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Others, and among them Pool, (whose comment on this chapter is excellent) suppose, that St. Paul speaks of justification properly so called; and St. James of the manifestation, or proof of that justification. That, in this sense, the Apostles are perfectly reconcileable, I am ready to admit; but am inclined to doubt whether this is the sense, in which St. James is really to be understood.
By this time it must be evident to those who hear me, that there is some real difficulty in a comparison of this passage of St. James with the writings of St. Paul. By a real difficulty I do not intend, that there is any inconsistency between these two Apostles : for, I apprehend, there is none: but I intend, that there is so much obscurity in this discourse of St. James, as to have led divines of great respectability and worth to understand his words in
dif. ferent manners; and prevented them from agreeing, even when harmonious enough as to their general systems, in any one interpretation of the Apostle's expressions. Even this is not all. Luther went so far, as, on account of this very chapter, to deny the inspiration of St. James : and one of Luther's followers was so displeased with it, as to charge this Apostle with wilful falsehood.
St. James has been called, with more boldness than accuracy, a writer of paradoxes. This character was, I presume, given of him from the pithy, sententious, and figurative manner, in which he delivers his thoughts. This manner of writing, very common among the Asiatics, seems to have been, originally, derived from their poetry. The most perfect example of it in the poetical form, found in the Scriptures, is a part of the book of Proverbs, commencing with the 10th chapter, and ending with the 29th. Here, except in a few instances, there is no connexion intended, nor formed, between the successive sentences. The nine first chapters, the book of Job, and Ecclesiastes, are examples of the nearest approximation to this unconnected manner of writing, in continued discourses, which the Scriptures exhibit. In all these, although a particular subject is pursued through a considerable length, yet the connexion will be found, almost invariably, to lie in the thought only. The transitions are, accordingly, bold, and abrupt; and frequently demand no small degree of attention, in order to understand them. Probably, they are more obscure to us, than they were to the Asiatic nations, to whom this mode of writing was familiar: since we have learned from the Greeks to exhibit the connexions, and transitions of thought, universally, in words; and to indicate them clearly in the forms of expression. The wisdom of the son of Sirach, is another example of the same nature, which may be fairly classed with those already mentioned; as may.
also the prophecy of Hosea. Every person, in reading these writings, must perceive a degree of obscurity, arising, not only from the concise and figurative language, but from the abruptness of the transitions also, which at times renders it extremely difficult to trace the connexion of the thoughts.
St. James approaches nearer to this manner of writing, than any other prosaic writer in the Old or New Testament. He is bolder, more figurative, more concise, and more abrupt. That there should be some difficulty in understanding him satisfactorily ought to be expected as a thing of course. We cannot wonder, then, that different meanings should be annexed to the writings of this Apostle : and from this source only, as I believe, are these different interpretations derived.
Having premised these observations, of which the use may easily be perceived, I now assert, that both Apostles speak of the same justification ; that which is before God; and that they are perfectly harmonious in holding the doctrine of justification by faith without works.
To elucidate the truth of this assertion, it will be necessary to remark, that there are two totally different kinds of faith spoken of in the Scriptures; one, a speculative belief, or mere assent to probable evidence; the other, the confidence, which has been already described in these discourses. From the former of these, obedience to God never sprang, and cannot spring. The latter is the source of all obedience. As both, however, are called by the same name, each has, in its turn, been declared to be the faith to which justification is annexed. To both, this character was challenged in the days of the Apostles. That doctrine of Antinomianism, from which the name is derived, began in the days of the Apostles; viz. that we are released by the Gospel from obedience to the Law. Of course, whoever embraced this doctrine believed his faith to be sufficient for his justification, without any works of righteousness. Against this error, I believe with Doddridge and others, the Apostle James directed this discourse. The question which he discusses, was not whether we were justified by evangelical faith only; or, partially by that faith, and partially by the works which it produces ; but whether we are justified by faith, in its nature unproductive of works ; viz. mere speculative
belief; or, whether we are justified by faith of the Gospel, from which all works of righteousness flow, of course. That this account of the subject is true, I shall now attempt to prove.
St. James introduces his discussion of this subject with these questions: What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works ? Can faith save him? In the original it is a FIOTIS; the faith, which the man declares himself to have; or, as it is correctly rendered by Macknight, and various other commentators, this faith, can this faith save him? Undoubtedly it can, if it can justify him; but this is no where asserted in the Scriptures. The justifying faith of St. Paul is the faith which worketh by love; the faith of the heart, with which alone man believeth unto righteousness.
The uselessness of this faith St. James then elucidates by an allusion to that inactive and worthless benevolence, so celebrated, in
modern times, by Godwin and other philosophers. If a brother or sister be naked, and 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? As this philanthropy is not only of no use, and therefore of no value, but a reproach to him who professes it, because his conduct gives the lie to his professions ; so the faith of him, who believes the Gospel, and whose life is not governed by the all-important doctrines and precepts, which it contains, is equally destitute of worth, and equally reproachful to his character. İn the words of the Apostle in the following verse, it is dead, being alone ; or, as in the Greek, by itself.
In the 18th verse, he proves in the strongest manner, that such a faith is not the faith of Christians. Yea, a man, that is, a Christian; may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works : shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Christ taught the great doctrine, that Christians were to be known by their fruits only; and that these were the true, regular, and invariable, proofs of that faith, by which they were constituted Christians. But the faith, which is without works, is incapable of having its existence proved at all. This, therefore, cannot be the faith of Christians. In the 20th verse he exhibits this subject in a manner,
puts the account here given beyond all reasonable controversy. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well : the devils also, believe, and tremble. The devils, (Ta darmovia, the dæmons) are, and
, , by St. James are declared to be, the subjects of speculatíve belief; but it will not be pretended, that they can be the subjects of justifying faith. But St. James teaches us, that the faith, of which he is speaking, is the same with that of the devils.
With the same precision he exhibits the same thing under a different form, in the 20th verse. But wilt thou know, ( vain man! that faith without works is dead? The Greek words for vain man are avagwa's xsve ; properly rendered false man, or hypocrite. But surely the faith of the hypocrite is not the faith of the Gospel. The last part of this verse would be better translated a faith without works is dead, that is, a faith which is without works.
In the four following verses, St. James illustrates this subject by a comparison of this faith of the hyprocrite with that of Abraham. 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? 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. Ye see, then, how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.
In this part of the chapter all the real difficulty lies. To explain the true import of it, let St. James be his own commentator. After
having given us the declaration, that Abraham was justified by works, when he offered, or, as in the original, lifted up, Isaac upon the Altar, and taught us, that faith co-operated with his works ; and that by works his faith was perfected; he says, in the 23d verse, that the Scripture was fulfilled, that is, confirmed, which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness : and he was called the friend of God. This passage of Scripture is found in the xv. chapter, and the 6th verse of Genesis. That, which he believed, was these two declarations : This shall not be thine heir ; viz. Eliezer of Damascus ; but he, who shall come forth out of thine own bowels, shall be thine heir : and again ; Look toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be. Confiding in these promises was that act of Abraham, concerning which it is said, in the following verse, He believed in Jehovah, and he counted it to him for righteousness. The act of lifting up Isaac on the Altar, by which, St. James says, this Scripture was fulfilled, that is, confirmed, existed more than twenty years afterwards. In what sense, then, did that act confirm this declaration of Scripture? Plainly in this : it showed, that the faith of Abraham was the genuine faith of the Gospel ; a real, operative confidence in the promises of God. This it showed in a very forcible light, because the obedience was singularly great and self-denying. Exclusively of this, it will be difficult to find any sense, in which the declaration can be true. That Abraham was justified by faith, and by that very act of faith here recited, is expressly declared by St. Paul, Romans iv. and Galatians iži.; and therefore cannot be disputed. It is of no significance, here, to say, that Abraham's justification was not completed in this world, but will be completed at the final trial; or that it was completed, when he entered the future world. It is sufficient for the present purpose, that his title to justification was complete, and certain, when his faith was counted to him for righteousness. Had he then died, he would have been accepted of God; his sins would have been forgiven; and his soul made happy for ever. He, to whom all things are present, makes no new determinations concerning this subject. It is plain, then, that an act of obedience, existing a long time afterwards, could not alter that, which was past; nor affect in any manner the justification of Abraham, which was already made certain.
From these observations it is, I trust, sufficiently evident, that this very case put by St. James, is a clear proof, unless we are wil. ling to deny an express declaration of Scripture, as quoted by him, and written by Moses, that we are not justified, either partially or wholly, by works, in the common meaning of that phraseology; and that the true doctrine of St. James is no other, than that we are not justified by a speculative belief which is without works; but by the faith of the Gospel which worketh by love.
This is further evident from the last clause of the 23d verse : And he was called the friend of God. That, which made him the friend of God, was his faith, his confidence in God. The act of offering Isaac could in no sense make him the friend of God; but was merely a signal and glorious proof of this confidence, and the friendship, which it involved, and produced.
If these observations be admitted as just, it will be unnecessary to dwell on the two remaining verses. The case of Rahab, in the following verse, is perfectly explained by that of Abraham. In the concluding verse, St. James solemnly repeats the great doctrine of this passage, which, by repeating it in three different instances, he clearly proves to be the main thing, on which he meant to insist, in these concise and emphatical words: For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also; or as I should render it, a faith without works, that is, such a faith, as is without works. The meaning of St. James is not that Evangelical faith, when it is without works, is dead; for it cannot exist without producing good works; but that such a faith, as is unproductive of good works; viz. a mere, speculative belief; is dead; and like a corpse, from which the soul has fled, is absolutely useless, and loathsome to every beholder.
Having finished the remarks, which I proposed to make on this passage of St. James, I shall now proceed to show the real influence of good works on the justification of mankind.
ist. When we confide ourselves to Christ, we do it according to his own terms.
Among these, he has required us to do all things whatsoever he has commanded us ; and to walk as he also walked.
But his commands involve every good work; and his example has presented to us an universal system of good works, actually done by himself. To obey him, and to be like him, is therefore to perform every good work.
All this, also, he has required us to do voluntarily, faithfully, and alway. When, therefore, we confide in Christ, we surrender ourselves into his hands with a fixed intention, a cordial choice, of universal obedience, as our whole future conduct.
2dly. The faith of the Gospel cannot exist without good works.
To the 11th chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews 1 appeal as complete proof of this position. That principle in the soul, which produced the many, various, difficult, and exalted acts of obedience, recorded in this chapter, is beyond a debate the wellspring of all obedience. The connexion between these things is inseparable; and where the one does not exist, the other cannot. In this sense, then, a man is truly said to be justified by works ; that he, who has the good works, which spring from the faith of the Gospel, will be justified; and he, who has them not, will not be justified. The title of the believer to justification is certain, and complete, so soon as he believes; because he will never cease Vol. II.