 .
Thirdly, There is a striking difference in the manner of expression; between those great Apostles. In all the writings of Paul, in relation to justification, he is uniformly speaking of the method of a sinner's justification before God. James, on the contrary, is solely considering the subject, in respect to our being justified in the sight of men. Paul, never loseth sight of the cause of justification, which is Christ. James is speaking of the effect. Hence we hear the former, observing, concerning Abraham, that if he had been justified by works, whereby he had to glory! yet still not before God, Romans 4:2 . Whereas James puts the case of a brother or sister, being destitute of food; and one say, depart in peace, be ye warmed or filled; notwithstanding ye gave them not those things that are needful; what doth it profit? Even so saith he, faith is dead, being alone, that is alone in justification before men. The world can form no judgment whatever, by what a man professeth; but by what he practiseth. And therefore (saith James) what doth it profit the world, that a man have faith, if that faith be unaccompanied with deeds?
Hence then it appears, that on the supposition of this last statement, Paul is speaking of the method of a sinner's justification before God; and James of our being justified in the view of men; those great Apostles differ altogether in the subject they are upon, and not in sentiment, upon the one momentous doctrine, of the method of salvation by Jesus Christ.
Fourthly, and lastly, therefore, I venture from all that hath been before offered, to observe, that God the Holy Ghost the Almighty Author by inspiration of all Paul's writings and those of James no less, hath himself explained the whole, and settled the point, by placing the great doctrine of faith on its own proper basis; and in so clear, and circumstantial a manner, as, under his divine instruction cannot be mistaken.
In proof of this, I beg the Reader once more, and somewhat more particularly to notice James's words. Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the Altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was made perfect. Now, not to notice again what hath been before observed that the works which made perfect Abraham's faith, hath no respect whatever to works of morality, or virtue; it must strike every man's mind with full conviction, that James hath no other meaning whatever, by what is here said of works, than works of faith. The faith of Abraham was proved to be real, by his proceeding to act upon it. And God the Holy Ghost explains this in another part of his sacred writings, when he saith: by faith Abraham when he was tried offered up Isaac. And he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son. Of whom it was said, that in Isaac shall thy seed be called. Accounting that God was able to raise him even from the dead, from whence also he received him in a figure, Hebrews 11:17-19 . Now let the Reader pause over this statement, which, let him remember, is God the Holy Ghost's own. And then let him say, is not this whole transaction of the Patriarch's faith, and faith only, in the deeds of faith acting upon faith? What is the plain sense of it but this? God promised Abraham a son. God declared with this son that the promised seed, meaning Christ after the flesh, should, in process of time, come from him. Abraham believed what God had said; and took God at his word. Soon after, Abraham receives a command to offer up this son, as a burnt-offering. Being strong in faith and concluding that God was able to raise his son again from the dead, he proceeded to obey God. Here then was faith carried into practice. Now, saith James, was not Abraham our father justified by works? Yes! most assuredly: for his faith was hereby proved, not to be a dead faith, but a living faith, and acted upon by the works or faith. But what hath this to do with works of morality, or good deeds among men? This was a transaction wholly between God and the Patriarch, in the concern of his own soul, and had no reference whatever to the transactions of common life between man and man. It must be prejudice indeed, and of no ordinary kind, that would here from draw conclusions, that morality, and good deeds, among men, were the works James had in view when he said, and by works was Abraham's faith made perfect; when it is plain, the Apostle is, wholly discoursing upon this subject, in reference to the solemn transaction between God and the Patriarch.
In like manner, as a further proof, in the instance of Rahab. No one for a moment can suppose, that the Apostle, when speaking of this woman being justified by works, alluded to works of goodness or morality. A woman of ill-fame could not be thought exemplary for any of these. And, with respect to her conduct towards her country, blessed as her faith, and works on that faith, were in the sight of God; yet, in the world's dictionary, she was treacherous towards man. When, therefore, we hear the Apostle demanding, was Yes! Her receiving the spies in peace, was a work of faith indeed, which proved how true, and genuine her faith was; and became the precious effect of that sure cause. And God the Holy Ghost elsewhere bears testimony to this act of her's, upon the faith the Lord had given her, when he saith: by faith the harlot Rahab perished not, with them that believed not, Hebrews 11:31 . But how totally foreign are both these instances to the doctrine some have raised from this Chapter; which, while the Apostle is directly producing instances to shew, that a lively faith (as in those cases) must, and will everlastingly be acted upon, in proof that it is not a dead, unprofitable faith they draw conclusions, as if faith without morality was dead, being alone, and cannot justify before God.
From the whole, therefore, I cannot hesitate to conclude, that the Apostles Paul and James, were both taught of God; both inspired by the Holy Ghost when writing their Epistles; both had the same views of that faith, which is of the operation of God; and both knew, that the Church hath justification before God in Christ alone, without the deeds of the law, and solely in the blood and righteousness of our Lord Jesus Christ. James, therefore, is only strengthening his brother Paul's statement of faith, in shewing, and in two such memorable instances as he produceth, how real living faith is always acted upon by real living principles; and thereby becoming subject of joy in the faithful soul, when such blessed effects spring out of so blessed a cause.
I must not suffer the Reader to pass on from this Chapter before that he hath first paused, and considered with me, the blessedness of what is here said concerning the Patriarch Abraham, in that he was called the friend of God. What title among all the sons of men can come up to this? James, no doubt, gathered it from these passages, 2 Chronicles 20:7 and Isaiah 41:8 , for otherwise, we do not find the very phrase, as James hath here worded it, in all the Bible. everything proves it, indeed, in the whole of Abraham's history; and that's enough. And Jesus so called his disciples, John 15:15 . But what I particularly beg the Reader to remark in it, is the foundation of this friendship. It is all in God. Abraham's friendship to God, which God condescends to accept, is the effect of God's friendship to him. But it is God's friendship which is the sole cause. And let the Reader further remark, how sweetly the Lord proved Abraham's faith, by the trial of demanding his son. True faith hath true properties.
Reader! do not overlook the design of the Holy Ghost, in this precious record of the Patriarch. These things are our examples. Every son and daughter of faith is, in like manner, the friend of God; and proved to be so by the same effects. Am I speaking to a truly regenerated child of God, who, like Abraham, hath been brought to believe the record God hath given of his dear Son. Then doth he know, as Abraham knew, God's friendship to him. My Brother! What was it but the ancient, everlasting, unchanging love and friendship of God in Christ, which gave his Son to you, and for you, and chose you in him, before the foundation of the world? And what was it but from the everflowing streams of the same unalterable friendship, which gave Christ to the cross, and the Holy Spirit to the regeneration of your soul, when you neither knew that friendship, or your need of it, and was altogether unconscious of either, and was living without God, and without Christ in the world? Do you not thereby prove God's friendship to you?
Now, then, see for the effects arising from such a cause, which, like Abraham, may testify, that you are also the friend of God. Nay, start not back, nor shrink at the comparison, though your faith is not so illustrious as this great father of the faithful. Have you made no sacrifice to the Lord? Have you no Isaacs, no offerings to give up, on which nature would wish to lean? Doth not every regenerated child of God, indeed, and in truth, sacrifice his Isaacs, and all that nature would fain cherish, when laying low in the dust before God, desiring to be stripped of everything, so that Christ be glorified in his salvation? Surely, however small the grace of faith, though but like a grain of mustard-seed it be, in the heart of every child of God; yet is it of the same source, which the Lord gave to Abraham, when, in the exercise of it, he manifested himself as the friend of God. It is not the greatness of our attainments; but the Lord's love, in taking it so kindly of his redeemed ones, when at any time they are enabled to bear testimony to the word of his grace. And, what the Lord said to David, he in effect saith to all the seed of our Almighty Spiritual David; whereas it was in thine heart to build an house to my name; thou didst well, that it was in thine heart, 1 Kings 8:18 . It were well if God's children would live more upon the Lord's love to them, than form conclusions of their interest in the Lord's friendship from their love to him. The faithful in Christ Jesus, will at length sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the Kingdom. And it will then be discovered, that the Lord's friendship, and not our deservings, hath been, and everlastingly must be, the source of all our blessedness. If we love him, it is because he first loved us, 1 John 4:19 .
Oh! for grace, while reading what God the Holy Ghost hath said in this Chapter, in reproving any respect of persons, in his house of prayer; that I may everlastingly keep in view the Lord's pleasure, and so have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, as to regard the rich more than the poor; but to love the Lord's poor with peculiar delight for Jesus's sake; and God's chosen may be my chosen; and the poor of this world, if rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom, may be the excellent in whom is all my delight.
Blessed and Eternal Spirit! keep my soul from all error, in the right apprehension of all thy gracious truths. Teach me, Lord, that if it were possible for a man to keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. And, as we have all sinned, and come short of thy glory, never may my soul seek the smallest justification by the deeds of the law.
And I do beseech thee, O Lord, who leadeth thy people unto all truth, that I may so fully learn, from what thou hast here taught the Church, how unprofitable the dead faith of merely acknowledging divine truths, while not living under the influence of them, is before God; that my faith, like the faith of Abraham and Rahab, may be works of faith; in proof, that my profession and practice are in perfect correspondence to each other. Let my soul abhor the thought, and much more the conduct, of professing love to a poor brother or sister, while withholding from them the tokens of that love. And in the higher concerns with my God and Savior, far be it from me, O Lord, to profess, that I know God, but in works deny him! Oh! for grace, while seeking justification before God, upon the sole footing of the Person, blood-shedding, and righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ, to be found an eminent example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity!
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on James 2". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent