Saturday, June 25, 2011

The 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 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 is 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...

Paul and James are speaking to two different audiences. In Romans 3:28 Paul is talking about the faith of the convert that leads to Baptism. James is not talking about the faith of the convert, according to my study Bible, but rather the faith of a "professing Christian." That is, those who already hold the faith. The difference is before vs after the believer "is incorporated into Christ."


Anonymous said...

Fr. Hart, We have been using your sermons at MP for almost a year. We were received into the ACC at St. John's, Va. Beach on June 5th. We live an hour and half from church and attend Eucharist once a month. When you give the option of two sermons, like today, we have finally solved the dilemma: print out both and use one the day before. Thank you and Fr. Wells for your help in enriching our understanding.
Sandra K

Fr. Robert Hart said...


I am not sure that the comments in that Study Bible are quite right concerning Romans. It is very hard to put a clear marker between something called faith of the convert and faith of the professing Christian. The people in the Church of Rome were both converts and professing Christians (at least the Gentiles having converted from Paganism; there were also a good number of Jews in the Church of Rome).

Anonymous said...

Fr Hart,

Paul was speaking specifically about works of the Mosaic Law. My Bible notes that "no one can earn the merit of free grace by obedience to the Torah." It goes on: "Paul denies the saving power of Mosaic works... James affirms the value of Christian works, performed by the grace and power supplied by Jesus Christ." And further, "When James affirms justification by works, he is talking, not about works of the Mosaic Law apart from grace, but about works of mercy performed by those who are already established in grace (Jas 1:27; 2: 15-16).


Anonymous said...

I don't have it in front of me, but I recall Bicknell, in his commentary on the Articles, discussing how Jame's used 'faith' in a more limited sense (of intellectual assent) whereas Paul used it more as 'personal adhesion' (of faith working by love). 'Works' in James are Christian activities (works of love), while Paul was contrasting faith with the 'works of Law (torah)'. Both had salvation in mind when speaking of 'justification', but Paul was talking more about one's initial justification, and James more about one's final justification.

At any rate, Fr Hart's sermon is right on the money in reconciling James and Paul. I would like to emphasize that both our imputed righteous based on the merits of Christ (justification in the Pauline sense) and the works of love which are the fruit of a lively faith (justification in James) both depend on our faith union with Christ through the power of the Holy Spirt, and it both cases it is GOD who justifies.

Doubting Thomas

Anonymous said...

To Doubting Thomas,

No offense to Fr Hart, but if money makes it right, I would tend doubt the proposal.

In any case, Paul is teaching the faith that leads the believer to Baptism, which is the Sacrament of our justification in Christ (1 Cor 6:11; Gal 3 23-29; Tit 3: 5-7). James is making a general statement about those who already "hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ (James 2:1).

Both are speaking about the role of justifying faith, but in two different contexts. It is an ongoing process; faith put into obedient action in response to the grace of Christ in union with the Holy Spirit. And yes, it is altogether evident that it is God who justifies.


Fr. Robert Hart said...

Money? What brings that up?

Paul is teaching the faith that leads the believer to Baptism...

Certainly that is included, but to isolate it as such is too specific and limited for the text.

It is an ongoing process...

What is an ongoing process? Justification or sanctification? James is speaking about the observable evidence of true faith; justification has already come wherever this fruit is seen.

Anonymous said...

Fr Hart,

Doubting Thomas brought up money when he stated that your sermon was "right on the money."

Regarding the comment I made that "Paul is teaching the faith that leads to Baptism," the stance is substantiated by Phil 1:29 which teaches that faith is a gift of grace that moves us toward God. It leads to justification because it leads to Baptism (Romans 6: 3-4, 1 Cor 6:11). I have isolated it because I perceive that the greater context of the cited verse (Romans 3:28)is specifically addressing the faith that leads believing Jews to Baptism. If you go back to Romans 3:21 which prefaces Romans 3:28, you will notice that Paul is speaking of "righteousness that is manifested apart from law, although the law and prophets bear witness to it." And if you go further back to the beginning of the third chapter of Romans, you will notice that Paul is speaking directly about Jews. Romans 3:1 - "Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision?" He is also speaking directly to Jews in Romans 3:9 - "What then? Are WE JEWS any better off?" He is obviously teaching Jews. In Romans 3:29 he asks - "Or is God the God of Jews only?" In Romans chapter 6 Paul continues to expound the faith that leads to Baptism. Romans 6:1-4 - "What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life." This is why I have isolated the "faith that leads to Baptism," Fr Hart. Simply stated, it is the heart of what Paul is teaching.

Justification does not stop at Baptism, but it is initiated. The Greek word for justify is "dikaioo" and it means "to acquit," "vindicate," or "pronounce righteous" according to my study Bible. It is used 15 times in Romans. From my Bible: "Great theological significance is attached to this term when God is the one who justifies. Especially in Paul's writings it describes how God establishes man in a right covenant relationship with himself. This was made possible by the death of Christ which frees us from sin through the free gift of grace. This grace is received by faith (Romans 3:26, 5:1) in the liturgical context of Baptism (1 Cor 6:11). God acquits the sinner, he also adopts the sinner as one of his own children, making him an heir of eternal life. For Paul the justifying decree of God effects an inward transformation that makes us holy and righteous in his sight (Rom 5:19)."

Justification is ongoing to the extent that believers strive to live the gospel in practical and charitable ways. Faith apart from works is dead. Do works contribute to our righteousness and justification? Romans 2:13 stresses that "it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the DOERS of the law who will be justified." Revelation tells us that "all were judged by what they had done."

Justification/righteousness is linked to sanctification. Sanctification, or holiness according to my Bible, is a gift received in Baptism that "gradually increases as the Spirit penetrates our hearts and lives over time." It goes on, "When persons are sanctified, they are set apart to serve God in a holy way... believers are set apart through Baptism, which by the sanctifying power of Christ's blood cleanses us of all sin and makes us inwardly holy... the challenge to grow in sanctity is supported by Jesus' prayer for our consecration in truth (John 17:17) and by Paul's prayer that our whole being be preserved in holiness for the last day (1 Thess 5:23).


Fr. Wells said...

A while back DT and I had some interchanges on how Paul's use of the term Justification can be harmonized with that of James. He brought me around to his way of thinking; I believe he is entirely correct. But I would still cavil slightly at this sentence:

"Paul was talking more about one's initial justification, and James more about one's final justification. "

The first clause is, of course, correct. But I quibble at the second, since it implies two different Justifications. That is NT Wright's mistake also. James, it seems to me, was using "Justification" is a more generalized sense, virtually as a synonym for salvation.

Paul wrote (Romans 8:1), "There is therefore now (keyword is NOW) no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus." The forensic decree is already a fait accompli. That perfect act of Justification will be publicly revealed and announced at the Day of Judgment. What has been settled and signed in the privacy of the Judge's Chamber will then be announced publicly in open court, before angels and devils alike.

It is interesting that James and Paul show no awareness of each other's writings.

Anonymous said...

Susan wrote:

"Justification does not stop at Baptism, but it is initiated.

Depends on what you mean by this. If you say that justification is an ongoing status that begins at Baptism and continues to be true of the believer as long has he is abiding in Christ, then I agree. However, if you mean that justification is a "process", in which we can somehow become MORE justified, then I would disagree. We can't be any more righteous than Christ, nor can we be any more "NOT GUILTY" than we were when we first came to be united to Him.


(veriword: "gratio"--how appropriate)