Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible

James Ch.2 / 5 Ch.s


* All professions of faith are vain, if not producing love and
justice to others. (1-13) The necessity of good works to prove
the sincerity of faith, which otherwise will be of no more
advantage than the faith of devils. (14-26)

#1-13 Those who profess faith in Christ as the Lord of glory,
must not respect persons on account of mere outward
circumstances and appearances, in a manner not agreeing with
their profession of being disciples of the lowly Jesus. St.
James does not here encourage rudeness or disorder: civil
respect must be paid; but never such as to influence the
proceedings of Christians in disposing of the offices of the
church of Christ, or in passing the censures of the church, or
in any matter of religion. Questioning ourselves is of great use
in every part of the holy life. Let us be more frequent in this,
and in every thing take occasion to discourse with our souls. As
places of worship cannot be built or maintained without expense,
it may be proper that those who contribute thereto should be
accommodated accordingly; but were all persons more
spiritually-minded, the poor would be treated with more
attention that usually is the case in worshipping congregations.
A lowly state is most favourable for inward peace and for growth
in holiness. God would give to all believers riches and honours
of this world, if these would do them good, seeing that he has
chosen them to be rich in faith, and made them heirs of his
kingdom, which he promised to bestow on all who love him.
Consider how often riches lead to vice and mischief, and what
great reproaches are thrown upon God and religion, by men of
wealth, power, and worldly greatness; and it will make this sin
appear very sinful and foolish. The Scripture gives as a law, to
love our neighbour as ourselves. This law is a royal law, it
comes from the King of kings; and if Christians act unjustly,
they are convicted by the law as transgressors. To think that
our good deeds will atone for our bad deeds, plainly puts us
upon looking for another atonement. According to the covenant of
works, one breach of any one command brings a man under
condemnation, from which no obedience, past, present, or future,
can deliver him. This shows us the happiness of those that are
in Christ. We may serve him without slavish fear. God's
restraints are not a bondage, but our own corruptions are so.
The doom passed upon impenitent sinners at last, will be
judgment without mercy. But God deems it his glory and joy, to
pardon and bless those who might justly be condemned at his
tribunal; and his grace teaches those who partake of his mercy,
to copy it in their conduct.

#14-26 Those are wrong who put a mere notional belief of the
gospel for the whole of evangelical religion, as many now do. No
doubt, true faith alone, whereby men have part in Christ's
righteousness, atonement, and grace, saves their souls; but it
produces holy fruits, and is shown to be real by its effect on
their works; while mere assent to any form of doctrine, or mere
historical belief of any facts, wholly differs from this saving
faith. A bare profession may gain the good opinion of pious
people; and it may procure, in some cases, worldly good things;
but what profit will it be, for any to gain the whole world, and
to lose their souls? Can this faith save him? All things should
be accounted profitable or unprofitable to us, as they tend to
forward or hinder the salvation of our souls. This place of
Scripture plainly shows that an opinion, or assent to the
gospel, without works, is not faith. There is no way to show we
really believe in Christ, but by being diligent in good works,
from gospel motives, and for gospel purposes. Men may boast to
others, and be conceited of that which they really have not.
There is not only to be assent in faith, but consent; not only
an assent to the truth of the word, but a consent to take
Christ. True believing is not an act of the understanding only,
but a work of the whole heart. That a justifying faith cannot be
without works, is shown from two examples, Abraham and Rahab.
Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for
righteousness. Faith, producing such works, advanced him to
peculiar favours. We see then, ver. #24|, how that by works a
man is justified, not by a bare opinion or profession, or
believing without obeying; but by having such faith as produces
good works. And to have to deny his own reason, affections, and
interests, is an action fit to try a believer. Observe here, the
wonderful power of faith in changing sinners. Rahab's conduct
proved her faith to be living, or having power; it showed that
she believed with her heart, not merely by an assent of the
understanding. Let us then take heed, for the best works,
without faith, are dead; they want root and principle. By faith
any thing we do is really good; as done in obedience to God, and
aiming at his acceptance: the root is as though it were dead,
when there is no fruit. Faith is the root, good works are the
fruits; and we must see to it that we have both. This is the
grace of God wherein we stand, and we should stand to it. There
is no middle state. Every one must either live God's friend, or
God's enemy. Living to God, as it is the consequence of faith,
which justifies and will save, obliges us to do nothing against
him, but every thing for him and to him.