James 2


We should not prefer the rich to the poor, nor show any

partiality inconsistent with the Gospel of Christ, 1-4.

God has chosen the poor, rich in faith, to be heirs of his

kingdom, even those whom some among their brethren despised

and oppressed, 5, 6.

They should love their neighbour as themselves, and have no

respect of persons, 7-9.

He who breaks one command of God is guilty of the whole,

10, 11.

They should act as those who shall be judged by the law of

liberty; and he shall have judgment without mercy, who shows

no mercy, 12, 13.

Faith without works of charity and mercy is dead; nor can it

exist where there are no good works, 14-20.

Abraham proved his faith by his works, 21-24.

And so did Rahab, 25.

As the body without the soul is dead, so is faith without good

works, 26.


Verse 1. My brethren, have not] This verse should be read

interrogatively: My brethren, do ye not make profession of the

faith or religion of our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with

acceptance of persons? That is, preferring the rich to the poor

merely because of their riches, and not on account of any moral

excellence, personal piety, or public usefulness. πιστις, faith,

is put here for religion; and τηςδοξης, of glory, should,

according to some critics, be construed with it as the Syriac and

Coptic have done. Some connect it with our Lord Jesus Christ-the

religion of our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. Others translate

thus, the faith of the glory of our Lord Jesus. There are many

various readings in the MSS. and versions on this verse: the

meaning is clear enough, though the connection be rather obscure.

Verse 2. If there come unto your assembly] ειςτηνσυναγωγην.

Into the synagogue. It appears from this that the apostle is

addressing Jews who frequented their synagogues, and carried on

their worship there and judicial proceedings, as the Jews were

accustomed to do. Our word assembly does not express the

original; and we cannot suppose that these synagogues were at this

time occupied with Christian worship, but that the Christian Jews

continued to frequent them for the purpose of hearing the law and

the prophets read, as they had formerly done, previously to their

conversion to the Christian faith. But St. James may refer here

to proceedings in a court of justice.

With a gold ring, in goodly apparel] The ring on the finger and

the splendid garb were proofs of the man's opulence; and his ring

and his coat, not his worth, moral good qualities, or the

righteousness of his cause, procured him the respect of which St.

James speaks.

There come in also a poor man] In ancient times petty courts of

judicature were held in the synagogues, as Vitringa has

sufficiently proved, De Vet. Syn. l. 3, p. 1, c. 11; and it is

probable that the case here adduced was one of a judicial kind,

where, of the two parties, one was rich and the other poor; and

the master or ruler of the synagogue, or he who presided in this

court, paid particular deference to the rich man, and neglected

the poor man; though, as plaintiff and defendant, they were equal

in the eye of justice, and should have been considered so by an

impartial judge.

Verse 3. Sit here under my footstool] Thus evidently

prejudging the cause, and giving the poor man to see that he was

to expect no impartial administration of justice in his cause.

Verse 4. Are ye not then partial] ουδιεκριθητε. Do ye not

make a distinction, though the case has not been heard, and the

law has not decided?

Judges of evil thoughts?] κριταιδιαλογισμωνπονηρων. Judges

of evil reasonings; that is, judges who reason wickedly; who, in

effect, say in your hearts, we will espouse the cause of the rich,

because they can befriend us; we will neglect that of the poor,

because they cannot help us, nor have they power to hurt us.

Verse 5. Hath not God chosen the poor of this world] This

seems to refer to Mt 11:5:

And the poor have the Gospel preached to them. These believed on

the Lord Jesus, and found his salvation; while the rich despised,

neglected, and persecuted him. These had that faith in Christ

which put them in possession of the choicest spiritual blessings,

and gave them a right to the kingdom of heaven. While, therefore,

they were despised of men, they were highly prized of God.

Verse 6. Do not rich men oppress you] The administration of

justice was at this time in a miserable state of corruption among

the Jews; but a Christian was one who was to expect no justice any

where but from his God. The words καταδυναστευουσιν, exceedingly

oppress, and ελκουσινειςκριτηρια, drag you to courts of justice,

show how grievously oppressed and maltreated the Christians were

by their countrymen the Jews, who made law a pretext to afflict

their bodies, and spoil them of their property.

Verse 7. Blaspheme that worthy name] They took every occasion

to asperse the Christian name and the Christian faith, and have

been, from the beginning to the present day, famous for their

blasphemies against Christ and his religion. It is evident that

these were Jews of whom St. James speaks; no Christians in these

early times could have acted the part here mentioned.

Verse 8. The royal law] νομονβασιλικον. This epithet, of

all the New Testament writers, is peculiar to James; but it is

frequent among the Greek writers in the sense in which it appears

St. James uses it. βασιλικος, royal, is used to signify any thing

that is of general concern, is suitable to all, and necessary for

all, as brotherly love is. This commandment; Thou shalt love thy

neighbour as thyself, is a royal law, not only because it is

ordained of God, and proceeds from his kingly authority over men,

but because it is so useful, suitable, and necessary to the

present state of man; and as it was given us particularly by

Christ himself, Joh 13:34; 15:12,

who is our King, as well as Prophet and Priest, it should ever put

us in mind of his authority over us, and our subjection to him.

As the regal state is the most excellent for secular dignity and

civil utility that exists among men, hence we give the epithet

royal to whatever is excellent, noble, grand, or useful.

Verse 9. But if ye have respect to persons] In judgment, or

in any other way; ye commit sin against God, and against your

brethren, and are convinced, ελεγχομενοι, and are convicted, by

the law; by this royal law, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as

thyself; as transgressors, having shown this sinful acceptance of

persons, which has led you to refuse justice to the poor man, and

uphold the rich in his oppressive conduct.

Verse 10. For whosoever shall keep the whole law, &c.] This

is a rabbinical form of speech. In the tract Shabbath, fol. 70,

where they dispute concerning the thirty-nine works commanded by

Moses, Rabbi Yochanan says: But if a man do the whole, with the

omission of one, he is guilty of the whole, and of every one. In

Bammidar rabba, sec. 9, fol. 200, and in Tanchum, fol. 60, there

is a copious example given, how an adulteress, by that one crime,

breaks all the ten commandments, and by the same mode of proof any

one sin may be shown to be a breach of the whole decalogue. The

truth is, any sin is against the Divine authority; and he who has

committed one transgression is guilty of death; and by his one

deliberate act dissolves, as far as he can, the sacred connection

that subsists between all the Divine precepts and the obligation

which he is under to obey, and thus casts off in effect his

allegiance to God. For, if God should be obeyed in any one

instance, he should be obeyed in all, as the authority and reason

of obedience are the same in every case; he therefore who breaks

one of these laws is, in effect, if not in fact, guilty of the

whole. But there is scarcely a more common form of speech among

the rabbins than this, for they consider that any one sin has the

seeds of all others in it. See a multitude of examples in


Verse 11. For he that said] That is, the authority that gave

one commandment gave also the rest; and he who breaks one resists

this authority; so that the breach of any one commandment may be

justly considered a breach of the whole law. It was a maxim also

among the Jewish doctors that, if a man kept any one commandment

carefully, though he broke all the rest, he might assure himself

of the favour of God; for while they taught that "He who

transgresses all the precepts of the law has broken the yoke,

dissolved the covenant, and exposed the law to contempt, and so

has he done who has broken even one precept," (Mechilta, fol. 5,

Yalcut Simeoni, part 1, fol. 59,) they also taught, "that he who

observed any principal command was equal to him who kept the whole

law;" (Kiddushin, fol. 39;) and they give for example, "If a man

abandon idolatry, it is the same as if he had fulfilled the whole

law," (Ibid., fol. 40.) To correct this false doctrine James

lays down that in the 11th verse. Jas 2:11

Thus they did and undid.

Verse 12. So speak ye, and so do] Have respect to every

commandment of God, for this the law of liberty-the Gospel of

Jesus Christ, particularly requires; and this is the law by which

all mankind, who have had the opportunity of knowing it, shall be

judged. But all along St. James particularly refers to the

precept, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

Verse 13. For he shall have judgment] He who shows no mercy

to man, or, in other words, he who does not exercise himself in

works of charity and mercy to his needy fellow creatures, shall

receive no mercy at the hand of God; for he hath said, Blessed are

the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. The unmerciful

therefore are cursed, and they shall obtain no mercy.

Mercy rejoiceth against judgment.] These words are variously

understood. 1. Mercy, the merciful man, the abstract for the

concrete, exults over judgment, that is, he is not afraid of it,

having acted according to the law of liberty, Thou shalt love thy

neighbour as thyself. 2. Ye shall be exalted by mercy above

judgment. 3. For he (God) exalts mercy above judgment. 4. A

merciful man rejoices rather in opportunities of showing mercy,

than in acting according to strict justice. 5. In the great day,

though justice might condemn every man according to the rigour of

the law, yet God will cause mercy to triumph over justice in

bringing those into his glory who, for his sake, had fed the

hungry, clothed the naked, ministered to the sick, and visited the

prisoners. See what our Lord says, Mt 25:31-46.

In the MSS. and versions there is a considerable variety of

readings on this verse, and some of the senses given above are

derived from those readings. The spirit of the saying may be

found in another scripture, I will have mercy and not sacrifice-I

prefer works of charity and mercy to every thing else, and

especially to all acts of worship. The ROYAL LAW, Thou shalt love

thy neighbour as thyself, should particularly prevail among men,

because of the miserable state to which all are reduced by sin, so

that each particularly needs the help of his brother.

Verse 14. 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 Jas 1:22 the apostle has been enforcing Christian practice.

He now applies to those who neglect this under the pretence 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,

Jas 1:21, 23, 25, the same phrases, testimonies, and examples

which St. Paul had used, Ro 4:3; Heb 11:17, 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, Jas 2:15-17;

though a man say, Jas 2:18, 19;

can that faith save him? Jas 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 neighbour."-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 Jas 2:19, 24, 25.

Verse 15. If a brother or sister be naked] That is,

ill-clothed; for γυμνος, naked, has this meaning in several parts

of the New Testament, signifying bad clothing, or the want of some

particular article of dress. See Mt 25:36, 38, 43, 44, and

Joh 21:7.

It has the same comparative signification in most languages.

Verse 16. Be ye warmed and filled] Your saying so to them,

while you give them nothing, will just profit them as much as your

professed faith, without those works which are the genuine fruits

of true faith, will profit you in the day when God comes to sit in

judgment upon your soul.

Verse 17. If it hath not works, is dead] The faith that does

not produce works of charity and mercy is without the living

principle which animates all true faith, that is, love to God and

love to man. They had faith, such as a man has who credits a

well-circumstanced relation because it has all the appearance of

truth; but they had nothing of that faith that a sinner, convinced

of his sinfulness, God's purity, and the strictness of the Divine

laws, is obliged to exert in the Lord Jesus, in order to be saved

from his sins.

Verse 18. Show me thy faith without thy works] Your

pretending to have faith, while you have no works of charity or

mercy, is utterly vain: for as faith, which is a principle in the

mind, cannot be discerned but by the effects, that is, good works;

he who has no good works has, presumptively, no faith.

I will show thee my faith by my works.] My works of charity

and mercy will show that I have faith; and that it is the living

tree, whose root is love to God and man, and whose fruit is the

good works here contended for.

Verse 19. Thou believest that there is one God] This is the

faith in which these persons put their hope of pleasing God, and

of obtaining eternal life. Believing in the being and unity of

God distinguished them from all the nations of the world; and

having been circumcised, and thus brought into the covenant, they

thought themselves secure of salvation. The insufficiency of this

St. James immediately shows.

The devils also believe, and tremble.] It is well to believe

there is one only true God; this truth universal nature proclaims.

Even the devils believe it; but far from justifying or saving

them, it leaves them in their damned state, and every act of it

only increases their torment; φρισσουσι, they shudder with horror,

they believe and tremble, are increasingly tormented; but they can

neither love nor obey.

Verse 20. But wilt thou know] Art thou willing to be

instructed in the nature of true saving faith? Then attend to the

following examples.

Verse 21. Was not Abraham our father] Did not the conduct of

Abraham, in offering up his son Isaac on the altar, sufficiently

prove that he believed in God, and that it was his faith in him

that led him to this extraordinary act of obedience?

Verse 22. Seest thou how faith wrought] Here is a proof that

faith cannot exist without being active in works of righteousness.

His faith in God would have been of no avail to him, had it not

been manifested by works; for by works-by his obedience to the

commands of God, his faith was made perfect-it dictated obedience,

he obeyed; and thus faith ετελειωθη, had its consummation. Even

true faith will soon die, if its possessor do not live in the

spirit of obedience.

Verse 23. The scripture was fulfilled] He believed God; this

faith was never inactive, it was accounted to him for

righteousness: and being justified by thus believing, his life of

obedience showed that he had not received the grace of God in

vain. See Clarke on Ge 15:6; "Ro 4:3"; "Ga 3:6";

where this subject is largely explained.

The friend of God.] The highest character ever given to man.

As among friends every thing is in common; so God took Abraham

into intimate communion with himself, and poured out upon him the

choicest of his blessings: for as God can never be in want,

because he possesses all things; so Abraham his friend could never

be destitute, because God was his friend.

Verse 24. Ye see then how] It is evident from this example

that Abraham's faith was not merely believing that there is a God;

but a principle that led him to credit God's promises relative to

the future Redeemer, and to implore God's mercy: this he received,

and was justified by faith. His faith now began to work by love,

and therefore he was found ever obedient to the will of his Maker.

He brought forth the fruits of righteousness; and his works

justified-proved the genuineness of his faith; and he continued to

enjoy the Divine approbation, which he could not have done had he

not been thus obedient; for the Spirit of God would have been

grieved, and his principle of faith would have perished.

Obedience to God is essentially requisite to maintain faith.

Faith lives, under God, by works; and works have their being and

excellence from faith. Neither can subsist without the other, and

this is the point which St. James labours to prove, in order to

convince the Antinomians of his time that their faith was a

delusion, and that the hopes built on it must needs perish.

Verse 25. Rahab the harlot]

See Clarke on Jos 2:1, &c., and "Heb 11:31", &c.

Rahab had the approbation due to genuine faith, which she actually

possessed, and gave the fullest proof that she did so by her

conduct. As justification signifies, not only the pardon of sin,

but receiving the Divine approbation, James seems to use the word

in this latter sense. God approved of them, because of their

obedience to his will; and he approves of no man who is not


Verse 26. For as the body without the spirit is dead] There

can be no more a genuine faith without good works, than there can

be a living human body without a soul.

WE shall never find a series of disinterested godly living

without true faith. And we shall never find true faith without

such a life. We may see works of apparent benevolence without

faith; their principle is ostentation; and, as long as they can

have the reward (human applause) which they seek, they may be

continued. And yet the experience of all mankind shows how

short-lived such works are; they want both principle and spring;

they endure for a time, but soon wither away. Where true faith

is, there is God; his Spirit gives life, and his love affords

motives to righteous actions. The use of any Divine principle

leads to its increase. The more a man exercises faith in Christ,

the more he is enabled to believe; the more he believes, the more

he receives; and the more he receives, the more able he is to work

for God. Obedience is his delight, because love to God and man is

the element in which his soul lives. Reader, thou professest to

believe; show thy faith, both to God and man, by a life conformed

to the royal law, which ever gives liberty and confers dignity.

"Some persons, known to St. James, must have taught that men

are justified by merely believing in the one true God; or he would

not have taken such pains to confute it. Crediting the unity of

the Godhead, and the doctrine of a future state, was that faith

through which both the Jews in St. James' time and the Mohammedans

of the present day expect justification. St. James, in denying

this faith to be of avail, if unaccompanied with good works, has

said nothing more than what St. Paul has said, in other words,

Rom. 2, where he combats the same Jewish error, and asserts that

not the hearers but the doers of the law will be justified, and

that a knowledge of God's will, without the performance of it,

serves only to increase our condemnation."-Michaelis.

Copyright information for Clarke