As James everywhere marks the distinction between appearance and reality; and opposes those tendencies which make appearance pass for reality; as he declares himself against dependence on mere knowledge of the law without a corresponding course of life, against a pretended piety which does not show itself in works of love; so, from the same point of view and with the same connection of ideas, does he condemn a faith which fails to show itself in corresponding good works. |What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?| It should be carefully noted, that James does not say; if one has faith, -- but if he professes to have it. He speaks of a merely professed faith, not of that which is genuine. Of such a faith, which by its want of good works proves itself to be spurious, he declares that salvation is not to be attained by it. In the view of Paul also, good works are necessary fruits of true faith. One which professed to be such, and yet was wanting in these fruits, he would not have regarded as justifying faith, indeed would not have allowed it the name of faith. The meaning of James is clear from the illustration which follows. Faith without works, he compares to that love which never manifests itself in deeds, and is shown only in professions. |If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, 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? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead being alone [is in itself dead].
When James says that faith without works is dead, he certainly could not mean that works, the mere outward and phenomenal, constitute the living element of faith, that through them it becomes a living faith. On the contrary, he presupposes that true faith has life in itself, has in itself the living principle from which alone works can proceed, and that in works it makes itself known. The want of works was to him a proof that life was wanting in that faith, and hence he calls it a dead faith. He introduces a third person, speaking from James' own point of view with him who professes to have faith without works, and proving to him that the one cannot exist without the other. |Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works.| In this James proposes, -- for it is he who says this in the person of another, -- to one who boasts of his faith though he has no works, that he should make the trial of showing to him the existence of his faith without the aid of works. To James it would be easy, by his works to show the faith which animates him, and in the strength of which those works were performed. As a proof that such a faith without works is of no value, he adduces the faith of evil spirits. Faith in God, in its true sense, can only there exist where he is consciously recognized as the highest good, where the whole life has reference to him; that faith which includes in itself a living fellowship with God, -- a practical, not merely intellectual faith. With evil spirits, on the contrary, the consciousness of dependence on the Almighty and Supreme forces itself upon them against their will. They would gladly throw off this dependence, but they have not the power. It is something merely passive, with which their own free inclination, the self-moved submission of the spirit, has nothing to do. It is not a faith of the heart, but merely of the intellect; presenting God as in opposition to the spirit striving to escape from him, -- God the Almighty, only as an object of fear to the spirit estranged from him, and unwilling to acknowledge him. |Thou believest there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.|