The Necessity of Universal Obedience
James 2:10-13
For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.…


1. What kind of sin had St. James in view when he said this? It should seem at first, from the connection of the text with the preceding verses, theft when St. James says, "Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all," he means by this one point benevolence. However, I cannot think the meaning ought to be thus restricted. I rather suppose that he took occasion from a particular subject to establish a general maxim, that includes all sins which come under the same description with that of which he was speaking. We acquit the apostle of the charge of preaching a melancholy, cruel morality, and we affirm, for the comfort of timorous minds, that we ought not to place among the sins here intended either momentary faults, daily frailties, or involuntary passions.

(1) By daily frailties I mean those imperfections of piety which are inseparable from the conditions of inhabitants of this world, which mix themselves with tire virtues of the most eminent saints. These are rather an imperfection essential to nature than a direct violation of the law.

(2) We ought not to number momentary faults among the offences of which it is said, "Whosoever committeth one is guilty of a violation of the whole law." A believer falls into such sins only in those sad moments in which he is surprised unawares, and in which he loses in a manner the power of reflecting and thinking.

(3) We affirm their gusts of involuntary passions ought not to be included in the number of sins of which St. James saith, "Whosoever offendeth in one point, he is guilty of all." The sins of which the apostle speaks are preceded by the judgment of the mind, accompanied with mature deliberation, and approved by conscience.

2. But in what sense may it be affirmed of any sin that he who offendeth in one point is guilty of all? It is plain St. James neither meant to establish an equality of sins nor an equality of punishments. He probably had two views — a particular and a general view. The particular design might regard the theological system of some Jews, and the general design might regard the moral system of too many Christians. Some Jews, soon after the apostle's time, and very likely in his days, affirmed that God gave a great many precepts to men, not that He intended to oblige them to the observance of all, but that they might have an opportunity of obtaining salvation by observing any one of them; and it was one of their maxims that he who diligently kept one command, was thereby freed from the necessity of observing the rest. What is still more remarkable, when the Jews choose a precept they usually choose one that gives the least check to their favourite passions, and one that is least essential to religion, as some ceremonial precept. This, perhaps, is what Jesus Christ reproves in the Pharisees and Scribes of His time (Matthew 23:23). Perhaps these words of our Saviour may be parallel to those of St. James. The apostle had been recommending love, and at length he tells the Jews who, in the style of Jesus Christ, "omitted mercy," that whosoever should keep the whole law, and yet offend in this one point, would be guilty of all. But St. James did not intend to restrain what he said to love. If he had a particular view to the theological system of some Jews, he had also a general view to the morality of many Christians whose ideas of devotion are too contracted. He informs them that a virtue incomplete in its parts cannot be a true virtue. He affirms that he who resolves in his own mind to sin, and who forces his conscience to approve vice while he commits it, cannot in this manner violate one single article of the law without enervating the whole of it.


1. He subverts, as far as in him lies, the very foundation of the law. When God gives us laws, He may be considered under either of three relations, or under all the three together, as a Sovereign, a Legislator, a Father. He saps the foundation of that obedience which is due to God considered as a Master, if he imagine he may make any reserve in his obedience; if he say, I will submit to God if He command me to be humble, but not if He command me to be chaste, and so on. He saps the foundation of that obedience which is due to God considered as a Lawgiver, if he imagine God is just in giving such and such a law, but not in prescribing such and such other laws. He subverts the foundation of obedience to God as a Father, if he suppose that God hath our happiness in view in requiring us to renounce some passions; but that He goes contrary to our interests by requiring us to sacrifice some other passions, which he may suppose can never be sacrificed without his sacrificing at the same time his pleasure and felicity.

2. The man who offends in the manner that we have described, he who in his mind resolves to sin and endeavours to force his conscience to approve vice while he commits "it, breaks all the precepts of the law, because, whether he do actually break them or not, he breaks them virtually and intentionally.


1. They who are engaged in a way of life sinful of itself are guilty of a violation of the whole law, while they seem to offend only in one point. We every day hear merchants and traders ingenuously confess that their business cannot succeed unless they defraud the Government.

2. In the same class we put sinners who cherish a darling passion. A jealous God will accept of none of our homage while we refuse Him that of our chief love.

3. Finally, intractable minds are condemned in our text. Docility is a touchstone, by which a doubtful piety may be known to be real or apparent.

(J. Saurin.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.

WEB: For whoever keeps the whole law, and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.

The Necessity of Universal Obedience
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