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The Epistle Of James Practically Explained by Augustus Neander

James ii. 8-13

He calls on them to consider, how entirely such a course is at variance with the essential principle of the divine life, -- viz. with Love. With him, too, Love is the fulfilling of the Law. |If ye fulfil the royal law, according to the Scriptures, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, ye do well. But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the Law as transgressors.| But he was dealing with persons ensnared on all sides in the outward and formal; who, therefore, among the transgressions of the Law (which they could not comprehend in its full majesty and strictness) made a difference in degree, as measured by an external standard; and who, judging by such a standard, might suppose it easy to satisfy the claims of the Law. To them such a predominance of the egoistic, as was shown in that preference of the rich, and that contempt of the poor, seemed no very grievous sin. It was therefore necessary to admonish them that the Law, as an expression, in one indivisible whole, of the divine will the divine holiness, demands absolute obedience; that only by such an obedience can one be justified, and that in every single act of transgression the whole Law is broken. |For whosoever shall keep the whole Law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For Ile that said, Do not commit adultery; said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the Law.| Accordingly in applying this principle, in the sense of James, to the special case here spoken of, we must say: He who, in this one thing, permits his conduct to be determined by that selfishness which is in conflict with the law of love, has thereby violated the whole Law. He has violated it in reference to its substance, as the expression of the divine will wherein all is of equal dignity; and in reference to the ruling motive of his conduct, Self in opposition to Love.

Does James then mean, that in judging of sinful agents and acts no differences in degree can be admitted? By no means. It is only necessary to distinguish here between the abstract and the concrete, according as the question respects the principle itself in the unqualified strictness of its demands, or the varying relations which human agency bears to it; inasmuch as, while all must acknowledge themselves guilty before the Law, there may be gradations in guilt, according as the higher nature of man has more or less asserted its own freedom and superiority, or as the disturbing element of self may still show its predominance. Certainly James could not intend to say that any one, even among Christians, wholly meets the demands of the Law. The higher his conception of the dignity of the Law, as already shown, and the stronger his opposition to the usual standard of merit as consisting in particular external acts and observances, -- the less could such a view be attributed to him. What immediately follows is to the same effect. It is assumed that, however different may be the actions of men, all appear as guilty in the sight of the Law. But as Christ teaches us to pray: Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors; so does James exhort, that by exercising gentleness and mercy, in the consciousness of still remaining sin, we should show ourselves meet subjects of the divine compassion. Christians should speak and act with the continual sense of their need of divine mercy; then will meekness in speech and action be its spontaneous expression, and mercy triumph over strict justice. In this view, therefore, he calls the law by which the Christian is judged, a law of liberty. For he is no longer under the yoke of a law requiring absolute obedience, which none can render, as the condition of salvation; but is connected with a law which is fulfilled by the free obedience of love, not of fear, -- in the consciousness of sins forgiven and confiding reliance on the mercy of God. |So speak ye and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty. For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath showed no mercy, and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.|

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