Paul and James on Justification

Can Paul and James be reconciled on the matter of Justification? That is the question that was posed by John Samson over at Effectual Grace. To answer that question he provided the following quotes from Dr. R.C. Sproul:

If justification is by faith alone, how can we apply James 2:24, which says a person is justified by what he does, not his faith alone?

That question is not critical only today, but it was in the eye of the storm we call the Protestant Reformation that swept through and divided the Christian church in the sixteenth century. Martin Luther declared his position: Justification is by faith alone, our works add nothing to our justification whatsoever, and we have no merit to offer God that in any way enhances our justification. This created the worst schism in the history of Christendom.

In refusing to accept Luther’s view, the Roman Catholic Church excommunicated him, then responded to the outbreak of the Protestant movement with a major church council, the Council of Trent, which was part of the so-called Counter-Reformation and took place in the middle of the sixteenth century. The sixth session of Trent, at which the canons and decrees on justification and faith were spelled out, specifically appealed to James 2:24 to rebuke the Protestants who said that they were justified by faith alone: “You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.” How could James say it any more clearly? It would seem that that text would blow Luther out of the water forever.

Of course, Martin Luther was very much aware that this verse was in the book of James. Luther was reading Romans, where Paul makes it very clear that it’s not through the works of the law that any man is justified and that we are justified by faith and only through faith. What do we have here? Some scholars say we have an irreconcilable conflict between Paul and James, that James was written after Paul, and James tried to correct Paul. Others say that Paul wrote Romans after James and he was trying to correct James.

I’m convinced that we don’t really have a conflict here. What James is saying is this: If a person says he has faith, but he gives no outward evidence of that faith through righteous works, his faith will not justify him. Martin Luther, John Calvin, or John Knox would absolutely agree with James. We are not saved by a profession of faith or by a claim to faith. That faith has to be genuine before the merit of Christ will be imputed to anybody. You can’t just say you have faith. True faith will absolutely and necessarily yield the fruits of obedience and the works of righteousness. Luther was saying that those works don’t add to that person’s justification at the judgment seat of God. But they do justify his claim to faith before the eyes of man. James is saying, not that a man is justified before God by his works, but that his claim to faith is shown to be genuine as he demonstrates the evidence of that claim of faith through his works.

—Dr. R.C. Sproul
Faith and Works

Further along this line, the following is a quotation from R.C. Sproul’s book Knowing Scripture:

In Romans 3:28 Paul says, “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.” In James 2:24 we read, “You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone.” If the word justify means the same thing in both cases, we have an irreconcilable contradiction between two biblical writers on an issue that concerns our eternal destinies. Luther called “justification by faith” the article upon which the church stands or falls. The meaning of justification and the question of how it takes place is no mere trifle. Yet Paul says it is by faith apart from works, and James says it is by works and not by faith alone.

To make matters more difficult, Paul insists in Romans 4 that Abraham is justified when he believes the promise of God before he is circumcised. He has Abraham justified in Genesis 15. James says, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar?” (James 2:21). James does not have Abraham justified until Genesis 22.

This question of justification is easily resolved if we examine the possible meanings of the term justify and apply them within the context of the respective passages. The term justify may mean (1) to restore to a state of reconciliation with God those who stand under the judgment of his law or (2) to demonstrate or vindicate.

Jesus says for example, “Wisdom is justified of all her children” (Lk 7:35 KJV). What does he mean? Does he mean that wisdom is restored to fellowship with God and saved from his wrath? Obviously not. The plain meaning of his words is that a wise act produces good fruit. The claim to wisdom is vindicated by the result. A wise decision is shown to be wise by its results. Jesus is speaking in practical terms, not theological terms, when he uses the word justified in this way.

How does Paul use the word in Romans 3? Here, there is no dispute. Paul is clearly speaking about justification in the ultimate theological sense.

What about James? If we examine the context of James, we will see that he is dealing with a different question from Paul. James says in 2:14, “What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him?” James is raising a question of what kind of faith is necessary for salvation. He is saying that true faith brings forth works. A faith without works he calls a dead faith, a faith that is not genuine. The point is that people can say they have faith when in fact they have no faith. The claim to faith is vindicated or justified when it is manifested by the fruit of faith, namely works. Abraham is justified or vindicated in our sight by his fruit. In a sense, Abraham’s claim to justification is justified by his works. The Reformers understood that when they stated the formula, “Justification is by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone.”

—Dr. R.C. Sproul
Knowing Scripture

Via: Effectual Grace

The Peace and Promise of Christmas

O God, take me in spirit to the watchful shepherds,
and enlarge my mind;
Let me hear good tidings of great joy, and hearing,
believe, rejoice, praise, adore,
my conscience bathed in an ocean of repose,
my eyes uplifted to a reconciled Father;
place me with ox, ass, camel, goat,
to look with them upon my Redeemer’s face,
and in him account myself delivered from sin;
let me with Simeon clasp the new-born child to my heart,
embrace him with undying faith,
exulting that he is mine and I am his.
In him thou has given me so much that heaven can
give no more.

—From The Valley of Vision

I Hear the Words of Love

I hear the words of love,
I gaze upon the blood,
I see the mighty sacrifice,
And I have peace with God.

‘Tis everlasting peace,
Sure as Jehovah’s Name;
‘Tis stable as His steadfast throne,
For evermore the same.

The clouds may go and come,
And storms may sweep my sky;
This blood-sealed friendship changes not,
The cross is ever nigh.

I change — He changes not;
The Christ can never die;
His love, not mine, the resting-place;
His truth, not mine, the tie.

My love is oftimes low,
My joy still ebbs and flows;
But peace with Him remains the same,
No change Jehovah knows.

—Horatius Bonar

Via: A Puritan At Heart

Patrick Hamilton and the Voice of the Gospel

Nick Batzig at Feeding on Christ linked to this sermon by Sinclair Ferguson that was preached this past Reformation Sunday at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, PA.

At one point in the sermon Dr. Ferguson recites this wonderful quote from Patrick Hamilton, the first martyr of the Scottish Reformation, on the difference between the voice of the Law and voice of the Gospel.

The Law saith to the sinner, “Pay thy debt.”
The Gospel saith, “Christ hath paid it.”
The Law saith, “Thou art a sinner, despair, thou shalt be damned.”
The Gospel saith, “Thy sins are forgiven thee. Be of good comfort, thou shalt be saved.”

The Law saith, “Make amends for thy sin.”
The Gospel saith, “Christ hath made it for thee.”
The Law saith, “The Father of Heaven is angry with thee.”
The Gospel saith, “Christ hath pacified Him with His blood.”

The Law saith, “Where is thy righteousness, goodness, and satisfaction?”
The Gospel saith, “Christ is thy righteousness, goodness and satisfaction.”
The Law saith, “Thou art bound and obliged unto me, to the devil, and to hell.”
The Gospel saith, “Christ hath delivered thee from them all.”

—Peter Lorimer
Precursors of Knox, or Memories of Patrick Hamilton

I found another quote from Patrick Hamiliton in the same text that I wanted to present, this time in the form of an image in order to capture the original typesetting from the book, which was published in 1857.

Quotation from Patrick Hamilton

I have so many things to be thankful for this year – health, family, friends – but most of all I am thankful for the Gospel of Jesus Christ which, as Patrick Hamilton shows us, is the Word of Grace, the Word of Comfort, and the Word of Peace.

Via: Feeding on Christ

The Four Holy Gospels

In celebration of the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, Crossway Books, working in collaboration with Makoto Fujimura, one of the century’s most highly regarded artists, has produced an illuminated version of the Four Holy Gospels. Fujimura is known for his use of traditional Japanese Nihonga techniques and his passion for reconnecting Christian faith with fine art. This will mark the first time in nearly 400 years that an illuminated book of the four Gospels has been undertaken by a single artist.

The Four Holy Gospels is based on the ESV translation of the Bible and also coincides with the 400th anniversary of the King James Version Bible, published in 1611. The ESV, which is a direct descendant of the KJV Bible, was first published in 2001, and carries forward this classic Bible translation legacy.

Makoto Fujimura explains, “By using the ESV translation, we honor the King James Version by allowing contemporary vernacular to reflect the timeless truth of the Bible. This project brings a reconciled whole of the Gospels to a new century and a global audience.”

Via: Crossway Books

Happy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a moment to express profound, deep, sincere, and genuine gratitude to the providence of God for a year’s worth of tender mercies that we have received from the hand of His benevolence. From His care, from His comfort, from His guidance, from His government of our lives, we are to take time to be grateful.

—Dr. R.C. Sproul

Via: Ligonier Ministries Blog

The Unexpectedness of Christ’s Return

The world will not be converted when Christ returns. It will be found in the same condition that it was in the day of the flood. When the flood came, men were found “eating and drinking, marrying and given in marriage,” absorbed in their worldly pursuits, and utterly regardless of Noah’s repeated warnings. They saw no likelihood of a flood. They would not believe there was any danger. But at last the flood came suddenly and “took them all away.” All that were not with Noah in the ark were drowned. They were all swept away to their last account, unpardoned, unconverted, and unprepared to meet God. And our Lord says, “so will be the coming of the Son of Man.”

—J.C. Ryle
Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Matthew

Via: J.C. Ryle Quotes

What We See At The Cross

What we see at the cross is the white-hot revelation of the character of God, of his love providing the price that holiness requires. The cross was his means of redeeming lost sinners and reconciling them to himself, but it was also a profound disclosure of his mercy. It is, in Paul’s words, an ‘inexpressible gift’ that leads us to wonder and worship, to praise and adore the God who has given himself to us in this way.

—David F. Wells
The Courage to be Protestant

Via: Of First Importance

The Gettysburg Address

On November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln delivered the 272 word Gettysburg Address at the dedication ceremony of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives, that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate – we cannot consecrate – we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

—Abraham Lincoln

The following audio file contains a reading of the Gettysburg Address by Mr. Sam Waterston as it was broadcast on NPR’s Morning Edition on November 19, 2003.