James 2:12-13

James 2:12‑13  •  6 min. read  •  grade level: 10
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MEN easily satisfy themselves before a God who no longer manifests Himself visibly, Who does not act now as when the law ruled or government was displayed in immediate rewards and punishments. And the error of men is apt to be so much the greater when they regard the gospel as introducing a mitigation of legal severity. They fancy that a little sin here and there, now and then, will meet with mild dealing, so that there is no need of over-righteousness. The circumstances of those addressed in this Epistle would naturally expose souls to this snare, which is itself laid bare and torn to pieces in the verses already before us. No notion was more derogatory to His authority Who had spoken at Sinai, none more subversive of the law itself, which is necessarily inflexible. If broken in a single point, righteousness under it is gone, and the honor of the whole is compromised.
If infraction in one respect were tolerated, license would go on to expect more and more, till perhaps every point but one was surrendered, if indeed even one on such a principle could escape the encroaching will of man. But all such tolerance is unknown to the law which demands nothing less than absolute uncompromising subjection.
Is it argued then that the condition of man under it, no matter what his privileges and helps, is and must be hopeless? The answer is that so it is assuredly, because man is a sinner. Evil is there since the fall in his very nature, a law in his members, warring in opposition to what is holy and just and good. The apostle Paul goes to the root, and shows that death to the old man is the sole divine deliverance, amelioration of ourselves gradual or sudden being alike human and vain, the nostrums of theological empiricism, and not the remedy proclaimed to faith in God's word. Again, were it simply our death, it would be unavailable for us here below, and the blessed fruit would only be after death when we should be with Christ; and thus the victory that God intends now through our Lord Jesus would be shorn of a great part of its luster and power. But it is not so. The death and resurrection of Christ gives far more now than most Christians believe to their own loss. For it is not only that He died for us—for our sins, which are therefore blotted out and forgiven. He died also to sin, He Himself wholly without it. He knew no sin; yet God made Him sin for us; and we who believe are associated with Him in that death of complete deliverance from sin in principle, root and not fruits merely, as the apostle so elaborately discusses in Rom. 5:1212Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: (Romans 5:12)-viii. Our very baptism signifies, not only that we washed our sins away, but that we died to sin and are justified from sin as well as sins. Hence we are called to reckon ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Our Epistle does not penetrate to such depths nor rise to such heights, as it was given to the great apostle of the uncircumcision, minister of the church no less than of the gospel as he designates himself in Col. 1 But it is no less inspired of God, no less necessary to man, in order to test mere profession where it most abounded and was most dangerous, to maintain the true character of that law which must be a ministry of death and condemnation to the guilty, and to insist on “a law of liberty” which exactly suits the new nature of those whom God in His purpose or will begot by the word of truth. The law was not accompanied by the rainbow, the beautiful sign of divine mercy in the covenant with creation (Gen. 9), after Noah began the post-diluvian world with the burnt-offering, the sign of Christ's sacrifice. Lightning and thunder, unearthly trumpet, and God's voice more terrible than all to sinful man, inaugurated the law. It is Christ here below Who first shows us the law of liberty in all its fullness and perfection.
This portion closes with the next two verses: “So speak and so act as about to be judged by a law of liberty; for the judgment [is] merciless to him that showed no mercy. Mercy glorieth over judgment” (vers. 12,13). James as ever was led of the Spirit to press in practice the manifestation of God's will on those that have or say they have, the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ; and he resents as we ought the shame which a lax and spurious profession puts on the Lord “of glory.” Can any appeal be more wholesome now as then? They are indeed to be pitied as well as blamed who think it beneath scripture; and it is to be feared, that, even if at bottom true believers, they find the edge of the sword as James wields it too sharp for their ways. Otherwise it seems incomprehensible that they should not welcome his words as of great and permanent value for themselves as for others.
Nor is it true that the Epistle is absorbed in the outward conduct. Speaking and doing are its exhortation as covering a very large part of our practical life; but it is carefully defined that both were to be of such a sort as was suited to those that are to be determined by a law of liberty: a principle of the inner man and inscrutable to such as, having no faith, have no new life from God and no knowledge of His grace. As mercy is the spring of all we profess as God's children, God is indignant at its absence in those that by grace claim kindred with Himself. They surely of all mankind are responsible to delight in mercy and to manifest it in word and deed, as having to do and to be judged by a law not of bondage but of liberty. For God is not mocked but sanctified in those that come nigh Him, as all do who are begotten of Him; and He will be glorified in the solemn judgment of those that set Him at naught. As we here read, “for the judgment [is] merciless to him that showed no mercy.” Is not this as it should be?
Say not in a depreciatory way, It is a sentiment suited to James the Just. Read on, and learn that God gives us much more through him: “Mercy glorieth over judgment.” Are not we who believe witnesses of it? Was not our Lord Jesus the proof of it, so exhaustively that there is no need, no room, for more? For all the vessels of mercy derive it through Him. Mercy is God's habitual and congenial work; judgment is His strange work, yet most righteous, against those who, having the utmost need, despise His mercy and most of all in the Lord of glory. Yet He has shown and proved it in its richest resources and its most affecting form, emptying Himself, yea, the true God humbling Himself, to save His ungodly enemies. But how blessed for those that believe! Beyond doubt “mercy glorieth over judgment” in Jesus Christ and Him crucified. But are not we who bear His name responsible to have it bright within us, that our practical conversation may be filled with it and governed by it?