James 2:3-4 if ye...say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: Are ye not then partial?
J. Richard Clarke
"In 1897 Dr. Charles Sheldon, a young minister in Topeka, Kansas, wrote a book which he titled In His Steps. It was a novel based upon an experiment he tried. He disguised himself as an unemployed printer and tramped the streets of Topeka. He was shocked at his treatment by this 'Christian' community. In his novel, a Christian minister presents his congregation with this interesting challenge:
'I want volunteers ... who will pledge themselves, earnestly and honestly for an entire year, not to do anything without first asking the question, `What would Jesus do?` ... Our aim will be to act just as He would if He [were] in our places, regardless of immediate results. In other words, we propose to follow Jesus' steps as closely and as literally as we believe He taught His disciples to do.' (Charles M. Sheldon, In His Steps, New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1935, pp. 15-16.)
"The book describes the fascinating experience of those who accepted the challenge. I have been intrigued by the experiment and wonder, if it were conducted today among the Latter-day Saints, how we would measure up. As latter-day Christians, we know that the 'royal law' (James 2:8) of love in action is to 'succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees.' (D&C 81:5.) Do we catch the significance of this thought? We demonstrate the depth of our love for the Savior when we care enough to seek out the suffering among us and attend to their needs." ("Love Extends beyond Convenience," Ensign, Nov. 1981, 79-80)
James 2:8 the royal law...love thy neighbour as thyself
The 'royal law' has a brother called "the golden rule." These two concepts teach us how to treat our neighbor in every circumstance. Stephen E. Robinson noted, "there is...one particular principle that contains within it all the other principles. James calls this principle 'the royal law' (James 2:8), and Paul calls it 'a more excellent way' (1 Corinthians 12:31). To me it's the difference between trying to keep track of a thousand individual rules, like a thousand little marbles rolling around on a tabletop, and trying to follow one overriding principle, like putting all the marbles into a bag where they can be handled as a single object. In a bag all the marbles are still there, but you only have to keep track of one thing instead of a thousand. In the same way, one principle contains a thousand rules." (Stephen E. Robinson, Following Christ: The Parable of the Divers and More Good News [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1995], 133 - 134.)
The law is royal because its application has an ennobling and dignifying effect on both parties. Similarly, the rule is golden because it enriches relationships between individuals.
"The care of the poor is more than a duty, far more than a Christian obligation. It is a royal opportunity to live the 'royal law,' namely, 'Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself' (James 2:8)...when such is undertaken in the true spirit of fellowship, both giver and receiver are sanctified by the effort. King Benjamin taught his people that after a person has obtained a remission of sins, that the key to retaining that justified state from day to day is to care for the poor. Note his words: 'And now, for the sake of . . . retaining a remission of your sins from day to day, that ye may walk guiltless before God-I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants' (Mosiah 4:26)." (Robert L. Millet, An Eye Single to the Glory of God: Reflections on the Cost of Discipleship [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1991], 63.)
James 2:10 whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all
If you have broken a law, then you have broken the law. The law is still broken. Justification is required.
Delbert L. Stapley
"The Apostle James warned, 'For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.' (James 2:10.) This statement appears harsh and uncompromising, but it takes full obedience to the whole gospel plan to obtain a fulness of eternal lives and glory, therefore, to break one law is to violate the whole law and makes the violator guilty of all. So often we are deceived by thinking that some divine laws are not too significant and to break them is no deterrent to a fulness of eternal joy. However, the Lord himself has declared:
'But no man is possessor of all things except he be purified and cleansed from all sin.
And if ye are purified and cleansed from all sin, ye shall ask whatsoever you will in the name of Jesus and it shall be done.' (DC 50:28-29.)"
(Conference Report, April 1961, Afternoon Meeting 65.)
Joseph Fielding Smith
"James did not mean that a man who stole was guilty of murder, or that one who lied was guilty of unchastity. He was endeavoring to impress upon the minds of the members that the kingdom of God is one. Its laws are perfect. No unclean person can enter there. Since it is a perfect kingdom, its laws must be obeyed. There can be no disunity, no opposition in that kingdom. Being an immortal kingdom with laws that have been proved through the eternities, they are perfect, therefore there is no room for varied opinions in relation to its government, such as we find in human man-made governments. These laws cannot be changed... They are based on justice and mercy with the perfect love of God. Therefore each who enters the kingdom must of his own free will accept all of the laws and be obedient to them, finding himself in complete accord with all. Anything short of this would cause confusion. Therefore the words of James are true. Unless a man can abide strictly in complete accord, he cannot enter there, and in the words of James, he is guilty of all." (Answers to Gospel Questions, 5 vols. [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1957-1966], 3: 26.)
Harold B. Lee
"The breaking of one of these laws of the gospel is but taking a sure step into the grasp of that cunning one, the devil, and makes easier the yielding to another temptation, even as the Apostle James had put it: 'For whosoever offend in one point, he is guilty of all' (James 2:10). 'The devil will grasp them with his everlasting chains, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell' (2 Nephi 28:19, 21). (60-02, pp. 123-24)
When we are breaking or failing to keep one of God's commandments, we are in Satan's territory; and we become prey to impressions that spring from the other region." (The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, edited by Clyde J. Williams [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1996], 108)
James 2:14 What doth it profit... though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? Can faith save him?
David O. McKay
"'What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? Can faith save him.' (James 2:14.)
"In this significant passage, James decries the impotency of faith as a merely intellectual perception, and implies the importance of the application of truth to daily life and conduct. He teaches that 'faith is dead and useless unless it expresses itself in a true life and true Christian activities.' There has been, and is today, too much discrepancy between belief and practice, between the proclamation of high ideals and the application of these ideals to daily life and living." (Conference Report, October 1937, Third Day-Morning Meeting 100.)
James 2:16 you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful
Mark E. Petersen
"'If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?' (James 2:14-16.)
"Likewise when we pray and say to the Almighty, 'Bless the poor and the needy,' and then, to apply the scripture, 'Notwithstanding [we] give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?'
"Well, some people say: 'I would like to help the poor in my own way.'
"I think we all should help the poor in our own way, but I think likewise we should help the poor in the Lord's way, and the Lord has said so much in so many words: Said he:
'And it is my purpose to provide for my saints, for all things are mine.
But it must needs be done in mine own way; and behold this is the way that I, the Lord, have decreed to provide for my saints, that the poor shall be exalted, in that the rich are made low.' (D. & C. 104:15, 16.)
"I call your attention to the fact that the Lord says that the helping of the poor 'must needs be done in mine own way,' and the Lord's own way in 1947, in this centennial year, is that organized assistance be given through the Church welfare program and through the priesthood quorums allied with that program. We ask you one and all who are laborers in this Church to cooperate fully and heartily and willingly with that program, and remember that not your way, but the Lord's way is to be done." (Conference Report, April 1947, Afternoon Meeting 100-101)
James 2:17 faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone
"In the letter of James, it is clear that the Apostle was contending against incorrect ideas concerning the nature of faith in relation to Christian works. His corrective words include 'For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.' (James 2:26.) An underemphasis of the works of the gospel is perhaps not the kind of problem that would bring all of Christianity to ruin, and James gave us no hint that he expected wholesale apostasy because of it. Yet those who were guilty of disregarding the importance of works had a 'dead' religion, to use James's word, and a 'dead' religion certainly has no power to save." (Kent P. Jackson, "Early Signs of the Apostasy," Ensign, Dec. 1984, 11)
"The issue was never faith or works, but faith with works. (James 2:14-26.) More to the point, it was the right faith with the right works" (Rodney Turner, Studies in Scripture, Vol. 6: Acts to Revelation, ed. by Robert L. Millet, [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1987], 112-113.)
Boyd K. Packer
"Our critics' belief, based on the Bible, holds that man is saved by grace alone. Theirs is by far the easier way.
"Our position, also based on the Bible but strengthened by other scriptures, holds that we are saved by grace 'after all we can do,' and we are responsible by conduct and by covenants to live the standards of the gospel.
"We agree with the Apostle James that 'faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone,' and we say to all those who make such an accusation, 'Shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.' ("The Peaceable Followers of Christ," Ensign, Apr. 1998, 65)
"James makes it clear that to believe in God is not sufficient, for the devils do as much, and that 'faith without works is dead.' A farmer might just as well believe that he can harvest a crop without planting. Such faith is dead; it will not produce a harvest without works." (A Marvelous Work and a Wonder [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1950], 268.)
Heber C. Kimball
"Can you tell me about anything that has been accomplished without works? It matters not how much faith you have got, except you have works with it. We read in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants that men can accomplish much by faith; but of course that faith must be accompanied by works. Whenever a man of God undertakes to do anything, he does it by the power of faith and works. Upon this principle the Lord brings about his purposes, and there never was anything of any moment accomplished upon any other principle." (Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. [London: Latter-day Saints' Book Depot, 1854-1886], 9: 76.)
James 2:18 I will shew thee my faith by my works
Delbert L. Stapley
"Faith and works complement each other. Faith impels works, and good works make faith even firmer and stronger. Of this there is no end." (May 5, 1964, BYU Speeches of the Year, 1964, 10.)
Spencer W. Kimball
"The exercising of faith is a willingness to accept without total regular proof and to move forward and perform works. 'Faith without works is dead' (James 2:26), and a dead faith will not lead one to move forward to adjust a life or to serve valiantly. A real faith pushes one forward to constructive and beneficial acts as though he knew in absoluteness...Herein lies the genius of the gospel of Jesus Christ, perceived by only the spiritual eye. Under the gospel's beneficent laws, everyone-rich or poor, learned or unlearned-is encouraged first to perceive with the eye of faith and then, through effort, to express that faith in a higher, nobler life." (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, edited by Edward L. Kimball [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982], 72.)
Bruce R. McConkie
"Religion is a thing that has to live in the lives of people, and hence all these expressions to the effect that we show our faith by our works (James 2:18), and that we are not hearers only, but doers (James 1:22), or should be. You can be a hearer if all that is involved in religion is this matter of theology, of studying and analyzing passages of scripture. But you are a doer if you get religion into operation in your life. You are a hearer, in part at least, if all that you have is testimony. But you become a doer when you add to a testimony this pure conversion of which we are speaking." (Sermons and Writings of Bruce R. McConkie [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1998], 139.)
James 2:19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble
Hartman Rector, Jr.
"Many people feel they receive a witness that Jesus is the Christ, and they think this alone saves them. They say they are 'saved.' Of course, it does not. It didn't save a third of the hosts of heaven. James records, '... the devils also believe, and tremble.' (James 2:19.) What do they believe? That Jesus is the Christ; in fact, they know it." ("The Strength of Testimony," Ensign, May 1974, 109)
James E. Talmage
"Belief may be nothing more than a mental assent to any proposition, principle, or alleged fact; whereas faith implies such confidence and conviction as shall inspire to action. Belief is by comparison passive, a mere agreement or tacit acceptance only; faith is active and positive, and is accompanied by works. Faith is vivified, vitalized, living belief.
"Even the devils believe that Jesus is the Christ, and so fully that they tremble at the prospect of the fate foreshadowed by that belief (see James 2:19). Their belief may amount even to certain knowledge, but they remain devils nevertheless. Consider the man possessed by a demon in the country of the Gadarenes. When he beheld Jesus afar off he ran to the Master, and worshiped Him, while the evil spirit by whom the man was controlled acknowledged the Lord, calling Him 'Jesus, thou Son of the Most High God.' (Mark 5; for analogous instances see Mark 1:23-27, and 3:8-11).
"Strikingly similar in form, yet vitally different in spirit and effect, is this testimony of the demons as compared with Peter's confession of his Lord. To the Savior's question 'Whom say ye that I am?' Peter replied in practically the same words voiced by the unclean spirits: 'Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.' (Matt. 16:15,16).
"Peter's faith had already been tested, and had demonstrated its vital power. Through faith the Apostle had forsaken much that had been dear, and had followed his Lord in persecution and suffering. His knowledge of God as the Eternal Father and of Jesus Christ as the Redeemer may have been no greater than that of the demons; but while to them that knowledge was an added cause of condemnation, to him it was the power of righteous service and of eventual salvation." (The Vitality of Mormonism [Boston: Gorham Press, 1919], 79 - 80.)
James 2:22 Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect
Careful inspection of James' teachings indicates that they are a reaction to Paul's teachings of justification by faith (Rom. 2:17-4:16, and Gal. 2:16-3:26). Ironically, both Paul and James use the legend of Abraham as the chief example in proving their point. Abraham's righteous demonstration of exemplary faith and unsurpassed obedience make him a great example of either principle. But while James uses Abraham to teach works, Paul uses him to expound the merits of faith. They are both right. This is the single key to the whole issue of salvation by faith or by works-it takes both.
The context of these epistles helps us to understand the difference of emphasis. Paul was speaking to half-converted Jews in Galatia and Italy. Many of these converts were still living the Law of Moses, expecting to receive salvation through their careful adherence to the old law. They had not yet accepted Christ's sacrifice as the central act of religious history. They needed a lesson on faith and the power of Christ's atonement to pay the price for sin. They needed to understand how their own shortcomings would require justification by a higher power. In this context, Paul's emphasis on faith is entirely appropriate and proper. These members were in the unusual circumstance in which their works preceded their faith. Of these Paul could have said, "by faith were their works made perfect."
The context of James' epistle is clearly different. He is probably writing at a later date-to saints who have already come to appreciate Christ's atoning sacrifice. Yet, they often lacked the full commitment that members should demonstrate. Perhaps this is why James' emphasis on works rings so true to the latter-day saints. We are in the same boat as James' audience: we believe in Christ, we understand the need for an atonement, and we recognize our own inability to be perfect, but we often exhibit the weakness of the flesh when it comes to good works. Our actions often don't match our professed beliefs.
By faith, the atonement becomes operative in redeeming us from sin. Through works, we demonstrate that we are a faithful servant, worthy of the promised blessings, being 'judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to [our] works' (Rev. 20:12). Hence, initial justification comes by faith, and continued justification comes by works. By the exercise of faith and the ordinance of baptism we enter the strait gate; by good works and regular repentance, we stay on the straight and narrow path. James' explanation is perfect for it demonstrates the necessity of both, declaring 'by works was faith made perfect.'
"Since the scriptures-not just the Bible but all the scriptures-discuss the importance of both grace and works, we are not at liberty to choose sides or to throw out one in favor of the other. Any theological view that slights the vital role of either grace or works is defective. Luther was wrong to ignore James. Latter-day Saints are wrong to shy away from Paul. Both James and Paul wrote the word of God. Both the Epistle of James and the Epistle to the Romans are scripture. Unfortunately, some LDS missionaries, when confronted with Paul's 'By grace are ye saved' (Ephesians 2:8) or 'A man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law' (Romans 3:28) have counterattacked with James' 'Faith without works is dead' (James 2:26) as though Paul was wrong or as though James somehow cancels out Paul. But Paul was an apostle of the Lord, and his letters are just as much the word of God as the letter from James (see the eighth Article of Faith). We cannot choose sides between grace and works-both must be right!" (Stephen E. Robinson, Following Christ: The Parable of the Divers and More Good News [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1995], 80.)
James 2:23 Abraham...was called the Friend of God
For Abraham to be called 'the Friend of God' is a remarkable thing. The natural man is an enemy to God. To become his friend requires complete devotion. More often, God may refer to us as a servant, son, or daughter, but to be called a friend implies much more. Abraham, as God's friend, had a more intimate relationship than even a son, or daughter-for a man will tell his friends things that he will keep from his servants or children. Hence, Jesus told the disciples, 'Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you' (John 15:14-15).
The son is subservient to his father; the servant is in subjection to his lord. But friends are on equal footing-neither is greater than the other. There is nothing held back, no secrets kept. Though God is obviously superior to those he calls his friends, still the term denotes an intimacy and familiarity of God's inner circle-a social club of the highest order. What a compliment! Such is the significance of being called 'the Friend of God'.