James 2:18-19

James 2:18‑19  •  5 min. read  •  grade level: 9
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WE have now another saying in order to bring out the reality, as we had in vers. 14 and 16. In the first Epistle of John we may see the contrast pursued more deeply. “But some one will say, Thou hast faith, and I have works. Show me thy faith apart from works, and out of (or, by) my works I will show thee my faith. Thou believest that God is one; thou believest well: the demons also believe and shudder” (vers. 18, 19).
The fact in the spiritual realm, which lies under the question here discussed, we have seen to be laid down with the utmost simplicity and clearness in chap. 1:18. It is the possession of a new life, which is given to all who are begotten by the word of truth. No intellectual process can amount to such a boon, though a spiritual understanding never in operation before accompanies it, as there are also new affections proper to it. We can readily apprehend how unpalatable such teaching must be to those that were attached to the ancient system of ritual and law for a nation chosen as a whole, as well as to the still wider snare of crying up human powers, with no adequate sense of God or His kingdom on the one hand, or of man's sin and ruin on the other. It was therefore urgently requisite that all should learn on divine authority, that in Christianity a mere action however powerful on a man's faculties is altogether short of the truth. For there is communication of a life in Christ, which he never possessed before, as well as the Holy Spirit thenceforward dwelling in him in power, the gift of God's grace; so that he might know the things of God and the revealed objects, as the old nature was capable of knowing the things of man and of the old creation subjected to him.
This new nature, attaching to the family of God, and of course to every member of it, involves with such a relationship the responsibility of a corresponding walk as well as inward communion with the source and giver of its blessedness. It was the allotted and appropriate work of James to charge home this all-important truth and its practical consequences on those he addresses, and indirectly but none the less really on all that have the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ. Here he is resisting an abuse easily understood, and as dangerous as evil. He censures and repudiates a mere doctrinal scheme without life, and hence destitute of the works which attest a new nature from God. John, who was given to set forth the glory of Christ's person beyond all others of the inspired, shows us life in Christ which the believer even now has, and the gift of the Spirit, the other Advocate. But here the same truth of the divine nature whereof we become partakers is no less truly revealed, the basis of all works acceptable to God, of all godly practice in word, deed, or feeling.
“But some will say, Thou hast faith, and I have works:” a supposition that divorces what God joins inseparably, an evident fighting against His word and nature, as also His will. For had he not affirmed in the Spirit, that God, the Father of lights, of His purpose begat us by the word of truth? To be doers of the word, not hearers only who are not so begotten, is our consistent and blessed place, a perfect law of liberty in which we by grace continue because our new nature loves Him and His word. Those who sever work from faith have no living association with God and simply deceive themselves.
Hence the refutation in the next words:” Show me thy faith apart from works, and out of my works I will show thee my faith.” It is an answer in both its parts conclusive. Faith is as it were the soul, and needs works as its body to be shown. To “show” faith separate from works is therefore an impossibility. He who believes by the Holy Spirit shows his faith by his works, as the rebuker rejoins.
This very word “show,” as it falls in with the great aim of the Epistle is the key to the difficulty, which from of old till now so many uninstructed and unestablished souls have found in comparing the teaching of Paul and of James. Inasmuch as both were inspired, there can be no ground for it. The appearance is due solely to the ignorance of unbelief. The one is occupied with the root, with what is “before God” (Rom. 4:22For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. (Romans 4:2)); the other, with the fruit, and therefore “show me” before men. Both agree that, where faith is divinely given and souls are begotten by the word of truth, good works are the fruit and the outward witness of faith. There is nothing in fact to reconcile, because there is no real variance. The one insists that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law; the other, that he who claims to have faith is bound to show it by his works. In the one the question is how a sinner can be justified by grace; in the other, what God looks for from him who professes faith.
But the refutation goes farther. “Thou believest that God is one; thou believest well: the demons also believe and shudder.” It was well to own the unity of God, and wicked to hold a multiplicity of gods, which were no better than demons. Even these were not so insensible as those who boasted of their faith but had no works corresponding to show. For the demons shudder, as we see in the Synoptic Gospels. The mere professor of faith may not have as much feeling, though God's word solemnly warns that such as he have no inheritance in the kingdom of the Christ and God.