This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that you affirm constantly…
Truth is many sided. And though like a pure gem, it is on all sides equally bright, it cannot all be seen at once. No merely human mind can so take it all up as to give to every part the same sharp and well-defined outline. Truth in the mind of Christ was like light in the sun, pure and undivided, and ever came out in its glorious integrity. In the minds of his followers it was like light in the prism, in which the rays are separated, or like light in the bow, in which, according to certain laws, the rays are first refracted, and then reflected in the drops of rain, and in which we see the conquering splendour of the light in its struggle with darkness. Faith and works were never separated — not even in idea — in the teaching of Christ. In His own mind they were indissoluble, and so in His instructions. If faith did not express itself in corresponding action, He denied the existence of the principle, or rather He treated men as still on the side of the world and of self. His apostles, on the contrary, gave to all truth their own mental cast and colouring, and unless these various colours are allowed to meet and mingle, we shall lack the pure light. Though Paul and James are treating of one and the same subject, each has his own mode of statement; and the light in which he places it depends on his own individual state of mind. Both apostles are teaching and enforcing the same doctrine, but the parties whom they have in view are not the same. The teachers occupy exactly the same position; but those to whom they address themselves have assumed entirely opposite and conflicting points. The contrariety is not in the statements of the inspired men, but in the minds of Christian professors. Each is a firm believer in the article of justification by faith, but it has different phases, and according as it appears to the one or the other, is his representation. The aim of St. Paul is to set forth God's method of forgiveness and acceptance through the mediation of His Son; — that this is revealed for faith, and that through faith alone do we come to participate in all the provision of redeeming love. Faith, and not, justification, is his theme. There is but one ground of dependence — but one foundation on which the soul can rest her hope of eternal life, and from which all works are necessarily and forever excluded. But having been once brought to repose our faith in the Divine method of salvation, it remains that we give evidence of the fact. We cannot be in communion with the Redeemer of our souls without partaking His higher life; and we cannot be in communion with the Spirit of life without producing the fruits of the Spirit. Hence the challenge of St. James addressed in words of sharp-pointed irony to those who were boasting of their faith as something separate and separable from a life of practical holiness — "Show Me thy faith without thy works." If it have no outward expression, how is it to be known or discovered? "As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also." As the spirit is the inward animating and informing principle, and manifests itself in the outward acts and movements of the body, so faith has in it an element of life, which cannot but develop itself in practical godliness and holy activity. It follows that there is not one faith to justify a sinner and another faith to justify a believer. The same faith justifies both; or rather, the faith which brings a man to simple dependence on the propitiation set forth by God for the remission of sins, has in it such a force and vitality as ever afterwards to come out in those buds and blossoms which have their fruit unto holiness and the end everlasting life. If this simple fact had been but kept in view, no discrepancy would have been found in the statement of these two inspired men. The one wholly excludes the human element from the Divine method of reconciliation and life, and demands the most childlike faith in Heaven's revealed and published plan of mercy — the other sets it in the clearest light that wherever this pure unsophisticated faith has existence in the soul, it will ever manifest itself in a course of lofty and persevering righteousness. While faith, and not justification, is the subject treated of by both apostles, it may not be amiss just to glance at the doctrine commonly denominated justification by faith. There are two errors common on this subject. First, justification is confounded with acquittal; and, secondly, man is said to be treated as righteous for the sake of the righteousness of another. Now if he be acquitted, he needs not to be treated as righteous. He is righteous; and is entitled to be dealt with according to his rectitude. And if he be righteous, it is absurd and contradictory to speak of his acquittal. Man has sinned; and the proof of his guilt is overwhelming. With the sentence of condemnation lying heavy upon his heart, he may be pardoned, but he can never be declared to be innocent. But is not the righteousness of Christ said to be imputed to us, and that we become righteous on the ground of His righteousness? In creeds, and catechisms, and commentaries, it certainly is so, but nowhere in the Book of God. The righteousness of Christ is a phrase which never occurs but once in the whole of the Christian Testament. When the great apostle of the nations would heighten our idea of the grace of God, by setting the blessings of redeeming love over against the evils entailed upon our race by the introduction of sin, he says, "As by the offence of one, judgment came upon all men unto condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one, the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life." He does not represent the righteousness of the One, as something imputed or transferred from Christ to man, but simply as the procuring cause of our forgiveness and life. The righteousness is put for the whole work of the Saviour's mediation, and this is declared to be the sole ground on which the blessings of Divine mercy are extended to our fallen world. Nor is more than this to be extracted from the deep saying of this same apostle, when in words that breathe, lie thus expresses the inmost feeling of his soul: "I have suffered the loss of all things, that I may win Christ and be found in Him, not having mine own righteousness which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ — the righteousness which is of God by faith." The idea here is, that he was supremely anxious to be kept from even the attempt of laying a foundation in his own strivings and doings for his acceptance with God, and that he might ever be led to repose by a simple faith in the one Divine method of forgiveness and salvation. The righteousness of God is God's revealed plan of saving man through the propitiatory offering of His Son. Faith in this propitiation involves an act of perfect self-renunciation, an acknowledgment of conscious sin and weakness, and a resting upon another for help and succour. Our justification introduces us into a new and loftier relation. Our Father in heaven may not treat us as righteous, but He will most surely bless us as His adopted ones. If we can prefer no claim we may yet possess all good. If salvation can never be of works it can ever be of grace. If life is not a right it is yet our high privilege and our mightier joy. This life is progressive. As the first ray of light that gilds the mountain's height predicts a meridian sun, and as the first blush of the opening flower promises a full and perfect bloom, so the faintest indications of the life of God in the soul assure us of continued growth and progress, till, from its fulness and exuberance, it burst into all the beauty and perfection of heaven. The power that quickens is the power that purifies. There are spots on the disc of the sun, only they are invisible through the effulgence and the fulness of his light, and there are but few spirits so highly sanctified and refined as to render indiscernible, through the glory which surrounds them, those sin spots which daily alight upon their renewed nature. Nor can the work of inward holiness be perfected so long as we are in this body of death. It is in the act of shaking mortality off that the Spirit puts forth his last and latest effort in the soul; and it is only when the soul has burst her prison wall, let fall the last link of the chain which bound her to earth, and is on her way to the great world of light, that she is conscious of her final and everlasting separation from sin. Up to that mysterious point we may become day by day more closely assimilated to God our Saviour. Our sanctification is inseparable from our justification. It is not enough that we live. It is the will of God that we should enjoy the fulness of life. Life can have fellowship only with life. We must, therefore, detach ourselves from every opposing element and influence. We must give up the material and the visible for the spiritual and the unseen. Enjoyment without activity would not be an unmixed good. It follows that as life is quickened and our nature is purified, we are freed from sloth and sluggishness. The soul moves with a freedom and a swiftness corresponding to the unconfined liberty of heaven. That is a world of never-ending activity, and, in proportion as we rise into conformity with the pure spirits that surround the throne of God, shall we, like them, employ all our renovated powers in holy and active service? Christianity is love — universal, unbounded love — and embraces within itself the present and the everlasting interests of man. And the more we partake its spirit, the more entire will be our consecration — the more unreserved our activity and our service. Let no one be startled and offended with the doctrine of good works. They necessarily flow from faith. They are faith in action. They are "the living effluence of the tide of Divine love," which refuses to be confined within any prescribed limits, and flows out in deeds of unwearied benevolence and piety. He who repudiates a life of well-doing in the dreamy belief that in the same proportion he is exalting the grace of God, is not the man whose character exhibits the closest correspondence to the pure and sublime requirements of the Book. It is a grand mistake to suppose that the law is repealed by the gospel. In Christianity the law reappears; only it is transfigured and glorified. Every utterance which was given in the thunder tones of Sinai, is re-echoed with heightened emphasis in the Sermon on the Mount, only it comes silent as the light and gentle as the dew from the lips of Incarnate Love. We hold that salvation is by grace and not by works; but where the works are wanting the grace cannot be present. Our activity and our service will be the everlasting recognition and expression of the fact that we have been redeemed by blood and saved by grace. We should be unfaithful to our ministry and to your souls did we dare to say that sin committed by a professed believer is less criminal or less damnable than what we discover in the unregenerate and the unholy. Sin is sin by whomsoever committed, and involves the same tremendous consequences. It is of infinite moment that they who believe in God should be careful to maintain good works — that their life should be pure, their character transparent, and their conduct patent. Their principles should be above suspicion, and their whole course of action such as may challenge the higher light of the world to come.
(R. Ferguson, LL. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men.
WEB: This saying is faithful, and concerning these things I desire that you affirm confidently, so that those who have believed God may be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men;