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mind to be contentious, that what the apostle James here derogates from faith as unto our justification, it respects only a dead, barren, lifeless faith, such as is usually pretended by ungodly men to countenance themselves in their sins. And herein the faith asserted by Paul hath no concern. The consideration of the present condition of the profession of faith in the world, will direct us unto the best exposition of
3. They speak not of justification in the same sense nor unto the same end; it is of our absolute justification before God, the justification of our persons, our acceptance with him, and the grant of a right unto the heavenly inheritance, that the apostle Paul doth treat, and thereof alone. This he declares in all the causes of it, all that on the part of God, or on our part concurreth thereunto. The evidence, the knowledge, the sense, the fruit, the manifestation of it in our own consciences, in the church, unto others that profess the faith, he treats not of, but speaks of them separately as they occur on other occasions. The justification he treats of is but one and at once accomplished before God, changing the relative state of the person justified, and is capable of being evidenced various ways unto the glory of God and the consolation of them that truly believe. Hereof the apostle James doth not treat at all; for his whole inquiry is after the nature of that faith whereby we are justified, and the only way whereby it may be evidenced to be of the right kind, such as a man may safely trust unto. Wherefore, he treats of justification only as to the evidence and manifestation of it; nor had he any occasion to do otherwise. And this is apparent from both the instances, whereby he confirms his purpose. The first, is that of Abraham, ver. 21–23. For he says, that by Abraham's being justified by works in the way and manner wherein he asserts him so to have been, 'the Scripture was fulfilled, which says that Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness.'
And if his intention were to prove that we are justified before God by works and not by faith, because Abraham was so, the testimony produced is contrary, yea directly contradictory unto what should be proved by it, and accordingly is alleged by Paul to prove that Abraham was justified by faith without works, as the words do plainly im
port. Nor can any man declare, how the truth of this proposition, ‘Abraham was justified by works,' intending absolute justification before God, was that wherein that Scripture was fulfilled ; ' Abraham believed God and it was imputed unto him for righteousness;' especially, considering the opposition that is made both here and elsewhere between faith and works in this matter. Besides, he asserts that Abraham was justified by works then when he had offered his son on the altar; the same we believe also, but only inquire in what sense he was so justified. For it was thirty years or thereabout after it was testified concerning him, that he believed God and it was imputed unto him for righteousness; and when righteousness was imputed unto him he was justified. And twice justified in the same sense, in the same way, with the same kind of justification, he was not. How then was he justified by works when he offered his son on the altar! He that can conceive it to be any otherwise, but that he was by his work in the offering of his son evidenced and declared in the sight of God and man to be justified, apprehends what I cannot attain unto, seeing that he was really justified long before, as is unquestionable and confessed by all. He was, I say, then justified in the sight of God, in the way declared, Gen. xxii. 12. and gave a signal testimony unto the sincerity of his faith and trust in God, manifesting the truth of that Scripture, he believed God and it was imputed unto him for righteousness.' And in the quotation of this testimony the apostle openly acknowledgeth that he was really accounted righteous, had righteousness imputed unto him, and was justified before God (the reasons and causes whereof, he therefore considereth not) long before that justification which he ascribes unto his works, which therefore can be nothing but the evidencing, proving, and manifestation of it: whence also it appears of what nature that faith is whereby we are justified, the declaration whereof is the principal design of the apostle. In brief, the Scripture alleged that Abraham believed and it was imputed unto him for righteousness, was fulfilled when he was justified by works on the offering of his son on the altar, either by the imputation of righteousness unto him, or by a real efficiency or working righteousness in him, or by the manifestation and evidence of his former justification, or some other way
must be found out. 1. That it was not by imputation, or that righteousness unto the justification of life, was not then first imputed unto him, is plain in the text; for it was so imputed unto him long before, and that in such a way as the apostle proves thereby, that righteousness is imputed without works. 2. That he was not justified by a real efficiency of a habit of righteousness in him, or by any way
of making him inherently righteous, who was before unrighteous is plain also; because he was righteous in that sense long before, and had abounded in the works of righteousness unto the praise of God. It remains, therefore, that then, and by the work mentioned, he was justified as unto the evidencing and manifestation of his faith and justification thereon. His other instance is of Rahab, concerning whom he asserts that she was justified by works, when she had received the messengers and sent them away. But she received the spies by faith, as the Holy Ghost witnesseth, Heb. xi. 31. and therefore had true faith before their coming; and if so, was really justified. For that any one should be a true believer, and yet not be justified, is destructive unto the foundation of the gospel. In this condition she received the messengers, and made unto them a full declaration of her faith ; Josh. ii. 10, 11. After her believing and justification thereon, and after the confession she had made of her faith, she exposed her life by concealing and sending of them away. Hereby did she justify the sincerity of her faith and confession, and in that sense alone is said to be justified by works: and in no other sense doth the apostle James in this place make mention of justification, which he doth also only occasionally.
4. As unto works mentioned by both apostles, the same works are intended, and there is no disagreement in the least about them. For as the apostle James intends by works, duties of obedience unto God, according to the law, as is evident from the whole first part of the chapter, which gives occasion unto the discourse of faith and works; so the same are intended by the apostle Paul also, as we have proved before. And as unto the necessity of them in all believers, as unto other ends, so as evidences of their faith and justification, it is no less pressed by the one than the other as hath been declared.
These things being in general premised, we may observe some things in particular from the discourse of the apostle James, sufficiently evidencing that there is no contradiction therein, unto what is delivered by the apostle Paul concerning our justification by faith, and the imputation of righteousness without works, nor to the doctrine which from him we have learned and declared; as, 1. He makes no composition or conjunction between faith and works in our justification, but opposeth them the one to the other, asserting the one and rejecting the other in order unto our justification. 2. He makes no distinction of a first and second justification, of the beginning and continuation of justification, but speaks of one justification only, which is our first personal justification before God. Neither are we concerned in any justification in this cause whatever. 3. That he ascribes this justification wholly unto works, in contradistinction unto faith, as unto that sense of justification which he intended, and the faith whereof he treated. Wherefore, 4. He doth not at all inquire or determine how a sinner is justified before God, but how professors of the gospel can prove or demonstrate that they are so, and that they do not deceive themselves by trusting unto a lifeless and barren faith. All these things will be farther evidenced in a brief consideration of the context itself, wherewith I shall close this discourse.
In the beginning of the chapter unto ver. 14. he reproves those unto whom he wrote for many sins committed against the law, the rule of their sins and obedience; or at least warneth them of them; and having shewed the danger they were in hereby, he discovers the root and principal occasion of it, ver. 14. which was no other but a vain surmise and deceiving presumption that the faith required in the gospel was nothing but a bare assent unto the doctrine of it, whereon they were delivered from all obligation unto moral obedience or good works, and might without any danger unto their eternal state live in whatever sins their lusts inclined them unto, chap. iv. 1–4. v. 1–5. The state of such persons, which contains the whole cause which he speaks unto, and which gives rule and measure unto the interpretation of all his future arguings, is laid down, ver. 14. 'What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith and have not works, can faith save him ? Suppose a man, any one of those who are guilty of the sins charged on them in the foregoing verses, do yet say, or boast of himself, that he hath faith, that he makes profession of the gospel, that he hath left either Judaism or Paganism, and betaken bimself to the faith of the gospel; and therefore, although he be destitute of good works, and live in sin, he is accepted with God and shall be saved; will indeed this faith save him? This therefore is the question proposed : whereas the gospel saith plainly, that he who believeth shall be saved ;' whether that faith which may and doth consist with an indulgence unto sin, and a neglect of duties of obedience, is that faith whereunto the promise of life and salvation is annexed ? And thereon, the inquiry proceeds, how any man, in particular he who says he hath faith, may prove and evidence himself to have that faith which will secure his salvation. And the apostle denies that this is such a faith as can consist without works, or that any man can evidence himself to have true faith any otherwise but by works of obedience only. And in the proof hereof doth his whole ensuing discourse consist. Not once doth he propose unto consideration the means and causes of the justification of a convinced sinner before God, nor had he any occasion so to do. So that his words are openly wrested when they are applied unto any such intention.
That the faith which he intends and describes, is altogether useless unto the end pretended to be attainable by it; namely, salvation, he proves in an instance of, and by comparing it with, the love or charity of an alike nature; ver. 15, 16. “If a brother or sister be naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto him, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled, notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body, what doth it profit ?' This love or charity is not that gospel grace which is required of us under that name; for he who behaveth himself thus towards the poor, the love of God dwelleth not in him ;' 1 John iii. 17. whatever name it may have, whatever it may pretend unto, whatever it may be professed or accepted for, love it is not, nor hath any of the effects of love; is neither useful nor profitable. Hence the apostle infers, ver. 17. Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.'