The apostle is here cutting at such professors as talk of their faith, while their souls were dead to God, without any love to him, motion towards him, or exercise upon him.
Now such a confidence as this, which is without the proper works that attend genuine faith, "what doth it profit, my brethren?" It is of no avail. It doth not apply the atonement, nor put on an imputed righteousness; it is not attended with peace, it doth not work by love, nor doth it prevail with God in prayer, nor hath it been attended with the seal of the Spirit, nor with the witness of him; and therefore the talker of this faith is as dead and as barren to God as ever he was; and then what "doth it profit? Can faith save him?" No, faith is no savior; there is salvation in no other name under heaven but in Christ: and such a faith as this, which performs not the works of faith, can never bring Christ into the soul, to dwell in the heart; nor lead us out of self, that we may dwell in Christ by faith. He that believes shall be saved; but this is not that faith that accompanies salvation. Faith which comes from God, and which is God's gift to us, and God's work in us, is given us to live by: "The just man shall live by his faith." But this faith brings nothing in, and therefore must starve the soul.
"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?"#1 This brother and sister sets forth the state and case of the miserable sinner, who is poor and wretched, blind and naked, and destitute of all food but husks and the bread of deceit; but then, does the faith of God's elect send the poor creature away in such a miserable condition as this, saying, Be ye warmed and filled, but at the same time does nothing for him? I trow not.
Faith is a hand to clothe the naked. "The righteousness of Christ is revealed from faith to faith; and is to and upon all that believe."#2 It not only puts on clothing, but it warms us also; for "it works by love," and love "makes the heart burn within us;" it brings daily food to the soul. "We live by the faith of the Son of God,"#3 who is the bread of life; and "whose flesh is meat indeed, and whose blood is drink indeed;" and they that believe have everlasting life, and shall never die.
Now, as such a poor brother or sister, being sent empty away, with a Be ye warmed and filled, without any relief given, profiteth nothing; "even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone."
But true faith is never alone, for where true faith is there is Christ; "for he dwells in the heart by faith. I live by the faith of the Son of God; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." The Holy Ghost also always accompanies true faith. "The day you believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise."#4 Beside, faith has two sisters, that are sure to abide with her, and ever will. "And now abideth faith, hope, and charity, these three." And, as faith always works by love, and cannot work without it, it is plain that this faith cannot be the faith of God's elect, because "it is dead, being alone." But can faith, which is a fruit of the Spirit of life "be dead?" Or can faith that works by love "be alone?"
"Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works." 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, "and wonder that we run not with them to the same excess of riot, speaking evil of us." Faith centers in Christ. "We all meet in the unity of the faith," 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 abide in darkness, but shall have the light of life;" 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;" and by a warm attachment to Christ, and a steady adherence to truth; not like the "simple, that believeth every word," but like a "wise man, that looks well to his way." James showed his faith by such works as these.
"Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well." 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 that is invisible" 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; 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."
"The devils also believe and tremble." These devils go further than this man in his dead confidence, which fixes the poor carnally secure hypocrite in such a state, who sits down at ease under the woe of God, dead in sin: "Woe unto them that are at ease in Zion," and to the dead in such a profession under the sound of gospel grace.
The devil's faith has some feeling in it. He believes in one God, Father, Son, and Spirit; and he feels his own guilt, and God's curse; he is in chains, and he knows it; he knows that Christ has destroyed his works, and bruised his head, and he hates him for it, and opposes him, and yet trembles at the thought of future torment from him as his just judge.
Devils know that the Holy Ghost casts them out of sinners' hearts, and sets up God's kingdom therein, which is a translation of them from the kingdom of Satan to that of God's dear Son; and hence it is that they are so exasperated against the power of religion; and this is the reason why he raises such storms of calumny and opposition against every minister of the Spirit, and such floods of damnable heresy against the true gospel, to carry away the Lamb's wife from the truth by a flood of errors: but this deceivableness of unrighteousness works effectually only in them that perish, who never received the truth in the love of it, and who in just judgment God gives up, some of them to speak lies in hypocrisy, and others to believe in the strong delusions, that they may have no part in the heavenly city, but in the lake prepared for all liars.
"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 he that sheds man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed?"
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.#5 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.
This work of Abraham's made it appear to all that his faith worked by love; and both his faith and his love came down from the Father of lights; he believed God under the operations of a faith from God, and loved him under the constraining power of divine love shed abroad in his heart: this is plain, because it appears so much stronger than all natural affections, or even than the most inordinate affections, and all the ties of nature. Abraham denied self in every sense, and crucified every affection and every desire in this business.
"Seest thou how faith wrought with his works?" You may see how faith wrought within by his works without. "And by works was faith made perfect." By this trial of Abraham's faith it was found and manifested to be genuine; and upon trial, and being tried, it was more precious than gold that perisheth.
"And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed to him for righteousness;"#6 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 is 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.
"Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only." Justification is ascribed to different persons, and is attributed to various things, as follows. Sometimes justification as ascribed to God the Father.
"It is God that justifieth, who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died."#7
Sometimes it is ascribed to Christ: "And by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many, for he shall bear their iniquity."#8 And to the Holy Ghost also:
"But ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God."#9
In what sense does God the Father justify us? Answer, God is our creditor, and he appointed his own Son to be our Surety; and accepts his Son's obedience in our behalf, and places it to our account. "He made him to be sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him."#10 This imputation is the Father's act. "To us it shall be imputed, if we believe on him who raised up Christ from the dead."
It was Christ who bore our sins, and obeyed the law for us; he made an end of sin, and brought in everlasting righteousness; and, having undertaken in covenant engagements to be made of God unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, whenever it pleases God to reveal him in us, and Christ manifests himself to us, and we are brought to believe in him, to know him, to feel him, and to receive him, "as the end of the law for righteousness," justification passes in the court of conscience, and we find that our hunger and thirst after righteousness is now satisfied and filled, and that it is life eternal to know him; and thus by "his knowledge," or by the knowledge of him, "he justifies many."
The Spirit's work, which he undertook to do, is to convince us of sin, and of the need of righteousness, and to take of the things that are Christ's, and to show them unto us; he opens the heart to receive the Savior, shows his righteousness to us, and works faith in the heart to receive it. "It is to all and upon all that believe;" he produces peace in the conscience as the blessed effect of it. "Being justified by faith, we have peace with God."#11 The Spirit silences all the clamorous accusations of Satan, law, and conscience, and bears his witness to our acceptance with God in this "best robe;" and in this sense "we are justified by the Spirit of our God." Justification is said to be by various things, as follows. It is ascribed to grace.
"Being justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in
Christ Jesus." By Christ's obedience also.
"By the obedience of one shall many be made righteous," or shall be justified. By blood.
"Being justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him." By faith.
"Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law." By words.
"For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shall be condemned."#12 In Christ.
"In him shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory."#13 By works also.
"Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only." Now, to reconcile all these things, take notice that, as God appointed Christ to be our surety, to obey the law for us, and be made righteousness to us, and Christ is said to be given for a covenant to us, with all his saving benefits, without any merit, worth, or worthiness, as procuring causes hereof in us; and, as the Spirit that testifies of this righteousness is a gift, and faith that puts it on is a gift of God also, so the righteousness of Christ is a gift too. "We receive the abundance of grace, and the gift of righteousness, and shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ." All this, being freely given, not to self-righteous persons, while they continue such, but to ungodly sinners; as it is written, "But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness."#14
Now the gift of righteousness, to an ungodly sinner, must be free and unmerited; and hence we are said "to be justified freely by his grace."
This righteousness, being the spotless obedience of Christ (our surety) to the law, whom it became to fulfill all righteousness, and who declared "that not one jot or tittle should fail from the law till all was fulfilled;" this is what God calls magnifying the law, and making it honourable; which perfect obedience of the Surety is imputed and given to the poor debtor; and hence it is that "by the obedience of one many are made righteous."#15
Moreover, to show 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." Christ endured the curse of the law, and the wrath of God, and redeemed and ransomed us from both. And "God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness;" and, as a righteous judge, to "give us the crown of righteousness in that day." 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, and saved from wrath through him."
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;" and faith has this honor 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."
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." 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.
Again, see in David his honest confession. "Have mercy upon me, O God; according to thy loving-kindness, according to the multitude of thy tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin, for I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done evil in thy sight, that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest," Psalm 51. By all these words David was justified. He sues for mercy, which is a rejecting all confidence in the flesh. He prays for God's loving-kindness, which is a tacit confession of his own enmity and alienation. He prays to be washed, which shows the sense and need that he had of the fountain God hath opened for sin. He confesses his sin, which is an acknowledgment of the omniscience of God. He confesses his corrupt state from his conception, which is a confession of the fall of man, of every imagination of the thoughts of man's heart being evil, and only evil, and of the impossibility of bringing a clean thing out of an unclean, which no man, however good, can do.
He confesses that all his sins were against God, which is an acknowledgment of his justice, and that to God vengeance belongeth. "I will repay, saith the Lord."#16 All this confession is ingenuous, honest, true, and consistent with the testimony of God respecting the fall of man, his sinfulness, and the depravity of human nature. He owned God to be true, and himself a liar; his unrighteous conduct he detested, and by his detestation of it consented to the law that it was good and just; for his unrighteousness commended the righteousness of God: nor did he think God unrighteous, who in a way of chastisement taketh vengeance, as it is written, "that thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged," Romans, 3:3,4.
Once more. The sensible sinner, who has felt his own depravity, like Paul, and owns himself the chief of sinners, and the vanity of all self-righteousness, as he did, and owns it to be dung and dross; and who confesses, to the honor of God, that by the grace of God "I am what I am," and that he hopes and waits for the righteousness of God by faith; he is justified by words, or justified in his sayings, being the real truth of the case, and having confessed it to the honor of God's grace; and such an one "with the heart believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth makes confession to salvation."
And at the day of judgment such souls will act the same honest part. "I was an hungry, and ye gave me meat; thirsty, and ye gave me drink," &c. saith the Lord. They ask, "When saw we thee an hungry, or thirsty?" &c. knowing that it was himself that wrought in them both "to will and to do," and therefore put it far from them, and refer the whole of it to the Agent and efficient cause of all good; and these are justified by their words, "for they are blessed, and go into life eternal."
"And by thy words thou shalt be condemned."
The words of this condemned criminal are lies, contradictory to the judgment and testimony of God, and contrary to the confession of all God's saints; and to the verdict of their own thoughts, and to the judgment and sentence of their own conscience. Such is that of the Pharisee in the temple.
"God, I thank thee that I am not as other men, no extortioner, unjust," &c. "nor as this publican."#17 He lied in the name of God; for the heart of one man answers to the heart of another as in water face answers to face; he was proud, not humble; "he exalted himself, and shall be abased;" and he that said, "These many years do I serve thee, and never at any time transgressed I thy commandment, and yet thou never gavest me a kid; but as soon as this thy son was come, that hath devoured thy substance with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf."#18
Here is first his long service in the oldness of the letter; he never transgressed, which is an arrant lie, "for there is no man that sinneth not;" and yet "thou never gavest me a kid," charging God with ingratitude, partiality, and injustice, and as countenancing iniquity, showing a respect to him that had wasted his substance, and discountenancing the frugal soul; and therefore, though God called the prodigal "thy brother," he disowns and disclaims him, and palms him upon God, calling him, "this thy son." But he is no brother of mine, and for this he is condemned, and left to his pride, self-righteousness, blindness, and insensibility, like the Pharisees, who said, "Are we blind also?" To whom Christ replies, "If ye were blind ye should not have sin; but since ye say, We see, your sin remaineth:#19 for judgment I am come into this world, that those that see not might see, and that those that see may be made blind; for the light that was in them was darkness."
Those that say, I am holier than thou, are a smoke in God's nose, "and the smoke of their torment shall ascend for ever and ever." They that justify themselves before men are abomination in the sight of God, and those that charge him with being an austere man, reaping where he had not sowed, and gathering where he had not strawed, are condemned out of their own mouth; and so will they be who talk of free will, human power, inherent grace, salvation by works, and fleshly perfection; which is giving the lie to the testimony of heaven, which declares the perverseness of man's will, the frailty of man's nature, his corruption and enmity to God; that by works there is no flesh living that can be justified; and, so far from sinless perfection, that, from the crown of the head to the sole of the foot, there is no soundness, and that every imagination of the thoughts of man's heart is evil, only evil, and that continually.
These proud wretches contradict their Maker; they give the groaning confessions of all the saints the lie; they belie the verdict of their own thoughts, and the judgment and sentence of their own conscience; and, in effect, charge God with folly for sending a Savior, and providing an everlasting righteousness by him, when man's state did not require it, and when human power and self-righteousness never stood in need of his being either righteousness or strength to them; all which counsel and clemency of heaven is viewed by them needless, or superfluous. These are the sort that appear outwardly righteous before men, but knows their hearts, and they will plead their performances even in the great day. "When saw we thee an hungry, and did not feed thee, thirsty, and gave thee no drink?" &c. "But these shall go away into everlasting punishment, for by their words they shall be condemned."
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."
And, lastly, we are justified by works. "Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only." Two instances James produces as witnesses of this truth: the one is Abraham's offering up Isaac, and the other is Rahab's receiving the messengers and sending them out another way. Now to the first of these.
It is plain that James cannot mean justification towards God, or before God, by works, for this reason. God promised Abraham a son when it could be hardly expected, Abraham and Sarah being very old; however, "God told him that his seed should be as the stars of heaven for multitude, and he believed in God, and God imputed it to him for righteousness."#20 This was justification towards God, or before God, by faith, without any works; and this was ten years, or more, before Isaac was born: and, if it be true (what some chronologers assert) that Isaac was twenty years old when Abraham offered him up, it is plain that Abraham was justified by faith before God thirty years before he was justified by works, or by the fruits of his faith, before men.
Again. When was Rahab justified by faith? I answer. God told Pharaoh that
for this cause he had raised him up, to show his power in him, and that his
name might be declared throughout the earth. The judgments of God upon
Egypt, and upon Pharaoh and all his host at the Red sea; the salvation of
Israel at that time; the cloud and pillar that followed them by day and
night; the manna wherewith they were fed; the conquests they obtained over
Og and Sihon, kings of the Amorites; and of their coming to Canaan to
inherit it; reached the ears of Rahab, and she pondered them over in her
heart, and traced them up, not to idols, but to the Almighty and Eternal
God; and the spirit of faith attended this report to her ears and heart, and
fixed it in her mind, that all that she had heard was true, and that it was
the great work of the God of heaven; and she beforehand saw the evil that
would come upon the inhabitants of Canaan, and wished to hide herself, being
warned of God of things not seen as yet. And accordingly the spies were
unexpectedly directed to her house, and she informs them what she had heard,
and confesses their God, and asserts that he had given them their land, and
that there was no more spirit in any of them on the account of Israel, and
owns that the God of Israel was the God of heaven and earth; and implores an
oath of them, in his name, to obtain mercy.#21 She is entrusted with their
secret, and enjoined to keep it, which she does; she withdraws all her
affections from her own people, and cleaves to the children of God, hides
them, lets them down by a wall, sends them away safely, and predicts their
safe return if they abide three days; all which they observe, and succeed;
and she gathers all her family into her own house, according to the covenant
and charge they gave her, and keeps the secret with which she was entrusted;
and the consequence was, that, when all the other parts of the walls of
Jericho fell down, her house, that was built on thrown wall, stood, with her
and all her friends in it.
Salmon, a prince of Israel, marries this woman, and, according to Matthew's genealogy, Christ came through her.
Both Abraham and Rahab were justified before God by faith long before either of them was justified before men by works. The first act makes the tree good, and the last makes the fruit appear to be good. The first is attended with a divine ray from God; "He that believeth in me shall not abide in darkness:" the other is a letting our light shine before men. The first makes the man good, and the latter is a letting men "see our good works, that they may glorify our Father which is in heaven." James does not say, Show God your faith without your works, but "Shew me your faith without your works, and I will shew you my faith by my works." Hence it is plain that justification before men is meant, and not justification before God.
All that has been here said respects justification in the court of man's
own conscience. But the elect were decretively justified from eternity in
the purpose of God; for, as he pre-appointed us "to obtain salvation by
Christ with eternal glory," so he pre-appointed us to righteousness as our
title to it; for we were predestinated to be conformed to the image of his
son, "which stands in righteousness and true holiness."
2. We were justified federally in Christ from everlasting: "from everlasting I was set up;" that is, to be future man and mediator; and was then made of God unto us "wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption." This is proclaimed in the covenant, "Thy people shall be all righteous; they shall inherit the land for ever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I may be glorified," Isaiah, 60:21.
3. We were justified representatively in Christ at his resurrection, "Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. He died for our sins, and rose again for our justification.
1 James 2:15-16.
2 Romans 1:17.
3 Galatians 2:20.
4 Ephesians 1:13.
5 Jonah 1.
6 Romans 4:3.
7 Romans 8:33-34.
8 Isaiah 53:11.
9 1 Corinthians 6:11.
10 2 Corinthians 5:21.
11 Romans 5:1.
12 Matthew 12:37.
13 Isaiah 45:25.
14 Romans 4:5.
15 Romans 5:19.
16 Romans 12:19.
17 Luke 18:9-14.
18 Luke 15:11-32.
19 John 9:40-41.
20 Genesis 15:1-6.
21 Joshua 2:1-21; 6:17, Hebrews 11:31.