A Study of James 2:18
“Yea, a man 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.”
- James shewed his faith by such works as these:
James still pursues this prating fool. Before this man is represented as saying, “I have faith;” and this report, conveyed by sounding his own trumpet, goes abroad, and another circulates it, and says, “Thou hast faith;” then says James, “I have works.” But “shew me thy faith without thy works:” which is what no man can do; for faith is as a grain of mustard seed in the heart, which is hid from all but God, and the possessors of it. “I will shew thee my faith by my works,” says James.
Faith overcomes the world, and separates us from it, insomuch that our old companions can see it, “Wherein they think it strange that ye run not with them to the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you.“ (1st Peter 4:4) Faith centres in Christ. “We all come in the unity of the faith” (Ephesians 4:13), that is, in our covenant Head; and the believer abides in Him, and abides by Him, both in faith and affection, while others despise Him. Faith obtains promises, and mixes itself with the word, which may be known by sound doctrine, sound words, sound speech that cannot be condemned, and by the wholesome words of our Lord Jesus Christ, spoken in faith and love. Faith is attended with the light of life, for he that believeth in Christ “shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12), and this light is to shine before men, and is attended with good works, such as holding the mystery of faith in a pure conscience, a willingness to live honestly, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; which are some of the blackest of all crimes: by manifestation of the truth, setting it forth in all its freeness and fullness, appealing to every man’s conscience in the sight of God; dealing faithfully with souls, and setting light by the world; abhorring covetousness, and willing to relieve the poor of the flock; watching over each
other for good, seeking the welfare of their souls, guarding them against all those who lie in wait to deceive, especially the free-willers, who hold the “leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy” (Luke 12:1), and by a warm attachment to Christ, and a steady adherence to truth; not like the “simple, that believeth every word” (Proverbs 14:15), but like a “wise man, that looks well to his way.”
A bare assent of the natural mind
“Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well” (James 2:19). This is a bare assent of the natural mind, founded upon divine history, which is what none but a heathen will deny. But true faith exceeds this assent, and confession too; “it sees “him who is invisible” (Hebrews 11:27) to the eye of the body, and to the light of nature; it gives credit to God’s word, and flies to Him as to the great rewarder of all that diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6); and receives the blessings of life, and peace, love, and comfort, that are in Him, and views Him as the greatest of all treasure; such “are rich in faith,” and rich towards God (James 2:5).
Such acts are far enough above the reach of nature
“But wilt thou know, vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?”
Was not this act of obedience by Abraham a full proof that Abraham’s faith was of divine origin, a faith that is of the operation of the Spirit of God? and which always gives credit to God’s word, and yields the obedience of faith? For could the faith of nature, or the false confidence of the most refined hypocrite, which is nothing else but a carnal assent, ever give credit to this, that a man’s murdering his own child could be pleasing to God, when this law was gone forth into the hearts
of the children of men ever since Cain’s slaughter of Abel, that “whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed” (Genesis 9:6)? But this deed is the highest act of obedience that ever Abraham’s faith produced. This faith is of the same kind as Jonah’s was, who told the mariners that he was a Hebrew, and one that feared God that made the sea and the dry land; and that he had fled from his presence, and on his account the singular storm fell upon them; and that the only remedy, the only way to appease God, and obtain a calm, was to drown him; which is what no natural man in his senses would ever believe, and they themselves could not; therefore they rowed hard; and, when all was in vain, and they were brought to this strait, either to sink him or sink themselves, they were obliged to cry to God, whom they had never known, not to lay innocent blood to their charge: and they were so astonished to see the storm and the prophet both sink together, that they did that which they never had done before; they sacrificed to God, and made vows. Some people talk of rational religion; they may as well talk of human divinity; for sure I am that such a faith as this is not the produce of nature, and such acts are far enough above the reach of nature.
Abraham was manifested to be a righteous person
“And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed to him for righteousness” (James 2:23); the scriptures having before asserted that, when God promised to Abraham that his seed should be as the stars of heaven, he believed God, and it was imputed to him for righteousness.
This testimony went long before; and, when the long looked for and much expected seed came, he was bid to offer it up to God; which he did; and by this his obedience it was proved, upon trial, that the former testimony to Abraham’s faith was true, and it was fulfilled hereby, for Abraham was manifested to be a righteous person, that yielded the real obedience of faith. “And he was called the Friend of God,” being justified by faith, he had peace with God; and, receiving by faith the promised Mediator, his natural enmity was slain, reconciliation took place, communion and fellowship with God followed; peace, harmony, and friendship, succeeded, and ever subsisted between Abraham and his God.
“Justified freely through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”
Moreover, to shew us that we are justified freely from all things; if the suggestions of Satan, and the workings of unbelief, should terrify us, that we have no screen from the future curse of the law, and terrify us with the terrible expectations of wrath to come, we are said to be “justified freely through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:24)
Christ endured the curse of the law, and the wrath of God, and redeemed and ransomed us from both. And “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1st John 1:9); and, as a righteous judge, to “give us the crown of righteousness in that day” (2nd Timothy 4:8). Now this ransom-price, which Christ paid for us, is to redeem us from the pit, and from all future demands of law and justice; hence we are said to be “justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.” (Romans 5:9)
Faith is an eye which apprehends this righteousness. Abraham, who was “justified by faith, saw the promised seed at a distance,” and by the hand of faith “embraced him” (Hebrews 11:13); and faith has this honour of putting this robe on the sinner; it is “revealed from faith to faith,” and “is unto all and upon all that believe;” therefore, instrumentally or applicatory, “We are justified by faith.”
Justified by word
“In the next place, we are justified by words. “For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned” (Matthew 12:37). A man is justified by words, when the words of his mouth agree with the oracles of God and with God’s testimony of man, and when his heart and mouth go both together.
For instance: the publican in the temple dares not lift up his eyes to heaven, conscious of his guilt, shame, and confusion of face; he feels his guilt, and smites upon his breast, where the wound lay; he confesses honestly his true state and case, and has nothing to look to, hope in, or sue for, but the sure mercies of David, which are in Christ; not one good work or good word does he plead, but guilty he pleads before God.
And what was the consequence! Why he went home to his house justified. Justified by his words, for he had confessed the truth; and justified in his hungry soul by the imputation of
the righteousness of Christ to him.
Justified in Christ
We are also said to be justified in Christ; “for in him shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory.” Christ is our covenant head, in whom we are all chosen, and in whom we are all accepted; and to the fellowship of whom we are all called in one hope of our calling: to this “Shiloh the gathering of the people is to be;” and by him, and in him, the whole family of heaven and earth are called.
And, as we all find pardon in His blood, rest in the satisfaction He has made, and peace with God through the blood of His cross, so in Him all God’s elect are to confess that “in the Lord have I righteousness and strength,” and to him shall all men come; that is, for justification towards God, and for acceptance with him. In this sense it is that “all the seed of God’s Israelites indeed are justified in God’s sight, and in him they shall all glory.”