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It is not agreeable to Christ's profession, to regard the rich partially, and despise the poor brethren: rather we are to be loving and merciful; and not to boast of faith, where no deeds are; which is but a dead faith, the faith of devils, and not that of Abraham and Rahab.
Anno Domini 60.
THE manners and customs of the Hebrews being different from those of all other nations, the jurisprudence of the Heathens could not be applied for determining the controversies which arose among the Jews in the provinces. 'The Romans therefore allowed them, not only in Judea, but in all the countries of the empire, to determine their controversies about matters of property by their own law and practice. So Josephus informs us; and gives us copies of several decrees of the emperors to that effect. See 1 Corinthians 6:2. Hence the apostle, in mentioning the right practice which the Jewish converts, who thought themselves religious, were to maintain, insisted, particularlyin the first part of this chapter, on their observing justice and impartiality in judging such causes, as by the Roman law, or by the consent of parties, they were allowed to determine. And this he did the rather, because the unbelieving Jews were now become very partial and unjust in their decisions as judges. Nor were the believing part of the nation altogether blameless in that respect. But partiality in judgment being directly contrary to the gospel, the apostle severely reproved both the one and the other, for shewing any disposition to favour rich litigants, though it were only by giving them a better or more honourable seat in their synagogue, than that allotted to their poor opponents, James 2:1-4.—This partiality to the rich and contempt of the poor, he told them, was extremely improper in the disciples of Christ, especiallyas they knew that in all countries the poor had shewn a greater disposition to receive the gospel than the rich, James 2:5.—and that the rich unbelieving Jews were great persecutors of the Christians, and dragged them to the Heathen tribunals to get them punished, James 2:6.—Wherefore, to prevent partiality in judgment for the future, the apostle enforced upon them that unfeigned benevolence towards all men, which Christ has enjoined as his commandment, and which, on that account, may be called the royal law, James 2:8-13.—This passage of the epistle, so far as it related to the Christians, was intended for the instruction of the rulers and other gifted persons in the church, whose office it was to determine those controversies about worldly matters which arose among the brethren. See 1 Corinthians 12:28.
Many of the Jews, influenced by the prejudices of their education, attempted to excuse their unjust judgments and other evil actions, by the care with which they performed some one or other of the precepts of the law, which they considered as of more importance than the rest. Hence the question of the lawyer, Matthew 22:36. Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Wherefore, to set them right in this matter, the apostle assured them, that though they kept all the other precepts of the law, if they offended in any one of them, they became guilty of all, James 2:10.—because the precepts of the law being all enjoined by one and the same authority, he who wilfully transgresses one precept, disregards the authority of the Lawgiver, and shews himself ready to transgress any other precept, in the like circumstances, James 2:11-13.
Another great error into which the Jewish Christians had fallen in the first age, and which had made them negligent of good works, was this: They fancied that the speculative belief of the doctrines of the gospel, to which they gave the name of faith, was sufficient to save them, however deficient they might be in good works,—a fatal error, which has too much prevailed in modern times likewise. Wherefore, to shew that one's assenting with his understanding to the truths of the gospel, will not save him, unless it leads him to holiness, and every good word and work, the apostle compared the faith of such a believer, to the benevolence of a man who in words expresses abundance of kindness to the naked and the hungry poor, yet gives them none of the things necessary to the body, James 2:14-18.—For the same purpose he remarked, that even the devils believe speculatively the truths of the gospel, but will not be saved by their faith; on the contrary, they tremble when they recollect God's justice and power, James 2:19.—Farther, more fully to prove that good works are necessary to our final justification, or in other words, to obtain the approbation of the great Judge on the dayof judgment, the apostle appealed to Moses himself, who has declared that Abraham and Rahab were, in this sense, justified, on account of the good works which their faith prompted them to perform, James 2:20-25.
St. James concludes this subject with a saying, which must impress every intelligent reader with the strongest conviction of the necessity of good works,—As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also, James 2:26.
James 2:1. With respect of persons.— The word Προσωποληψια signifies the respect of persons in judgment, not purely according to the merits of the cause, but according to external respects which relate not to it. As for instance, 1st, The dread of any man's power, or the fear of what he may do to us if we judge against him. See Leviticus 19:15.Deuteronomy 1:17; Deuteronomy 1:17. Or, 2nd, The poverty of any man, which renders him less able to suffer punishment or loss. See Exo 3:3 rdly, It is respecting persons in judgment, if we favour a cause by reason of any gift or hope of gain. See Deuteronomy 16:19. Or, 4thly, By reason of relation, affinity, friendship, or affection. In spiritual or evangelical matters, it is to have respect to men, in reference to things which render them neither better nor worse, neither more nor less acceptable in the sight of God. As for instance, To respect them, 1st, in regard to their nation or their offspring. See Act 10:34-35 for God will have no respect to nations, or external professions, in his future recompences. See Romans 6:9-10. Or, 2nd, With respect to their condition, as being masters or servants. See Ephesians 6:9. Col 3:25. 1 Peter 1:17. Or, 3rdly, To their quality. This is the thing here censured,—not as it respects the due subordination of ranks, which is necessary to the existence of society, but merely as it regards judicial matters; and in this latter and only true sense, the rule may be carried in its essence and spirit into every department of religious, civil, social, and domestic life.
James 2:2. Unto your assembly— That here the apostle speaks of consistories for civil judicatures, is argued, 1st, From the accepting of persons, Jam 2:1 which in the Old Testament and the New, as often as it is applied to men, respects human judicatures. 2nd, From the footstool mentioned, Jam 2:3 which obtained in their judicial consistories, and which was proper to princes on their thrones, and judges on their tribunals. 3rdly, From the judges mentioned, Jam 2:4 and the judgment-seats mentioned, James 2:6. And lastly, from the canon of the Jews, by which it is provided, that, "When the rich and poor have a suit together in their consistories, either both must sit, or both stand, to avoid all marks of partiality." See R. Levi Barcinon, 50: 142. Juris Hebraici.
James 2:4. Are ye not then partial in yourselves,— Do you not put a difference, or discrimination among yourselves on those accounts which are foreign to the cause? That this is the frequent sense of the words διακρινομενοι and διακρινεσθαι, see Act 15:9 where the words ουδεν διεκρινε are rendered, He put no difference betwixt us and them: and, Jud 1:22 where we read, Of some have compassion, διακρινομενοι, making a difference.
An are become judges of evil thoughts?— That is, Who pass judgment from your own evil thoughts, as considering the rich worthy of respect in judgment, for his gorgeous attire and outward appearance, and the poor fit to be despised for his outward meanness.
James 2:5. Hath not God chosen the poor, &c.— Christianity was not spread by the power or contrivance of courtiers and great men, or to advance a secular interest; but the God and Father of all chose this method in his infinitewisdom for the reformation and renovation of all who will yield to be saved by grace: but such as set their hearts upon the riches and grandeur of thisworld, are not of that number. No ellipsis is more common than that of the verb to be: we have an instance here,—chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith.
James 2:7. Worthy— Honourable.
James 2:8-11. If ye fulfil the royal law— The whole of the apostle's argument depends upon that sacred maxim so frequently introduced in a direct or indirect manner by the infallibly inspired writers of the New Testament, That love is the fulfilling of the law. St. James considers the whole duty of man to man as contained in one law, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: and then of course he argues rightly, James 2:10. He who offends in one point, is guilty of the whole law: for whether it be theft, or murder, or adultery, that you commit,—any of these crimes is inconsistent with the law, which contains, and is, the whole, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, &c. But read the apostle's own words. In Jam 2:8 he observes, If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, &c. Where first you are to observe, that he calls this the royal law, not because given by Christ the King, for all laws are, in that sense, royal; but because it is the first supreme law, from which all others proceed, as distinct branches, and by which they must all be governed. Secondly, you must take notice what stress the apostle lays upon their fulfilling this royal law: If ye fulfil the royal law,—ye do well: that is, "if you attend to it in all instances, so as not to offend against it in any case, ye then will do well." The apostle proceeds, James 2:9. But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, &c. The law mentioned in this verse, is the same law which was mentioned before; that is, the royal law. "If (says he,) you have any partial regards, you will not then fulfil the law of love, but will be found transgressors of that law; for as it follows, James 2:10 whosoever shall keep the whole law, &c." In this verse he considers the royal law, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, as the whole law; and all particular commandments, as points of that law. And what he says amounts to this: "Whatever regard you may have to the law of loving your neighbours, which all profess to walk by, yet assure yourselves you cannot keep that law, if you offend against any one rule of charity; for every such single offence is a breach of that whole law, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, &c." In Jam 2:11 he gives the reason of his assertion, For he that said, do not commit, &c. "For it is certain, that he disregards the authority of the Lawgiver which has established every precept; as it is evident, He that says, Thou shalt not commit adultery, hath also said, &c. Hence it appears, that it is not by a regard of the Divine authority that thou abstainest from the former crime, since that would equally have preserved thee from the latter." And if you go on to the latter part of the verse, you will find it exactly suited to the whole thread of the discourse which went before: for thus it follows, Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law; that is, of that general law of loving thy neighbour, which said as well to thee, Thou shalt not kill, as Thou shalt not commit adultery. How this royal law speaks to us in the language of all particular laws and precepts, is easily understood, and is distinctly explained by St. Paul, Romans 13:9. In short, what the apostle teaches, is plainly this: One great and fundamental law of the gospel is; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. The force of this all see, and all acknowledge; and while they pretend to be Christians, all must pretend at least to obey it. But, says he, whoever in any manner offends, injures, or oppresses his brother, it matters not in what way, whether it be by undue and partial preference of one to another, by contempt or slander, by theft, adultery, or murder; whoever, I say, in any of these instances sins against his brother, will be found to be a transgressor against this great, this vital principle of religion, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, &c. For this reason he tells them, the way to do well was to fulfil the royal law, that is, to observe all points of it; because no point could be transgressed, but the transgressor must be found guilty of the law, which is a general law of love, extending to all points. There is nothing hard in this sense, nothing but what any man may see the reason of: for certainly, to injure our neighbour in any way, makes us guilty of a breach of the law, which commands us to love our neighbour; for one injurious action is as inconsistent with love as another; and, in this respect, injurious actions have no difference; for they are all equally, inconsistent with the great law of love.
James 2:12. So speak ye, and so do, &c.— "Let it therefore be your care, that ye so speak and so act as those that shall be judged by the law of liberty, by the glorious gospel, which is a dispensation that sets us at liberty from the bondage of the Jewish ritual, and directs us to all the branches of that virtue and holiness, which is the truest liberty of the mind, and which, being so excellent, must subject us to the severest punishment, if we presume to contemn it."
James 2:13. For he shall have judgment without mercy, &c.— "For he whose faith does not work by love, according to the grace and obligation of the gospel, so as to shew compassion to his poor brethren, shall pass under a severe sentence of condemnation and wrath, to be executed upon him in the day of judgment, without any mixture of that mercy, which is held forth in the doctrine of Christ: and, on the contrary, he who, as the fruit of his faith, exercises tenderness and loving-kindness toward them, shall rejoice in his deliverance from condemnation and wrath, and the fear of being cast in judgment: and divine mercy, according to the gospel, shall triumph in his favour, and glory over strict justice according to the law, in the final day of account, agreeably to our Lord's own representation of it, Matthew 25:34-46."
James 2:14.— The Jews retained the highest reverence for their law, and would adhere to it as the method of justification or acceptance with God, even after the coming of the gospel of Christ. Whereas the apostles assured them, that faith, or the gospel method, was the only way in which they could hope for acceptance. Some of the JewishChristians,hearingfaithextolledso much above the law, seem to have wilfully misrepresented the design of the apostles, as if by faith they had meant no more than a bare assent to the word of God; and that if men believed the doctrines, there was no necessity for obeying the commands of Christ; but that they were freed from all moral and religious works whatever, as well as from the works of the ceremonial or Jewish law; and that such a faith or mere assent to the word of God, was sufficient to justify and save them. To prevent the spreading of such a dreadful doctrine, and the manyunhappy consequences which it would have drawn after it, St. James had, in the preceding chapter, insisted upon their being doers of the word, as well as hearers of it;upontheirbridlingtheir tongues, and upon their relieving the fatherless and widows in their distresses, unless they would render all their pretences to religion vain. In the beginning of the present chapter he condemns respect of persons; and in Jam 2:13 points out the necessity of mercy towards men, in all such as hope for mercy with God. But now he proceeds to insist more particularly upon the necessity ofa holy life; and in the most express manner assures them, that as charity to the poor does not consist in giving them good words only, without affording them some relief, so faith in the Christian doctrine, without a holy life, ought not to be looked upon as the true Christian faith;—that the saying, "we have faith," and actually believing or assenting to the truth, is doing no more than the wicked demons, who not only believe but tremble;—that the only way of manifesting that we have true faith, is to shew it by our pious and holy lives: that, by such a faith, or in such a way, the great patriarch Abraham was justified; for he not only assented to the truths which he had received from God, but manifested his faith in God, by performing such works as he commanded him; by which means he obtained that honourable title of The Friend of God. In like manner Rahab, not only believed that God would bestow the land of Canaan upon the Israelites, but she manifested that faith by her kindness to the spies whom they sent to view the country; and thereupon she was delivered from the common destruction, and taken into the number of the people of God. From all which the apostle concludes, that as a lifeless carcase is not a man, so the faith which does not produce good works, is only the dead carcase of faith, and not the genuine Christian faith, James 2:14-26.
What doth it profit, my brethren,— In the preceding verses the apostle had enjoined them so to speak and act, as they who were to be judged by the gospel, or the law of liberty: intimating that they should be condemned if they did not. He now further enforces that injunction by asking them, "What can it signify for a man to pretend to hold the Christian faith in the greatest soundness and purity, and yet neglect the practice of good works? Is it possible that such a fruitless faith can be the means of salvation?"—I am surprised, says Dr. Doddridge, at the immense pains which commentators have taken to reconcile St. Paul and St. James, and the many hypotheses they have formed for that purpose; whereas to me nothing is more evident, than that the ideas which they affix to the word faith and works are entirely different. St. James, by the word faith, means simply an assent to the truth of the gospel, or of religious principles, without determining whether that assent be or be not effectual; and then declares, that in case this assent does not produce good works, that is, the solid virtues of the heart and life, it cannot be accepted by God: whereas St. Paul, by the word faith, means a cordial and vital assent to divine truth, which influences the heart to an holy temper; and, according to the gracious terms of the gospel, entitles a man to divine acceptance, without any regard at all to the Mosaic law, and previous to the production of any of those good works which will naturally be the fruit of it.
James 2:17. Even so faith, if it hath not works, &c.— See the preceding note. St. Paul (says Dr. Heylin,) had used the term faith as it was understood in the Jewish schools; (and still in our own schools, where it is said, "Objectum formale fidei, est veritas prima;") and as our Lord often used it, particularly when he condemned the Pharisees for their neglect of it, though a principal point of their own law: but some Christian professors soon let go the primitive sense of the word, and meant by it only an historical belief of the gospel. St. James, judiciously avoiding to dispute about words, uses the term in the signification which theygave it;—and this perhaps is the reason why here, when he proposes the subject, he says not "what advantage is it for a man to have faith, if he has not works;" but "what advantage is it for a man to say that he has faith, &c.?"—And then, to shew the absurdity of supposing that there could be a salutary faith without good works, he puts a parallel case in the duty of charity; James 2:15-16,
We may, and we sometimes do, call a dead corpse a man; but very improperly: and as the carcase differs from a living man, so the nominal faith differs from that which is real and salutary.
James 2:18. Shew me thy faith, &c.— "You talk mightily of your faith, without giving any proof of its sincerity; and I, on the contrary, instead of taking up with high swelling words and professions of faith, have evangelical works of love and obedience to bear witness that my faith has its proper influence upon me." The reading which our version follows, is not only the reading of Jam 2:20 but is supported by sufficient authority, and is more agreeable to the context: therefore I prefer it to the marginal reading.
James 2:19. Thou believest that there is one God;— All that is said from this place to Jam 2:23 is by way of answer to the inquiry made Jam 2:18 namely, which was the way to manifest that a man had true faith;—by words and actions, and every other mode of evidencing holy tempers and dispositions.
James 2:20. O vain man!— The word Κενε answers to the Syriac word Raca, Mat 5:22 which is there condemned, when it proceeded from unjust anger, and was used by way of insult and reproach; but here it is used out of compassion and good will to the person, and as a grave and just reproof of a very dangerous error. Many words and actions may be right or wrong, according to the temper of mind, or the principles or views from which they proceed.
James 2:21. Was not Abraham our father justified— "Take an instance of the truth of what I have advanced under Divine inspiration, in the most celebrated of all the patriarchs; I mean, the instance of Abraham, our great and illustrious father: was he not plainly justified by works, when, in consequence of that full persuasion which he had of a divine commission and command to do it, he offered his son Isaac upon the altar, intending, in obedience to what he apprehended to be the will of God, actually to have slain him, and to have trusted in God to accomplish the promise of a numerous seed todescend from him, by raising him from the dead?" Though Abraham did not actually sacrifice his son, yet his readiness to do so, was looked upon by Almighty God as if he had actually done it. And, in all cases, what we would do, if permitted, is, in its due degree and proportion, regarded by God as if we actually did it. Then it is, and then only, that he accepts the will for the deed.
James 2:22. By works was faith made perfect?— Faith is not perfect, without producing good works, wherever there is an opportunity for it, after men have believed: but, in such an instance as that of the thief upon the cross, there is no opportunity for manifesting the truth of faith by a pious holy life; because he died so soon after he first believed. However, such instances are very rare, and not like the case of Christians in general.
James 2:23. And the scripture was fulfilled, &c.— The passage here referred to, is recorded Gen 15:6 and is there applied to Abraham's firm trust in the promise of God, concerning a son and heir. Now that was about fifty years before his binding Isaac as a victim upon the altar (Genesis 22:9; Genesis 22:24.); by which act of obedience St. James here intimates, that the passage mentioned, Gen 15:6 was fulfilled; not that that passage was a prophesy, or prediction of this event, but that the words which were then used concerning the faith of Abraham, were now in a higher sense applicable to that patriarch; because he had now fully demonstrated his faith by a most signal act of obedience. The Jews used this, or the like expression, that such or such a scripture was fulfilled, in a very great latitude. Frequently, indeed, they understood by it an accomplishment of a prediction in the strict and primary sense; but very often they intended no more by it than to say, that a similar event happened; that there was a very remarkable agreement in particular circumstances between former and latter things; that a general rule or saying was applicable to a particular case: and finally, they often used such expressions, when they meant no more than that the words of Holy Scripture, or of some antient prophet, might be aptly accommodated to the case in hand, or were very proper to express their present meaning. This text itself is sufficient to shew us, that they did not always intend by it the accomplishment of a prophesy: but there are many other passages, both in the New Testament, and in the writings of the Jewish Rabbis, to confirm this interpretation. See on Romans 10:13.
James 2:24. Ye see then, &c.— "You see then by this instance of the great father of the faithful, if the characters of the children are to be estimated in the same manner as those of the father, that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only: it is by no means enough that the great principles of religion be credited, if they have not also their practical influence on the heart and life."
James 2:25. Was not Rahab—justified by works,— It ought to be observed, that Rahab is not here celebrated for "lying, and betraying her country to its enemies," as some have objected. With respect to lies, they are every where condemned in the Holy Scriptures, and the truth is represented as sacred and inviolable: and as to the inhabitants of her country, they were devoted to destruction because of their idolatry and other great vices, and she appears to have been assured of this by a divine revelation, as well as by the events which had happened (see Joshua 2:9; Joshua 2:24.). Her discovering of the spies would not have prevented the ruin of the nation. The lie which Rahab told is not to be vindicated, but was a crime partly owing to her fear, and perhaps partly owing to her being educated among a loose and idolatrous people. What she is here commended for, is her faith, her ready renouncing of idolatry, and acknowledging the true God; and her acting, in consequence of that faith, in the manner which she apprehended most agreeable to the divine will. Whatever Rahab once was, she proved afterwards a pious and holy woman. See Joshua 2:1; Jos 2:24 particularly James 2:9-11.
James 2:26. For as the body, &c.— "And on such principles must all others expect justification and salvation; for as the body, without the spirit, is but a dead carcase, how fair and entire soever it may appear, and will at length fall into putrefaction and dissolution; so such a faith as remains without the substantial fruits of good works, which ought ever to attend it, is also dead: it now appears as a carcase in the sight of God, and as such will ere long perish."
Inferences.—The apostle could not intend to condemn those civil distinctions which are founded upon the different relations and circumstances of mankind in the present world; but surely God intended to teach us, how little esteem he sets upon riches, by bestowing them on many of the most undeserving of mankind, while he withholds them from his dearest children. And therefore to admire them, and others, on account of their riches, while we pour contempt on the poor, as poor, though so many of them are distinguished by the riches of the Divine favour, must be highly unreasonable, and to God highly offensive. As for those who are poor in this world, but rich in faith, let them adore the divine munificence to them, and think with pleasure of those durable riches, and of that everlasting kingdom, which God has prepared for them as their inheritance, if they be faithful unto death.
Whatever our stations be, let us pray that the royal law may be inscribed upon our hearts, and that we may love our neighbours as ourselves; guarding against that mean and prohibited respect of persons, which would expose us to conviction, as transgressors of the law. Let us also learn to guard against that partiality in our obedience to it, which is utterly inconsistent with sincerity. Let us remember, that the divine authority equally establishes every precept of it, and that the generous nature of the gospel dispensation, as a law of liberty, will be a sad aggravation of our presumptuous violation of it. A consciousness of those many defects and imperfections, which the best of men may see reason to charge themselves with, should certainly engage our most earnest application to God for mercy; and as we desire to obtain it, let it be our care to exercise mercy to others, both in the candour of our censures, on the one hand, and the readiness of our liberality, on the other.
And let the great and important lesson which the apostle teaches so plainly, and inculcates so largely, in the latter part of this chapter, be never forgotten. It is true indeed, (as St. Paul elsewhere fully proves,) that we are justified by faith in Christ, without the works of the law. The works of the Mosaic law are by no means necessary; and it is not by our obedience to any law, but by embracing and resting upon the mercy of God in Christ, for our salvation, that we obtain it. Nevertheless, it is vain to pretend to such a faith, if good works are not produced by it; and we might as soon expect the guardianship and counsel, the offices and consolations of friendship, from a dead corpse, as happiness from a mere assent, even to the most important doctrines. Let us therefore endeavour to shew our faith by our works. Let us be ready, with Abraham, to offer up our dearest comforts to God. Let us, with Rahab, be willing even to expose our lives in the defence of God's people, and his cause; otherwise our faith, being of no better a kind than that of the devils, will leave us the companions of their misery and despair; even though the conviction should now be so powerful as to make us tremble; or a false persuasion of our enjoying privileges to which we are utter strangers, should give as strong an emotion to any of the softer passions.
Let faith then be active and influential. Let love be without dissimulation. Let us not love merely in word but in deed, and charge it upon our consciences to be ready to authenticate by the most substantial offices of humanity, the profession that we at any time make of friendly wishes, or kind intentions. Otherwise, such professions will be worse than unprofitable; as, by encouraging only a false dependance and expectation, they will make the disappointment proportionably grievous and afflictive, to those whom we hypocritically, or lightly, pretended to compassionate or succour.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, The apostle,
1. Warns them against all undue respect of persons, because of their rank in life, especially in their judicial proceedings. (See the Introduction and Annotations.) My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, which centres in him as the object, and is derived from him as the author; the Lord of glory; with respect of persons; acting with undue partiality, unbecoming the disciples of Jesus, who is himself exalted to the highest glory, and has prepared eternal mansions for his faithful people, without distinction of rich or poor, and therefore we should make none in the merits of any cause which comes before us. Note; A sight of Christ and the glory provided for his saints, stamps vanity on all the puny differences which here subsist between men.
2. He gives an instance of the great evil and injustice of all such partiality. For if there come unto your assembly, that is, into your court, where causes civil or ecclesiastical are determining, a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man, who is a party in the cause to be tried, in vile raiment, making a wretched appearance; and ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and, with evident partiality on his side, say unto him with great deference, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, with insolence and contempt, Stand thou there, at a distance, or sit here under my footstool, in any despicable place; are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts? disposed to favour the rich, and oppress the poor: and how criminal is such a behaviour? 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? Is not the gospel chiefly preached to them, because they will hear it? and are not those for the most part to be found among the poor, who yield to be saved by grace, and are accordingly made partakers of all the glorious privileges of the gospel? and if God hath so highly honoured them, we surely ought not to treat them with disdain or partiality. But ye have despised the poor; to your shame and guilt be it spoken. Do not rich men, to whom you pay such undue deference, oppress you, and draw you before the judgment-seats, with litigious suits, and exercise the most cruel tyranny over you? Do not they, who are high in the world, prove your bitterest persecutors, and blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called? and then surely you have no cause to caress them. Note; (1.) All partiality in judgment is in God's sight abominable. (2.) Among the poor, God's saints are chiefly to be found; and the riches of faith, and heirship of glory, are infinitely more valuable than the wealth of both the Indies, or the widest earthly domains. (3.) They who love God, however poor, can never be despicable, since they are possessed of the highest dignity, as heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ.
2nd, The apostle,
1. Lays down the only proper rule of conduct. If ye fulfil the royal law, enacted by the King of kings, according to the scripture, where he hath revealed his will to us; and among the most eminent precepts stands this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, treating every man with that benevolence, kindness, and impartiality, which, if you were in their case, you would reasonably expect from them; ye do well; such a conduct is honourable, and becoming your profession. But if ye have respect to persons, shewing more favour to the rich than the poor, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors, (Leviticus 19:15,) and one such wilful iniquity must issue in your eternal ruin, if you be not washed therefrom in the atoning blood. For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet should offend in one point, he is guilty of all; such an allowed transgression would be as evident a contempt to the authority of the Lawgiver, as if he broke every precept; and, as the wages of every sin is death, it must expose the soul to the wrath of God. 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, and liable to suffer its awful penalty.
2. He exhorts them to behave as becomes the gospel which they profess. So speak ye, and so do, in every word and work seek to approve yourselves to God, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty; and who being brought under the gospel dispensation of light and grace, have the strongest obligations to shew an impartial, genuine, universal, and cheerful obedience to the Redeemer's commands.
3. He supports his exhortation by a most awful consideration. For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy, but has been partial to the rich, and oppressive to the poor; whilst, on the other hand, where by divine grace the heart has been influenced to exercise fervent love, there mercy rejoiceth against judgment; such a one shall not be afraid of appearing at God's bar, but through the great Redeemer shall have boldness, and, if faithful unto death, shall find favour with God in that day. Note; A solemn sense upon our minds of an approaching judgment, will necessarily have the most powerful influence on our conduct.
3rdly, The apostle, having spoken of the royal law, proceeds to shew the influence of faith on all holy obedience; not, as many vainly suggest, in opposition to St. Paul, or to correct his doctrine; the word of both of them proceeded from that one Spirit, who is truth itself, and cannot contradict his own revelation. St. Paul speaks of faith as justifying the sinner as a sinner in the sight of God; St. James speaks of it as justifying us on the day of judgment, when all men shall be rewarded according to their works, for which St. Paul was equally an advocate.
1. True faith ever produces genuine fruit, and worketh by love, without which the profession of faith is useless. What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? Saying and having are very different things. What can a boasted name signify? Can faith, such a faith, save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and the necessaries of life; and one of you, pretending to charity, 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? such empty words have nothing of godlike charity in them, and are as mere sounding brass and tinkling cymbals. Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone, an empty profession, without real life and power. Yea, a man may say to a vaunting hypocrite who pleads his faith, Thou hast faith in name, and I have works; shew me thy faith, to which thou makest such vain pretensions; without thy works, of which thou art destitute, how wilt thou prove its genuineness and reality? and I will shew thee my faith by my works, which are the only indisputable evidences of its truth. Thou mayest perhaps say thou are no atheist; thou believest that there is one God; so far thou dost well: but what influence has this faith upon thee? the devils also believe and tremble, and their faith is perhaps in this sense more operative than thine. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead, and wants every proof of its soundness and sincerity. Note; (1.) To rehearse the articles of our creed, if we have not the truth of faith in our heart, will not advance us above the devils. (2.) All pretences to faith are but delusion, where men's works deny him in whom they profess to believe.
2. He supports what he advances with scripture evidence:
[1.] In the case of Abraham. Was not Abraham our father justified by works, and proved to be a true believer, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? then his justification in the sight of God, which he had many years before obtained, (Romans 4:0.) became evident. Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, effectually engaging him to obey God's command; and by works was faith made perfect; manifested to be right in kind, and in the most vigorous exercise. And the scripture was fulfilled, and evidenced to be true, which said, many years before that event, (see Genesis 15:6.) Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the friend of God. Ye see then, by this instance, how that by works a man is justified, and the reality of his character as a believer evidenced; and not by faith only, which is such only in name, without producing any genuine fruit that demonstrates its living influence.
[2.] In the case of Rahab. Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works; and did she not give a solid proof of the faith she possessed; when, in consequence thereof, great as the danger was to which she must expose herself, she had received the messengers, who came to spy out the country, and had sent them out another way?
From the whole therefore it appears evident, that nominal faith, or the mere profession of it, without any living fruits of grace produced from it, is mere hypocrisy. For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. Where that vital principle is implanted, its powerful energy will be evidenced; and we may as assuredly conclude, where no fruits of grace appear in the temper and conversation, that the soul is really dead in sin, as that the body is dead when the spirit is departed, and nothing but the lifeless clay remains.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on James 2". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30