corner graphic   Hi,    
ver. 2.0.19.11.18
Finding the new version too difficult to understand? Go to classic.studylight.org/

Bible Commentaries

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae
James 2

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 5

DISCOURSE: 2363

GOD’S DISTINGUISHED REGARD FOR THE POOR

James 2:5. 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?

IT is a duty incumbent on all ministers to discountenance any errors, whether of faith or practice, that may have crept into the Church. But when compelled by necessity to reprove what is amiss, they should shew by most unquestionable evidence, that there is just occasion for censure; and, by their tender manner of reproving, they should evince that they are actuated only by a sense of duty to God, and of love to man. St. James had seen a very shameful partiality prevailing in the Church in favour of the rich, while the poor were too generally neglected and despised. Against this great evil he bears his testimony, not merely with fidelity, but with unoffending tenderness, and unanswerable wisdom. His argument is to this effect; Hath not God chosen the poor, and selected them as monuments of his love, and as heirs of his glory? With what consistency then can you pour contempt upon them, as though they were unworthy of the smallest attention?

In discoursing upon his words we shall shew,

I. What inheritance God has chosen for the poor—

While man is unmindful of the poor, God has exalted them above others in respect of,

1. Their present portion—

[Faith is that precious gift which he has bestowed on them: and though few among the rich regret their want of it, yet is it a most inestimable blessing. The smallest portion of it is sufficient (provided it be a true and living faith) to prove their election of God [Note: Acts 13:48.]; to secure to them the remission of sins [Note: Acts 10:43.]; to bring peace into their conscience [Note: Romans 5:1.]; and to sanctify their hearts [Note: Acts 15:9.]. The smallest portion of it is a peculiar gift bestowed on very few [Note: Isaiah 53:1. John 12:38. Romans 10:16.]; and one which neither men nor devils ever shall deprive them of [Note: John 4:14.]. Yet God has not chosen them to enjoy a small portion of it, but “to be rich in it:” he would have them “strong in faith, not staggering at any promise [Note: Romans 4:20.],” but “living,” both for temporal and spiritual things, altogether “by faith in the Son of God [Note: Galatians 2:20.],” fully assured, that all things needful shall be supplied for their bodies [Note: Matthew 6:33.], and that all things shall work together for the good of their souls [Note: Romans 8:28.].

The Levites were not suffered to have any inheritance among their brethren; but the Lord their God was their inheritance [Note: Numbers 18:20. Joshua 13:33.]. And this, so far from being a grievance to them, was deemed their highest privilege. Thus privileged are the poor: they have little of this world; but, if they have God for their portion, they are the richest people upon earth.]

2. Their eternal inheritance—

[God has provided “a kingdom for them that love him:” a kingdom worthy to be possessed by those, whom God delights to honour. And it is his will that “the poor of this world” should not only aspire after it, but consider themselves as “heirs” to it. While they are destitute, perhaps, of food to eat, or of raiment to put on, he would have them like minors that are heirs to a large estate, who delight to survey the grounds which they are speedily to possess: he would have them survey all the glory of heaven, and say, “That is my patrimony: the instant I attain the age appointed by my Father’s will, I shall have a host of angels sent to bear me on their wings to the mansions prepared for me.”]

To vindicate the ways of God, we shall proceed to shew,

II. Why he has chosen this portion for them in particular—

That God has chosen this portion for the poor is beyond a doubt—

[If the Apostle had only affirmed it, no room would have been left for doubt; but he ventured to appeal even to the rich themselves respecting it, and that too at the very time that he was reproving them for their contempt of the poor; yea, he even grounded the reproof itself upon that very appeal. He could not possibly express more strongly his own persuasion of the truth in question. But it is capable of abundant proof both from Scripture and experience. Who were the people that received the testimony of our blessed Lord? “Did any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believe on him [Note: John 7:48.]?” Who constituted the great majority of the Church in the apostolic age? St. Paul informs us; “Ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: but God hath chosen the foolish, the weak, the base, the despised, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:26-28.].” And we might appeal to you at this day; Who are they that crowd the churches where the Gospel is preached, notwithstanding they meet with the same contemptuous treatment that the Apostle so justly complains of [Note: How many will open their pews to a rich or well-dressed person, that would suffer a poor man, however pious or infirm, to “stand” during the whole service, without ever offering him a seat, when they had room enough to accommodate many! Yea, how many rich persons will absent themselves from the ordinances, and lock up their pews, to prevent their being occupied! What would St. James have said to these things? See ver. 2–4, 9.]? Who are they that “receive the word with meekness, and have it engrafted” in their hearts, and exemplified in their lives? are these the rich? A few there may be; but it is “to the poor chiefly that the Gospel is preached [Note: Matthew 11:5.],” and it is “the common people that hear it gladly [Note: Mark 12:37.].”]

Nor are we at a loss to assign reasons for this procedure—

[God has thus distinguished the poor, in order to stain the pride of man. Men, if they are exalted above their fellow-creatures in wealth or dignity, are ready to conceive that they are as great in the eyes of God as they are in their own eyes. They think themselves (I had almost said) above God himself: they are too wise to learn of God, and too great to be controlled by him. God therefore pours contempt on them, as they do on him [Note: 1 Samuel 2:30.]. He will let them see that their possessions or endowments, however great, are not a child’s portion, but only as crumbs cast to the dogs. He will render the poor as superior to them in spiritual things, as they are to the poor in temporal things: he will “lift up the beggar from the dunghill, and set him among the princes [Note: 1 Samuel 2:8.],” while he casts down the mighty from their thrones to the lowest abyss of shame and misery.

Moreover, in thus distinguishing the poor, God further designs to magnify the riches of his own grace. If God bestowed his favours principally on the rich, we should be ready to think that they had some peculiar claim upon him, and that his attention to them was no more than their due: or perhaps we should rather conclude, that their superior talents enabled them to unravel the divine mysteries, and to attain heaven by their own unassisted efforts. But when we see the Gospel “hid from the wise and prudent, and revealed to babes [Note: Matthew 11:25.],” we are constrained to acknowledge the marvellous condescension, and uncontrollable sovereignty, of our God.]

Address—

1. Those who despise the portion that God has chosen—

[It is to be lamented that many even among the poor themselves are regardless of the “true riches [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:10.].” But what madness is it to reject that which would assuage all their present sorrows; and to render themselves infinitely more destitute in the next world than they are in this! O that they would accept the portion that God offers them!

The rich too almost universally despise the Gospel. But how painful will their reflections be in that day when the parable of Dives and Lazarus shall be realized in them! O consider, ye are not excluded; God is willing to bestow the same inestimable blessings upon you. Seek then to be rich in faith, and heaven itself shall be your everlasting inheritance.]

2. Those who desire to possess that portion—

[Blessed be God, there are some among the poor that know and enjoy their privileges. But whence is it that they discern what is hid from others? Had they any thing in themselves more than others; “any thing which they have not received?” No [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:7.]: they would never have chosen God, if God had not first “chosen” them [Note: John 15:16.]. Let them then adore that grace which has been thus magnified towards them.

Do any of the rich inquire, What shall we do to get a share in this inheritance? Shall we cast away all our riches, and reduce ourselves to poverty? No; there is an infinitely better and safer way; “Love God.” You may give away all your goods, and be nothing profited [Note: 1 Corinthians 13:3. Thrice is this expressly repeated in that fore-cited passage, 1 Corinthians 1:26-28.]: but if you “love God, the kingdom is absolutely promised to you.” The poor cannot be saved unless they be rich in faith: and you, if you exercise faith and love towards our adorable Saviour, shall also be saved with an everlasting salvation.]


Verse 12

DISCOURSE: 2364

THE LAW OF LIBERTY

James 2:12. So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.

THE law of works contained in the Ten Commandments is continued in force under the Gospel dispensation, as a rule of life. This appears from the frequent reference which is made to it in the New Testament in this particular view. St. Paul, in his Epistle to the Romans, when inculcating the duty of love, says, “Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. for love is the fulfilling of the law [Note: Romans 13:8-10.].” In like manner St. James, condemning an undue respect of persons which had obtained to a great extent in the Christian Church, says, “If ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors [Note: ver. 9.].” The difference which exists between the Law and the Gospel, is not that the Gospel dispenses with any thing which the law had enjoined, but that it requires the same things in a different manner; the law inculcating them as the means of obtaining life; the Gospel requiring them as the means of honouring God, and of manifesting that life which God has already imparted to the soul. The law in its requirements begets a spirit of bondage: but the Gospel, whilst its requirements are the same, operates as “a law of liberty;” inspiring us with motives of a more ingenuous kind, and at the same time imparting to the believer such powerful assistance as renders obedience easy and delightful. Hence the Apostle, shewing that the conduct which he was reproving was condemned by the Gospel no less than by the law, (for the Gospel itself declares, that “he shall have judgment without mercy, who has shewn no mercy [Note: ver. 13.],”) entreats the whole Christian Church “so to speak, and so to act, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.”

Now in these words we see,

I. The true character of the Gospel—

It is a law, and has all the force of a law, and must be obeyed on pain of God’s heavy displeasure; but it is “a law of liberty:” and this it is,

1. As freeing men from the guilt of sin—

[The Gospel proclaims, to all who receive it, pardon and peace. It holds forth a Saviour, who has bought us with his blood, and by the sacrifice of himself has effected our reconciliation with the offended Majesty of heaven. It declares, that “by receiving that Saviour,” however guilty we may have been in times past, “we shall have the privilege of becoming the sons of God [Note: John 1:12.]” — — — In this it differs widely from the law: the law knew nothing of pardon: it simply said, “Do this, and live:” and if in one single instance it was violated, all hopes of acceptance by it were destroyed for ever [Note: Compare ver. 10. with Galatians 3:10.]. A certain kind of forgiveness indeed was obtained by the offering of certain sacrifices: but it was only such a measure of it as exempted the person from present punishment, but could never procure acceptance for him in the eternal world; and hence, as “it could never really take away sins,” it could “never make any man perfect as pertaining to the conscience [Note: Hebrews 9:9; Hebrews 10:1-4.].” Moreover, there were some sins for which no sacrifice whatever could be received. But the Gospel offers a full and everlasting remission from all sins, and declares, that “all who believe, are justified from all things, even from those from which they could never (even in appearance) be justified by the law of Moses [Note: Acts 13:39.].” Thus by announcing to the whole world, that “there is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus [Note: Romans 8:1.],” the Gospel may justly be called “A law of liberty.”]

2. As freeing men from the power of sin—

[The promise which the Gospel makes to all who truly receive it, is this; “Sin shall not have dominion over you; for ye are not under the law, but under grace [Note: Romans 6:14.].” And, whilst it gives this assurance to its votaries, it imparts to them the power of carrying it into effect. The person who is united unto Christ by faith, is like a scion, which when engrafted into a tree, lives by virtue derived from the tree, and is enabled from that time to bring forth its appropriate fruits. Our Lord in this view says, “I am the vine; ye are the branches. He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me, or separate from me, ye can do nothing [Note: John 15:1; John 15:5.].” In this again the Gospel differs widely from the law: for, whilst the law issued its commands, it imparted no power to obey them: but the Gospel conveys to the soul of the believer such a measure of strength, as enables it to mortify sin, and to abound in all the fruits of righteousness to the praise and glory of God. This is what St. Paul expressly tells us: “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, that is, the Gospel, (which St. James in nearly similar terms calls ‘the law of liberty,’) hath made me free from the law of sin and death: for what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, (hath done; that is, he hath) condemned sin in the flesh; that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit [Note: Romans 8:2-4.].”

I may add, that the Gospel gives us a more liberal spirit, in that it does not force us to do what is hateful to us, but disposes us willingly to take upon us the yoke of Christ, and renders “his yoke easy, and his burthen light.” The current of a believer’s affections is changed by it [Note: Colossians 3:2.]; so that, though he still feels the workings of corruption strong within him, he “delights in the law of God after his inward man [Note: Romans 7:22.],” and “has his conversation in heaven,” as the unbeliever has on earth [Note: Philippians 3:19-20.].

Thus does “the law of faith [Note: Romans 3:27.]” “make men free [Note: John 8:32.];” and “the liberty which they receive from Christ renders them free indeed [Note: John 8:36.].”]

The Apostle, in calling men’s attention to the law of liberty, marks,

II. Our duty in relation to it—

If we have been made free by the Gospel, we are bound to regard it,

1. As our rule of conduct here

[The substance of all its commands is comprehended in one word, Love. As he that loveth fulfils the law, so he that loveth fulfils the Gospel also; as St. Paul has said; “Bear ye one another’s burthens, and so fulfil the law of Christ [Note: Galatians 6:2.].” But here we must particularly observe, that our obedience to this law is not restricted to overt acts: our whole spirit must accord with it, and be moulded by it. If we notice the particular conduct which the Apostle reproves, we shall find, that it was not such as would have brought down censure from the world at large: it would rather have been commended as a respect due to the higher orders of society. But, when strictly examined, it was contrary to the principle of love: and that was quite sufficient to render it an object of severest reprobation. The doing as we would be done unto, forms the proper standard for our conduct towards all mankind: and if, either in word or deed, we deviate from that, we transgress that holy law which we are bound to obey. How far this heavenly principle extends, may be seen in the description given of it by St. Paul: and, if we do not in the constant habit of our minds endeavour to attain it, we may believe what we will, and do what we will, and suffer what we may, but, after all, we shall be only “as sounding brass, and as tinkling cymbals [Note: 1 Corinthians 13:1-7.].]

2. As God’s rule of judgment hereafter

[By this law we shall be judged in the last day. It is remarkable, that in the account which our Lord gives us of the final judgment, there is no mention made of any actual transgression as determining the fate of the ungodly: their performance of the offices of love is the only subject of inquiry; and their neglect of them is the only ground that is specified for their eternal condemnation [Note: Matthew 25:34-46.]. Of course, I must not be understood to say, that this will really be the only subject of inquiry, or the only ground of a sinner’s condemnation; for no doubt the whole of men’s lives will be taken into the account in fixing their eternal destiny: but it is the only thing mentioned by our Lord in his account of that day: and this is sufficient to shew us the vast importance of keeping it ever in our view. We must attend to it no less in our words, than in our actions; and “so speak, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.”]

That we may bring home this subject more powerfully to your hearts, we would entreat you to bear in mind the main points contained in it:

Remember—

1. The true nature of the Gospel—

[Men universally conceive of the Gospel as a system of restraints: and when we call upon them to obey the Gospel, they consider us as attempting to abridge their liberty. But the very reverse of this is true. We find men slaves to the world, and sin, and Satan; and we come to break their chains, and to set them at liberty. Our blessed Lord proclaimed this as the great object of his mission, “to preach deliverance to the captives, and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord [Note: Luke 4:18-19.].” There are now, as there were in the Jewish state, many who love their bonds, and account the service of their master preferable to the liberty that is proclaimed. But this does not at all change the nature of the Gospel, which is altogether “a law of liberty” to all who truly embrace it. Do not then imagine, that, when we would induce you to renounce all the lords that have had dominion over you, we would bring you into bondage, or deprive you of any thing that will conduce to your real happiness. We make our appeal to yourselves, and ask, Whether what you have hitherto considered as liberty, has not been in reality the sorest bondage? We ask, Whether sin has not kept you from the love and service of God, and bound you as with adamantine chains to the objects of time and sense? We ask, Whether in proportion as you were brought to the employment and felicity of the heavenly hosts, you would not attain to perfect freedom? To all then we say, Believe in Christ, and give yourselves up to him, and ye shall then “be delivered from the bondage of corruption, into the glorious liberty of the children of God [Note: Romans 8:21.].”]

2. Its proper tendency—

[Strange as the inconsistency is, the very persons who will exclaim against the Gospel as making the way to heaven so strait that nobody can walk in it, will cry out against it also as a licentious doctrine, and will represent the preachers of it as saying, that men may live as they please, provided only they believe. But the Gospel is “a doctrine according to godliness;” and the very “grace of God which bringeth salvation, teaches men to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live righteously, soberly, and godly in this present world.” The Gospel, it is true, is “a law of liberty;” but not of liberty to live in sin: it is a liberty from sin; and a liberty in the ways of God. Instead of superseding morality, it raises the tone of morals to the highest possible pitch, requiring us to “walk in all things as Christ walked,” and to “purify ourselves even as he is pure.” And, whilst it sets up this high standard for our attainment, it sets up the same for our trial in the last day; and requires us so to speak and so to do, as they that shall be tried and judged by it. Know therefore, that notwithstanding the Gospel is as free for all as the light we see and the air we breathe, its proper tendency is to assimilate us to God, whose name and nature is love [Note: 1 John 4:8; 1 John 4:16.].]

3. The wisdom of all who profess to have embraced it—

[Doubtless it is your privilege to be rejoicing in God your Saviour, and in the freeness and fulness of his salvation — — — But you must also keep in view the future judgment, and be acting continually with a reference to it. There is no dispensation given to you to continue in sin: “Shall you continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid.” The scrutiny which you shall undergo in the last day, so far from being less exact than that of others, will be more strict, in proportion to the advantages you have enjoyed, and the professions you have made [Note: 1 Peter 4:17.]. Your acceptance, it is true, will be solely on account of what the Lord Jesus Christ has done and suffered for you: but the truth of your faith will be tried by the works it has produced: and according to the measure and quality of them will be your reward. I say then, in all that you say and do, have respect to the future judgment, when “God will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the heart:” and in order to your being approved of God in that day, “walk in love, as Christ has loved you [Note: Ephesians 5:2.];” and, whilst you endeavour to “walk in his steps” “let the same mind also be in you as was in Christ Jesus [Note: Philippians 2:5.].”]


Verse 24

DISCOURSE: 2365

JUSTIFICATION BY WORKS EXPLAINED

James 2:24. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.

CERTAINLY, of all the questions that can occupy the human mind, the first and greatest is, “How shall man be just before God [Note: Job 9:2.]?” On this subject men have differed from each other as far as the east is from the west. To this difference the passage before us has not a little contributed. It is therefore most desirable that we enter candidly into the investigation of it, and endeavour to ascertain with all possible precision what is so indispensable to our eternal welfare.

It is obvious, that the words which I have read to you are a deduction from a preceding argument. We ought therefore carefully to examine the argument itself; for, it is only by a thorough knowledge of the premises that we can understand the conclusion drawn from them. Suppose that I were, as a conclusion of an argument, to say, ‘So then man is an immortal being;’ if the argument itself were not investigated, you might understand it as a denial of man’s mortality: but, if the argument shewed, that the conclusion referred to his soul alone, the conclusion would be found perfectly consistent with an apparently opposite position, namely, that man is a mortal being. In like manner, if the Apostle’s argument in the preceding context be candidly examined, there will be found no real inconsistency between the deduction contained in the text, and an apparently opposite deduction which may be founded on premises altogether different.

Let us consider then,

I. The Apostle’s argument—

The first thing to be inquired is, Whence the argument arose? or, What was the occasion of it?

[St. James was reproving an evil which obtained to a very great extent among the Church in his day; namely, the shewing partiality to the richer members, whilst the poorer were treated with supercilious contempt, and harassed with the most flagrant acts of oppression [Note: ver. 2–6.]. Now, as this was directly contrary to the whole spirit of Christianity, he introduced his reproof with these words; “My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons [Note: ver. 1.].” Now these words, duly noticed, will give a clue to the whole. “Have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ with respect of persons:” hold not the true faith in so erroneous and unworthy a manner. He then proceeds to shew, that a faith productive of no better conduct than that, will never justify, “never save,” the soul [Note: ver. 14.]: for that it is a dead faith, and not a living one, a mere carcass, and not a living body [Note: ver. 26.].]

The next thing we have to do is, to trace the steps of his argument

[Having reproved the partiality before-mentioned, he shews, that it is alike contrary both to the law and to the Gospel: to the law, the very essence of which is love; (which if any person habitually violates, he violates the whole law [Note: ver. 8–11.];) and to the Gospel, which inspires its votaries with a more liberal spirit [Note: ver. 12.], and declares, that the person who exercises not mercy to his brethren, of whatever class they may be, shall find no mercy at the hands of God [Note: ver. 13.].

He then appeals to the whole Church; and calls upon them to say, whether any person so holding the faith of Christ can be saved? and whether all the faith whereon he builds his confidence, be not a nullity, and a delusion? “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith, such a faith as that, save him [Note: ver. 14.]?”

He then proceeds to shew how vain any man’s pretences to love would be, if it were as inoperative as this faith. “If a brother or sister be naked, and be destitute of daily food; and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed, and be ye filled, notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit [Note: ver. 15, 16.]?” Could that person be said to possess any real love? or would such a love as that be approved and rewarded by God? Certainly not. “Even so then,” says he, “faith, if it have not works, is dead, being alone [Note: ver. 17.]:” and any person before whom you might boast of such a faith as that, might justly reply, “Shew me thy faith without thy works, (which you can never do:) and I will shew thee my faith by my works [Note: ver. 18.];” which is the only test to which such pretensions can be referred. Nay more, such a faith as that is no better than the faith of devils. “The devils believe that there is one God: and they tremble;” but they do not love. So you may believe that Jesus Christ is a Saviour; and you may be partially affected by that persuasion: but, if you do not love, your faith is no better than theirs: and, by pretending to a living and saving faith, when you have nothing but a dead and inoperative faith, you only shew, that you are a “vain,” ignorant, and self-deluded “man [Note: ver. 19, 20.].”

He now goes on to confirm these assertions by an appeal to the Scriptures themselves. “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 faith made perfect [Note: ver. 21, 22.]?” Abraham believed in the promised Seed, “in whom all the nations of the earth should be blessed.” But what kind of a faith was his? Was it unproductive of holy obedience? No: it led him to obey the hardest command that was ever given to mortal man, even to slay, and to reduce to ashes upon the altar, that very son, to whom the promises were made, and through whom alone they could ever be accomplished: so that his works evinced the truth and sincerity of his faith; and proved indisputably, that he was accepted of his God. His faith existed before: but now it operated; and “was made perfect by the works which it produced;” just as a tree is then only in a state of complete perfection, when it is laden with its proper fruits. The fruit indeed does not add to the vegetative power that produced it; but it evinces that power, and displays it in full perfection: and so did Abraham’s works evince the truth of the faith which previously existed in him, and complete the objects for which it had been bestowed. “And then was fulfilled the Scripture which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called, The friend of God [Note: ver. 23.].” The same he illustrates by another instance from Scripture, even that of Rahab, who evinced the truth of her faith, and was accepted in the exercise of it, when at the peril of her life she concealed the Jewish spies, and sent them home in safety to their own camp [Note: ver. 25.].

Now from all this he draws, as an unquestionable deduction, that very truth, which in the first instance he had only asserted; namely, that persons, whatever degrees of faith they might pretend to, could never be accepted of God, unless their faith wrought by love: “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only:” for as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also [Note: ver. 24, 26. If ver. 25. were put into a parenthesis, the connexion between ver. 24 and ver. 26 would more plainly appear, and the argument stand more full and complete.].]

Thus viewed, the argument is clear from beginning to end. That the terms which are used are strong, is certain: but then they may be accounted for from the general drift of the argument, and its immense importance to the Church of God. The Apostles do not measure words and syllables as we are apt to do, but speak in broad unqualified terms. St. Paul had done so on the subject of a sinner’s acceptance by faith alone: and St. James does so on the subject of those vain pretences to faith which were made by many who were destitute of good works: but an attention to the scope of their respective arguments will lead us to a just view, both of the terms which they use, and of the conclusions at which they arrive. St. James’s argument we have seen. Let us now attend to,

II. The conclusion drawn from it—

This must accord with the argument on which it is founded. If we make the premises refer to one thing, and the conclusion to another, or, if we make the conclusion broader than the premises, we destroy the argument altogether, and make the Apostle reason, not only as if he were not inspired, but as if he were not endowed with common sense. What then does his conclusion amount to? it amounts to this:

1. That the future judgment will proceed on grounds of perfect equity—

[God could, if it pleased him, assign to every man his portion in the eternal world, according to what he has seen existing in the heart. But it is his intention to shew before the whole universe, that, as the governor and the judge of all, he dispenses rewards and punishments on grounds which are not arbitrary, but strictly equitable. On this account the day of judgment is called “the day of the revelation of the righteous judgment of God [Note: Romans 2:5.].” If the judgment were passed on men solely on grounds which none but God could see, it would be impossible for any one to judge of the equity of his proceedings: but when the works of all are brought forth as witnesses of the inward dispositions and habits of their minds, all can see the correctness of the estimate which is formed of men’s characters, and the justice of the sentence that is passed upon them. This then is one part of the conclusion which the Apostle arrives at in the words before us: God will not judge of men by their faith, which he alone can discern, but by their works, which all may judge of as soon as ever they are laid before them. A man may pretend to faith of the strongest kind: but the inquiry will be, what effects did it produce? And, if the fruits which it produced were such as were insufficient to attest its genuine truth and excellence, they will be utterly disregarded; and God will say, “Depart from me, I never knew you, ye workers of iniquity [Note: Matthew 7:21-23.].” However confidently the truth and genuineness of it may be asserted by the persons themselves, God will not at all regard it, but will bring every thing to the test which is here established, and condemn or justify every man according to his works [Note: Matthew 12:36-37.].]

2. That faith, of whatever kind it be, is of no value, any farther than it is attested by works—

[If faith in the first instance apprehends Christ as a Saviour from guilt and condemnation, it does not rest there: it lays hold on him for sanctification, as well as for righteousness [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:30.]; and would account him not worthy of the name of Jesus, if he did not save his people from their sins [Note: Matthew 1:21.]. The characters given to faith in the inspired volume are inseparable from it: it works by love [Note: Galatians 5:6.], and overcomes the world [Note: 1 John 5:4.], and purifies the heart [Note: Acts 15:9.]: and if it produce not these effects, it will never benefit the soul. Knowing therefore in what way God will appreciate it hereafter, it becomes us to form a correct estimate of it now; and to weigh ourselves in the balance of the sanctuary now, that we may not be found wanting in the day of judgment.]

It will here be expected, of course, that we answer a common objection to the foregoing statement—

[It is said that St. Paul’s sentiments and declarations on this subject are directly opposed to those of St. James; since, after a long argument, he comes to this conclusion: “Therefore we conclude, that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law [Note: Romans 3:28.].” He goes farther still, and says, that “to him that worketh not, but believeth in him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness [Note: Romans 4:5.].” Now it may well be asked, ‘How can this be reconciled with the foregoing statement?’ I answer, ‘Only examine St. Paul’s argument, as you have that of St. James, and you will see that there is no opposition at all between their respective assertions.’ The two Apostles are writing on two different subjects. St. Paul is proving that a man is not to seek salvation by any righteousness of his own, but simply by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ: whereas St. James is proving, that the man who professes to have faith in Christ, must shew forth his faith by his works. St. Paul endeavours to convince the self-justiciary; St. James, the Antinomian;—St. Paul, by shewing, that works are nothing without faith; St. James, by shewing, that faith is nothing without works. St. Paul exalts Christ, as giving a title to heaven; St. James, as giving a meetness for heaven. St. Paul bends the whole force of his mind to establish the one leading doctrine of the Gospel; St. James, to have that doctrine adorned. Thus, according to the two Apostles, a man is justified by faith, because by it he is made righteous; and he is justified by works, because by them he is proved righteous: and God in justifying him, whether on the one ground, or the other, approves himself both “a just God and a Saviour.” We may render this matter somewhat more clear by means of a familiar illustration. A scion must be engrafted into a stock in order that it may live: and it must bring forth fruit in order to prove that it does live. Is there any opposition between these two assertions? None whatever. So then with Paul I assert, that man must be engrafted into Christ by faith, in order that he may live: and with St. James I assert, that he must bring forth fruits of righteousness, to prove that he does live. Without being engrafted into the stock, he can have no life: and, if he bring not forth good works, he shews that he has no life. These two positions are perfectly compatible with each other: and so, when properly understood, are the apparently opposite positions of these two Apostles.]

Hoping now that I have set the whole of this matter in a clear light, I conclude with a few words,

1. Of caution—

[Two things in particular I would caution you against: first, Do not separate faith and works; and next, Do not confound them.

Do not separate them, or imagine that you can be saved by either of them apart from the other: for faith, if it be alone, is dead; and works, if they be alone, leave you altogether destitute of any interest in Christ. If your faith be strong enough to remove mountains, yet, if it work not by love, it will leave you no better than “sounding brass, or tinkling cymbals.” And if your works be ever so perfect, they can never exceed what the law requires of you; and consequently, can never discharge the debt which you owe to God for your past violations of it: nor indeed can you ever in your present imperfect state fulfil the law so perfectly as not to come short of it every day you live: and consequently, every day you live, you stand in need of mercy for your daily transgressions, instead of purchasing heaven by your superabounding merits.

On the other hand, Do not confound the two, as though you were to be saved by faith and works united; or to have a first justification by faith, and a second justification by works. Either the one or the other of these errors will invalidate the whole Gospel; and will rob Christ of his glory, and you of your salvation. Christ is the only Saviour of sinful man: and his righteousness is that in which alone any child of man can be accepted before God. If you join any thing with that, you make it void: and, as far as respects you, “Christ will have died in vain [Note: Galatians 5:2; Galatians 5:4.].” The true way of salvation is this: go to Christ as a sinner: and seek salvation altogether through his atoning sacrifice, and his obedience unto death. But, when you have believed in him, be careful to “maintain good works,” yea, and to “excel in” good works [Note: Titus 3:8. προΐστασθαι.]. Then will Christ be honoured in every way: your faith will honour him as the alone Saviour of mankind; and your works will honour him as your Lord and Master. But remember to keep each in its place. In building an edifice, you do not build the superstructure first, (if I may so speak,) and then lay the foundation afterwards; nor do you mingle the foundation and superstructure in one indiscriminate mass: but you keep each in its place; and then it answers the end for which it was raised. So you must lay Christ as your foundation first; and afterwards raise on him the superstructure of good works: then shall you be found “workmen that need not be ashamed;” and both in your faith and in your works be justified before God.]

2. Of encouragement—

[Let not any apparent difficulties in this subject embarrass you. They will all vanish in an instant, if only you get a broken and contrite heart. It is surprising what light such a state of mind will reflect on the subject before us. It may not indeed enable you to solve all the verbal difficulties that may be raised: but, as far as relates to the main subject, it will scatter all doubts, as mist is scattered by the noon-day sun. It will convince you that no righteousness but that of Christ can ever avail for your acceptance before God: and, at the same time, that holiness is no less necessary for your final enjoyment of his favour. It will convince you too, that both faith and holiness, being the gifts of God, you have no reason to despair of attaining all that is necessary to your complete salvation; since God is pledged “not to despise the contrite heart,” or to withhold from his upright people the blessings either of grace or glory [Note: Psalms 84:11.].]

 


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on James 2:4". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/shh/james-2.html. 1832.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, November 18th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
ADVERTISEMENT
Commentary Navigator
Search This Commentary
Enter query in the box below
ADVERTISEMENT
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology