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The Epistle Of James Practically Explained by Augustus Neander

James i. 25

With him who thus contents himself with a mere superficial study of the word of God, in whom knowledge and practice are at variance with each other, James now contrasts one who has looked into the depths of the divine Law, and lives in that contemplation. He here marks the distinction between the law of the letter, in its nature external, and that which Christianity has made the inner law, the law of the spirit, received into the inner life. This he calls the perfect law, in contrast with the law of Moses viewed only in its externality, which as such, -- that is, as a law of the letter merely, -- can bring nothing, to perfection, but leaves everything as it found it. The former he calls the law of liberty, inasmuch as it makes him free who has received it into his inner life, in contrast with the bondage of the letter. To this law one cannot hold the relation of a mere external hearer. Whoever has actually received it into himself as the perfect law, the law of liberty, is constrained by an inward impulse to manifest it in the outward life. |But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, lie being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the word, this man,| -- he adds, -- |shall be blessed in his deed.|

But how does this accord with Paul's representation, of the characteristic difference between the relations established by the Law and the Gospel, when he gives as the watchword of the former, |Do this and thou shalt live| (who does it, he shall live therein); and of the latter, |The just shall live by faith?| There would indeed be a contradiction here, if James were speaking of the Law in the same sense as Paul, -- if he meant that by works of law one could merit salvation. But this is far from James' purpose. He is speaking of the Law, as made by faith in Christ a living inward principle; of that Law as Christ unfolds it in the Sermon on the Mount, and which presupposes and includes in itself faith. In this view he may justly say, that one must feel himself blessed in the practice of this Law, and in this way alone can become a partaker of that blessedness which Christ imparts to the believer. It is precisely the same thing as Christ himself says, at the close of the Sermon on the Mount: |Whosoever heareth these sayings of mine and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock.| Certainly, to this Paul also would have assented. To this certainly corresponded his own manner of teaching, -- that only he can experience in himself the divine power of faith, can be blessed through faith, who furnishes the evidence of it in his life; faith being in his view that inward principle, which works from within the transformation of the whole life, that faith which works by love; as he himself says: |Though I had all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.| (1 Cor. xiii.2.)

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