James 2:24: Faith and Works, Part 11

Verse 24:[1] Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.

[Ye see, ὁρᾶτε] See ye[2] (Estius). Ye learn this from the example of that most famous man (Grotius).

Ye see then; an inference either from the instance of Abraham, or from the whole preceding discourse.

[By works a man is justified, and not by faith only, μόνον[3]] That is, μόνης/alone[4] (James Cappel, Grotius). Thus the Adverb μόνον/only is put in the place of the Adjective, as in Matthew 5:47;[5] 21:19;[6] John 13:9;[7] Acts 11:19;[8] Romans 3:20;[9] and elsewhere. The sense: So that he that has already believed might be esteemed by God as just, or, might be treated as completely guiltless and good, or so that he might have God as a friend and patron (for these revert to the same thing); faith is not sufficient, but, if time and occasion be given, good works are also required (Grotius), either actually performed, or in the preparation of the soul (Estius). But Paul concludes the contrary, even from the same example of Abraham, that a man is justified by faith without the works of the law, Romans 3:28. [Hence the famous question arises, In what manner James is to be reconciled with Paul? Response 1: They are not wanting, who cut the knot, for the loosing of which they confess themselves to be unequal.] For this reason some reject this Epistle of James as Apocryphal, but wrongly (Gomar). Response 2: Although the individual members and words of James and Paul be not all interpreted in the same manner, the principal purpose of both is the same, namely, to show that the method of the Divine economy is in the highest degree glorifying to God, and profitable to man, etc. (Grotius). Paul does not exclude all works from the business of justification, as it is evident from Romans 2, the doers of the law are justified (Estius on verse 21). Neither does James maintain that we are justified partly by faith, partly by works, for in this way he would fight with himself. For he says in verse 23 that the Scripture, that is, that Evangelical Scripture, He believed, etc., was fulfilled when Abraham was justified by works. But what then is that consequent, Abraham believed, etc.; Therefore, he was justified by works? Certainly those things do not cohere as a consequenct with an antecedent (Cameron). [Response 3: There is to be a distinction concerning works, which they want to be taken one way in James, and another way in Paul, which neither do they explain in one way:] 1. Paul understands the works of the Law, that is, the perfect and perpetual observation of the Law, which gives rise to debt and merit, and is set over against faith in Christ: But James understands those works that demonstrate faith, and arise from faith; more precisely, through Metalepsis[10] (Vorstius), or Metonymy of the effect (Vorstius, Piscator), in which the producing Cause is signified by the Effect (Piscator on verse 21); by works here he understands faith working (Vorstius, thus Piscator). But this is harsh, and it does not sufficiently agree with verse 22, in which faith and works are distinguished (Gomar). 2. Paul speaks concerning the works of the unregenerate only (certain interpreters in Gataker), or what things precede the faith of Christ, and arise only from the knowledge of the Law (Estius), and concerning Rituals (Grotius); but James speaks concerning the works following faith, and springing from faith, and directed by faith (Estius). To Faith Paul opposes, not the Works that proceed from faith, but those which are able to be offered without faith, or from the native powers of men and human education only; of which sort are all rituals, and also abstinence from evil actions in order to avoid punishment, besides certain other things which are wont to be done out of a pursuit of advantage or honor. The Jews were attributing a great deal to rites; they were only urging those of the prohibiting precepts to which a punishment is applied; they denied that intention, although deliberate, was liable to punishment even before God; but that the omission of the commanding precepts is easily expiated. This was Jewish piety, and they, being puffed up in it, were despising foreigners, although converted to the true God and a holy life. Disputing against this, Paul shows that any works that are not put forth from a soul purified by the faith of eternal life, and raised above the care of temporal things to the love of God and of one’s neighbor, will not please God. Now, compared to such works, the Jewish Ceremonies and that trifling innocence, self-control remaining in the realm of deeds, as Chrysostom says, with regard to the precept of the Law, whether human, or Divine, as far as that is understood in the manner of human Law, are deservedly deemed unworthy (Grotius). [To others this response is not satisfying:] It is sufficiently evident that Paul, no less than James, treats of Works, not only Ceremonial, but also Moral: seeing that he speaks of that Law which makes sin known, Romans 3:20; 7:7, and to which the entire world was obliged, Romans 3:19, etc.; and of works, both before and after faith, whether in a state of nature or of grace, as it is evident from this, that he treats of the works of Abraham and David, even those rendered after conversion and faith, Romans 4. Compare Job 9:15, 21; 10:15; Psalm 143:2; Philippians 3:8 (Gataker). [But concerning these things, let the Reader see more in the Synopsis on Romans 3 and 4. Thus concerning the third way of reconciliation.] Response 4: A distinction is to be made concerning the word faith. Paul speaks of a faith true and living, as it is proven; but James speaks of a faith false, vain, dead, sterile, and idle, which is without works (Beza, Gomar, Laurentius, Gataker); as it is easily proven, inasmuch as James speaks of that faith, which is common to reprobates, and even to Demons, James 2:19, 20 (Beza, Gomar), which is said to be dead, verse 17, which consists in words only, not in substance, verses 15 and 16, which is opposed the efficacious faith of Abraham (Gataker). James detracts from an idle faith what Paul was attributing to a living faith (Justinianus[11] on Romans 4). Response 5: A distintion is to be made concerning the language of justification. [Here let Grotius go before us:] The word δικαιοῦν, to justify, answers to the Hebrew word הַצְדִּיק, as it is evident. Now, verbs in the Hiphil commonly have a twofold signification, sometimes a twofold act, that is, of one doing so that another might do, sometimes something similar, like to declare; just as both הַרְשִׁיעַ signifies to justify not, or to condemn, and הַצְדִּיק signifies to absolve, as in Deuteronomy 25:2;[12] Proverbs 17:15;[13] etc., likewise to treat as such, suppose to praise, as this word is posited in Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:29; etc.; just as also נַקֵּה, which is to hold as innocent, the Chaldean translates as to forbear in Exodus 34.[14] Therefore, δικαιοῦσθαι sometimes signifies to be rendered just, sometimes to be loved and treated as just. But, although it is certain that a man is made righteous through faith, then also more righteous through ongoing works; nevertheless, the whole context of this discourse, and especially those things which now follow, require that we take δικαιοῦσθαι here in the latter sense; even indeed in such as way as both Abraham and Rahab are understood to be treated by God, in such a way as those who are just are wont to be treated, not only with God regarding their faith, but also their works proceeding from faith. Whoever, as completely guiltless, is loved by God, is endowed with the Spirit of God, and is made certain in that state of eternal salvation, he is sometimes said δικαιοῦσθαι, to be treated as just, although the very word is found otherwise elsewhere in that primitive and more proper signification, as in Daniel 12:3;[15] Revelation 22:11.[16] That the good pleasure of God in this manner is obtained, not through the natural works of men, but through faith had in the Divine oracles, when it arrives at the intention of obedience; but is preserved through pious deeds: all the Greek and Latin Christians taught (Grotius). Paul treats of the first justification (certain interpreters in Estius and in Gomar), or of the justification of the unjust, by which one is made just from unjust; which arise from grace, through faith alone (certain interpreters in Gomar): James treats of the second justification (certain interpreters in Estius and in Gomar), or of the justification of the just, by which one is made more just by the merit of works (certain interpreters in Gomar). This does not satisfy: 1. This is a false distinction, as it is evident from Romans 3:28; 4:2, 3, 6 (Gomar). 2. Thus they confound justification and sanctification (Gataker). 3. For the first justification the works of faith are required, concerning which James speaks, and for the second justification the works of the Law are useless, concerning which Paul speaks (Estius). [Therefore, others take that term otherwise.] To Paul, to be justified is to be acquitted in judgment, and to be judged righteous before the tribunal of God (Gomar); but to James, it is to be declared righteous (Gomar out of Beza, similarly Cameron), either, 1. before men (Gomar, certain interpreters in Cameron). Which is refuted by the preceding words and the passage from Genesis cited (Grotius). For that work of Abraham, offering his son, was performed with all witnesses removed except Isaac, who was not able to know the mind of his father except by the event (Cameron). Add that Faith, just like anything internal to man, does not appear to other men, and thus it is not able to be said to justify anyone before men (Grotius). Finally, there is no external work that hypocrisy is not able to imitate (Cameron). Or, 2. before God (Gomar, Cameron), to whom Abraham gave proof of his faith. Objection: But God has no need of proof. Response: This is true, but it does not follow from this that men do not give to God proof of themselves. For David thus appeals to God, that God would prove and try him, etc., Psalm 139:23; and Paul says, we labor to approve ourselves to God, 2 Corinthians 5:9 (Cameron). But also God concerning this very deed says, through ἀνθρωποπάθειαν, an anthropopathism, Now I know that thou fearest me, etc.[17] (Gomar). Christ also is said to have been justified in the Spirit, 1 Timothy 3:16, that is, to have given proof of His Divinity, or to have proven Himself to be true God, by the power of the Spirit, by the power of His own Divinity. And thus Christ would have been justified, even if no one acknowledged Him as Christ (Cameron). Thus both God and wisdom are said to be justified, Luke 7:29, 35, that is, declaratively (certain interpreters). [Thus concerning the fifth manner of reconciliation. Response 6: James and Paul are able to be reconciled without difficulty, from the difference of the scope, adversaries, and questions that they are treating:] Paul, contending with those that were boasting of their merits, disputes concerning the method and cause of justification, against its false causes, which they had substituted; and he teaches that we are justified by faith alone (Beza), and that neither the Gentiles nor the Jews are able to attain to true righteousness through moral or legal works; but that the faith of Christ is the sole way to that righteousness, and therefore the whole inclines unto a commendation of faith (Mede[18] on verse 23): But James discourses against those that were boasting of faith while gushing out sins, and were not only abolishing the justification of works, but the very works themselves; and hence, as the controversy was altogether contrary, so he disputes in the contrary order, concerning the effects of justification, namely, works; from which he ascends to the cause, as Paul contrariwise descends from the causes to the effects (Beza), and from which [effects] faith and justification are able to be discerned, verse 18 (Gomar). It is the intention of James to show that faith devoid of works is dead, and to demonstrate at the same time that the faith of Abraham was most laborious (Mede on verse 23). Paul speaks of the forum of righteousness, in which no one is able to be justified by works, Psalm 130:3; 143:2; Romans 4:1, 2: James speaks of the forum of grace, in which Holy men justify themselves by works, Psalm 18:20-23; 26:1-4; Isaiah 38:3 (Gataker). It was not the purpose of James to dispute how we may be justified, but of what sort that faith is by which we are justified (Cameron). The κρινόμενον, or question, before Paul was, whether Abraham was a sinner, or not, and here faith alone upon Christ Himself was justifying; but the question before James was, whether Abraham was a hypocrite, or truly faithful and loving toward God, and here works were justifying him (Gataker), that is, from the false accusation of hypocrisy, and of a mercenary character. Concerning which matter and the various sorts of justification we treated more fully on Romans 8:4 (Dieu) [in which place see either what things were said in the Author, or the excerpts from him in the Synopsis: But these things have been said concerning this most famous question: Now we must proceed in the interpretation of the text].

How that by works; works of new obedience. A man is justified; declared to be righteous, or approved as such, and acquitted from the guilt of hypocrisy. And not by faith only; not by a mere profession of faith, or a bare assent to the truth, without the fruit of good works. Question: How doth this general conclusion follow from the particular case of Abraham? Answer: Abraham’s faith and justification, both before God and the world, are set forth as the exemplars of ours, to which the faith and justification of all believers, both Jews and Gentiles, is to be conformed, Romans 4:11, 12, 23, 24. Question: Doth not James here contradict Paul’s doctrine in the matter of justification, Romans 4? Answer: The contradiction is but seeming, not real, as will appear, if four things be considered: 1. The occasion of these apostles’ writing, and their scope in it. Having to do with different sorts of persons, they had likewise different designs. As Christ speaks one way when he dealt with proud Pharisees, whom he would humble; another way, when with humble hearers, whom he would encourage; and Paul carried it one way when among weak brethren, in condescension to whose infirmities he circumcised Timothy, Acts 16:2, 3; and another, when he was among false brethren, and men of contention, who opposed Christian liberty, seeking to bring believers into bondage, and then would not suffer Titus to be circumcised, Galatians 2:3-5. So in the present affair. Paul’s business lay with false apostles and Judaizing Christians, such as did, in the matter of justification, either substitute a self-righteousness instead of God’s grace, or set it up in conjunction with it; and therefore his scope is (especially in his Epistles to the Romans and Galatians) to show the true cause and manner of justification, and vindicate the freeness of grace in it, by the exclusion of man’s works, of what kind soever; to which purpose he propounds the examples of Abraham and David, in their justification, Romans 4. Whereas James having to do with carnal professors, and such as abused the doctrine of grace to encourage themselves in sin, and thought it sufficient that they had faith, (such as it was,) though they did not live like believers, resting in an empty profession, with the neglect of holiness; his design plainly is, to show the effects and fruits of justification, viz. holiness and good works; thereby to check the vanity and folly of them who did thus divorce faith from a holy life, (which God hath joined to it,) and fancied themselves safe in the profession of the one, without any respect to, or care of, the other, as appears in this chapter, James 2:14, 17, 26. And because they might bear themselves high in this false confidence by the example of Abraham, their father according to the flesh, and whom Paul had set forth, Romans 4, as justified by faith, without the concurrence of works to his justification; James makes use of the same example of Abraham, as one eminent for holiness as well as faith, and who made his faith famous by the highest act of obedience that ever a saint did, to show, that faith and holiness ought not to be separated; Abraham’s faith being so highly commended, especially as productive of it. To the same purpose he makes use of the instance of Rahab, who, though a young saint, and newly come to the knowledge of God, yet showed the truth of her faith by so considerable an exercise of her love and mercy to God’s people, as her receiving the spies in peace was. This therefore helps not a little to reconcile the difference between these two apostles. Paul deals with those that magnified works too much, as if they were justified by them, and slighted faith and grace; and therefore, though he frequently shows the usefulness of faith and good works unto salvation, and presseth men every where to the practice of them, yet he proves that they have no interest in the justification of a sinner before God’s tribunal, which he asserts to be wholly and solely of grace, and by faith. But James, in dealing with loose Christians, who magnified faith, and slighted good works, not only as having no influence on justification, but as not necessary at all to salvation; he takes upon him to maintain good works, not as necessary to justification, but as the effects, signs, and evidences of it, and such as without which their faith was vain, and themselves in an unjustified state. 2. Paul and James take faith in different senses: Paul speaks of a true, lively faith, which purifies the heart, and worketh by love, Galatians 5:6. Whereas James speaks of a profession, or presumption of faith, barren, and destitute of good fruits, such a faith as is dead, James 2:17, such as the devils may have, James 2:19, which is but historical, and consists only in a belief of God’s being, not a consent to his offer, or relying on his promises. What contradiction then is there here between these two apostles, if Paul assert justification to be by faith, viz. a lively, working faith; and James deny it to be by faith, viz. an idle, inactive, barren faith, and which hath only the name, but not the nature of that grace, and is rather the image of faith than faith itself? 3. But because James not only denies justification to the faith he speaks of, but ascribes it to works in this verse; therefore it is to be considered, that justification is taken one way by him, and another by Paul. Paul takes it for the absolution and acceptation of a sinner at God’s bar, by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, which is the primary and proper notion of justification. But James takes it for the manifestation and declaration of that justification; and the word is taken in the like sense in other scriptures: Luke 7:29, the people justified God, i.e. owned and declared his righteousness by confession of their sins, and submission to John’s baptism; and Luke 7:35, Wisdom is justified, i.e. declared to be just and right; Romans 3:4, justified in thy sayings, i.e. acknowledged and declared to be true in thy word.  And what is Christ’s being justified in the Spirit, 1 Timothy 3:16, but his being declared to be the Son of God? Romans 1:4. And that James takes justification in this sense, appears: (1.) By the history of Abraham here mentioned: he was (as hath been said) justified by faith long before his offering up his son, Genesis 15, but here is said to be justified, i.e. declared and proved to be so, by this testimony which he gave to the truth of his faith, and consequently to his justification by it; and the Lord therefore tells him, Genesis 22:12, Now I know that thou fearest God, etc.; q.d. By this obedience thou hast abundantly showed the sincerity of thy graces. (2.) Because if James doth not here speak of Abraham’s being justified declaratively, how can it be true which he speaks, James 2:23, that the Scripture was fulfilled (in his sacrificing his son) which saith, He believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness? For if James intends justification in the proper sense, how was Abraham’s being justified by works a fulfilling of the Scripture, which asserts him to be justified by faith? Here therefore again there is no contradiction between these apostles. For it is true, that Abraham was justified, i.e. accepted of God, and absolved from guilt, by faith only; and it is as true, that he was justified, i.e. manifested and declared to be a believer, and a justified person, by his works. 4. Lastly, we may distinguish of the person that is said to be justified; either he is a sinner, in the state of nature; or a believer, in a state of grace; whence ariseth the twofold justification here mentioned. The justification of a sinner, in the remission of his sins through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, and acquitting him from the condemnation of the law, is the justification properly so called, and which Paul speaks so much of; and this is by faith only. The justification of a believer, is his absolution from condemnation by the gospel, and the charge of infidelity, or hypocrisy, and is no other than that declarative justification James speaks of, or an asserting and clearing up the truth and reality of the former justification, which is done by good works, as the signs and fruits of the faith, by which that former is obtained: and this is but improperly called justification. The former is an absolution from the general charge of sin, this from the special charge of hypocrisy, or infidelity. A sinner’s great fear (when first awakened to a sense of his sin and misery) is of a holy law, and a righteous Judge ready to condemn him for the violation of that law; and so his first business is to look to Christ by faith for righteousness, and remission of sin. But when he is justified by that righteousness, men may charge him with hypocrisy or unbelief, and so may the devil and conscience too, when faith is weak, or a temptation strong; and therefore his next work is to clear himself of this imputation, and to evidence the truth and reality of his faith and justification in God’s sight, which must be done by producing his obedience and good works, as the indications of his faith; and hereby he proves that he hath indeed closed with the promise of the gospel, and so is clear of the charge of not believing it, which was false; as well as (by consequence) is justified from the charge of sin against the law, which was true. To conclude, therefore, here is no opposition between Paul and James. Paul speaks of Abraham’s being justified as a sinner, and properly, and so by faith only; James speaks of his being justified as a believer, improperly, and so by works; by which not his person was justified, but rather his faith declared to be justifying: nor he constituted righteous, but approved as righteous. In a word, what God hath joined must not be divided, and what he hath divided must not be joined. He hath separated faith and works in the business of justification, and therefore we must not join them in it, as Paul disputes; and he hath joined them in the lives of justified persons, and there we must not separate them, as James teaches. Paul assures us they have not a co-efficiency in justification itself; and James assures us they may, and ought to have, a coexistence in them that are justified. If the reader desire further satisfaction yet, let him consult Turretine “Concerning the Concord of Paul and James”,[19] where he may find much more to the same purpose as hath been here said.

[1] Greek: ὁρᾶτε τοίνυν ὅτι ἐξ ἔργων δικαιοῦται ἄνθρωπος, καὶ οὐκ ἐκ πίστεως μόνον.

[2] In the imperative mood.

[3] Here, the neuter is used adverbially.

[4] The adjectival form, answering to πίστεως/faith.

[5] Matthew 5:47: “And if ye salute your brethren only (τοὺς ἀδελφοὺς ὑμῶν μόνον), what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?”

[6] Matthew 21:19a: “And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only (εἰ μὴ φύλλα μόνον), and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever.”

[7] John 13:9: “Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only (μὴ τοὺς πόδας μου μόνον), but also my hands and my head.”

[8] Acts 11:19: “Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only (εἰ μὴ μόνον Ἰουδαίοις).”

[9] Romans 3:29: “Is he the God of the Jews only (ἢ Ἰουδαίων ὁ Θεὸς μόνον)? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also…”

[10] That is, the union of two or more tropes by a single word.

[11] Benedetto Justiniani (1550-1622) was an Italian Jesuit scholar. He wrote In Omnes Beati Pauli Epistolas Explantiones and In Omnes Catholicas Epistolas Explanationes.

[12] Deuteronomy 25:2: “And it shall be, if the wicked man (הָרָשָׁע) be worthy to be beaten, that the judge shall cause him to lie down, and to be beaten before his face, according to his fault (רִשְׁעָתוֹ), by a certain number.”

[13] Proverbs 17:15: “He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just (מַצְדִּ֣יק רָ֭שָׁע וּמַרְשִׁ֣יעַ צַדִּ֑יק), even they both are abomination to the Lord.”

[14] Exodus 34:7: “Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear (וְנַקֵּה֙ לֹ֣א יְנַקֶּ֔ה; לָא מְזַכֵי, in the Chaldean) the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.”

[15] Daniel 12:3: “And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever (καὶ ἀπὸ τῶν δικαίων τῶν πολλῶν ὡς οἱ ἀστέρες εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας καὶ ἔτι, and some of the many righteous as the stars for ever and ever).”

[16] Revelation 22:11: “He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still (καὶ ὁ δίκαιος δικαιωθήτω ἔτι): and he that is holy, let him be holy still.”

[17] Genesis 22:12.

[18] Although most remembered for his work on John’s Apocalypse, The Key of the Revelation, and his escatological views, Joseph Mede (1586-1638) treats texts spanning the entire Bible in his Works. Mede was first a student, and then a fellow, tutor, and Reader of Greek, at Christ’s College, Cambridge.

[19] De Satisfaction Christi Disputationes, “De Concordia Iacobi et Pauli”.

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