[James 1:27]---'Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this'...

This is not a favorite text with evangelical Christians. It is, it must be confessed, rather puzzling. If it were not in the Bible, we should brand the statement as unorthodox and untrue. Surely pure religion and undefiled is to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and so to be saved! Surely it is very impure, mixed, erroneous conception of religion that makes it consist merely in visiting orphans and widows, and keeping oneself unspotted from the world. Is not this the doctrine of salvation by works, when the truth is that we are justified by faith and not by works?

On the other hand, the text is very popular with those who would eliminate the miraculous and sublime from Christianity---who would take out of it the Divinity of Christ and the blood of the Cross, and leave only a code of morals. "Here," they say, "is our proof-text. Religion is only morality. Everything else is either symbolism or superstition. When we go to the root of the matter, we find that pure religion and undefiled is to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep ourselves unspotted from the world."

But what does the Apostle James mean by 'religion'? For it is a very comprehensive word indeed, and may be used in a bewildering variety of senses. It sometimes denotes the entire body of institutions, customs, doctrines, history belonging to a given faith, as in "the religions of Asia." Again, it signifies the conduct or practice which becomes a given profession of faith, as when we distinguish theology or doctrines believed, the other life in which they are expressed or realized. Then, religion may mean a system of duty apprehended as commanded by God or due to Him, as distinguished from morality, the system of duty discovered and determined by conscience and reason. Again, it may mean the mode in which a man elects to make profession of his belief, with its corresponding ideal of life, as when men who would claim to be Christians are distinguished as religious and secular, as within or without an order of religion. Once more, religion may denote either the worship or the spirit it ought to express, as when we speak on the one hand of the rites of religion, or on the other distinguish profession and religion. These ambiguities belong to our English term, but in no way to the term James employs. That had a simple and precise enough meaning; it denoted the external worship, the ceremonial usages, the form or body in which the inward piety was articulated. The word must be interpreted through the established use. Religion was to James the service, the ceremonial, as it were, of the new faith, the mode in which its inward spirit and reverence was outwardly manifested and declared. It was the counterpart in the new economy of the rites and sacrifices which had characterized the old; the moral and spiritual service which Christ had made to displace and replace the sacerdotalism of Moses. It did not denote the whole of the Christian religion, only the manner and form of its manifestation, the character and sphere of its distinctive and visible worship. So here is the true body of religion distinguished from the false.

And so Christianity approves itself as the pure and undefiled religion, the relation inspired by God and the Father, in that it harmonizes our duty to God and our duty to man, making love to God inspire correctness and kindness in conduct the manifestation of love to God. Religion and morality, everywhere else divorced, are here united and united in the relation of soul and body. The true faith has light for its garment: Its very robe is righteousness.

In Christ, timothy.


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