Saturday, June 01, 2013

First Sunday after Trinity

I John 4:7-21 * Luke 16:19-31

The subject of faith and good works has been very important throughout the history of the Church, and it was especially important during the sixteenth century in the various forms taken by the Reformation. It was no less a burning issue in England than anywhere else. Nonetheless, most people tend to think of Martin Luther when the subject comes up, and his alleged dislike of the Epistle of James.
          In fact, Luther did not call the Epistle of James an “epistle of straw” exactly. Rather he wrote:

"St. John's Gospel and his first Epistle, St. Paul's Epistles, especially those to the Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, and St. Peter's Epistle-these are the books which show to thee Christ, and teach everything that is necessary and blessed for thee to know, even if you were never to see or hear any other book of doctrine. Therefore, St. James' Epistle is a perfect straw-epistle compared with them, for it has in it nothing of an evangelic kind." (Preface to the New Testament)

That is, he thought it was of less importance.
          Now, I do not think we need dwell on that, for he was not suggesting that anyone should fail to read all of Scripture. Nonetheless, to this day people contend that between St. Paul and St. James a great gulf is set in place, a barrier of disagreement too wide to traverse. So, we need to read carefully the passages in question, always remembering that the invisible hand that authored Scripture was Almighty God, the Holy Spirit opening the eyes and minds of the several writers with the revelation of God’s holy word. Therefore, no genuine contradiction can exist in the doctrine of those writers.

Works of the Law and works of faith
          The most significant passages are the third chapter of Paul’s Epistle to the Church in Rome, and the second chapter of James’ general Epistle. Let us begin with St. Paul.

“Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” (Rom. 3:19-28)

In this passage St. Paul is talking about works of the Law. Writing about our Article X, I said this, which begins by quoting a part of the Article:

“The condition of man after the fall of Adam is such, that he cannot turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and good works, to faith and calling upon God. 

          “Is this telling us not to prepare ourselves, or not to do good works? Read that way it can provide an excuse for laziness and disobedience to the commandments of God. On the contrary, we would sin by not doing these things. But, even our performance of them, were it the best we possibly could do, could not make us righteous…
            “It would all look completely hopeless if we did not have the second sentence of this brief Article.

“Wherefore we have no power to do good works pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing us that we may have a good will, and working with us when we have that good will.

“There we see that word, ‘grace.’ That is the whole difference. However good our good works may be, God’s standard of ‘good’ is too high for even our best efforts. Righteousness by His true and perfect standard exceeds our reach. We cannot achieve it. That is not because His standard is unjust. In fact, it is because His standard is just, in fact perfectly just. This is why no one can understand the doctrine of grace unless and until he understands Original Sin.”

It is, as Paul said, “by the law is the knowledge of sin.” That is, in the work of the great Physician of souls, the Law is diagnostic. As St. Paul said to the Galatian Church, “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” (Gal. 3:24)
          It all boils down to the fact that justification is a gift given, not a reward earned. St. John tells us in today’s Epistle, “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” It would be hopeless if not for the grace of God: “But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.” (I Cor. 1:30)
          So, when works of the Law are good and commendable it is only by the grace of God in Christ. On their own, works of the Law come up short, failing to meet God’s perfect standard. Works of the Law do not justify. Such good works are not weighed against sins to see which are heavier on the Day of Judgment. They are commanded and must be done; but are not counted or weighed against sins in some eternal ledger. Only the blood of Christ cancels out sin. The Law does not justify, for that is not its purpose.
          But, it appears at first glance that James contradicts Paul.

“What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? 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? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.” (James 2:14-18)
After citing examples from the Old Testament (Abraham & Rahab), James comes right out with the most direct line of all, seeming to contradict Paul: “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.” (v.24)
          So, which is right? Is it Paul, who says, “a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law”? or James who says, “by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.” Both men are right, both agree, for both were inspired to write their doctrine by the Holy Spirit who guided them in what to say.
          Paul spoke of works of the Law, and James spoke of works of faith. Paul explained that the Law cannot make anyone righteous, but that only faith can justify; and James explained that faith is evident by works. If we find a passage that sums up what both men were saying, in full agreement, it from Paul’s Epistle to the Church in Ephesus:

“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” (Eph. 2:8-10)

Paul, again to the Galatians: “For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.” (Gal. 5:6) And, to the Corinthians, “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.” (I Cor. 13:13) “Faith without works is dead, being alone… For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also,” James tells us. This works well with Paul’s doctrine, that faith is accompanied by love. James says that we show faith by our works, and Paul tells us that faith "works by love.”
A true believer, one who has faith in Christ, cannot live in that faith and not be changed by it. The fact that “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them,” as Paul wrote, simply has to find expression in our lives. Where faith is, a person having been justified already, can be transformed by the Holy Spirit in day to day life.

Love of neighbor
The second great commandment, “thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,” comes with that piercing diagnosis. It is the Law. It reveals to each heart its own shortcomings and failure. But, God gives us more grace even still, to live as John teaches us in today’s Epistle reading. We know that God loves us. How do we know that God loves us? Because He gave His Son to be the Propitiation for our sins. And, now we have been given a power to love God because He first loved us. And, because we can love God, we have that power to love our brother also.
The love that springs from a life of true faith, due of course to the Holy Spirit (“The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” Rom. 5:5), makes good works inevitable and spontaneous. A true believer simply cannot ignore the needs he encounters among people. Works of the Law count for nothing in terms of justification; works of faith, however, are a pleasing fruit of that faith, because that faith works by the love of God shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost.
The rich man who ignored the suffering of Lazarus, is lost, finally, because he did not hear the word of God. “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.” Had he heard the word of God and believed, could he have left Lazarus out there at his gate? Would not faith have worked by love? If the goats at the King’s left hand (in Matt. 25: 31-46) had the faith of those sheep at His right hand, could they have failed to do for “one of the least of these” His brethren?
The First Sunday after Trinity is very important for reasons I have said before.
The Summary of the Law with the Two Great Commandments summarizes the Ten Commandments; we have two commandments and two tables. For, in the Ten Commandments we have the first Table, with four commandments about loving God. Then we have the second table, with six commandments about loving your neighbor.
“In the middle of the Church Year we turn to the second table on this day. Up until now we have concentrated on the commandments to love the Lord thy God; now we look at the commandments that tell you, and me, how to ‘love thy neighbor as thyself.’
“Where, in all of that emphasis from Advent through Pentecost, do we concentrate on the commandments that tell us how to love God? It seems that the opposite is true. What we have seen is the proof that God loves us. Exactly so.  This is what St. John tells us in the Epistle reading we have heard today: ‘We love him, because he first loved us.’”
“And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.
I have written another sermon for this Sunday that is a favorite of mine. I offer it for your study by clicking the link.


Anonymous said...

Fr Hart,

Luther did not just think that the Book of James was less important. From Catholic Encyclopedia:

"Luther strongly repudiated the Epistle as "a letter of straw", and "unworthy of the apostolic Spirit", and this solely for dogmatic reasons, and owing to his preconceived notions, for the epistle refutes his heretical doctrine that Faith alone is necessary for salvation."

Faith and behavior go together. Faith apart from works is dead, and works apart from faith are dead.

Even the demons believe - and shudder. (James 2:19)


Vincent said...

Father Hart what you have written here seems to be in harmony with what Trent, Aquinas and Rome teaches about justification.

Fr. Robert Hart said...


The difference between the "Catholic Encyclopedia" and me is pretty straightforward. I actually quoted Luther, whereas their "scholars" put words in his mouth. I put no stock in the "Catholic Encyclopedia," and neither should anybody. It makes a good door stop though.

Colin Chattan said...

One implication of St. James' epistle is that Christianity is not in essence propositional, but incarnational. Christians are not primarily philosophers excogitating upon dogmatic abstractions, but branches bearing fruit on the divine vine, enlivened and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Hence the absolutely vital, integral importance of the sacraments to the Christian faith - and hence Christianity has, naturally, a liturgical dimension. And hence St. James's declaration (1:27): "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world."

Anonymous said...

Fr Hart,

On what bases do you find the Catholic Encyclopedia so lacking in merit? Please justify your protest with concrete facts.

We know from Eusebius that some books were disputed very early on, although "known and approved by many". They included the Epistle of James and the Revelation of John (among others), both of which Luther later tried to remove from the canon. Why did he want them removed? Is the Catholic Encyclopedia wrong in its scholars' assessment that Luther repudiated James for his own dogmatic purposes?

Thank you,


Fr. Robert Hart said...

Both of those books are in the Gutenberg Bible, so he didn't remove them. If you want to glean your history of the Reformation from a dogmatically Roman instrument, I suggest you don't treat it as some sort of objective source.

Vincent said...

Does anyone know where I can contact Father Kirby?

Anonymous said...

Fr Hart,

What resources do you recommend? Are they unbiased? I doubt it, for what is?

But to respond... a quote from Wikipedia: "Luther made an attempt to remove the books of Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation from the canon (notably, he perceived them to go against certain Protestant doctrines such as sola gratia and sola fide), but this was not generally accepted among his followers. However, these books are ordered last in the German-language Luther Bible to this day.[4]

If Luther's negative view of these books were based only upon the fact that their canonicity was disputed in early times, 2 Peter might have been included among them, because this epistle was doubted more than any other in ancient times. However, the prefaces that Luther affixed to these four books makes it evident that his low view of them was more due to his theological reservations than with any historical investigation of the canon."

Hmmm... so Wikipedia seems to come to the same conclusion as that of Catholic Encyclopedia.

What say you?


Bruce said...

This many only be somewhat related Father but I always found what the gospels say about Zecharias and Elizabeth to be striking. It says that they were holy and walked blameless in the ordinances of the Lord. This sounds so very different from the Protestant contention that we are all wretched sinners.

FrFodor said...

There are several sides here. First, we have to understand the language of the time, and especially the feisty nature of Luther, who was prone to hyperbole. Second, Luther was less than complementary about James. Here are a couple of quotes: "The epistle of James gives us much trouble, for the Papists embrace it alone and leave out all the rest…Accordingly, if they will not admit my interpretations, then I shall make rubble also of it. I almost feel like throwing Jimmy into the stove, as the priest in Kalenberg did." (Luther’s Works, American Edition Vol. 34, p. 317) Or, "We should throw the epistle of James out of this school [i.e. Wittenburg], for it doesn’t amount to much. It contains not a syllable about Christ. Not once does it mention Christ, except at the beginning. I maintain that some Jew wrote it who probably heard about Christian people but never encountered any. Since he heard that Christians place great weight on faith in Christ, he thought, ‘Wait a moment! I’ll oppose them and urge works alone.’ This he did." (Luther’s Works, American Edition Vol. 54, p. 424).
Third, Luther, despite these comments, did not remove James from the Bible, though in his personal copy he wrote numerous comments in the margins, such as, at James 1:6, "This is the only good place in the whole epistle;“ and on 2:24, with the words on a man being justified, not by faith only" his marginal comment was "That is false." Fourth, Luther's comments one way or another are not really of the essence for the real points at issue, and the Church has always known that there is no real contradiction between James and Paul- the context and especially the vocabulary being key to seeing how they fit together. This is, I think, Fr. Hart's big point.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

I have to hand it to Wikipedia. They are right that Jude and Revelation are the final books in the German Bible.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful comment, JnDamascus. Sure doesn't sound as if Luther simply thought the Book of James was "less important", as Fr Hart stated. After all, you quote Luther as saying that "we should throw the epistle of James out of this school".

My point being, Fr Hart seemingly cut Luther a whole lot of slack. Just my opinion.

Anyway, you are correct that there is no real contradiction between James and Paul. My Bible notes this on the issue: "Our willingness to put faith into action has a direct bearing on whether or not we will be saved in the end". And further, "faith in God is inseparable from faithfulness to God".


Vincent said...

Well, all available historical evidence indicates that the Roman Magisterium did apostatize. But the Roman Magisterium is not identical to the Church Catholic so the Church was not overcome when this occurred. The Catholic Church continued to exist even when the local Magisterium of Rome joined the gates of hell in an attempt to prevail against her. While the bishops of Rome and the Roman Magisterium were busy deserting the sheep entrusted to them and abandoning the doctrine of the Apostles with which the Church of Rome (and all of the other local churches) had been entrusted, the Catholic Church continued. Believing Christians in the Western Church were deserted by their shepherds, who were more interested in worldly gain than they were in spiritual things, [FN13] but the desertion of the sheep by their shepherds did not destroy the church. It survived the apostasy of these “priests” just as the Old Testament church survived the apostasy of her priests.

Anonymous said...

Great message Fr. Hart.

It was very unfortunate that Luther said what he did regarding the Book of James--and it's quite ironic given the strong agreement of the great truths that our Lord gave to us in the Book of James and the great doctrine of justification by faith alone as brought to light by Luther. I think of this as one of Luther's "druken Noah" moments (i.e. a grave failing of a man used mightily of God).

Luther's problem with James stems from his difficulty accepting the distinctive, non-Pauline terminology of James. In particular, James uses the term "justified" in a broader sense than typically employed by Paul (that is, in contrast with Paul's typical narrower usage of the term in reference to our immaculate forensic righteousness in Christ apart from any works or intrinsic righteousness of our own). Cranmer correctly noted on this point [Notes on Justification]: "St. James meant of justification in another sense, when he said, 'A man is justified by works and not by faith only.' For he spake of such a justification which is a declaration, continuation, and increase of that justification which St. Paul spake of before."

Hooker likewise notes in his Discourse on Justification: "Except infants, and men cut off upon the point of their conversion, of the rest none shall see God but such as seek peace and holiness, though not as a cause of their salvation, yet as a way through which they must walk that will be saved. Did they hold that without works we are not justified? Take justification so that it may also imply sanctification, and St. James doth say as much; for except there be an ambiguity in some term, St. Paul and St. James do contradict each other, which cannot be. Now, there is no ambiguity in the name either of faith or of works, both being meant by them both in one and the same sense. Finding therefore that justification is spoken of by St. Paul without implying sanctification when he proveth that a man is justified by faith without works; finding likewise that justification doth sometimes imply sanctification also with it; I suppose nothing more sound than so to interpret St. James as speaking not in that sense, but in this.

We have already showed that there are two kinds of Christian righteousness: the one without us, which we have by imputation; the other in us, which consisteth of faith, hope, charity, and other Christian virtues; and St. James doth prove that Abraham had not only the one, because the thing he believed was imputed unto him for righteousness, but also the other, because he offered up his son. God giveth us both the one justice [righteousness] and the other: the one by accepting us for righteous in Christ; the other by working Christian righteousness in us."

God Bless, W.A. Scott (this will probably be my last post for the time being)

Anonymous said...

You should take Susan's question about the Catholic Encyclopedia seriously.
Remarkably both the author of the CE article and the authors of the Wikipedia article used Lutheran sources.
To say that the CE is worth only a doorstop is beneath you. Simple anti-Romanism, not a worthy opinion.

Vincent said...

I dont think Ftaher Kirby would appreciate the doorstep comment.