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ST. JAMES.--FAITH AND WORKS.
* BERKELEY LIBRARY
ST. JAMES, ii. 18.
Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works : show
me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith
by my works.
The Epistle of James, and the manner in which some have received it, and many more neglected the lesson which it teaches, affords a remarkable instance of the way of teaching followed in the Scriptures, and of the difficulty of getting men in their teaching to follow the same.
The Epistle itself takes up one view of Christianity almost exclusively, and follows it through with the utmost perfectness. The view which I speak of, I may be allowed to call the moral view, as distinguished from the doctrinal ;-the laying out of sight the great peculiarities of Christianity, and considering it only as it is the law of nature and of Moses,
perfected in the two points of love to God and
It would not have been possible for any part of the Christian Scriptures to have taken up the view exactly contrary to this; that is, to have dwelt wholly on the doctrinal points without the moral points ;-for doctrines not used as principles of life, that is, coupled with the moral conclusions for the sake of wbich they are revealed, are no better than theoretical truth, with which Christianity has nothing to do. We have, therefore, no part of the New Testament so wholly doctrinal as the Epistle of James is wholly moral; but we have a great many which are both doctrinal and moral; and some in which the doctrinal part has been by some of its interpreters made so far theoretical, that the whole book has seemed in their use of it to be exclusively doctrinal, though in reality it is not so.
The view contained in the Epistle of St. James is undoubtedly not the whole of Christianity, any more than the view contained of it in St. Paul's speech to the Athenians. But it was not God's purpose that we should possess either the one or the other of these by themselves.
Our whole knowledge of Christianity was not to be drawn from these sources only. It is enough that God judged it fitting that this view of it should be presented to us along with others, as being not only in itself beautiful and useful, but serving
especially as an antidote against an evil, which was sure from time to time to exalt itself in the church, and always to be in existence, the evil of dwelling exclusively or predominantly upon mere doctrines as theoretical truths.
Such is the well known course of scriptural teaching, to oppose as it were one evil at a time, and that with the utmost force, and often without qualification; leaving the qualification required to be sought for in other parts of Scripture directed against the opposite error. Hence the difficulty of reconciling some passages of Scripture theoretically; although taken practically they lead to the exact balance in temper and conduct which is most according to God's will. But some not liking this method, and desiring a far greater theoretical exactness than it allows us to attain, have either explained away the passages which they did not like, or, as in the case of the Epistle of St. James, have shut them out of the Scripture altogether. It is well known that Luther rejected this Epistle, because he judged it contrary to the doctrines of St. Paul. And many others besides Luther, while they have professed to receive it, would undoubtedly have condemned any writings of their own time, which might be confined like it to the same single view of Christianity.
Indeed, this Epistle of St. James, to those who admit its authority, should make them cautious of
condemning sermons or books as unchristian, because they may say very little upon the principal doctrines of the Gospel. For here is an Epistle written by one of the very chief of the Apostles, which says nothing about them also ; which does not name so much as the resurrection of Christ, nor His atonement for sins, nor the sanctifying of our hearts by the Holy Ghost. Was it that St. James did not know and value these great truths as much as we can do ? Far from it, but he knew also that there were circumstances under which these could not, or needed not, to be brought forward ; and that it was not to be demanded of all Christians, in all their writings, to be for ever dwelling
Now directly in opposition to the moral view of the Gospel stands the extreme doctrinal view; and this extreme doctrinal view is combated accordingly in the passage from which the text is taken. And as God foresaw that this view would, in after ages, be grounded chiefly on a false interpretation of St. Paul's writings, so it was ordered that against those very writings, as so interpreted, the language of St. James should be especially directed. For 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 wickedness or fanaticism; and that it does not in the slightest degree
interfere with it, as taken according to the meaning of the writer. Nor is it at all to our purpose to ask whether St. James, from his situation amongst the Jews at Jerusalem, had heard so many things said against St. Paul, that he really believed him to have held the doctrines here condemned. If, as a man, he so judged, yet God would by no means allow His Apostles, in those writings which were to guide the Church for ever, to impair each other's authority. We know that St. James has not written against St. Paul, even though he himself, misled by the inveteracy of those about him, may have thought that the doctrine which he was combating was really taught by St. Paul. But we are sure of this, that he could not have intended to answer what St. Paul has actually said in his Epistle to the Romans; because there is nothing there to which the answer is really applicable,
In the words of the text, it cannot be doubted that the words, “Show me thy faith without thy works,” are intended to allude to such language as we find in St. Paul, “ that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” They are intended to allude to it as it has been often misinterpreted at various periods, and as it might be interpreted fairly enough if we took it by itself, and had no other means of knowing what St. Paul meant by it. For taking “faith” in the sense in