Gospel Doctrine 2015 – Lesson 42 – “Pure Religion”

  1. We should endure affliction patiently.

James 1:1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.

‘James directed his epistle “to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad.” (James 1:1) His teachings may be applied to us, the Lord’s people who in a latter day would accept the restored gospel. He teaches principles that should guide your relationships with other members of the Church. He considers the commandment to “love thy neighbour as thyself” to be the “royal law.” (James 2:8). To James, a testimony alone is not enough. The gospel has to become a living reality in your life. “And I will shew thee my faith by my works.” (James 2:18).  “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only.” (James 1:22). James’s definition of the converted is: “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” (James 1:27). He ends his brief epistle with these words: “Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul … and shall hide a multitude of sins.” (James 5:19-20). By reclaiming an errant brother, you save both him and yourself. Your sins are hidden or remitted because you ministered for the salvation of another.’ (Robert J Whetton, General Conference, April 2005)

 James 1:2 My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations;

‘When ye fall into divers temptations – On the meaning of the word “temptations,”  …it is now commonly used in the sense of placing allurements before others to induce them to sin, and in this sense the word seems to be used in James 1:13-14 of this chapter. Here, however, the word is used in the sense of trials, to wit, by persecution, poverty, calamity of any kind. These cannot be said to be direct inducements or allurements to sin, but they try the faith, and they show whether he who is tried is disposed to adhere to his faith in God, or whether he will apostatize. They so far coincide with temptations, properly so called, as to test the religion of men.’ (Barnes’ Notes on the Bible)

 James 1:3 Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.

 4 But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.

James stressed the importance of patience when our faith is being tried, because those grueling experiences ‘worketh patience’; he said, in what was almost a sigh of the soul, ‘let patience have her perfect work.’ (James 1:3-4.)

“To Joseph Smith, the Lord described patience as having a special finishing or concluding role, for ‘these things remain to be overcome through patience, that such may receive an exceeding and eternal weight of glory.’ (D&C 63:66.) A patient disciple will not be surprised or undone when the Church is misrepresented.

“Peter, being toughminded as well as tender, made the test of our patience even more precise and demanding when he said, ‘For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.’ (1 Peter 2:20.) The dues of discipleship are high indeed, and how much we can take so often determines how much we can then give!” (Neal A Maxwell, Notwithstanding My Weakness [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1981], 62-63.)


James 5:10 Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience.

‘To encourage them to the exercise of patience, he points them to the example of those who had trod the same thorny path before them. The prophets were in general a much persecuted race of men; and the argument on which the apostle relies from their example is this:

(1) that if the prophets were persecuted and tried, it may be expected that other good men will be;

(2) that they showed such patience in their trials as to be a model for us.

An example of suffering affliction – That is, they showed us how evils are to be borne.’ (Barnes’ Notes on the Bible)

James 5: 11 Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.

“‘Behold,’ wrote the Apostle James, ‘we count them happy which endure.’ (James 5:11.)

“In this vein, President Joseph Fielding Smith suggested that enduring to the end involves the acquisition of those attributes that bring happiness. ‘We must endure to the end,’ he said; … ‘We must so live as to acquire the attributes of godliness and become the kind of people who can enjoy the glory and wonders of the celestial kingdom.’ (Ensign, Nov. 1971, p. 5.)

“While some may see enduring to the end as Suffering through the challenges of daily life until death introduces them to a better world, Latter-day Saints are given a different perspective. Brigham Young said, ‘Every trial and experience you have passed through is necessary for your salvation.’ (Discourses of Brigham Young, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1954, p. 345.) Such a perspective, as Elder Neal A. Maxwell points out, enables us, even in the most pressing of circumstances, to pass ‘the breaking point without breaking, having cause to be bitter-as men measure cause-without being bitter.’ (A Time to Choose, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1972, p. 42.)” (Robert J. Woodford, “I Have a Question,” Ensign, July 1986, 30)

  1. We should pray to God in faith.

James 1:5 If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.

 6 But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.

 7 For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.

‘The Prophet Joseph went into the woods in his innocent faith and reliance, prayed for light and received in answer the greatest theophany of which we have any record, for the Father and the Son came to him in person and told him of the work there was for him to do. And from there on, the line of communication, the royal line, between him and our Heavenly Father was never broken.

We believe in the doctrine of continuous revelation. We advocate it boldly and with rightful pride, boast of it. It is seriously challenged by many, by many great Church organizations. But I would like to challenge those organizations on their position. If, as they contend, God no longer informs his children, advises them and counsels them, that being their position, then I ask them why they pray. The fact that they pray seems to me to give the falsehood to their opposition.’ ( J Reuben Clark Jr, General Conference, October 1958)


James 4:8 Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.

‘The “nearness to God,” to which the promise is attached, is primarily that which is involved in all true and earnest prayer, but it should not be forgotten that it includes also the approximation of character and life. We are to walk with God as Enoch walked (Genesis  5:25)’. (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)

  1. We should control our tongues and be “slow to wrath.”

James 1:19 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath:

“Parents and teachers, learn to listen, then listen to learn from children. A wise father once said, ‘I do a greater amount of good when I listen to my children than when I talk to them.’… The time to listen is when someone needs to be heard. Children are naturally eager to share their experiences, which range from triumphs of delight to trials of distress. Are we as eager to listen? If they try to express their anguish, is it possible for us to listen openly to a shocking experience without going into a state of shock ourselves? Can we listen without interrupting and without making snap judgments that slam shut the door of dialogue? It can remain open with the soothing reassurance that we believe in them and understand their feelings.” (Russell M Nelson, “Listen to Learn,” Ensign, May 1991, 22)

James 1:26 If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.

‘No religion, group, or individual can prosper over an extended period of time with fault-finding as their foundation. To the world, and especially to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we declare there is no time for contention. “If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.”’ (Marvin J Ashton, General Conference, October 1982)

 James 3:3 Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body.

“A middle-aged couple on the farm had a violent quarrel at breakfast time. Later in the day they started for town in the buggy with a fine team of horses to sell their vegetables and eggs. As the horses trotted along, Mary said, ‘John, why can’t we travel together like these horses do? They don’t quarrel and fight.’ John said, ‘Mary, we could if there was only one tongue between us.’

“Oh, the unkind things we say to those we love.

(Hugh B Brown, The Eternal Quest [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1956], 310.)

James 3: 4 Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth.

‘A ship is a large object. It seems to be unmanageable by its vastness, and it is also impelled by driving storms. Yet it is easily managed by a small rudder; and he that has control of that, has control of the ship itself. So with the tongue. It is a small member as compared with the body; in its size not unlike the rudder as compared with the ship. Yet the proper control of the tongue in respect to its influence on the whole man, is not unlike the control of the rudder in its power over the ship.’ (Barnes’ Notes on the Bible)


James 3: 5 Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!

“Lies and gossip which harm reputations are scattered about by the four winds like the seeds of a ripe dandelion held aloft by a child. Neither the seeds nor the gossip can ever be gathered in. The degree and extent of the harm done by the gossip is inestimable.” (Spencer W Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1969], 54)

James 3:9 Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.

 10 Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.

‘The point in the remark of the apostle is, the absurdity of employing the tongue in such contradictory uses as to bless one who has to us the relation of a father, and to curse any being, especially those who are made in his image. The word bless here is used in the sense of praise, thank, worship.’ (Barnes’ Notes on the Bible)

James 3:16 For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.

“Be one who nurtures and who builds. Be one who has an understanding and a forgiving heart, who looks for the best in people. Leave people better than you found them. Be fair with your competitors, whether in business, athletics, or elsewhere. Don’t get drawn into some of the parlance of our day and try to ‘win’ by intimidation or by undermining someone’s character. Lend a hand to those who are frightened, lonely, or burdened.

“If we could look into each other’s hearts and understand the unique challenges each of us faces, I think we would treat each other much more gently, with more love, patience, tolerance, and care.

“If the adversary can influence us to pick on each other, to find fault, bash, and undermine, to judge or humiliate or taunt, half his battle is won. Why? Because though this sort of conduct may not equate with succumbing to grievous sin, it nevertheless neutralizes us spiritually. The Spirit of the Lord cannot dwell where there is bickering, judging, contention, or any kind of bashing.” (Marvin J Ashton, “The Tongue Can Be a Sharp Sword,” Ensign, May 1992, 20)

 James 3:17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.

‘The joyful news for anyone who desires to be rid of the consequences of past poor choices is that the Lord sees weaknesses differently than He does rebellion. Whereas the Lord warns that unrepented rebellion will bring punishment, when the Lord speaks of weaknesses, it is always with mercy.’ (Richard G Scott, General Conference, October 2013)

 James 3:18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.

‘The farmer sows his seed in peace. The fields are not sown amidst the tumults of a mob, or the excitements of a battle or a camp. Nothing is more calm, peaceful, quiet, and composed, than the farmer, as he walks with measured tread over his fields, scattering his seed. So it is in sowing the “seed of the kingdom,” in preparing for the great harvest of righteousness in the world. It is done by men of peace; it is done in peaceful scenes, and with a peaceful spirit; it is not in the tumult of war, or amidst the hoarse brawling of a mob. In a pure and holy life; in the peaceful scenes of the sanctuary and the Sabbath; by noiseless and unobtrusive laborers, the seed is scattered over the world, and the result is seen in an abundant harvest in producing peace and order.’ (Barnes’ Notes on the Bible)

James 4: 11 Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge.

‘speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law …] The logical train of thought seems to run thus. To speak against a brother is to condemn him; to condemn, when no duty calls us to it, is to usurp the function of a judge. One who so usurps becomes ipso facto a transgressor of the law, the royal law, of Christ, which forbids judging. ‘ (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)

  1. We should be “doers of the word,” showing our faith by our works.

James 1:22 But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.

“Some tend to think that just because a few ordinances have been performed, or just because they have repented, they can relax and think they ‘have it made.’ This life is not one of arrival; rather it is a journey, where we are continually being given the opportunity to prove ourselves worthy of the rewards promised to those whose efforts have been characterized with steadfastness, hope, faith, and love throughout life to the very last moment of this existence.” (Robert E Wells, The Mount and the Master [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1991], 204.)

 James 1:23 For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass:

 24 For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.

‘And so it is with many who are in this Church. They have experienced joy, they have had testimonies from God, they have had the power and the gifts of God resting upon them; but after a little while, coming in contact with the world, and the spirit of the world, they forget these things, the remembrance of them fades away from their minds and other things appear more desirable to them. This is the difficulty that the servants of God have to contend with in their ministering among men. It would appear, looking at matters naturally, that if men and women had tasted the word of God, had received revelation from God, had knowledge poured into their souls concerning this being the work of God, they would always be faithful to the truth; but it is not so, and this is evidence of the great power which the adversary exercises over the hearts of the children of men.’ (George Q Cannon, Journal of Discourses)

 James 1:25 But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.

‘The perfect law of liberty – Referring to the law of God or his will, however made known, as the correct standard of conduct. It is called the perfect law, as being wholly free from all defects; being just such as a law ought to be. It is called the law of liberty, or freedom because it is a law producing freedom from the servitude of sinful passions and lusts.’ (Barnes’ Notes on the Bible)

James 1:27 Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.

Then what is religion? James declares: ‘Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this: To visit the fatherless and widows in their afflictions, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.’ This may be interpreted as meaning that a person who is religious is thoughtful to the unfortunate, and has an inner spirit that prompts to deeds of kindness and to the leading of a blameless life; who is just, truthful; who does not, as Paul says, think more highly of himself than he ought to think; who is affectionate, patient in tribulation, diligent, cheerful, fervent in spirit, hospitable, merciful; and who abhors evil and cleaves to that which is good. The possession of such a spirit and feeling is a true sign that a person is naturally religious.

The Church’s outward ordinances and requirements are but necessary-yet they are necessary-aids to the inner spiritual life. The Church itself, the organization, meetings, ordinances, requirements, are only helps, but very necessary helps, to the practice of true religion.” (Gospel Doctrine: Selections from the Sermons and Writings of Joseph F. Smith, compiled by John A. Widtsoe [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1939], 121.)


James 2:14 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?

‘He doubtless had in his eye those who abused the doctrine of justification by faith, by holding that good works are unnecessary to salvation, provided they maintain an orthodox belief. As this abuse probably existed in the time of the apostles, and as the Holy Ghost saw that there would be danger that in later times the great and glorious doctrine of justification by faith would be thus abused, it was important that the error should be rebuked, and that the doctrine should be distinctly laid down that good works are necessary to salvation. The apostle, therefore, in the question before us, implicitly asserts that faith would not “profit” at all unless accompanied with a holy life, and this doctrine he proceeds to illustrate in the following verses.’ (Barnes’ Notes on the Bible)

 James 2:15 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?

‘”Well, some people say: ‘I would like to help the poor in my own way.’

“I think we all should help the poor in our own way, but I think likewise we should help the poor in the Lord’s way, and the Lord has said so much in so many words: Said he:

‘And it is my purpose to provide for my saints, for all things are mine.

But it must needs be done in mine own way; and behold this is the way that I, the Lord, have decreed to provide for my saints, that the poor shall be exalted, in that the rich are made low.’ (D. & C. 104:15, 16.)

“I call your attention to the fact that the Lord says that the helping of the poor ‘must needs be done in mine own way,’ and the Lord’s own way in 1947, in this centennial year, is that organized assistance be given through the Church welfare program and through the priesthood quorums allied with that program. We ask you one and all who are laborers in this Church to cooperate fully and heartily and willingly with that program, and remember that not your way, but the Lord’s way is to be done.”’ (Mark E Petersen, Conference Report, April 1947, Afternoon Meeting 100-101)

James 2: 17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.

‘To be and to do are inseparable. As interdependent doctrines they reinforce and promote each other. Faith inspires one to pray, for example, and prayer in turn strengthens one’s faith.

The Savior often denounced those who did without being—calling them hypocrites: “This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me”  (Mark 7:6) To do without to be is hypocrisy, or feigning to be what one is not—a pretender.

Conversely, to be without to do is void, as in “faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone”  (James 2:17). Be without do really isn’t being—it is self-deception, believing oneself to be good merely because one’s intentions are good.

Do without be—hypocrisy—portrays a false image to others, while be without do portrays a false image to oneself.’ (Lynn G Robbins, General Conference, April 2011)

James 2:18 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.

“Religion is a thing that has to live in the lives of people, and hence all these expressions to the effect that we show our faith by our works (James 2:18), and that we are not hearers only, but doers (James 1:22), or should be. You can be a hearer if all that is involved in religion is this matter of theology, of studying and analyzing passages of scripture. But you are a doer if you get religion into operation in your life. You are a hearer, in part at least, if all that you have is testimony. But you become a doer when you add to a testimony this pure conversion of which we are speaking.” (Sermons and Writings of Bruce R. McConkie [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1998], 139.)

 James 2:19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.

‘Faith in the Savior requires more than mere belief. The Apostle James taught that even the devils believe and tremble. But true faith requires work. The difference between the devils and the faithful members of this Church is not belief but work. Faith grows by keeping the commandments. We must work at keeping the commandments. From the Bible Dictionary we read that “miracles do not produce faith but strong faith is developed by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ; in other words, faith comes by righteousness’ (Wilford W Andersen, General Conference, April 2010)

 James 2:20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?

 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?

‘Justified by works – That is, in the sense in which James is maintaining that a man professing religion is to be justified by his works. He does not affirm that the ground of acceptance with God is that we keep the law, or are perfect; or that our good works make an atonement for our sins, and that it is on their account that we are pardoned; nor does he deny that it is necessary that a man should believe in order to be saved. In this sense he does not deny that men are justified by faith; and thus he does not contradict the doctrine of the apostle Paul. But he does teach that where there are no good works, or where there is not a holy life, there is no true religion; that that faith which is not productive of good works is of no value; that if a man has that faith only, it would be impossible that he could be regarded as justified, or could be saved and that consequently, in that large sense, a man is justified by his works that is, they are the evidence that he is a justified man, or is regarded and treated as righteous by his Maker. The point on which the apostle has his eye is the nature of saving faith; and his design is to show that a mere faith which would produce no more effect than that of the demons did, could not save.’ (Barnes’ Notes on the Bible)

 James 2:22 Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?

“Since the scriptures-not just the Bible but all the scriptures-discuss the importance of both grace and works, we are not at liberty to choose sides or to throw out one in favor of the other. Any theological view that slights the vital role of either grace or works is defective. Luther was wrong to ignore James. Latter-day Saints are wrong to shy away from Paul. Both James and Paul wrote the word of God. Both the Epistle of James and the Epistle to the Romans are scripture. Unfortunately, some LDS missionaries, when confronted with Paul’s ‘By grace are ye saved’ (Ephesians 2:8) or ‘A man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law’ (Romans 3:28) have counterattacked with James’ ‘Faith without works is dead’ (James 2:26) as though Paul was wrong or as though James somehow cancels out Paul. But Paul was an apostle of the Lord, and his letters are just as much the word of God as the letter from James (see the eighth Article of Faith). We cannot choose sides between grace and works-both must be right!” (Stephen E. Robinson, Following Christ: The Parable of the Divers and More Good News [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1995], 80.)

 James 2:23 And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.

‘Again, when Abraham and Sarah were commanded of the Lord—requested at least—to give as a sacrifice their son Isaac  we can imagine what must have gone through their minds. Nevertheless, they met the test. The Lord did it to see how much they loved him. Abraham was sustained, I am sure, by an unwavering trust in God. I am sure that Abraham knew that to accomplish his purposes, God could, if he desired, raise up Isaac from the dead, even after he had died. But what a lesson that is in service, of dedication, of consecration of that which he dearly loved! No wonder that Abraham was called a “friend of God”’ (ElRay L Christiansen, General Conference, October 1955)

 James 2:24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.

 25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?

26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

‘This instance of Rahab is joined to that of Abraham, either to show, that none of any condition, degree, or nation, was ever numbered among true believers, without good works; or else to prove, that faith, wherever it is sincere and genuine, is likewise operative and fruitful, not only in older disciples and stronger, such as Abraham was, but even proportionably in those that are weaker, and but newly converted to the faith, which was Rahab’s case.’ (Matthew Poole’s Commentary)

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