Martin Luther’s dismissal of the Letter of James as the ‘right strawy epistle’ (written in the preface to his 1522 edition of the New Testament) is well known.
Less well known is his complete agreement with the actual argument of James, that faith without works is dead. He wrote this in his preface to Romans:
(Read the rest over on the St Pauls staff blog…)
Filed under faith, Luther, works
…I believe that it has now become clear that it is not enough or in any sense Christian to preach the works, life, and words of Christ as historical facts, as if the knowledge of these would suffice forthe conduct of life; yet this is the fashion among those who must today be regarded as our best preachers.
Far less is it sufficient or Christian to say nothing at all about Christ and to teach instead all the laws of men and the decrees of the fathers. Now there are not a few who preach Christ and read about him that they may move men’s affections to sympathy with Christ, to anger against the Jews, and such childish and effeminate nonsense.
Rather ought Christ to be preached to the end that faith in him may be established that he may not only be Christ, but be Christ for you and me, and that what is said of him and is denoted in his name may be effectual in us. Such faith is produced and preserved in us by preaching why Christ came, what he brought and bestowed, what benefit it is to us to accept him.
This is done when that Christian liberty which he bestows is rightly taught and we are told in what way we Christians are all kings and priests and therefore lords of all and may firmly believe that whatever we have done is pleasing and acceptable in the sight of God, as I have already said.
On Christian Liberty, Augsburg Fortress Press 2003, 31-2.
You see that the First Commandment, which says, “You shall worship one God,” is fulfilled by faith alone. Though you were nothing but good works from the soles of your feet to the crown of your head, you would still not be righteous or worship God or fulfill the First Commandment, since God cannot be worshipped unless you ascribe to him the glory of truthfulness and all goodness which is due him.
This cannot be done by works but only by the faith of the heart. Not by the doing of works but by believing do we glorify God and acknowledge that he is truthful.
Therefore faith alone is the righteousness of a Christian and the fulfilling of all the commandments, for he who fulfills the First Commandment has no difficulty in fulfilling all the rest.
Martin Luther, On Christian Liberty (Fortress Press, 2003), 22.