Commentary Critical and Explanatory
on the Whole Bible
James illustrates "the perfect law of liberty"
in one particular instance of a sin against it, concluding with a
reference again to that law
(Jas 2:12, 13).
1. brethren--The equality of all Christians as "brethren," forms
the groundwork of the admonition.
the faith of . . . Christ--that is, the Christian
faith. James grounds Christian practice on Christian faith.
the Lord of glory--So
As all believers, alike rich and poor, derive all their glory from
their union with Him, "the Lord of glory," not from external advantages
of worldly fortune, the sin in question is peculiarly inconsistent with
His "faith." BENGEL, making no ellipsis of "the
Lord," explains "glory" as in apposition with Christ who is
the true Shekinah glory of the temple
English Version is simpler. The glory of Christ resting on the
poor believer should make him be regarded as highly by "brethren" as
his richer brother; nay, more so, if the poor believer has more of
Christ's spirit than the rich brother.
with respect of persons--literally, "in respectings of
persons"; "in" the practice of partial preferences of persons in
various ways and on various occasions.
2, 3. "If there chance to have come"
assembly--literally, "synagogue"; this, the latest honorable
use, and the only Christian use of the term in the New
Testament, occurs in James's Epistle, the apostle who maintained to the
latest possible moment the bonds between the Jewish synagogue and the
Christian Church. Soon the continued resistance of the truth by the
Jews led Christians to leave the term to them exclusively
The "synagogue" implies a mere assembly or congregation not
necessarily united by any common tie. "Church," a people bound together
by mutual ties and laws, though often it may happen that the members
are not assembled [TRENCH and VITRINGA]. Partly from James' Hebrew tendencies, partly
from the Jewish Christian churches retaining most of the Jewish forms,
this term "synagogue" is used here instead of the Christian term
"Church" (ecclesia, derived from a root, "called out," implying
the union of its members in spiritual bonds, independent of space, and
called out into separation from the world); an undesigned coincidence
and mark of truth. The people in the Jewish synagogue sat according to
their rank, those of the same trade together. The introduction of this
custom into Jewish Christian places of worship is here reprobated by
James. Christian churches were built like the synagogues, the holy
table in the east end of the former, as the ark was in the latter; the
desk and pulpit were the chief articles of furniture in
both alike. This shows the error of comparing the Church to the temple,
and the ministry to the priesthood; the temple is represented by the
whole body of worshippers; the church building was formed on the model
of the synagogue. See VITRINGA [Synagogue and
goodly apparel . . . gay clothing--As the
Greek, is the same in both, translate both alike, "gay," or
3. have respect to him, &c.--though ye know not who he is, when
perhaps he may be a heathen. It was the office of the deacons to direct
to a seat the members of the congregation
[CLEMENT OF ROME,
Apostolical Constitutions, 2.57, 58].
unto him--not in the best manuscripts. Thus "thou" becomes more
there--at a distance from where the good seats are.
here--near the speaker.
under my footstool--not literally so; but on the ground, down by
my footstool. The poor man must either stand, or if he sits,
sit in a degrading position. The speaker has a footstool as well
as a good seat.
4. Are ye not . . . partial--literally, "Have ye not
made distinctions" or "differences" (so as to prefer one to another)?
in yourselves--in your minds, that is, according to your carnal
are become judges of evil thoughts--The Greek words for
"judges" and for "partial," are akin in sound and meaning. A similar
translation ought therefore to be given to both. Thus, either for
"judges," &c. translate, "distinguishers of (that is,
according to your) evil thoughts"; or, do ye not partially
judge between men, and are become evilly-thinking judges
The "evil thoughts" are in the judges themselves; as in
the Greek, "judge of injustice," is translated, "unjust judge."
ALFORD and WAHL translate,
"Did ye not doubt" (respecting your faith, which is
inconsistent with the distinctions made by you between rich and poor)?
For the Greek constantly means "doubt" in all the New
Testament. So in
"staggered not." The same play on the same kindred words occurs in the
Ro 14:10, 23,
"judge . . . doubteth." The same blame of being a judge, when
one ought to be an obeyer, of the law is found in
5. Hearken--James brings to trial the self-constituted
poor of this world--The best manuscripts read, "those poor in
respect to the world." In contrast to "the rich in this world"
Not of course all the poor; but the poor, as a class,
furnish more believers than the rich as a class. The rich, if a
believer, renounces riches as his portion; the poor, if an unbeliever,
neglects that which is the peculiar advantage of poverty
1Co 1:26, 27, 28).
rich in faith--Their riches consist in faith.
"rich toward God."
"rich in good works"
Christ's poverty is the source of the believer's riches.
kingdom . . . promised--
6. The world's judgment of the poor contrasted with God's.
ye--Christians, from whom better things might have been
expected; there is no marvel that men of the world do so.
despised--literally, "dishonored." To dishonor the poor is to
dishonor those whom God honors, and so to invert the order of God
rich--as a class.
oppress--literally, "abuse their power against" you.
draw you--Translate, "is it not they (those very persons
whom ye partially prefer,
that drag you (namely, with violence)"
before . . . judgment seats--instituting persecutions
for religion, as well as oppressive lawsuits, against you.
7. "Is it not they that blaspheme?" &c. as in
[ALFORD]. Rich heathen must here chiefly be
meant; for none others would directly blaspheme the name of Christ.
Only indirectly rich Christians can be meant, who, by their
inconsistency, caused His name to be blasphemed; so
Eze 36:21, 22;
Besides, there were few rich Jewish Christians at Jerusalem
They who dishonor God's name by wilful and habitual sin, "take (or
bear) the Lord's name in vain" (compare
with Ex 20:7).
that worthy name--which is "good before the Lord's saints"
(Ps 52:9; 54:6);
which ye pray may be "hallowed"
and "by which ye are called," literally, "which was invoked" or,
"called upon by you" (compare
so that at your baptism "into the name" (so the Greek,
of Christ, ye became Christ's people
8. The Greek may be translated, "If, however, ye
fulfil," &c., that is, as ALFORD, after ESTIUS, explains, "Still I do not say, hate the
rich (for their oppressions) and drive them from your assemblies; if
you choose to observe the royal law . . . well and good; but
respect of persons is a breach of that law." I think the translation
is, "If in very deed (or 'indeed on the one hand') ye
fulfil the royal law . . . ye do well, but if (on the other
hand) ye respect persons, ye practice sin." The Jewish Christians
boasted of, and rested in, the "law"
(Ac 15:1; 21:18-24;
To this the "indeed" alludes. "(Ye rest in the law): If indeed
(then) ye fulfil it, ye do well; but if," &c.
royal--the law that is king of all laws, being the sum and
essence of the ten commandments. The great King, God, is love; His law
is the royal law of love, and that law, like Himself, reigns supreme.
He "is no respecter of persons"; therefore to respect persons is at
variance with Him and His royal law, which is at once a law of love and
The law is the "whole"; "the (particular) Scripture"
quoted is a part. To break a part is to break the whole
ye do well--being "blessed in your deed" ("doing,"
Margin) as a doer, not a forgetful hearer of the law
9. Respect of persons violates the command to love all
alike "as thyself."
ye commit sin--literally, "ye work sin,"
to which the reference here is probably, as in
Your works are sin, whatever boast of the law ye make in words
convinced--Old English for "convicted."
as transgressors--not merely of this or that particular command,
but of the whole absolutely.
10. The best manuscripts read, "Whosoever shall have kept
the whole law, and yet shall have offended (literally,
'stumbled'; not so strong as 'fall,'
in one (point; here, the respecting of persons), is (hereby)
become guilty of all." The law is one seamless garment which is rent if
you but rend a part; or a musical harmony which is spoiled if there be
one discordant note [TIRINUS]; or a golden chain
whose completeness is broken if you break one link [GATAKER]. You thus break the whole law, though not
the whole of the law, because you offend against love, which is
the fulfilling of the law. If any part of a man be leprous, the whole
man is judged to be a leper. God requires perfect, not partial,
obedience. We are not to choose out parts of the law to keep, which
suit our whim, while we neglect others.
11. He is One who gave the whole law; therefore, they who
violate His will in one point, violate it all
[BENGEL]. The law and its Author alike have a
adultery . . . kill--selected as being the most
glaring cases of violation of duty towards one's neighbor.
12. Summing up of the previous reasonings.
speak--referring back to
Jas 1:19, 26;
the fuller discussion of the topic is given
judged by the law of liberty--
that is, the Gospel law of love, which is not a law of external
constraint, but of internal, free, instinctive inclination. The
law of liberty, through God's mercy, frees us from the curse of the
law, that henceforth we should be free to love and obey willingly. If
we will not in turn practice the law of love to our neighbor, that law
of grace condemns us still more heavily than the old law, which spake
nothing but wrath to him who offended in the least particular
"Wrath of the (merciful) Lamb."
13. The converse of, "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall
Translate, "The judgment (which is coming on all of us) shall be
without mercy to him who hath showed no mercy." It shall be such toward
every one as every one shall have been [BENGEL].
"Mercy" here corresponds to "love,"
mercy rejoiceth against judgment--Mercy, so far from fearing
judgment in the case of its followers, actually glorifieth
against it, knowing that it cannot condemn them. Not that
their mercy is the ground of their acquittal, but the mercy of
God in Christ towards them, producing mercy on their part towards their
fellow men, makes them to triumph over judgment, which all in
themselves otherwise deserve.
14. James here, passing from the particular case of "mercy" or
"love" violated by "respect of persons," notwithstanding profession of
the "faith of our Lord Jesus"
combats the Jewish tendency (transplanted into their Christianity) to
substitute a lifeless, inoperative acquaintance with the letter of the
law, for change of heart to practical holiness, as if justification
could be thereby attained
(Ro 2:3, 13, 23).
It seems hardly likely but that James had seen Paul's Epistles,
considering that he uses the same phrases and examples (compare
Jas 2:21, 23, 25,
with Ro 4:3;
Heb 11:17, 31;
Jas 2:14, 24,
with Ro 3:28;
Whether James individually designed it or not, the Holy Spirit by him
combats not Paul, but those who abuse Paul's doctrine. The teaching of
both alike is inspired, and is therefore to be received without
wresting of words; but each has a different class to deal with; Paul,
self-justiciaries; James, Antinomian advocates of a mere notional
faith. Paul urged as strongly as James the need of works as evidences
of faith, especially in the later Epistles, when many were abusing the
doctrine of faith
(Tit 2:14; 3:8).
"Believing and doing are blood relatives"
What doth it profit--literally, "What is the profit?"
though a man say--James' expression is not, "If a man have
faith," but "if a man say he hath faith"; referring to a mere
profession of faith, such as was usually made at baptism. Simon
Magus so "believed and was baptized," and yet had "neither part
nor lot in this matter," for his "heart," as his words and works
evinced, was not right in the sight of God. ALFORD
wrongly denies that "say" is emphatic. The illustration,
proves it is: "If one of you say" to a naked brother, "Be ye
warmed, notwithstanding ye give not those things needful." The
inoperative profession of sympathy answering to the inoperative
profession of faith.
can faith save him--rather, "can such a faith (literally, 'the
faith') save him?"--the faith you pretend to: the empty name of
boasted faith, contrasted with true fruit-producing faith. So that
which self-deceivers claim is called "wisdom," though not true wisdom,
The "him" also in the Greek is emphatic; the particular man who
professes faith without having the works which evidence its
15. The Greek is, "But if," &c.: the "But" taking
up the argument against such a one as "said he had faith, and yet had
not works," which are its fruits.
a brother, &c.--a fellow Christian, to whom we are
specially bound to give help, independent of our general obligation to
help all our fellow creatures.
be--The Greek implies, "be found, on your access
16. The habit of receiving passively sentimental impressions
from sights of woe without carrying them out into active habits only
hardens the heart.
one of you--James brings home the case to his hearers
Depart in peace--as if all their wants were satisfied by the
mere words addressed to them. The same words in the mouth of Christ,
whose faith they said they had, were accompanied by efficient deeds of
be . . . warmed--with clothing, instead of being as
filled--instead of being "destitute of food"
what doth it profit--concluding with the same question as at the
Just retribution: kind professions unaccompanied with corresponding
acts, as they are of no "profit" to the needy object of them, so are of
no profit to the professor himself. So faith consisting in mere
profession is unacceptable to God, the object of faith, and profitless
to the possessor.
17. faith . . . being
alone--ALFORD joins "is dead in
itself." So BENGEL, "If the works which living
faith produces have no existence, it is a proof that faith itself
(literally, 'in respect to itself') has no existence; that is, that
what one boasts of as faith, is dead." "Faith" is said to be
"dead in itself," because when it has works it is alive,
and it is discerned to be so, not in respect to its works, but in
respect to itself. English Version, if retained, must not be
understood to mean that faith can exist "alone" (that is, severed from
works), but thus: Even so presumed faith, if it have not works,
is dead, being by itself "alone," that is, severed from works of
charity; just as the body would be "dead" if alone, that is, severed
from the spirit
18. "But some one will say": so the Greek.
This verse continues the argument from
Jas 2:14, 16.
One may say he has faith though he have not works. Suppose one
were to say to a naked brother, "Be warmed," without giving him
needful clothing. "But someone (entertaining views of the need
of faith having works joined to it) will say (in opposition to the
'say' of the professor)."
show me thy faith without thy works--if thou canst; but thou
canst not SHOW, that is, manifest or
evidence thy alleged
"say") faith without works. "Show" does not mean here to prove
to me, but exhibit to me. Faith is unseen save by God. To
show faith to man, works in some form or other are needed: we
are justified judicially by God
meritoriously, by Christ
mediately, by faith
evidentially, by works. The question here is not as to the
ground on which believers are justified, but about the
demonstration of their faith: so in the case of Abraham. In
it is written, God did tempt Abraham, that is, put to the
test of demonstration the reality of his faith, not for the
satisfaction of God, who already knew it well, but to
demonstrate it before men. The offering of Isaac at that time,
formed no part of the ground of his justification, for he was
justified previously on his simply believing in the promise of
spiritual heirs, that is, believers, numerous as the stars. He was then
justified: that justification was showed or manifested by his
offering Isaac forty years after. That work of faith
demonstrated, but did not contribute to his justification. The
tree shows its life by its fruits, but it was alive before
either fruits or even leaves appeared.
19. Thou--emphatic. Thou self-deceiving claimant to faith
that there is one God--rather, "that God is one": God's
existence, however, is also asserted. The fundamental article of
the creed of Jews and Christians alike, and the point of faith on which
especially the former boasted themselves, as distinguishing them from
the Gentiles, and hence adduced by James here.
thou doest well--so far good. But unless thy faith goes farther
than an assent to this truth, "the evil spirits (literally, 'demons':
'devil' is the term restricted to Satan, their head) believe" so
far in common with thee, "and (so far from being saved by such a faith)
shudder (so the Greek),"
Their faith only adds to their torment at the thought of having to meet
Him who is to consign them to their just doom: so thine
(Heb 10:26, 27,
it is not the faith of love, but of fear, that hath torment,
20. wilt thou know--"Vain" men are not willing to know,
since they have no wish to "do" the will of God. James beseeches such a
one to lay aside his perverse unwillingness to know what is
palpable to all who are willing to do.
vain--who deceivest thyself with a delusive hope, resting on an
without works--The Greek, implies separate from
the works [ALFORD] which ought to flow from it
if it were real.
is dead--Some of the best manuscripts read, "is idle," that is,
unavailing to effect what you hope, namely, to save you.
21. Abraham . . . justified by
works--evidentially, and before men (see on
James, like Paul, recognizes the Scripture truth, that it was his
faith that was counted to Abraham for righteousness in his
justification before God.
when he had offered--rather, "when he offered"
[ALFORD], that is, brought as an offering at the
altar; not implying that he actually offered him.
22. Or, "thou seest."
how--rather, "that." In the two clauses which follow, emphasize
"faith" in the former, and "works" in the latter, to see the sense
faith wrought with his works--for it was by faith he
offered his son. Literally, "was working (at the time) with his works."
by works was faith made perfect--not was vivified, but
attained its fully consummated development, and is shown to
be real. So "my strength is made perfect in weakness," that
is, exerts itself most perfectly, shows how great it is
Heb 2:10; 5:9.
The germ really, from the first, contains in it the full-grown tree,
but its perfection is not attained till it is matured fully. So
"Let patience have her perfect work," that is, have its full
effect by showing the most perfect degree of endurance, "that ye
may be perfect," that is, fully developed in the
exhibition of the Christian character. ALFORD explains, "Received its realization, was entirely
exemplified and filled up." So Paul,
"Work out your own salvation": the salvation was already in germ theirs
in their free justification through faith. It needed to be worked
out still to fully developed perfection in their life.
23. scripture was fulfilled--
quoted by Paul, as realized in Abraham's justification by faith;
but by James, as realized subsequently in Abraham's work of
offering Isaac, which, he says, justified him. Plainly, then,
James must mean by works the same thing as Paul means by
faith, only that he speaks of faith at its manifested
development, whereas Paul speaks of it in its germ. Abraham's offering
of Isaac was not a mere act of obedience, but an act of faith. Isaac
was the subject of the promises of God, that in him Abraham's seed
should be called. The same God calls on Abraham to slay the subject of
His own promise, when as yet there was no seed in whom those
predictions could be realized. Hence James' saying that Abraham was
justified by such a work, is equivalent to saying, as Paul does,
that he was justified by faith itself; for it was in fact faith
expressed in action, as in other cases saving faith is expressed in
words. So Paul states as the mean of salvation faith expressed.
The "Scripture" would not be "fulfilled," as James says it was, but
contradicted by any interpretation which makes man's works
justify him before God: for that Scripture makes no mention of works at
all, but says that Abraham's belief was counted to him for
righteousness. God, in the first instance, "justifies the
ungodly" through faith; subsequently the believer is justified
before the world as righteous through faith manifested in words
and works (compare
The best authorities read, "But Abraham believed," &c.
and he was called the Friend of God--He was not so called
in his lifetime, though he was so even then from the time of his
justification; but he was called so, being recognized as such by
all on the ground of his works of faith. "He was the friend (in
an active sense), the lover of God, in reference to his works;
and (in a passive sense) loved by God in reference to his
justification by works. Both senses are united in
Joh 15:14, 15"
24. justified and, not by faith only--that is, by "faith without
(separated from: severed from) works," its proper fruits
Faith to justify must, from the first, include obedience in germ (to be
developed subsequently), though the former alone is the ground of
justification. The scion must be grafted on the stock that it may live;
it must bring forth fruit to prove that it does live.
25. It is clear from the nature of Rahab's act, that it is not
quoted to prove justification by works as such. She believed
assuredly what her other countrymen disbelieved, and this in the face
of every improbability that an unwarlike few would conquer well-armed
numbers. In this belief she hid the spies at the risk of her life.
names this as an example of faith, rather than of obedience. "By
faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that
believed not." If an instance of obedience were wanting. Paul
and James would hardly have quoted a woman of previously bad character,
rather than the many moral and pious patriarchs. But as an example of
free grace justifying men through an operative, as opposed to a
mere verbal faith, none could be more suitable than a saved
"harlot." As Abraham was an instance of an illustrious man and the
father of the Jews, so Rahab is quoted as a woman, and one of abandoned
character, and a Gentile, showing that justifying faith has been
manifested in those of every class. The nature of the works alleged is
such as to prove that James uses them only as evidences of
faith, as contrasted with a mere verbal profession: not works of
charity and piety, but works the value of which consisted solely in
their being proofs of faith: they were faith expressed in act,
synonymous with faith itself.
had received . . . had sent--rather, "received
. . . thrust them forth" (in haste and fear)
another way--from that whereby they entered her house, namely,
through the window of her house on the wall, and thence to the
26. Faith is a spiritual thing: works are material. Hence we
might expect faith to answer to the spirit, works to the
body. But James reverses this. He therefore does not mean that
faith in all cases answers to the body; but the
FORM of faith without the working
reality answers to the body without the animating
spirit. It does not follow that living faith derives its
life from works, as the body derives its life from the animating