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Written by T.S. Dalton   



The apostle James, in this chapter, is showing the error of some who would rest in the bare, belief that if a man had faith that was all that was necessary, while the tenor of their lives was altogether disagreeable to that holy religion they professed. From this text, and also Paul to Romans iii. 28, in which Paul says, "A man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law," some have found to their understanding a palpable contradiction. But it is evident to all Bible scholars that they were speaking of different kinds, or sorts of justification. Paul was speaking of, works wrought in obedience to the law of Moses, and before they possessed the true faith of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And James was speaking of works done in obedience to the gospel, and as the proper and necessary effects and fruits of a sound faith in Jesus Christ. Therefore Paul was showing the insufficiency of any works of the law (or conditions) before faith which would be in opposition to the doctrine of justification by Jesus Christ and his work; and James by showing what are the genuine and necessary products, and operations of that justification by faith in the atoning merits of Christ.

Paul not only speaks of different works from those insisted on by James, but quite a different use made of good works from what is here intended by James. Paul had to do with those who depended on the merit of their works in the sight of God, "and expected to get to heaven upon them, therefore Paul would show them to be no manner of account to those who depend upon them in that way. While James had to do with a class who cried up faith, and would not allow good works to be used even as evidences of the gracious state of the person, and thereby justify them in the eyes of their brethren, and with such he might well urge the necessity and vast importance of good works.

The justification Paul spoke of is altogether different from that spoken of by James. Paul speaks of our persons being justified before God, and James speaks of our faith being justified before men. Our persons are justified before God by faith in the atoning merits of Christ, but our faith is justified before men by works.

James then starts out from verse 21 to prove his assertions by examples: The attentive reader must see in what a powerful manner Abraham's faith in the promise of God operated to produce good works in obedience to His commands in the most trying circumstances, universally and without reserve. Abraham's justification by faith took place many years before he was commanded to sacrifice Isaac, but his obedience in that respect proved him to be a sound character, and justified him as a true believer, and a devoted servant of God. So then it was evident that there was a good and important sense in which a man was justified by works, and not by faith only, as his works must be appealed to for the justification of his professed faith before men, and it is by this means only that we can judge between the true Christian and the hypocrite.

It is through the redemption in Christ Jesus alone that we are justified before God, and are counted worthy of a home in glory. But the good works of the true believer from the time he was born of God, and thereby became a new creature in Christ, to that of his death, how long or short that may be, will alone suffice to distinguish his living faith, from the dead faith of mere professors, to justify him against every charge of hypocrisy, and to prove his claims good (to those that surround him) to a home in glory. You see then that works may and do contribute to show a man's justification, while faith alone will not do it. This shows that there is no discrepancy between Paul and James.

Therefore we cannot agree with those who to invalidate Paul speak of him as speaking in a much darker age than James, and therefore was not so well advised, and would have James to come after, as Paul's interpreter, to help him out; as though Paul was not able to explain himself, and rightly to manage and apply his own doctrine which he insists upon so largely, and which James does not deny at all, neither comes in contact with, but rather proves the same to be true. And if we had to question the authority of either, it should be rather the testimony of James, because his epistle has been called in doubt, and the others never were. But we would not offer to question either as not authentic, neither have we any need to work that way to prove the point we are after, for they are too easily reconciled for that to become a necessity. For that James does not mean the justification of our persons before the Lord and that Paul does, is evident, for James himself says, "The scripture was fulfilled, which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness."

Abraham obeyed God in that trying and difficult service of offering his son Isaac upon the altar, and in this did appear what was said of him, in the above Scripture, and gave evidence and verification of it, that his faith was imputed to him for justification and that justification was indeed many years before he made this attempt to sacrifice Isaac, and long even before Isaac was born. And if Abraham was justified before he wrought the works mentioned, then he could not be justified by the works, unless it be in some other sense of justification. Therefore it must be a fact that James speaks of the declarative justification, and for this reason he can make the demand, "Show me thy faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works;" not produce faith by works, but show it, manifest it. The idea is, let me see such signs of it that in the judgment of charity (not infallibility) I may pronounce upon it as the Lord did upon Abraham's, which He said, "Now I know that thou fearest God." The only way we have of showing to our brethren and friends that surround us, that our faith is in God, is by our works. Therefore by our works we are justified in the sight of our brethren, and by our works we are condemned in their eyes. Here we give an extract from a pamphlet written and published by us in 1886, titled "Eternal and Time Salvation," which will give the reader some idea of our views then, and they are our sentiments now.

"Only the obedient enjoy the blessings of the time salvation. Hence John the revelator said, "Blessed and holy are they that do his commandments, that they may have a right to the tree of life, and enter in through the gates into the city." The tree of life we understand here to represent the blessings that are to be enjoyed by the obedient children of God, and none have a right to these blessings except those that do His commandments. Then, oh! my dear brethren and sisters, how needful for us that we do those things that our King and Law-giver has given in His holy word; and in view of this grand truth James says, "Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, for the doers of the word are justified." There is a sense in which we are justified by works. "Was not Abraham, our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac?" We answer that he surely was, but the question is, was he justified in an eternal sense? We answer, No. For Paul said, "If Abraham was justified by works he hath whereof to glory." Abraham was justified in an eternal sense by the merits and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore we see that a man is not justified by faith only. James says, "Ye see then, how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only." From this we learn that faith justifies a man, hence the two justifications cannot be the same. Suppose we were to enter a drug store and call for a remedy to cure chills, and the druggist should hand us down Smith's Tonic. We ask him, "Will Smith's Tonic cure the chills?" He answers, "Yes." We ask again "Will only Smith's Tonic cure chills?" He would at once answer, "Oh, no! Quinine will cure chills also." Therefore we see how that Smith's Tonic will cure chills, and not quinine only; hence we can discover the difference between the words "only" and "alone." Should you ask, "Is a man justified by faith alone?" we would answer, "Yes." Should you ask, "Is a man justified by works alone?" we would, answer, "Yes, but not by works only; for faith justifies a man also." So we see that there is a sense in which a man is justified by faith, and there is a sense in which a man is justified by works.

Therefore Abraham was justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar. And so we are justified by works when we obey the blessed commandments of our dear Saviour.

And James says again, "Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and hide a multitude of sins." Notice he is not talking about the ungodly sinners, but brethren; hence if one of our brethren should be drawn off into error, and therefore fails of the enjoyment of the blessings of the time salvation, it is our duty to labor with him, and do all we can to convert him from the error of his way, and we thereby save a soul from death, and hide a multitude of sins, not that we save him from an eternal death, for Jesus alone can do that; but we save him from death to the enjoyment of his privileges in the church of God; save him from that error in which he has been ensnared, and thereby enable him to  enjoy again the blessings of the time salvation."

We deem it unnecessary to use further arguments to prove the consistency of James' doctrine with that of the apostle Paul. Paul evidently meant that faith alone interested a sinner in the mercy of God, through the redemption and righteousness of Christ for justification. But that faith, which was brought by love, constrains to obedience, and was connected with a new creation unto holiness. And James would assert that no faith which was not productive of good works came from God, but was dead, unprofitable, and would not prove its own identity; and therefore there was a sound sense in which a man might be said to be justified by his works, and in perfect consistency with his faith, being "imputed to him for righteousness, as in the case of Abraham." Paul opposed those who objected to the doctrine of justification by faith without the deeds of the law, and James was writing against those who perverted it. Therefore both views of the subject are useful to the humble child of God. But the Lord, who sees for good, sees that the self wise, the proud, the heedless, and licentious should have somewhat to cavil at, and stumble over.

Indeed, the same interpretation which is necessary to render one part of these verses consistent with another, at the same time renders them consistent with the doctrine of Paul concerning justification by faith. There is a great difference between saying, "The faith which is without works is dead," and that "Faith is dead without works," as if faith derived its life and power from works; which is no less absurd than if we should say that the body is dead without sense, and motion, as if to say sense and motion were the causes of life. We should say, "The body which is without sense and motion is dead," for the cause is understood from the necessary effects. And works are the evidences and effects of living faith, and not the cause of it. The apostle often calls the faith that does not produce works dead, but does not use the word "living" faith, and some persons are so absurd as to ask us sometimes what we mean by living faith. Simply that faith which is not dead to good works, but is always ready to obey the injunctions of the dear Lord and Law-giver, therefore operative, influential, like a lively, or living hope, that Paul speaks of.

In doing these things which God has commanded us through faith that is wrought in us by the working of God's mighty power, which he wrought in Christ when he raised him from the dead, we justify ourselves before the eyes of our brethren, and have an approving conscience before God; and have truly worked out our own salvation, which is our common or time salvation, and enjoy more and more the precious presence of our blessed Saviour, and enjoy more and more the company and association of our brethren. Jesus said, "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, when ye have love one for another."

Oh! that God would bless us all with more humility, and love one for another, and ever keep us from that spirit of envy and jealousy which is as cruel as the grave. God knows my poor heart, I am willing to be the least child, and the least minister in all the flock, just so I can have that approving conscience before God and men, and enjoy the sweet smiles of my blessed Master while I live here in this sin-cursed earth, and at last feel His tender hand smooth my brow and when I pass the cold river of death, and feel Him take my hand in His and say in that sweet and lovely voice, "Child, your warfare is ended; the battle is fought; the victory won. Now come home and rest from your labors and toils; for thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things; enter thou into the joys of thy Lord." May this be my happy lot at last, and I hope all for which I have labored.

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 27 September 2006 )
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