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Here he expressly shows who it is he is disputing with: it is a vain man, who vainly expects to be saved by an idle faith, and empty profession of the Gospel, without any fruit of obedience. And here he does again expressly assert the principle, which was the subject of his discourse, and the only point to be proved, that faith, without works, is dead. So that there is no room to debate what was the design of this argument. By this he effectually proves, that the faith which justifies our persons, must be justified by good works; otherwise we are but vain men, and our hope is but a vain hope, which will leave us among unpardoned devils at last. But not so much as the least colour of an argument can be found here, that our persons are justified before God by good works: whence it follows, that the justification here treated of must necessarily be the justification of our faith, of our Christian character and profession; and not of our persons, in regard of their state, before God.
A third argument here brought by the Apostle to prove his point is, Abraham's being “justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar," ver. 21. Now it appears, from a variety of the strongest and clearest evidences, that the Apostle did not (could not) refer to the justification of Abraham's person in the sight of God, but to the justification of his faith and sincerity only, in this instance before us.
This appears, in the first place, because Abraham was in a justified state, by an everlasting covenant, thirty years before his offering his son Isaac upon the altar. It was so long, or near so long before
this, that the glorious God himself made the promise to him in Gen. xvii. 7. 66 And I will establish my covenant between me and thee, and thy seed after thee, in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee."
And it was more than so long before this, that Abraham had this testimony given him in Gen. xv. 6.
66 That he believed in the Lord : and he counted it to him for righteousness. Yea, he was a believer so long before, as his first leaving his father's house. “ By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed and went out.” How then could his offering his son Isaac be the mean or term of the justification of his person before God, when he had faith unfeigned, had righteousness imputed to him, and an everlasting covenant made with him so long a time before ? Besides, if works could have justified his person, he would have been justified by works long before this. For his whole story shows, that he had lived in a course of holy fruitful obedience, from the time of his justification till this time. There cannot, therefore, be any fair pretence made, that the justification of his person is here referred to. No; this good work was not in the least constitutive, but only evidential, of his personal justification before God.
Further, it appears by the story itself, to which the Apostle refers, that it was only a manifestative justification, a justification of his faith and sincerity, and so declarative of the justified state of his person, that Abraham obtained by offering his son Isaac
The glorious God condescends to treat with him after the manner of men; and by an
upon the altar.
them consistent. We must take this for a principle, that whatever becomes of our schemes, on one side or the other, the Spirit of God cannot be inconsistent with himself, nor teach contrary doctrines. That interpretation, therefore, must be right, which will make them consistent; and that must be rejected which sets them at variance, and makes their doc. trines utterly irreconcilable.
It should be likewise premised, that the apostle James must be understood in such a sense as will make him consistent with himself. We may not suppose
that he teaches such a doctrine in this part of the second chapter, as is repugnant to the doctrine which he himself teaches elsewhere in the same epistle. Let us then see if we cannot find the doctrine I am pleading for, taught in this very epistle of James, particularly in chap. i. ver. 5, 6, 7. “ If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea, driven of the wind, and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.” From whence I
From whence I argue, if faith be the way to divine acceptance and audience of our prayers, the means by which our duties will find a gracious reception with God, and without which they will be rejected; then we are justified by faith, and not by works. For it is undoubtedly true, that what justifies our obedience, and renders that acceptable to God, does likewise justify our persons, and render them acceptable to him; and qur works can have no hand in justifying our per
sons, if our works themselves are justified by faith ; but condemned and rejected without it, as the Apostle teaches in the cited text. So we learn from chap. v. 15, 16, that the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man,” is “the prayer of faith.”
Moreover, if spiritual wisdom, or practical holiness,
be the fruit and effect of faith, (as we are told that it is in the quoted text,) then our justification and acceptance with God (by which we do, and without which we cannot obtain the divine influences to our progressive sanctification) is by faith, and not by works. I think no man will pretend, that we are so acceptable to God, as to obtain his sanctifying influences, in a progress of wisdom and grace, before we are justified; or that we are sanctified by faith, and justified by works. Whence it follows, that faith is the mean, or term, of our justification, because it is the mean, or term, of our sanctification; and that a holy life cannot be the condition of our acceptance with God, because it is the consequence and fruit of that faith by which we find acceptance with him.
Another text, to the same purpose, we find in chap. ii. 5. “ Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which God hath promised to them that love him ?” It might be read, “ Hath not God chosen the poor to be rich," (as a similar phrase is translated, Rom. viii. 29.) to be rich “ with, or by faith, and heirs ?” Does it not plainly teach us, as that the end of God's choosing the poor was that they might be spiritually rich, so that it is faith which enriches them, and constitutes them heirs of
the kingdom? And you will readily own, that if we are heirs of the kingdom by faith, we are justified by faith. The kingdom is prepared for them that love God, and faith is the source of that love to God by which we are qualified for the kingdom. “ Faith worketh by love," Gal. v. 6.; and therefore faith is the term, or medium, of our acceptance with God, and title to the kingdom. These texts must therefore be remembered, in our explication of the context you refer to, that we may not represent the Apostle as teaching contradictions or inconsistencies.
It must also be premised, that we should understand the reasonings and conclusions of the two apostles, Paul and James, according to the professed scope and design of their discourses, and according to the subject they are professedly treating upon : and we should consider the expressions they each of
the point in view, not as words occasionally and transiently spoken, but as what relate to, and are connected with, the subject matter professedly undertaken to be explained. This must be always allowed to be a natural and rational rule, which ought to be strictly adhered to in the interpretation of Scripture. Now, then, let us look a little into this case; and see if we do not find the scope and design of these two apostles very different, where they speak so very differently of justification by faith and by works.
Paul designedly handles this question-How shall a guilty, condemned, and convinced sinner, get reconciled to God, find acceptance with him, and have a title to the heavenly inheritance ? He treats of such.“ who are under sin, whose mouths must be
them use upon