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The Epistle Of James Practically Explained by Augustus Neander

§ 3. Stand-point of James as an inspired teacher, and his relation to Paul.

The manner, however, in which he testified of Christ, took its character from his previous training and course of life. He, above all others, stood on the ground of Jewish piety in the Old Testament forms; and had already completely developed himself within this sphere, when he was led to that decisive faith in Jesus, as the Messiah promised in the Old Testament. From this new point of view, his previous Judaism unfolded itself in its true and full import. Christianity now appears to him as the true Judaism. The spirit which proceeds from Christ explains the forms of the Old Testament, and leads them to their proper fulfilment. The position of James is precisely that taken by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount; which contains the germ of all that is peculiar to the Gospel, without expressly declaring the abrogation of the Law; where all is presented under the idea of the kingdom of God, and the reference of each particular to the person of Christ, though everywhere implied and forming the central point of all, is nowhere asserted in words. Hence in the development of the divine kingdom, -- where as in all the works of God, the works of grace as well as of nature, no chasms are allowed but all proceeds by progressive steps, -- James forms a very important transition-point from the Old to the New Testament. Something would be wanting to us, if we had not James in the New Testament. And that narrowness of view, which disdains to follow patiently this gradual development, -- demanding everywhere and at once the perfected form, -- may find its punishment in the consequent incompleteness of its own Christian knowledge. As a means of leading pious Jews to faith in the Gospel, this position of James was of special use. Just in proportion as it would have been detrimental to a Paul, whose mission was the conversion of the heathen nations, was it advantageous to James in the sphere of labor assigned to him in Palestine, and particularly in Jerusalem among unmixed Jews. Thus divine wisdom manifests itself in assigning to each his sphere, his peculiar mission in the development of the kingdom of God, adapted to his peculiar qualifications. The sole concern is that each rightly fulfil his appointed mission, understand and faithfully adhere to his prescribed limits; while at the same time he recognizes the divine call in him also, to whom as the possessor of other gifts another sphere of labor has been assigned, -- and is willing to regard their several spheres as each the complement of the other. Such was the relation of James to Paul.

James did indeed know, from the first, what the voice of prophecy had indicated, of the coming extension of Jehovah's worship among the heathen nations, and of their participation in the blessings of the divine kingdom, -- a glory which belonged to Messianic times, -- and also that this was to be fulfilled through Christ as the Messiah. But the possibility of a worship of Jehovah except in the old legal forms, or of a participation in the kingdom. of God in any other way, remained hidden from him at first, even after he had attained to a settled faith in Jesus as the Messiah. The intimations in the discourses of Christ that his word should become the leaven, which, by an indwelling power alone and independently of all else, should penetrate the life of humanity; in Jews and Gentiles alike leavening all and forming it anew; that the new spirit of Christianity should burst asunder and break through the forms of legal Judaism; these intimations he did not yet understand. This belonged to those things of which Christ said, in his parting words to his disciples, that what they could not yet comprehend should afterwards be revealed to them by the Holy Spirit. But this revelation of the Holy Spirit was not imparted to all at the same time, nor in the same way. This too was determined by the different stand-points from which they had attained to faith in the Gospel. Accordingly, more or less of preparation might be required for leading them to that more perfect knowledge; it might be effected more by a process of thought inspired and guided by the Holy Spirit, and thus enabled to develop and apprehend the whole sum of revealed truth, -- or it might be more the effect of immediate illumination by the Divine Spirit. In the history of the church, we meet with many melancholy examples of opposition and estrangement, when the spiritual insight attained by one is still withheld from another, and the one thus becomes free from the narrow limits in which the other is still confined. Even in the apostolic church, this was the source of much disunion and division.

But James was far from that narrow obstinacy of temper, which would not allow any stand-point but his own; would permit no opposing facts to influence his convictions, -- promptly rejecting the truth revealed to others because it was not imparted through him, and thus setting bounds to the farther development of the kingdom of God. When, at the apostolic conference (Acts xv.), the controverted point respecting the observance of the Mosaic law was for the first time discussed, and Peter and Paul bore testimony to the effects of the Gospel among believing Gentiles, who had not submitted to circumcision, nor in any other respect to the observance of the Law; these undeniable facts were proof enough for James, that through faith in the Saviour, the same divine results were produced among the heathen as among believing Jews. In this he saw a fulfilment of the Old Testament predictions; and he now learned their true aim and import, as he had never understood it before. The mild conciliating spirit of James is shown, by the manner in which he sought to reconcile the differences between the Jewish and Gentile Christians. He could do justice to a stand-point wholly different from his own. Believing Gentiles, on the ground of their faith merely, were to be admitted to equality with; believing Jews in the fellowship of the divine kingdom; only, for the furtherance of harmony with believers from among the Jews, they were to conform in certain external points, which might also serve to withhold them from participation in everything connected with heathen worship. But while James recognized the equality of churches consisting of uncircumcised Gentiles, and allowed to the preaching of the Gospel among the Gentiles its own rights as an independent calling; at the same time remained true to his own peculiar stand-point, point, according to which the old forms were to be continued as depositories of the new spirit, and the Jews were to retain their religious nationality unchanged. Still, as we see from the Acts of the Apostles, he was ever the mediator between Paul and the zealots among the Jewish Christians, who were prejudiced against him. Here too he always conducted in the same spirit of mildness and conciliation.

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