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135

CHAPTER XII.
FAITH AND WORKS: THREE VIEWS OF THE RELATION OF THE TEACHING OF ST. JAMES TO THE TEACHING OF ST. PAUL.
THE RELATION OF LUTHER TO BOTH.

"What doth it profit, my brethren, if a man say he hath faith, but have not works? can that faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and in lack of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Go in peace, be ye warmed and filled; and yet ye give them not the things needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it have not works, is dead in itself. Yea, a man will say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: show me thy faith apart from thy works, and I by my works will show thee my faith. Thou believest that God is One; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and shudder. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, in that he offered up Isaac his son upon the altar? Thou seest that faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect; and the Scripture was fulfilled which saith, And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness; and he was called the friend of God. Ye see that by works a man is justified, and not only by faith. And in like manner was not also Rahab the harlot justified by works, in that she received the messengers, and sent them out another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, even so faith apart from works is dead."—St. James ii. 14-26.

THIS famous passage has been quoted in full, because one needs to have the whole of it before one in order to appreciate the value of the arguments used on this side and on that as to its relation to the teaching of St. Paul on the connexion between faith and works; for which purpose mere extracts will not 136 do; and also because considerable changes, some of them important, have been made throughout the passage by the Revisers, and these will influence the impression derived from reading the passage as a whole.

It might be thought that here, at any rate, we have got, in this singularly practical and undogmatic Epistle, a paragraph which is, both in intention and in effect, distinctly doctrinal. It seems at first sight to be a careful exposition of St. James's views as to the nature and value of faith and its relation to conduct. But a little attention will prove to us that throughout the passage St. James is as practical in his aim as in any part of the letter, and that whatever doctrinal teaching there may be in the passage is there because the practical purpose of the writer could not be fulfilled without involving doctrine, and not at all because the writer's object is to expound or defend an article of the Christian faith. He has agenda rather than credenda in his mind. An orthodox creed is assumed throughout. What needs to be produced is not right belief, but right action.

In this affectionate pastoral St. James passes in review the defects which he knows to exist in his readers. They have their good points, but these are sadly marred by corresponding deficiencies. They are swift to hear, but also swift to speak and slow to act. They believe in Jesus Christ; but they dishonour Him by dishonouring His poor, while they profess to keep the law of charity by honouring the rich. They are orthodox in a Monotheistic creed; but they rest content with that, and their orthodoxy is as barren as a dead tree. It is with this last defect that St. James is dealing in the passage before us. And as so often 137 (i. 12, 19; ii. 1; iii. 1, 13; iv. 1, 13; v. 1, 7, 13), he clearly states his main point first, and then proceeds to enforce and elucidate it.

"What doth it profit, my brethren, if a man say he hath faith, but have not works? Can that faith save him?" "That faith" is literally "the faith," or "his faith;" viz. such faith as he professes, a faith that produces nothing. There is no emphasis on "say." St. James is not insinuating that the man says he has faith, when he really has none. If that were the case, it would be needless to ask, "Can his faith save him?" The question then would be, "Can his profession of faith save him?" But St. James nowhere throws doubt on the truth of the unprofitable believer's professions, or on the possibility of believing much and doing nothing. Why, then, does he put in the "say"? Why not write, "If a man have faith"? Perhaps in order to indicate that in such cases the man's own statement is all the evidence there is that he has faith. In the case of other Christians their works prove them to be believers; but where there are no works you can only have the man's word for it that he believes. The case is parallel to that sketched by our blessed Lord, which St. James may have in his mind. "Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy by Thy Name, and by Thy Name cast out devils, and by Thy Name do many mighty works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you; depart from Me, ye that work iniquity" (Matt. vii. 21-23). In this case it is manifest that the profession of faith is not mere empty hypocrisy; it is not 138 a saying of "Lord, Lord," to one who is not believed to be the Lord. It is a faith that can remove mountains, but divorced from the love which makes it acceptable. The two, which God hath joined together, have by man's self-will been put asunder.

The relation, therefore, of the teaching of St. James to that of His Divine Brother is clear: the two are in perfect harmony. What is its relation to the teaching of St. Paul? Omitting minor differences, there are in the main three answers to this question: (1) The writer of this Epistle is deliberately contradicting and correcting the teaching of St. Paul. (2) St. James is correcting prevalent misunderstandings, or is anticipating probable misunderstandings, of the teaching of St. Paul. (3) St. James writes without reference to, and possibly without knowledge of, the precise teaching of the Apostle of the Gentiles respecting the relation between faith and works.

(1) Those who hold the first of these three views naturally maintain that the Epistle is not genuine, but the production of some one of a later age than St. James, who wished to have the great authority of his name to cover an attack upon the teaching of St. Paul. Thus F. C. Baur maintains that "the doctrine of this Epistle must be considered as intended to correct that of Paul." This, which is taken from the second edition of his work on the Life and Work of St. Paul, published after his death in 1860, by his pupil Zeller, may be taken as his matured opinion. In his history of the Christian Church of the First Three Centuries, published in 1853, he expresses himself a little less positively: "It is impossible to deny that the Epistle of James presupposes the Pauline doctrine of justification. And if this be so, its tendency is distinctly anti-Pauline, 139 though it may not be aimed directly against the Apostle himself. The Epistle contends against a one-sided conception of the Pauline doctrine, which was dangerous to practical Christianity." In both works alike Baur contends that the Epistle of James cannot be genuine, but is the product of some unknown writer in the second century. The opinions that our Epistle is directed against the teaching of St. Paul, and that it is not genuine, naturally go together. It is against all probability that St. James, who had supported St. Paul in the crisis at Jerusalem in A.D. 50 (Acts xv.), and who had given to him and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship (Gal. ii. 9), should attack St. Paul's own teaching. But to deny the authenticity of the Epistle, and place it in a later age, does not really avoid the difficulty of the supposed attack on St. Paul, and it brings with it other difficulties of a no less serious character. In any case the letter is addressed to Jewish Christians (i. 1); and what need was there to put them on their guard against the teaching of a man whom they regarded with profound distrust, and whose claim to be an Apostle they denied? It would be as reasonable to warn Presbyterians against the doctrine of the Infallibility of the Pope. Besides all which, as Renan has shown, the letter sketches a state of things which would be inconceivable after the outbreak of the war which ended in the destruction of Jerusalem; i.e. it cannot be placed later than A.D. 66.

Dr. Salmon justly observes, "To a disciple of Baur there is no more disappointing document than this Epistle of James. Here, if anywhere in the New Testament, he might expect to find evidence of anti-Pauline rancour. There is what looks like flat contradiction between this Epistle and the teaching of 140 St. Paul.... But that opposition to Paul which, on a superficial glance, we are disposed to ascribe to the Epistle of James, disappears on a closer examination. I postpone for the moment the question whether we can suppose that James intended to contradict Paul; but whether he intended it or not, he has not really done so; he has denied nothing that Paul has asserted, and asserted nothing that a disciple of Paul would care to deny. On comparing the language of James with that of Paul, all the distinctive expressions of the latter are found to be absent from the former. St. Paul's thesis is that a man is justified not by works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ. James speaks only of works without any mention of the law, and of faith without any mention of Jesus Christ, the example of faith which he considers being merely the belief that there is one God. In other words, James is writing not in the interests of Judaism, but of morality. Paul taught that faith in Jesus Christ was able to justify a man uncircumcised and unobservant of the Mosaic ordinances.... For this Pauline teaching James not only has no word of contradiction, but he gives no sign of ever having heard of the controversy which, according to Baur, formed the most striking feature in the early history of the Church.... Whatever embarrassment the apparent disagreement between the Apostles has caused to orthodox theologians is as nothing in comparison with the embarrassment caused to a disciple of Baur by their fundamental agreement."6060   Introduction to the N.T., 4th ed. (Murray, 1889), pp. 504, 506, a work which may be most heartily commended to every student of the New Testament.

We may, therefore, safely abandon a theory which involves three such difficulties. It assigns a date to 141 the Epistle utterly incompatible with its contents. It makes the writer warn Jewish Christians against teaching which they, of all Christians, were least likely to find attractive. And after all, the warning is futile; for the writer's own teaching is fundamentally the same as that which it is supposed to oppose and correct. Besides all which, we may say with Reuss that this Tübingen criticism is mere baseless ingenuity. It "overlooks the unique originality of the Epistle;" and to ascribe to the writer of it "any ulterior motives at all is simply a useless display of acuteness."6161   History of the Sacred Scriptures of the N.T., translated by E. L. Houghton (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1884), p. 143.

(2) This last remark will not predispose us to regard with favour the second hypothesis mentioned above—that in this passage St. James is correcting prevalent misunderstandings, or is anticipating probable misunderstandings, of the teaching of St. Paul. There is no trace of any such intention, or of any anxiety on the subject. The purpose of the passage is not doctrinal at all, but, like the rest of the Epistle, eminently practical. The writer's object throughout is to inculcate the necessity of right conduct. Readiness in hearing the Word of God is all very well, and correctness of belief in God is all very well; but without readiness to do what pleases Him it is as useless as a dead vine. Whether St. James remembered the words, "We reckon that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law" (Rom. iii. 28), must remain doubtful; for, as has been pointed out in a previous exposition (p. 57), there is some reason for believing that he had seen the Epistle to the Romans. But there is no reason for believing that he was acquainted with the parallel statement in the Epistle to 142 the Galatians, "We being Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, yet knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, save through faith in Jesus Christ, even we believe on Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the law; because by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified" (ii. 15, 16). Of one thing, however, we may feel confident, that, had St. James been intending to give the true meaning of either or both of these statements by St. Paul, in order to correct or obviate misunderstanding, he would not have worded his exposition in such a way that it would be possible for a hasty reader to suppose that he was contradicting the Apostle of the Gentiles instead of merely explaining him. He takes no pains to show that while St. Paul speaks of works of the law, i.e. ceremonial observances, he himself is speaking of good works generally, which St. Paul no less than himself regarded as a necessary accompaniment and outcome of living faith.

Moreover, was there any likelihood that the Jewish Christians would thus misinterpret St. Paul? Among Gentile Christians there was danger of this, because they misunderstood the meaning of the Christian liberty which he so enthusiastically preached. But with Jewish converts the danger was that they would refuse to listen to St. Paul in anything, not that they would be in such a hurry to accept his teaching that they would go away with a wrong impression as to what he really meant. And precisely that doctrine of St. Paul which was so liable to be misunderstood St. James proclaims as clearly as St. Paul does in this very Epistle. He also declares, more than once, that the Gospel is the "law of liberty" (i. 25; ii. 12). Had 143 St. James been writing to Gentiles, there might have been some reason for his putting his readers on their guard against misinterpreting St. Paul's manner of preaching the Gospel: in writing "to the twelve tribes which are of the Dispersion" there was little or no reason for so doing.

(3) We fall back, therefore, upon the far more probable view that in this passage St. James is merely following the course of his own argument, without thinking of St. Paul's teaching respecting the relation between faith and works. How much of St. Paul's teaching he knew depends upon the date assigned to this Epistle, whether before A.D. 50 or after A.D. 60. At the later date St. James must have known a good deal, both from St. Paul himself, and also from the many Jews of the Dispersion, who had heard the preaching of the Apostle in his missionary journeys, had seen some of his letters, and brought both good and evil reports of his work to the Church at Jerusalem. Each year, at the Passover and other festivals, James would receive multitudes of such visitors. But it does not follow that because he knew a good deal about St. Paul's favourite topics, and his manner of presenting the faith to his hearers, therefore he has his teaching in his mind in writing to Jewish converts. The passage before us is thoroughly intelligible, if it is treated on its own merits without any reference to Pauline doctrine; and not only so, but we may say that it becomes more intelligible when so treated.

At the opening of the Epistle St. James insists on the necessity of faith: "knowing that the proof of your faith worketh patience" (ver. 3); and "Let him ask in faith, nothing doubting" (ver. 6). Then he passes on to insist upon the necessity of practice: "Be ye doers of 144 the Word, and not hearers only, deluding your own selves" (ver. 22); and "Being not a hearer that forgetteth, but a doer that worketh" (ver. 25). At the beginning of the second chapter he does exactly the same. He first assumes that as a matter of course his hearers have faith (ver. 1), and then goes on to show how this must be accompanied by the practice of charity and mercy towards all, and especially towards the poor (vv. 2-13). The passage before us is precisely on the same lines.

It is assumed that his readers profess to have faith (vv. 14, 19); and St. James does not dispute the truth of this profession. But he maintains that unless this faith is productive of a corresponding practice, its existence is not proved, and its utility is disproved. It is as barren as a withered tree, and as lifeless as a corpse. Three times over he asserts, with simple emphasis, that faith apart from practice is dead (vv. 17, 20, 26). All which tends to show that the present paragraph comes quite naturally in the course of the exhortation, without any ulterior motive being assumed to explain it. It is in close harmony with what precedes, and thoroughly in keeping with the practical aim of the whole letter. We see how easily it might have been written by any one who was in earnest about religion and morality, without having heard a word about St. Paul's teaching respecting faith in Christ and works of the law.

It has been already pointed out that a letter addressed by a Jewish Christian to Jewish Christians would not be very likely to take account of St. Paul's doctrine, whether rightly or wrongly understood. It has also been shown that St. James, as is natural in such a letter, makes frequent appeals to the Old Testament, and also has numerous coincidences with portions of that now 145 much-neglected Jewish literature which forms a connecting-link between the Old and the New, especially with the Books of Wisdom and Ecclesiasticus. It was in the period in which that literature was produced that discussions as to the value of faith in God, as distinct from the fear of God, and in particular as to the faith of Abraham, the friend of God, began to be common among the Jews, especially in the Rabbinical schools. We find evidence of this in the Apocrypha itself. "Abraham was a great father of many people, ... and when he was proved he was found faithful" (Ecclus. xliv. 19, 20). "Was not Abraham found faithful in temptation, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness?" (1 Macc. ii. 52), where the interrogative form of sentence may have suggested the interrogation of St. James. It will be observed that in these passages we have the adjective "faithful" (πιστός); not yet the substantive "faith" (πίστις). But in the composite and later work which in our Bibles bears the name of the Second Book of Esdras we have faith frequently spoken of. "The way of truth shall be hidden, and the land shall be barren of faith" (v. 1). "As for faith, it shall flourish, corruption shall be overcome, and the truth, which hath been so long without fruit, shall be declared" (vi. 28). "Truth shall stand, and faith shall wax strong" (vii. 34). And in two remarkable passages faith is spoken of in connexion with works. "And every one that shall be saved, and shall be able to escape by his works, and by faith, whereby ye have believed, shall be preserved from the said perils, and shall see My salvation" (ix. 7, 8). "These are they that have works and faith towards the Most Mighty" (xiii. 23). With Philo faith and the faith of Abraham are common topics. He calls it "the queen 146 of the virtues," and the possessor of it "will bring a faultless and most fair sacrifice to God." Abraham's faith is not easy to imitate, so hard is it to trust in the unseen God rather than in the visible creation; whereas he without wavering believed that the things which were not present were already present, because of His most sure faith in Him who promised.6262   See the passages quoted by Hatch, Essays in Biblical Greek, pp. 85-87 (Oxford, 1889).

Other instances might be quoted from Jewish literature; but these suffice to show that the nature of faith, and the special merit of Abraham's faith, were subjects often discussed among Jews, and were likely to be familiar to those whom St. James addresses. This being so, it becomes probable that what he has in his mind is not Pauline doctrine, or any perversion of it, but some Pharisaic tenet respecting these things. The view that faith is formal orthodoxy—the belief in one God—and that correctness of belief suffices for the salvation of a son of Abraham, seems to be the kind of error against which St. James is contending. About faith in Christ or in His Resurrection there is not a word. It is the cold Monotheism which the self-satisfied Pharisee has brought with him into the Christian Church, and which he supposes will render charity and good works superfluous, that St. James is condemning.6363   This kind of error is alluded to by Justin Martyr, in his Dialogue with the Jew Trypho: "Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin; that is, who receives remission of his sins from God as having repented of his sins; but not as ye deceive yourselves, and some other (Jews) who resemble you in this, who say that even if they are sinners, but attain to a knowledge of God, the Lord will not impute sin to them" (cxli., p. 370, D). So far from this being a contradiction to St. Paul, it is the very doctrine which he taught, and almost in the 147 same form of words. "What doth it profit (τί ὄφελος), my brethren," asks St. James, "if a man say he hath faith, but have not works?" "If I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing," says St. Paul. "And if I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profiteth me nothing" (οὐδὲω ὠφελοῦμαι).

St. Paul and St. James are thus found to be agreed. It remains to be shown that in spite of his own statements to the contrary, Luther was as fully agreed with the latter as with the former. When he writes about St. James, Luther's prejudices lead him to disparage a form of teaching which he has not been at the pains to comprehend. But when he expounds St. Paul he does so in words which would serve excellently as an exposition of the teaching of St. James. In his preface to the Epistle to the Romans he writes thus: "But faith is a Divine work in us, that changes us and begets us anew of God (John i. 13); and kills the old man, makes of us quite other men in heart, courage, mind, and strength, and brings the Holy Spirit with it. Oh, it is a living, active, energetic, mighty thing, this faith, so that it is impossible that it should not work what is good without intermission. It does not even ask whether good works are to be done, but before one asks it has done them, and is ever doing. But he who does not do such works is a man without faith, is fumbling and looking about him for faith and good works, and knows neither the one nor the other, yet chatters and babbles many words about both.

"Faith is a living, deliberate confidence in the grace of God, so sure that it would die a thousand times for its trust. And such confidence and experience of 148 Divine grace make a man merry, bold, and joyful towards God and all creatures; all which the Holy Spirit does in faith. Hence the man without compulsion becomes willing and joyful to do good to every one, to serve every one, to endure everything, for the love and praise of God, who has shown him such grace. Therefore it is impossible to sever works from faith; yea, as impossible as to sever burning and shining from fire."6464   Werke, ed. Gustav Pfizer, Frankfurt am Main, 1840, p. 1415.


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