The Epistle of James
Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment
Finally the 13th verse says, “For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath showed no mercy; and mercy rejoices against judgment.” This is the final word in this homily on Christian impartiality. If the Christian has shown no mercy to his fellowmen, he need not expect mercy if he should be judged. This does not refer to the final judgment of God, but to judgments we meet in this world from our fellow-Christians. This is an inviolable spiritual law that backfires disastrously to one who has shown no mercy. Read the parable of Jesus on the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18:21-35 for an elucidation of this truth. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” Mercy triumphs over judgment.
1 - 4
My brethren, do not show respect of persons as you hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Glory. For if there comes into your assembly a man wearing a gold ring and dressed in fine clothing, and there comes in also a poor man wearing shabby clothing, and you pay attention to the one who wears fine clothing, and say to him, “Sit here in a prominent place,” and say to the poor man, “Stand over there, or sit here by my footstool; are you not then partial in yourselves, and become judges with evil motives?
5 - 7
Listen, my beloved brethren, did not God choose the poor in the estimation of the world, to be rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who continue to love Him? But you have dishonored the poor. Do not the rich men oppress you, and drag you into court? Do they not blaspheme that worthy name by which you have been called?
8 - 11
If, however, you were carrying out the royal law according to the Scripture — “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself,” — you were doing well. But if you had respect of persons, you were committing sin, having been convicted by the law as transgressors. For one who keeps the whole law, but fails in one point, he becomes guilty of all. For He who said, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” also said, “Thou shalt not commit murder.” Now if you did not commit adultery, but did commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.
So keep on speaking and so keep on acting as those who are about to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be without mercy to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.
Faith in our Lord Jesus Christ is a living substance. Faith itself, is intangible; it cannot be seen or touched, but its results are very evident. It is a little like calories; you cannot see them, but you can see their results. Indeed, a faith which leaves no visible evidences is worthless.
The Reality of Faith
James 2:14-26 is the portion that touched off Luther’s reaction to this book. He felt that James was contradicting Paul’s teaching on justification by faith, so he rejected it as the “Epistle of Straw.” But to the eye of faith, this portion becomes most precious; for it brings out the reality of faith as no other portion does.
There is definitely no contradiction between the teaching of James and that of Paul on the subject of justification. But a superficial reading of this portion may lead one, as it did Luther, to suspect that a contradiction does exist. But by fathoming the depths, the seeming contradiction dissolves; and most precious truth applicable to our day is discovered. Someone has suggested that Paul and James do not stand face to face fighting each other, but back to back fighting opposite foes.
James wrote his Epistle before Paul began his active ministry as the Apostle to the Gentiles. The Gentiles were not yet saved and in the Church in sufficient numbers to make any impact on the infant Church. Therefore, circumcision and law keeping as a means to justification did not present any problem. The Christian Jews who formed the early Church were all circumcised, for they had been brought up under the law; but it was faith in the Lord Jesus Christ which brought them to salvation and a new kind of life that they could not enjoy under the law. That the Gentiles could be saved and enjoy the same kind of life without circumcision and law-keeping did not even occur to them at this time.
James is particularly interested in the kind of faith these professing Jewish Christians had. Today, if one professes faith in Christ, we are satisfied that he is a Christian; but James is not satisfied with a mere profession. If the faith these people profess to have does not in some way manifest itself, it is worthless in James’ estimation. Hence, the real burden of this portion is to prove the reality of the faith one professes to have.
Profession vs Possession
James begins this portion by saying, “What does it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? Can faith save him?” Notice, James is not referring to one who has faith, but to one who says he has faith. The difference is between saying and having. The one about whom he is speaking professes to have what he actually does not have. In modern terminology we might say, he was one who raised his hand and went forward at the invitation of the evangelist, and because he had done that he had faith. The doing of these things, unless he is brought face to face with the Lord Jesus Christ as his Saviour, still does not result in faith. James is not satisfied with such a profession; for unless concrete evidence is forthcoming such a profession is worthless.