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XX - THE DOCTRINE OF THE APOSTLE JAMES CONCERNING FAITH AND WORKS — ITS AGREEMENT WITH THAT OF ST. PAUL
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Seeming difference, no real contradiction, between the apostles Paul and James, concerning justification — This granted by all — Reasons of the seeming difference — The best rule of the interpretation of places of Scripture wherein there is an appearing repugnancy — The doctrine of justification according unto that rule principally to be learned from the writings of Paul — The reasons of his fullness and accuracy in the teaching of that doctrine — The importance of the truth; the opposition made unto it, and abuse of it — The design of the apostle James — Exceptions of some against the writings of St. Paul, scandalous and unreasonable — Not, in this matter, to be interpreted by the passage in James insisted on, chap.
2. — That there is no repugnancy between the doctrine of the two apostles demonstrated — Heads and grounds of the demonstration — Their scope, design, and end, not the same — That of Paul; the only case stated and determined by him — The design of the apostle James; the case proposed by him quite of another nature — The occasion of the case proposed and stated by him — No appearance of difference between the apostles, because of the several cases they speak unto — Not the same faith intended by them — Description of the faith spoken of by the one, and the other — Bellarmine’s arguments to prove true justifying faith to be intended by James, answered — Justification not treated of by the apostles in the same manner, nor used in the same sense, nor to the same end — The one treats of justification, as unto its nature and causes; the other, as unto its signs and evidence — Proved by the instances insisted on — How the Scripture was fulfilled, that Abraham believed in God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness, when he offered his son on the altar — Works the same, and of the same kind, in both the apostles — Observations on the discourse of James — No conjunction made by him between faith nor works in our justification, but an opposition — No distinction of a first and second justification in him — Justification ascribed by him wholly unto works — In what sense — Does not determine how a sinner may be justified before God; but how a professor may evidence himself so to be — The context opened from verse 14, to the end of the chapter The seeming difference that is between the apostles Paul and James in what they teach concerning faith, works, and justification, requires our consideration of it; for many do take advantage, from some words and expressions used by the latter, directly to oppose the doctrine fully and plainly declared by the former. But whatever is of that nature pretended, has been so satisfactorily already answered and removed by others, as that there is no great need to treat of it again. And although I suppose that there will not be an end of contending and writing in these causes, whilst we “know but in part, and prophesy but in part”; yet I must say that, in my judgment, the usual solution of this appearing difficulty, — securing the doctrine of justification by faith, through the imputation of the righteousness of Christ, from any concernment or contradiction in the discourse of St. James, chap. 2:14, to the end, — has not been in the least impeached, nor has had any new difficulty put upon it, in some late discourses to that purpose. I should, therefore, utterly forbear to speak any thing thereof, but that I suppose it will be expected in a discourse of this nature, and do hope that I also may contribute some light unto the clearing and vindication of the truth. To this purpose it may be observed, that, —
1. It is taken for granted, on all hands, that there is no real repugnancy or contradiction between what is delivered by these two apostles; for if that were so, the writings of one of them must be pseudepistolae, or falsely ascribed unto them whose names they bear, and uncanonical, — as the authority of the Epistle of James has been by some, both of old and of late, highly but rashly questioned. Wherefore, their words are certainly capable of a just reconciliation. That we cannot any of us attain thereunto, or that we do not agree therein, is from the darkness of our own minds, the weakness of our understandings, and, with too many, from the power of prejudices 2. It is taken also for granted, on all other occasions, that when there is an appearance of repugnancy or contradiction in any places of Scripture, if some, or any of them, do treat directly, designedly, and largely about the matter concerning which there is a seeming repugnancy or contradiction; and others, or any other, speak of the same things only “obiter,” occasionally, transiently, in order unto other ends; the truth is to be learned, stated, and fixed from the former places: or the interpretation of those places where any truth is mentioned only occasionally with reference unto other things or ends, is, as unto that truth, to be taken from and accommodated unto those other places wherein it is the design and purpose of the holy penman to declare it for its own sake, and to guide the faith of the church therein. And there is not a more rational and natural rule of the interpretation of Scripture among all them which are by common consent agreed upon.
3. According unto this rule, it is unquestionable that the doctrine of justification before God is to be learned from the writings of the apostle Paul, and from them is light to be taken into all other places of Scripture where it is occasionally mentioned. Especially it is so, considering how exactly this doctrine represents the whole scope of the Scripture, and is witnessed unto by particular testimonies occasionally given unto the same truth, without number: for it must be acknowledged that he wrote of this subject of our justification before God, on purpose to declare it for its own sake, and its use in the church; and that he does it fully, largely, and frequently, in a constant harmony of expressions. And he owns those reasons that pressed him unto fullness and accuracy herein, —
(1.) The importance of the doctrine itself. This he declares to be such as that thereon our salvation does immediately depend; and that it was the hinge whereon the whole doctrine of the gospel did turn, — “Articulus stantis aut cadentis ecclesiae,” Galatians 2:16-21; 5:4, 5.
(2.) The plausible and dangerous opposition that was then made unto it. This was so managed, and that with such specious pretenses, as that very many were prevailed on and turned from the truth by it (as it was with the Galatians), and many detained from the faith of the gospel out of a dislike unto it, Romans 10:3,4. What care and diligence this requires in the declaration of any truth, is sufficiently known unto them who are acquainted with these things; what zeal, care, and circumspection it stirred up the apostle unto, is manifest in all his writings.
(3.) The abuse which the corrupt nature of man is apt to put upon this doctrine of grace, and which some did actually pervert it unto.
This also himself takes notice of, and thoroughly vindicates it from giving the least countenance unto such wrestings and impositions. Certainly, never was there a greater necessity incumbent on any person fully and plainly to teach and declare a doctrine of truth, than was on him at that time in his circumstances, considering the place and duty that he was called unto. And no reason can be imagined why we should not principally, and in the first place, learn the truth herein from his declaration and vindication of it, if withal we do indeed believe that he was divinely inspired, and divinely guided to reveal the truth for the information of the church.
As unto what is delivered by the apostle James, so far as our justification is included therein, things are quite otherwise. He does not undertake to declare the doctrine of our justification before God; but having another design in hand, as we shall see immediately, he vindicates it from the abuse that some in those days had put it unto, as other doctrines of the grace of God, which they turned into licentiousness. Wherefore, it is from the writings of the apostle Paul that we are principally to learn the truth in this matter; and unto what is by him plainly declared is the interpretation of other places to be accommodated.
4. Some of late are not of this mind; they contend earnestly that Paul is to be interpreted by James, and not on the contrary. And unto this end they tell us that the writings of Paul are obscure, that sundry of the ancients take notice thereof, that many take occasion of errors from them, with sundry things of an alike nature, indeed scandalous to Christian religion; and that James, writing after him, is presumed to give an interpretation unto his sayings; which are therefore to be expounded and understood according unto that interpretation. Ans. First, As to the vindication of the writings of St. Paul, which begin now to be frequently reflected on with much severity (which is one effect of the secret prevalence of the Atheism of these days), as there is no need of it, so it is designed for a more proper place. Only I know not how any person that can pretend the least acquaintance with antiquity, can plead a passage out of Irenaeus, wherein he was evidently himself mistaken, or a rash word of Origin, or the like, in derogation from the perspicuity of the writings of this apostle, when they cannot but know how easy it were to overwhelm them with testimonies unto the contrary from all the famous writers of the church in several ages.
And as (for instance in one) Chrysostom in forty places gives an account why some men understood not his writings, which in themselves were so gloriously evident and perspicuous; so for their satisfaction, I shall refer them only unto the preface unto his exposition of his epistles: of which kind they will be directed unto more in due season. But he needs not the testimony of men, nor of the whole church together, whose safety and security it is to be built on that doctrine which he taught. In the meantime, it would not be unpleasant to consider (but that the perverseness of the minds of men is rather a real occasion of sorrow) how those who have the same design do agree in their conceptions about his writings: for some will have it, that if not all, yet the most of his epistles were written against the Gnostics, and in the confutation of their error; others, that the Gnostics took the occasion of their errors from his writings. So bold will men make with things divine to satisfy a present interest.
Secondly, This was not the judgment of the ancient church for three or four hundred years; for whereas the epistles of Paul were always esteemed the principal treasure of the church, the great guide and rule of the Christian faith, this of James was scarce received as canonical by many, and doubted of by the most, as both Eusebius and Jerome do testify.
Thirdly, The design of the apostle James is not at all to explain the meaning of Paul in his epistles, as is pretended; but only to vindicate the doctrine of the gospel from the abuse of such as used their liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, and, turning the grace of God into lasciviousness, continued in sin, under a pretense that grace had abounded unto that end.
Fourthly, The apostle Paul does himself, as we have declared, vindicate his own doctrine from such exceptions and abuses as men either made at it, or turned it into. Nor have we any other doctrine in his epistles than what he preached all the world over, and whereby he laid the foundation of Christian religion, especially among the Gentiles.
These things being premised, I shall briefly evidence that there is not the least repugnancy or contradiction between what is declared by these two apostles as unto our justification, with the causes of it. And this I shall do, —
2. By a particular explication of the context in that of St. James. And under the first head I shall manifest, —
(1.) That they have not the same scope, design, or end, in their discourses; that they do not consider the same question, nor state the same case, nor determine on the same inquiry; and therefore, not speaking “ad idem,” unto the same thing, do not contradict one another.
(2.) That as faith is a word of various signification in the Scripture, and does, as we have proved before, denote that which is of diverse kinds, they speak not of the same faith, or faith of the same kind; and therefore there can be no contradiction in what the one ascribes unto it and the other derogates from it, seeing they speak not of the same faith.
(3.) That they do not speak of justification in the same sense, nor with respect unto the same ends.
(4.) That as unto works, they both intend the same, namely, the works of obedience unto the moral law.
(1.) As to the scope and design of the apostle Paul, the question which he answers, the case which he proposes and determines upon, are manifest in all his writings, especially his Epistles unto the Romans and Galatians. The whole of his purpose is, to declare how a guilty, convinced sinner comes, through faith in the blood of Christ, to have all his sins pardoned, to be accepted with God, and obtain a right unto the heavenly inheritance; that is, be acquitted and justified in the sight of God. And as the doctrine hereof belonged eminently unto the gospel, whose revelation and declaration unto the Gentiles was in a peculiar manner committed unto him; so, as we have newly observed, he had an especial reason to insist much upon it from the opposition that was made unto it by the Jews and judaizing Christians, who ascribed this privilege unto the law, and our own works of obedience in compliance therewithal. This is the case he states, this the question he determines, in all his discourses about justification; and in the explication thereof declares the nature and causes of it, as also vindicates it from all exceptions. For whereas men of corrupt minds, and willing to indulge unto their lusts (as all men naturally desire nothing but what God has made eternally inconsistent, — namely, that they may live in sin here, and come to blessedness hereafter), might conclude that if it were so as he declared, that we are justified freely, through the grace of God, by the imputation of a righteousness that originally and inherently is not our own, then was there no more required of us, no relinquishment of sin, no attendance unto the duties of righteousness and holiness; he obviates such impious suggestions, and shows the inconsequence of them on the doctrine that he taught. But this he does not do in any place by intimating or granting that our own works of obedience or righteousness are necessary unto, or have any causal influence into, our justification before God. Had there been a truth herein, were not a supposition thereof really inconsistent with the whole of his doctrine, and destructive of it, he would not have omitted the plea of it, nor ought so to have done, as we have showed. And to suppose that there was need that any other should explain and vindicate his doctrine from the same exceptions which he takes notice of, by such a plea as he himself would not make use of, but rejects, is foolish and impious.
He does not inquire, or give intimation of any such inquiry; he does not state the case how a guilty, convinced sinner, whose mouth is stopped as unto any plea or excuse for himself, may come to be justified in the sight of God; that is, receive the pardon of sins and the gift of righteousness unto life. To resolve this question into our own works, is to overthrow the whole gospel. But he had in hand a business quite of another nature; for, as we have said, there were many in those days who professed the Christian religion, or faith in the gospel, whereon they presumed that as they were already justified, so there was nothing more needful unto them that they might be saved. A desirable estate they thought they had attained, suited unto all the interest of the flesh, whereby they might live in sin and neglect of all duty of obedience, and yet be eternally saved. Some suppose that this pernicious conceit was imbibed by them from the poisonous opinions that some had then divulged, according as the apostle Paul foretold that it would come to pass, 2 Timothy 4:1-4: for it is generally conceived that Simon Magus and his followers had by this time infected the minds of many with their abominations; and amongst them this was one, and not the least pernicious, that by faith was intended a liberty from the law and unto sin, or unto them that had it, the taking away of all difference between good and evil; which was afterward improved by Basilides, Valentinus, and the rest of the Gnostics. Or, it may be, it was only the corruption of men’s hearts and lives that prompted them to seek after such a countenance unto sin. And this latter I judge it was. There were then among professed Christians, such as the world now swarms withal, who suppose that their faith, or the religion which they profess, be it what it will, shall save them, although they live in flagitious wickedness, and are utterly barren as unto any good works or duties of obedience.
Nor is there any other occasion of what he writes intimated in the epistle; for he makes no mention of seducers, as John does expressly and frequently, some while after. Against this sort of persons, or for their conviction, he designs two things, — First, In general, to prove the necessity of works unto all that profess the gospel or faith in Christ thereby. Second, To evidence the vanity and folly of their pretense unto justification, or that they were justified and should be saved by that faith that was indeed so far from being fruitful in good works, as that it was pretended by them only to countenance themselves in sin. Unto these ends are all his arguings designed, and no other. He proves effectually that the faith which is wholly barren and fruitless as unto obedience, and (by) which men pretended to countenance themselves in their sins, is not that faith whereby we are justified, and whereby we may be saved, but a dead carcass, of no use nor benefit; as he declares by the conclusion of his whole dispute, in the last verse of the chapter. He does not direct any how they may be justified before God, but convinces some that they are not justified by trusting unto such a dead faith; and declares the oddly way whereby any man may really evidence and manifest that he is so justified indeed. This design of his is so plain as nothing can be more evident; and they miss the whole scope of the apostle who observe it not in their expositions of the context. Wherefore, the principal design of the apostles being so distant, there is no repugnancy in their assertions, though their words make an appearance thereof; for they do not speak “ad idem,” nor of things “eodem respectu.” James does not once inquire how a guilty, convinced sinner, cast and condemned by the law, may come to be justified before God; and Paul speaks to nothing else. Wherefore, apply the expressions of each of them unto their proper design and scope, — as we must do, or we depart from all sober rules of interpretation, and render it impossible to understand either of them aright, — and there is no disagreement, or appearance of it, between them.
(2.) They speak not of the same faith. Wherefore, there can be no discrepancy in what one ascribes unto faith and the other denies concerning it, seeing they understand not the same thing thereby; for they speak not of the same faith. As if one affirms that fire will burn, and another denies it, there is no contradiction between them, whilst one intends real fire, and the other only that which is painted, and both declare themselves accordingly. For we have proved before that there are two sorts of faith wherewith men are said to believe the gospel, and make profession thereof; as also that that which belongs unto the one does not belong unto the other. None, I suppose, will deny but that by “faith,” in the matter of our justification, St. Paul intends that which is “kurios”, or properly so called. The “faith of God’s elect,” “precious faith,” “more precious than gold,” “the faith that purifieth the heart, and worketh by love,” “the faith whereby Christ dwelleth in us, and we abide in him, whereby we live to God,” “a living faith,” is that alone which he intends. For all these things, and other spiritual effects without number, does he ascribe unto that faith which he insists on, to be on our part the only means of our justification before God. But as unto the faith intended by the apostle James, he assigns nothing of all this unto it; yea, the only argument whereby he proves that men cannot be saved by that faith which he treats of, is that nothing of all this is found in it. That which he intends is, what he calls it, a dead faith, a carcass without breath, the faith of devils, a wordy faith, that is no more truly what it is called, than it is true charity to send away naked and hungry persons without relief, but not without derision.
Well may he deny justification in any sense unto this faith, however boasted of, when yet it may be justly ascribed unto that faith which Paul speaks of.
Bellarmine uses several arguments to prove that the faith here intended by James is justifying faith considered in itself; but they are all weak to contempt, as being built on this supposition, that true justifying faith is nothing but a real assent unto the catholic doctrine or divine revelation: De Justificat. lib. 1 cap.
15. His first is, “That James calleth it ‘faith’ absolutely, whereby always in the Scripture true faith is intended.” Ans.
1. James calls it a dead faith, the faith of devils, and casts all manner of reproach upon it; which he would not have done on any duty or grace truly evangelical.
2. Every faith that is true as unto the reality of assent which is given by it unto the truth, is neither living, justifying, nor saving; as has been proved.
3. They are said to have faith absolutely, or absolutely to believe, who never had that faith which is true and saving, John 2:23; Acts 8:13. Secondly, He urges, “That in the same place and chapter he treats of the faith of Abraham, and affirms that it wrought with his works, chap. 2:22, 23; but this a vain shadow of faith does not do: it was therefore true faith, and that which is most properly called so, that the apostle intends.” Ans. This pretense is indeed ridiculous; for the apostle does not give the faith of Abraham as an instance of that faith which he had treated with so much severity, but of that which is directly contrary unto it, and whereby he designed to prove that the other faith which he had reflected on was of no use nor advantage unto them that had it; for this faith of Abraham produced good works, which the other was wholly without. Thirdly, He urges verse 24, “‘Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only;’ for the faith that James speaks of justifies with works, but a false faith, the shadow of a faith, does not so: it is therefore true, saving faith whereof the apostle speaks.” Ans. He is utterly mistaken: for the apostle does not ascribe justification partly to works, and partly to faith; but he ascribes justification, in the sense by him intended, wholly to works, in opposition to that faith concerning which he treats. For there is a plain antithesis in the words between works and faith as unto justification, in the sense by him intended. A dead faith, a faith without works, the faith of devils, is excluded from having any influence into justification. Fourthly, He adds, “That the apostle compares this faith without works unto a rich man that gives nothing unto the poor, verse 16; and a body without a spirit, verse 26: wherefore, as that knowledge whereby a rich man knows the wants of the poor is true and real, and a dead body is a body; so is faith without works true faith also, and as such is considered by St. James.” Ans.
These things do evidently destroy what they are produced in the confirmation of, only the cardinal helps them out with a little sophistry; for whereas the apostle compares this faith unto the charity of a man that gives nothing to the poor, he suggests in the room thereof his knowledge of their poverty.
And his knowledge may be true, and the more true and certain it is, the more false and feigned is the charity which he pretends in these words, “Go, and be fed and clothed.” Such is the faith the apostle speaks of. And although a dead body is a true body, — that is, as unto the matter or substance of it, a carcass, — yet is it not an essential part of a living man.
A carcass is not of the same nature or kind as is the body of a living man. And we assert no other difference between the faith spoken of by the apostle and that which is justifying, than what is between a dead, breathless carcass, and a living animated body, prepared and fitted for all vital acts.
Wherefore, it is evident beyond all contradiction, if we have not a mind to be contentious, that what the apostle James here derogates from faith as unto our justification, it respects only a dead, barren, lifeless faith, such as is usually pretended by ungodly men to countenance themselves in their sins. And herein the faith asserted by Paul has no concern. The consideration of the present condition of the profession of faith in the world, will direct us unto the best exposition of this place.
(3.) They speak not of justification in the same sense nor unto the same end; it is of our absolute justification before God, — the justification of our persons, our acceptance with him, and the grant of a right unto the heavenly inheritance, — that the apostle Paul does treat, and thereof alone. This he declares in all the causes of it; all that on the part of God, or on our part, concurs thereunto. The evidence, the knowledge, the sense, the fruit, the manifestation of it in our own consciences, in the church, unto others that profess the faith, he treats not of; but speaks of them separately as they occur on other occasions. The justification he treats of is but one, and at once accomplished before God, changing the relative state of the person justified; and is capable of being evidenced various ways, unto the glory of God and the consolation of them that truly believe. Hereof the apostle James does not treat at all; for his whole inquiry is after the nature of that faith whereby we are justified, and the only way whereby it may be evidenced to be of the right kind, such as a man may safely trust unto. Wherefore, he treats of justification only as to the evidence and manifestation of it; nor had he any occasion to do otherwise. And this is apparent from both the instances whereby he confirms his purpose. The first is that of Abraham, verse 21-23: for he says, that by Abraham’s being justified by works, in the way and manner wherein he asserts him so to have been, “the Scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness”. And if his intention were to prove that we are justified before God by works, and not by faith, because Abraham was so, the testimony produced is contrary, yea, directly contradictory, unto what should be proved by it; and accordingly is alleged by Paul to prove that Abraham was justified by faith without works, as the words do plainly import. Nor can any man declare how the truth of this proposition, “Abraham was justified by works,” (intending absolute justification before God, ) was that wherein that Scripture was fulfilled, “Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness”; especially considering the opposition that is made both here and elsewhere between faith and works in this matter. Besides, he asserts that Abraham was justified by works then when he had offered his son on the altar; the same we believe also but only inquire in what sense he was so justified: for it was thirty years or thereabout after it was testified concerning him that “he believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness”; and when righteousness was imputed unto him he was justified; and twice justified in the same sense, in the same way, with the same kind of justification, he was not. How, then, was he justified by works when he offered his son on the altar? He that can conceive it to be any otherwise but that he was by his work, in the offering of his son, evidenced and declared in the sight of God and man to be justified, apprehends what I cannot attain unto, seeing that he was really justified long before; as is unquestionable and confessed by all. He was, I say, then justified in the sight of God in the way declared, Genesis 22:12; and gave a signal testimony unto the sincerity of his faith and trust in God, manifesting the truth of that Scripture, “He believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness”. And, in the quotation of this testimony, the apostle openly acknowledges that he was really accounted righteous, had righteousness imputed unto him, and was justified before God (the reasons and causes whereof he therefore considers not), long before that justification which he ascribes unto his works; which, therefore, can be nothing but the evidencing, proving, and manifestation of it: whence also it appears of what nature that faith is whereby we are justified, the declaration whereof is the principal design of the apostle. In brief, the Scripture alleged, that “Abraham believed, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness,” was fulfilled when he was justified by works on the offering of his son on the altar, either by the imputation of righteousness unto him, or by a real efficiency or working righteousness in him, or by the manifestation and evidence of his former justification, or some other way must be found out. First, That it was not by imputation, or that righteousness unto the justification of life was not then first imputed unto him, is plain in the text; for it was so imputed unto him long before, and that in such a way as the apostle proves thereby that righteousness is imputed without works. Secondly, That he was not justified by a real efficiency of a habit of righteousness in him, or by any way of making him inherently righteous who was before unrighteous, is plain also; because he was righteous in that sense long before, and had abounded in the works of righteousness unto the praise of God. It remains, therefore, that then, and by the work mentioned, he was justified as unto the evidencing and manifestation of his faith and justification thereon. His other instance is of Ahab; concerning whom he asserts that she was “justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and sent them away.” But she received the spies “by faith,” as the holy Ghost witnesses, Hebrews 11:31; and therefore had true faith before their coming; and if so was really justified: for that any one should be a true believer and yet not be justified, is destructive unto the foundation of the gospel. In this condition she received the messengers, and made unto them a full declaration of her faith, Joshua 2:9-11. After her believing and justification thereon, and after the confession she had made of her faith, she exposed her life by concealing and sending of them away. Hereby did she justify the sincerity of her faith and confession; and in that sense alone is said to be “justified by works.” And in no other sense does the apostle James, in this place, make mention of justification; which he does also only occasionally.
(4.) As unto “works,” mentioned by both apostles, the same works are intended, and there is no disagreement in the least about them; for as the apostle James intends by works duties of obedience unto God, according to the law, — as is evident from the whole first part of the chapter, which gives occasion unto the discourse of faith and works, — so the same are intended by the apostle Paul also, as we have proved before.
And as unto the necessity of them in all believers, as unto other ends, so as evidences of their faith and justification, it is no less pressed by the one than the other; as has been declared.
These things being in general premised, we may observe some things in particular from the discourse of the apostle James, sufficiently evidencing that there is no contradiction therein unto what is delivered by the apostle Paul concerning our justification by faith, and the imputation of righteousness without works, nor to the doctrine which from him we have learned and declared; as, —
1. He makes no composition or conjunction between faith and works in our justification, but opposes them the one to the other; asserting the one and rejecting the other, in order unto our justification.
2. He makes no distinction of a first and second justification, of the beginning and continuation of justification, but speaks of one justification only; which is our first personal justification before God. Neither are we concerned in any other justification in this cause whatever.
3. That he ascribes this justification wholly unto works, in contradistinction unto faith, as unto that sense of justification which he intended, and the faith whereof he treated. Wherefore, —
4. He does not at all inquire or determine how a sinner is justified before God, but how professors of the gospel can prove or demonstrate that they are so, and that they do not deceive themselves by trusting unto a lifeless and barren faith. All these things will be farther evidenced in a brief consideration of the context itself; wherewith I shall close this discourse.
In the beginning of the chapter unto verse 14, he reproves those unto whom he wrote for many sins committed against the law, the rule of their sins and obedience, or at least warns them of them; and having showed the danger they were in hereby, he discovers the root and principal occasion of it, verse 14; which was no other but a vain surmise and deceiving presumption that the faith required in the gospel was nothing but a bare assent unto the doctrine of it, whereon they were delivered from all obligation unto moral obedience or good works, and might, without any danger unto their eternal state, live in whatever sins their lusts inclined them unto, chap. 4:1-4; 5:1-6. The state of such persons, which contains the whole cause which he speaks unto, and which gives rule and measure unto the interpretation of all his future arguing, is laid down, verse 14, “What does it profit, my brethren, though a man say he has faith, and have not works? Can faith save him?” Suppose a man, any one of those who are guilty of the sins charged on them in the foregoing verses, do yet say, or boast of himself, that he has faith; that he makes profession of the gospel; that he has left either Judaism or Paganism, and betaken himself to the faith of the gospel; and therefore, although he be destitute of good works and live in sin, he is accepted with God, and shall be saved; — will, indeed, this faith save him? This, therefore, is the question proposed, — Whereas the gospel says plainly, that “he who believeth shall be saved,” whether that faith which may and does consist with an indulgence unto sin, and a neglect of duties of obedience, is that faith whereunto the promise of life and salvation is annexed? And thereon the inquiry proceeds, How any man, — in particular, he who says he has faith, — may prove and evidence himself to have that faith which will secure his salvation? And the apostle denies that this is such a faith as can consist without works, or that any man can evidence himself to have true faith any otherwise but by works of obedience only; and in the proof hereof does his whole ensuing discourse consist. Not once does he propose unto consideration the means and causes of the justification of a convinced sinner before God, nor had he any occasion so to do; so that his words are openly wrested when they are applied unto any such intention.
That the faith which he intends and describes is altogether useless unto the end pretended to be attainable by it, — namely, salvation, — he proves in an instance of, and by comparing it with, the love or charity of an alike nature, verses 15, 16, “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 filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what does it profit?” This love or charity is not that gospel grace which is required of us under that name; for he who behaves himself thus towards the poor, the love of God dwelleth not in him, 1 John 3:17.
Whatever name it may have, whatever it may pretend unto, whatever it may be professed or accepted for, love it is not, nor has any of the effects of love; it is neither useful nor profitable. Hence the apostle infers, verse 17, “Even so faith, if it has not works, is dead, being alone.” For this was that which he undertook to prove; — not that we are not justified by faith alone, without works, before God; but that the faith which is alone, without works, is dead, useless, and unprofitable.
Having given this first evidence unto the conclusion which, “in thesi,” he designed to prove, he reassumes the question and states it “in hypothesi,” so as to give it a more full demonstration, verse 18, “Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: show me thy faith without thy works,” (that is, which is without works, or by thy works, ) “and I will show thee my faith by my works.” It is plain, beyond denial, that the apostle does here again propose his main question only on a supposition that there is a dead, useless faith; which he had proved before. For now all the inquiry remaining is, how true faith, or that which is of the right gospel kind, may be showed, evidenced, or demonstrated, so as that their folly may appear who trust unto any other faith whatever? “Deixon moi ten pistin sou”, — “Evidence or demonstrate thy faith to be true by the only means thereof, which is works.” And therefore although he say, “Thou hast faith,” that is, “Thou professes and boastest that thou hast that faith whereby thou mayest be saved,” — “and I have works,” he does not say, “Show me thy faith by thy works, and I will show thee my works by my faith,” which the antithesis would require; but, “I will show thee my faith by my works,” because the whole question was concerning the evidencing of faith and not of works.
That this faith, which cannot be evidenced by works, which is not fruitful in them, but consists only in a bare assent unto the truth of divine revelation, is not the faith that does justify or will save us, he farther proves, in that it is no other but what the devils themselves have; and no man can think or hope to be saved by that which is common unto them with devils, and wherein they do much exceed them, verse 19, “Thou believest there is one God; thou does well: the devils also believe, and tremble.” The belief of one God is not the whole of what the devils believe, but is singled out as the principal, fundamental truth, and on the concession whereof an assent unto all divine revelation does necessarily ensue. And this is the second argument whereby he proves an empty, barren faith to be dead and useless.
The second confirmation being given unto his principal assertion, he restates it in that way, and under those terms, wherein he designed it unto its last confirmation: “But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?” verse 20. And we may consider in the words, — First, The person with whom he deals, whose conviction he endeavored: him he calls a vain man; — not in general, as every man living is altogether vanity, but as one who in an especial manner is vainly puffed up in his own fleshly mind, — one that has entertained vain imaginations of being saved by an empty profession of the gospel, without any fruit of obedience.
Secondly, That which he designs with respect unto this vain man is his conviction, — a conviction of that foolish and pernicious error that he had imbibed: “Wilt thou know, O vain man?” Thirdly, That which alone he designed to convince him of is, that “faith without works is dead”; — that is, the faith which is without works, which is barren and unfruitful, is dead and useless. This is that alone, and this is all, that he undertakes to prove by his following instances and arguing; neither do they prove any more.
This, therefore, he proves by the consideration of the faith of Abraham, verse 21, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?” Some things must be observed to clear the mind of the apostle herein; as, —
1. It is certain that Abraham was justified many years before the work instanced in was performed; for long before was that testimony given concerning him, “He believed in the LORD, and he counted it unto him for righteousness”: and the imputation of righteousness upon believing is all the justification we inquire after or will contend about.
2. It is certain that, in the relation of the story here repeated by the apostle, there is not any one word spoken of Abraham’s being then justified before God, by that or any other work whatever. But, 3. It is plain and evident that, in the place related unto, Abraham was declared to be justified by an open attestation unto his faith and fear of God as sincere, and that they had evidenced themselves so to be in the sight of God himself; which God condescends to express by an assumption of human affections, Genesis 22:12, “Now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, from me.” That this is the justification which the apostle intends, cannot be denied but out of love to strife; and this was the manifestation and declaration of the truth and sincerity of his faith whereby he was justified before God. And hereby the apostle directly and undeniably proves what he produces this instance for, — namely, that “faith without works is dead.” 4. It is no less evident that the apostle had not spoken any thing before as unto our justification before God, and the means thereof; and is therefore absurdly imagined here to introduce it in the proof of what he had before asserted, which it does not prove at all.
5. The only safe rule of interpreting the meaning of the apostle, next unto the scope and design of his present discourse, which he makes manifest in the reiterated proposition of it, is the scope of the places, (and the) matter of fact, with its circumstances, which he refers unto and takes his proof from. And they were plainly these, and no other: — Abraham had been long a justified believer; for there were thirty years, or thereabout, between the testimony given thereunto, Genesis 15, and the story of sacrificing his son, related Genesis 22. All this while he walked with God, and was upright in a course of holy, fruitful obedience; yet it pleased God to put his faith, after many others, unto a new, his greatest, his last trial. And it is the way of God, in the covenant of grace, to try the faith of them that believe, by such ways as seem meet unto him. Hereby he manifests how precious it is (the trial of faith making it appear to be “more precious than gold,” 1 Peter 1:7), and raises up glory unto himself; which is in the nature of faith to give unto him, Romans 4:20. And this is the state of the case as proposed by the apostle, — namely, how it may be tried whether the faith which men profess be genuine, precious, “more precious than gold,” of the right nature with that whereunto the gospel promise of salvation is annexed. Secondly, This trial was made by works, or by one signal duty of obedience prescribed unto him for that very end and purpose; for Abraham was to be proposed as a pattern unto all that should afterwards believe. And God provided a signal way for the trial of his faith, — namely, by an act of obedience. which was so far from being enjoined by the moral law, that it seemed contrary unto it. And if he be proposed unto us as a pattern of justification by works in the sight of God, it must be by such works as God has not required in the moral law, but such as seem to be contrary thereunto. Nor can any man receive any encouragement to expect justification by works, by telling him that Abraham was justified by works, when he offered up his only son to God; for it will be easy for him to say, that as no such work was ever performed by him, so none such was ever required of him. But, Thirdly, Upon Abraham’s compliance with the command of God, given him in the way of trial, God himself “anthropopathoos” declares the sincerity of his faith and his justi- fication thereon, or his gracious acceptance of him. This is the whole design of the place which the apostle traduces into his purpose; and it contains the whole of what he was to prove, and no more. Plainly it is granted in it that we are not justified by our works before God, seeing he instances only in a work performed by a justified believer many years after he was absolutely justified before God. But this is evidently proved hereby, — namely, that “faith without works is dead”; seeing justifying faith, as is evident in the case of Abraham, is that, and that alone, which brings forth works of obedience: for on such a faith alone is a man evidenced, declared, and pronounced to be justified or accepted with God.
Abraham was not then first justified; he was not then said to be justified; — he was declared to be justified, and that by and upon his works: which contains the whole of what the apostle intends to prove.
There is, therefore, no appearance of the least contradiction between this apostle and Paul, who professedly asserts that Abraham was not justified before God by works; for James only declares that by the works which he performed after he was justified he was manifested and declared so to be.
And that this was the whole of his design he manifests in the next verse, where he declares what he had proved by this instance, verse 22, “Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?” Two things he enforces as proved unto the conviction of him with whom he had to do: —
1. That true faith will operate by works; so did Abraham’s, — it was effective in obedience.
2. That it was made perfect by works; that is, evidenced so to be, — for “teleios, teleioumai,” does nowhere in the Scripture signify the internal, formal perfecting of any thing, but only the external complement or perfection of it, or the manifestation of it. It was complete as unto its proper effect, when he was first justified; and it was now manifested so to be. See Matthew 5:48; Colossians 4:12; 2 Corinthians 12:9. “This,” says the apostle, “I have proved in the instance of Abraham, — namely, that it is works of obedience alone that can evince a man to be justified, or to have that faith whereby he may be so.” He adds, in the confirmation of what he had affirmed, verse 23, “And the Scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness, and he was called The friend of God.”
Two things the apostle affirms herein: —
1. That the Scripture mentioned was fulfilled. It was so in that justification by works which he ascribes unto Abraham. But how this Scripture was herein fulfilled, either as unto the time wherein it was spoken, or as unto the thing itself, any otherwise but as that which is therein asserted was evidenced and declared, no man can explain. What the Scripture affirmed so long before of Abraham was then evidenced to be most true, by the works which his faith produced; and so that Scripture was accomplished. For otherwise, supposing the distinction made between faith and works by himself, and the opposition that he puts between them, adding thereunto the sense given of this place by the apostle Paul, with the direct importance of the words, and nothing can be more contradictory unto his design (namely, if he intended to prove our justification before God by works) than the quotation of this testimony. Wherefore, this Scripture was (not), nor can be, otherwise fulfilled by Abraham’s justification by works, but only that by and upon them he was manifested so to be.
2. He adds, that hereon he was called The friend of God. So he is, Isaiah 41:8; as also, 2 Chronicles 20:7. This is of the same importance with his being justified by works: for he was not thus called merely as a justified person, but as one who had received singular privileges from God, and answered them by a holy walking before him. Wherefore, his being called “The friend of God,” was God’s approbation of his faith and obedience; which is the justification by works that the apostle asserts. Hereon he makes a double conclusion (for the instance of Rahab being of the same nature, and spoken unto before, I shall not insist again upon it): — l. As unto his present argument, verse 24.
2. As unto the whole of his design, verse 26. The first is, “That by works a man is justified, and not by faith only”; — “Ye see then, you whom I design to convince of the vanity of that imagination, that you are justified by a dead faith, a breathless carcase of faith, a mere assent unto the truth of the gospel, and profession of it, consistent with all manner of impiety, and wholly destitute of good fruits: you may see what faith it is that is required unto justification and salvation. For Abraham was declared to be righteous, to be justified, on that faith which wrought by works, and not at all by such a faith as you pretend unto.” A man is justified by works, as Abraham was when he had offered up his son to God; that is, what he really was by faith long before, as the Scripture testifies, was then and thereby evidenced and declared. And, therefore, let no man suppose that by the faith which they boasted of, any one is or can be justified, seeing that whereon Abraham was declared to be so, was that which evidenced itself by its fruits.
2. He lays down that great conclusion; which he had evinced by his whole disputation, and which at first he designed to confirm, verse 26, “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” A breathless carcase and an unworking faith are alike, as unto all the ends of natural or spiritual life. This was that which the apostle designed from the beginning to convince vain and barren professors of; which, accordingly, he has given sufficient reason and testimony for. <> <> <> <> <> <> <>