The following is an excerpt from Thomas Goodwin’s Of Gospel Holiness In the Heart and Life. It is found in vol. 7 of his Works, available here. This excerpt begins towards the beginning of the first chapter of the second book and continues through the end of the third chapter of that book. It can be found on pgs. 179-190 of the edition linked above. ~SW
That I may arrive at this portion of Scripture (my text), as it stands in coherence with the foregoing words, I must necessarily open the aim and intent of James therein, which hath had so much controversy upon it. The point which he pursues in this chapter and this epistle was to convince loose professors, who, building themselves upon Paul s doctrine (which if it had not been current in those times there had been no colour for their mistake), that faith alone being that which saved us, and justified us without works, they thereupon had taken up a looseness of profession in practice, not judging inward holiness in their hearts, or an outward strictness in their lives necessary, seeing it was faith alone that saveth. Now, in this chapter, there are two mediums by which he evinceth the vanity of that deceit.
- That even under the gospel, universal respect to all the commandments, one as well as another, is required, and upon the same ground to all as unto any one; yea, and that at the latter day, God will judge every man according to this rule, which he terms the ‘law of liberty,’ ver. 12. The gospel requires a sincere respect unto all commandments; this you have from ver. 8 to the 14th, ‘If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: but if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors. For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now, if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law. So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty. For he shall have judgment without mercy that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment. What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?’
The second part of this discourse, and which he prosecutes to the end of the chapter is, 1. That true saving faith hath always works of holiness, or such a respect unto all the commandments, accompanying it both in the heart and life. And 2. On the contrary, that faith which hath not these fruits is but a dead faith, and not the true genuine faith, such as all believers have that are saved. Yea, and 3. That every man’s faith (and so together therewith every man that professeth himself to have true faith) must one day be put to an open trial, to justify the truth of itself, and of his profession, and this afore all the world. And the believer also will be put upon the justification of his having had such a faith as God (ex consequenti, or in the sequel) professeth only to justify man upon; for at the latter day it is faith is the grace that must be tried and found unto honour and glory, 1 Peter i. 7. And the man that shall plead justification by faith alone (which James contradicts not), and that he had a saving faith, must undergo this examination, whether his faith produced such works, yea or no, as the nature of true faith, with difference from false and unfeigned faith (which James disputes against), doth note.
These three assertions he intermingledly lays down. The first, ver. 14, ‘What doth it profit a man, though he say he hath faith, and have not works?’ Can ͑η πίστις, that faith, save him?’ The second is in ver. 17, ‘Even so faith, which hath not works, is dead, being alone,’ and but such a faith as the devils have, ver. 19. The third is in verses 21 and 24, ‘A man is justified by works, and not by faith only.’ The issue of all which comes to this, that true sanctification and holiness of heart and life is required by God unto the possession and the enjoyment of salvation as well as faith, and serves to justify the truth of the faith, by which he hath alone the right to it.
Now, for the confirmation of all this, he allegeth the instance of Abraham as an undeniable conviction and sufficient evidence, as his preface to it shews: ‘Wilt thou know, vain man?’ says he, ver. 20. He gives such possessors the title of vain men, because they are vain in their imaginations, Rom, i., and deceived in what they build on, and their religion will prove vain (as in chap. i. 26 he speaks); such a man ‘deceives his own heart, and his religion is vain.’
Now wilt thou know, that is, shall I give thee an invincible demonstration for all these things? Both that that faith which is without works is a dead faith, a counterfeit faith, and so of another kind from saving faith. And 2dly, that whoever pleads he hath faith, must have a justification (in a right and true sense) by works, &c. For this, take that instance of our father Abraham: James ii. 21, ‘Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered up his son Isaac upon the altar?’ We must understand him here closely to prosecute those assertions he had begun, whereof one was, that it was not enough for a man that would be saved to say that he had faith, but he must make this good, and shew it forth in his works. And accordingly, as to this sense, the apostle must be understood to speak this of Abraham (for he speaks pertinently to his own conclusions laid), that if Abraham our father were now alive, or to appear at the day of judgment, and would say or plead that he had faith, upon which God had imputed righteousness unto him, that yet even he, as well as any other, must shew that he had such a faith by his works, or he had not approved himself to have been a true believer. And so to be justified by works is but to approve himself a true believer in difference to a false faith (which is the main point which James his scope was to disprove); and accordingly, there is recorded (to which James his words do refer) a justification of him that followed upon that work of his: ver. 22-24, ‘Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed to him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.’
If you ask how this is to be reconciled to what Paul says, Rom. 3d and 4th chapters, where he says the clean contrary, that Abraham was justified by faith without works? the answer (besides what hath been now said) is clear out of the scope of both places compared. There is a double justification by God: the one authoritative, the other declarative or demonstrative. Though this is also before God, yet it is that which is to be made before all the world by God; and in order thereunto, the one is the justification of men’s persons coram Deo, before God, as they appear before him nakedly, and have to do with him alone for the right to salvation; and so they are justified by faith without works, either as looked at by God or by themselves. God therein passeth an act of Christ’s righteousness, out of his pure prerogative; as a king, when he pardons, or creates a nobleman, and the like. And this part of the distinction Paul himself puts, in stating it under the example of Abraham; that coram Deo, before God, nor Abraham, nor any flesh shall be justified by works: Rom. iv. 2-5, ‘For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory, but not before God. For what saith the Scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.’ Observe it, he saith, ‘not before God;’ that is, not in that justification, which is an act passed between God and a man’s own soul, and in respect of the private transactions between both.
But God, at the latter day, is to proceed as the judge of all the world (as Abraham calls him), and as such, to put a difference between man and man, and that upon this account, that the one were true believers when he justified them; the other were unsound, even in their very acts of faith which they did put forth. And so he is to shew forth a difference between those whom he hath justified thus out of his prerogative, and those whom he hath left under wrath. He is to own the one with a ‘Come, ye blessed,’ and reject the other with a ‘Go, ye cursed.’
Now God hath ordered it so, that he will not put the possession of salvation upon that private act of his own, without having anything else to shew for it. He shews grace and favour to a man without works, but yet he will go demonstratively to work, and difference believing Abraham from unbelieving Ishmael and Laban; and this by such works as the other had not to shew for themselves. He will justify his own acts of justification, of this man and not of that; and he will justify the faith of him he had justified (which is James’s main scope), or, if you will, the person himself, as he professed himself to have had faith. And this is as evidently James’s scope, as the other is Paul’s. In a word, Abraham’s person, considered singly and alone, yea, as ungodly, is the object of Paul’s justification with out works, Rom. iv. 3-5. But Abraham, as professing himself to have such a true justifying faith, and to have been justified thereupon, and claiming right to salvation by it, Abraham, as such, is to be justified by works. Now, that this is James’s scope is evident, for—
- It agrees with the language he useth, which imports his meaning to intend but an outward demonstration in this his justification which he intended, ver. 18, ‘Shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.’ And ver. 22, ‘Seest thou how faith wrought with his works?’ So, then, he speaks of a visible, demonstrative justification, as the words seeing and shewing import.
This instance of Abraham’s justification, he saith, was after he had offered up his son. Now what was that justification, but that famous testimony of God himself, given him thereupon? ‘Now know I,’ says God, Gen. xxii. 12, ‘that thou fearest God,’ which is no more but this: I have now a visible evidence and demonstration of it; so that whereas before I, upon a private act of my own, justified thee upon believing, I can now own thee to all the world, and have an evidence to give upon certain knowledge. And this testimony was Abraham’s justification.
The 23d verse also tells us, that he had that character or title of honour given him thereupon: 1. That he was called the friend of God, which is spoken in relation unto that act; 2. He is spoken of, also, as one whom God was not ashamed of to be called his God, nor to own him as a friend, for he had had it upon an experience what would justify his doing so.
And yet further, he herein prosecutes what he had said, ver. 12, that we should be judged by our works, and so speaks this in relation thereunto. And look in what sense a man may be said to be judged by his works at the latter day, in the same sense, and that sense only, he intends this his justification by works, and in no other; for all judging and passing of sentence must have either a justification or a condemnation, as the sentence of it in the close. So as there is no more danger to say, a man at the latter day shall be justified by his works, as evidences of his state and faith, than to say he shall be judged according thereto; and the one is to be taken in a similar or like sense unto the other. Now, to be judged ‘according to works’ (when it is spoken of a good man), is meant demonstratively, as they are evidence of his estate. The apostle’s scope being also to shew, by God s approbation given Abraham, upon the story of his offering up his son in his lifetime, what like approbation or justification Christ will declare and hold forth concerning true believers, when the story of their lives and all the good they have done, or was wrought in them, shall be ripped up: ‘I was naked, and ye clothed me;’ and so gives them the testimony of his knowing that they had done so. As, on the contrary, to them that regarded not good works, he says, ‘I know you not,’ Mat. vii. 23. And David, speaking of standing in judgment, useth the same phrase, Ps. i. 5, 6, ‘The Lord knows the way of the righteous,’ that is, justifies and approves; as in that speech God did Abraham, ‘Now I know thou fearest me, &c.’
And in relation to this outward judgment at the latter day, our sentence of salvation is termed expressly a justification; and this very thing is asserted by Christ himself: Mat. xii. 36, 37, ‘I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give an account thereof in the day of judgment; for by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.’ Neither is it anywhere said, that God will judge men according to their faith only; nor will it be a sufficient plea at the latter day to say, Lord, thou knowest I believed, and cast myself at thy grace. God will say, I am to judge thee so as every one shall be able to judge my sentence righteous together with me: 1 Cor. iv. 5, ‘Therefore, shew me thy faith by thy works;’ let me know by them thou fearedst me; for as I did judge Abraham, and gave thereupon a testimony of him, so I must proceed towards thee. And this God will do, to the end that all the sons of Israel, yea, the whole world, may know that he justified one that had true faith indeed.
So then, Paul s judging according to works, and James his justification by works, are all one, and are alike consistent with Paul’s justification by faith only. For in the same epistle where he argues so strongly for justification by faith without works, as Rom. iii. iv., he in chap. ii. also declares, that ‘he will judge every man according to his works.’ He doth so to the good: ver. 7, ‘To them who, by patient continuance in well-doing, seek for glory, and honour, and immortality, eternal life.’ As well as to the bad he pronounceth a contrary judgment: vers. 8, 9, ‘But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile.’
Now then, to proceed in the exposition of James: ‘Thou seest how faith wrought with Abraham’s works.’ Which imports, first, that his faith was a working faith, which is the principal point that James drives at. And secondly, that his works did proceed out of faith, and so were accepted. Thus in Heb. xi. 17, ‘By faith Abraham offered up Isaac, says the apostle there. And by works faith was made perfect;’ that is, declared and manifested to be true and perfect faith. Thus we are said to bless God, when we shew his blessedness. And thus, in 2 Cor. xii. 9, ‘God s power is said to be perfected in weakness;’ not that it receives any perfection from us, but because it is manifested in its divineness and perfection. And this the reason of the thing also enforceth, for the cause is not perfected by the effect, but is declared perfected. Fruits perfect not, or make not the tree good, but shew the goodness of it. Now faith is the cause of works; and so his faith was perfected by works, by being manifested, upon trial (as, Heb. xi. 17, the apostle speaks), to be perfect faith, that is, true and genuine faith (for so perfect is taken by James, chap. i. 17, ‘every perfect gift’), in distinction from faith that proves itself hypocritical in the issue. Thus you say of a true dye, it is a perfect colour.
Again, then, a thing is said to be perfected, when it hath attained the end which it was ordained for, or which was aimed at. Thus in 1 John ii. 5, ‘Whoso keepeth his words, in him the love of God is perfected.’ Understand it either of the grace of love in us, it is perfected when it brings forth the actions and fruits of obedience it was ordained to bring forth; or take it in respect of God s love towards us, holiness is the end and aim thereof. It receives its intended end and accomplishment in a man that keeps the commandments, for we were ‘chosen to be holy before him in love.’
But let us proceed in the exposition of James’s words. James ii. 23, ‘And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed to him for righteousness;’ that is, upon this his offering up his son there was a fulfilling of that thing which aforehand had been spoken of Abraham, whereof the Scripture is the record. 1. First, let us consider the thing. 2. The phrase fulfilled.
- Let us consider the thing in other passages of the New Testament, where it is said a scripture is fulfilled, when it is first done or accomplished, with reference to some scripture or prophecy recorded and written long afore the thing was accomplished. Now that cannot be James’s meaning here, for Moses’ books (and so this Book of Genesis) were written after, both this imputation of righteousness by God, and that offering up of Isaac by Abraham. The intent of this saying then must rest upon this, that what is recorded in Scripture, as said long before of Abraham’s faith, was afterward fulfilled and demonstrated, though both passages were at one and the same time written by the same hand of Moses long after both. And so it refers to the priority of matter, that one passage fell out afore the other, not to the writing itself. Now it is evident by the story, that about thirty years before Abraham offered up his son, God had (as the Scripture records it) imputed righteousness to him upon believing, Gen. xv. 6. Yea, and upon a bare and naked act of believing was it that God did impute righteousness to him. But then, as hath been said, God that justified Abraham as his elect gave him such a faith; and such an act of faith was then put forth by Abraham, as God, to use the words said of Christ, knowing by intuition and foresight the kind of it (he also out of election having given him such a faith) to be true and genuine, justified him upon it; it being such a faith as he meant to follow with all these good works, that which Abraham afterward out of faith wrought; and indeed Abraham’s faith after so many years brought forth those many acts of obedience, Heb. xi. 17. There was an evident demonstration of making good, a fulfilling or justifying of what God had done, and of that faith he had justified him then upon, clearly shewing that God in justifying him upon that, though a single act of faith, yet had kept to that eternal rule of his in justifying any, that such a faith should be operative and working of holiness. This Abraham in the sequel fulfilled and made good, and God foresaw he would. And it is observable, that in the 15th of Genesis God gave forth the promise absolutely unto Abraham first, and then he put forth that act of faith towards it. The promise was a declaration of God’s immediate counsel towards him, not founded on any work precedent, no, nor faith, but uttered for him by faith to receive: ver. 1, ‘I am thy shield and exceeding great reward.’ And ver. 6, ‘As the stars shall thy seed be’ (in which Abraham spied out Christ). ‘And he believed in the Lord, and he counted it to him for righteousness.’ Therefore Paul argues that God justified him, as considering him an ungodly person, neither therein respecting his works nor his faith, as that for which he justified him. Now then, upon that eminent act of obedience, the offering up his son (which is recorded Gen. xxii.), doth God renew the same promise, confirming it with an oath; I say, he renews the very same promise for substance given afore: ver. 16, 17, ‘By myself have I sworn, that because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: that in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven, and as the sand which is upon the seashore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies.’ Now the fulfilling here is in part interpreted by the word the apostle useth of this very speech Heb. vi. 17, that it was a ‘confirmation of a promise formerly given by an oath,’ referring to the declaration of himself, Gen xxii., as by the 13th and 14th verses appears, ‘For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself, saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee.’ So then, as this renewing the promise was but a further confirmation of what was sure afore on God s part there, so here in James this fulfilling was but a making for, or open verification, or demonstration, or shewing forth on Abraham’s part, that his faith God had justified him upon was true and real, perfect faith, such as God only professed to justify men upon. And as the first promise given, Gen. xv., was sufficient alone to have assured us, and the addition of that oath made it not more true or full in real verity than it was afore, only ex abundanti was added for confirmation, so Abraham’s justification upon that bare act of believing was as full and complete in the thing itself, as it was now upon the offering up of his son; only hereupon a new ratification was made to his faith thereof. And so the saying was but fulfilled, and Abraham’s faith (upon which it was first uttered) justified and declared true, namely, by that testimony of God s then given, ‘Now I know thou fearest me.’
And, secondly, the phrase well bears it; for in this sense a thing said to be fulfilled in Scripture when declared and ratified by some eminent signal of it. Acts xiii. 32, 33, when Peter brought the Jews tidings that they should have God’s own Son for their Messiah (for which he quotes Ps. ii., ‘Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee’), says he, ‘God hath fulfilled the same unto us, in that he hath raised up Christ from the dead.’ Now Jesus Christ was not made any whit more God s Son by his resurrection than he was before; how is it then said by his resurrection to be fulfilled? Paul hath resolved us: Rom. i. 4, ‘He was declared to be the Son of God by the resurrection from the dead.’ It is he that was the Son of God by eternal generation, and there was no other such a son of God, and of whom it was accordingly said in Scripture, ‘This day have I begotten thee.’ This scripture is said to be fulfilled, when this is manifestly made forth and demonstrated. And this is but the same which God doth every day, when upon occasion of some eminent act of self-denial or suffering he renews assurance of his love, and of the justification of them that have afore believed, as John xiv. 21.
Now then, that justification, which in reality, and for the thing itself, was as complete upon a bare act of believing as ever it shall be to all eternity (and the very words import it, in that thirty years before Abraham s offering up his son, righteousness was imputed to him by believing), yet is said to be fulfilled, when demonstratively and signally held forth. And as the resurrection of the Son of God added nothing to his Sonship that was essential thereunto, so neither did this justification of Abraham by works, James ii. 21, add anything to God’s real imputing of Christ s righteousness, but was the signal of it.
So then, let us conceive aright of God’s proceedings herein. Says God of a man that now but begins to put forth a naked act of faith, I do here justify this man, and I do justify him for ever, and I will never recall it. But a carnal heart might object, Will God beforehand thus rashly give forth an eternal justification of man? Will he not stay until he sees works to spring from it? No, says God, I will adventure to do it now; for when I mean to justify according to my decree of election, I give him faith, the faith of my elect; and I see (for he sees all our thoughts and wants afar off) this faith I justify this man now upon, this sole act of believing for justification, to be so genuine, so true and unfeigned faith, and of the true and right breed, that I will adventure it, or rather undertake for it, that in the future course of this man’s life it shall bring forth in his heart and life acts and dispositions suitable, which shall justify this my justifying of this man; which when it shall do, then is God’s sentence of justifying him said to be fulfilled.
When a man first believes upon a bare word of God, God in like manner justifies upon that bare act of believing; and as he trusts God, so God trusts his faith, or rather undertakes for it, and pronounceth such a sentence upon him of justification as he hath sworn (as he did to Abraham) never to recall. And yet the case is such, as if in the future course of his life that man did not walk so as, by works and dispositions of holiness accompanying that faith, to give demonstration of himself to be a true believer, God at the latter day must recall that sentence, as pronounced upon a dead and empty act of faith. When therefore in his future course he walks suitably, he is said to fulfil or make good that first act of God; for he gives sufficient proof and demonstration that he had, and hath that kind of faith upon which God alone will be sure to justify a man, even a working faith that is lively. And in this sense is that saying of James here to be understood: ‘And the scripture was fulfilled which says, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed to him for righteousness.’
The apostle James withal adds, ‘And he was called the Friend of God.’
- Some ado there is where in the Old Testament to find this saying. Some think it not anywhere uttered in words, and must therefore be fetched from such passages recorded betwixt Abraham and God, as argued he owned him for his friend, as that promise Gen. xii. 4, ‘I will bless them that bless thee, and I will curse them that curse thee.’ And to be a friend to one’s friend, and an enemy to all one’s enemies, is the strictest league of friendship that can be. Also those familiar conferences and colloquies vouchsafed to Abraham do argue it. God in reality used him as a friend, and so did in effect call him so. But over and above there are two evident testimonies of God in express terms giving this title to Abraham by God. 2 Chron. xx. 7, Isa. xli. 8, ‘The seed of Abraham my friend.’ And this honourable mention of him, compared with those real transactions of friendship, does put all out of question as to the authenticness of this quotation.
For the scope and pertinency of James in this quotation to the purpose he had in hand, it must be considered,
(1.) That he joins and couples, you see, two several testimonies, fetched out of several scriptures, concerning one and the same person, Abraham, whose instance he had before him to make forth his assertions out of it— one in his story in Genesis, the other in the Chronicles and prophet. And thereby he would prove and shew that which he intended, that in him justification, or justifying faith, and sanctification, or works answerable, did meet; yea, and that from his faith by which he was justified, did flow true holiness and love to God. So as that from his instance, who is our pattern, he argues that where God imputes righteousness by believing, the person is made such in heart and life, as God may approve of him as a true and real friend. Abraham believed, and it was imputed to him for righteousness. There is the one. And (says James) take this in too, ‘He was called the friend of God,’ that is, approved by God as such; and he really was such, for God calls things as they are. Now a friend to God, in James his interpretation of it, imports such inward dispositions of heart, and such a behaviour and deportment in life towards God, as a true friend beareth to a friend; and so is set to express sanctification in its distinction from faith, and as inseparable from faith.
(2.) He pertinently mentions this title of Abraham’s being God’s friend, as given him more especially upon that act of offering up his son. A friend, we know, is known in trial. Now God tried him in the dearest thing he had, in requiring that he himself should sacrifice his own son, which God took so kindly at his hands, as he ever after upon mention of him termed him friend, this having been so high an act of pure friendship toward him.
(3.) The apostle pertinently allegeth it upon this discourse of true faith, to shew what a powerful working thing it is, where it is. You see how it wrought in Abraham’s heart; it framed and changed his heart into friend ship with God. Abraham believed God, and he was called the friend of God. You see then what a faith his was.
(4.) And lastly, it indeed interprets what James meant by Abraham’s being justified by works; not the imputing of righteousness, but the calling and owning a man as God’s friend. And in the same sense that God called Abraham friend, upon that act of offering up his son, in the same sense he is said to be justified by works in the verse before. You use to say, such an one is an approved friend; such did Abraham demonstrate himself to be; and God owned him, and entitled him such for ever, which is a clear distinct thing from either Paul’s or James’s interpretation of righteousness, and justifying the ungodly.
I have but this to add in the close, which I began with in opening this difficult scripture, that all this is spoken of Abraham, not as a person extraordinary, but as a pattern and father unto all believers. For, 1, else James’s alleging his instance had not come home to his scope, to shew that all professors must have that faith and sanctification that Abraham had. And therefore, 2, in ver. 21, when he begins to allege it, he says, Was not ‘Abraham our father’ thus and thus? And therefore we that profess ourselves sons and children of Abraham, must be herein like and conform to him. Yea, 3, it is observable that in the places to which he refers us, that Abraham was called the friend of God, it is still spoken of him in relation to us his seed and children. You have it in two places, Isa. xli. 8, 2 Chron. xx. 7, and in both it runs thus, ‘The seed of Abraham my friend.’ It is given him when his seed is mentioned, and the entail to them is from him, because they all are to be friends to God as well as he.
So then to conclude; look as that glory, that heaven which we all expect, and which is the common receptacle of all believers, is termed in this very respect the bosom of Abraham, Luke xv.— and we are said to sit down with Abraham, &c., because both he and we go to one and the same common place so that same kind of faith, the same effect and fruit of faith, sanctification and friendship to God, is to be wrought in us here, if we be saved with Abraham. Now friendship being put here to express Abraham’s suitable carriage towards God, in the actings of his heart and life after believing, the deductions from hence are two, and they are proper to his scope.
- That true faith, wherever it is, worketh and frameth the heart to friendlike dispositions unto God, and brings forth friendlike carriage in the life towards God. This the 23d verse holds forth, ‘And the scripture was I fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.’ This the stream of his text fully carries along with it. James his scope is not only chiefly to shew that whom God justifies, he doth reconcile them to himself, or works in their hearts friendlike dispositions toward him; but that a friendlike deportment, that is, sincere obedience, is thereby signified, and doth flow from thence, and accompanies it in their hearts and lives. And to this very end and scope it is that this is cited out of the Old Testament, and again and again repeated; so that, however reconciliation elsewhere I mainly imports the work of God upon us at first in the alteration of our: states, yet Abraham’s being a friend properly and mainly relates to obedience, and a behaviour suitable to friendship, as witnessing and testifying that work and alteration.
Another inference is, that every man’s faith, whether it be true or feigned, shall and must have this trial, whether it hath brought forth holiness in heart and life; and every man is thereby to be declaratively justified, and differenced from all men that shall be damned.
I shall insist now on the first of these inferences, to shew how true justifying faith works this friendly temper to God, which is the apostle’s scope here. I shall give you a reason or two for it.
(1.) From the ingenuity of faith, if it be true and genuine, that is, suitable and answerable unto the object it apprehends; for in a suitableness there unto the truth, the genuineness of faith consists. For what is indeed the aim of faith? When it comes to God and Christ, believing on him, what would it have? What is the thing it looks for from God? And what would it have at his hands? The mind and intent and scope of my faith, when I come to believe, is to have God, out of an infinite love (the same out of which he gave his Son to die, and which would yet move him to give him if he had not done it), out of such a love to pardon me all my sins, and to justify me, and to become an everlasting Father and friend unto me, and to love me with that love he loves his Son with, and out of that love to bestow all things on me. If you ask your hearts, and your faith could but tell you what the meaning of it is (as the scripture, Rom. viii., speaks of the Spirit in prayer), what is its errand, what its business is with God, when it casts itself upon God in Christ for salvation, you will find the very bottom-reach of it to have been spoken in what hath been said; and that this it would have of God, or it is never quiet. Now then, if this faith be but genuine and true, honest and unfeigned (as Christ in the parable, and the apostle speaks of it), and so is answerable to its own aim, if it have any truth, honesty, justice, equity, or reality in it, how is it possible it should come to God for such a great love from him, such a large fruit and effect of such an entire friendship on God’s part; but it must work the heart to a correspondent, an answerable frame in some sincerity towards God again on our parts?
The faith that justifies us is called a ‘working faith’ (ver. 22), and surely if it work anything, it must needs work a suitable disposition to God, such as it expects from God towards itself. So it is evident from the example of Abraham here; look what his faith expected to have from God, it wrought in a way of ingenuity the like in his heart unto God. Abraham when he believed unto righteousness, it was founded upon the promise God had made him of his own Son, his only Son, ‘in whom’ God told Abraham, ‘he and all nations would be blessed.’ Now doth Abraham believe to have God’s Son given to him and for him? (For ‘Abraham saw his day and rejoiced,’ Abraham being a prophet, Gen. xx. 7, and the father of the faithful, to whom the first promise of Christ, the blessed seed, was made.) He must then be understood to have had the same temper which David had, of whom it is said, Acts ii. 30, < ‘That being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn that of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ: he, seeing this before, spake of the resurrection of Christ.’ So Abraham, I say, must necessarily be understood, upon the same account, to know and apprehend Christ and his offering up, and resurrection represented in that of his son’s, which is expressly affirmed: Rom. iv. and Heb. xi. 17-19, ‘By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.’ And Abraham, considering these things, said with himself, Why then God shall have my son, now he calls for him, my only son, or whatever else is dear to me. ‘Seest thou not then how faith wrought with his works, when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?’ If his faith would have God be so great a friend to him, as God in that promise had declared himself to be, then faith frames his heart to be a friend to God. He believed, this, namely, which hath been now discoursed, and it was imputed to him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God; that is, this effect the faith that justified him did work in him.
And if faith be but equal, if faith be but faithful, if it be but honest (as Christ himself speaks, he calling the heart, by which the promise is savingly received, ‘an honest heart,’ in the parable of the sower), if it be but a principle of humanity, and deal with God but according to the principles of men, as a man, a sinful man, deals with man, it must needs work this frame. For this is made by Christ (Mat. v. 46) a common principle of humanity, ‘to love those again that love us.’ And Solomon speaks the same, that ‘he that hath friends must shew himself friendly,’ Prov. xviii. 24. Now faith is an higher principle than humanity; it is a divine principle of the operation of God (Col. ii. 12), and therefore must needs, by the same power of God, which from first to last accompanies it, frame the heart it is seated in unto this ingenuity of friendship unto God. And it is seated in the whole heart, as the Scripture tells us, Rom. x. And that faith works in this manner to return to God what it receives from God, that place likewise holds forth, 2 Cor. v. 14, 15, ‘The love of Christ constrains us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, and that when all were dead, to the end that they might live; that then they should not live unto themselves, but unto him that died for them, and rose again.’ This the law of common equity requires, to live to him that should have given his life unto us, especially by his own death; and this (if you observe it) is put upon this reason, ‘because we thus judge,’ which judgment is the product of this principle and act of faith, which both believes these things as of and from God towards us, and withal hath in it an equity, an ingenuity to make the like returns to God; and therefore it must needs constrain us, when we thus in earnest judge.
And this holds true of the faith of dependence, as well as of faith of assurance (if it be genuine), for even faith of dependence expects this great friendship at God’s hands, desires it, waits for it, and is not quiet without it. Surely because it so judgeth, and waiteth for and desireth this, it must needs frame the heart to the like again. And this is the first reason.
(2.) The second reason is from what hath been noticed, that to be sure God accepts of no other faith, but such as in the kind of it is such as will bring forth holiness and works by love; neither doth he justify upon any other, this being the faith of God’s elect. Where his election bestows justification, there and then, and in them, he works that kind of faith. That there is such a distinction of faith, James holds forth; and God, to whom all his works are known from the beginning, knoweth where he worketh such genuine acts of faith, and where there is such a root as will bring forth according to its kind holiness in heart and life, and that works by love. God foreknows whom he justifies, and knows things in their causes, and the properties of causes. Souls of all sorts come with their faith unto him, and do alike cast themselves upon him and his grace. And he knows what is in man, even their thoughts afar off; and as a skilful herbalist knows the differing roots of herbs and fruits ere they have brought forth, so doth God know of what kind that faith is wherewith men come unto him, and so never errs in bestowing his justification upon an unsound faith, that hath not love to accompany it. God doth not justify any man rashly, or inconsiderately, so as if afterwards he sees a soul to withdraw, and not answer his faith in works and obedience, he should then call back his grant. No; he makes sure work, and whom he foreknew or chose unto faith, in them he works true faith, and in them alone; and them he justifies upon their believing. The just is said to have his faith, which is proper to him, in distinction from that faith which those that withdraw have, Heb. x. compared with that of the prophet, Hab. ii. 4, ‘The just shall live by his faith, but he that makes haste’ (though he seems to believe), ‘his soul is not upright in him;’ that is, his faith is not sound, and of the right breed. ‘We are not of those that withdraw, but that believe to the saving of the soul;’ that is, we are of the number of those that so believe, as to be infallibly saved; it is spoken by way of distinction of their faith, for the other believe too, as the opposition implies. So as though many come to God, and put forth acts of faith, yet their faith being not spiritual, nor genuine, God justifies not upon it; for he hath not given them a faith to the saving of the soul. He knowing what manner of faith it is, bestows not that grace of justification upon it. I may say of it, as of Christ it is said, John ii. 24, upon his like discerning beforehand, the ineffectualness and unsoundness of their faith, ‘Many believed on him, but Jesus committed not himself into their hands, because he knew them all.’ So God doth in this case.
(3.) A third reason is, God’s end in saving us by faith, was not to lose by us a whit of that love and holiness he expects from us; but rather he chose faith, because whilst it gave all to free grace, and his infinite love, it might withal reflect and carry all that love down unto the heart again, and shed it abroad in the soul, and so cause love to God to spring up with a redoubled increase and advance. He did not choose love immediately, not because he regarded it not, but because if it had not sprung from faith, as first apprehending his love, it would have boasted itself, for it had returned something of itself unto God. But whilst faith is made the receiver of all from God, and thereupon the worker of love in us, upon that account God’s free love is at once exalted and magnified, and our hearts quickened and inflamed with love to him again.