An old boatman painted the word “faith” on one oar of his boat and “works” on the other. He was asked his reason for this. In answer, he slipped the oar with “faith” into the water and rowed. The boat, of course, made a very tight circle. Returning to the dock, the boatman then said, “Now, lets try works without faith and see what happens. The oar marked “works” was put in place and the boatman began rowing with just the “works” oar. Again the boat went into a tight circle but in the opposite direction.
When the boatman again returned to the wharf, he interpreted his experiment in these strong and convincing words, “You see, to make a passage across the lake, one needs both oars working simultaneously in order to keep the boat in a straight and narrow way. If one does not have the use of both oars, he makes no progress either across the lake nor as a Christian.
William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, was brushing his mane-like white hair when his son Bramwell stepped into the room. “Bramwell!” he cried. “Did you know that men sleep out all night on the bridges?” “Well, yes,” the son replied. “A lot of poor fellows I suppose do that.” “Then you ought to be ashamed of yourself to have known it and to have done nothing for them!” his father retorted. And when the son began to talk about the Poor Law program, General Booth waved a hand and said, “Go and do something! We must do something!” “What can we do?” “Get them a shelter!” “That will cost money,” replied Bramwell. “Well, that is your affair. Something must be done. Get hold of a warehouse and warm it, and find something to cover them. But mind, Bramwell, no coddling!”
That was the beginning of Salvation Army shelters.
You will never find true faith unattended by true godliness; nor will you ever discover a truly holy life which does not have at its root a living faith based upon the righteousness of Christ. Woe to those who seek one without the other! There are some who cultivate faith and forget holiness. These may be very high in orthodoxy, but they shall be very deep in condemnation, for they hold the truth in unrighteousness. There are others who have strained after holiness of life, but have denied the faith, like the Pharisees whom the Master said were whitewashed sepulchers.
We must have faith, for this is the foundation; we must have holiness of life, for this is the superstructure. We need the superstructure of spiritual life if we would have comfort in the day of doubt. But do not seek a holy life without faith, for that would be to erect a house which can afford no permanent shelter, because it is not founded on a rock.
Insist on itinwardly, in the spirit, before God, man is justified by faith alone, without works; but outwardly and publicly, before the people and himself, he is justified through his works. That is, he thereby becomes known and certain himself that he honestly believes.
Call the one a public justification, the other an inward justification, in this sense that the public justification is a fruit, a result, a proof of the justification in the heart. Accordingly, man is not justified by it before God, but must previously be justified before Him. In the same way, the fruits of the tree proclaim the obvious goodness of the tree, which follows and proves its inner, natural goodness. This is what James means in his epistle when he says: “Faith without works is dead.” The fact that works do not follow is a certain sign that there is not faith, but only a dead thought and dream, which people falsely call faith.
A familiar story tells of an old Scotsman who operated a rowboat to transport passengers. On one oar he had written the word Faith, while the other bore the word Works. The point of the story, of course, is that pulling on either oar alone would simply make one go around and around in circles. Both oars must be used to make any progress at all.
James stresses the work of the believer in relation to faith; Paul stresses the work of Christ in relation to faith. James is concerned that the outcome of faith be fruit (2:14) so that no one be able to confuse creed with Christianity; Paul in concerned that the object of faith be Christ, unmixed with self-reliance or self-righteousness.
James writes shortly after the resurrection, when the church was Jewish and the Old Testament well known; Paul writes later, when the conversion of gentiles raised questions never asked or thought of earlier.
James argues straightforwardly that Abraham was justified by works. When was Abraham justified by works? When he offered Isaac on the altar. To understand this, we need to bear in mind that James is using the term justification in a different sense, with a different nuance, than Paul does. Paul deals with the issue of how a sinner is reconciled to a just and holy God.
He uses the term justification in its supreme theological sense. James, however, is asking how a person is justified before men, not before God. His question is: How do we know that a person has authentic faith? Jesus said, “By their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:16). James labors in the second chapter of his epistle to show that a persons true faith is shown outwardly by acts of obedience or works of righteousness. He says, “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do” (James 2:18).
Now, does God need to see your works to know if you have faith or not? Of course not. James is speaking of mans sight. Paul says that in Gods sight, Abraham was justified by faith (Genesis 15). However, James says that in mans sight the most telling proof that Abraham was a justified man is that he was willing to obey God even to the point of offering up his only son on the altar.