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Lectures in Biblical Theology
of The New Testament
by C. D. Cole

Lecture 12 of 23

Theology According to James by Dr. C. D. Cole

A casual reading of the epistle of James might lead one to think of it as a book of detached sayings on many subjects without any apparent connection, but a closer study will reveal that the subjects are closely related and concisely treated. The epistle is intensely practical and also deeply doctrinal. We believe the author to be James, half brother to our Lord. We do not know when he was converted. He first appears as a believer in fellowship with the apostles on the day of Pentecost. Paul tells us that James saw the risen Lord, and this may have been the occasion of his conversion. He soon became the leader in the Jerusalem Church, and wielded great influence. Peter reported to James after his release from prison. “But he, beckoning unto them with the hand to hold their peace, declared unto them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, Go shew these things unto James, and to the brethren. And he departed, and went into another place,” (Acts 12:17). Paul acted on the advice of James regarding ceremonial purification. “And the day following Paul went in with us unto James; and all the elders were present,” (Acts 21:18). On his first visit to Jerusalem, after his conversion, Paul visited Peter and also contacted James. “But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother,” (Gal. 1:19). James presided at the Jerusalem conference and was the author of the resolution freeing the Gentile believers from the law of circumcision. “Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things. Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world. Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood,” (Acts 15:14­20). The Judaizers sought to use the influence of James in their opposition to Paul. “For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision,” (Gal. 2:12).

Eusebius says that James was a Nazarite, and used no wine, no meat, and no razor. But he did use his knees, and it is said that he spent so much time on his knees in prayer that they were callused and as hard as a camel’s knees. Because of his godly life, he was called James the Just. He was faithful unto death, and tradition says that he suffered martyrdom by being thrown from a pinnacle of the temple and then stoned because the fall did not kill him, being finally beaten over the head by a fuller’s club.

James wrote to the Jews of the dispersion, to believing Jews who had fled Jerusalem and from the mother church on account of the persecutions under Saul of Tarsus. Those believing Jews to whom he wrote were low socially and poor in earthly goods. They were dwelling in the midst of unbelieving Jews by whom they were exploited and mistreated. These believers were facing many trials and had many faults. And so James wrote to comfort them in their trials and to admonish them about their faults. The epistle is one of Christian sympathy and moral admonition. May we now consider some of the doctrines of the epistle.


God was very real to James. His favorite name for God is the Lord. He is called the Lord of Sabaoth, or Lord of hosts. Three times the term “Father” is applied to God. He calls God ...“the Father of lights with whom is no variableness neither shadow of turning,” (Jam. 1:17).

 Unlike the sun and the moon, God’s light suffers no eclipse. He is the giver of good gifts to men and the Author of spiritual life. “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth”... (Jam. 1:18). James says that God is a jealous God and that unfaithfulness to Him is adultery. He is full of pity and mercy. His will must be considered in making plans. We are to say, ...“If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that,” (Jam. 4:15). God is the only lawgiver, Who is able to save and destroy.


Dr. Conner points out that James does not make Jesus prominent in his epistle. He speaks of Him by His full name, Lord Jesus Christ. He makes Jesus equal with God, calling himself the slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. He speaks of Him as the Lord of glory, and as the object of faith. “My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons,” (Jam. 2:1).


He speaks of man being made in the image of God. Here he indicates that man, though sinful, is in some sense like God. Man is the natural likeness of God as a person. He has all the attributes of personality and in this sense bears resemblance to God; because of this human life is sacred, and man must not be cursed. “Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God,” (Jam. 3:9); “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth,” (Gen. 1:26). “This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him,” (Gen. 5:1); “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man,” (Gen. 9:6). James teaches that all men are evil and subject to like passions. He defines sin as a perversion of the will and affections. Sin is selfishness, self before God and others. Sin is lack of love to God. In the fall man lost the image of God in holiness, but he retains the natural image as a person. The natural man is a person, but be is not a holy person.


James uses the word “temptation” in its twofold connotation: as a trial or test, and also as enticement or inducement to sin.

  1. He discusses temptation as a trial of faith. He says trials are good for them and are to be counted as occasions for joy. ...“Count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations,” (Jam. 1:2). Trials are for the good of faith. The trial of faith produces patience or constancy. And patience works perfection or maturity; therefore, let patience have her perfect work. Through trial faith grows into strong manhood. We are not to complain and murmur under trials, but thank God for them. If the trial is heavy and painful, we may groan, but we must not grumble, or charge God foolishly.

James thinks of the need of wisdom in meeting trials, and says we are to pray for it. We need wisdom to see the worth of trials to our faith. We need wisdom to properly react to trials. Without wisdom the believer will feel himself in the dark in the midst of trials. The prayer for wisdom must not only spring from faith, it must also be in the interest of faith. We usually pray for trials to cease, but James wants us to pray for wisdom to use our trials for the perfection or maturity of faith. “That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ,” (1 Pet. 1:7).

In the matter of trials the brother of low degree is to rejoice that he is exalted as an heir of God; and the rich brother is to remember that he is made low as one that will soon pass away. Let the poor man forget his poverty and the rich man his riches and through faith rejoice in the Lord. The trial of faith blesses the poor by lifting him beyond his trials to great height as a child of God; it blesses the rich brother by making him lowly, he thinks of himself only as a poor sinner saved by grace, whose earthly life is like a poor transient flower.

  1. James also discusses temptation as enticement to sin. When we are tempted to sin we must never blame God for it. God cannot be tempted, nor does He ever tempt one to sin. There are many ways blame may be shifted to God. Adam blamed God for his sin when he said, ...“The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat,” (Gen. 3:12). Men have asked, Did not God make us with these physical appetites, these animal passions? Yes, but they are to be regulated by His will, not ours.

In the so-called Lord’s prayer, we are taught to pray that He might not lead us into temptation. This means that in His providence He will keep us out of places of temptation. We are all weaker than we think, and should shun places of temptation, and pray to be kept out of them. A young man out West was converted and baptized. He lived in the country and had been in the habit of hitching his horse in front of the saloon where he would get his drinks. The first time he came into town after his conversion, he used the same hitching post. An interested brother saw it and warned him to change his hitching post.

Jesus says that when we are enticed to sin it is from inherent lust, evil desires. It is something in us that conceives sin and gives it birth; the external circumstance becomes only the occasion for sinful nature to reveal itself. An office boy once planned to steal a large sum of money. It would be a perfect crime, and nobody would ever know he was the guilty party. But he found a card mysteriously left on his desk which read: “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal,” (Matt. 6:19). He was stopped cold in his plan, and shuddered at what he was about to do. And he always felt that God had providentially intervened. Perhaps all or most of us, both writer and reader, can look back and see God’s good hand of providence in delivering us from temptation to sin.

  1. James deals with faith in its social aspect. Faith must not be held with respect of persons. He gives brotherly admonition and explains what he means. He supposes that two visitors or outsiders visit their synagogue, one is rich, the other poor. As the rich man enters, the eye of the one who is to seat him catches sight of his flashy gold ring and his expensive clothes. He is given a cordial welcome, and offered a good seat. As the poor man enters, the eye of the same usher catches sight of his shabby clothes. While he does not have the door shut against him, he is told to stand by the wall or to sit on the floor. The rich man is shown great deference, while the poor man is shown no brotherly respect. James says that such judgment of men is from evil thoughts, and is not Godlike. God is not impressed with a gold ring and bright rags. He chooses the earthly poor and makes them rich through faith.

James describes the rich in their oppression of the poor by dragging them into court on the least pretence. The rich Jews of that day were principally the Sadducees. They were oppressors of the poor and blasphemers of the Name of Christ.

James exhorts his readers to keep the royal law of love. They are to love all men whether rich or poor, but in making such distinction between rich and poor they are not true to the law of love.

  1. James also discusses faith in its practical aspect. True faith is not a barren faith, but like a tree bringing forth good fruit. Saving faith is not a dead thing; it is a living, working force in a human, life. James gives an illustration. He thinks of one in need coming to you for relief. You wish him well and express the hope that he will not freeze or starve, but you do nothing to keep him from freezing or starving: what good would all your talk do? The answer is obvious: it would be of no profit to the man in need. “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone,” (Jam. 2:17). “We are saved by faith alone, but not by a faith, that is alone.” Or as another has put it: “We are saved apart from works by a faith that produces works.”

  2. Paul and James on justification. Paul teaches justification by faith; James teaches justification by works. Let us put this in a clear perspective. Paul says, “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,” (Eph. 2:8,9). And again: “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness,” (Rom. 4:5). Now James says, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?” (Jam. 2:21). And again: “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only,” (Jam. 2:24). Paul teaches a justification by faith apart from works; James admits this, but says that there is also a justification by works. How are we to reconcile the apparent difference? Some distinguish between works of law and gospel works. They say we are not justified by works of the law of Moses, but that we are justified by works of the gospel. But Paul speaks of works of any and every kind when he says, “Not of works, lest any man should boast,” (Eph. 2:9). Luther thought that Paul and James could not be reconciled, and thinking he had to choose between them, he believed Paul and rejected James as a “strawy epistle.” We do not have to choose between Paul and James, for both are correct. But they are dealing with two different classes of men. Paul is thinking about the justification of an alien sinner, while James has in mind a professing Christian. When Paul says; no salvation by works and James says justification by works, the term “works” is used with entirely different associations. Paul is thinking about the acceptance of a lost sinner; James is thinking about the approval of a professing saint.

Let us try this approach. How is a man justified? Bring a stranger in here to use as an illustration. The question is, How is this man to be justified? Before I answer, I want to know something about him. Is he a believer in Christ or an unbeliever? Is he alive by a new birth or is he a dead sinner? If you say that the man is lost and without hope, but greatly concerned and deeply distressed over his lost condition, and wants to know how he can be saved, how he can be justified before God; this being his condition, my positive and unalterable answer is, that all he needs to do is to take the place of a helpless sinner before God and trust the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. Christ is the Saviour of sinners, therefore, He is the sole object of saving faith. He put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. It is by the one offering He made that He makes us perfect forever. “For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified,” (Heb. 10:14). The very moment the helpless sinner puts his trust in the mighty Saviour, that moment he is justified; counted righteous through the imputed righteousness of Christ. “But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption,” (1 Cor. 1:30); “Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses,” (Acts 13:38-39); “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” (Rom. 5:1); “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit,” (Rom. 8:1).

If the lost man is to be justified by so called gospel works, then we have no salvation to offer him today, we must send him away to do these gospel works before he can be justified. If I am told that the man before us is a professing Christian, one who claims to be saved, and the question concerns how he can be justified in his profession, then my answer is, by works and by works only. This is the man James is dealing with. “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble,” (Jam. 2:19). He is also saying that saving faith is more than mere talk, for that kind of faith cannot save. James is talking about the proving of faith, and this is by works and works only.

Paul and James illustrate their teaching by reference to Abraham. Paul says that Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. He was justified on the spot and before he had done any works of any kind. James says that Abraham was justified by works when he offered Isaac upon the altar. But this was many years after Abraham had been justified by faith apart from works. In offering up Isaac his faith was shown or proven to be genuine.

Every saved man is justified in two distinct senses and two distinct ways. As a lost man he was justified on the ground of the blood of Christ. “Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him,” (Rom. 5:9), and by faith in that blood apart from works of any kind. And as a saved man, he is again and again justified by works. His works justify his claim to faith. His faith produces the works, and is not produced by his works. Faith is the root and works are the fruit of a saved man. This principle honors God in two ways. It honors Him by giving His Son credit for all the merit in salvation, and it honors Him by works of love as proof of a living faith.

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