1 My brothers, don't hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ of glory with partiality. 2 For if a man with a gold ring, in fine clothing, comes into your synagogue, and a poor man in filthy clothing also comes in; 3 and you pay special attention to him who wears the fine clothing, and say, "Sit here in a good place;" and you tell the poor man, "Stand there," or "Sit by my footstool;" 4 haven't you shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my beloved brothers. Didn't God choose those who are poor in this world to be rich in faith, and heirs of the Kingdom which he promised to those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Don't the rich oppress you, and personally drag you before the courts? 7 Don't they blaspheme the honorable name by which you are called? 8 However, if you fulfill the royal law, according to the Scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you do well. 9 But if you show partiality, you commit sin, being convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law, and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. 11 For he who said, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do not commit murder." Now if you do not commit adultery, but murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak, and so do, as men who are to be judged by a law of freedom. 13 For judgment is without mercy to him who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. 14 What good is it, my brothers, if a man says he has faith, but has no works? Can faith save him? 15 And if a brother or sister is naked and in lack of daily food, 16 and one of you tells them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled;" and yet you didn't give them the things the body needs, what good is it? 17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead in itself. 18 Yes, a man will say, "You have faith, and I have works." Show me your faith without works, and I by my works will show you my faith. 19 You believe that God is one. You do well. The demons also believe, and shudder. 20 But do you want to know, vain man, that faith apart from works is dead? 21 Wasn't Abraham our father justified by works, in that he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? 22 You see that faith worked with his works, and by works faith was perfected; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him as righteousness;" and he was called the friend of God. 24 You see then that by works, a man is justified, and not only by faith. 25 In the same way, wasn't Rahab the prostitute also justified by works, in that she received the messengers, and sent them out another way? 26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, even so faith apart from works is dead.
This chapter is evidently made up of three parts, or three subjects are discussed:
I. The duty of impartiality in the treatment of others, James 2:1-9. There was to be no favoritism on account of rank, birth, wealth, or apparel. The case to which the apostle refers for an illustration of this, is that where two persons should come into an assembly of Christian worshippers, one elegantly dressed, and the other meanly clad, and they should show special favor to the former, and should assign to the latter a more humble place. The reasons which the apostle assigns why they should not do this are,
(a) that God has chosen the poor for his own people, having selected his friends mainly from them;
(b) because rich men in fact oppressed them, and showed that they were worthy of no special regard;
(c) because they were often found among revilers, and in fact despised their religion; and,
(d) because the law required that they should love their neighbors as themselves, and if they did this, it was all that was demanded; that is, that the love of the man was not to be set aside by the love of splendid apparel.
II. The duty of yielding obedience to the whole law in order to have evidence of true religion, James 2:10-13. This subject seems to have been introduced in accordance with the general principles and aims of James (see the Introduction) that religion consists in obeying the law of God, and that there can be none when this is not done. It is not improbable that, among those to whom he wrote, there were some who denied this, or who had embraced some views of religion which led them to doubt it. He therefore enforces the duty by the following considerations:
(1) That if a man should obey every part of the law, and yet be guilty of offending in one point, he was in fact guilty of all; for he showed that he had no genuine principle of obedience, and was guilty of violating the law as a whole, James 2:10.
(2) every part of the law rests on the same authority, and one part, therefore, is as binding as another. The same God that has forbidden murder, has also forbidden adultery; and he who does the one as really violates the law as he who does the other, James 2:11.
(3) the judgment is before us, and we shall be tried on impartial principles, not with reference to obeying one part of the law, but with reference to its whole claim; and we should so act as becomes those who expect to be judged by the whole law, or on the question whether we have conformed to every part of it, James 2:12-13.
III. The subject of justification, showing that works are necessary in order that a man may be justified, or esteemed righteous before God, James 2:14-26. For a general view of the design of this part of the Epistle, see Introduction, Section 5. The object here is to show that in fact no one can be regarded as truly righteous before God who does not lead an upright life; and that if a man professes to have faith, and has not works, he cannot be justified; or that if he have real faith, it will be shown by his works. If it is not shown by works corresponding to its nature, it will be certain that there is no true religion, or that his professed faith is worth nothing. The "stand-point" from which James views the subject, is not that faith is unnecessary or worthless, or that a man is not justified by faith rather than by his own works, in the sense of its being the ground of acceptance with God; or, in other words, the place where the apostle takes his position, and which is the point from which he views the subject, is not before a man is justified, to inquire in what way he may be accepted of God, but it is after the act of justification by faith, to show that if faith does not lead to good works it is "dead," or is of no value; and that in fact, therefore, the evidence of justification is to be found in good living, and that when this is not manifest, all a man's professed religion is worth nothing. In doing this, he:
(a) makes the general statement, by a pointed interrogatory, that faith cannot profit, that is, cannot save a man, unless there be also works, James 2:14. He then:
(b) appeals, for an illustration, to the case of one who is hungry or naked, and asks what mere faith could do in his case, if it were not accompanied with proper acts of benevolence, James 2:15-17. He then,
(c) by a strong supposable case, says that real faith will be evinced by works, or that works are the proper evidence of its existence, James 2:18. He then.
(d) shows that there is a kind of faith which even the devils have on one of the most important doctrines of religion, and which can be of no value; showing that it cannot be by mere faith, irrespective of the question of what sort the faith is, that a man is to be saved, James 2:19. He then.
(e) appeals to the case of Abraham showing that in fact works performed an important part in his acceptance with God; or that if it had not been for his works - that is, if there had been no spirit of true obedience in his case, he could have had no evidence that he was justified, or that his works were the proper carrying out or fulfillment of his faith, James 2:20-24. He then:
(f) shows that the same thing was true of another case recorded in the Old Testament - that of Rahab James 2:25; and then observes James 2:26 that faith without works would have no more claim to being true religion than a dead body, without a soul, would be regarded as a living man.
We should not prefer the rich to the poor, nor show any partiality inconsistent with the Gospel of Christ, James 2:1-4. God has chosen the poor, rich in faith, to be heirs of his kingdom, even those whom some among their brethren despised and oppressed, James 2:5, James 2:6. They should love their neighbor as themselves, and have no respect of persons, James 2:7-9. He who breaks one command of God is guilty of the whole, James 2:10, James 2:11. They should act as those who shall be judged by the law of liberty; and he shall have judgment without mercy, who shows no mercy, James 2:12, James 2:13. Faith without works of charity and mercy is dead; nor can it exist where there are no good works, James 2:14-20. Abraham proved his faith by his works, James 2:21-24. And so did Rahab, James 2:25. As the body without the soul is dead, so is faith without good works, James 2:26.
INTRODUCTION TO JAMES 2
In this chapter the apostle dissuades from a respect of persons, on account of outward circumstances; shows that the law is to be fulfilled, and that mercy is to be exercised, as well as justice done; and exposes the folly of such who boast of faith without works: he dissuades the saints from all partiality to the rich and poor, from their relation to one another, as brethren, and from their common faith, of which Christ, the Lord of glory, is the object, James 2:1 supposes an instance of it, either in a court of judicature, or a religious assembly, James 2:2 and then makes an appeal unto them, and expostulates with them about it, James 2:4 and makes use of an argument against it, taken from the divine conduct, and an instance of his grace in the choice of persons to eternal life, James 2:5 a conduct very different from some persons here blamed, James 2:6, and other arguments follow, dissuading from a respect of persons, taken from the characters of rich men, as oppressors of the poor, litigious and quarrelsome with their neighbours, and blasphemers of the name of God, James 2:7 and from the law of God, which requires the love of the neighbour, and which to fulfil is to do well, James 2:8 and from the breach of it, by having respect to persons, whereby its penalty is incurred, James 2:9 for which a reason is given; because whoever offends in one point of the law, is guilty of the whole, James 2:10 as is a clear case, since the same lawgiver that forbids one sin, forbids another; so that he that is guilty of either of them is a transgressor of the law, James 2:11 wherefore it is right both to speak and act according to it, since men will be judged by it, James 2:12 and he will have no mercy shown him that has shown none to the poor, but merciful ones will escape damnation, James 2:13 and then the apostle argues from the unprofitableness of faith itself without works, James 2:14 and which he exemplifies in the case of a poor brother or sister who are wished well, but nothing given them; which good words, without deeds, are of no profit, James 2:15 so in like manner, faith without works is a dead faith, James 2:17 nor indeed can it be made out that a man has faith, if he has not works, James 2:18 at least such a faith as has justification and salvation connected with it; his faith, at most, is no better than that of the devils, who are damned, James 2:19 and that such a faith is a dead faith, James 2:2 and that true faith is attended with, and evidenced by works, the apostle proves by two instances; the one is that of Abraham, whose faith appeared to be genuine, and he to be a justified person, by the works he did; particularly by offering up his son Isaac; in which way his faith operated, and showed itself to be sincere and hearty; and the Scripture was fulfilled that Abraham was a believer; and had righteousness imputed to him, and was a friend of God, and a justified person, James 2:21 and the other instance is that of Rahab, whose faith was also shown by her works, and so a justified person, by receiving the spies with peace, and dismissing them with safety, James 2:25, and then the apostle explains what he means, by saying more than once, that faith without works is dead; which he illustrates by the simile of a man's body being dead, without the spirit or soul in it, James 2:26.
SUMMARY.--Respect of Persons. The Royal Law. He Who Keeps the Law Must Offend in Nothing. Faith not a Living Faith if Alone. Its Life Must Be Shown by its Fruits. It is Perfected by Obedience. The Lesson of Abraham's Faith.
*More commentary available by clicking individual verses.