What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith? - The apostle here returns to the subject adverted to in James 1:22-27, the importance of a practical attention to the duties of religion, and the assurance that men cannot be saved by a mere speculative opinion, or merely by holding correct sentiments. He doubtless had in his eye those who abused the doctrine of justification by faith, by holding that good works are unnecessary to salvation, provided they maintain an orthodox belief. As this abuse probably existed in the time of the apostles, and as the Holy Ghost saw that there would be danger that in later times the great and glorious doctrine of justification by faith would be thus abused, it was important that the error should be rebuked, and that the doctrine should be distinctly laid down that good works are necessary to salvation. The apostle, therefore, in the question before us, implicitly asserts that faith would not “profit” at all unless accompanied with a holy life, and this doctrine he proceeds to illustrate in the following verses, See the analysis of this chapter; and Introduction, Section 5, (2). In order to a proper interpretation of this passage, it should be observed that the stand-point from which the apostle views this subject is not before a man is converted, inquiring in what way he may be justified before God, or on what ground his sins may be forgiven; but it is after a man is converted, showing that that faith can have no value which is not followed by good works; that is, that it is not real faith, and that good works are necessary if a man would have evidence that he is justified. Thus understood, all that James says is in entire accordance with what is taught elsewhere in the New Testament.
Can faith save him? - It is implied in this question that faith cannot save him, for very often the most emphatic way of making an affirmation is by asking a question. The meaning here is, that that faith which does not produce good works, or which would not produce holy living if fairly acted out, will save no man, for it is not genuine faith.
What doth it profit - though a man say he hath faith - We now come to a part of this epistle which has appeared to some eminent men to contradict other portions of the Divine records. In short, it has been thought that James teaches the doctrine of justification by the merit of good works, while Paul asserts this to be insufficient, and that man is justified by faith. Luther, supposing that James did actually teach the doctrine of justification by works, which his good sense showed him to be absolutely insufficient for salvation, was led to condemn the epistle in toto, as a production unauthenticated by the Holy Spirit, and consequently worthy of no regard; he therefore termed it epistola straminea, a chaffy epistle, an epistle of straw, fit only to be burnt. Learned men have spent much time in striving to reconcile these two writers, and to show that St. Paul and St. James perfectly accord; one teaching the pure doctrine, the other guarding men against the abuse of it. Mr. Wesley sums the whole up in the following words, with his usual accuracy and precision: "From James 1:22; the apostle has been enforcing Christian practice. He now applies to those who neglect this under the pretense of faith. St. Paul had taught that a man is justified by faith without the works of the law. This some already began to wrest to their own destruction. Wherefore St. James, purposely repeating, James 1:21, James 1:23, James 1:25, the same phrases, testimonies, and examples which St. Paul had used, Romans 4:3; Hebrews 11:17, Hebrews 11:31, refutes not the doctrine of St. Paul, but the error of those who abused it. There is therefore no contradiction between the apostles; they both delivered the truth of God, but in a different manner, as having to do with different kinds of men. This verse is a summary of what follows: What profiteth it, is enlarged on, James 2:15-17; though a man say, James 2:18, James 2:19; can that faith save him? James 2:20. It is not though he have faith, but though he say, I have faith. Here therefore true living faith is meant. But in other parts of the argument the apostle speaks of a dead imaginary faith. He does not therefore teach that true faith can, but that it cannot, subsist without works. Nor does he oppose faith to works, but that empty name of faith to real faith working by love. Can that faith which is without works save him? No more than it can profit his neighbor." - Explanatory notes.
That St James quotes the same scriptures, and uses the same phrases, testimonies, and examples which St. Paul has done, is fully evident; but it does not follow that he wrote after St. Paul. It is possible that one had seen the epistle of the other; but if so, it is strange that neither of them should quote the other. That St. Paul might write to correct the abuses of St. James' doctrine is as possible as that James wrote to prevent St. Paul's doctrine from being abused; for there were Antinomians in the Church in the time of St. James, as there were Pharisaic persons in it at the time of St. Paul. I am inclined to think that James is the elder writer, and rather suppose that neither of them had ever seen the other's epistle. Allowing them both to be inspired, God could teach each what was necessary for the benefit of the Church, without their having any knowledge of each other. See the preface to this epistle.
As the Jews in general were very strenuous in maintaining the necessity of good works or righteousness in order to justification, wholly neglecting the doctrine of faith, it is not to be wondered at that those who were converted, and saw the absolute necessity of faith in order to their justification, should have gone into the contrary extreme.
Can faith save him? - That is, his profession of faith; for it is not said that he has faith, but that he says, I have faith. St. James probably refers to that faith which simply took in the being and unity of God. See on James 2:19, James 2:24, James 2:25.
The desire for an easy religion that requires no striving, no self-denial, no divorce from the follies of the world, has made the doctrine of faith, and faith only, a popular doctrine; but what saith the word of God? Says the apostle James: “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? ... Wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? ... Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.” James 2:14-24. GC 472.1
The testimony of the word of God is against this ensnaring doctrine of faith without works. It is not faith that claims the favor of Heaven without complying with the conditions upon which mercy is to be granted, it is presumption; for genuine faith has its foundation in the promises and provisions of the Scriptures. GC 472.2
Let none deceive themselves with the belief that they can become holy while willfully violating one of God's requirements. The commission of a known sin silences the witnessing voice of the Spirit and separates the soul from God. “Sin is the transgression of the law.” And “whosoever sinneth [transgresseth the law] hath not seen Him, neither known Him.” 1 John 3:6. Though John in his epistles dwells so fully upon love, yet he does not hesitate to reveal the true character of that class who claim to be sanctified while living in transgression of the law of God. “He that saith, I know Him, and keepeth not His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth His word, in him verily is the love of God perfected.” 1 John 2:4, 5. Here is the test of every man's profession. We cannot accord holiness to any man without bringing him to the measurement of God's only standard of holiness in heaven and in earth. If men feel no weight of the moral law, if they belittle and make light of God's precepts, if they break one of the least of these commandments, and teach men so, they shall be of no esteem in the sight of Heaven, and we may know that their claims are without foundation. GC 472.3Read in context »
Many have such a constant care for themselves that they give God no opportunity to care for them. If they should be a little short at times, and be brought into strait places, it would be the best thing for their faith. If they would calmly trust in God, and wait for Him to work for them, their necessity would be God's opportunity; and His blessing in their emergency would increase their love for Him and lead them to prize their temporal blessings in a higher sense than they have ever done before. Their faith would increase, their hope would brighten, and cheerfulness would take the place of gloom and doubts and murmuring. The faith of very many does not grow for want of exercise. 2T 657.1
That which is eating out the vitals of God's people is the love of money and friendship with the world. It is the privilege of God's people to be bright and shining lights in the world, to increase in the knowledge of God, and to have a clear understanding of His will. But the cares of this life and the deceitfulness of riches choke the seed sown in their hearts, and they bear no fruit to His glory. They profess faith, but it is not a living faith because it is not sustained by works. Faith without works is dead, being alone. Those who profess great faith, yet have not works, will not be saved by their faith. Satan believes the truth and trembles, yet this kind of faith possesses no virtue. Many who have made a high profession of faith are deficient in good works. If they should show their faith by their works they could exert a powerful influence on the side of truth. But they do not improve upon the talents of means lent them of God. Those who think to ease their consciences by willing their property to their children, or by withholding from God's cause and suffering it to pass into the hands of unbelieving, reckless children for them to squander or hoard up and worship, will have to render an account to God; they are unfaithful stewards of their Lord's money. They allow Satan to outgeneral them through these children, whose minds are under his control. Satan's purposes are accomplished in many ways, while the stewards of God seem stupefied and paralyzed; they do not realize their great responsibility and the reckoning which must shortly come. 2T 657.2
Those who have property and whose minds are darkened by the god of this world seem to be controlled by Satan in the disposal of it. If they have true, believing children, and also children whose affections are wholly upon the things of the world, in making a transfer of their means to their children, they generally give a larger amount to those children who do not love God, and who are serving the enemy of all righteousness, than to those who are serving God. 2T 658.1Read in context »
“What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?” “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.” When those who profess the faith show their lives to be consistent with their faith, then we shall see a power attending the presentation of the truth, a power that will convict the sinner and draw souls nigh to Christ. 2T 663.1
A consistent faith is rare among rich men. Genuine faith, sustained by works, is seldom found. But all who possess this faith will be men who will not lack influence. They will copy after Christ; they will possess that disinterested benevolence, that interest in the work of saving souls, that He had. The followers of Christ should value souls as He valued them. Their sympathies should be with the work of their dear Redeemer, and they should labor to save the purchase of His blood, at any sacrifice. What are money, houses, and lands in comparison with even one soul? 2T 663.2
Christ made a full and complete sacrifice, a sacrifice sufficient to save every son and daughter of Adam who should show repentance toward God for having transgressed His law, and manifest faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Yet notwithstanding the sacrifice was ample, but few consent to a life of obedience that they may have this great salvation. Few are willing to imitate His amazing privations, to endure His sufferings and persecutions, and to share His exhausting labor to bring others to the light. But few will follow His example in earnest, frequent prayer to God for strength to endure the trials of this life and perform its daily duties. Christ is the Captain of our salvation, and by His own sufferings and sacrifice He has given an example to all His followers that watchfulness and prayer, and persevering effort, were necessary on their part if they would rightly represent the love which dwelt in His bosom for the fallen race. 2T 664.1Read in context »
My dear brother, your works are at variance with your professed faith, and your only excuse is the poor plea of convenience. The servants of God in past times have been called upon to lay down their lives in vindication of their faith. Your course illy harmonizes with that of the Christian martyrs, who suffered hunger and thirst, torture and death, rather than renounce their religion or yield the principles of truth. 4T 250.1
It is written: “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?” Every time you put your hands to labor on the Sabbath day, you virtually deny your faith. The Holy Scriptures teach us that faith without works is dead, and that the testimony of one's life proclaims to the world whether or not he is true to the faith he professes. Your conduct lessens God's law in the estimation of your worldly friends. It says to them: “You may or may not obey the commandments. I believe that the law of God is, in a manner, binding upon men; but, after all, the Lord is not very particular as to a strict observance of its precepts, and an occasional transgression is not visited with severity on His part.” 4T 250.2
Many excuse themselves for violating the Sabbath by referring to your example. They argue that if so good a man, who believes the seventh day is the Sabbath, can engage in worldly employments on that day when circumstances seem to require it, surely they can do the same without condemnation. Many souls will face you in the judgment, making your influence an excuse for their disobedience of God's law. Although this will be no apology for their sin, yet it will tell fearfully against you. 4T 250.3
God has spoken, and He means that man shall obey. He does not inquire if it is convenient for him to do so. The Lord of life and glory did not consult His convenience or pleasure when He left His station of high command to become a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, accepting ignominy and death in order to deliver man from the consequence of his disobedience. Jesus died, not to save man in his sins, but from his sins. Man is to leave the error of his ways, to follow the example of Christ, to take up his cross and follow Him, denying self, and obeying God at any cost. 4T 250.4Read in context »