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Faith without Works in James 2

A Video Supplement for
Come, Follow Me Lesson 45:
“Be Ye Doers of the Word, and Not Hearers Only”




James 2 discusses the question of faith and works. There James makes the argument that if, by faith, one means mere intellectual or verbal assent to something, then it doesn’t accomplish much.

14 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?
15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food,
16 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?
17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
18 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.

As Latter-day Saints, we have a certain sympathy for his argument based on our historical experience. For example, at the October 1856 Conference, Brigham Young gave the following address in response to receiving word of the handcart pioneers stranded by a winter storm on the Wyoming plains:

I will now give this people the subject and the text of the Elders who may speak to-day and during the conference. It is this. On the 5th day of October, 1856, many of our brethren and sisters are on the plains with handcarts, and probably many are now seven hundred miles from this place, and they must be brought here, we must send assistance to them. The text will be, ‘to get them here.’ I want the brethren who may speak to understand that their text is the people on the plains. And the subject matter for this community is to send for them and bring them in before winter set in.

That is my religion; that is the dictation of the Holy Ghost that I possess. It is to save the people. This is the salvation I am now seeking for. To save our brethren that would be apt to perish, or suffer extremely, if we do not send them assistance.

I shall call upon the Bishops this day. I shall not wait until tomorrow, nor until the next day, for 60 good mule teams and 112 or 15 wagons. I do not want to send oxen. I want good horse and mules. They are in this Territory, and we must have them. Also 12 tons of flour and 40 good teamsters, . . .” and he goes on discussing the logistical requirements to deliver the trapped handcart companies from the peril’s of the early Wyoming winter.

I will tell you all that your faith, religion, and profession of religion, will never save one soul of you in the Celestial Kingdom of our God, unless you carry out just such principles as I am now teaching you. Go and bring in those people now on the plains. And attend strictly to those things which we call temporal, or temporal duties. Otherwise, your faith will be in vain. The preaching you have heard will be in vain and you, and you will sink to Hell, unless you attend to the things we tell you. (

When there are Saints freezing in the early snows on the plains, thoughts and prayers may not by sufficient to save them, while wagons will, and faith can move wagons, if it is in the heart of the person driving them, and it can load wagons if it is in the heart of the person loading them, and those gathering food and clothing. Indeed faith can work miracles when it exists as a real force in people’s lives. And it can just as well accomplish nothing if it amounts to nothing more than mere intellectual assent. James, indeed, seems largely in agreement with Brigham comments about those who do not attend to the real needs that exist in this world risking sinking themselves to hell. In the next verse he quips:

“Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble,” James reminds us in verse 19.

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