James 2:14: Faith and Works, Part 1

Verse 14:[1] (Matt. 7:26; Jam. 1:23) What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?

[What, etc., τί τὸ ὄφελος] As in 1 Corinthians 15:32.[2] Thus Matthew 16:26;[3] Romans 2:1[4] (Gataker). [Thus the connection:] He transitions here to a fuller commendation of works of mercy (Estius, similarly Calvin), teaching that without them faith profits nothing in the judgment of God (Estius). He had said that God is going to be a severe judge toward the unmerciful (Calvin). Hypocrites were gathering that faith is sufficient for us. Does he here respond to them, etc. (Calvin, similarly Gomar)? Greatly encouraging beneficent works toward the neighbor, he shows the necessity of such works from the danger of not obtaining salvation without them. [Now] since the Apostles everywhere proclaimed the great efficacy of Faith, thence it happened that many carnal men, among whom was Simon Magus,[5] grasped at that as a defence for a sinful life, as if eternal salvation were able to be obtained without righteous works, namely, through faith; while, on the other hand, the doctrine of the Apostles was, that Faith is suited to cleanse us, that the Holy Spirit is given to those cleansed, and that thus Faith becomes active through Love, Galatians 5:6, and that hence Love, which rises out of the Faith and Hope attending it, prevails above both Faith and Hope, 1 Corinthians 13:13 (Grotius). What advantage (Erasmus, Beza, Piscator, etc.). Namely, to justification (James Cappel, thus Estius), or, unto eternal salvation (Grotius, thus Estius, James Cappel), as in 1 Corinthians 15:32. In the place of which is οὐδέν εἰμι, I am nothing, 1 Corinthians 13:2 (Grotius).

What doth it profit; viz. as to his eternal salvation? Wherein are the ends of religion promoted by it? The apostle had just before declared, that they who are unmerciful to men shall find God severe to themselves, and have judgment without mercy: but hypocritical professors boasted of their faith as sufficient to secure them against that judgment, though they neglected the practice of holiness and righteousness. Hence he seems to take occasion for the following discourse, to beat down their vain boasting of an empty, unfruitful faith, and possibly, lest they should abuse or misunderstand what he had said about the law of liberty, as if that inferred a licence of sinning, and living as they pleased.

[If a man say that he hath faith, but have not works (that is, good works [Piscator, James Cappel, Gataker, Estius]: Which sort of Ellipsis is found in James 2:17, 18, 20; 2 Corinthians 3:5; 1 Timothy 6:18 [Gataker])] If a man say, not with his mouth, but in his mind (Cameron[6]); or, from his heart, as a similar expression was recently taken in James 1:13, that is, if a man think within himself. Indeed, my works are not just, but faith is just, and therefore I am not in danger of losing salvation. This opinion formerly was very common among the Jews, who were supposing that every Israelite that had not cast off the profession of Judaism in the end is going to have a part in the next world, that is, in eternal life. Augustine shows that the same opinion had grown among many Christians, and he rebukes them sharply, as certainly he ought. This opinion has been revived in this unhappy age, even under the name of a reformed doctrine, which all that love the piety of salvation of their neighbors ought to oppose. Now, Faith in this place does not signify the entirety of Christian piety μετωνυμικῶς/metonymically, or συνεκδοχικῶς/synecdochically, through change of name or summary, as in Romans 10:10; Titus 1:1, but an assent yielded to the truth revealed by God, as it is distinguished from Repentance, Mark 1:15; and likewise from Love, 1 Corinthians 13:2; Galatians 5:6; etc.; and from Purity, Acts 15:9, and a good Conscience, 1 Timothy 1:19: which sort of assent is able to be without a profession, and hence without pious works also, from which it is distinguished here, as also in Titus 3:8, as we teach, John 12:42. Neither is this strange, since that which the Spartans said of the Athenians often holds good, They know what is right, but are unwilling to do it[7] (Grotius). Others: Lest he should appear to dispute concerning words, a false show of faith James here calls faith by way of concession (Beza, similarly Calvin), a false show of faith, namely, a merely acquaintance with God and the Gospel (Beza). Ἡ πίστις, faith, [as it here follows] does not denote just any sort of faith, but that which he afterwards calls dead. For the article has the force of a demonstrative Pronoun (Vorstius). There is also Emphasis here on the language of saying (Vorstius, Piscator). He does not say, if a man hath faith, but, if a man say he hath faith (Piscator, Gataker), both, because faith is not able to be true and living without works, without the study and practice of holiness; and, because many profess faith that have neither works, nor any faith at all (Gataker). Therefore, he understands those indeed to boast of, yet not to have, faith (Vorstius, similarly Piscator).

Though a man say; whether boastingly with his mouth to others, or flatteringly in his heart to himself. The apostle doth not say, that a man’s having faith simply is unprofitable, but either that faith he pretends to without works, or his boasting he hath faith, when the contrary is evident by his not having works. He hath faith; such as he pretends to be good, and sound, and saving, but is really empty and dead, verse 26, and unfruitful. And have not works; i.e. good works, such as are not only acts of charity, to which the papists would restrain it, but all the fruits of righteousness and holiness proceeding from faith, and appearing both in heart and life.

[Is faith able to save (or, to remove [the Arabic in Grotius], to vivify [the Syriac in Grotius], and by consequence to justify before God: as he subsequently speaks of the matter [Piscator]) him!] That is to say, it will not be able, because it is unfruitful (Estius). This interrogation most vehemently denies. Now, that σῶσαι, to save, as commonly in the New Testament is to conduct someone unto eternal life. He concedes that some such faith is able to be; but he denies that eternal salvation belongs to it. Indeed, now and then, holy men say that some are saved by faith before works: Chrysostom, Tertullian, Augustine [see Grotius]: but they understand that faith which includes a purpose to obey God, and a sincere love of God and neighbor. Now, such faith, which death immediately follows, is said to be without works, not as were wanting pious thoughts, often also some pious words or deeds; but because it did not bring forth a trail and continuous series of good works and conspicuous deeds, for life, the time, and the occasion did not allow for them. But no faith was profitable to anyone without such work as time was permitting, as it appears by the example of that man crucified with Christ[8] (Grotius). [See Salvian, Cyprian, etc., and their words in Grotius.]

Can faith save him? the interrogation is a vehement negation; q.d. It cannot save him, viz. such a faith as a man may have (as well as boast he hath) without works. This James calls faith only by way of concession for the present, though it be but equivocally called faith, and no more really so, than the carcass of a man is a man.

[1] Greek:  τί τὸ ὄφελος, ἀδελφοί μου, ἐὰν πίστιν λέγῃ τις ἔχειν, ἔργα δὲ μὴ ἔχῃ; μὴ δύναται ἡ πίστις σῶσαι αὐτόν;

[2] 1 Corinthians 15:32a:  “If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me (τί μοι τὸ ὄφελος), if the dead rise not?”

[3] Matthew 16:26a:  “For what is a man profited (τί γὰρ ὠφελεῖται ἄνθρωπος), if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”

[4] Romans 2:1 appears to be an error.  Romans 2:25 may be intended:  “For circumcision verily profiteth (ὠφελεῖ), if thou keep the law:  but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision.”

[5] Acts 8:9-24.

[6] John Cameron (1580-1625) was a Protestant divine of great distinction, serving as Professor of Philosophy at Sedan, Professor of Divinity at Saumur (1608) and at Glasgow (1620).  Darling:  “He was a man of good genius and judgment, a good philosopher; not much acquainted with the works of the fathers; obstinate in his opinions.  He adopted a more enlarged mode of explaining the doctrine of grace than Calvin, which was followed by Amyraut.”  Ibid., 563-564.  He wrote, among other things, Prælectiones in Selectiora Quædam Loca Novi Testamenti and Myrothecium Evangelicum, in quo Aliquot Loca Novi Testamenti Explicantur.

[7] Cicero’s De Senectute 18.

[8] Luke 23:39-43.

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