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THE GENERAL EPISTLE OF JAMES - Chapter 2 - Verse 1
ANALYSIS OF THE CHAPTER.
This chapter is evidently made up of three parts, or three subjects are discussed:—
I. The duty of impartiality in the treatment of others, verses 1-9. There was to be no favouritism 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 favour 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 neighbours 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, verses 10-13. This subject seems to have been introduced in accordance with the general principles and aims of James, (see Barnes on "Jas 1:1, 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, Jas 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, Jas 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, Jas 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, Jas 2:14-26. For a general view of the design of this part of the epistle, see Barnes on "Jas 5:1, Introduction to Chapter 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, Jas 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, Jas 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, Jas 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, Jas 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 no evidence that he was justified, or that his works were the proper carrying out or fulfilment of his faith, Jas 2:20-24. He then
(f) shows that the same thing was true of another case recorded in the Old Testament—that of Rahab, (Jas 2:25;) and then observes, (Jas 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.
Verse 1. My brethren. Perhaps meaning brethren in two respects—as Jews, and as Christians. In both respects the form of address would be proper.
Have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faith is the distinguishing thing in the Christian religion, for it is this by which man is justified, and hence it comes to be put for religion itself. See Barnes on "1 Ti 3:9".
The meaning here is, "Do not hold such views of the religion of Christ, as to lead you to manifest partiality to others on account of their difference of rank or outward circumstances."
The design here seems to be to show that the religion of such a Lord should be in no way dishonoured.
With respect of persons. That is, you are not to show respect of persons, or to evince partiality to others on account of their rank, wealth, apparel, etc. Compare Pr 24:23; Pr 28:21; Le 19:15; De 1:17; De 10:17; 2 Ch 19:7; Ps 40:4.
to see the subject explained.
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