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The second confirmation being given unto his principal assertion, he restates it in that way, and under those terms,、 wherein he designed it unto its last confirmation. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?' ver. 20. And we may consider in the words: 1. The person with whom he deals, whose conviction he endeavoured; him, he calls a vain man, not in general, as every man living is altogether vanity, but as one who in an especial manner is vainly puffed up in his own fleshly mind, one that hath entertained vain imaginations of being saved by an empty profession of the gospel, without any fruit of obedience. 2. That which he designs with respect unto this vain man is his conviction, a conviction of that foolish and pernicious error that he had imbibed; wilt thou know, O vain man?' 3. That which alone he designed to convince him of is, that faith without works is dead;'that is, the faith which is without works, which is barren and unfruitful, is dead and useless. This is that alone, and this is all that he undertakes to prove by his following instances and arguings, neither do they prove any more. To wrest his words to any other purpose, when they are all proper and suited unto what he expresseth as his only design, is to offer violence unto them.
This therefore he proves by the consideration of the faith of Abraham, ver. 21. Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Some things must be observed to clear the mind of the apostle herein: As, 1. It is certain that Abraham was justified many years before the work instanced in was performed; for long before was that testimony given concerning him, he believed in the Lord, and he counted it unto him for righteousness;' and the imputation of righteousness upon believing, is all the justification we inquire after or will contend about. 2. It is certain that in the relation of the story here repeated by the apostle, there is not any one word spoken of Abraham's being then justified before God, by that or any other work whatever. But, 3. It is plain and evident that in the place related unto, Abraham was declared to be justified by an open attestation unto his faith and fear of God as sincere, and that they had evidenced themselves so to be, in the sight of God himself, which God conde
scends to express by an assumption of human affections; Gen. xxii. 12. Now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.' That this is the justification which the apostle intends, cannot be denied, but out of love to strife. And this was the manifestation and declaration of the truth and sincerity of his faith whereby he was justified before God. And hereby the apostle directly and undeniably proves what he produceth this instance for; namely, that faith without works is dead. 4. It is no less evident, that the apostle had not spoken any thing before, as unto our justification before God, and the means thereof; and is therefore absurdly imagined here to introduce it in the proof of what he had before asserted, which it doth not prove at all. 5. The only safe rule of interpreting the meaning of the apostle next unto the scope and design of his present discourse, which he makes manifest in the reiterated proposition of it, and the scope of the places, matter of fact, with its circumstances which he refers unto, and takes his proof from, and they were plainly these and no other. Abraham had been long a justified believer, for there were thirty years or thereabout, between the testimony given thereunto, Gen xv. and the story of sacrificing his son, related Gen. xxii. All this while he walked with God, and was upright in a course of holy, fruitful obedience. Yet it pleased God, to put his faith after many others, unto a new, his greatest, his last trial. And it is the way of God in the covenant of grace, to try the faith of them that believe by such ways as seem meet unto him. Hereby he manifests how precious it is (the trial of faith making it appear to be more precious than gold;' 1 Pet. i. 7.) and raiseth up glory unto himself, which is in the nature of faith to give unto him; Rom. iv. 20. And this is the state of the case as proposed by the apostle; namely, how it may be tried whether the faith which men profess be genuine, precious, more precious than gold, of the right nature with that whereunto the gospel promise of salvation is annexed. 2. This trial was made by works, or by one signal duty of obedience prescribed unto him for that very end and purpose. For Abraham was to be proposed as a pattern unto all that should afterward believe. And God provided a signal way for the trial of his faith; namely, by an act of
obedience, which was so far from being enjoined by the moral law, that it seemed contrary unto it. And if he be proposed unto us as a pattern of justification by works in the sight of God, it must be by such works as God hath not required in the moral law, but such as seem to be contrary thereunto. Nor can any man receive any encouragement to expect justification by works, by telling him that Abraham was justified by works, when he offered up his only son to God; for it will be easy for him to say, that as no such work was ever performed by him, so none such was ever required of him. But, 3. Upon Abraham's compliance with the command of God given him in the way of trial, God himself ȧv0ρwτоτals declares the sincerity of his faith and his justification thereon, or his gracious acceptance of him. This is the whole design of the place which the apostle traduceth unto his purpose; and it contains the whole of what he was to prove and no more. Plainly it is granted in it, that we are not justified by our works before God, seeing he instances only in a work performed by a justified believer many years after he was absolutely justified before God. But this is evidently proved hereby; namely, that faith without works is dead; seeing justifying faith, as is evident in the case of Abraham, is that, and that alone, which brings forth works of obedience; for on such a faith alone, is a man evidenced, declared, and pronounced to be justified or accepted with God. Abraham was not then first justified; he was not then said to be justified; he was declared to be justified, and that by and upon his works, which contains the whole of what the apostle intends to prove.
There is therefore no appearance of the least contradiction, between this apostle and Paul, who professedly asserts, that Abraham was not justified before God by works. For James only declares that by the works which he performed after he was justified, he was manifested and declared so to be. And that this was the whole of his design, he manifests in the next verses, where he declares what he had proved by this instance, ver. 22. Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?' Two things he enforceth as proved unto the conviction of him, with whom he had to do. 1. That true faith will operate by works; so did Abraham's, it was effective in
obedience. 2. That it was made perfect by works, that is, évidenced so to be. For τέλειος, τελειόομαι doth nowhere in the Scripture signify the internal, formal perfecting of any thing, but only the external complement or perfection of it, or the manifestation of it. It was complete as unto its proper effect, when he was first justified; and it was now manifested so to be. See Matt. v. 48. Col. iv. 12. 2 Cor. xii. 9. This, saith the apostle, I have proved in the instance of Abraham; namely, that it is works of obedience alone that can evince a man to be justified, or to have that faith whereby he may be so. 3. He adds in the confirmation of what he had affirmed, ver. 23. And the Scripture was fulfilled, which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness, and he was called the friend of God.'
Two things the apostle affirms herein. 1. That the Scripture mentioned was fulfilled. It was so in that justification by works which he ascribes unto Abraham. But how this Scripture was herein fulfilled, either as unto the time wherein it was spoken, or as unto the thing itself, any otherwise but as that which is therein asserted, was evidenced and declared, no man can explain; what the Scripture affirmed so long before of Abraham, was then evidenced to be most true, by the works which his faith produced, and so that Scripture was accomplished. For otherwise, supposing the distinctions made between faith and works by himself, and the opposition that he puts between them, adding thereunto the sense given of this place by the apostle Paul, with the direct importance of the words, and nothing can be more contradictory unto his design (namely, if he intended to prove our justification before God by works), than the quotation of this testimony. Wherefore, this Scripture was [not] nor can be otherwise fulfilled by Abraham's justification by works, but only that by and upon them he was manifested so to be 2. He adds, that hereon he was called the friend of God. So he is, Isa. xli. 8. as also, 2 Chron. xx. 7. This is of the same importance with his being justified by works: for he was not thus called merely as a justified person, but as one who had received singular privileges from God, and answered them by a holy walking before him. Wherefore, his being called the friend of God was God's approbation of his faith
and obedience, which is the justification by works that the apostle asserts.
Hereon he makes a double conclusion (for the instance. of Rahab being of the same nature and spoken unto before, I shall not insist again upon it). 1. As unto his present argument, ver. 24. 2. As unto the whole of his design, ver. 26. The first is, that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only; ye see then;' you whom I design to convince of the vanity of that imagination, that you are justified by a dead faith, a breathless carcase of faith, a mere assent unto the truth of the gospel and profession of it, consistent with all manner of impiety, and wholly destitute of good fruits; you may see what faith it is that is required unto justification and salvation. For Abraham was declared to be righteous, to be justified on that faith which wrought by works, and not at all by such a faith as you pretend unto. A man is justified by works, as Abraham was when he had offered up his son to God. That is, what he really was by faith long before, as the Scripture testifieth, was then and thereby evidenced and declared. And therefore, let no man suppose that by the faith which they boasted of, any one is or can be justified, seeing that whereon Abraham was declared to be so, was that which evidenced itself by its fruits. 2. He lays down that great conclusion which he had evinced by his whole disputation, and which at first he designed to confirm, ver. 26. For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.' A breathless carcase and an unworking faith are alike, as unto all the ends of natural or spiritual life. This was that which the apostle designed from the beginning to convince vain and barren professors of, which accordingly he hath given sufficient reason and testimony for.