My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons.
The Law of Liberty.
Take these two words, "the law of liberty"—liberty and law. They stand over against one another. Our first conception of them is as contradictory. The history of human life, we say, is a history of their struggle. They are foes. Law is the restraint of liberty. Liberty is the abrogation, the getting rid, of law. Each, so far as it is absolute, implies the absence of the other. But the expression of the text suggests another thought, that by the highest standards there is no contradiction, but rather a harmony and unity between the two; that there is some high point in which they unite; that really the highest law is liberty, the highest liberty is law; that there is such a thing as a law of liberty.
I. First, what do we mean by liberty, the oldest, dearest, vaguest, of the words of man? I hold it to mean simply the genuine ability of a living creature to manifest its whole nature, to do and be itself most unrestrainedly. Now between this idea and our ordinary thought of law there must, of course, be an inherent contradiction. The ordinary laws of social and national life are special provisions made for the very purpose of restricting the very natures and characters of their subjects. National law does not aim at the development of individual character, but at the preservation of great general interests by the repression of the characteristic tendencies of individuals. We hear the word "law," and it has this repressive sound. We hear the noise of grating prison doors, of heavy keys groaning in their locks. We see the lines of chains or the lines of soldiers that bind the individual's freedom for some other individual's or for society's advantage. Law is constraint as yet, and is the foe of liberty.
II. The law of constraint is that which grows out of man's outward relations with God; the law of liberty is that which issues from the tendencies of a man's own nature inwardly filled with God. That is the difference. Just so soon as a man gets into such a condition that every freedom sets towards duty, then evidently he will need no law except that freedom, and all duty will be reached and done. You see then what a fundamental and thorough thing the law of liberty must be. All laws of constraint are useless unless they are preparatory to, and can pass into, laws of liberty. This doctrine of the law of liberty makes clear the whole order and process of Christian conversion. Laws of constraint begin conversion at the outside, and work in; laws of liberty begin their conversion at the inside, and work out.
III. The whole truth of the law of liberty starts with the truth that goodness is just as controlling and supreme a power as badness. Virtue is as despotic over the life she really sways as vice can be over her miserable subjects. Here is where we make our mistake. We see the great dark form of viciousness holding her slaves down at their work, wearing their life away with the unceasing labour of iniquity; but I should not know how to believe in anything if I did not think that there was a force in liberty to make men work as they can never work in slavery. There is one large presentation of the fact of sin which always speaks of it as a bondage, a constraint, and consequently of holiness as freedom or liberation; but I believe there is no more splendidly despotic power anywhere than that with which the new life in a man sets him inevitably to do righteous and godly things. If there is one thing on earth which is certain, which is past all doubt, past all the power of mortal hindrance or perversion, it is the assurance with which the good man goes into goodness and does good things, ruled by the liberty of his higher life. Oh for such a liberty in us! Look at Christ, and see it in perfection. His was the freest life man ever lived. Nothing could ever bind Him. He walked across old Jewish traditions, and they snapped like cobwebs; He acted out the Divinity that was in Him up to the noblest ideal of liberty. But was there no compulsion in His working? Hear Him: "I must be about My Father's business." Was it no compulsion that drove Him those endless journeys, foot-sore and heart-sore, through His ungrateful land? "I must work today." What slave of sin was ever driven to his wickedness as Christ was to His holiness? What force ever drove a selfish man into his indulgence with half the irresistibility that drove the Saviour to the cross? Who does not dream for himself of a freedom as complete and as inspiring as the Lord's? Who does not pray that he too may be ruled by such a sweet despotic law of liberty?
Phillips Brooks, The Candle of the Lord, p. 183.
References: Jam 2:12.—R. Gregory, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxii., p. 305; Preacher's Monthly, vol. v., p. 343; J. Keble, Sermons for Sundays after Trinity, Part II., p. 331. Jam 2:14-17.—T. Hammond, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xii., p. 378. Jam 2:15.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xviii., No. 1061,
Jam 2:18I. Nothing is more evident than that the whole passage now before us is directed against the language in the Epistle to the Romans, as that language was misinterpreted by the wickedness of fanaticism; and that it does not in the slightest degree interfere with it as taken according to the meaning of the writer. The words, "Show me thy faith without thy works," are intended to allude to St. Paul's words that "a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law." Taking faith in the sense in which it has often been used since—that is, "correct opinion"—and taking the words, "without the deeds of the law," with nothing further to explain them, and we have at once that most wicked doctrine which St. James condemns, namely, that if a man's opinions about God be right, he need care nothing for his affections and conduct, whereas St Paul was not speaking of any such belief as was no more than opinion. He did not say that "He who believes in one God is justified," but "He who believes in Jesus Christ is justified," nor, again, did he mean by believing in Jesus Christ believing in such facts about Him as the heathens believed—namely, that there had been such a man crucified in Judaea under Pontius Pilate—but he meant "whosoever believed that Jesus Christ died for his sins "—a thing that never was believed really by any one who did not care for his sins beforehand, and can be really believed by no man without its making him care for his sins a great deal more than he ever cared before.
II. All, then, that St. James says in this passage is that correct opinions will save no man, or, to use the term "faith," not in St. Paul's sense of it, but in the unhappy sense which others have too often attached to it, that a sound faith in religious matters will alone save no man. From the language of two great Apostles, we may surely derive an important lesson, not to make one another offenders for a word. We should not condemn our brother for using words which an apostle has used before him, as he, like the Apostle, may mean no more by them than this, that Christ's people are those only in whom the Spirit of Christ abides.
T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. vi., p. 269.
I. For the vast majority of mankind, two phenomena have been in all ages, and I believe will be to the end of time, the all-sufficient proof that there is one God. One is the universe; the other is the conscience: one is the starry heaven above; the other is the moral law within. To every good man a true conscience not only tells of a God above us, but is a god within us. It is the categoric imperative which says to a man direct from heaven, "ought" and "must."
II. For nations there can be no morality if they know not God. In a brief tormented existence, ungoverned by any laws save their own appetites, the character of a world deprived of a holy ideal may be summed up in two words: heartless cruelty; unfathomable corruption. I say that any nation which denies God becomes by an invariable law a degraded nation at last, and any age which denies God sinks in great measure into an abominable age. If atheism continues for a time to kindle its dim torches at the fount of life, those torches soon die out in smouldering flames. A nation may walk for a short time in the dubious twilight left on the western hill-tops when the sun is set; but the twilight soon rushes down into the deep, dark night when God is denied, when faith is quenched, when prayer has ceased. It is never long in a nation before the holy warfare of ideas is abandoned for the base conflict of interest, never long before hatred and envy usurp the place of charity, and lust takes the place of honourable love. When once Christianity is dead, the world will be twice dead, a wandering star for which is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever.
F. W. Farrar, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxi., p. 177.
Reference: Jam 2:24.—F. W. Brown, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiii., p. 58.
Jam 2:26Justification by Faith.
I. Justification by faith is in fact a doctrine belonging of necessity to all true religion, and not to the Christian religion only. Men speak sometimes as if the Gospel had introduced a method of salvation which is not the completion and perfection of all that went before, but a method utterly opposed to it, as though Abraham and the patriarchs entered heaven by a quite different door from St. Paul and the members of the Christian Church. But the New Testament teaches differently. St. Paul entirely repudiates the notion of his having made void the law by the doctrine of faith; he shows that the principle which justified Abraham was identical with that which he preaches as the principle of Christian justification, a conclusion which is confirmed by the Old Testament expression that "Abraham believed God, and it" (that is, his faith) "was counted unto him for righteousness." If I wanted independent confirmation of St. Paul's doctrine of justification by faith, I would seek it in the confession of any man whose spiritual consciousness was ever so slightly awakened, and who sought, on his knees before God, some communication of the Divine life; and I am sure that the earnestness with which such a man would implore help from above would sufficiently show that no works of man can establish that union with God which is the life of the human soul.
II. When St. Paul wrote with so much earnestness, it was not faith itself for which he was contending so much as for faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as opposed to faith shown in any other way. Who shall say that he put faith before works? He never made the comparison at all. He simply pointed to Christ as the way to the Father, and therefore to union with Christ, or faith in Him, as the only conceivable means of bringing forth fruit to the praise and glory of God.
Harvey Goodwin, Parish Sermons, vol. ii., p. 198.
References: Jam 3:1-18.—Homiletic Quarterly, vol. ii., p. 188. Jam 3:2.—J. Keble, Sermons for Christmas and Epiphany, p. 483; J. H. Thom, Laws of Life, vol. i., p. 266; H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xv., p. 301. Jam 3:4.—F. Wagstaff, Ibid., vol. xxii., p. 170. Jam 3:5.—J. F. Haynes, Ibid., vol. xviii., p. 54; Ibid., vol. ii., p. 182; Homilist, 2nd series, vol. ii., p. 173. Jam 3:8.—D. Burns, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xv., p. 101; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. i., p. 51.
For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment;
And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool:
Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?
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?
But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats?
Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called?
If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well:
But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors.
For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.
For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law.
So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.
For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.
What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?
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 doth it profit?
Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
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.
Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.
But wilt thou know, O 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?
Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith 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.
Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?
For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.