Notes & Commentary:
Ver. 1. With respect of persons. This partial respect of persons is several times condemned both in the Old and New Testament. St. James here speaks of it as it was committed in the assemblies, by which many understand the meetings of Christians, in synagogues and places where they celebrated the divine service, or met to keep the charitable feast, called Agape. Others expound it of meetings where causes were judged. If it be meant of Church meetings, the apostle might have even greater reason to condemn such a partiality at that time than at present; for when the poorer sort of people, of which was the greatest number of converts, saw themselves so neglected and despised, and any rich man when he came thither so caressed and honoured, this might prove a discouragement to the meaner sort of people, and an obstacle to their conversion. But if we expound it of meetings where causes were judged betwixt the rich and others of a lower condition, (which exposition the text seems to favour) the fault might be still greater, when the judges gave sentence in favour of great and rich men, biassed thereunto by the unjust regard they had for men rich and powerful. This was a transgression of the law: (Leviticus xix. 15.) Respect not the person of the poor, nor honour the countenance of the mighty. But judge thy neighbour according to justice. See also Deuteronomy i. 17. (Witham) — Respect, &c. The meaning is, that in matters relating to faith, the administering of the sacraments and other spiritual functions in God’s Church, there should be no respect of persons: but that the souls of the poor should be as much regarded as those of the rich. ([Deuteronomy?] Chap. i. 17) (Challoner)
Ver. 4. Are become judges of (or with ) unjust thoughts, when against justice you favour the rich. Or, if in Church assemblies you discover a wrong and partial judgment in your minds and thoughts, by the high value and esteem you shew to the rich on account of their riches, and the contempt you have of poverty and of the poor, when they are perhaps more deserving in the sight of God, who hath chosen them who are rich in faith, whom he hath made his adoptive children, and heirs of his kingdom. These are much the greater riches: this is a dignity far surpassing that of the greatest king or emperor. And you have less reason to shew such distinguishing marks of honour and esteem for the rich of this world, since it is they who by might and violence oppress you, draw you to judgment-seats: and they are less worthy of your honour and esteem, when by their scandalous behaviour they blaspheme, or cause to be blasphemed and ill-spoken of, the good and holy name of God, which is invoked upon you. (Witham)
Ver. 8. If then you fulfil the royal law,…thou shalt love, &c. you do well. By these words, the apostle explains what he had said before of the particular respect paid to rich and powerful men, that if these were no more than some exterior marks paid them without any injustice or interior contempt of such as were poor, so that they took care to comply with that royal precept given to every one by Almighty God, the King of kings, thou shalt love thy neighbour, that is, every one without exception, as thyself; in this you do well; and the respect of persons was less blameable. (Witham)
Ver. 10. Is become guilty of all. It is certain these words are not to be taken merely according to the letter, nor in the sense which at first they seem to represent, as if a man by transgressing one precept of the law transgressed and broke all the rest: this appears by the very next verse, that a man may commit murder by killing another, and not commit adultery. And it is certain, as St. Augustine observes, that all sins are not equal, as the Stoic philosophers pretended. See St. Augustine, Epist. clxvii, (nov. ed. tom. 2, p. 595) where he consults St. Jerome on this very place out of St. James, and tells us that such a man may be said to be guilty of all, because by one deadly sin he acts against charity, (which is the love of God and of our neighbour) upon which depends the whole law and all its precepts; so that by breaking one precept, he loseth the habit of charity, and maketh the keeping, or not breaking of all the rest, unprofitable to him. Secondly, it may be added, that all the precepts of the law are to be considered as one total and entire law, and as it were a chain of precepts, where by breaking one link of this chain the whole chain is broken, or the integrity of the law, consisting of a collection of precepts. Thirdly, it may be said, that he who breaks any one precept, contemns the authority of the lawgiver, who enjoined them all, and under pain of being for ever excluded from his sight and enjoyment. A sinner, therefore, by a grievous offence against any one precept, forfeits his heavenly inheritance, becomes liable to eternal punishments, as if he had transgressed all the rest: not but that the punishments in hell shall be greater against those who have been greater sinners, as greater shall be the reward in heaven for those who have lived with greater sanctity and perfection. (Witham) — Guilty, &c. That is, he becomes a transgressor of the law in such a manner, that the observing of all other points will not avail him to salvation; for he despises the lawgiver, and breaks through the great and general commandment of charity, even by one mortal sin. (Challoner)
Ver. 12. By the law of liberty; i.e. by the new law and doctrine of Christ. (Witham)
Ver. 13. For judgment without mercy, &c. It is an admonition to them to fulfil, as he said before, the royal precepts of the love of God and of our neighbour, which cannot be without being merciful to others. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. (Matthew v. 7.) — And mercy exalteth itself above judgment. Some understand this as a confirmation of God’s infinite mercies, out of Psalm cxliv. 9. where it is said that his “mercies are over all his works;” that is, though all his perfections be equally infinite, yet he is pleased to deal with sinners rather according to the multitude of his mercies than according to the rigour of his justice. Others expound these words of the mercy which men shew to one another, and that he exhorts them to mercy, as a most powerful means to find mercy; and the merciful works done to others will be beneficial to them, and make them escape when they come to judgment. (Witham) — Similar to this are the words of old Tobias to his son: “Alms deliver from all sin, and from death, and will not suffer the soul to go into darkness. Alms shall be a great confidence before the most high God, to all them that give it.” (Tobias iv. 11, 12.) “Blessed are the merciful,” says our divine Judge, “for they shall obtain mercy.” (Matthew v. 7.) (Calmet) — And the definitive sentence of Christians, at the day of judgment will be favourable or not, as they have complied in life with the calls of charity. [Matthew xxv. 31-46.]
Ver. 14, &c. Shall faith be able to save him? He now comes to one of the chief points of this epistle, to shew against the disciple of Simon , the magician, that faith alone will not save any one. We may take notice in the first place, that St. James in this very verse, supposes that a man may have faith, a true faith without good works. This also follows from ver. 19., where he says: Thou believest that there is one God: thou dost well. And the same is evident by the words in John xii. 42., where it is said, that many of the chief men also believed in him, (Christ)….but did not confess it, that they might not be cast out of the synagogue. Now that faith alone is not sufficient to save a man, St. James declares by this example: If any one say to the poor and naked, go in peace, be you warmed and filled, and give them nothing, what shall it profit? Even so faith, if it have not works is dead, &c. i.e. such a faith, though it be not lost and destroyed, yet it remains in a soul that is spiritually dead, when it is not accompanied with charity and grace, which is the life of the soul, and without which faith can never bring us to eternal life. In this sense is to be understood the 20th and 26th verses of this chapter, when faith is again said to be dead without good works. This is also the doctrine of St. Paul, when he tells us that a saving faith is a faith that worketh by charity, Galatians v. 6. When he says, that although faith were strong enough to remove mountains, a man is nothing without charity. (1 Corinthians xiii. 2.) When he teacheth us again, that not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. [Romans ii. 13.] St. John teacheth the same (1 John iii. 14.) He that loveth not, remaineth in death. But of this elsewhere. (Witham) — Grotius in this place makes a very candid and remarkable profession of his faith, very different from that of his associates in the pretended reformation, called Solifideans [who pretend one is justified by faith alone]: “There are some who say, ‘My works indeed are not as they ought to be,’ but my faith is firm, my salvation is therefore out of danger. This opinion, which has sprung up in this our unhappy age, and recommends itself under the name of reformed doctrine, ought to be opposed by every lover of piety, and all who wish well to their neighbour’s salvation….no faith has ever availed any man, unless it were accompanied by such works as he had time and opportunity to perform.” His words are: “Opera quidem mea non recta sunt, sed fides recta est, ac propterea de salute non periclitor….Renata est hoc infelici sęculo ea sententia et quidem sub nomine repurgatę doctrinę, cui omnes qui pietatem et salutem proximi amant, se debent opponere….cœterum nulla cuiquam fides profuit, sine tali opere, quale tempus permittebat,” &c. In vain do we glory in our faith, unless our lives and works bear testimony of the same. Faith without charity is dead, and charity cannot exist without good works. He who bears the fruits of Christian piety, shews that he has the root, which is faith; but the root is dead, when it affords no produce. Works are to faith what the soul is to the body. See the remainder of this chapter.
Ver. 18. Some men will say: Thou hast faith, and I have works. Shew me thy faith, &c. He confutes the same error, by putting them in mind that one can shew that he has faith, which is an interior virtue, only by good works, and that good works in a man shew also his faith; which is not to be understood, as if good works were merely the marks, signs, and effects of faith, as some would pretend, but that good works must concur with faith to a man’s salvation by an increase in grace. (Witham)
Ver. 19. The devils also believe, and tremble. St. James compares indeed faith without other virtues and good works, to the faith of devils: but comparisons must never be stretched farther than they are intended. The meaning is, that such a faith in sinners is unprofitable to salvation, like that of devils, which is no more than a conviction from their knowledge of God; but faith which remains in sinners, is from a supernatural knowledge, together with a pious motion in their free will. (Witham)
Ver. 21. Was not Abraham….justified by works? We may observe, that St. James here brings the very same examples of Abraham and Rahab, which it is likely he knew some had miscontrued in St. Paul, as if the great apostle of the Gentiles had taught that faith alone was sufficient to salvation. But St. Paul neither excludes good works done by faith, when he commends faith, excluding only the works of the law of Moses, as insufficient to a true justification. See Romans iii. 27. And St. James by requiring good works does not exclude faith, but only teacheth that faith alone is not enough. This is what he clearly expresseth here in the 22nd and in the 24th verse. Man, says he, is justified, and not by faith only. And (ver. 22.) seest thou that faith did co-operate with Abraham’s works, and by works faith was made perfect. In fine, we must take notice, that when St. James here brings the example of Abraham offering his son Isaac, to shew that he was justified by works, his meaning is not that Abraham then began first to be justified, but that he then received an increase of his justice. He was justified at least from his first being called, and began then to believe and to do good works. It is true his faith was made perfect, and his justice increased, when he was willing to sacrifice his son. (Witham)
 Ver. 2. In conventum vestrum, eis ten sunagogen umon. Synagogue is also taken for a meeting of kings, judges, &c. See Matthew x. 17.
 Ver. 4. Judices cogitationum iniquarum: it is the same in the Greek, kritai dialogismon poneron: the sense is, Judices inique cogitantes.
 Ver. 10-11. St. Augustine, Ep. lxvii. num. 16. p. 600. An fortč quia plenitudo legis charitas est, qua Deus, proximusque diligitur, in quibus pręceptis charitatis tota lex pendet et prophetę, meritņ fit reus omnium, qui contra illam facit ex qua pendent omnia.
Bible Text & Cross-references:
Against respect of persons. The danger of transgressing one point of the law. Faith is dead without works.
1 My *brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ of glory with respect of persons.
2 For if there come into your assembly a man having a gold ring, in splendid attire, and there come in also a poor man in mean dress,
3 And you fix your eyes on him that is clothed with the splendid robe, and say to him: Sit thou here in a good place: and say to the poor man: Stand thou there, or sit under my footstool:
4 Do you not judge within yourselves, and are become judges of unjust thoughts?
5 Hearken, my dearest brethren, hath not God chosen the poor of this world, rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which God hath promised to them that love him?
6 But you have dishonoured the poor. Do not the rich oppress you by might; and do not they draw you before the judgment-seats?
7 Do not they blaspheme the good name that is invoked upon you?
8 If then you fulfil the royal law, according to the Scriptures: *Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: you do well.
9 *But if you have respect to persons, you commit sin, being reproved by the law as transgressors.
10 *Now whosoever shall keep the whole law but offend in one point, is become guilty of all.
11 For he that said, Thou shalt not commit adultery, said also, Thou shalt not kill. Now if thou do not commit adultery, but shalt kill: thou art become a transgressor of the law.
12 So speak ye, and so do, as being to be judged by the law of liberty.
13 For judgment without mercy, to him that hath not done mercy: and mercy exalteth itself above judgment.
14 What shall it profit, my brethren, if a man say he hath faith, but hath not works? Shall faith be able to save him?
15 *And if a brother or sister be naked, and want daily food,
16 And one of you say to them: Go in peace, be you warmed and filled: yet give them not those things that are necessary for the body, what shall it profit?
17 Even so faith, if it have not works, is dead in itself.
18 But some men will say: Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without works; and I will shew thee my faith by works.
19 Thou believest that there is one God. Thou dost well: the devils also believe and tremble.
20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?
21 *Was not Abraham, our father, justified by works, offering up Isaac, his son, upon the altar?
22 Seest thou that faith did co-operate with his works: and by works faith was made perfect?
23 And the Scripture was fulfilled, saying: *Abraham believed God, and it was reputed to him to justice, and he was called the friend of God.
24 Do you see that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only?
25 *And in like manner also Rahab, the harlot, was not she justified by works, receiving the messengers, and sending them out another way?
26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.
1: Leviticus xix. 15.; Deuteronomy i. 17. and 16.; Proverbs xxiv. 23.; Ecclesiasticus xlii. 1.
8: Leviticus xix. 18.; Matthew xxii. 39.; Mark xii. 31.; Romans xiii. 9.; Galatians v. 14.
9: James ii. 1.; Leviticus xix. 15.
10: Deuteronomy i. 18.; Matthew v. 19.
15: 1 John iii. 17.
21: Genesis xxii. 9.
23: Genesis xv. 6.; Romans iv. 3.; Galatians iii. 6.
25: Josue ii. 4.; Hebrews xi. 31.