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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator
James 3

 

 

Verse 1

James 3:1

Be not many masters--

The qualifications necessary for teachers of Christianity

The words might have been better rendered thus, “Be not many teachers, knowing that we shall undergo a severer judgment”; and were occasioned by certain novices assuming the office of teachers when utterly unqualified for it.
The meaning is, the office of a spiritual instructor is attended with great difficulty and danger, and the duties of it are hard to be discharged. Let none undertake it rashly, destitute of the gifts and graces necessary for so sacred a function; for teachers, as well as hearers, must appear before the judgment-seat of Christ. God will require more from teachers than from others; and their private miscarriages, or unfaithfulness to the duties of their office, will expose them to the severest punishment.

I. PERSONAL RELIGION is a necessary qualification in the Christian teacher. Those must be clean that bear the vessels of the sanctuary. Their Master is holy, their work is holy, and therefore it becomes them to be holy also. They engage in the work of the ministry, not seeking their own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved (1 Corinthians 10:33). Having tasted that the Lord is gracious, they are unwilling to eat their spiritual morsels alone, and earnestly wish to have others partakers of the same grace of life. Animated by such a spit it, the pious minister is vigorous and active, diligent and unwearied, in his Master’s service. Grace, in lively exercise, makes the teacher honest and impartial, bold and courageous. He will not, through a slavish dread of man, put his candle under a bushel, or withhold the truth in unrighteousness; but endeavours to keep back from his hearers nothing profitable, however distasteful, and to declare to every one of them the whole counsel of God. He is no respecter of persons; but warns every man, and teaches every man, in all wisdom, that he may present every man perfect in Christ. With sacred sincerity, what the Lord saith that will he speak; though philosophers should call him enthusiast, the populace salute him heretic, or the statesman pronounce him mad. This integrity and uprightness preserves the minister from fainting under a prospect of outward difficulties and a sense of his own weakness. Grace, in lively exercise, not only animates the teacher to his work, but assists him in it, and greatly tends to crown it with success. It does so by disposing him to give himself to prayer, as well as to the ministry of the Word. He is a favourite at the court of heaven, and improves all his interest there for his people’s good. Further, personal religion promotes knowledge of the truth and aptness to teach, both which are indispensably necessary in the spiritual instructor. And as piety thus prevents men from mistaking the duties, so it preserves them from prejudices against the doctrines of Christianity. Just as one who perceived the light and brightness of the sun would be little moved by any attempts to prove that there was nothing but darkness around him. But, above all, inward piety assists in understanding and explaining experimental religion. Those are best suited to speak a word in season to weary souls who can comfort them in their spiritual distresses with those consolations wherewith they themselves have been comforted of God. True religion will promote in ministers a pious and exemplary behaviour.

II. ORTHODOXY, or soundness in the faith, is highly necessary in a spiritual instructor. Much more stress is laid upon this in the sacred writings than some seem willing to allow (1 Timothy 1:3; 1 Timothy 6:3; 1 Timothy 6:5; 1 Timothy 6:20-21; 2 Timothy 1:13; Titus 1:9; Titus 2:1; Titus 2:7-8; Jude 1:2). Is it either ridiculous or hurtful to judge of things as they really are? If orthodoxy, in this sense, has done evil, let its enemies bear witness of the evil; but if good, why do they reproach it? Do superstition, enthusiasm, bigotry, or persecution for conscience sake, flow from just sentiments of religion and of the proper means to promote it? or rather do they not flow from wrong sentiments of these? Truth and general utility necessarily coincide. The first produces the second.

III. A TOLERABLE GENIUS AND CAPACITY, WITH A COMPETENT MEASURE OF TRUE LEARNING, are requisite to fit for the office of a spiritual instructor. Infidels may wish, as Julian the apostate did, to see learning banished from the Christian Church. And men of low education, or of selfish spirits may think meanly or speak diminutively of a gospel ministry, as if the weakest abilities sufficed to qualify for it. But a Paul cried out, “Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Corinthians 2:16). Elihu tells us that scarcely one of a thousand is qualified to deal with the conscience Job 33:23). Uncommon talents are necessary to explain obscure passages of Scripture, to resolve intricate cases of conscience, and to defend the truth against gainsayers--services to which ministers have frequent calls. But, above all, one who would teach others to be religious, must himself have a clear and distinct notion of religion. We cannot avoid despising the man who is ignorant in his own profession, whatever his knowledge may be of other matters. The spiritual instructor should be mighty in the Scriptures, able not only to repeat, but to explain them, having the Word of God dwelling in him richly, in all wisdom and spiritual understanding.

IV. Ministers have need to be persons of PRUDENCE AND CONDUCT, and to know men as well as books. A minister should study himself. He should not only be acquainted with his own spiritual state, but with the particular turn of his genius; for our usefulness will in a great measure depend upon knowing what our gift is. A minister should study the make and frame of the human mind; for till the springs of human nature are, in a good measure, disclosed to him, and he has learned how far the bodily passions, or a disordered imagination, may either cloud genuine piety or cause a resemblance of it, he will be often at a loss what judgment to frame of religious appearances. He should know all the avenues to the soul, and study the different capacities and tempers of men, that he may be able, with becoming address, to suit himself to them all.

V. A due mixture OF A STUDIOUS DISPOSITION AND OF AN ACTIVE SPIRIT is necessary in teachers of Christianity. The ministry is no idle or easy profession, but requires an almost uninterrupted series of the most painful and laborious services. (J. Erskine, D. D.)

Dissuasives from proud censure

1. The best need dissuasives from proud censuring. It is the natural disease of wit, a pleasing evil; it suiteth with pride and self-love, and feedeth conceit. It serveth vainglory, and provideth for our esteem abroad; we demolish the esteem of others, that out of the ruins of it we may raise a structure of praise to ourselves.

2. Censuring is an arrogation of mastership over others. It is a wrong to God to put myself in His room; it is a wrong to my neighbour to arrogate a power over him which God never gave me.

3. Christians should not affect this mastership over their brethren. You may admonish, reprove, warn, but it should not be in a masterly way. How is that?

4. A remedy against vain censures is to consider ourselves (Galatians 6:1). How is it with us? Gracious hearts are always looking inward; they inquire most into themselves, are most severe against their own corruptions.

5. Rash and undue judging of others, when we are guilty ourselves, maketh us liable to the greater judgment. The apostle proceedeth upon that supposition. Sharp reprovers had need be exact, otherwise they draw a hard law upon themselves, and in judging others pronounce their own doom; their sins are sins of knowledge, and the more knowledge the more stripes. (T. Manton.)

Introduction into the office of religious teachers

Introduction into the office of religious teachers is the subject to which the admonition has reference. The unconverted Jews were vain of their privileges, and of their superiority in knowledge to the unenlightened Gentiles. This part of their character is forcibly drawn by Paul (Romans 2:17-20). There were some corrupters also of the gospel--mixing up its simple provisions for human salvation into a heterogeneous compound with the observances of the Mosaic ceremonial who manifested the same propensity to become teachers of others; their character, too, is graphically touched by the same apostle (1 Timothy 1:5-7; Titus 1:9-11). In the latter passage, the motive to which the teaching of such false doctrine is attributed--doctrine that trimmed itself to the prejudices and likings of the hearers for selfish ends--is inexpressibly base. But by various other motives besides avarice may the same desire be prompted. It may spring from vanity--from the ambitious love of distinction and fondness for pre-eminence--even when the teaching is not that of false doctrine, but of the true gospel, the doctrine of the Cross. Envy of the eminence of others, it would appear from Paul’s representation, had actuated some in his day--a motive even more unworthy than the simple love of distinction for themselves Philippians 1:15-18). What a shocking way for malice to adopt to give itself indulgence!--preaching Christ from rivalry, and under the idea that the success of such rivalry might be a new element of distress to the suffering apostle! How little such men--who judged of others by their own narrow-minded selfishness--knew of the elevation and nobleness of principle and feeling by which this servant of Christ was animated. Still further. Ill-directed zeal, where there is a deficiency of prudence, or of self-diffidence and experience, may produce, without any morally-evil motive, the same effect. This is frequently the case with new converts. Undue eagerness, then, for the office of teachers in the Church--whether thus arising from such corrupt motives as vanity, avarice, ambition, and envious rivalry, or from the less censurable ones of self-ignorance, inconsideration, and misguided zeal--the apostle seeks to repress. The meaning plainly is, that the believers should be in no haste to become public instructors, in order that the number might not be multiplied of such as, in knowledge and in character, were not suitable for the office. The ground on which James here rests his caution, is that of the specially solemn responsibility with which the office of teacher is invested: “Knowing that we” (we who are, or become, teachers namely) “shall receive greater condemnation”--we shall be subjected to “stricter judgment,” as by some the words have been rendered--of which, as a necessary consequence, the result must be, when there is wilful or careless failure, or failure even from incompetency, “greater condemnation.” The errors of teachers--whether arising from want of proper and sufficient investigation and study, from prejudice and partiality, or from whatever other corrupt or defective source--as they are more extensively mischievous than those of others, so are they proportionally more criminal; the obligation lying upon them being the greater to find out, by diligent search and careful discrimination of truth from falsehood, what they ought to teach and what to shun, so thus they may faithfully and fully, without alteration, addition, or abatement, declare “the thing that is right.” And, while such considerations constitute the ground of a specially solemn account which public teachers have to render for what they teach, hasty aspirants after the office should further bear in mind that a station of public eminence exposes its occupant to observation, that the sins and failings of such a one are more marked, and are more injurious to the cause of God and of His truth than even grosser misdemeanours on the part of Christians in more private spheres; and hence, even in the present life, we need not be surprised should we observe discipline peculiarly severe dealt out by Providence to those who either, from any corrupt motive, go aside in their teaching from the Divine standard, or who, while they publish truth, fail to adorn it by their own consistent deportment. (R. Wardlaw, D. D.)

Shrinking from the ministerial office

Mark here how the apostle includes himself. He says, “We shall receive.” He does so in a spirit of humility and self-distrust, which serves to bring out more forcibly the magnitude of the danger against which he is warning his readers. We find Paul writing in a similar manner (1 Corinthians 9:27). The most eminent ministers of the Church in all ages have felt this, and to such an extent that they have often shrunk back at first from the sacred office altogether. It was so with Ambrose, who, when elected Bishop of Milan, fled from the city, and had to be searched out and brought back from his place of concealment. It was so with the still more celebrated Father Augustine, who went forward to receive ordination only after the most urgent solicitations. It was so with John Knox, for he, when called to the ministry in the Castle of St. Andrews, first made an ineffectual attempt to address the congregation that had chosen him, and then, bursting into tears, rushed out of the assembly and hid himself in his own chamber. “His countenance and behaviour, from that day till the day he was compelled to present himself in the public place of preaching, did sufficiently declare the grief and trouble of his heart, for no man saw any sign of mirth from him, neither had he pleasure to accompany any man for many days together.”

What a lesson is here to all who either have entered on, or are looking forward to, the work of spiritual teaching I (John Adam.)

Respect for authority

When Faraday was preparing to lecture in natural science at the Royal Institution, he advertised for a retired sergeant to help him with his experiments. Being asked why he sought for a military man, he explained that some of the materials that would be used were dangerous, and that, therefore, he wanted for an assistant not one who would follow his own ignorant judgment, and blow up himself, the professor, and the audience, but one who would do exactly what he would be told, and nothing else. (E. J. Hardy, M. A.)

Masters

i.e., self-constituted censors of others. (Calvin.)

The itch of teaching

Wiesinger heads this chapter, “Against the itch of teaching.” (Calvin.)

Inconsistent teachers

Words had taken the place of works. (Huther.)

Teachers to love their work

The sages of Israel had given the same caution as in the maxim: Love the work, but strive not after the honour of a teacher. (Pirke Aboth. 1:10.)

The teaching gift

It is obvious that true teachers must always be a minority. There is something seriously wrong when the majority in the community, or even a large number, are pressing forward to teach the rest. (A. Plummer, D. D.)

Self-assertion

Bishop Hall said, “There are three things which, of all others, I will never strive for: the wall, the way, and the best seat. If I deserve well, a low place cannot disparage me so much as I shall grace it; if not, the height of my place shall add to my shame, while every man shall condemn me for pride matched with unworthiness.” (H. O. Mackey.)

Self-glorification, a disqualification for God’s work

Dare any of us say with the French king, “L’etat c’est moi”--“The State is myself”--“I am the most important person in the Church”? If so, the Holy Spirit is not likely to use such unsuitable instruments; but if we know our places, and desire to keep them with all humility, He will help us, and the Churches will flourish beneath our care. (C. H. Spurgeon.)


Verses 1-8

Verse 2

James 3:2

In many things we offend all

No perfection in this life

I.
How THIS APPEARS.

1. From other passages of Scripture (Ecclesiastes 7:20; Pr 2 Chronicles 6:36; 1 John 1:8; 1 John 1:10).

2. That none can expect to arrive at a sinless perfection in this life will appear, if we consider the many instances which are recorded in the Scripture of the sins of some of the most eminent saints and servants of God.

3. The experience of our own times confirms this same sad truth, that all have their infirmities, and in many things offend.

4. That all do and will offend in many things, will appear if we consider the extensiveness and spirituality of the law of God.

5. Natural corruption is not fully subdued in any here on earth; therefore in many things all will offend.

6. You are here on earth in a state of temptation, and therefore will not be sinless till you leave the world.

II. IN WHAT RESPECTS WE ALL OFFEND.

1. With regard to the disposition and inclination of the heart.

2. As to the internal employment of the mind.

3. In our communication.

4. In innumerable ways in the actions of life. Conclusion:

1. Here we may infer the impropriety of being saved by the covenant of works, the terms of which were unerring obedience--Do this, and live.

2. See here what infinite reason you have to bless God for the new covenant; herein is your salvation.

3. See here how highly you are concerned to seek an interest in this new covenant.

4. You must take heed that you do not take encouragement to be in the least degree more careless in your life from the miscarriages of good men.

5. Though you will never be able to keep God’s commandments perfectly whilst you are in the present state, yet you should press on towards perfection, (T. Whitty.)

The sins of good men

1. None are absolutely freed and exempted from sinning (1 John 1:8; Proverbs 20:9). Well, then--

2. The sins of the best are many.

3. To be able to bridle the tongue is an argument of some growth and happy progress in grace (Proverbs 18:21; Matthew 12:37; Proverbs 13:3). There were special reasons why our apostle should be so much in pressing it.

Consider--

1. Your speeches are noted. Xenophon would have all speeches written, to make men more serious. They are recorded (James 2:12). Every idle word is brought into judgment (Matthew 12:36): light words weigh heavy in God’s balance.

2. They are punished (Psalms 64:8).

3. Consider what a vile thing it is to abuse the tongue to strife, censure, or insultation.

4. It is not of small regard that God in nature would show that He hath set bounds to the tongue: He hath hedged it in with a row of teeth. For apt remedies--

15:7).

Christian imperfection

I. SOME OF THOSE THINGS IN WHICH BELIEVERS OFFEND.

1. In the exercises of the heart. Many remains of the carnal mind.

2. In the communications of their lips.

3. In the actions of their lives.

II. FROM WHENCE ARISE THESE IMPERFECTIONS IN THE CHRISTIAN CHARACTER.

1. From the absolute purity of the Divine law. Transcript of the

Divine mind.

2. From the frailty and weakness of human nature.

3. From unwatchfulness and neglect. Not sufficiently alive to our best interests. Graces allowed to be languid, &c.

III. WHAT INFLUENCE SHOULD A CONSIDERATION OF OUR IMPERFECTIONS PRODUCE UPON US?

1. Deep humility.

2. Spiritual diligence.

3. Fervent prayer.

4. Forbearance and charity to others.

5. Excite within us a longing for heaven. There we shall be sinless inhabitants of a sinless world. (J. Buries. D. D.)

There are none blameless

A gentleman of the perfectionist school of thought called to see an old Christian of his neighbourhood, and began enlarging upon that interesting topic. “Can you point to a single perfect man or woman in the Bible?” inquired the aged saint. “Yes,” readily answered the other; “turn to Luke 1:6, you will there read of two--Elisabeth and Zacharias walked ‘in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord, blameless.’” “Then you consider yourself a believer like Zacharias?” “Certainly I do,” said the visitor. “Ah,” replied the old man, “I thought you might be; and we read a few verses further on that he was struck dumb for his unbelief.”

Faults

Bad men excuse their faults, good men will leave them. (Johnson.)

We all have faults

I have been a good deal up and down in the world, and I never did see either a perfect horse or a perfect man, and I never shall until two Sundays come together. The old saying is, “Lifeless, faultless.” Of dead men we would say nothing but good, but as for the living, they are all tarred more or less with the black brush, and half an eye can see it. Every head has a soft place in it, and every heart has its black drop. Every rose has its prickles, and every day its night. Even the sun shows spots, and skies are darkened with clouds. Nobody is so wise but he has folly enough to stock a stall at Vanity Fair. Where I have not seen the fool’s cap, I have, nevertheless, heard the bells jingle. As there is no sunshine without some shadow, so is all human good mixed up with more or less evil; even poor law guardians have their little failings, and parish beadles are not wholly of heavenly nature. The best wine has its lees. All men’s faults are not written on their foreheads, and it’s quite as well they are not, or hats would need wide brims; yet as sure as eggs are eggs, faults of some sort nestle in every man’s bosom. There is no telling when a man’s sins may show themselves, for hares pop out of a ditch just when you are not looking for them. A horse that is weak in the legs may not stumble for a mile or two, but it’s in him, and the rider had better hold him up well. The tabby-cat is not lapping milk just now, but leave the dairy door open, and we shall see if she is not as bad a thief as the kitten. There’s fire in the flint, cool as it looks; wait till the steel gets a knock at it, and you will see. Everybody can read that riddle, but it is not everybody that will remember to keep his gunpowder out of the way of the candle. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

All are deficient when tried by Divine law

Judgment is comparison of things with some standard. There are standard weights and measures in the Tower to which all in the country ought to conform, and if not they are condemned. So a mason judges by his plumb-line of a wall, if true to the perpendicular. If an inspector of weights and measures finds a tradesman using false ones, he takes him before a magistrate for punishment. If the builder finds the wall untrue, he orders it to be pulled down. Now God has a standard by which He judges us, viz., His holy law; and it is because we know we are deficient that the word” judgment” has such an awful sound to us, for we know that to the sinner it includes condemnation and punishment.

If any man offend not in word

On the evils of speech

I. I SHALL BEGIN WITH MAKING SOME OBSERVATIONS UPON THE SUBJECT IN GENERAL.

1. The first general observation which occurs to us upon this subject is the difficulty of ruling the tongue. When a man looks into his own mind, the mass of thoughts of all kinds which he meets with there will amaze him. All men’s ideas are much alike, and wisdom consists more in the degree of power which a man has to restrain his thoughts, and bring only such forth as are proper, than in the thoughts themselves. What renders it still more difficult to oppose this mass are the passions by which it is often agitated. These press upon it with violence, and force for themselves a passage. Temptations, too, add their pressure, unguarded moments offer, and men are almost always employed, from various motives, to draw your defence, and to draw your thoughts from you. Difficult, however, as the government of speech is, we must observe that it is not impracticable. If a man cannot restrain it completely, he has it in his power at least to moderate it.

2. The second general observation, which offers itself to us upon the government of speech, is the simplicity of it, considered as a method of governing the passions. In the most complex machines there is always one part of them which commands the rest, and a small degree of power applied there will stop their most multiplex operations. It seems in the present case to be exactly so with man. When you restrain the tongue you stop the passions at their commanding point. You do not merely drive them back into their repositories, but you destroy their motion and their force. They acquire strength from motion, and the way to keep them quiet is to restrain them at the issue. This is done easily if you apply your care at the mouth, and suppress the first expression of them. Prevent the movement of the passions and you prevent their violence.

II. I COME NOW TO CONSIDER PARTICULARLY THE ABUSES OF IT IN SOCIETY, AND THE IMPORTANCE OF OBTAINING SOME SHARE AT LEAST OF DUE GOVERNMENT OVER IT.

1. TO this part of the subject let me proceed by observing, first in general, that much talking of any kind is but a bad practice. It is a sure waste of time in the first place, and is apt to lead a man into a habit of trifling in the next. But the greatest disadvantage of all is, that much speaking is an enemy to much thinking. The man who talks perpetually is also constantly in danger of discovering what he should conceal, and of prejudicing, by ‘this means, both his own affairs and those of other men. How many occasions of offence, how many breaches among friends, holy many fatal enmities have arisen from this cause! The system of education adopted by the Persians was simple, but extremely rational. They taught their youth two things: to be secret, and to tell the truth. This was well adapted to inspire both the confidence and the respect of men.

2. In the second place, let me observe that the evils of speech, upon a general view of them, may be considered as arising from two sources: design and accident, and frequently also from a mixture of both.

3. I shall now mention, as shortly as possible, the most remarkable classes of vain talkers with which life is pestered, and society so often set on fire.

(2) The second class of talkers, or of people who offend in word, are your evil speakers. These are your people who are noted in society for a most unhappy habit of detracting from the merit, or of censuring the actions and the lives of others.

The use of the tongue

1. The use of the tongue constitutes a large portion of human business. It is by that organ that very many of the most important transactions of life are carried on. Speech has been appropriately called “the rudder that steereth human affairs, the spring that setteth the wheels of action on going.”

3. It is a work of much difficulty tightly to regulate the tongue. On the one hand, it is a very facile member, often called, and easily roused, into active exercise; and on the other, one is apt not to associate the idea of so much guilt as is readily attributed to the sins of outward action with an ill-regulated tongue--insomuch that many who would not blasphemously say, “Our lips are our own, who is lord over us?” do not reckon themselves bound to watch, with any special diligence, over what they say.

4. As fearful evil is wont to result from the violation by the tongue of the laws of piety, truth, charity, chastity, and wisdom, so its right regulation is taught with glorious effects to him who speaks, and, it may be, also to him who hears. (A. S. Patterson, D. D.)

Helpful and unhelpful speech

There cannot be a doubt that speech may be the most helpful or unhelpful of all the powers we possess; because it is the expression of our inward life, whatever that inward life may be. And it is not the amount of speech we are capable of which is the main consideration in the ease, so much as the quality and quantity of heart which lies at the back of the tongue which determines the helpfulness or unhelpfulness of speech. A sensitive man would about as soon his enemy came and put a dagger into his heart and finish him, as go about stabbing him behind his back with cruel words. For there are words in which the spirit of murder lurks. We may be naturally very ready of speech or very slow of speech--inconveniently candid or reticent even to niggard-ness; and yet our speech will be helpful or unhelpful to others according to the condition of heart which lies behind it. And so the old text, “Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life,” controls the region covered by the word “speech.” If there be envy in the heart, its tone will get into the speech. If there be hatred in the heart, the speech will betray it to all who have educated ears. If there be a settled deposit of uncharitableness in the heart, a report of it will be in the speech--not only in the matter of it, but especially in the manner of it. So that the first and chief necessity to helpful speech--that without which speech would be very unhelpful--is to keep the heart with all diligence. If we allow evil feelings to take up their abode in our hearts, speech cannot be helpful. If there be a skunk in the cellar, it will be known in every room of the house without asking the eyes to look upon the creature itself hiding away in the basement. The lovableness or lovelessness of the heart is certain to report itself in helpful or unhelpful speech. And so, in order to alter the quality of speech, if it needs altering, we must begin at the centre; we must keep the heart with all diligence, because speech is only one of the streams which issue out of it. The art of speech has been studied from Aristotle downwards. But the morals of speech, the spiritual meaning of helpful and unhelpful speech, this region has not been adequately explored. Such a subject as this--how to be a good conversationalist, interests not a few, because it suggests that this ability may be acquired. How much larger and more important than that is this; how to be under no undue restraint in speech; how to be free, easy, and at home in the use of this faculty and yet how to be always helpful and not unhelpful in the employment of it. Remembering, then, that speech is a sign, a revealer, both as to matter and manner, and that the first necessity for helpful speech is a regenerated heart--that is, a heart in which envy, hatred, and uncharitableness are not encouraged as guests; but if one or the other of them pay a short visit they are never made welcome and entertained as a guest, never supplied with bed and board--remembering this, that without an honest and good heart, continuous honest and good speech is an impossibility--we may be allowed to say that the power of helpful speech will increase in the ratio of our own self-improvement; as the result of processes of inward growth. The rational conversableness of men will come as an effect of their improved rationality. If you have read well, and looked about, and thought on what you have seen, you will show good quality in your speech, and I repeat, it is the quality in the speech which is the main thing towards its helpfulness. If your words be stumbling and broken, the matter and the meaning will redeem them from contempt. It may be sad to have nothing to say, but it is much sadder to say a great deal with nothing in it. Gilded surface easily passes in the stead of golden substance. We cannot, of course, speak helpfully or at all without words, unless we allow that the silent expression of the eye and many other signs are language; but we are not occupied with those mute organs of eloquence now; and yet words are so different from each other that they make speech this or that according to the words chosen. Some words are a blank wall; others are windows through which you see a varied landscape beyond. Real eloquence is always rich in these transparent words. Every great thinker suggests more than he says. Thought starts thinking. I am more and more convinced, however, that speech is helpful or unhelpful, according to the feeling with which it is satured. The same words uttered by two different persons produce effects in feeling, oh, how different! Have you never known what it is to feel a kind of shudder from a compliment--something intended to be sweet, but it was not satured with sweetness? In another case some one comes to you and tries to say a severe thing, attempts reproof, even satire, and the thing fails utterly because the individual has not venom enough in his nature to kill a fly. And so, if you will give attention to the matter you will find that words carry feeling quite as much as they carry intelligence. (Reuen Thomas, D. D.)

Offences of the tongue

Any one who carefully studies Scripture is often struck with this, that the sacred writers attach the most serious importance to duties of which men make but little account; so here--one who knows how lightly Christians regard the duty of not offending in word is impressed with the solemnity with which the apostle treats the obligation--looking upon the whole character as concerned in it; for he sayswhoever is faithful in this respect is a thorough man, strong in self-mastery, equal to all the duties of life. He considers faithfulness or unfaithfulness in this respect as a sure indication of the” presence or want of Christian principle;--yes, the surest, for it is only in unguarded hours that his character appears precisely as it is. Words flow carelessly and unthought-of from the tongue; they come from the overflowing of the heart. The apostle also calls our attention to the effect which the management of the tongue has upon the life. It is, he says, as the bit to the horse or the rudder to the vessel; it determines which way we shall go. Thus he thinks that a man’s course is not only indicated, but also shaped, by his conduct in this respect. There is another view which he takes of the subject, which is new and strange to many. He says that harsh and bitter language cannot come from a good heart. But let us look a little more nearly at some of those offences of the tongue which the apostle considers so dangerous. First, there are those sharp and angry words of which we hear so many in the world. How often do we see the flashing eye and the cheek flushed with passion, and hear the most savage and bitter retorts and replies from lips which are also opened in prayer to God--how sincerely, how acceptably, we must leave it for eternity to tell! Men think very little of these things; the passion subsides, and they feel as if all was the same as before. But no. As each autumnal storm affects the foliage and hurries on the wintry desolation, so does each and every storm of passion leave much unseen injury, though perhaps few visible traces in the heart. It is impossible to overestimate the injury which is done by these hasty excesses. Human beings are connected with each other by many fine and delicate ties; and this flame of hasty anger burns them like tow. At every flash some of them snap asunder, and there is no power that can replace them. Again, there is a sort of violent language where there is not much anger, but rather malice and bitterness strongly felt and strongly expressed, and, strange as it may seem, indulged in without the least consciousness of sin. How little moral sensibility there is in relation to this appears from the manner of some who think it a crime to “smite with the fist of wickedness,” but indemnify themselves for this forbearance by using the hardest terms of reproach which the language affords;--as if the bands of love bound nothing but the hands; as if, not striking with the sword, they might strike the harder with the edge of the tongue! The most painful exhibition we ever see of this kind of violent language is witnessed in the exciting times of party. To this the apostle’s strong terms, “earthly, sensual, devilish,” would most fitly apply. There is something appalling in this cannibal spirit, perfectly unscrupulous, perfectly hateful, in which so many indulge with perfect unconsciousness of their guilt and danger, though to a superior being who listened to their voice it would seem as if the world had broken entirely loose from the moral government of God. In the intercourse of social life there are many things which show how difficult, and yet how necessary, it is to apply religious principle to the words--difficult because we do not think what we are doing. But we ought to think, it is our duty to think, what we are doing; and the neglect of this duty is the last thing that we can plead in excuse for injurious language or any other sin. There are many who enjoy ridicule cast upon others, and many also who are ready to cast it, showing off their penetrating discernment and power of sarcasm without reflecting that they are guilty of inhumanity--that every indulgence of the kind is a sin against God and His law of love; without reflecting, too, that every indulgence of the kind is exerting a petrifying power upon their own hearts. There are many ways in which the law of love is broken in the social intercouse of life, broken by that thoughtless malice which is so common, but which, however thoughtless, is malice still. Whoever retails the floating reproach, whoever puts a bad construction on the conduct of another, whoever deals bitterly and harshly with the character of others, may do it thoughtlessly, but still he is responsible, perhaps the more so; for if he were conscientious he would reflect, and never, except in cases of necessity, say that which may injure another’s feelings, reputation, or peace. There is one way in which unmeasured evil is brought into social life. It is by repeating to a friend the evil that has been said of him by another. If you produce any alienation or unkindness, you do it at your peril; and however you may say you did not think of it, the day will come when you will be obliged to think of it with a heavy heart. We may see in the conversation of social life many other things which show the wisdom and necessity of the charge to be swift to hear, but slow to speak. How many there are who talk themselves into what they call their opinions! When any subject is presented they speak without reflection, according to their impressions, or party associations, or perhaps guided by chance alone, and what they have once happened to say becomes their opinion. They maintain it not seriously and earnestly, as they would if they had seriously formed it; but when they hear it questioned they become angry with those who differ from them, because they have thought upon the subject and deliberately make up their minds. When we consider how much our judgment of moral questions, our views of what is passing round us, our feelings towards others--indeed, how much all the interests of the mind and heart are involved in this thoughtless way of speaking, we see how important it becomes to set a guard at the door of our lips, suffering nothing to pass till we at least know what it is--till we consider whether it will go forth for good or for evil, whether it will be a blessing or a curse to mankind. (W. B. O. Peabody, D. D.)

The government of the tongue

I. IF IT BE “OUT OF THE ABUNDANCE OF THE HEART” THAT “THE MOUTH SPEAKETH,” THEN THE UTTERANCE OF THE TONGUE IS ONE OF THE SUREST INDICATIONS OF THE ACTUAL STATE OF THE HEART. Falsehood, evasion, artifice, dissimulation, may for a time conceal the state of the heart, but when unmasked, they declare it as surely as the most genuine expressions of sincerity can.

II. AND WHAT ARE THE MEANS WHICH THE NEW, OR “PERFECT MAN” USES, IN ORDER THAT HE MAY NOT OFFEND IN WORD?

1. First he lives in an atmosphere of prayer, and in watchfulness against every outward influence that might surprise him into the inconsistency of speaking hastily or unadvisedly with his tongue.

2. If the habit of consideration be needful at all times, it is especially needful when we are conscious of any excitement of our inward feelings, occasioned by outward circumstances beyond our control.

3. The “perfect man,” the true child of God, is studiously careful for the welfare, while he respects the very feelings of others; and on this account he bridles his tongue, so that he may not, by even an inconsiderate word, injure the one, or wound the other.

4. There is another respect in which the true Christian, aiming at real consistency, is perpetually watchful. Having become aware of those subjects which most occasioned the sinful utterance of his tongue, before he received from God the power of bridling it, he now resolutely abstains altogether from these subjects. If they recur to his mind, he represses them; if unexpectedly he be drawn into them by others, and if at any time he feels tempted to speak in a way that becomes him not of others, he perhaps calls to mind what has been very wisely and truly said, “Weak and foolish minds chatter about persons; strong and wise minds converse about things.” And then will come to his aid some holy admonition from the Word of God; or he will call to mind the words of David--“I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I offend not with my tongue; I will keep my mouth with a bridle, when the wicked is before me.” Hence he will take heed, that when provoked by the perversity of others, or when wounded by their unbridled tongue, no unchristian bitterness of retort shall escape his lips. (G. Fisk, LL. B.)

The government of the tongue

I. WHAT IS INCLUDED IN THE DUE GOVERNMENT OF THE TONGUE.

1. The proper restraint of the tongue.

2. A proper employment of the tongue.

II. THE GREAT IMPORTANCE OF THE DUE GOVERNMENT OF THE TONGUE. This will appear when we view it--

1. As a criterion of our Christian character, and the extent of our religious attainments.

2. The powerful influence of speech over the human passions and conduct.

3. The solemn responsibility in which we are involved, in reference to the government of the tongue (Matthew 12:36-37).

III. SUGGESTIONS WHICH MAY AID IN ATTAINING A DUE GOVERNMENT OF THE TONGUE.

1. Let us seek a renewed and more spiritual state of the heart and affections.

2. Let special vigilance be exerted where special danger is probable. If brought into the society of the ungodly, let us take heed, like David, that we sin not with our tongue; that we are not betrayed by the force of example or the power of ridicule into a levity or impropriety of speech we may have cause to regret.

3. Let us earnestly implore Divine assistance and Divine restraint.

4. Let us seek habitually to conduct all the intercourse of life with a more vivid impression of our accountability to God. (Essex Remembrancer.)

Not to offend in word, an evidence of a high pitch of virtue

1. A good governance of speech is a strong evidence of a good mind; of a mind pure from vicious desires, calm from disorderly passions, void of dishonest intentions.”

2. From hence, that the use of speech is itself a great ingredient into our practice, and hath a very general influence on whatever we do, may be inferred, that whoever governeth it well cannot also but well order his whole life.

3. To govern the tongue well is a matter of exceeding difficulty, requiring not only hearty goodness, but great judgment and art, together with much vigilance and circumspection; whence the doing it argues a high pitch of virtue.

4. Irregular speech hath commonly more advantages for it, and fewer checks on it, than other bad practices have: that is, a man is apt to speak ill with less dissatisfaction and regret from within; he may do it with less control and hazard from without, than he can act ill.

5. Whereas most of the enormities and troubles whereby the souls of men are defiled and their lives disquieted are the fruits of ill-governed speech, he that by well governing it preserves himself from guilt and inconvenience, must necessarily be, not only a wise and happy, but a good and worthy person.

6. His tongue also so ruled cannot but produce very good fruits of honour to God, of benefit to his neighbour, and of comfort to himself.

7. The observation how unusual this practice is, in any good degree, may strongly assure us of its excellency: for the rarer, especially in morals, any good thing is, the more noble and worthy it is; that rarity arguing somewhat of peculiar difficulty in the attainment of it. (I. Barrow, D. D.)

Offences of speech

The offences of speech are various in kind; so many as there be of thought and of action, unto which they do run parallel: accordingly they well may be distinguished from the difference of objects which they do specially respect. Whence

1. Some of them are committed against God, and confront piety;

2. Others against our neighbour, and violate justice, or charity, or peace;

3. Others against ourselves, infringing sobriety, discretion, or modesty; or,

4. Some are of a more general and abstracted nature, rambling through all matters, and crossing all the heads of duty. Now I shall confine my discourse to the first sort, the offences against piety; and even of them I shall only touch two or three, insinuating some reasons why we should eschew them.

These are--

1. Speaking blasphemously against God, or reproachfully concerning religion, or to the disgrace of piety, with intent to subvert men’s faith in God, or to impair their reverence of Him. This of all impieties is the most prodigiously gigantic, the most signal practice of enmity towards God, and downright waging of war against heaven. Of all “weapons formed against God,” the tongue most notoriously doth impugn Him; for we cannot reach heaven with our hands, or immediately assault God by our actions: other ill-practice indeed obliquely or by consequence dishonoureth God, and defameth goodness; but profane discourse is directly levelled at them.

2. To speak loosely and wantonly about holy things, to make such things the matter of sport and mockery, to play and trifle with them.

3. Rash and vain swearing in common discourse; an offence which now strangely reigns and rages in the world, passing about in a specious garb and under glorious titles, as a gentle and graceful quality, a mark of fine breeding, and a point of high gallantry.

4. Finally, consider, that as we ourselves, with all our members and powers, were chiefly designed and framed to serve and glorify our Maker, so especially our tongue and speaking faculty were given us to declare our admiration and reverence of Him, to express our love and gratitude toward Him, to celebrate His praises, to acknowledge His benefits, to promote His honour and service. (I. Barrow, D. D.)

The tongue

There are two thoughts in this passage distinct from each other. The first is that the tongue is an index of the character. If a man offend not in word, he will offend in no way; if he gets the mastery of that unruly member, you may rely on it he is able to control all the rest of his powers. The doctor, when called in to see a patient, asks at once, “Let me see your tongue.” the man’s physical condition is indicated by the state of his tongue, and, if St. James may be believed, the moral condition of every one is to be determined by the state of the tongue. What is the state of your tongue? The other idea of St. James is more extraordinary still, Not only is the tongue an index of character, it shows what a man is; but the apostle goes beyond that in the figure of the bit which guides the horse, and the helm which turns the ship. The tongue determines character; it makes character; it leads and guides and directs a man into good or bad ways. I solemnly believe this to be true. If, when one is angry, he will refrain from uttering a word, he will soon get the mastery of his temper; he is like a horse held in by the bit; but if he allow himself to begin to speak he will become more and more angry, and like an unrestrained horse or ship, will break over all bounds, and do mischief to himself and others. It is a well-known fact that a man may tell a lie until he comes to believe it himself, while a sort of converse of this is true that a Christian may talk so humbly of himself as unworthy that he shall greatly foster his spiritual pride. (T. H.Pritchard, D. D.)

Temper nine-tenths of religion

It was once pleaded on behalf of a man who had been criticised and condemned as unsatisfactory, that he was “a good man, all but his temper.” “All but his temper!” was the not unreasonable reply, “as if temper were not nine-tenths of religion.” (A. Plummer, D. D.)

Unserviceable because rash

The Adige at Verona appears to be a river quite broad and deep enough for navigation, but its current is so rapid as to make it quite unserviceable. Many men are so rash and impetuous, and at the same time so suddenly angry and excited, that their otherwise most valuable abilities are rendered useless for any good purpose. (C. H.Spurgeon.)

Restraint of the tongue

The habit of restraint in speech was admirably illustrated by Lord Palmerston at the cutlers’ feast in Sheffield, at the time of the great struggle between the North and the South in the United States. Mr. Roebuck had made a violent speech, urging England to side with the South. It was Lord Palmerston’s place to reply, and a word from him might kindle the flames of war. He rose, and every eye was fixed on him. What he said, however, was merely, “I beg to propose a toast--The Ladies!”

Command of the tongue

Learn to hold thy tongue. Five words cost Zacharias forty weeks’ silence. (R. Fuller.)

Control of the tongue

A babbler, being at table with a number of persons, among whom was one of the seven sages of Greece, expressed his astonishment that a man so wise did not utter a single word. The sage instantly replied, “A fool cannot hold his tongue.”

Curbing the tongue, a difficult art

Some men remind one of the young man who was sent to Socrates to learn oratory. On being introduced to the philosopher, he talked so incessantly that Socrates asked for double fees. “Why charge me double?” said the young fellow. “Because,” replied the orator, “I must teach you two sciences; the one how to hold your tongue, and the other how to speak.” The first science is the more difficult. (C. H.Spurgeon.)

Government of tongue

He was a wise philosopher who bound his scholars to a silence of five years, that they might not use their tongues till they knew how to govern them, nor speak till they had something to say.


Verse 3-4

James 3:3-4

We put bits in the horses’ mouths

Similitudes

1.
It is good to illustrate Divine things by similitudes taken from earthly.

2. Nature, art, and religion show that the smallest things, wisely ordered, may be of great use. Neglect not small things; we are often snared by saying, “Is it not a little one?” (Genesis 19:20). And we lose much advantage by “despising the day of small things” (Zechariah 4:10).

3. God’s wisdom is much seen by endowing man with an ability of contrivance and rare invention. You must wait upon the Lord for skill and for success; He teacheth to tame the horse, to steer the ship.

4. From the first similitude you may observe that men, for their natural fierceness and wantonness, are like wild beasts (Psalms 32:19; Psalms 49:12; Deuteronomy 32:15). (T. Manton.)

Turned about with a very small helm

Christian ability

1. We have no capacity, under the natural laws of the soul, as a self-governing creature, to govern successfully anything, except indirectly--that is, by a process of steering. We cannot govern a bad passion or grudge by choking it down, or master a wild ambition by willing it away, or stop the trains of bad thoughts by a direct fight with them, which fight would only keep them still in mind as before--all that we can do in such matters, in the way of self-regulation, is to steer simply the mind off from its grudges, ambitions, bad thoughts, by getting it occupied with good and pure objects that work a diversion.

2. All human doings as regards the soul’s regeneration, or the beginning of a new life, amount to nothing more than the right use of a power that steers it into the sphere of God’s operation. And the reason why so many fail is that they undertake to do the work themselves, wearing away spasmodically to lift themselves over the unknown crises by main strength--as if seizing the ship by its mast, or the main hulk of its body, they weregoing to push it on through the voyage themselves. Whereas it is the work of God, and not in any other sense their own, than that, coming from God by a total trust in Him, they are to have it in God’s working. Let the wind blow where it listeth God will take care of that--they have only just to put themselves to it, and the impossible is done.

3. Christ, as the Son of man, is that small helm put in the hand, so to speak, of our affections to bring us into God’s most interior beauty and perfection, and puts us in the power of His infinite unseen character, thus to be moulded by it and fashioned to conformity with it. And so we have nothing to do but to keep His company and watch for Him in faithful adhesion to His person, in order to be kept in the very element of God’s character, and have the consciousness of God, as a state of continual progressive and immovably steadfast experience. The moral power of God and God’s glory is mirrored directly into us, to become a Divine glory in us. Beholding, as in a glass, the glory of the Lord, we are changed into the same image from glory to glory. This it is, working in our sin, that clears it all away--the power of God unto salvation. (H. Bushnell, D.D.)


Verse 5-6

James 3:5-6

The tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things

The power of the tongue

I.
WORDS ARE THE EXPRESSIONS OF THOUGHTS. Says Max Muller, with concise truth, “The word is the thought incarnate.” The Greek word translated “brotherly love” was unknown until Christianity coined it to declare a new relation revealed to men. It depended upon the Christian Church to exemplify the virtue expressed in the word “humility.” Every word we speak has its history, and in its appointed time each has been added to the library of the world’s thought. “Words are things,” said Mirabeau, and he was right.

II. WORDS, AS INCARNATE THOUGHTS, ARE REVELATIONS OF CHARACTER, The morality both of nations and men is stamped in their words. “The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality-, and without hypocrisy.” The speech of every Peter betrays the man. Just as the despatches of Napoleon were of “glory,” while those of the Iron Duke centred in “duty,” so may their respective characters be known. He whose thoughts are on noble things will never grovel in speech. The “Incarnate Word” was compelled to reach men through their own vernacular, yet the purity of His teaching is as matchless as His own Divine nature. Humanly speaking, the voice of Jacob will always be Jacob’s, though he dissemble Esau. Conversation touching impurity photographs for the world an impure heart. Ecstatic language, like purling brooks, denotes shallowness of thought. Repeated quotations of others’ opinions are proofs of having no substantial opinions of our own. Willingness to speak freely about others’ business is proof positive that we are not attending to our own affairs.

III. THIS POWER OF LANGUAGE DECLARES THE SOLEMNITY OF ITS USE. The spoken word, like an arrow from the quiver, has its mark. Said Hawthorne, “Nothing is more unaccountable than the spell that often lurks in a spoken word.” A kind word has given courage to more than one despondent heart; and, struck by a cruel word, more than one gentle spirit has sobbed itself into the grave. Each word has a meaning, and the word is that meaning sent home to another--a word alive with fear, or joy, or love, or hate. It matters not as to their derivation, the words we speak mean ourselves back of them.

IV. THIS POWER OF SPEECH EMPHASISES THE NECESSITY OF SELF-CONTROL. Man is at the same time a king to rule his tongue and a slave to suffer from its abuse. The school of life deals with a double danger--the arrogant assumptions of self and the oppositions experienced from without. The first is illustrated in the control of the nervous horse held in with bit and bridle; the other means the steadfastness of the ship that no tempest can turn from its course. The helmsman’s duty on the tongue is no easy calling. It requires strength to hold the bits. The small rudder firmly held gives the promise of safety to the ship.

V. OUR WORDS SHALL CONFRONT US AT THE JUDGMENT. We often unwittingly send them on before us, as though they were sand to be blown into the eyes of others, forgetting that they shall blind or bless ourselves. It is serious business to write a book like the “Pilgrim’s Progress,” or its opposite, “The Age of Reason.” It is serious business to declare in speech even the gospel of Christ. It is no meaningless service to expound the Bible in the Sabbath school. It is no less serious when every word of father and mother makes its impression upon the children’s lives, to see that such words are rightly spoken. (Monday Club Sermons.)

The lawless tongue

He speaks of the tongue. He compares the tongue to the helm of a ship. The helm is a little thing in itself, and still more insignificant when compared with the mighty fabric which it controls, and yet it holds the ship to her course. Let the rudder be swept away, or let any part of its gearing break, and the ship is at the mercy of the winds and the waves. Such is the power of the human tongue. Under the control of a sanctified will it keeps the man to his courses headed, as he should be, for the harbour of eternal repose. But the power of the tongue is much more apparent when we consider the widespread mischief which it may cause. A spark will be enough, and if the fire be once started who shall stay its progress? There is hardly a more hideous sight in the world than one of the burnt districts in our Adirondack Mountains; and the saddest thought of all is, that this fated district can never regain what it has lost, can never be what it was. And perhaps a lighted match carelessly thrown among the dry leaves was the cause of it all. “Behold how great a forest a little fire kindleth!” Many families have been broken up, many churches have been disbanded, many communities have been set by the ears--sometimes a whole land has been laid under reproach--by a word maliciously or heedlessly spoken. Then the injuries which the lawless tongue inflicts are for the most part irreparable. There is nothing so hard to heal as a wounded reputation--the scar will always be there--and at the same time there is nothing so sensitive. Scarcely anything cuts so deep as an unkind word. How many hopes the slanderous tongue has blighted I how many hearts it has broken I how many graves it has dug! And they are irreparable wrongs. We may bitterly repent of the sin committed against our brother, we may put forth our utmost endeavours to undo the evil which we have done, but unless we can bring back the dead we cannot repair the injury. And this evil tongue, which gives our brother a wound which can never be healed, is no respecter of persons. It spares neither age nor sex. Genuine goodness, exalted worth, a life devoted to charity, are no protection. Nay, the purest, the sweetest, the holiest, the highest, the most revered and the most beloved, are the surest to be assailed. There is no such joy for an envious man as to drag some great name through the dust. We may, then, well believe what St. James tells us, that the evil tongue is under a diabolic inspiration. The tongue of the liar or the slanderer or the profane swearer is touched by a coal brought from the pit. The man speaks as he is moved by that fallen spirit who wanted to be something more than an archangel, who wanted to be something higher than the Highest. He inspires the talebearer, the gossip, the heedless talker, the obscene jester, and, above all, the malicious libeller. And if this heedless talker, this man so regardless of the feelings of his fellow-men--if this man is a follower of Christ, then his evil-speaking is the profanation of a holy thing. To use this consecrated tongue for any evil purpose is like taking a lamp from the sanctuary to hang up in some den of infamy; it is a desecration, a profanation, a sacrilege in fullest meaning of that awful word. The tongue is spoken of in Scripture as the glory of our frame. It is the tongue which lifts us so far above the inferior orders of creation. They can plan and build, they can love and hate, they can sing and moan; but they cannot speak. They have their cities and governments and granaries; they have their armies and wars and conquests; but they have no words. The tongue arouses a righteous indignation, it awakens a holy enthusiasm, it inflames a people with heroic resolves, and it has won multitudes and multitudes more to the obedience of the faith. The tongue, as if on eagles’ wings, bears our thoughts and thanks and aspirations to the ear of our Father. And shall we let Satan take possession of this glory of our frame? Shall we let him use it to bring his nefarious purposes to pass--this tongue with which we bless man, this tongue with which we praise God? Shall Satan use it to hurt my brother or insult my Father? If the fallen archangel would spread a scandal, if he would wound some good man to the death, if he would send some saintly woman to a premature grave, if he would publish some deadly heresy or cover the slandered daughter of Zion with a cloud, he must have a human tongue to do it; and, to our shame be it said, he has never been hindered by the want of a tongue. I am sure that no man can better begin the day than with this petition: “Set a watch before my mouth.” Nay, even that may not be enough: “Keep Thou the door of my lips.” Let no word this day go forth from my mouth that can hurt my brother or harm the cause or grieve my God. The man who has brought his tongue under complete control has solved the great problem of the Christian life; nothing after that can hold out against him. (J. B. Shaw, D. D.)

The tongue

I. THE LICENSE OF THE TONGUE.

1. The first license given to the tongue is slander. I am not of, course, speaking now of that species of slander against which the law of libel provides a remedy, but of that of which the gospel alone takes cognisance; for the worst injuries which man can do to man are precisely those which are too delicate for law to deal with. Now observe, this slander is compared in the text to poison. The deadliest poisons are those for which no test is known: there are poisons so destructive that a single drop insinuated into the veins produces death in three seconds, and yet no chemical science can separate that virus from the contaminated blood, and show the metallic particles of poison glittering palpably, and say, “Behold, it is there!” In the drop of venom which distils from the sting of the smallest insect, or the spikes of the nettle-leaf, there is concentrated the quintessence of a poison so subtle that the microscope cannot distinguish it, and yet so virulent that it can inflame the blood, irritate the whole constitution, and convert day and night into restless misery. In St. James’s day, as now, it would appear that there were idle men and idle women, who went about from house to house, dropping slander as they went, and yet you could not take up that slander and detect the falsehood there. You could not evaporate the truth in the slow process of the crucible, and then show the residuum of falsehood glittering and visible. You could not fasten upon any word or sentence, and say that it was calumny; for in order to constitute slander it is not necessary that the word spoken should be false--half truths are often more calumnious than whole falsehoods. It is noteven necessary that the word should be distinctly uttered; a dropped lip, an arched eyebrow, a shrugged shoulder, a significant look, an incredulous expression of countenance, nay, even an emphatic silence, may do the work: and when the light and trifling thing which has done the mischief has fluttered off, the venom is left behind, to work and rankle, to inflame hearts, to fever human existence, and to poison human society at the fountain springs of life.

2. The second license given to the tongue is in the way of persecution: “therewith curse we men which are made after the similitude of God.” “We!”--men who bear the name of Christ--curse our brethren! Christians persecuted Christians. Thus even in St. James’s age that spirit had begun, the monstrous fact of Christian persecution; from that day it has continued, through long centuries, up to the present time. We congratulate ourselves that the days of persecution are gone by; but persecution is that which affixes penalties upon views held, instead of upon life led. Is persecution only fire and sword? But suppose a man of sensitive feeling says, The sword is less sharp to me than the slander: fire is less intolerable than the refusal of sympathy!

II. THE GUILT OF THIS LICENSE.

1. The first evil consequence is the harm that a man does himself: “so is the tongue among the members, that it defiles the whole body.” I will take the simplest form in which this injury is done, it effects a dissipation of spiritual energy. There are two ways in which the steam of machinery may find an outlet for its force: it may work, and if so it works silently; or it may escape, and that takes place loudly, in air and noise. There are two ways in which the spiritual energy of a man’s soul may find its vent: it may express itself in action, silently; or in words noisily: but just so much of force as is thrown into the one mode of expression, is taken from the other. Few men suspect how much mere talk fritters away spiritual energy,--that which should be spent in action, spends itself in words. In these days of loud profession, and bitter, fluent condemnation, it is well for us to learn the Divine force of silence. Remember Christ in the Judgment Hall, the very symbol and incarnation of spiritual strength: and yet when revilings were loud around Him and charges multiplied, “He held His peace.”

2. The next feature in the guilt of calumny is its uncontrollable character: “the tongue can no man tame.” You cannot arrest a calumnious tongue, you cannot arrest the calumny itself; you may refute a slanderer, you may trace home a slander to its source, you may expose the author of it, you may by that exposure give a lesson so severe as to make the repetition of the offence appear impossible; but the fatal habit is incorrigible: to-morrow the tongue is at work again. Neither can you stop the consequences of a slander; you may publicly prove its falsehood, you may sift every atom, explain and annihilate it, and yet, years after you had thought that all had been disposed of for ever, the mention of a name wakes up associations in the mind of some one who heard the calumny, but never heard or never attended to the refutation, or who has only a vague and confused recollection of the whole, and he asks the question doubtfully, “But were there not some suspicious circumstances connected with him?” It is like the Greek fire used in ancient warfare, which burned unquenched beneath the water, or like the weeds which when you have extirpated them in one place are sprouting forth vigorously in another spot, at the distance of many hundred yards; or, it is like the wheel which catches fire as it goes, and burns with a fiercer conflagration as its own speed increases. You may tame the wild beast, the conflagration of the American forest will cease when all the timber and the dry underwood is consumed; but you cannot arrest the progress of that cruel word which you uttered carelessly yesterday; that will go on slaying, poisoning, burning beyond your own control, now and for ever.

3. The third element of guilt lies in the unnaturalness of calumny. “My brethren, these things ought not so to be”; ought not--that is, they are unnatural. That this is St. James’s meaning is evident from the second illustration which follows: “Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?” “Can the fig-tree, my brethren, bear olive berries, or a vine, figs?” The truest definition of evil is that which represents it as something contrary to nature: evil is evil, because it is unnatural; a vine which should bear olive berries, an eye to which blue seems yellow, would be diseased: an unnatural mother, an unnatural son, an unnatural act, are the strongest terms of condemnation. It is this view which Christianity gives of moral evil: the teaching of Christ was the recall of man to nature, not an infusion of something new into humanity. Now the nature of man is to adore God and to love what is god-like in man. The office of the tongue is to bless. Slander is guilty because it contradicts this; yet even in slander itself, perversion as it is, the interest of man in man is still distinguishable. What is it but perverted interest which makes the acts, and words, and thoughts of his brethren, even in their evil, a matter of such strange delight? Remember therefore, this contradicts your nature and your destiny; to speak ill of others makes you a monster in God’s world: get the habit of slander, and then there is not a stream which bubbles fresh from the heart of nature,--there is not a tree that silently brings forth its genial fruit in its appointed season,--which does not rebuke and proclaim “you to be a monstrous anomaly in God’s world.

4. The fourth point of guilt is the diabolical character of slander; the tongue “is set on fire of hell.” Now, this is no mere strong, expression--no mere indignant vituperation--it contains deep and emphatic meaning. The apostle means literally what he says, slander is diabolical. The first illustration we give of this is contained in the very meaning of the word devil. “Devil,” in the original, means traducer or slanderer. The first introduction of a demon spirit is found connected with a slanderous insinuation against the Almighty, implying that His command had been given in envy of His creature: “for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” There is another mode in which the fearful accuracy of St. James’s charge may be demonstrated. There is one state only from which there is said to be no recovery--there is but one sin that is called unpardonable. To call evil, good, and good, evil--to see the Divinest good, and call it Satanic evil--below this lowest deep there is not a lower still. There is no cure for mortification of the flesh--there is no remedy for ossification of the heart. Oh I that miserable state, when to the jaundiced eye all good transforms itself into evil, and the very instruments of health become the poison of disease. Beware of every approach of this! Beware of that spirit which controversy fosters, of watching only for the evil in the character of an antagonist! Beware of that habit which becomes the slanderer’s life, of magnifying every speck of evil and closing the eye to goodness!--till at last men arrive at the state in which generous, universal love (which is heaven) becomes impossible, and a suspicious, universal hate takes possession of the heart, and that is hell! Before we conclude, let us get at the root of the matter. “Man,” says the Apostle James, “was made in the image of God”; to slander man is to slander God: to love what is good in man is to love it in God. Love is the only remedy for slander: no set of rules or restrictions can stop it; we may denounce, but we shall denounce in vain. The radical cure of it is Charity--“out of a pure heart and faith unfeigned,” to feel what is great in the human character; to recognise with delight all high, and generous, and beautiful actions; to find a joy even in seeing the good qualities of your bitterest opponents, and to admire those qualities even in those with whom you have least sympathy--this is the only spirit which can heal the love of slander and of calumny.If we would bless God, we must first learn to bless man, who is made in the image of God. (F. W. Robertsort, M. A.)

Boastful speech

1. A usual sin of the tongue is boasting. Sometimes the pride of the heart shooteth out by the eyes (Proverbs 6:17); but usually it is displayed in our speech. The tongue trumpeteth it out--

2. Small things are to be regarded; and we must not consider matters in their beginning only, but progress, and ultimate issue. A little sin doth a great deal of mischief, and a little grace is of great efficacy Ecclesiastes 10:13). (T. Manton.)

The use of the tongue

Talk, chat, confer, converse. But don’t gossip, and don’t slander. It is not often that the tongue is accused of laziness. It is generally thought to be quite too busy. It is called “the unruly member,” and so it is, not because it will wag, but because it will not wag in the right direction. What volumes have been written upon restraining this most important article of speech! Quaint old Quarles says: “Give not thy tongue too great liberty lest it take thee prisoner.” “Evil speaking,” said the great Brighton divine--and he knew too well what he said--“is like a freezing wind, that seals up the sparkling waters and tender juices of flowers, and binds up the hearts of men in uncharitableness and bitterness of spirit, as the earth is bound up in the grip of winter.” Half the lawsuits and half the wars, it may be safely asserted, have been brought about by the tongue.

Husband and wife have separated for ever, children have forsaken their homes, bosom friends have become bitter foes--all on account of fiery arrows shot by this little member. And yet, rightly used, the tongue is a most valuable factor of society. “The music of the tongue:’ has passed into a proverb, along with its kind and timely words, earnest words, sincere words, good words, cheery words, hopeful, helpful words. What a blessing it has been and is! God be thanked for speech, the head and heart utterances which have been the hope, the joy, the comfort, the warning, the help of all people, all races, through all the ages! Next to proclaiming the everlasting truths of a free gospel, and the raising of the voice in prayer and praise, one of the best uses to which the tongue can be put is conversation. There is altogether too little of it. People talk, and we know some who can listen; but conversely the generality of people do not. Yet no other form of speech is so interesting or so edifying. How Socrates discoursed--not talked only, but could listen, compare options, and discuss them! And Plato: is it any wonder that when he discoursed the Greeks thought that Jupiter had visited the earth? All truth is two-sided; and he who sees but one side when he might have both, is like the knights, each of whom saw but one side of the shield, and that the one hidden from the other; and happy for him if the issue be not so serious. The truth is, in the hurry and worry of our life of to-day--more hurried than ever before--the race of conversationists is fast dying out, and bids to disappear with the moose and the elk, which naturalists tell us will not survive the century; and scarcely anything is a subject for more profound regret. Conversation ought to be cultivated, and especially should homely people qualify themselves for conversation, and they would not be thought homely then, just as the brilliancy of Madame de Stall’s conversation triumphed so far over the plainness of her features that Curran said that she had the power of talking herself into a beauty.

The great effects of the tongue

“Boasteth great things”--does not mean vaingloriously boastful--magnifying its own powers and its own doings. It rather means, it has great things to boast of--to boast of with truth. The object being to show the wonderful power and efficacy of so “little a member,” this is the only sense of the words that is at all to the apostle’s purpose. How prodigious have been the effects of the tongue! How marvellously has it both stirred and stilled the passions of men! How often has it, by a very whisper, infuriated millions, and roused a desolating tempest of popular commotion! and how often by the charms of its eloquence, laid the conflicting elements of such a storm to rest! The great things which it has done have many a time, alas! been bad things: and then, when it boasts, it “glories in its shame.” But not the less may they be manifestations of power. It has a power for evil, as well as for good: and more frequent have been the proofs, alas! of the former than of the latter; as, indeed, the corruption of our nature might have led us to anticipate. (R. Wardlaw, D. D.)

The injury which may be wrought by an insignificant thing

In the Fisheries Exhibition there was exhibited a “cable-worm” that had pierced through the Atlantic Cable and stopped the communication between two continents. It was a very insignificant little creature, but its power for mischief was unlimited. (H. O. Mackey.)

How great a matter a little fire kindleth

The gradual progress of evil

It is a great point of wisdom to know how to estimate little things. Of those which are evidently great every one can see the importance; but true wisdom looks at these great objects before they have arrived at their full size. She considers that it is principally in this earlier state that they come under the power of man, and can be arranged, modified, increased, or extinguished at his pleasure; whereas in a more advanced stage, they set at defiance all his efforts. Behold a conflagration! With what dreadful fury it rages! The largest houses are devoured by it in a moment! Yet this fire, which now resists the united wisdom and power of man, originated from a small spark, and might at first have been extinguished by a child. Look also at yon tree, which is now so firmly rooted in the earth, which rears its lofty head so high, and bears its flourishing honours so thick upon it! It was once only a small seed; it was then a tender plant, so slender and so weak that the foot of accident might have crushed it, or the hand of negligence or wantonness have torn it up. Thus does Nature point out to us the growth of the strongest things from weak and almost imperceptible beginnings. And if we look into the moral world we shall find that they are not there to be considered as of less importance. Behold an abandoned and hardened murderer, who is about to receive from the hands of public justice the ignominious punishment due to his crimes! Would you know by what means he arrived at such a dreadful pitch of sin? It was one little step taken after another which brought him to it! Contemplate also the unhappy woman whose licentious conduct has banished her from the society of her own sex, and whose shameless impudence makes her shunned by all but the most worthless. To what shall we attribute this dreadful accumulation of crime? Perhaps it may have been one, the evil of which is little suspected. It is, indeed, a small spark which kindleth such a fire. It may have been only the love of admiration.

1. Let me remark, then, that evil passions in their early stage do not wear the disgusting appearance which they afterwards do when they are carried to excess. The buds even of the most noxious weeds appear pretty. The most savage animals, while yet young, only amuse us with their gambols as they lie in ambush for their prey or spring upon it. But however harmless their mirth may then be, it is easy to perceive in it the spirit which by and by will tear to pieces with fury the quivering victim.

2. I observe, further, that the foundation of all great vices is laid in those little things which often are scarcely noticed, or scarcely appear to need correction. It is by little things that habits are formed and principles become established. They resemble the spots or eruptions which sometimes appear in the human body, which are of no material importance in themselves, but are of great consequence when they are considered aa indicating a general unsoundness of constitution. It should be remembered that principle is as truly sacrificed by little offences as by great ones.

3. I remark, also, that little sins are the steps by which we travel on to greater acts of transgression. Temptation has, in general, but little force, except when it solicits to those sins which have often before been committed, or which are but a single degree beyond what we have been accustomed to commit. Thus persons are brought imperceptibly to practices and principles which would once have shocked them.

4. It follows, therefore, that little sins are what, most of all, ought to be attended to and resisted. Watch against the beginnings. The spark may soon be extinguished, but the conflagration rages with irresistible fury. The first channel by which confined waters run over their banks may soon be stopped; but by and by it becomes a torrent which tears down the mounds and spreads itself with desolating fury. Here, therefore, religion will most successfully operate in restraining at first the evil disposition as soon as it arises; in watching against those little sins by which corrupt principles and corrupt dispositions are chiefly gratified and nourished.

5. This subject presents useful lessons of instruction to parents. They form the minds of their children. And it is too much to be feared that many of those unhappy persons who have been brought to ruin have been brought to it chiefly by the operation of those very principles which their parents instilled into them and encouraged.

6. The consideration of the subject of my discourse should lead us also to deep humiliation on account of our great corruption, and to earnest prayers for the grace of Christ to pardon and to cleanse us.

7. And as we see evil arrive at its perfection by small gradations, so let us remember that good advances in the same manner. We should not despise little things, either in what is good or bad; for “he that despiseth little things shall fall by little and little.” The character is formed very much from the repetition of little acts; and a progress in religion is made by small successive steps, none of which ought to be despised. Try to do a little, and that little will prepare you for more. Take the first step, and that will prepare the way for a second. (J. Venn, M. A.)

Small in origin, widespread in issue

A circumstance, probably without a parallel even in the history of the United States, is reported in advices received from Ashland, Wisconsin territory

(1888), viz., the destruction of the town of Wakefield by fire through the mischievousness of a monkey. The monkey was located in the Vaudeville Theatre, and had the freedom of the place. During the evening of the 25th, he got to some kerosene and covered himself with the oil. He then set fire to himself with a lamp which was burning in the room, and then appeared at the window of the theatre amusing the people. Presently the building was in flames, and the monkey running about in its frenzy set fire to other places. The buildings in the town were of wood, and the conflagration spread from place to, place, until the whole of the town was burnt down. Gangs of roughs during the progress of the fire commenced looting the stores, and in most instances the flames had scarcely reached the respective places before the robbers commenced sacking the premises. The owners tried to protect their stores, and in the encounters many pistol shots were exchanged. The proprietor of the theatre was a man named O’Brien, and between him and a storekeeper named Lewis, whose premises were destroyed, an altercation took place, Lewis blaming O’Brien for allowing the monkey to be in the theatre. O’Brien became enraged, and shot Lewis twice with a revolver, wounding him mortally. (J. F. B. Tinling, B. A.)

Importance of little things

He that despiseth little things, shall perish by little and little. (Son of Sirach.)

From little to great

A fire at first no bigger than the flame of a taper may consume a mansion or a palace. One Roman soldier’s torch flung into the holiest of all, burned down to the ground the temple of the Lord, in the days of Titus.

From little to great

As the smallest spark will, if duly fanned, kindle a vast pyre, so is the least element of virtue capable of growth till the whole nature of the man glows with a new warmth and brightness. (Philo.)

Act and habit

I knew a lad once, a pleasant, open-hearted, merry boy as you ever saw. He was grown old enough to leave school and go to work. “Come,” said a companion one day, “come into the publichouse and have a glass.” He held back for a minute; he had never done it before, and he felt it was wrong. “Oh, come on! “cried his friend, laughing, and taking his arm. “You must not be too particular, you know.” “Well,” thought the lad to himself, “it’s only once and only just a little.” It was the same thing over again the next day. Then two or three times a day, and still it was only just once and only just a little. Down this wretched alley, with its miserable houses and its miserable people and its miserable children, see what looks like a heap of rags. And now he lifts the foul face of a drunkard, a face so bleared and blotted that you shrink back from it frightened. “Only just once, and only just a little”--this is what it has turned him into. (M. G.Pearse.)

Influence of little things

A little wheel in a vast machine may, if neglected, throw the results of that machine into destructive confusion. A little miscalculation in some process of high mathematical thought may issue in an enormous and damaging mistake. A little spark may fire a prairie; a little leak may sink a ship; a little seed may hold a future forest growth of good or evil. A dislodged stone in your pathway may seem to you to be a thing too trivial for notice, yet it may draw down the notice of an angel. That stone may cause a fall, the fall a fracture, and the fracture death; therefore it is written, “He shall give His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.” Some slight unchronicled incident in your experience may colour your life for eternity. Some noteless action may be the germ of a power that shall spread through all the earth, and fill all hell with heightened sorrow, or all heaven with praise. (C. Stanford, D. D.)

The tiny mother of mischief

The mother of mischief may be no bigger than a gnat’s wing.

Fire a dangerous plaything

A child playing with a box of matches caused the destruction of two hundred and thirty-two houses in the Hungarian village of Nemedi, reducing the whole population to bankruptcy.

The tongue is a fire

Sins of the tongue

St. James goes on to say that the tongue “setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.” The word “course” is, in the original, wheel or circle of nature, and may mean the generations of men succeeding each other with the rapidity of the revolutions of a wheel; or the course of a man’s life; or the circle of human affairs. Each of these ideas might have been in the mind of the apostle, because the tongue does set on fire a whole generation of men; does ignite the whole course of a man’s life; and does make the circle of social life to blaze under its fiery appliances. But St. James goes on to say of this tongue, which is itself a fire, that “it is set on fire of hell.” The idea is that the tongue derives all its power to do harm from the evil influences which have their origin in hell. St. James illustrates still further the power of the tongue by comparing it with ferocious beasts and other animals, and pronouncing it more ferocious and untamable than anything on earth. You can sooner make the condor of the Andes perch upon your wrist; you can sooner make leviathan sport with you in the cresting surf; you can sooner make the boa-constrictor coil harmlessly around your neck; you can sooner make the lion so gentle that a little child can lead him, than tame the tongue; for “the tongue,” he says, “can no man tame.” What a strong declaration this is concerning the power of the tongue! Well may he say” it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.” If we look into other portions of the Bible we shall find further metaphors to indicate the power of the tongue. Job calls it “a scourge or a whip” whose every blow inflicts severe wounds on the character and leaves its purple welts on the lacerated peace and reputation. Daniel styles the tongue “a sharp sword,” a murderous weapon, which hews down those upon whom it falls, and drips with the gore of slaughtered innocence or virtue. Jeremiah says of the tongue, it “is an arrow, shot out.” A pointed arrow shot by wicked archers, against those whom they wish to pierce through with anguish, and yet themselves keep at a distance from the one whose good name they aim to destroy. St. Paul, speaking of the lips through which the tongue speaks, says “the poison of asps is under their lips”; and St. James says it is full of deadly poison. Such being the general outlines of the character of an evil tongue, let us now descend to some particular sins of the tongue, because only as we expose those sins can their vileness and influence be made apparent.

1. The first tongue-sin which I will name is that of tattling; by this I mean a thoughtless, trifling, heedless talking. There is a process in chemistry by which you can arrest the invisible gas, and weigh it, and separate it into its constituent elements; and were there moral re-agents by which we could arrest the gaseous tattle of these busybodies, and resolve it into its elements, its constituent parts would be folly, slander, falsehood, flattery, and boastfulness.

2. The second tongue-sin is slander. Under this head I enumerate backbiting, or speaking evil of one behind his back; defaming one’s good name by absolute or implied censure; detraction, envious jealousies, secret whisperings, and innuendoes, and all other ways by which the tongue wounds and injures the name and reputation of another. The devil, then, is, as Christ says, “the father of lies”; and every one who gives his tongue to slander, and maligns his neighbours, or utters words of falsehood or detraction, comes into the class of those false accusers, those Diaboloi of which Jesus truly said, “Ye are of your father the devil.” The grossest kind of slander is bearing false witness: that is, saying a person did things which he did not do. This false witness is sometimes spoken openly, sometimes in secret, but always with malicious intent; and in every instance the tongue which utters it, not only setteth on fire the course of nature, but is set on fire of hell. Another way of slandering is to impute false motives to good actions. When we say of a liberal man that he is vainglorious; of an active man in Church affairs, that he is a Diotrephes; of a prudent man, that he is miserly; of a devout man, that he is hypocritical. Another way is to distort views, words, and actions; giving them a false construction; suppressing what might appear good; magnifying what might seem to be evil. This is taking a man’s words and deeds, and, like Romish inquisitors, stretching them upon the rack until they become disjointed, and the once symmetrical form is all distorted and awry by reason of the unjust treatment to which slander subjects it. Another way is by insinuations, sly suggestions, expressions of doubt, intimations as to something concealed, a qualifying of the praise of others by some question implying distrust, or lack of confidence.

3. The third tongue-sin which St. James mentions is the fretful, scolding tongue. There are those who are always complaining. Even if blessings come, they murmur because they are no greater, and are ready to find fault, not only with all the dealings of their fellow-men, but with all the providences of God.

4. Falsehood is another grievous tongue-sin; and in this I would include all kinds of lying. The lie positive, and the lie negative; the lie direct, and the lie by implication; the lie malignant, and the lie sportive; every designed departure from truth is falsehood; and every falsehood is a sin against one’s own soul, a sin against your fellow-men, and a sin against God, which He will punish with fearful severity.

5. The tongue commits a great sin when it is used in filthy talking and indecent speech. It is greatly to be lamented that even in polite, and what would pass for modest, society there is too much of tampering with this sin.

6. Another tongue-sin is boasting. “The tongue is a little member, but boasteth great things.” Boasting results from an overestimate of ourselves, and an underestimate of others. It is selfishness manifesting itself in words. It is the inflated mind, venting itself in windy words. It betrays weakness, littleness, ignorance, vanity, self-conceit, arrogance, presumption.

7. Another sin of the tongue is flattery, or the giving of undue and undeserved praise. The desire to say something that will please the person we are speaking to, or that will secure his favour, or elevate us in his regard; or the desire, perhaps, to have him reciprocate the compliment, and flatter us, is the usual motive for this sin of the tongue.

8. Lastly, there is the sin of profanity, the taking of God’s name in vain. With what caution use an instrument of speech which has under it “the poison of asps”! With what assiduity should we seek to tame that most untamable of things, that it rends us not by its fierceness, and ravin not upon society by its brute-like goadings! Yet we cannot do this in our own strength or wisdom, and our prayer must be that of the Psalmist, “Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth. Keep the door of my lips.” We must seek for Divine grace to aid us in subduing and controlling the tongue. We must seek to have hearts created anew in Christ Jesus; for if our hearts are right with God our speech will be also. (Bp. Stevens.)

The government of the tongue

The keeping of the tongue is one of those duties that entitles a man to safety from evil times, and therefore must now be urged as a seasonable duty. The wisest monarch could hardly govern a great part of the world; how difficult then must it be to govern a world, and that a world of iniquity. The tongue is a world of iniquity, a heap of evils; as in the world many things are contained, so in the tongue. This world of iniquity is divided into two parts, undue silence, and sinful speaking. These are the higher and lower parts of this world, yet quickly may men travel from the one to the other.

I. UNDUE SILENCE, WHEN THE TONGUE RESTS IDLE, WHEN GOD CALLS IT TO WORK. Our tongues are our glory, and should not be involved in a dark cloud of silence when God calls them to shine forth.

1. Silence is unseasonable when sin rageth and roareth. Oar tongues testify that we are men, and they should show we are Christians and in a covenant with God, offensive and defensive. By this undue silence we are injurious to God, in that we do not vindicate His glory, bespattered with the sins of others. His glory, I say, Who hath given us a tongue as a banner to be displayed because of truth. This undue silence is also injurious to our neighbour. We see him pulling down the house about his ears, and yet we will not help him; selling his soul for a trifle, and yet we do not bid him rue his bargain. It is injurious likewise to ourselves, for thereby we adopt the devil’s children brought forth by others, and set down their debts to our own account (Ephesians 5:7-11). This silence also leaves a sting in our conscience, which remains inactive in the hearts of some for a while; but when the opportunity of bearing testimony against sin is gone, it bites dreadfully the hearts of those whose consciences are not seared.

2. When an opportunity of edifying others inviteth us to speak. Oh, what iniquity is contracted by the neglect of heavenly discourse among professors! A dumb Christian is a very unprofitable servant. A philosopher, seeing a man with a fair face and a silent tongue, bade him speak that he might see him. When scholars or merchants meet, we know what they are by their discourse; and why should not Christians also discover themselves?

3. Silence is unseasonable when our wants are crying. These should make us cry to God, like that woman who cried to the king of Israel, saying, “Help, my Lord, O King.”

II. SINFUL SPEAKING: WHEN THE TONGUE IS EXERCISED, BUT ILL EXERCISED AND THIS IS A STRONG PIECE OF THIS WORLD OF INIQUITY. I may divide it again into two parts--one against our duty to God, the other against our duty to man.

1. Against our duty to God.

2. Against our duty to man.

(a) He that raiseth a false report of his neighbour (Exodus 23:1). Here is a true son of the devil, with malice and lying in conjunction.

(b) He who readily reports it, though he knows it to be false, as readily receives, though he is not sure it is true.

(c) He that spreads it. (T. Boston, D. D.)

Sins of the tongue

1. The evil tongue is the silent tongue; it is wholly mute in matters of religion; it never speaks of God or of heaven, as if it cleaved to the roof of the mouth.

2. The evil tongue is the earthly tongue. Men talk of nothing but the world, as if all their hopes were here, and they looked for an earthly eternity.

3. The evil tongue is the hasty or angry tongue; they have no command of passions, but are carried away with them as a chariot with wild horses.

4. The evil tongue is the vain tongue, that vents itself in idle words: “under his tongue is vanity.” A vain tongue shows a light heart; a good man’s words are weighty and prudent: “the tongue of the just is as choice silver,” but “the mouth of fools pours out foolishness.”

5. The evil tongue is the censorious tongue: “who art thou that judgest another?” Were men’s hearts more humble, their tongues would be more charitable.

6. The evil tongue is the slanderous tongue. A slanderer wounds another’s fame, and no physician can heal these wounds. The sword doth not make so deep a wound as the tongue.

7. The evil tongue is the unclean tongue that vents itself in filthy and scurrilous words: “let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth.”

8. The evil tongue is the lying tongue: “lie not one to another.” Nothing is more contrary to God than a lie; it shows much irreligion; lying is a sin that doth not go alone, it ushers in other sins. Absalom told his father a lie, that he was going to pay his vow at Hebron, and this lie was a preface to his treason.

9. The evil tongue is the flattering tongue, that will speak fair to one’s face but will defame: “he that hateth, dissembleth with his lips.” When he speaketh fair believe him not; dissembled love is worse than hatred.

10. The evil tongue is the tongue given to boasting: “the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things.” There is a holy boasting: “In God we boast all the day,” when we triumph in His power and mercy: but it is a sinful boasting when men display their trophies, boast of their own worth and eminency, that others may admire and cry them up; a man’s self is his idol, and he loves to have this idol worshipped: “there arose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody.”

11. The evil tongue is the swearing tongue. Some think it the grace of their speech; but if God will reckon with men for idle words, what will He do for sinful oaths?

12. The railing tongue is an evil tongue; this is a plague-sore breaking out at the tongue when we give opprobrious language.

13. The seducing tongue is an evil tongue. The tongue that by fine rhetoric decoys men to error: “by fair speeches they deceive the hearts of the simple.” A fair tongue can put off bad wares; error is bad ware, which a seducing tongue can put off.

14. The evil tongue is the cruel tongue, that speaks to the wounding the hearts of others. Healing words are fittest for a broken heart: but that is a cruel, unmerciful tongue which speaks such words to the afflicted as to cut them to the heart: “they talk to the grief of those whom Thou hast wounded.”

15. The evil tongue is the murmuring tongue: “these are murmurers.” Murmuring is discontent breaking out at the lips; men quarrel with God, and tax His providence as if He had not dealt well with them. Why should any murmur or be discontented at their condition? Doth God owe them anything? Or can they deserve anything at His hands? Oh, how uncomely is it to murmur at Providence I

16. The evil tongue is the scoffing tongue.

17. The evil tongue is the unjust tongue: that will for a piece of money open its mouth in a bad cause. (T. Watson.)

The tongue a fire

1. There is a resemblance between an evil tongue and fire.

2. There is a world of sin in the tongue. Some sins are formal and proper to this member, others flow from it. It acteth in some sins, as lying, railing, swearing, &c. It concurreth to others, by commanding, counselling, persuading, seducing, &c. It is made the pander to lust and sin. Oh! how vile are we if there be a world of sin in the tongue--in one member!

3. Sin is a defilement and a blot.

4. Tongue sins do much defile. They defile others. We communicate evil to others, either by carnal suggestions, or provoke them to evil by our passion. They defile ourselves. By speaking evil of them we contract guilt upon ourselves.

5. All evil tongue hath a great influence upon other members. When a man speaketh evil, he will commit it. When the tongue hath the boldness to talk

49 of sin, the rest of the members have the boldness to act it (1 Corinthians 15:33).

6. The evils of the tongue are of a large and universal influence, diffuse themselves into all conditions and states of life. There is no faculty which the tongue doth not poison, from the understanding to the locomotive; it violently stirreth up the will and affections, maketh the hands and the feet “swift to shed blood” (Romans 3:14-15). There is no action which it doth not reach; not only those of ordinary conversation, by lying, swearing, censuring, etc., but holy duties, as prayer, and those direct and higher addresses to God, by foolish babbling and carnal requests; we would have God revenge our private quarrel. There is no age exempted; it is not only found in young men that are of eager and fervorous spirits, but in those whom age and experience hath more matured and ripened. Other sins decay with age, this many times increaseth; and we grow more forward and pettish as natural strength decayeth, and “the days come on in which is no pleasure.”

7. A wicked tongue is of an infernal origin. Calumnies and reproaches are a fire blown up by the breath of hell. The devil hath been “a liar from the beginning” (John 8:44), and an accuser of the brethren, and he loveth to make others like himself. Learn, then, to abhor revilings, contentions, and reproaches, as you would hell flames; these are but the eruptions of an infernal fire; slanderers are the devil’s slaves and instruments. Again, if blasted with contumely, learn to slight it; who would care for the suggestions of the father of lies? The murderer is a liar. In short, that which cometh from hell will go thither again (Matthew 5:22). (T. Manton.)

Misuse of the tongue

Some time ago I saw a terrible fire, or rather the reflection of it in the sky; the heavens were crimsoned with it. It burned a large manufactory to the ground, and the firemen had hard work to save the buildings which surrounded it. They poured streams of water on it from fifteen engines, but it licked it up, and would have its course till the walls gave way. That terrible fire was kindled by farthing rushlight! Some years ago I saw the black ashes of what the night before was a cheerful farmyard, with its hay-ricks, corn.stacks, stables, and cow-sheds; and lying about upon them were the carcases of a number of miserable horses and bullocks which had perished in the flames. All that was done by a lucifer-match! In America the Indians strike a spark from a flint and steel, and set fire to the dry grass, and the flames spread and spread until they sweep like a roaring torrent over prairies as large as England, and men and cattle have to flee for their lives. “And the tongue is a fire.” A few rash words will set a family, a neighbourhood, a nation, by the ears; they have often done so. Half the law-suits and half the wars have been brought about by the tongue. (James Bolton.)

Mischief of the tongue

Give not thy tongue too great a liberty, lest it take thee prisoner. A word unspoken is, like the sword in the scabbard, thine; if vented, thy sword is in another’s hand. If thou desire to be held wise, be so wise as to hold thy tongue. (Quarles.)

A world of iniquity

The tongue a world of wickedness

It is a world of wickedness, because most mischiefs and greatest sins among men by unbridled and wicked tongues are attempted and performed. By the tongue thieves confer together and determine of robberies; murderers by their tongues raise up brawlings, the causes of cruel murder. By their tongues adulterous and treacherous persons first tempt the chastity of others, and with their words agree upon the wickedness. By the tongue lying, dissembling, flattery, and counterfeiting is committed. By the tongue slander, backbiting, swearing, blasphemy, and perjury is uttered. By the tongue false sentence is pronounced, either to the condemning of the righteous or absolving of the wicked, both which are abominable before the Lord. By the tongue men are led into error through false doctrine, drawn to wickedness by lewd counsel. Through the tongue, by false reports, private men and princes, kingdoms and countries, towns and cities, societies and families, are set at variance. By the tongue familiars and friends have been set at daggers drawn, and their quarrels thereby have ended in blood. By the tongue quarrels are picked, contentions caused, brawlings grow, to the great hurt of private estates, and the marvellous hurt and disturbance of public weals; with filthiness of speech it corrupteth, with dissembling and flattery it deceiveth, with lying and cogging it beguileth, with false reports it slayeth, with slanders it defameth, with vain swearing it blasphemeth, with enticing it inveigleth, with smoothness of talk it enforceth, yea, almost every wickedness among the children of men is either determined, attempted, executed, or finished by the tongue. Insomuch that Sirach, having great experience thereof, falleth into a large discourse of those evils which come of the wicked tongue, as that it hath destroyed many which were at peace, that it hath disquieted many and driven them from nation to nation, that it hath broken down strong cities and overthrown the houses of great men, abated the strength of the people, and been the decay of mighty nations; that it hath cast down many virtuous women and robbed them of their labours, that it causeth that such as hearken unto it shall never rest and live quietly, that it striketh deeper than any rod, and devoureth more than the sword of the enemy, and such like. (R. Turnbull.)

A world of iniquity

A new-found world, Not a city or country only, but “a world of iniquity”; a sink, a sea of sin, wherein there is not only that leviathan, but creeping things innumerable (Psalms 104:26). (J. Trapp.)

The tongue defiles

Leaving a stain upon the speaker, and setting a stain upon the hearer, even the guilt and filth of sin. (J. Trapp.)

The evil tongue destructive

The tongue is a centre from which mischief radiates; that is the main thought. A wheel that has caught fire at the axle is at last wholly consumed as the fire spreads through the spokes to the circumference. So also in society. Passions kindled by unscrupulous language spread through various channels and classes, till the whole cycle of human life is in flames. Reckless language first of all “defiles the whole” nature of the man who employs it, and then works destruction far and wide through the vast machinery of society. And to this there are no limits; so long as there is material the fire will continue to burn. (A. Plummer, D. D.)

Bet on fire of hell

The tongue hell ignited

The tongue is a fire, but how is it ignited? Whence come the sparks which make it blaze so fiercely and fatally? The answer is here plainly given. It is hell-lighted. The devil perverted man’s powers at first; and he still inflames the corruption which he was the means of introducing into our nature. He applies the torch to the combustible materials which are stored up in every part of our mental and physical constitution. He is still the great tempter and destroyer. He is an actual and an active being. His prison-house, the pit of hell, is a terrible reality. Men may doubt or deny its existence--they may regard it as a mere bugbear, but that only proves how effectually Satan can yet blindfold, mislead, hoodwink, as he did at the beginning--“Thou shalt not surely die.” It is the region of devouring flames, of unquenchable fire; and to it we are ultimately to trace those baleful conflagrations which the tongue is the instrument of kindling. It is here identified with the devil and his angels, for whom it has been provided, and who send forth from it all evil and destructive influences. (John Adam.)

Talk the devil’s ammunition

The devil keeps an arsenal in every man’s breast, which he fills with supplies in advance of a siege, just in the same way that a great general places his stores in a country he means to invade before he marches into it his entire army. Satan is more artful, as well as more potent, for he gets inside of a citadel that he means to besiege, and lays there a train which in the moment of assault he hopes to ignite. The powder which he thus trusts to touch is passion, for he knows that if that once explodes, the whole edifice must go. Take the temptation of anger. Suppose an irritating circumstance occurs: it is silence alone that can preserve the heart from an explosion. If a single word is uttered, it is apt, like the making of a pinhole in a steam boiler, to cause the whole fabric to burst. Talk, to use the word in its popular sense, is extremely impolitic in temptation. There is a majestic power in silence, particularly when it is silence of that kind which stands as a suppliant before the throne of grace.

A fiery tongue

Of Dr. Annesley it is recorded that, taking coffee one evening at an hotel, he heard one of two gentlemen in the next compartment swearing violently in conversation with the other, upon which he rang for the waiter and ordered a glass of water. When brought to him he said, “Take it to the gentleman in the next box.” The gentleman was surprised, and said he had ordered no such thing. “I thought,” said the venerable doctor, gravely, “to cool your tongue after the fiery language you have been uttering.” (Baxendale’s Anecdotes.)

The tongue afire

Just before crossing the Hackensack River, on the New York and Erie Railroad, I noticed by the roadside a large sign bearing, in very boldly painted letters, the words,” Shut your ash-pan.” I wondered what the singular and impertinent counsel meant, when in a moment I found the train on a long levy wooden bridge. I at once saw the force and propriety of the signboard suggestion. Burning coals dropping from the open ash-pan of the locomotive might destroy the bridge, interrupt travel, imperil life, and cause numberless embarrassments in a financial way. So it is very important that the faithful engineer heed the sigfiboard, “Shut your ash-pan.” I saw in the admonition a reminder of the words of James, “The tongue is a fire.”

Setting on fire the wheel of life

The functions of a wheel, set on fire by the internal friction of its own axis, are deranged; and so the organisation of human society is disturbed and destroyed by the intestine fire of the human tongue--a fire which diffuses itself from the centre, and radiates forth to the circumference by all the spokes of slander and detraction, and involves the social framework in combustion and conflagration. (J. T.Mombert, D. D.)

The tongue captured, all else may follow

Let him who has one member belonging to hell take care lest he do not altogether belong to it. He is like a bird whose foot the fowler has bound with a thread: he can fly about apparently free, but still he is in the fowler’s power; and if he does not break the thread while it is yet time, the fowler draws him to himself by means of it, and at the fitting moment catches him and kills him. (J. H. A. Ebrard, D. D.)


Verse 7-8

James 3:7-8

The tongue can no man tame

The taming of the tongue

The intense practicalness of James as a religious teacher leads him directly to this topic of the taming of the tongue.
Here he sees, what every man to whom behaviour is a chief concern must see, one of the pivotal points of character. The religion that does not rule the speech is a failure and a fraud. The tongue, in the figure of James, is a wild beast that needs taming--fierce, reasonless, uncontrollable. A good part of the evils of life arise from its depredations.

1. First, of course, is the lying tongue. Of all the evils of speech falsehood is central and seminal.

2. Next to the lying tongue we must put the reviling tongue.

3. After the reviling tongue the foul tongue must be reckoned--the tongue that is the channel through which the impurities of a bad heart discharge themselves; the tongue that deals in indecent speech.

4. Next we think of the passionate tongue; the tongue that hastens to give voice to the anger and the hate that arise within. Anger, the Latin poet said, is a brief insanity; and when it begins to rage within the breast it needs to be chained and kept under till its paroxysm is past. But the mischievous tongue sometimes sets it loose and becomes its servitor--to hurl missiles of hot and stinging words right and left, doing damage that it is hard to repair.

5. The sarcastic tongue is another kind that needs taming. Sarcasm has its uses, no doubt; in our warfare with incorrigible evil-doers we must sometimes resort to it; but in the common intercourse of life it is scarcely more legitimate than the cudgel or the rapier. The arrows of sarcasm are barbed with contempt; that is what makes them rankle so; and contempt is a feeling that a good man cannot afford to indulge.

6. The scolding tongue is another kind that calls for a curb. Reproofs must be spoken, but sometimes there are too many of them, and their tone is too impatient, or too harsh, or too loud. Reproof must sometimes be severe, but it may be severe without being petulant.

7. The flattering tongue is a tongue that needs the bit. Honest and hearty praise is not to be avoided; we do not have half enough of it. Many are toiling on, heartsick and hopeless, to whom such a word of recognition would be as cold water to a thirsty soul. But this is not flattery. Flattery is either false praise, or praise addressed, not to the quality of our actions so much as to our excellences of person or that which is external to us. To praise your child’s looks, and so stimulate his vanity, that is flattery, a most nauseous exhibition of it; and the tongue that indulges in it ought to be bridled. But the worst kind of flattery is that which seeks to please, and so to entice, by artful and insincere praises. This is a species of lying, of course; but it is a species so mean and dangerous that it needs to be singled out and denounced.

8. The chattering tongue is another kind that needs restraint and discipline. A few people are too taciturn; a great many are too talkative. Such endless prattle is an encroachment on other people’s rights. How much time is consumed in attending to words that are utterly destitute of thought, that convey no ideas and impart no benefits! How many things we might have done that were worth doing, how many things we might have thought of that were worth thinking of, while we were listening! But what is worse, it is debilitating to the one who indulges in it. He talks so much that he has no time to think. “Set a watch, C God,” prayed the psalmist, “before my mouth; keep the door of my lips.” The trouble with some of these constant talkers-seems to be that there is no door to their lips, nothing but a doorway.

9. The last kind of tongue I shall mention that needs taming is the slanderous tongue. To speak evil of their neighbours is to some men and women a positive luxury. You would use harsh words about a man who got his living by retailing scandal, orally, for five cents a customer; what have you to say about the man who spices his newspaper with such items to make it sell? “But the tongue can no man tame.” So much the more need, then, that a power stronger than man’s should be invoked to subdue its unruliness and mitigate its fierceness. Such a Divine power the fables of all the peoples have celebrated; the power that tames the wildest beasts, and makes the tiger as gentle and docile as a lamb. The mythic song of Amphion is but a prelude of the triumph of the Prince of Peace, under whose blessed reign all savage and noxious creatures shall learn obedience and service. He at whose word the demoniac ceased his ravings, and the savage seas hushed their tumult--He who has the power and the purpose to subdue all things unto Himself--can cause the lying tongue to speak verities, and the reviling tongue to praise and bless, and the passionate tongue to be silent when the anger rises, and the foul tongue to utter purity, and the sarcastic tongue to temper its severities, and the scolding tongue to learn gentleness, and the flattering tongue to speak with sincerity, and the chattering tongue to be more discreet, and the talebearing tongue to be still. (W. Gladden, D. D.)

Taming the tongue

1. The tractableness of the beasts to man, and the disobedience of man to Isaiah 1:3). Fallen man may go to school to the beasts to learn mildness and obedience; and yet God hath more power to subdue, and we have more reason to obey,

2. The greatness of man’s folly and impotency in governing his own soul. Though he tameth other things, he doth not tame himself.

3. The deepness of man’s misery. Our own art and skill is able to tame the fiercest beasts, and make them serviceable; beasts as strong as lions and elephants; fishes that do, as it were, inhabit another world; birds as swift almost as a thought; serpents hurtful and noxious. But, alas! there is more rebellion in our affections; sin is stronger, all our art will not tame it.

4. Art and skill to subdue creatures is a relic and argument of our old superiority. The heathens discerned we had once a dominion, and the Scriptures plainly assert it (Genesis 1:26). (T. Manton.)

The taming of the tongue

Here is a single proposition, guarded with a double reason. The proposition is, “No man can tame the tongue.” The reasons--

1. It is “unruly.”

2. “Full of deadly poison.” As the proposition is backed with two reasons, so each reason hath a terrible second. The evil hath for its second unruliness; the poisonfulness being deadly.

It is evil, yea, unruly evil; it is poison, yea, deadly poison.

1. In the proposition we will observe--

2. The insubjectable subject is the tongue, which is--

1. It is a member. He that made all made the tongue; he that craves all must have the tongue. It is an instrument; let it give music to Him that made it. All creatures in their kind bless God (Psalms 148:1-14). They that want tongues, as the heavens, sun, stars, meteors, orbs, elements, praise Him with such obedient testimonies as their insensible natures can afford. They that have tongues, though they want reason, praise Him with those natural organs. Man, then, that hath a tongue, and a reason to guide it, and more, a religion to direct his reason, should much more bless Him. Not that praise can add to God’s glory, nor blasphemies detract from it. As the sun is neither bettered by birds singing, nor battered by dogs barking. Yet we that cannot make His name greater can make it seem greater; and though we cannot enlarge His glory, we may enlarge the manifestation of His glory. This both in words praising and in works practising. They that before little regarded Him may thus be brought to esteem Him greatly; giving Him the honour due to His name, and glorifying Him, after our example. This is the tongue’s office. Every member, without arrogating any merit, or boasting the beholdenness of the rest unto it, is to do that duty which is assigned to it. The tongue is man’s clapper, and is given him that he may sound out the praise of his Maker. Infinite causes draw deservingly from man’s lips a devout acknowledgment of Gods praise.

2. It is a member you hear; we must take it with all its properties; excellent, necessary, little, singular.

(4) It is a singular member. God hath given man two ears; one to hear instructions of human knowledge, the other to hearken to His Divine precepts; the former to conserve his body, the latter to save his soul. Two eyes, that with the one he might see to his own way, with the other pity and commiserate his distressed brethren. Two hands, that with the one he might work for his own living, with the other give and relieve his brother’s wants. Two feet, one to walk on common days to his ordinary labour Psalms 104:23); the other, on sacred days to visit and frequent the temple and the congregation of saints. But among all, He hath given him but one tongue, which may instruct him to hear twice so much as he speaks; to work and walk twice so much as he speaks (Psalms 139:14). Stay and wonder at the wonderful wisdom of God! First, to create so little a piece of flesh, and to put such vigour into it; to give it neither bones nor nerves, yet to make it stronger than arms and legs, and those most able and serviceable parts of the body. Secondly, because it is so forcible, therefore hath the most wise God ordained that it shall be but little, that it shall be but one. That so the parvity and singularity may abate the vigour of it. Thirdly, because it is so unruly, the Lord hath hedged it in, as a man will not trust a wild horse in an open pasture, but prison him in a close pound. A double fence hath the Creator given to confine it, the lips and the teeth; that through these mounds it might not break. And hence a threefold instruction for the use of the tongue is insinuated to us. First, let us not dare to pull up God’s mounds; nor, like wild beasts, break through the circular limits wherein He hath cooped us. “Weigh thy words in a balance, and make a door and bar for thy mouth.” Let this be the possession thou so hedgest in, and thy precious gold thou so bindest up. “Beware thou slide not by it, lest thou fall before him that lieth in wait.” Commit not burglary by breaking the doors and pulling down the bars of thy mouth. Much more, when the Lord hath hung a lock on it, do not pick it with a false key. Rather pray with David (Psalms 51:15). It is absurd in building to make the porch bigger than the house; it is as monstrous in nature when a man’s words are too many, too mighty. Let thy words be few, true, weighty, that thou mayest not speak much, not falsely, not vainly. Remember the bounds, and keep the non ultra. Secondly, since God hath made the tongue one, have not thou “a tongue and a tongue.” It is made simple; let it; not be double. Thirdly, this convinceth them of preposterous folly, that put all their malice into their tongue, as the serpent all her poison in her tail; and as it were by a chemical power, attract all vigour thither, to the weakening and enervation of the other parts.

3. We see the nature of the thing to be tamed, the tongue; let us consider the difficulty of this enterprise. No man can do it. Which we shall best find if we compare it--

1. With other members of the body, which are various in their faculties and offices; none of them idle.

2. With other creatures of the world, whether we find them in the earth, air, or water.

The tongue is but the hand without, to show how the clock goes within.

1. It is “an unruly evil.” The difficulty of taming the tongue, one would think, were sufficiently expressed in the evil of it; but the apostle seconds it with another obstacle, signifying the wild nature of it--unruly. It is not only an evil, but an unruly evil.

2. “Full of deadly poison.” Poison is loathsomely contrary to man’s nature; but there is a poison not mortal, the venom whereof may be expelled; that is “deadly poison.” Yet if there was but a little of this resident in the wicked tongue, the danger were less; nay, it is full of it, “full of deadly poison.” It is observable that which way soever a wicked man useth his tongue, he cannot use it well. He bites by detraction, licks by flattery: and either of these touches rankle; he doth no less hurt by licking than by biting. All the parts of his mouth are instruments of wickedness. Logicians, in the difference betwixt vocem and sonum, say that a voice is made by the tips, teeth, throat, tongue. The lips are the porter, and that is fraud; the porch, the teeth, and there is malice; the entertainer, the tongue, and there is lying; the receiver, the throat, and there is devouring. I cannot omit the moral of that old fable. Three children call one man father, who brought them up. “Dying, he bequeaths all his estate only to one of them, as his true natural son; but which that one was left uncertain. Hereupon every one claims it. The wise magistrate, for speedy decision of so great an ambiguity, causeth the dead father to be set up as a mark, promising the challengers that which of them could shoot next his heart, should enjoy the patrimony. The elder shoots, so doth the second; both hit. But when it came to the younger’s turn, he utterly refused to shoot; good nature would not let him wound that man dead, that bred and fed him living. Therefore the judge gave all to this son, reputing the former bastards. The scope of it is plain, but significant. God will never give them the legacy of glory, given by His Son’s will to children, that like bastards shoot through, and wound His blessed name. Think of this, ye swearing and cursing tongues! To conclude, God shall punish such tongues in their own kind; they were full of poison, and the poison of another stench shall swell them. They have been inflamed, and shall be tormented with the fire of hell. Burning shall be added to burning, save that the first was active, this passive. But blessed is the sanctified tongue. God doth now choose it as an instrument of music to sing His praise; He doth water it with the saving dews of His mercy, and will at last advance it to glory. (T. Adams.)

The tongue hardly tamed

1. The tongue is hardly tamed and subdued to any right use. No human art and power can ever find a remedy and curb for it.

2. There is an unbridled license and violence in the tongue (Job 32:19). When the mind is big with the conception, the tongue is earnest to utter it Psalms 39:3). Meeken the heart into a sweet submission, lest discontent seek the vent of murmuring.

3. A wicked tongue is venomous and hurtful; us Bernard observeth, it killeth three at once--him that is slandered, his fame by ill report; him to whom it is told, his belief with a lie; and himself with the sin of detraction. Bless God when you escape those deadly bites, the fangs of detraction. (T. Manton.)

All kinds of creatures tamed by man

The assertion may seem at first somewhat hyperbolical, but the well-known cases of tame rats and tame wasps, the lion of Androcles, and the white fawn of Sertorius, furnish what may well be termed “crucial instances” in support of it. The story related by Cassian, that St. John in his old age kept a tame partridge, makes it probable that St. James may have seen, among his fellow-teachers, such an instance of the power of man to tame the varied forms of animal life around him. (Dean Plumptre.)

The tongue untamable

Men have gained the ascendancy over many evils which it has pleased God should be intermingled with the course of earthly things; they have been able to encounter and overcome them. Many poisons in minerals, plants, or animals, have been rendered harmless, or turned to beneficial purposes. But to tame the tongue, this most unruly of all evils, to neutralise this deadliest of poisons, to regulate this most refractory agent, has surpassed the power of mortals. The laws of nature have been partially ascertained, and are becoming every day more fully known to us, in proportion as the human mind succeeds in diving into the depths of nature, and investigating her counsels and mysteries. Hence there is a gradual development of intelligence and power, of patient and persevering investigation; hence each generation avails itself of the experience of the preceding; one nation extends the hand of brotherly union to another, and even inquiries apparently unsuccessful at the time, have in the end led to beneficial results. Oh, why has the result been so very different when attempts have been made to gain the supremacy over sin, and to bring under the law of the Spirit only a single member of our frame, that has been under the domination of sin! Oh, here are more profound depths, more hidden mysteries, than in “all the nature of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents.” Here are greater wonders than in all the wonders of the deep! This baffles the most acute understanding, the most powerful will, the most determined industry of man! (B. Jacobi.)

A “not-under-control” signal

When anything goes wrong with a ship at sea which prevents her from being moved or answering the helm, she is bound to put up a signal, so that other ships may keep at a safe distance. This, which is called the “not-under-control” signal, consists of three iron balls. It would be well if some of us could put up “not-under-control” signals at times when our tempers are not what they should be. Indeed, we know of one man who used to do this. He was an eccentric author, and when, owing to preoccupation of mind, or any ether circumstance, he was likely to be peevish and snappish to his family, he would stick on his forehead a red wafer. This was a danger signal, telling every one to keep out of his way. (Quiver.)

The malignant propensity of the tongue

It is an untamable, venomous beast. It combines the ferocity of the tiger and the mockery of the ape with the subtlety and venom of the serpent. (A. Plummer, D. D.)

Scandal a poison

Scandal, hydra-headed, poison-ranged, lives on the garbage of the world, and slays even after it is seemingly killed. There is a story of a cobra which got into a West Indian church during service. Some one saw it, went quietly out, procured a weapon, and coming back, cut off the snake’s head. After the service the people went to look at the animal, and a native touched the dead head with his foot. He drew it back with a cry of pain, and in an hour he was dead. The poison-fangs had power to kill, though their owner was dead. (Christian Age.)

“An unruly evil”

In the “Shepherd” of Hermas (ii. 2), calumny is described as a “restless demon.” (Cambridge Bible for Schools.)


Verse 9

James 3:9; James 3:12

Therewith bless we God

The moral contradictions in the reckless talker

In these concluding sentences of the paragraph respecting sins of the tongue St.
James does two things--he shows the moral chaos to which the Christian who fails to control his tongue is reduced, and he thereby shows such a man how vain it is for him to hope that the worship which he offers to Almighty God can be pure and acceptable. He has made himself the channel of hellish influences. He cannot at pleasure make himself the channel of heavenly influences, or become the offerer of holy sacrifices. A man who curses his fellow-men, and then blesses God, is like one who professes the profoundest respect for his sovereign, while he insults the royal family, throws mud at the royal portraits, and ostentatiously disregards the royal wishes. It is further proof of the evil character of the tongue that it is capable of lending itself to such chaotic activity. “Therewith bless we the Lord and Father,”
i.e., God in His might and in His love; “and therewith curse we men, which are made after the likeness of God.” The heathen fable tells us the apparent contradiction of being able to blow both hot and cold with the same breath; and the son of Sirach points out that “if thou blow the spark, it shall burn; if thou Spit upon it, it shall be quenched; and both these come out of thy mouth” (Sirach 28:12). St. James, who may have had this passage in his mind, shows us that there is a real and a moral contradiction which goes far beyond either of these: “Out of the same mouth cometh forth blessing and cursing.” Well may he add, with affectionate earnestness, “My brethren, these things ought not so to be.” Assuredly they ought not; and yet how common the contradiction has been, and still is, among those who seem to be, and who think themselves to be, religious people! There is perhaps no particular in which persons professing to have a desire to serve God are more ready to invade His prerogatives than in venturing to denounce those who differ from themselves, and are supposed to be therefore under the ban of Heaven. There are many questions which have to be carefully considered and answered before a Christian mouth, which has been consecrated to the praise of our Lord and Father, ought to venture to utter denunciations against others who worship the same God and are also His offspring and His image. Is it quite certain that the supposed evil is something which God abhors; that those whom we would denounce are responsible for it; that denunciation of them will do any good; that this is the proper time for such denunciation; that we are the proper persons to utter it? The illustrations of the fountain and the fig-tree are among the touches which, if they do not indicate one who is familiar with Palestine, at any rate agree well with the fact that the writer of this Epistle was such. Springs tainted with salt or with sulphur are not rare, and it is stated that most of those on the eastern slope of the hill-country of Judaea are brackish. The fig-tree, the vine, and the olive were abundant throughout the whole country; and St. James, if he looked out of the window as he was writing, would be likely enough to see all three. It is not improbable that in one or more of the illustrations he is following some ancient saying or proverb. Thus, Arrian, the pupil of Epictetus, writing less than a century later, asks, “How can a vine grow, not vinewise, but olivewise, or an olive, on the other hand, not olivewise, but vinewise? It is impossible, inconceivable.” It is possible that our Lord Himself, when He used a similar illustration in connection with the worst of all sins of the tongue, was adapting a proverb already in use (Matthew 12:33-36). And previously, in the Sermon on the Mount, where He is speaking of deeds rather than of Matthew 7:16-18). Can it be the case that while physical contradictions are not permitted in the lower classes of unconscious objects, moral contradictions of a very monstrous kind are allowed in the highest of all earthly creatures? Just as the double-minded man is judged by his doubts, and not by his forms of prayer, so the double-tongued man is judged by his curses, and not by his forms of praise. In each case one or the other of the two contradictories is not real. If there is prayer, there are no doubts; and if there are doubts, there is no prayer--no prayer that will avail with God. So also in the other case: if God is sincerely and heartily blessed, there will be no cursing of His children; and if there is such cursing, God cannot acceptably be blessed; the very words of praise, coming from such lips, will be an offence to Him. But it may be urged, our Lord Himself has set us an example of strong denunciation in the woes which He pronounced upon the scribes and Pharisees; and again, St. Paul cursed Hymensaeus and Alexander (1 Timothy 1:20), the incestuous person at Corinth (1 Corinthians 5:5), and Elymas the sorcerer Acts 13:10). Most true. But firstly, these curses were uttered by those who could not err in such things. Christ “knew what was in man,” and could read the hearts of all; and the fact that St. Paul’s curses were supernaturally fulfilled proves that he was acting under Divine guidance in what he said. And secondly, these stern utterances had their source in love; not, as human curses commonly have, in hate. And let us remember the proportion which such things bear to the rest of Christ’s words and of St. Paul’s words, so far as they have been preserved for us. All this applies with much force to those who believe themselves to be called upon to denounce and curse all such as seem to them to be enemies of God and His truth: but with how much more force to those who in moments of anger and irritation deal in execrations on their own account, and curse a fellow-Christian, not because he seems to them to have offended God, but because he has offended themselves! That such persons should suppose that their polluted mouths can offer acceptable praises to the Lord and Father, is indeed a moral contradiction of the most startling kind. The writer of this Epistle has been accused of exaggeration. It has been urged that in this strongly worded paragraph he himself is guilty of that unchastened language which he is so eager to condemn; that the case is over-stated, and that the highly-coloured picture is a caricature. Is there any thoughtful person of large experience that can honestly assent to this verdict? Who has not seen what mischief may be done by a single utterance of mockery, or enmity, or bravado; what confusion is wrought by exaggeration, innuendo, and falsehood; what suffering is inflicted by slanderous suggestions and statements; what careers of sin have been begun by impure stories and filthy jests? All these effects may follow, be it remembered, from a single utterance in each case, may spread to multitudes, may last for years. One reckless word may blight whole life. And there are persons who habitually pour forth such things, who never pass a day without uttering what is unkind, or false, or impure. (A. Plummer, D. D.)

The tongue--its blessing and cursing

I. THE INCONSISTENCY OF THE TONGUE.

1. Its blessing of God. This is the great end for which the human tongue exists--this the highest employment in which it can be engaged. We do this in various ways. We thus bless Him in our praises. These are sung either more privately in our own dwellings or more publicly in the sanctuary. He requires, above everything, the soul, but He will have the body also; the members and organs of the one, not less than the faculties and affections of the other. We thus bless God also in our prayers, whether these be secret, domestic, or public. In them adoring and thankful praises constitute no small or subordinate element. We extol the Lord for His infinite perfections, we give Him the glory due unto His great and holy name. We testify our obligations to Him for His mercies without number, and lay offerings of grateful homage on His altar.

2. Its cursing of men. Even the most orthodox and charitable Christians are not wholly exempt from this tendency. We are far too ready to pass sentence on our brethren, and in effect, if not in form, to curse such as do not happen to agree with us in some respects, and these, it may be, of quite secondary importance. Everything of this sort is of the nature of cursing--it partakes in one degree or another of that character. And mark the aggravating circumstance, that which involves the frightful inconsistency charged against the tongue--“men, which are made after the similitude of God.” We were at first created in His image, stamped with His moral lineaments in knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness. And in a sense too, as the, language here obviously implies, we still bear that likeness. Such cursing is in reality a cursing of God Himself whom we yet bless--a cursing of Him in man, who is not only His workmanship, but His reflection, His image--not merely a being formed by His hand, but formed after His likeness. We cannot keep the first table of the law, and at the same time set at nought the second. The strangely, outrageously inconsistent nature of the whole proceeding is still more forcibly exhibited by bringing the two contrary things together, placing them side by side, presenting them in sharpest contrast (James 3:10). There it is that the flagrant, shocking contradiction appears.

II. THE UNNATURALNESS OF THIS INCONSISTENCY (James 3:11-12). “Doth a fountain send forth at the same place”--the same hole, chink, or fissure, as in the rock whence it issues--“sweet water and bitter?” No--nothing of this kind is ever witnessed. The water which flows from the spring may have either, but it cannot have both of these qualities. It may indeed afterwards undergo a change, it may lose its original properties, and be turned into the opposite of what it was, by reason of the soil through which it runs, or the purposes to which it is applied. What was sweet may by certain mixtures become bitter. But at first, in its own nature, and apart from all foreign ingredients, it is wholly the one or the other. There is no inconsistency in the material region. He passes to a higher department, the vegetable kingdom, and shows that there too plants and trees bring forth a single kind of fruit, and that which is suited to the order, the species to which they belong. “Can the fig-tree, my brethren, bear olive-berries, either a vine figs?” Of course it cannot. Any such thing would be a monstrosity. Titan, returning to the spring, not without reference to the internal, hidden source from which all our words proceed, be adds, “So can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.” He wishes to fix attention on the inconsistency manifested in the use of the tongue, and lead them to the right explanation of its origin. This anomaly does seem to be exhibited in the moral world, if not in the material. But it is so more in appearance than in reality. That water is often the same which looks different. What to some tastes and tests is fresh, when thoroughly examined, is found to be salt as the ocean. Much that to our earthly senses is sweet, to the spiritually-discerning is bitter indeed. Thus the blessing of many is formal, if not even false, having nothing gracious in it, no love or homage of the heart, no element or quality fitted to render it acceptable to the great object of worship. In its origin and essence it is not opposed to, nor, indeed, different from the cursing of man, with which it is associated. The latter reveals the true nature of the common source, or there may be two fountains where only one is perceptible. The former supposition applies to nominal and hypocritical Christians--this latter to living, genuine believers. They have an old man and a new, corruption and grace both existing and working within them; and as the one or the other gains the ascendancy, and, for the time, governs the tongue, the stream of discourse that issues from it is wholesome or deleterious--fresh as that of the bubbling spring, or salt as that of the briny deep. (John Adam.)

The evil tongue

St. James uses three special arguments to restrain Christians from the unruly use of the tongue: the first is the inconsistency of the thing--that the heart touched by the Holy Spirit should do the works of the flesh--that the fountain which hath been purified should again flow with bitter waters and the servants of Christ should serve Belial We have promised to study the strains of angels, and become familiar with and adopt them as our own; so that instead of being now a Babel of confusion, the Church may utter but one language in the presence of the Lamb; and how very inconsistent that from such lips cursing should proceed--how very inconsistent if any of you who have been now repeating David’s psalms, the notes of heaven, should to-morrow be found uttering an oath, or even using a passionate expression. It is bad enough for one who only professes Christianity to use the language of the devil, but it is a greater inconsistency when out of the same mouth proceeds blessing and cursing--when you, the same person, bless God, yet curse His image. Let the wicked do it; the heathen who is without God, and without Christ, if it must be. “He that is unjust,” &c. But a Christian man--a man who has been baptized into the Holy Trinity; a man who readsthe Bible, and comes into God’s house and worships there: a man who joins himself to the company of the saints, dead and living, and takes into his mouth the same words, the same prayers, the same Scripture passages with them;--nay, the man who perhaps approaches the awful mystery of the Body and Blood of His Lord;-that from such a mouth should proceed the gibes and imprecations of lost spirits, is it not shockingly inconsistent? Next, St. James reminds us of the consequences both to others and ourselves. “Behold how great a matter a little fire kindleth, awed the tongue is a fire.” How far may a single spark dropped among stubble reach! Bow does it steal along the floor, creep up the wall, envelop the roof, spread from house to house, and seize churches and noble buildings, till it wrap a whole city in conflagration! So does a single word dropped unadvisedly. If a soft answer turneth away wrath, on the other hand “grievous words stir up anger.” If you reply quietly to a provocation, or refuse to answer, the quarrel dies; but one word draws on another, and wrath kindleth wrath; and that is made eternal which might have been extinguished if only one had been a Christian. You see, then, how great a matter a little fire kindleth. Is it surprising “if of every idle word we shall give an account at the judgment”? But again, you say something injurious of your neighbour. There is a little truth in it, but much more falsehood. It has been added to, and enlarged, and swollen into a crime. But you repeat it. The story spreads. It is told everywhere, and though it wounds your neighbour to death, and from the calumny he loses all acquaintances and friends, yet you cannot recall it now. See “how great a matter a little fire kindleth.” Again, you utter impure words before a child, the child treasures them up all through his life; though he lives sixty or seventy years, unhappy being, his thoughts and language take their complexion from your words; but besides, to how many has lie communicated what he first heard from you! Mark again, “how great a little fire kindleth.” Surely the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity, and setteth on fire the course of nature. To conclude: if we will not restrain our members by the aid of God’s Spirit, and especially that member which St. Peter calls “an unruly evil, full of deadly poison”; if we will, in the indulgence of a wilful spirit, scatter firebrands about, unkind, malicious, polluting, or injurious words, wide-spread as the evil may be, will it stop short with others? No, it will return upon ourselves; which “setteth on fire the course of nature, and it is set on fire of hell.” The fire which hath gone forth spreading and consuming, at the judgment hour is stopped in its course, and rolling back again is concentrated on the tongue which gave it existence. You who uttered the word, which has done such mischief to thousands, and ruined so many souls, now feel its burning effects in your own person. Ought not this to make you careful of your words, those winged words, which once launched forth take a flight you know not whither? (J. M. Chaunter, M. A.)

Made after the similitude of God

Man made after God’s image

This image of God consisteth in three things--

1. In His nature, which was intellectual. God gave him a rational soul, spiritual, simple, immortal, free in its choice; yea, in the body there were some rays and strictures of the Divine glory and majesty.

2. In those qualities of “knowledge” (Colossians 3:10); “righteousness” Ecclesiastes 7:29); and “true holiness” (Ephesians 4:24).

3. In his state, in a happy confluence of all inward and outward blessings, as the enjoyment of God, power over the creatures, &c. But now this image is in a great part defaced and lost, and can only be restored in Christ. Well, then, this was the g, eat privilege of our creation, to be made like God: the more we resemble Him the more happy. Oh! remember the height of your original. We press men to walk worthy of their extraction. Those potters that were of a servile spirit disgraced the kingly family and line of which they came (1 Chronicles 4:22). Plutarch saith of Alexander, that he was wont to heighten his courage by remembering he came of the gods. Remember you were made after the image of God; do not deface it in yourselves, or render it liable to contempt, by giving others occasion to revile you. (T. Manton.)


Verses 9-12

Verse 12

James 3:9; James 3:12

Therewith bless we God

The moral contradictions in the reckless talker

In these concluding sentences of the paragraph respecting sins of the tongue St.
James does two things--he shows the moral chaos to which the Christian who fails to control his tongue is reduced, and he thereby shows such a man how vain it is for him to hope that the worship which he offers to Almighty God can be pure and acceptable. He has made himself the channel of hellish influences. He cannot at pleasure make himself the channel of heavenly influences, or become the offerer of holy sacrifices. A man who curses his fellow-men, and then blesses God, is like one who professes the profoundest respect for his sovereign, while he insults the royal family, throws mud at the royal portraits, and ostentatiously disregards the royal wishes. It is further proof of the evil character of the tongue that it is capable of lending itself to such chaotic activity. “Therewith bless we the Lord and Father,”
i.e., God in His might and in His love; “and therewith curse we men, which are made after the likeness of God.” The heathen fable tells us the apparent contradiction of being able to blow both hot and cold with the same breath; and the son of Sirach points out that “if thou blow the spark, it shall burn; if thou Spit upon it, it shall be quenched; and both these come out of thy mouth” (Sirach 28:12). St. James, who may have had this passage in his mind, shows us that there is a real and a moral contradiction which goes far beyond either of these: “Out of the same mouth cometh forth blessing and cursing.” Well may he add, with affectionate earnestness, “My brethren, these things ought not so to be.” Assuredly they ought not; and yet how common the contradiction has been, and still is, among those who seem to be, and who think themselves to be, religious people! There is perhaps no particular in which persons professing to have a desire to serve God are more ready to invade His prerogatives than in venturing to denounce those who differ from themselves, and are supposed to be therefore under the ban of Heaven. There are many questions which have to be carefully considered and answered before a Christian mouth, which has been consecrated to the praise of our Lord and Father, ought to venture to utter denunciations against others who worship the same God and are also His offspring and His image. Is it quite certain that the supposed evil is something which God abhors; that those whom we would denounce are responsible for it; that denunciation of them will do any good; that this is the proper time for such denunciation; that we are the proper persons to utter it? The illustrations of the fountain and the fig-tree are among the touches which, if they do not indicate one who is familiar with Palestine, at any rate agree well with the fact that the writer of this Epistle was such. Springs tainted with salt or with sulphur are not rare, and it is stated that most of those on the eastern slope of the hill-country of Judaea are brackish. The fig-tree, the vine, and the olive were abundant throughout the whole country; and St. James, if he looked out of the window as he was writing, would be likely enough to see all three. It is not improbable that in one or more of the illustrations he is following some ancient saying or proverb. Thus, Arrian, the pupil of Epictetus, writing less than a century later, asks, “How can a vine grow, not vinewise, but olivewise, or an olive, on the other hand, not olivewise, but vinewise? It is impossible, inconceivable.” It is possible that our Lord Himself, when He used a similar illustration in connection with the worst of all sins of the tongue, was adapting a proverb already in use (Matthew 12:33-36). And previously, in the Sermon on the Mount, where He is speaking of deeds rather than of Matthew 7:16-18). Can it be the case that while physical contradictions are not permitted in the lower classes of unconscious objects, moral contradictions of a very monstrous kind are allowed in the highest of all earthly creatures? Just as the double-minded man is judged by his doubts, and not by his forms of prayer, so the double-tongued man is judged by his curses, and not by his forms of praise. In each case one or the other of the two contradictories is not real. If there is prayer, there are no doubts; and if there are doubts, there is no prayer--no prayer that will avail with God. So also in the other case: if God is sincerely and heartily blessed, there will be no cursing of His children; and if there is such cursing, God cannot acceptably be blessed; the very words of praise, coming from such lips, will be an offence to Him. But it may be urged, our Lord Himself has set us an example of strong denunciation in the woes which He pronounced upon the scribes and Pharisees; and again, St. Paul cursed Hymensaeus and Alexander (1 Timothy 1:20), the incestuous person at Corinth (1 Corinthians 5:5), and Elymas the sorcerer Acts 13:10). Most true. But firstly, these curses were uttered by those who could not err in such things. Christ “knew what was in man,” and could read the hearts of all; and the fact that St. Paul’s curses were supernaturally fulfilled proves that he was acting under Divine guidance in what he said. And secondly, these stern utterances had their source in love; not, as human curses commonly have, in hate. And let us remember the proportion which such things bear to the rest of Christ’s words and of St. Paul’s words, so far as they have been preserved for us. All this applies with much force to those who believe themselves to be called upon to denounce and curse all such as seem to them to be enemies of God and His truth: but with how much more force to those who in moments of anger and irritation deal in execrations on their own account, and curse a fellow-Christian, not because he seems to them to have offended God, but because he has offended themselves! That such persons should suppose that their polluted mouths can offer acceptable praises to the Lord and Father, is indeed a moral contradiction of the most startling kind. The writer of this Epistle has been accused of exaggeration. It has been urged that in this strongly worded paragraph he himself is guilty of that unchastened language which he is so eager to condemn; that the case is over-stated, and that the highly-coloured picture is a caricature. Is there any thoughtful person of large experience that can honestly assent to this verdict? Who has not seen what mischief may be done by a single utterance of mockery, or enmity, or bravado; what confusion is wrought by exaggeration, innuendo, and falsehood; what suffering is inflicted by slanderous suggestions and statements; what careers of sin have been begun by impure stories and filthy jests? All these effects may follow, be it remembered, from a single utterance in each case, may spread to multitudes, may last for years. One reckless word may blight whole life. And there are persons who habitually pour forth such things, who never pass a day without uttering what is unkind, or false, or impure. (A. Plummer, D. D.)

The tongue--its blessing and cursing

I. THE INCONSISTENCY OF THE TONGUE.

1. Its blessing of God. This is the great end for which the human tongue exists--this the highest employment in which it can be engaged. We do this in various ways. We thus bless Him in our praises. These are sung either more privately in our own dwellings or more publicly in the sanctuary. He requires, above everything, the soul, but He will have the body also; the members and organs of the one, not less than the faculties and affections of the other. We thus bless God also in our prayers, whether these be secret, domestic, or public. In them adoring and thankful praises constitute no small or subordinate element. We extol the Lord for His infinite perfections, we give Him the glory due unto His great and holy name. We testify our obligations to Him for His mercies without number, and lay offerings of grateful homage on His altar.

2. Its cursing of men. Even the most orthodox and charitable Christians are not wholly exempt from this tendency. We are far too ready to pass sentence on our brethren, and in effect, if not in form, to curse such as do not happen to agree with us in some respects, and these, it may be, of quite secondary importance. Everything of this sort is of the nature of cursing--it partakes in one degree or another of that character. And mark the aggravating circumstance, that which involves the frightful inconsistency charged against the tongue--“men, which are made after the similitude of God.” We were at first created in His image, stamped with His moral lineaments in knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness. And in a sense too, as the, language here obviously implies, we still bear that likeness. Such cursing is in reality a cursing of God Himself whom we yet bless--a cursing of Him in man, who is not only His workmanship, but His reflection, His image--not merely a being formed by His hand, but formed after His likeness. We cannot keep the first table of the law, and at the same time set at nought the second. The strangely, outrageously inconsistent nature of the whole proceeding is still more forcibly exhibited by bringing the two contrary things together, placing them side by side, presenting them in sharpest contrast (James 3:10). There it is that the flagrant, shocking contradiction appears.

II. THE UNNATURALNESS OF THIS INCONSISTENCY (James 3:11-12). “Doth a fountain send forth at the same place”--the same hole, chink, or fissure, as in the rock whence it issues--“sweet water and bitter?” No--nothing of this kind is ever witnessed. The water which flows from the spring may have either, but it cannot have both of these qualities. It may indeed afterwards undergo a change, it may lose its original properties, and be turned into the opposite of what it was, by reason of the soil through which it runs, or the purposes to which it is applied. What was sweet may by certain mixtures become bitter. But at first, in its own nature, and apart from all foreign ingredients, it is wholly the one or the other. There is no inconsistency in the material region. He passes to a higher department, the vegetable kingdom, and shows that there too plants and trees bring forth a single kind of fruit, and that which is suited to the order, the species to which they belong. “Can the fig-tree, my brethren, bear olive-berries, either a vine figs?” Of course it cannot. Any such thing would be a monstrosity. Titan, returning to the spring, not without reference to the internal, hidden source from which all our words proceed, be adds, “So can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.” He wishes to fix attention on the inconsistency manifested in the use of the tongue, and lead them to the right explanation of its origin. This anomaly does seem to be exhibited in the moral world, if not in the material. But it is so more in appearance than in reality. That water is often the same which looks different. What to some tastes and tests is fresh, when thoroughly examined, is found to be salt as the ocean. Much that to our earthly senses is sweet, to the spiritually-discerning is bitter indeed. Thus the blessing of many is formal, if not even false, having nothing gracious in it, no love or homage of the heart, no element or quality fitted to render it acceptable to the great object of worship. In its origin and essence it is not opposed to, nor, indeed, different from the cursing of man, with which it is associated. The latter reveals the true nature of the common source, or there may be two fountains where only one is perceptible. The former supposition applies to nominal and hypocritical Christians--this latter to living, genuine believers. They have an old man and a new, corruption and grace both existing and working within them; and as the one or the other gains the ascendancy, and, for the time, governs the tongue, the stream of discourse that issues from it is wholesome or deleterious--fresh as that of the bubbling spring, or salt as that of the briny deep. (John Adam.)

The evil tongue

St. James uses three special arguments to restrain Christians from the unruly use of the tongue: the first is the inconsistency of the thing--that the heart touched by the Holy Spirit should do the works of the flesh--that the fountain which hath been purified should again flow with bitter waters and the servants of Christ should serve Belial We have promised to study the strains of angels, and become familiar with and adopt them as our own; so that instead of being now a Babel of confusion, the Church may utter but one language in the presence of the Lamb; and how very inconsistent that from such lips cursing should proceed--how very inconsistent if any of you who have been now repeating David’s psalms, the notes of heaven, should to-morrow be found uttering an oath, or even using a passionate expression. It is bad enough for one who only professes Christianity to use the language of the devil, but it is a greater inconsistency when out of the same mouth proceeds blessing and cursing--when you, the same person, bless God, yet curse His image. Let the wicked do it; the heathen who is without God, and without Christ, if it must be. “He that is unjust,” &c. But a Christian man--a man who has been baptized into the Holy Trinity; a man who readsthe Bible, and comes into God’s house and worships there: a man who joins himself to the company of the saints, dead and living, and takes into his mouth the same words, the same prayers, the same Scripture passages with them;--nay, the man who perhaps approaches the awful mystery of the Body and Blood of His Lord;-that from such a mouth should proceed the gibes and imprecations of lost spirits, is it not shockingly inconsistent? Next, St. James reminds us of the consequences both to others and ourselves. “Behold how great a matter a little fire kindleth, awed the tongue is a fire.” How far may a single spark dropped among stubble reach! Bow does it steal along the floor, creep up the wall, envelop the roof, spread from house to house, and seize churches and noble buildings, till it wrap a whole city in conflagration! So does a single word dropped unadvisedly. If a soft answer turneth away wrath, on the other hand “grievous words stir up anger.” If you reply quietly to a provocation, or refuse to answer, the quarrel dies; but one word draws on another, and wrath kindleth wrath; and that is made eternal which might have been extinguished if only one had been a Christian. You see, then, how great a matter a little fire kindleth. Is it surprising “if of every idle word we shall give an account at the judgment”? But again, you say something injurious of your neighbour. There is a little truth in it, but much more falsehood. It has been added to, and enlarged, and swollen into a crime. But you repeat it. The story spreads. It is told everywhere, and though it wounds your neighbour to death, and from the calumny he loses all acquaintances and friends, yet you cannot recall it now. See “how great a matter a little fire kindleth.” Again, you utter impure words before a child, the child treasures them up all through his life; though he lives sixty or seventy years, unhappy being, his thoughts and language take their complexion from your words; but besides, to how many has lie communicated what he first heard from you! Mark again, “how great a little fire kindleth.” Surely the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity, and setteth on fire the course of nature. To conclude: if we will not restrain our members by the aid of God’s Spirit, and especially that member which St. Peter calls “an unruly evil, full of deadly poison”; if we will, in the indulgence of a wilful spirit, scatter firebrands about, unkind, malicious, polluting, or injurious words, wide-spread as the evil may be, will it stop short with others? No, it will return upon ourselves; which “setteth on fire the course of nature, and it is set on fire of hell.” The fire which hath gone forth spreading and consuming, at the judgment hour is stopped in its course, and rolling back again is concentrated on the tongue which gave it existence. You who uttered the word, which has done such mischief to thousands, and ruined so many souls, now feel its burning effects in your own person. Ought not this to make you careful of your words, those winged words, which once launched forth take a flight you know not whither? (J. M. Chaunter, M. A.)

Made after the similitude of God

Man made after God’s image

This image of God consisteth in three things--

1. In His nature, which was intellectual. God gave him a rational soul, spiritual, simple, immortal, free in its choice; yea, in the body there were some rays and strictures of the Divine glory and majesty.

2. In those qualities of “knowledge” (Colossians 3:10); “righteousness” Ecclesiastes 7:29); and “true holiness” (Ephesians 4:24).

3. In his state, in a happy confluence of all inward and outward blessings, as the enjoyment of God, power over the creatures, &c. But now this image is in a great part defaced and lost, and can only be restored in Christ. Well, then, this was the g, eat privilege of our creation, to be made like God: the more we resemble Him the more happy. Oh! remember the height of your original. We press men to walk worthy of their extraction. Those potters that were of a servile spirit disgraced the kingly family and line of which they came (1 Chronicles 4:22). Plutarch saith of Alexander, that he was wont to heighten his courage by remembering he came of the gods. Remember you were made after the image of God; do not deface it in yourselves, or render it liable to contempt, by giving others occasion to revile you. (T. Manton.)


Verse 13

James 3:13

Who is a wise man, and endued with knowledge

Divine wisdom

In Scripture the term “wisdom” ordinarily signifies the knowledge and fear of God, especially that enlightening of the mind which flows from the word and spirit of Christ; and the superior excellence of this wisdom may be well expressed in the words of Solomon (Proverbs 3:13-14).
Much of what is called wisdom and knowledge among men can scarcely be said to have any influence at all, and very frequently all that can be said in its praise is merely this, that it is a more sedate species of amusement than men commonly pursue. But it may be that there is some difficulty in attaining it, and that every one is not able to make such an acquirement. Hence it is esteemed by many as of no small value, because it exercises their faculties, ministers to their vanity, or plausibly occupies their time. Other kinds of wisdom and knowledge there are which may be sufficiently applicable to practical purposes and sufficiently useful in promoting the temporal interests of their possessor, but which have no salutary influence on the heart or conduct. Such kinds of wisdom may often be attained by the most worthless persons, and may sometimes render them only the more daring in their wickedness and the more dangerous to their fellow-men. But it is the distinguishing character of the wisdom mentioned in the text, that it both produces good fruit for the use of others and exerts a purifying influence on the heart where it dwells.

I. IT LEADS TO A “GOOD CONVERSATION,” or manner of life. You are well assured that the calling, with which you are called in the gospel of Christ, is a “holy calling,” and that the wisdom which cometh down from above is first pure--pure in its whole character and influence. For this end it cometh down, namely, to make us “free from the law of sin,” and to purify “us unto God a peculiar people.” Let every one, therefore, who seemeth to have this wisdom, or wishes to have it, feel his obligation “to cleanse himself from all filthiness of the flesh and of the spirit.” “Let your conversation always be as becometh the gospel,” and your conduct “as the children of God, blameless, harmless, and without rebuke.” Let it never once enter into the imagination of your minds that you truly possess any portion of heavenly wisdom if it is not your full desire and endeavour to be “holy in all manner of conversation.” No inconsistency can be greater, no delusion more fatal, than to suppose it possible for you to be guided by “the wisdom which is from above,” while you show not “a good conversation ‘: or manner of life.

II. IT LEANS TO “GOOD WORKS”; let him show out of a good conversation his works. He who is wise ceases not only to be the servant of sin but learns to become an “instrument of righteousness.” He not only rejects what would be disgraceful and debasing in practice, but studies to be “full of mercy and of good fruits.” He is not content with avoiding whatever would be offensive to his Maker, hurtful to his neighbour, or injurious to his own best interests; he strives, farther, to do what may be pleasing in the sight of God, profitable to man, purifying to his own spirit.

III. IT LEADS TO “SLEEKNESS,” or gentleness. “The meekness of wisdom,” that unassuming and unoffending deportment which always becomes, and ought always to attend, true wisdom and superior knowledge. Such a spirit is not only a duty in itself, a part of the Christian character, but is in a manner the appropriate dress in which every heavenly grace and good work should be arrayed. Thus you are exhorted to associate this meekness with every form of well-doing; to walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called with all lowliness and meekness; to “hear with meekness the ingrafted word”; to give a reason “of the hope that is in you with meekness”; to “restore one who is overtaken in a fault in the spirit of meekness”; in “meekness, to instruct those that oppose themselves.” This is the way in which you are to show or exercise your wisdom, and hence it is called “the meekness of wisdom,” that which belongs to it as a property, which becomes it as an ornament, which proceeds from it as an effect, which proves it to be from above. (James Brewster.)

True wisdom

1. Wisdom and knowledge do well together; the one to inform, the other to direct. A good apprehension and a good judgment make a complete Christian.

2. True wisdom endeth in a good conversation. Surely the practical Christian is the most wise: in others, knowledge is but like a jewel in a toad’s head: Deuteronomy 4:6, “Keep these statutes, for this is your wisdom.” This is saving knowledge, the other is but curious. What greater folly than for learned men to be disputing of heaven and religion, and others less knowing to surprise it! This is like him that gazed upon the moon, but fell into the pit. One property of true wisdom is to be able to manage and carry on our work and business; therefore none so wise aa they that “walk circumspectly” (Ephesians 5:15). The careless Christian is the greatest fool; he is heedless of his main business. Another part of wisdom is to prevent danger; and the greater the danger, the more caution should we use. Certainly, then, there is no fool like the sinning fool, that ventureth his soul at every cast, and runneth blindfold upon the greatest hazard.

3. The more true wisdom, the more meek. Wise men are less angry, and more humble.

4. Meekness must be a wise meekness. It is said, “Meekness of wisdom.” It not only noteth the cause of it, but the quality of it. It must be such as is opposite to fierceness, not to zeal.

5. A Christian must not only have a good heart, but a good life, and in his conversation show forth the graces of his spirit (Matthew 5:16). (T. Manton.)

Wisdom and knowledge

It must be observed that there is a difference between wisdom and knowledge. One is natural, the other acquired; one comes from God, the other from man. A man who is not wise cannot acquire wisdom by his own exertions; but any man can become learned if he have industry and memory. A man may be wise and unlearned; a man may be learned and be a fool. Wisdom is as superior to learning as the man who is both architect and builder is superior to the materials which he uses. But as those materials are necessary to the builder, so is learning ¢o a wise man. Therefore, he who is truly wise will industriously seek to obtain all knowledge within his reach, No man to whom God has given wisdom despises learning, he can do little without it. It is that with which he is to make his life-work. The very first motion of wisdom in a man is to “get understanding,” to obtain a knowledge of things. (C. F. Deems, D. D.)

Knowledge and practice

Knowledge is a jewel, and adorns him that wears it. It is the enriching and bespangling of the mind. Knowledge is the eye of the soul, to guide it in the right way; but this knowledge must be joined with holy practice. Many illuminated heads can discourse fluently in matters of religion; but they do not live up to their knowledge: this is to have good eyes, but to have the feet cut off. How vain is knowledge without practice! as if one should know a sovereign medicine, and not apply it. Satan is a knowing spirit; but he hath no holy practice. (T. Watson.)

Knowledge and practice

Criticisms in words, or rather ability to make them, is not so valuable as some may imagine them. A man may be able to call a broom by twenty names, in Latin, Spanish, Dutch, Greek, &c.; but my maid, who knows the way to use it, but knows it only by one name, is not far behind him. (John Newton.)

Life--explains religion

One of our party greatly needed some elderflower water for her face upon which the sun was working great mischief. It was in the Italian town of Varallo, and not a word of Italian did I know. I entered a chemist’s shop and surveyed his drawers and bottles, but the result was nit. Bright thought; I would go down by the river, and walk until I could gather a bunch of elder-flowers, for the tree was then in bloom. Happily the search was successful: the flowers were exhibited to the druggist, the extract was procured. When you cannot tell in so many words what true religion is, exhibit it by your actions. Sinew by your life what grace can do. There is no language in the world so eloquent as a holy life. Men may doubt what you say, but they will believe what you do. (C. H.Spurgeon.)

The chief thing to learn

It was the labour of Socrates to turn philosophy from the study of nature to speculations upon life; but there have been and are etchers who are turning off attention from life to nature. They seem to think that we are placed here to watch the growth of plants, or the motion of the stars; but Socrates was rather of opinion that what we bad to learn, was how to do good and avoid evil. (Dr. Johnson.)

Knowledge and goodness

The most intellectual Gnostics were sensualists; sensualists upon a theory and with deliberation. And modern history yields many a warning that intellectual culture about religious things is one thing and genuine religion quite another. Henry VIII, who had been destined for the English Primacy, was among the best read theologians of his day: but whatever opinion may be entertained of his place as a farsighted statesman in English history, no one would seriously speak of him as personally religious. (H. P. Liddon, D. D.)

Let him shew … with meekness of wisdom

Practical wisdom

I. The man must “SHOW HIS WORKS.” The apostle takes it for granted that, if he really be “wise and endued with knowledge,” he will have works to show. Of course all pride, and vanity, and ostentation are to be eschewed. But still, the glory of God and the welfare of the world demand the exhibition of the fruits which Divine grace has produced in the character and conduct of the man.

II. The man must “show his works out OF A GOOD CONVERSATION.” A man’s “conversation” is the course and tenor of his life. Consistency of conduct and comprehensive moral excellence are here required.

III. Out of this “good conversation” the man must “show his works” in a certain way--“WITH MEEKNESS OF WISDOM.” Meekness--which is, as it were, kindness and humility blended into one harmonious feeling of the mind--is very frequently enforced in the Word of God--sometimes by express command, sometimes by a reference to the meekness of Christ Himself, sometimes by a statement of the personal benefits which follow in its train, and sometimes by an exhibition of its fitness to sustain the cause and promote the influence of religious truth. It is here associated with “wisdom.” And assuredly not only do wisdom and meekness dwell together, but the former dictates, originates, fosters, and upholds the latter. (A. S.Patterson, D. D.)

How to prove one’s possession of wisdom

James intimates that if a man is to be selected for wisdom he cannot make manifest that wisdom by an argument to prove its existence, but all he has to do is to show from a good life, a life of truth, fidelity, and beneficence, that he has so used what he has acquired as to adapt all objects in his control to their intended end.

Not only by words but by works let the world see his wisdom, not only in one field but in all fields, not only on one side of his character, but on all sides let all who know anything of him know that it is good; and let him not parade this, let him shrew no exultation when it is discovered nor distressful disappointment when it is neglected, and by that very meekness men will be sure that he has wisdom. Meekness may not always be wise, but wisdom is always meek. (C. F. Deems, D. D.)

Wisdom and meekness

Men are naturally fond of a reputation for superior understanding and wisdom. Here, then, is the best way to show the real possession of such superiority; not by a forward self-consequence--a self-commendatory, and over-eager desire to dictate to others fromthe teacher’s chair; not by a magisterial dogmatism of manner; not by a lofty and supercilious contempt of other men and their views and modes of instruction; not by a keen, contentious, overbearing zeal. No; let the man of “knowledge” and “wisdom” show his possession of these attributes--acquaintance with truth, and sound discretion to direct to the right use of it--by keeping his station, and studying to adorn it. Let him, first of all,maintain “a good conversation”--or course of conduct, private and public--a conversation upright and holy, in full harmony with the genuineinfluence of Divine truth, and “let trim show, out of such a conversation, his works”--the practical results of his knowledge and professed faith. These “works” consisted in active conformity to the duties required by Divine precept, in all the various relations of life, more private or more public. And these “works” were to be shown “with meekness of wisdom”--that is, with the meekness by which genuine wisdom is everdistinguished. Vanity is one of the marks of a weak mind. Humility and gentleness are the invariable associates of true wisdom. The two were united, in their respective fulness of perfection, in the blessed Jesus. Let the man, then, who would have a character for true wisdom manifest in his entire deportment “the meekness and gentleness of Christ.” (H. Wardlaw, D. D.)

A sham religion useless

This paragraph is, in fact, simply a continuation of the uncompromising attack upon sham religion which is the main theme throughout a large portion of the Epistle. St. James first shows how useless it is to be an eager hearer of the Word, without also being a doer of it. Next he exposes the inconsistency of loving one’s neighbour as oneself if he chances to be rich, and neglecting or even insulting him if he is poor. From that he passes on to prove the barrenness of an orthodoxy which is not manifested in good deeds, and the peril of trying to make words a substitute for works. And thus the present section is reached. Throughout the different sections it is the empty religiousness which endeavours to avoid the practice of Christian virtue, on the plea of possessing zeal, or faith, or knowledge, that is mercilessly exposed and condemned. “Deeds! deeds! deeds!” is the cry of St. James; “these ought ye to have done, and not to have left the other undone.” Without Christian practice, all the other good things which they possessed or professed were savourless salt. (A. Plummer, D. D.)


Verses 13-16

Verse 14

James 3:14

Bitter envying and strife in your hearts

Envying and strife

1.
Envy is the mother of strife. They are often coupled (Romans 1:29, 1 Corinthians 3:3; 2 Corinthians 12:20; Galatians 5:20). Envy is the source of all heresies. Arius envied Peter of Alexandria, and thence those bitter strifes and persecutions. It must needs be so. Envy is an eager desire of our own fame, and a maligning of that which others have. Well, then, “let nothing be done through strife and vainglory” Philippians 2:3). Scorn to act out of that impulse. Should we harbour that corruption which betrayed Christ, enkindled the world, and poisoned the Church?

2. There is nothing in the life but what was first in the heart (Matthew 15:19). The heart is the fountain, keep it pure; be as careful to avoid guilt as shame. If you would have the life holy before men, let the heart be pure before God; especially cleanse the heart from strife and envy. Strife in the heart is worst; the words are not so abominable in God’s eye as the will and purpose. Strife is in the heart when it is cherished there, and anger is soured into malice, and malice bewrayeth itself by debates or desires of revenge; clamour is naught, but malice is worse.

3. Envious or contentious persons have little reason to glory in their engagements. Envy argueth either a nullity or a poverty of grace; a nullity where it reigneth, a weakness where it is resisted but not overcome Galatians 5:24).

4. Envy and strife goeth often under the mask of zeal. These were apt to glory in their carnal strifes; it is easy to take on a pretence of religion, and to baptize envious contests with a glorious name.

5. Hypocrisy and carnal pretences are the worst kind of lies. The practical lie is worst of all; by other lies we deny the truth, by this we abuse it; and it is worse sometimes to abuse an enemy than to destroy him. (T. Manton.)

The nature, causes, and consequences of envy

I. WHAT ENVY IS, AND WHEREIN THE NATURE OF IT CONSISTS. Moralists generally give us this description of it: that it is a depraved affection or passion of the mind, disposing a man to hate or malign another for some good or excellency belonging to him, which the envious person judges him unworthy of, and which for the most part he wants himself. Or yet more briefly: envy is a certain grief of mind conceived upon the sight of another’s felicity, whether real or supposed. So that we see that it consists partly of hatred, and partly of grief. In respect of which two passions, and the proper actings of both, we are to observe, that as it shows itself in hatred, it strikes at the person envied; but as it affects a man in the nature of grief, it recoils and does execution upon the envier; both of them are hostile affections, and vexatious to the breast which harbours them.

II. WHAT ARE THE GROUNDS AND CAUSES OF ENVY.

1. On the part of the person envying.

2. On the part of the person envied.

III. THE EFFECTS AND CONSEQUENCES OF ENVY.

1. First of all, this ill quality brings confusion and calamity upon the envious person himself who cherishes and entertains it, and, like the viper, gnaws out the bowels which first conceived it. It is indeed the only act of justice that it does, that the guilt it brings upon a man it revenges upon him too, and so torments and punishes him much more than it can afflict or annoy the person who is envied by him. We know what the poet says of envy; and it is with the strictest truth, without the least hyperbole, that Phalaris’s brazen hull, and all the arts of torment invented by the greatest masters of them, the Sicilian tyrants, were not comparable to those that the tyranny of envy racks the mind of man with. For it ferments and boils in the soul, putting all the powers of it into the most restless and disorderly agitation.

2. In the next place, consider the effects of envy, in respect of the object of it, or the person envied; and these may be reduced to the following three.

Lessons:

1. The extreme vanity of even the most excellent and best esteemed enjoyments of this world. Shadows do not more naturally attend shining bodies than envy pursues worth and merit, always close at the very heels of them, and like a sharp blighting east wind, still blasting and killing the noblest and most promising productions of virtue in their earliest bud; and, as Jacob did Esau, supplants them in their very birth.

2. This may convince us of the safety of the lowest, and the happiness of a middle condition. Only power and greatness are prize for envy; whose evil eye always looks upwards, and whose hand scorns to strike where it can place its foot. Life and a bare competence are a quarry too low for so stately a vice-as envy to fly at. And therefore men of a middle condition are indeed doubly happy.

3. We learn from hence the necessity of a man’s depending upon something without him, higher and stronger than himself, even for the preservation of his ordinary concerns in this life. Nothing can be a greater argument to make a man fly, and cast himself into the arms of Providence, than a due consideration of the nature and the workings of envy. (R. South, D. D.)

Envy the worst of sins

Envy, says an old writer, is, in some respects, the worst of all sins; for when the devil tempts to them, he draws men by the bait of some delight; but the envious he catches without a bait, for envy is made up of bitterness and vexation. Another man’s good is the envious man’s grief. Nothing but misery pleases him, nor is anything but misery spared by him. Every smile of another fetches a sigh from him. To him bitter things are sweet, and sweet bitter. And whereas the enjoyment of good is unpleasant without a companion, the envious would rather want any good than that another should share with him. It is recorded that a prince once promised an envious and a covetous man whatever they pleased to ask of him. The promise, however, was suspended upon this condition, that he who asked last should have twice as much as he who asked first. Both, therefore, were unwilling to make the first request; but the prince, perceiving this reluctance, commanded the envious man to be the first petitioner. His request was this--that one of his own eyes should be put out, that so both the eyes of the covetous man should be put out also. Truly envy, like jealousy, is cruel as the grave! It is its own punishment--a scourge not so much to him upon whom it is set, as to him in whom it is.

Boasting in evil principles

“Bitter envying and strife in the heart” are things in the very indulgence of which some men actually “glory.” They call them exhibitions of a manly nature, and indications of an honourable pride. Alas! alas! These are mean and ignoble, as well as vile and criminal, affections of the soul. They degrade, as well as defile, the man in whom they dwell. But there are others who, without boasting of these evil principles, suppose that, in spite of them, they are pious and religious men-the children of God and the heirs of heaven. These, too, are grievously deceived. Love pervades the religion of Jesus Christ, and must needs be a paramount and prevailing principle in the regenerated soul. In applying to this state of character and experience the name of “wisdom,” the apostle uses one of its current names, and suggests what opinion is frequently formed of it in this misguided world, but assuredly does not sympathise with that opinion. And how dark is the description which he gives of that very thing to which he attaches the name of “This grows in all soils and climates and is no less luxuriant in the country than in the court; it is not confined to any rank of men or extent of fortune, but rages in the breasts of all degrees. Alexander was not prouder than Diogenes; and it may be, if we would endeavour to surprise it in its most gaudy dress and attire, and in the exercise of its full empire and tyranny, we should find it in schoolmasters and scholars, or in some country lady, or the knight, her husband; all which ranks of people more despise their neighbours than all the degrees of honour in which courts abound; and it rages as much in a sordid affected dress as in all the silks and embroideries which the excess of the age and the folly of youth delight to be adorned with. Since, then, it keeps all sorts of company, and wriggles itself into the liking of the most contrary natures and dispositions, and yet carries so much poison and venom with it, that it alienates the affections from heaven, and raises rebellion against God Himself, it is worth our utmost care to watch it in all its disguises and approaches, that we may discover it in its first entrance, and dislodge it before it procures a shelter or retiring-place to lodge and conceal itself. (Lord Clarendon.)

Envy is a pure soul-sin

Having least connection with the material or animal nature, and for which there is the least palliation in appetite or in any extrinsic temptation. Its seat and origin is super-carnal, except as the term carnal is taken, as it sometimes is by the apostle, for all that is evil in humanity. A man may be most intellectual, most free from every vulgar appetite of the flesh; he may be a philosopher, he may dwell speculatively in the region of the abstract and the ideal, and yet his soul be full of this corroding malice. Envy is also the most purely evil. Almost every other passion, even acknowledged to be sinful, has in it somewhat of good or appearance of good. But envy or hatred of a man for the good that is in him, or in any way pertains to him, is evil unalloyed. It is the breath of the old serpent. It is pure devil, as it is also purely spiritual. It is a soul-poison, yet acting fearfully upon the body itself, bringing more death into it than seemingly stronger and more tumultuous passions that have their nearer seat in the fleshy nature. Solomon describes it as “rottenness in the bones” Proverbs 14:30). All bad passions are painful, but envy has a double barb to sting itself.

Lie not against the truth

Lying against the truth

They professed the faith of the truth. But the indulgence and manifestation of such tempers of mind was a “lie against the truth” which they professed. It was not merely a lie against, their profession of it. Then all would have been right. Those who witnessed their tempers and behaviour would have been led only to conclude that their profession was unsound, and had no corresponding reality; that they were either self-deceivers or hypocrites. And this would have been the right conclusion. But they “lied against the truth.” While they professed to believe it, and acted inconsistently with it, they bore to the world a false testimony--a practical testimony much more apt to be credited than a verbal one--with regard to its real nature and its legitimate influence. Everything of the kind is a practical lie. It is “bearing false witness” against the truth of God, and, consequently against the God of truth. It is leading the world to erroneous estimates; and while dishonouring to God, is ruinous to souls. And let us see that we gereralise the principle. It is true of all inconsistences, as well as of those here specified. The charge of “lying against the truth” bears upon every one who assumes the name of Christian, while “walking,” in any part of his conduct, “according to the course of this world.” As the Jews of old belied their God and their religion, when, on “entering among the heathen,” they acted so wickedly as to lead the heathen to say, with a scornful taunt--“These are the people of Jehovah, and are come forth out of His land”! so is it, alas, among the heathen still, in regard to the multitudes who go amongst them, from our own or other countries called Christian, bearing the Christian name, while in the general course of their conduct they are utterly unchristian. There is hardly a more serious obstacle in the way of their success with which missionaries have to contend than this. O let us beware of throwing any such stumbling-block in the way of an ungodly world--any such obstacle in the way of the progress of the Redeemer’s cause. Upon all our words and all our actions let there ever be the impress of the truth--that, like Demetrius, we may “have good report of all men, and of the truth itself”:--and that thus our characters may attest the Divine origin of the gospelby presenting to men a manifestation of its Divine influence. (R. Wardlaw, D. D.)


Verse 15-16

James 3:15-16

This wisdom descendeth not from above

The wisdom that is from below

There are two characteristics here specified which we shall find are given as the infallible signs of the heavenly wisdom; and their opposites as signs of the other.
The heavenly wisdom is fruitful of good deeds, and inspires those who possess it with gentleness. The other wisdom is productive of nothing really valuable, and inspires those who possess it with contentiousness. This test is a very practical one, and we can apply it to ourselves as well as to others. How do we bear ourselves in argument and in controversy? Are we serene about the result, in full confidence that truth and right should prevail? Are we desirous that truth should prevail, even if that should involve our being proved to be in the wrong? Are we meek and gentle towards those who differ from us? or are we apt to lose our tempers and become heated against our opponents? If the last is the case we have reason to doubt whether our wisdom is of the best sort. “In meekness of wisdom.” On this St. James lays great stress. The Christian grace of meekness is a good deal more than the rather second-rate virtue which Aristotle makes to be the mean between passionateness and impassionateness, and to consist in a due regulation of one’s angry feelings (Eth. Nic. IV. 5.). It includes submissiveness towards God, as well as gentleness towards men; and it exhibits itself in a special way in giving and receiving instruction, and in administering and accepting rebuke. It was, therefore, just the grace which the many would-be teachers, with their loud professions of correct faith and superior knowledge, specially needed to acquire. “But if,” instead of this meekness, “ye have bitter jealousy and faction in your heart, glory not, and lie not against the truth.” With a gentle severity St. James status as a mere supposition what he probably knew to be a fact. There was plenty of bitter zealousness and party spirit among them; and from this fact they could draw their own conclusions. It was an evil from which the Jews greatly suffered; and a few years later it hastened, if it did not cause, the overthrow of Jerusalem. This “jealousy” or zeal (
ζῆλος) itself became a party name in the fanatical sect of the Zealots. It was an evil from which the primitive Church greatly suffered, as passages in the New Testament and in the sub-Apostolic writers prove; and can we say that it has ever become extinct? Jealousy or zeal may be a good or a bad thing, according to the motive which inspires it. To make it quite plain that it is to be understood in a bad sense here, St. James adds the epithet “bitter” to it, and perhaps thereby recalls what he has just said about a mouth that utters both curses and blessings being as monstrous as a fountain spouting forth both bitter water and sweet. Moreover, he couples it with “faction” ( ἐριθεία), a word which originally meant “working for hire,” and especially “weaving for hire” (Isaiah 38:12), and thence any ignoble pursuit, especially political canvassing, intrigue, or factionsness. What St. James seems to refer to in these two words is hitter religious animosity; a hatred of error (or what is supposed to be such), manifesting itself, not in loving attempts to win over those who are at fault, but in bitter thoughts and words and party combinations. “Glory not, and lie not against the truth.” To glory with their tongues of their superior wisdom, while they cherished jealousy and faction in their hearts, was a manifest lie, a contradiction of what; they must know to be the truth. In their fanatical zeal for the truth, they were really lying against the truth, and ruining the cause which they professed to serve. Of how many a controversialist would that be true; and not only of those who have entered the lists against heresy and infidelity, but of those who are preaching crusade against vice!” This wisdom is not a wisdom that cometh down from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.” The wisdom which is exhibited in such a thoroughly un-christian disposition is of no heavenly origin. It may be a proof of intellectual advantages of some kind, but it is not such as those” who lack it need pray for (James 1:5), nor such as God bestows liberally on all who ask in faith. And then, having stated what it is not, St. James tells in three words, which form a climax, what the wisdom on which they plume themselves, in its nature, and sphere, and origin, really is. It belongs to this world, and has no connection with heavenly things. Its activity is in the lower part of man’s nature, his passions, and his human intelligence, but it never touches his spirit. And in its origin and manner of working it is demoniacal. Not the gentleness of God’s Holy Spirit, but the fierce recklessness of Satan’s emissaries, inspires it. Does this seem to be an exaggeration? St. James is ready to justify his strong language. “For where jealousy and faction are, there is confusion and every vile deed.” And who are the authors of confusion and vile deeds? Are they to be found in heaven, or in hell? Is confusion, or order, the mark of God’s work? Jealousy and faction mean anarchy; and anarchy means a moral chaos in which every vile deed finds an opportunity. We know, therefore, what to think of the superior wisdom which is claimed by those in whose hearts jealousy and faction reign supreme. The professed desire to offer service to God is really only a craving to obtain advancement for self. Self-seeking of this kind is always ruinous. It both betrays and aggravates the rottenness that lurks within. It was immediately after there had been a contention among the apostles, “which of them was accounted to be greatest” (Luke 22:24), that they “all forsook Him and fled.” (A. Plummer, D. D.)

The wisdom which is not from above

I. THE PRESCRIBED COURSE: THAT REQUIRED BY AND INDICATIVE OF TRUE WISDOM (James 3:13). “Wise”--that is, gifted with spiritual discernment and discretion, with capacity and enlightenment in regard to Divine things. “Endued with knowledge”--having large information, acquaintance with facts, doctrines, precepts. The ablest, those whose intellects are the clearest and whose judgments are the soundest, must work in the dark; they must stumble and err egregiously if they lack requisite information. Religion is often represented under this aspect. It is the highest and, indeed, the only true wisdom. Well, how is such a person to proceed? How is he to prove his character, how evince his wisdom? “Let him show out of a good conversation his works.” He is to manifest what he really is, to give open evidence of his spiritual understanding and prudence. His light is to shine, his principles are to appear. The grand general effect is to be a consistent, godly walk--a walk regulated by the doctrines and the precepts of Christianity. Out of it he is to show his works--that is, rising from the even tenor of his way, the fair and fertile field of holy living, special, individual works of faith and love are to stand forth prominent, conspicuous. These fruits of the Spirit are to come out as the separate, noticeable features, and prove the nature of the tree on which they are found growing. He adds, “with meekness of wisdom.” Here is the disposition, the spirit in which their works were to be shown forth out of a good conversation. In it lies the special distinction and difference between the true and the false wisdom, which he unfolds in this passage. The expression is remarkable--“the meekness of wisdom”--that is, the meekness which is characteristic of wisdom, which is its proper attribute. Meekness is gentleness, mildness, submissiveness. Wisdom is a thing calm, quiet, peaceful. It is not fierce, violent, contentions. It is not passionate, disputatious, or tumultuous, It looks at matters with a steady, patient mind, and shapes its course with deliberation and caution. It knows how weak and prone to err the very best are, and what need there ever is for consideration and forbearance. Let us not mistake, however. This meekness is not a feeble, crouching, despicable thing; on the contrary, it is strong, noble, and victorious. It is consistent with the utmost firmness; and, indeed, that is saying little, for it is essential to true and enduring firmness. Jesus was meek and lowly in heart; He did not strive nor cry, when reviled He reviled not again, when He suffered lie threatened not; and yet He was most perfectly stedfast, immovable as a rock is the prospect of--yes, and under the pressure of--sorrows and sufferings, not only infinitely beyond human endurance, but even as far beyond human conception. And so, in all ages, the gentlest of His servants have been the strongest, The most stable and invincible. Think of the meek, lamb-like pair, Henry Martyn and Daniel Corrie, whose friendship was so close and whose characters were so similar. Where shall we find any more resolute, unbending than they were? It is also consistent with the most ardent zeal. Along with it, under it, there may be the warmest affections--a faith and love of no ordinary fervour and power. We see this in the sainted men to whom I have already referred. They were animated by a zeal which consumed them as that of their Divine Master did Him. Who of mortals dared more or accomplished more than Moses, the leader and lawgiver of Israel? And yet was not he the meekest of men? The prophet testifies, “In quietness and in confidence shall be your strength.”

II. THE OPPOSITE COURSE WHAT IT IS AND WHAT IT INDICATES (verse 14). “But if”--implying, not obscurely, that this was no mere supposition, but the actual and painful fact in too many instances” ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts.” The word rendered “envying” is literally zeal, but it often has the meaning of jealousy, emulation, rivalry. It originates in bitter feelings, not in attachment to truth, but in opposition to per-sons--in selfish, ambition, crooked designs. Its root is evil. It appears in bitter actings, venting itself, as it does, in speeches and proceedings fitted to wound, alienate, exasperate. It scatters firebrands, reckless of feelings and of consequences. And it issues in bitter results, causing conflicts, separations, and manifold evils. “And strife”--rivalry. This is the natural consequence of such envying--such unhallowed and envenomed zeal. It is the parent of controversy, with all that passion and violence by which it is so often marked. He says, if ye have this “bitter envying and strife in your hearts.” It is “in your hearts,” not in your conduct, your proceedings.

No; and the manner in which the thing is put here teaches, as it doubtless was designed to do, more than one important lesson. The spring of this whole evil lies within, in the region of the heart. It is all to be traced to its carnal lusts, its depraved principles and propensities. And it must be dealt with there, if dealt with thoroughly, dealt with to any good purpose. You can get rid of the fruits only by cutting down the deadly upas tree on which they grow so luxuriantly. Again, it intimates that there might be much of this envying and strife in the bosom, while it did not fully appear, but was skilfully disguised in the life. And still farther, it teaches that we are not to judge here by mere appearances; for as in one case our decision might be too favourable, as we have seen, so in another it might be the very opposite. It is not always what outwardly seems to be envying and strife that is so in reality. We are to contend earnestly for the faith which was once delivered to the saints, and we may do it most resolutely without being in the least degree actuated by such a spirit. He says, if ye have these feelings in your hearts, “glory not, and lie not against the truth.” “Glory not”--boast not of your alleged wisdom, pride not yourselves on any such supposed attainment. And “lie not”--bringing out still more strongly the contrariety, the direct and thorough antagonism. They professed to believe, and even presumed to teach, the Christian system. They set themselves up as its witnesses and advocates. Well, by the spirit they manifested, and the conduct to which it led, they flatly contradicted the truth, they misrepresented its whole nature and design. Missionaries, from India and elsewhere, tell us that this is perhaps the very greatest hindrance with which they have to contend, and that no argument is more frequently used or more difficult to combat. He now characterises the so-called wisdom of these parties. “This wisdom descendeth not from above” (verse 15); or, more pointedly, is not such as descendeth from above--it is not that, it has nothing in common with that, which so descendeth. It is wholly different from the heavenly in its origin and nature. It is “earthly.” It belongs to this lower, clouded sphere, this world of sin and sense, and bears throughout its impress. It is prevalent in earthly affairs. It may gain men a reputation for ability, for discretion, for sagacity, and raise them to professional or political eminence. Not to be despised in its own place, this has nothing spiritual and saving in its composition. It is marked by earthly principles. Its calculations and its plans are framed on the basis of the opinions, maxims, and habits which prevail in society. Self-interest and expediency go a great length with it, and often shut out all higher considerations of truth and duty. And it is devoted to earthly objects. It seeks not heavenly ends and interests, but those which are worldly. Gain rather than godliness is what it pursues. It labours for the meat which perishes, not for that which endures unto everlasting life. “Sensual.” What is intimated is, that this wisdom, however imposing it may seem, and however useful it may really be, pertains not to our nobler being--the soul--as it is when possessed and purified by the Holy Ghost. It is limited to the narrow, inferior domain of self, with its circle of objects and interests. It is unspiritual. Another feature yet remains, and the most repulsive of all--“devilish.” It is demoniacal, satanic. Not from above, it is from below. The tongue was said to be set on fire of hell; and the wisdom which keeps company with envying and strife has the same origin. What a dark and dreadful description! This account of it he justifies by the effects which it produces. “For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work” (verse 16). The wisdom consists with, if not in, “envying and strife”; and where such a spirit prevails, what are its natural fruits, its inevitable results? The terms are the same as those used in the 14th verse, without the qualification of “bitter,” that being understood, and not requiring repetition. “There is confusion”--disorder, anarchy, tumult, all kinds of agitation and disturbance. “And every work.” They are productive of whatever is bad and base, of all sorts and measures of wickedness. There is no error, no folly, no vice, no crime to which they do not readily conduct. They shut out everything good, they open the door to everything evil. As the fruit reveals the species of tree on which it grows, so do the effects here the nature of those principles from which they proceed. (John Adam.)

Two kinds of wisdom distinguished

I. THERE IS ONE WISDOM EARTHLY, ANOTHER HEAVENLY, THAT CONDEMNED, AND THIS COMMENDED AMONG MEN.

1. Concerning the former, which is wicked wisdom (if we may call it wisdom, by the common speech of men so calling it), it is described here by three qualities.

II. Now as there is wisdom which is wicked, so ALSO IS THERE GODLY WISDOM, whereof St. James saith, “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without judging, without hypocrisy.” Where the apostle in eight properties setteth down this heavenly wisdom unto men. (R. Turnball.)

For where envying and strife is, there is confusion

Envy and strife lead to confusion

That the life of man is unhappy, that his days are not only few, but evil, that he is surrounded by dangers, distracted by uncertainties, and oppressed by calamities, requires no proof. This is a truth which every man confesses, or which he that denies it denies against conviction. When such is the condition of beings, not brute and savage, but endowed with reason, and united in society, who would not expect that they should join in a perpetual confederacy against the certain or fortuitous troubles to which they are exposed? that they should universally cooperate in the proportion of universal felicity? that every man should easily discover that his own happiness is connected with that of every other man? This expectation might be formed by speculative wisdom, but experience will soon dissipate the pleasing illusion. Instead of hoping to be happy in the general felicity, every man pursues a private and independent interest, proposes to himself some peculiar convenience, and prizes it more as it is less attainable by others. When the ties of society are thus broken, and the general good of mankind is subdivided into the separate advantages of individuals, it must necessarily happen that many will desire when few can possess, and consequently that some will be fortunate by the disappointment or defeat of others, and, since no man suffers disappointment without pain, that one must become miserable by another’s happiness. The misery of the world, therefore, so far as it arises from the inequality of conditions, is incurable. Every man may, without a crime, study his own happiness if he be careful not to impede, by design, the happiness of others. In the prosecution of private interest, which Providence has either ordained or permitted, there must necessarily be some kind of strife. Where blessings are thrown before us as the reward of industry there must be a constant struggle of emulation. But this strife would be without confusion if it were regulated by reason and religion, if men would endeavour after lawful ends by lawful means. But as there is a laudable desire of meliorating the condition of life which communities may not only allow, but encourage, as the parent of useful arts; as there is likewise an honest contention for preference and superiority, by which the powers of greater minds are pushed into action; so there is likewise a strife, of a pernicious and destructive kind, which daily disturbs the quiet of individuals, and too frequently obstructs, or disturbs, the happiness of nations; a strife which always terminates in confusion, and which it is therefore every man’s duty to avoid himself, and every man’s interest to repress in others. This strife the apostle has, in his prohibition, joined with envying. And daily experience will prove that he has joined them with great propriety; for perhaps there has seldom been any great and lasting strife in the world of which envy was not either the original motive or the most forcible incentive. The ravages of religious enthusiasts and the wars kindled by difference of opinions may perhaps be considered as calamities, which cannot properly be imputed to envy; yet even these may often be justly suspected of rising from no higher or nobler causes. No man whose reason is not darkened by some inordinate perturbation of mind can possibly judge so absurdly of beings, partakers of the same nature with himself, as to imagine that any opinion can be recommended by cruelty and mischief, or that he, who cannot perceive the force of argument, will be more efficaciously instructed by penalties and tortures. The power of punishment is to silence, not to confute. Whenever, therefore, we find the teacher, jealous of the honour of his sect, and apparently more solicitous to see his opinions established than approved, we may conclude that he has added envy to his zeal, and that he feels more pain from the want of victory, than pleasure from the enjoyment of truth.

I. BY WHAT TOKENS WE MAY DISCOVER IN OURSELVES OR OTHERS THE STRIFE WHICH SPRINGS FROM ENVY, AND ENDS IN CONFUSION.

1. That strife may well be supposed to proceed from some corrupt passion, which is carried on with vehemence, disproportioned to the importance of the end openly proposed.

2. It is a token that strife proceeds from unlawful motives when it is prosecuted by unlawful means. The man whose duty gives way to iris convenience, who, when once he has fixed his eye upon a distant end, hastens to it by violence over forbidden ground, or creeps on towards it through the crooked paths of fraud and stratagem, as he has evidently some other guide than the Word of God, must be supposed to have likewise some other purpose than the glory of God or the benefit of man.

3. There is another token that strife is produced by the predominance of some vicious passion when it is carried on against natural or legal superiority. Thus, if we consider the conduct of individuals towards each other, we shall commonly find the labourer murmuring at him who seems to live by easier means. We shall hear the poor repining that others are rich, and even the rich speaking with malignity of those who are still richer than themselves. And if we survey the condition of kingdoms and commonwealths it will always be observed that governors are censured, that every mischief of chance is imputed to ill designs, and that nothing can persuade mankind that they are not injured by an administration either unskilful or corrupt. It is very difficult always to do right. To seem always to do right to those who desire to discover wrong is scarcely possible. Every man is ready to form expectations in his own favour, such as never can be gratified, and which will yet raise complaints if they are disappointed.

II. THE EVILS AND MISCHIEFS PRODUCED BY THAT CONFUSION WHICH ARISES FROM STRIFE. That the destruction of order, and the abolition of stated regulations, must fill the world with uncertainty, distraction, and solicitude, is apparent, without any long deduction of argument. (John Taylor, LL. D.)


Verse 17-18

James 3:17-18

The wisdom that is from above is first pure

Characteristics of heavenly wisdom

I.
IT IS HALLOWED. On the spirit of the man who has it there has fallen a sacred hush, as on a temple which a god inhabits. Its precincts are consecrated to worship. All desecrating principles, maxims, thoughts, purposes are excluded. It has no doubtful expedients and utters no words of double meaning. It is clear, because it has been clarified. It is open to heaven and earth without concealments. It is chaste, seeking no unholy pleasures.

II. IT IS PEACEABLE. It is peaceable, because it is pure. Men that have no false and wicked purposes cannot break the peace. There never was dissension between two friends, never a rupture in any Church, never a rebellion in any State, never a war between two countries, never a wicked controversy of any kind which did not have its origin in some impurity of soul.

III. IT IS REASONABLE. It is not violent in its maintenance of its own convictions; it is not stubborn, unwilling to hear what may be said on the other side. There are men who deem themselves wise, who storm out what they believe to be the truth. Real wisdom does not so. Where there is a sober conviction of the right, and a firm faith in the final triumph of the right, all that a man has to do is to speak the truth in love. If any man holds an error, the wise man regards him as most unfortunate, and pities him, as a man in good health pities his neighbour whose eruptions show that he is diseased. Gentleness is not weak, and is not the product of weakness. It comes from being reasonable. None but the strong can be gentle; others may be soft and apathetic, but gentleness as much requires strength for its basis as the beautiful flowers and verdure require the strong ground of the geological formations. A gentle man gains by giving. He is not punctilious of his rights. He will maintain them, but always on grounds of reason, not of passion. He holds to his property, not because it is his, but for the reason that he is responsible for it. Just so a man who has this wisdom from above will not be violent in argument. He maintains his opinions, not because they are his opinions, but because he has formed them reasonably, and must maintain them reasonably and not passionately. So he will hear what others have to say.

IV. IT IS PERSUADABLE. AS the word which we have translated “reasonable” indicates the condition of the wise man’s soul when he is striving to convince others, so this “persuadable” seems to indicate the posture of his soul when others are striving to convince him. It means that if he has made an error he will not keep wandering on because he is unwilling to retrace his steps. It means that he will not waste energy in endeavouring to hold an untenable position under the control of intellectual pride. It means that he can be won over by fair means and sound argument. He yields to no force that is not reasonable, as he employs no agency that is not reasonable.

V. IT IS COMPASSIONATE. In a man of true celestial wisdom there is so much sympathy and compassion that it is perpetually bursting out into fruits of goodness, which are so profitable that all men acknowledge them. You cannot know so well the condition of the tree, but fruits are visible and palpable. Men know the tree by the fruit, as God knows the fruit by the tree.

VI. IT IS NOT PARTISAN. It will not adhere to a party it loves, “right or wrong.” It will not condemn the other party, “wrong or right.” It will not oppress the poor when it happens to be rich, nor wrong the rich when it happens to be poor. Appeals on ground of caste, or class, or previous condition, will have no effect upon its judgment. It regards a man for what he is, not for what he has or has not been.

VII. IT IS FREE FROM ALL HYPOCRISY. Against nothing did Jesus lift up His voice in more clear and terrible notes than against hypocrisy, which was a crying sin among the Jews. (C. F. Deems, D. D.)

The wisdom that is from above

I. WHAT IS WISDOM?

1. It is prudence, discretion, knowledge reduced to practice, and employed in the use of such means as are most suitable to accomplish the desired end Proverbs 3:19-20; Proverbs 8:12).

2. “The wisdom that is from above” is an inspired definition of the true religion; it is an attractive exhibition of that infallible knowledge which, having descended from heaven, discovers to us the most direct way to God; the means best calculated to make us lovingly acquainted with His holy law; the manner in which those means may be most easily and effectually used; and the happy results which flow from them.

II. ITS DISTINGUISHING CHARACTERISTICS.

1. Pure. While religion regulates and transforms all the powers of the mind, its first and immediate effect is not on the understanding to make it more enlightened; or on the judgment to make it more correct; or on the imagination to make it more discursive and brilliant; or on the memory to make it stronger and more retentive; but on the heart, to purify it from all moral defilement, and to make it the more upright, inoffensive, and holy.

2. Peaceable. The design of His government is to induce men to lay aside all causes of strife and alienation, and to promote unity and love.

3. Gentle and easy to be entreated. It is not rash, or authoritative, or fond of display; not rude or overbearing; not harsh or cruel; does not seek to fix upon others that which they disclaim, even though their words or conduct seemed to bear such an interpretation; and is willing to give preference to the sentiments or plans of others when they furnish evidence of superiority. It is not impatient when contradicted; or, if any misunderstanding arises, it is pacific rather than rigorous, complacent rather than censorious.

4. Full of mercy and good fruits. When it is said that “the wisdom from above is full of mercy,” we learn that it is not implacable and parsimonious, but clement and liberal; not resentful and grudging, but forgiving and bountiful. “Full of good fruits,” the fruits of good living; sympathising with those who are in trouble, showing kindness to such as are in distress, or by aiding those whose object it is to mitigate human woe in any of its multifarious forms, and to convert sinners from the error of their way.

5. Without partiality. Men of little minds or contracted views are easily dazzled with outward splendour, and, like children, count nothing good but what is gay and adorned with pomp. I-fence they readily give a preference to that which is most attractive in form, and, in the spirit of conscious partiality, undervalue or look coldly on those of greatest worth, because they make the least pretensions. But “the wisdom that is from above” looks not on men “after the outward appearance”; it renders to every one his due, without being swayed by self-interest or worldly honour, and determined to do equal justice to all, according to their moral worth.

6. Without hypocrisy. “An Israel indeed” is a man “in whom is no guile,” no fraud, no trick, no deceit; all he pretends is genuine; all he says is sincere.

Lessons:

1. That there is a wide difference between the religion here described and that of many who bear the Christian name.

2. That it is both the duty and the privilege of all who bear the Christian name to live in possession of this heavenly wisdom. (W. Lupton.)

Wisdom front above

I. THE ESSENTIAL CHARACTERISTIC OF GENUINE RELIGION. NOW true religion may be denominated wisdom--

1. As it directs the mind to the most glorious pursuits.

2. As it employs the most efficient means for the attainment of these objects.

II. ITS HEAVENLY ORIGIN.

1. The contrivance of salvation was from above.

2. The Author of our salvation came from above.

3. The revelation of true religion is from above.

4. All the blessings of our religion are from above.

III. ITS DISTINGUISHED ATTRIBUTES.

1. It is pure. Not absolute or angelic purity, but spiritual purity. The opposite of depravity and corruption. This purity is supernatural, real, and progressive.

2. It is peaceable. Not contentious. Not boisterous. It commences with the pacification of the conscience towards God. It produces a peaceful state of mind.

3. It is gentle. Hence the Christian resembles the dove, and not the vulture; the lamb, and not the lion.

4. Is easy to be entreated. Not stubborn or self-willed.

5. It is full of mercy.

6. Full of good fruits.

7. Without partiality.

8. Without hypocrisy.

Application:

1. How important that we ascertain if our religion possess these essential attributes!

2. How happy those who experience in their hearts these heavenly fruits!

3. What a blessing is genuine religion to the world at large! (J. Burns, D. D.)

Wisdom or prudence

I, wisdom,” says Solomon, “dwell with prudence”: hence wisdom and prudence, and the characters of wise and prudent, are often mentioned together. Prudence lies in wisely fixing upon a right end of all actions, and in wisely choosing the best means conducive to that end, and in using them at the best time and in the fittest manner.

I. WHAT SPIRITUAL WISDOM IS, as it is an internal grace, or inward disposition of the mind, respecting Divine things; a man’s duty, the salvation of his soul, and the glory of God.

1. It is, in general, grace in the heart: “wisdom in the hidden part” Psalms 51:6; Proverbs 16:21). This wisdom cometh from God, who gives it entrance, and puts it there (Proverbs 2:6).

2. Spiritual wisdom, in particular, is a right knowledge of a man’s self; no man that is wise in his own eyes, and prudent in his own sight, knows himself; “there is more hope of a fool than of such.”

3. True spiritual wisdom is no other than the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, which God commands to shine in the hearts of men.

4. True spiritual wisdom is no other than the fear of the Lord (Psalms 111:10; Proverbs 9:10; Job 28:28). This includes the whole worship of God, internal and external, flowing from a principle of grace; it takes in the whole duty of man, which it is his wisdom to practice, internally and externally.

5. It is being wise unto salvation, or in things respecting that.

II. WHEREIN THIS WISDOM PRACTICALLY SHOWS ITSELF.

1. In doing good things in general. Such who are wickedly wise are wise to do evil; but such who are spiritually wise are “wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil” (Romans 16:19); and these are capable of doing things both for their own good and for the good of others.

2. This spiritual wisdom shows itself in particular in a profession of religion.

3. This spiritual wisdom shows itself in a becoming walk and conversation.

4. This wisdom shows itself in observing the providence of God in the world and the dispensations of it: in making useful remarks upon it, and in learning useful lessons from it.

5. This spiritual wisdom shows itself in a man’s concern about his last end and future state; how it will be with him at last, and how it will go with him in another world (Deuteronomy 32:29)..

III. FROM WHENCE THIS SPIRITUAL WISDOM COMES. “God understandeth the way thereof, and He knoweth the place thereof (Job 28:20-23), forit is with Him originally, and in full perfection, yea, it is in Him infinite, unsearchable: it is in His gift to bestow, and is to be asked of Him James 1:5).

IV. THE NATURE AND PROPERTIES OF THIS WISDOM

1. It is from above--from God, Father, Son, and Spirit; it is conversant about heavenly things; it is celestial wisdom, and stands opposed to earthly wisdom in a preceding verse.

2. It is pure in itself and in its effects; productive of purity of heart, life, and conversation.

3. It is peaceable: it influences the professors of it to be at peace among themselves and one another, to cultivate peace in families, among neighbours, and even with enemies.

4. It is gentle: it makes those who have it to be gentle towards all men, moderate and humane, to bear the infirmities of the weak, to forbear and forgive one another injuries done.

5. It is easy to be entreated or persuaded to put up with affronts, to condescend to men of low estate, and not mind high things.

6. It is full of mercy and good fruits: it fills men with compassion to those in distress, and puts them upon acts of beneficence to the poor, according to their ability.

7. It is without partiality; without partiality to themselves, esteeming others better than themselves; and to others, showing no respect of persons.

8. It is without hypocrisy to God and man, not making a show of what they have not, and intend not to do: as it is a grace, it has a close connection with faith unfeigned, with a hope that is without hypocrisy, and with love which is without dissimulation. (T. Hannam.)

The heavenly wisdom

What a change passes on the scene! A bright, celestial form appliers. A fair and fragrant landscape bursts upon the view.

1. The apostle commences his description of “the wisdom that is from above” with the statement, “It is first pure.” It avoids and excludes what is false in doctrine, and what is vile in character and action; and this process leads the way and regulates the rest.

2. It is “then peaceable.” It leads him who possesses it to “follow peace,” to maintain peace, and to promote peace. The voices of the world are constantly exclaiming, “We are for war.”

3. It is “gentle.” It leads him to deal mildly with the broken heart, and even to use meekness towards “such as oppose themselves.”

4. It is “easy to be entreated.”

5. It is “full of mercy and good fruits.” It awakens and sustains a practical kindness in the heart.

6. It is “without partiality”--a representation, probably, referring to the case of “respect of persons,” as animadverted on in the second chapter.

7. It is “without hypocrisy.” Itself genuine and true, it prompts and inclines to strict and consistent honesty in speech, and conduct, and profession. (A. S.Patterson, D. D.)

The heavenly wisdom

I. ITS PURITY. “First pure”--not in the order of time, but in importance, in the sense that it is the basal attribute of true wisdom.

1. Christ could not be the wisdom of God if He had not been the holiness of God, and we can never be wise if we are not pure.

2. But there is more implied than sinlessness: it means Divine and spiritual energy. Think of the purity of nature, how beautiful it appears when it is renewing its youth in spring. When the grass grows, the trees bud, and the leaves and flowers open, we see the working of the Divine energy bringing fresh forms of life before us, robed in the purity and beauty of the sanctuary of the Divine life. So in moral and spiritual beings their purity is a sign of the Divine energy which is working in and through them, keeping their thoughts holy and their lives sinless.

II. ITS PEACEABLENESS. This means that inward peaceable temper which is the fruit of purity of heart, and is never to be found apart from purity. That Divine energy expels from man’s nature all the elements of disorder, discord, and restlessness, and fills the soul with order, harmony, and heavenly peace.

III. ITS GENTLENESS. This was a new spirit brought into the world by Jesus, and which should distinguish His followers from all other men. According to the text, no one is a gentleman in the highest sense of the word if he has not received and is not practising the wisdom that is from above. To the Christian gentleman humanity is sacred, and he can never intentionally hurt the feelings and injure the reputation of others, and will burn in indignation against all that are guilty of such vile and unmanly conduct.

IV. ITS PERSUASIVENESS. True wisdom shows itself, St. James seems to say, in that subtle yet gentle power to persuade and win, which we all feel when we come in contact with one who is clearly not fighting for his own rights, but for the cause of truth. The followers of Jesus speak not in words which man’s wisdom teaches, but in the words of the wisdom that is from above, which fell from the mouth of the Incarnate Word. But there is more in this persuasiveness than the power of eloquent and earnest words of entreaty, for its mightiest influence will be felt through the holy lives and deeds of love and kindness of those who are possessors of this heavenly wisdom.

V. ITS MERCIFULNESS AND FRUITFULNESS. The train of thought is carried on. Wisdom is suasive because she is compassionate. In dealing with the froward she is stirred, not by anger, but by pity, and she overflows, not with every vile deed, but with the good fruits of kindly acts. Her purity makes her hate sin with perfect hatred, but she loves the sinner with intensity, and yearns for his return from his sinful ways to walk in her ways of pleasantness and paths of peace. She returns a blessing for a curse, a smile for an insult, good for evil, and with a heart overflowing with benevolence she gives water and bread to her enemies.

VI. ITS IMPARTIALITY. TO suffer wrong to pass uncondemned is impossible to her, for she is first pure. She shows that there is an everlasting distinction between right and wrong, and that according to the necessity of her pure nature she is for the right and against the wrong in whatever form it may show itself. Her eyes that look with compassion upon the oppressed, flash lightnings of holy indignation against the oppressor, and from her mouth that speaks words of heavenly tenderness to the weak, the sorrowful, and the lowly, come thunderbolts against all selfishness, cruelty, sinful ambition, arrogancy of spirit, and pride of heart. And even in the objects of her greatest love and highest delight she detects the least sin and condemns it unreservedly.

VII. ITS GUILELESSNESS. This wisdom is free from all dissimulation, deceit, and trickery, and is as pure as the light, as transparent as the crystal. Let Divine light in the soul illuminates man’s whole nature, so that he is perfectly what he appears. (Z. Mather.)

Divine wisdom

Our first thought in reading the description which the apostle gives of the Divine wisdom is this, that it is totally different from the notion of wisdom which we usually adopt. If you were to ask men to define wisdom, they would begin to recapitulate what we may call the intellectual powers of man. If we asked them to define wisdom as she applied herself to the different walks of life, they would tell us that in the statesman it was foresight; in the merchant it was the power of sagacity or shrewdness; in the barrister keenness; in the teacher insight; in the judge comprehensiveness. When we turn to the apostle he sets aside all these; he gives us no picture of logical powers, of clear discrimination, of power of judgment, or power of imagination, but he gives us a catalogue of moral qualities: it is pure, it is gentle, it is full of mercy, it is full of good fruits, it is easy to be intreated. And as he speaks of it our thought is, it is outside the ordinary conduct and the ordinary definitions of man. But I would ask you to see these two things. That in the first place it is the noblest and truest definition of wisdom, because it recognises the true greatness of man; and also that it is the noblest and truest wisdom because it is capable of universal application. It is, in the first instance, the noblest and truest because it, and it alone, recognises the true greatness of man. If you will but search the annals of the past, you will see it is far, far more in the character of man that greatness is to be round than in the skill and intellectual powers which that character possesses. A man may be brilliant in all these capacities, he may have a power to anticipate events just as the foremost in the land, but it seems to me he may be entirely wanting in the very one thing which--as the history of the past can show--alone can gain the confidence of peoples. How was it that in old Athens the Greeks preferred the slower genius of Nicias to the quicker and more brilliant capacities of Alcibiades? Because with the first the moral character was a guarantee that he would live to use his intellectual powers aright. Wherever you scan the story of the past you will find that the true influence of man is the solid power which is built up primarily and first of all of the character which lies in the background. The ability, this is but the colour of the robe; the character is its very texture, and men ask not what the colour is, but what is the durable character of the fabric; they ask not what are the brilliancy of his parts, not the loftiness of his imagination, not the depth of his insight, but rather the solidity and dependableness of his character. And so he wrote rightly, did the apostle, to say that when you are tempted to win your ascendancy over your fellow-men by the biting jest, by the ready sarcasm, by the quick wit of the tongue, take heed lest in the temporary ascendancy you sacrifice the true greatness of your manhood. It is easy to wound by the sharp word, it is easy to make the spirit quail before the rough tongue, but it is a far nobler thing that the mouth should be filled with gentleness, that the heart shall be levelled with love and the character built up in purity. It is, then, the noblest and the truest definition, because it sets aside the mere accidents of intellectual power, and it sets before us a far nobler ideal of wisdom, that which is nearest to the wisdom of God, pure as our Master is pare, gentle as our Redeemer was gentle, and in the hours of His sorrow and His sympathy full of mercy and good fruits, and abundant as the Divine munificence. But if it is thus the noblest definition, our thoughts are struck by another question, and we ask ourselves, Is it possible to work it in the world? Whence do we seek our evidence? My brethren, there are three great spheres which appeal to and touch the life of man. One is the great sphere of the outer world. We look into the heavens above us, into the air around us, and to the earth beneath us and follow the traces of God’s influence--it is the great sphere of nature. We ask from the sphere of nature, and the answer will be given that the wisdom which is from above is indeed full of mercy, for behold the races of men how anxiously they have inquired concerning the God who made all these things. The orbs of the planets and the growth of the flowers tell us of that token of God the Father, tell us that there is a voice from nature that informs us we are not left orphans in His universe, and this is the answer. And men tell us to behold the evidences of design from the hand of God, but what do they draw from its tokens? They do not ask you to behold the designs of the universe, they do not ask you to look upon its beauty, but they ask you to behold the tokens of mercy. It is not that they can tell us of stupendousness of distances which take away the breath as they are contemplated, it is not that they tell of mixed design, or when they take the fragile flower, of its exquisite form and accuracy, but they say behold how, by a marvellous adaptation, the needs of man, and the needs of the feeblest of God’s creatures, are anticipated. There is another sphere which touches us. I ask you not to look now upon the outer world of the material universe, but turn for a moment and see the world of history, It is that great world which exhibits the lessons of the past, it is that which men will call history, but which wiser men will call the pictures of God’s providence. What is the answer upon this? I answer, it is again that the truest wisdom is found in the moral qualities of purity, gentleness, meekness, and mercy. For our first reading of history is itself a story of man, it is a story of dynasties, it is a story of change, that strange drama which has been going on through all ages. But when we look more closely we begin to read history from another light; it is to mark the deeds of men, it is the development of principles, it is bringing to the test of time what are the enduring powers of the world in which we find ourselves, and as I look back I find once more the powers that endure are the moral qualities which St. James has spoken of. Do you want a clear illustration? Go back nineteen centuries and watch the struggle that is going on. On the one side there is the vast consolidated power of Rome grinding down with its iron heel the nations of the world, heedless of the cries of man and the necessity of reform and purity. On the other side there is the little kingdom which is cradled first in the manger of Bethlehem, which expands in the upper chamber at Jerusalem, which carries its way and plants itself in various parts of the earth, and face to face it has struggled against the imperial power which seeks to crush, and the weapons of the Church are but gentleness, purity, meekness. Do I ask the apostle with what weapons he seeks to combat the world and overcome it, he says by pureness, by knowledge, by love unfeigned, by the Holy Ghost, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left. There shall be the design of the statesman, there shall be the power of the legislature, all combined to crush it; and on the other side the meek spirit of silence, of patience, and of love. There are the two in conflict, and I ask you now what is the result? The empire has ceased to be which has been founded upon force, but the empire which has been founded upon purity, upon mercy, and upon love, has spread itself everywhere. History has given back the triumph into the hand of moral wisdom, of purity and love. There is another voice which we can summon to our aid. It is not the voice which comes from the contemplation of the world without, or of the history of the past, but it is listening to the voice which speaks to the inner heart of man. It is the sphere of religion. And, again, I say that the answer will be that the flue wisdom is that which is built up of pureness, of love, and of mercy. Behold how many have gathered together the superstitions and the “religions of the past, and they have trembled before the God of power, they have been ravished by the face of the god of beauty, but they have not been raised in the social scale, they have not found their hearts touched, for they have failed to cast off the cloak of their sin, and tread their own unworthy self beneath their feet till He came who moved through the world and whose life was one of purity--“Which of you convinceth Me of sin?” They bear witness to His guilelessness, “He did no sin, neither did guile proceed out of His mouth.” They bear witness to His gentleness, for they were emboldened to creep to His feet to receive blessings at His hands, as well as His loving-kindness and His mercy. Or I go deeper. I take His religion, and I ask, What is its source and force? You have seen how it seems to spread itself everywhere, that it touches every condition of man, that when it stands face to face with various nationalities it seems to find no difficulty in pouring its beneficent stream into the vessels of whatever shape they may be. The answer is, it is a religion of purity, it is a religion of mercy, it is a religion of gentleness, it comes to man, and it says that purity is the description of the Church, it is the description of dignity, it is the description of humanity, it is the description of God. Here, then, from every voice, of the heart of man, of the history of man, and of the world of man, we get back the same truth that it is indeed the highest wisdom which has as its features gentleness, purity, and love. What, then, shall we say? I say there is the last appeal to our own hearts. My brethren, the glory of it lies in one thing more, and that is that it is a greatness and a wisdom that is open to all. The very power which makes men often so despondent is this, that they say the very walk of life they fain would tread is closed to them because of some weakness of which they are conscious. All men desire greatness; they desire, that is to say, to climb above themselves. Here, then, is the door open to the highest greatness. There is not a greater thing on earth than man; there is not a greater man than the man that has learnt purity, gentleness, and love. And so far more high and noble ambition infinitely than to climb into the high places of the earth, a nobler ambition than all that glittering rank can bestow is the ambition to be a perfect man in Christ Jesus, nearer Him in resemblance of character, in tenderness of heart, in gentleness of speech, nearer to Him in sanctity and purity of life--and this greatness is open to all. (Bp. Boyd Carpenter.)

Divine wisdom

I. VERY LOVELY, THOUGH VERY BRIEF, IS THIS DELINEATION OF TRUE GODLINESS. It is “wisdom from above.” Wherein lies wisdom? and what is her true character? Wisdom is the choice of the best end, and the pursuit of it by the best means. It is more than knowledge; for we may know the best end, and we may know the best means, and yet we may neither pursue the one, nor employ the other. But wisdom differs from knowledge in this--that it is knowledge carried into practice; it is knowledge, not in the abstract, but in the concrete--knowledge, not in the head alone, but in the heart and in the life, wrought out, and carried into effect. Can there be any doubt, then, as to what is the noblest end of mortal man? When man fell from his Maker, he fell from his being’s end. Now, the wisdom that comes from above has for its end and object to restore man to the pursuit of that high favour, and to put into his soul means for the attainment of that end. Every one that believes in Jesus is restored to God’s love; every one that is led and renewed by His Spirit is “transformed” again “into His image.” He, therefore, who is taught this wisdom, chooses God for his Father, Christ for his way, the Spirit for his life. This wisdom is “from above,” not from beneath. The wisdom that is from beneath is “earthly, sensual, devilish,” full of pride, and full of dark rebellion against God. Nor is the wisdom which “maketh wise unto salvation” taught of man, nor discovered by man.

Mighty intellect avails not here; profound learning avails not here; acute understanding is baffled here. Wisdom that maketh wise is from above in the revelation; it is from above in the impartation to the soul. We have not to rest our faith on the decisions of men, or on the vain conjectures of would-be philosophers, who would be “wise above that which is written,” or wise without what is written; but we have God’s own blessed immutable truth, as the rock of our rest. It has stood, and it shall stand when all things else disappear. The, e can be no doubt, for God hath spoken: there can be no incertitude, for God hath sworn, “that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might bare a strong consolation who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us.” Never lose sight of this in studying Scripture: it is “wisdom from above.” We too little study the Bible in this spirit; we too little remember that it is entirely God’s, that it is in no sort of man or from man, and that therefore we are not to treat it as if it were man’s. But it is “wisdom from above” in a still more intimate, and a still more solemn, even in a personal sense. It is “wisdom from above” in the record, and it is so in the revelation to the soul. “God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Then there is light within; then there is salvation to the soul; then there is “wisdom from above”: the Spirit teacheth, and the Spirit giveth life.

II. SHOW THE IMMEDIATE PRACTICAL POWER AND INFLUENCE OF THIS DIVINE WISDOM WHEN THUS RECEIVED BY ANY MAN IN HIS SOUL. It is “first pure, then peaceable.” Here is its beautiful order: here is the process that works in the soul.

1. It is pure; pure as contrasted with error in principle; pure as contrasted with impurity and uncleanness in moral affection. It is pure in both senses--

Divine wisdom, as seen in the nature of the gospel

I. Revealed truth--the wisdom that is from above--is “FIRST PURE, THEN PEACEABLE.” It shows how God may dwell with man, and yet not sacrifice His purity; how man may dwell with God, and yet not lose his peace. It neither tarnishes Divine holiness, nor crushes human hope. It guards first the righteousness of the Judge; thereafter and therewith it obtains the pardon of the criminal. It is in Christ crucified that the two apparent contradictions meet. The substitution of Christ for His people is the fulcrum which sustains alike the honour of God and the safety of believing men. God preserves His own purity, and yet lifts the lost into His bosom: the guilty get a free pardon, and yet the motives which bind them to obedience, instead of being relaxed, are indefinitely strengthened.

II. Revealed truth--the wisdom that is from above--is “GENTLE AND EASY TO BE ENTREATED.” This is not the view which springs in nature, and prevails in the world. Fear in the conscience of the guilty, after passing through various degrees of intensity and forms of manifestation, ever tends to culminate in the question, “Shall I give the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” See the result as it is exhibited in India. The chief gratification of a chief idol is the self-murder of his worshippers under the wheel of the truck that bears his weight. The wisdom that is from above is gentle; “a bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench.” The wisdom that is from above is easy to be entreated; nay, more, He tenderly entreats you--“Come unto Me, all ye That labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

III. Revealed truth--the wisdom that is from above--is “FULL OF MERCY AND GOOD FRUITS.” So far from being in all cases united, these two, in their full dimensions, meet only in the gospel. The administration of a government might be full of mercy, and yet destitute of good fruits: nay, more, the want of good fruit might be directly due to the fulness of mercy. Mercy to the full--an absolutely unconditional pardon to the guilty is in human governments inconsistent with the public good. In the gospel of the grace of God, absolute fulness of mercy to the guilty binds the forgiven more firmly to obedience. The wisdom which is exhibited in the covenant is full of mercy. God could not put more mercy in His covenant, for all His mercy is in it already. Woe to us if that which it contains comes short of our need. It is not a wider door of mercy that we want, but a larger liberty to sin. This Divine wisdom is also full of good fruits. The tree is good, its fruits are good, and it bears them abundantly. Either attribute is in itself precious; and there is an additional interest in the union of the two. If there had not been Divine wisdom in the plan, the profusion of mercy would have blasted in the germ all the promises of fruit. The mercy that is free to us was dearly bought by our Divine substitute. Justice was satisfied while the guilty were set free. There lies the peculiar feature of the mercy which God gives and sinners get through Christ. It does not encourage the forgiven to continue in sin. It makes the forgiven love the forgiver much; and love is the greatest, the only fulfiller of the law.

IV. Revealed truth--the wisdom that is from above--is “WITHOUT PARTIALITY, AND WITHOUT HYPOCRISY.” We are so much accustomed to partiality and hypocrisy in human affairs, that it becomes difficult to lodge in our minds the conception of an off, r entirely equal, and an announcement absolutely true. Accustomed in the moral department of human things to a continual state of siege, we have contracted a corresponding habit of suspicion. We lack the tendency, and perhaps the power, to exercise a pure implicit trust. How shall we be brought, in very deed and in simplicity, to trust that God is true, although every man should be a liar?” Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” Take away this suspicious heart, and give a tender, trustful one. The Mediator’s proposal for peace with God is--

1. Without partiality offered alike to all. All the fallen are in need, and all alike. His own goodness will not admit the best into favour; his own badness will not keep out the worst. Grace, absolutely sovereign and free, is the main principle of the gospel.

2. Without hypocrisy truly offered to each. What have we here? Can the Supreme, consistently with His own honour, plead before His creatures, that He is not a hypocrite, making His offer appear more generous than it really is? Yes; such is His longsuffering condescension. All the repetitions of His offer are of this kind--the overflowings of a compassion that is more than full He stands at the door and knocks; He pleads with sinners, Why will ye die? Strange measure of forbearance this! But is it needed? Do men deny or doubt the sincerity of the offer which the Messenger of the covenant has brought to the world? They do. Nor is it here and there a rare example of peculiar wickedness; it is the commonest sin I know. We do not speak this distrust; but we live it. I have seen a dog tried in this fashion: his owner took a full dish of finest human food from the table, as it had been prepared for the family, and set it before him, encouraging him by word and gesture to eat. The sagacious brute shrank back, lay down, refused, and gave many unmistakable indications that he would be too glad to eat, but he saw clearly it was all a pretence it was too good for him, and never intended for him--and if he should attempt to taste it, the dish could be snatched away, while he would perhaps receive a blow for daring to take the offer in earnest. The picture, although its associations are less grave, possesses, in relation to our subject, the one essential quality of trueness. It represents, more exactly than anything I know in nature, the treatment which God’s offer gets from men. We treat the offer as if the offerer were not sincere. Alas for the pitiful condition of sinful men!--refusing the great salvation, because it is so great that they cannot believe it is really intended to be given free to the unworthy. (W. Arnot.)

Divine wisdom, as seen in the effects of the gospel

I. THE NEW CREATURE--the work of the Sprit in believers--is “FIRST PURE, THEN PEACEABLE.”

1. In relation to God. In His approach to you there was first purity and then peace; therefore, as an echo answers to the sound that waked it, the same two in the same order will characterise your approach to Him. As God would not come in peace to the sinful, except on the foundations of holiness, honoured first, true Christians, much as they desire peace, do not expect--will not ask it on other terms. He who is at peace in impurity has not received upon his heart the imperial seal of the King Eternal, but the counterfeit of some false pretender.

2. In relation to ourselves. Peace of conscience is sweet, whether it be false or true, The desire to avoid or escape remorse is an instinct of humanity, acting as strongly and steadily as the desire to avoid or escape bodily pain. When I accept mercy through the blood of Christ, my desire for peace of conscience, one of the strongest forces in my being, becomes a weight hung over a pulley exerting a constant pressure to lift me up into actual righteousness.

3. In relation to the world around. Those who have, through faith, gone down with Christ in His baptism of blood to wash their sins away, acquire a depth and solidity of character which enables them to bear unmoved the tossings of a troubled time. Their life, “hid with Christ in God,” bears, without breaking, all the strain of the storm. “He that believeth shall not make haste.” In times of trial the deepest is steadiest.

II. THE NEW CREATURE--the work of the Spirit in believers--IS “GENTLE, AND EASY TO BE ENTREATED.” Although the lot of men is, on the whole, much more equal than it seems, yet at certain particular points some have more to bear and do than others. Hard knots occur in some persons as in some trees, while others are constitutionally smoother in the grain. But while I willingly confess that more gnarled natures must endure more pain in the process of being made meek and gentle, I hesitate to own that, in the end, these Christians remain ordinarily more harsh and ungainly than others. I think, although it is not a uniform law, it is, notwithstanding, a common experience, to find in the new man a very low place where in the old man there was a mountain-height. Where the old was harsh and overbearing, the new may be gentle and easy to be entreated; where the old was timidly yielding, the new may bee faithful and bold.

III. THE NEW CREATURE--the work of the Spirit in believers--Is “FULL OF MERCY AND GOOD FRUITS.” It is a principle of the gospel that he who gets mercy shows mercy. The little cistern is brought into connection with the living spring, and the grace which is infinite in the Master, is transferred to the disciple in the measure of his powers. When a man is full of mercy in this sinning, suffering world, a stream of benevolence will be found flowing in his track, all through the wilderness. If the reservoir within his heart be kept constantly charged by union with the upper spring, there need be neither ebbing nor intermission of the current all his days, for opening opportunities everywhere abound. Let no disciple of Christ either think himself excused, or permit himself to be discouraged from doing good, because his talents and opportunities are few. Your capacity is small, it is true; but if you are in Christ, it is the capacity of a well. Although it does not contain much at any moment, so as to attract attention to you for your gifts, it will give forth a good deal in a lifetime, and many will be refreshed.

IV. THE NEW CREATURE--the work of the Spirit in believers--Is “WITHOUT PARTIALITY, AND WITHOUT HYPOCRISY.” These plants, though not now indigenous in human nature, may, when transplanted, and watched, and watered, grow there, and bear substantial fruit.

1. Without partiality. It is not the impartiality of indifference, but the impartiality of love.

2. Without hypocrisy. When a sinner, softened in repentance, lays himself for pardon along a crucified Christ, he takes on from the Lord a transparent trueness which tells distinctly whose he is, to every passenger he meets on the highway of life. (W. Arnot.)

The wisdom that is from above

I. THE JUST MOTION OF WISDOM IN GENERAL.

1. True wisdom distinguishes the particular seasons and circumstances of action. All times and all circumstances will not bear all things. It is very possible to destroy the best-laid scheme by an ill-seasoned execution. Every duty to God claims a proper time, and so likewise every duty to our neighbours and ourselves. To gain upon men for their good, there are soft times of address, which a mere accident may present, when a word spoken fitly will have greater weight than the most powerful arguments on other occasions. These a wise man will carefully observe, and strike the iron while it is hot and capable of yielding.

II. THE EXCELLENCY OF THIS WISDOM.

1. The origination of wisdom is from above.

2. It heightens the excellency of wisdom, that the objects about which it is employed are suitable to its sublime original.

3. The great end it advances shows its excellency. It not only sets us on the way, but puts us in the possession of true happiness at last.

III. MARK THE DIVINE LINEAMENTS OF IT here touched by the pen of the apostle, and so form a judgment of its beauty and excellence.

1. It is pure. It is like the blessed Author of it. It is the image of God in the soul; resembles Him in that which is the beauty and glory of His nature, His holiness.

2. It is peaceable. Peace is the fruit of holiness, and, therefore, properly placed after it. A pure conscience keeps a calm breast, and disposes the soul to seek and keep peace with others.

3. It is gentle, that is, equal and moderate.

4. It is easy to be intreated, ready to oblige, pliable and condescending to anything for the good of others, that is consistent with a good conscience.

5. It is full of mercy and good fruits; compassionate and liberal; not resting in good words and fair speeches, but doing good works.

6. That we may not be blinded or biassed by prejudice, that we may not confine our good opinions or good deeds to any one party of men, the apostle adds, Wisdom is without partiality, will not suffer us to judge men’s characters by their circumstances, to think well or ill of them by external appearances, and treat them accordingly.

7. Without hypocrisy. True wisdom can never be divided from integrity. No man can be wise without being honest. He that walketh uprightly walketh surely.

IN CONCLUSION it follows:

1. That prayer is an indispensable duty on every soul of man. True wisdom is the gift of God; and no man can have the least room or reason to expect it without asking.

2. How foolish, sinful, and contrary to our holy religion are all uncharitable principles and practices! (Wm. Beet.)

Christianity--“the wisdom that is from above”

1. With propriety it is designated wisdom; for a God of wisdom is its author and its end, and it reveals a scheme of mercy in the device of which omniscience itself was exerted. Yes, with propriety is it called wisdom; for it teaches man to know the character of God, and the riches of God’s love, the natural debasement of humanity, and the means that have been put in operation for securing his eternal weal. With propriety is it called wisdom; for it enlightens the mind, informs the judgment, and regulates the life. With propriety is it called wisdom; for it makes him who lives under its influence wise in the estimation of God Himself. Once more, with propriety is it entitled wisdom; for the end of it is to make men wise unto salvation.

2. Not less appropriately is it designated a wisdom that cometh from above. Its origin is indeed celestial; for it is a beam that issues from God the fountain of light. Its origin is celestial; for the angel of the covenant Himself came down from heaven to reveal its first promise, and make known to Adam the great truth on which it all depends. Yes, its origin is celestial; for without the teaching of the Holy Spirit its high lessons cannot be learned. (Wm. Craig.)

The heavenly origin of wisdom

The ancients, when speaking of any valuable art or discovery highly beneficial to mankind, commonly deduce its origin from heaven, and acknowledge that they owed it to the teaching of the gods. Thus fire is said to have been stolen from heaven; the useful arts of agriculture, and such like, are ascribed to the direction of such and such particular deities; and philosophy itself is said to have come down from heaven. (F. Carmichael.)

The wisdom which is from above

I. THE NATURE OF THIS WISDOM (James 3:17). Now what are its properties, what its distinctive features?

1. The most internal and fundamental of these is purity. It is so, both in its nature and in the influence which it exerts. It is holy and makes holy.

2. “Peaceable.” This is the opposite of that characteristic of the false wisdom which the apostle had been speaking of, namely, “envying and strife.” The true, the heavenly, is disposed to peace, it follows after, it delights in peace. It animates its possessor with such a spirit, so that he desires, though he cannot always secure, this blessing.

3. “Gentle”--mild, forbearing. It corresponds to the “meekness of wisdom” spoken of in a preceding verse. It is ranked by Paul among the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). A really peaceable disposition may be connected with not a little roughness and harshness of manlier. There may be a sternness, a severity which repels others, and does injustice to the genuine principles and affections of the bosom. This wisdom should subdue and soften the spirit, should infuse into it a real tenderness and sweetness, and it must so far as it is imparted and has free course. Yes; for it embraces a sense of our own obligations to infinite mercy, matchless long-suffering,--it assimilates us to Him from whom it all proceeds, for Christ is made unto His people, wisdom; and how conspicuous was this feature in His character! And it teaches us that such is the disposition which not only becomes us as Christians, but is the most effectual in winning over others to the faith of the gospel.

4. “Easy to be entreated”--readily persuaded, compliant. It is not obstinate, unbending, implacable. It is willing to learn, whoever may be the teacher, and however disagreeable may be the lesson. It is ready to listen to reason and remonstrance. It does not require much persuasion to induce it to forgive injuries and be reconciled to adversaries. It insists not on studious etiquette, nor on carefully adjusted and elaborately expressed acknowledgments. In this respect its possessors have the mind of Him whose ear is open to the cry of sinners, rebels, and who is always standing waiting to be gracious--ready to pardon.

5. “Full of mercy and good fruits.” These two are closely connected in the mode of expression, and this accords with their real relation. Mercy is compassion, pity, and has respect to the offending and the miserable. It manifests itself with respect to temporal distress, and still more with reference to spiritual destitution. Tats wisdom has not merely a little of it, but is full of it, according to the text. The mercy which has its spring here, not only flows but overflows. It is cherished, not toward a narrow circle of objects, but one large and stretching far beyond those barriers which limit the sympathies of many. It is shown, not on rare occasions, but frequently, habitually, well-nigh as often as the appeal is made or the need discovered. And it is not a half-hearted thing, not a shallow, superficial feeling, soon exhausted and gone--for it is not only real but deep and enduring.

6. “Without partiality and without hypocrisy.” The heavenly wisdom is impartial. It does not respect persons. Neither is it one-sided in its attachment to truth and duty. It does not choose this and reject that; but embraces the whole will of God in its regards. And it is equally unprejudiced with reference to the modes of usefulness, means and ways of doing good, being largely free from that narrow-mindedness which is so common in these respects, and which forces itself on our view in so many quarters. It is also “without hypocrisy.” There is about it no feigning, no pretence, no insincerity. It is open, transparent, consistent. With it the reality and the semblance, the substance and the form, correspond.

II. THE RESULT OF TINS WISDOM (James 3:18). It yields precious fruit--the fruit of righteousness. The expression may mean, either that the fruit springs from, or consists in, righteousness. We understand it in the latter sense. This is its substance, its nature. And so we read in the Epistle to the Hebrews of chastisement yielding “the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.” Righteousness is conformity to the will of God, and largely taken, as it is here, embraces the discharge of all the duties we owe directly to Him, as well as those we are bound to perform toward our fellow-creatures. It is equivalent to holiness of heart and life in all its parts; indeed, to true religion in the whole compass of its personal influence and effects. (John Adam.)

The wisdom that is from above

The “first” and the “then” may be seriously misunderstood. St. James does not mean that the heavenly wisdom cannot be peaceable and gentle until all its surroundings have been made pure from everything that would oppose or contradict it; in other words, that the wise and understanding Christian will first free himself from the society of all whom he believes to be in error, and then, but not till then, will he be peaceable and gentle. This interpretation contradicts the context, and makes St. James teach the opposite of what he says very plainly in the sentences which precede, and in those which follow. He is stating a logical, and not a chronological order, when he declares that true wisdom is “first pure, then peaceable.” In its inmost being it is pure; among its very various external manifestations are the six or seven beneficent qualities which follow the “then.” If there were no one to be gentle to, no one coming to entreat, no one needing mercy, the wisdom from above would still be pure; therefore this quality comes first. Here “pure” must certainly not be limited to mean simply “chaste.” The word “sensual,” applied to the wisdom from below, does not mean unchaste, but living wholly in the world of sense; and the purity of the heavenly wisdom does not consist merely in victory over temptations of the flesh, but in freedom from worldly and low motives. Its aim is that truth should become known and prevail, and it condescends to no ignoble arts in prosecuting this aim. Contradiction does not ruffle it, and hostility does not provoke it to retaliate, because its motives are thoroughly disinterested and pure. Thus, its peaceable and placable qualities flow out of its purity. It is “first pure, then peaceable.” It is because the man who is inspired with it has no ulterior selfish ends to serve that he is gentle, sympathetic, and considerate towards those who oppose him. He strives, not for victory over his opponents, but for truth both for himself and for them; and he knows what it costs to arrive at truth. A critical writer of our own day has remarked that “by an intellect which is habitually filled with the wisdom which is from heaven, in all its length and breadth, ‘ objections’ against religion are perceived at once to proceed from imperfect apprehension. Such an intellect cannot rage against those who give words to such objections. It seems that the objectors do but intimate the partial character of their own knowledge.” It will be observed that while the writer just quoted speaks about the intellect, St. James speaks about the heart. The difference is not accidental, and it is significant of a difference in the point of view. The modern view of wisdom is that it is a matter which mainly consists in the strengthening and enrichment of the intellectual powers, Increase of capacity for acquiring and retaining knowledge; increase in the possession of knowledge: this is what is meant by growth in wisdom. And by knowledge is meant acquaintance with the nature and history of man, and with the nature and history of the universe. All this is the sphere of the intellect rather than of the heart. The purification and development of the moral powers, if not absolutely excluded from the scope of wisdom, is commonly left in the background and almost out of sight. What St. James says here is fully admitted: the highest wisdom keeps a man from the bitterness of party spirit. But why? Because his superior intelligence and information tell him that the opposition of those who dissent from him is the result of ignorance, which requires, not insult and abuse, but instruction. St. James does not dissent from this view, but he adds to it. There are further and higher reasons why the truly wise man does not rail at others or try to browbeat and silence them. Because, while he abhors folly, he loves the fool, and would win him over from his foolish ways; because he desires not only to impart knowledge, but to increase virtue; and because he knows that strife means confusion, and that gentleness is the parent of peace. Christians are charged to be “wise as serpents, but harmless as doves.” “Full of mercy and good fruits.” The wisdom from above is not only peaceable, reasonable, and conciliatory, when under provocation or criticism, it is also eager to take the initiative in doing all the good in its power to those whom it can reach or influence. The intellectual miser, who gloats over the treasures of his own accumulated knowledge, and smiles with lofty indifference upon the criticisms and squabbles of the imperfectly instructed, has no share in the wisdom that is from above. He is peaceful and moderate, not out of love and sympathy, but because his time is too precious to be wasted in barren controversy, and because he is too proud to place himself on a level with those who would dispute with him. No selfish arrogance of this kind has any place in the character of the truly wise. His wisdom not only enlightens his intellect, but warms his heart and strengthens his will. “Without variance, without hypocrisy.” These are the last two of the goodly qualities which St. James gives as marks of the heavenly wisdom. Similarity in sound, which cannot well be preserved in English, has evidently had something to do with their selection ( ἀδιάκριτος ἀνυπόκριτος). The first of the two has perplexed translators. Of the various possible meanings of the word before us we may prefer “without doubtfulness.” The wisdom from above is unwavering, steadfast, single-minded. Thus Ignatius charges the Magnesians (xv.) to “possess an unwavering spirit” ( ἀδιάκριτον πνεῦμα), and tells the Trallians (i.) that he has “learned that they have a-mind unblamable and unwavering in patience” ( ἀδιάκριτον ἐν ὑπομονῇ). And Clement of Alexandria (Paed. II. 3., p. 190) speaks of “unwavering faith” ( ἀδιακρίτῳ πίστει), and a few lines farther on he reminds his readers, in words that suit our present subject, that “wisdom is net bought with earthly coin, nor is sold in the market, but in heaven.” If he had said that wisdom is not sold in the market, but given from heaven, he would have made the contrast both more pointed and more true. “The fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for them that make peace.” The Greek may mean either “for them that make peace,” or “by them that make peace”; and we need not attempt to decide. In either case it is the peacemakers who sow the seed whose fruit is righteousness, and the peacemakers who reap this fruit. The whole process begins, progresses, and ends in peace. (A. Plummer, D. D.)

The seven qualities of wisdom

The seven qualities which James attributes to the wisdom from above are nothing but the seven colours of the one ray of light of heavenly truth, which has been revealed and has appeared in Christ Himself. He is therefore supremely entitled to the name “the Wisdom of God.” (Lange’s Commentary.)

The sequence

is that of thought, not of time. It is not meant, e.g., that purity is an earlier stage of moral growth in wisdom than peace, but that it is its foremost attribute. (Dean Plumptre.)

Peaceable

The person endowed with this will not indeed give up the fundamentals of religion, the articles of faith, under the notion of being peaceable. He will not sit by an unconcerned spectator, void of all concern and zeal, while others are doing this. He will not sacrifice good order and government in the Church of God to the caprice or clamours of enthusiasm or faction. No; this is not being peaceable, but a criminal lukewarmness and indifference unworthy of a Christian. In such cases, however peaceable he is otherwise, he will within his proper sphere contend most earnestly for the faith. (Win. Thorold, M. A.)

Gentleness

The Archbishop of Canterbury, speaking after Earl Granville had unveiled the memorial to his predecessor, adorned the occasion by a reference to the secret of the beautiful life of Dr. Taft. “I have heard,” said he, “and I believe it is true, that on the first day of his wedded life he and his bride pledged themselves to each other that they would never quarrel with any one, and I believe that pledge was kept to the end.” This memory is better than any memorial in marble.

Power of gentleness

Morning by morning God’s great mercy of sunshine steals upon a darkened world in still, slow, self-impartation; and the light which has a force that has carried it across gulfs of space that the imagination staggers in trying to conceive, yet falls so gently that it does not move the petals of the sleeping flowers, nor hurt the lids of an infant’s eyes, nor displace a grain of dust. So should we live and work, clothing all our power in tenderness, doing our work in quietness, disturbing nothing but the darkness, and with silent increase of beneficent power filling and flooding the dark earth with healing beams. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Full of mercy and good fruits.--“Mercy” may here be taken for the inward principle, and “good fruits” for the effect of this principle in our outward actions. Divine wisdom fills men with tenderness and compassion towards those that are miserable in any respect, whether it be from their infirmities of body or mind, or from any calamity that befals them from without; it disposes them to look on the case of others as if it were their own; to have an inward feeling of their unhappiness, and consequently to do whatever lies in their power for their release or assistance; to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to visit the sick, to comfort the disconsolate, to instruct the ignorant, to admonish and reclaim transgressors; these are the good fruits which naturally spring from the mercy here mentioned, of which the apostle tells us the wise man is full. True wisdom will be particularly tender and compassionate towards those who have erred from the right path, either in their principles or practice, inclining rather to save than to destroy them, and trying every possible laudable means of bringing them back to a right mind. (F. Carmichael.)

Full of mercy and of good fruits

Far from being savage, unrelenting, or cruel, it feels the Godlike impressions of pity and compassion towards every proper object, the unfortunate and the miserable; it is touched with a strong sense of the miseries of human nature; it cannot but weep with those that weep, and commiserate and assist the indigent and the distressed; it is not content to afford them the cheap offer of mere verbal pity only, of the eye or of the tongue, but will add the real and substantial one of actual aid in proportion to their wants and its own ability; it will not only be full of mercy but full of good fruits likewise. By which last expression we may observe how valuable these works of mercy are in the sight of God, when He who is the blessed author and adorable fountain of all good calls them good; good by way of eminence, not indeed the only way of doing good, yet a principal one, a way most acceptable to Him, most beneficial to man, good in its nature, in its principle, in its fruits and consequences, good to those who receive, and superlatively good to those who truly and religiously practice it. (Wm. Thorold, M. A.)

Without partiality

Superior to a narrow spirit

The person who is endowed, with this heavenly wisdom is above that narrow and selfish spirit which men who act upon worldly motives are always of, who are inclined to think well of, and to wish and do well to such only as are of the same opinion or party, sect, or persuasion with themselves. No, the truly wise and the good man is a man of more enlarged, a more generous, a more Christian spirit and disposition. He is not unmindful indeed of those particular obligations he lies under towards those who are endeared to him by blood, by friendship, by religion. These, all other circumstances equal, will be sure to have the preference, but still they will not so wholly engross his good opinion, his favour, his charity, as to exclude all others from them. No, he will to his power, after the example of his Heavenly Father, be peaceable, he will be gentle, he will be equitable, he will be merciful and charitable to all; and this not out of a motive of vainglory or ostentation, or self-interest, but out of a sincere principle of love to God and to man, without partiality, without hypocrisy, appearing to all what he really is, without disguise, without dissimulation. (Wm. Thorold, M. A. )

The fruit of righteousness is sown in peace

Sowing seeds of peace

Whatever difficulty there may be in this verse in its detail, its broad intention is quite clear--that “peace” is the seedtime of “righteousness,” and not “righteousness” of “peace”: that we rather become good because we are at “peace,” than that we have “peace” because we are good. “Peace” is the seed. Every truth has in it its higher and its lower range: its higher, which is spiritual; and its lower, which is natural. There is a higher “righteousness,” which is between God and the sinner; and there is a lower “righteousness,” which is between man and man. There is a higher “peace,” which lies in reconciliation with God; and there is a lower “peace,” which is the man being in harmony with his fellow-creatures, and at rest with his own conscience. Only in both cases the higher carries the lower. To be “righteous,” in God’s righteousness, is the surest way to be upright in common life. “Peace” with heaven makes “peace” on earth. The two are wrapped together when we say, “The fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.” Let me trace the history or pedigree of “righteousness.” God is the One only “Righteous”; and “there is no unrighteousness with God.” The “righteous” God made an upright creature in His own image: but He made him free to stand or fall; and, in his freedom, he fell from his uprightness. The “righteous” God willed to restore him. And here is the problem: to restore the rebel and maintain the “righteousness.” And He solved it. He, who was Himself “the Just One,” His own beloved Son, more than consented to His Father’s counsel. And He did it. He went Himself through the whole punishment that was due to all the world. So the law was satisfied; the equivalent was complete and abundant; and it was just with God to forgive the sinner. But here lay another mystery. Christ was not a Man only; He was a Representative Man. He was a Head, and all we His body. What a head does, it is the same as if the body did it. We suffered and died in our Head. “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” And man’s pardon has become “the righteousness of God.” By God’s grace a man sees this, feels this, believes this. Then he is in the body. Then that man is for-given--because that man’s sins have been already punished. And much more than this. That man being in Christ, the “righteousness” of Christ--which is “the righteousness of God”--passes on to him. He is covered with it. God sees him in it. He is a justified man. So that, even in the sight of a pure and holy God, that man is “righteous.” But what as respects his relative duty to his fellow-men? How does he go down to the lower range? He must be an upright man. Else he is no Christian at all! But let us take the other away; let us see the genealogy of “peace.” “Peace” was in heaven, and God placed “peace” in paradise. But sin came, and “peace” flew away. Then God willed to restore “peace.” “And the counsel of peace was between them both.” He who is “our peace” said, “Lo, I come.” And He came. And “made peace by the blood of His Cross.” And man became “reconciled to God.” Immediately that he was reconciled the Holy Ghost came. And now, man knowing and feeling that he is forgiven, is at “peace” in his own mind. The sacred Dove comes back again, and nestles sweetly in his bosom. Now, see the moral consequence. Man, being at “peace” with man, is gentle, peace-loving, peace-making. For love is the child of “peace.” The Church knits herself into unity; and Christians go forth in forgiveness to enemies--in charity to every man--in mission to the world. And thus--according to the pedigree of “righteousness,” and according to the genealogy of “peace”--in both ways, “the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.” And who are they that “make peace”? The Holy Trinity--embodied to us in the Person of the blessed Jesus. It is He who “makes peace.” He “sowed” it in those tears, and those drops of blood, which fell so thick in the garden and on Calvary. Seeds, often long dawning, never dead; seeds which, when the Spirit waters them in a man’s soul, draw up, and make sweet spring-time, till, in due time, they cluster in the harvest of righteousness: “and the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.” It may be strange, but all experience establishes the fact, that the ministry which speaks most of “peace,” that is, of Christ, which imparts “peace,” is always the ministry which most checks sin, and raises the moral tone, and promotes, in any people, “righteousness” in all the common relationships of life. I feel that I have very little else to do but to sow “peace.” And if you were all at “peace” with God, in your consciences, and with men, my work would be well-nigh done! But not ministers only. You also, by virtue of your common Christianity--you are all to be making “peace.” First, you must be yourself at “peace”; at “peace” with God, at “peace” in your own heart, at “peace” with everybody. You must go about with that “peaceful” feeling, that gentle quietness, that subdued tone, which only an interest in Christ can give, and which it never fails to give. Speak to every one about the happy parts of religion. Tell of its “peace.” Be everywhere a comforter. Show Jesus in His attractiveness, especially to the world, and to the bad. Deal tenderly. Aim at a holy, loving influence with those that you have to do with. Be always dropping a seed of heaven. And if thereby you be not a reformer of your age (though you may be); or, if you do not die as one who has done great things for God in your day and generation (yet you may have done)--at least you will have been a faithful follower of your meek and blessed Master, and you will have shown His Spirit, and you will have recognised and acted out His fundamental law, that “the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.” (James Vaughan, M. A.)

Fruit of righteousness sown in peace

These words admit of two different interpretations. As the great design which the apostle has in view is to correct the pride, wrath, and malice which prevail among those he wrote to, which he does by laying before them its bad consequences, strife and confusion, and representing how inconsistent it was with that true and heavenly/ wisdom which inspires men with gentleness, peace, and mercy: in this verse he may be understood as showing the advantages of following this true wisdom rather than indulging such noxious passions. The fruit, the reward of righteousness is sown in peace; is kept and reserved in a happier, a more peaceful and glorious state hereafter, of them that make peace, that is, for them that are endued with this wisdom, which delights in peace. The fruits are the reward of the toil of the husbandman; these fruits may be said to be sown when that seed is sown which, by the blessing of God, will produce them. The apostle therefore tells us that peace is a seed, which whoever sows, it will by the goodness of God yield to him the fruits of righteousness. Others conceive the apostle here to be answering an objection against what he had said. Shall we by our gentleness and meekness indulge and cherish the wickedness of others? Ought we not rather to use all our zeal to punish and root it out? The truly wise man, says the apostle, by his compassion and meekness, neither favours nor connives at vice and wickedness, but will correct it with such moderation as is consistent with good order and peace, and shall thereby always have most success on the minds of men. Like a wise physician, he will treat his patients softly and tenderly, will not immediately apply the last and most dreadful remedies, but reserve them till he has tried those of a milder nature without success. Thus, in peace, that is, by the most endearing means of persuasion and kindness, in the spirit of meekness, will the wise

124 man who follows peace sow the fruits of righteousness; correct the vices and reform the lives of those who have gone astray, and bring them to the practice of righteousness with infinitely greater success than those whose harshness and severity may frighten men, or raise their hatred and detestation, but will never succeed so as to persuade or gain them. (F. Carmichael.)


Verse 17-18

James 3:17-18

The wisdom that is from above is first pure

Characteristics of heavenly wisdom

I.
IT IS HALLOWED. On the spirit of the man who has it there has fallen a sacred hush, as on a temple which a god inhabits. Its precincts are consecrated to worship. All desecrating principles, maxims, thoughts, purposes are excluded. It has no doubtful expedients and utters no words of double meaning. It is clear, because it has been clarified. It is open to heaven and earth without concealments. It is chaste, seeking no unholy pleasures.

II. IT IS PEACEABLE. It is peaceable, because it is pure. Men that have no false and wicked purposes cannot break the peace. There never was dissension between two friends, never a rupture in any Church, never a rebellion in any State, never a war between two countries, never a wicked controversy of any kind which did not have its origin in some impurity of soul.

III. IT IS REASONABLE. It is not violent in its maintenance of its own convictions; it is not stubborn, unwilling to hear what may be said on the other side. There are men who deem themselves wise, who storm out what they believe to be the truth. Real wisdom does not so. Where there is a sober conviction of the right, and a firm faith in the final triumph of the right, all that a man has to do is to speak the truth in love. If any man holds an error, the wise man regards him as most unfortunate, and pities him, as a man in good health pities his neighbour whose eruptions show that he is diseased. Gentleness is not weak, and is not the product of weakness. It comes from being reasonable. None but the strong can be gentle; others may be soft and apathetic, but gentleness as much requires strength for its basis as the beautiful flowers and verdure require the strong ground of the geological formations. A gentle man gains by giving. He is not punctilious of his rights. He will maintain them, but always on grounds of reason, not of passion. He holds to his property, not because it is his, but for the reason that he is responsible for it. Just so a man who has this wisdom from above will not be violent in argument. He maintains his opinions, not because they are his opinions, but because he has formed them reasonably, and must maintain them reasonably and not passionately. So he will hear what others have to say.

IV. IT IS PERSUADABLE. AS the word which we have translated “reasonable” indicates the condition of the wise man’s soul when he is striving to convince others, so this “persuadable” seems to indicate the posture of his soul when others are striving to convince him. It means that if he has made an error he will not keep wandering on because he is unwilling to retrace his steps. It means that he will not waste energy in endeavouring to hold an untenable position under the control of intellectual pride. It means that he can be won over by fair means and sound argument. He yields to no force that is not reasonable, as he employs no agency that is not reasonable.

V. IT IS COMPASSIONATE. In a man of true celestial wisdom there is so much sympathy and compassion that it is perpetually bursting out into fruits of goodness, which are so profitable that all men acknowledge them. You cannot know so well the condition of the tree, but fruits are visible and palpable. Men know the tree by the fruit, as God knows the fruit by the tree.

VI. IT IS NOT PARTISAN. It will not adhere to a party it loves, “right or wrong.” It will not condemn the other party, “wrong or right.” It will not oppress the poor when it happens to be rich, nor wrong the rich when it happens to be poor. Appeals on ground of caste, or class, or previous condition, will have no effect upon its judgment. It regards a man for what he is, not for what he has or has not been.

VII. IT IS FREE FROM ALL HYPOCRISY. Against nothing did Jesus lift up His voice in more clear and terrible notes than against hypocrisy, which was a crying sin among the Jews. (C. F. Deems, D. D.)

The wisdom that is from above

I. WHAT IS WISDOM?

1. It is prudence, discretion, knowledge reduced to practice, and employed in the use of such means as are most suitable to accomplish the desired end Proverbs 3:19-20; Proverbs 8:12).

2. “The wisdom that is from above” is an inspired definition of the true religion; it is an attractive exhibition of that infallible knowledge which, having descended from heaven, discovers to us the most direct way to God; the means best calculated to make us lovingly acquainted with His holy law; the manner in which those means may be most easily and effectually used; and the happy results which flow from them.

II. ITS DISTINGUISHING CHARACTERISTICS.

1. Pure. While religion regulates and transforms all the powers of the mind, its first and immediate effect is not on the understanding to make it more enlightened; or on the judgment to make it more correct; or on the imagination to make it more discursive and brilliant; or on the memory to make it stronger and more retentive; but on the heart, to purify it from all moral defilement, and to make it the more upright, inoffensive, and holy.

2. Peaceable. The design of His government is to induce men to lay aside all causes of strife and alienation, and to promote unity and love.

3. Gentle and easy to be entreated. It is not rash, or authoritative, or fond of display; not rude or overbearing; not harsh or cruel; does not seek to fix upon others that which they disclaim, even though their words or conduct seemed to bear such an interpretation; and is willing to give preference to the sentiments or plans of others when they furnish evidence of superiority. It is not impatient when contradicted; or, if any misunderstanding arises, it is pacific rather than rigorous, complacent rather than censorious.

4. Full of mercy and good fruits. When it is said that “the wisdom from above is full of mercy,” we learn that it is not implacable and parsimonious, but clement and liberal; not resentful and grudging, but forgiving and bountiful. “Full of good fruits,” the fruits of good living; sympathising with those who are in trouble, showing kindness to such as are in distress, or by aiding those whose object it is to mitigate human woe in any of its multifarious forms, and to convert sinners from the error of their way.

5. Without partiality. Men of little minds or contracted views are easily dazzled with outward splendour, and, like children, count nothing good but what is gay and adorned with pomp. I-fence they readily give a preference to that which is most attractive in form, and, in the spirit of conscious partiality, undervalue or look coldly on those of greatest worth, because they make the least pretensions. But “the wisdom that is from above” looks not on men “after the outward appearance”; it renders to every one his due, without being swayed by self-interest or worldly honour, and determined to do equal justice to all, according to their moral worth.

6. Without hypocrisy. “An Israel indeed” is a man “in whom is no guile,” no fraud, no trick, no deceit; all he pretends is genuine; all he says is sincere.

Lessons:

1. That there is a wide difference between the religion here described and that of many who bear the Christian name.

2. That it is both the duty and the privilege of all who bear the Christian name to live in possession of this heavenly wisdom. (W. Lupton.)

Wisdom front above

I. THE ESSENTIAL CHARACTERISTIC OF GENUINE RELIGION. NOW true religion may be denominated wisdom--

1. As it directs the mind to the most glorious pursuits.

2. As it employs the most efficient means for the attainment of these objects.

II. ITS HEAVENLY ORIGIN.

1. The contrivance of salvation was from above.

2. The Author of our salvation came from above.

3. The revelation of true religion is from above.

4. All the blessings of our religion are from above.

III. ITS DISTINGUISHED ATTRIBUTES.

1. It is pure. Not absolute or angelic purity, but spiritual purity. The opposite of depravity and corruption. This purity is supernatural, real, and progressive.

2. It is peaceable. Not contentious. Not boisterous. It commences with the pacification of the conscience towards God. It produces a peaceful state of mind.

3. It is gentle. Hence the Christian resembles the dove, and not the vulture; the lamb, and not the lion.

4. Is easy to be entreated. Not stubborn or self-willed.

5. It is full of mercy.

6. Full of good fruits.

7. Without partiality.

8. Without hypocrisy.

Application:

1. How important that we ascertain if our religion possess these essential attributes!

2. How happy those who experience in their hearts these heavenly fruits!

3. What a blessing is genuine religion to the world at large! (J. Burns, D. D.)

Wisdom or prudence

I, wisdom,” says Solomon, “dwell with prudence”: hence wisdom and prudence, and the characters of wise and prudent, are often mentioned together. Prudence lies in wisely fixing upon a right end of all actions, and in wisely choosing the best means conducive to that end, and in using them at the best time and in the fittest manner.

I. WHAT SPIRITUAL WISDOM IS, as it is an internal grace, or inward disposition of the mind, respecting Divine things; a man’s duty, the salvation of his soul, and the glory of God.

1. It is, in general, grace in the heart: “wisdom in the hidden part” Psalms 51:6; Proverbs 16:21). This wisdom cometh from God, who gives it entrance, and puts it there (Proverbs 2:6).

2. Spiritual wisdom, in particular, is a right knowledge of a man’s self; no man that is wise in his own eyes, and prudent in his own sight, knows himself; “there is more hope of a fool than of such.”

3. True spiritual wisdom is no other than the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, which God commands to shine in the hearts of men.

4. True spiritual wisdom is no other than the fear of the Lord (Psalms 111:10; Proverbs 9:10; Job 28:28). This includes the whole worship of God, internal and external, flowing from a principle of grace; it takes in the whole duty of man, which it is his wisdom to practice, internally and externally.

5. It is being wise unto salvation, or in things respecting that.

II. WHEREIN THIS WISDOM PRACTICALLY SHOWS ITSELF.

1. In doing good things in general. Such who are wickedly wise are wise to do evil; but such who are spiritually wise are “wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil” (Romans 16:19); and these are capable of doing things both for their own good and for the good of others.

2. This spiritual wisdom shows itself in particular in a profession of religion.

3. This spiritual wisdom shows itself in a becoming walk and conversation.

4. This wisdom shows itself in observing the providence of God in the world and the dispensations of it: in making useful remarks upon it, and in learning useful lessons from it.

5. This spiritual wisdom shows itself in a man’s concern about his last end and future state; how it will be with him at last, and how it will go with him in another world (Deuteronomy 32:29)..

III. FROM WHENCE THIS SPIRITUAL WISDOM COMES. “God understandeth the way thereof, and He knoweth the place thereof (Job 28:20-23), forit is with Him originally, and in full perfection, yea, it is in Him infinite, unsearchable: it is in His gift to bestow, and is to be asked of Him James 1:5).

IV. THE NATURE AND PROPERTIES OF THIS WISDOM

1. It is from above--from God, Father, Son, and Spirit; it is conversant about heavenly things; it is celestial wisdom, and stands opposed to earthly wisdom in a preceding verse.

2. It is pure in itself and in its effects; productive of purity of heart, life, and conversation.

3. It is peaceable: it influences the professors of it to be at peace among themselves and one another, to cultivate peace in families, among neighbours, and even with enemies.

4. It is gentle: it makes those who have it to be gentle towards all men, moderate and humane, to bear the infirmities of the weak, to forbear and forgive one another injuries done.

5. It is easy to be entreated or persuaded to put up with affronts, to condescend to men of low estate, and not mind high things.

6. It is full of mercy and good fruits: it fills men with compassion to those in distress, and puts them upon acts of beneficence to the poor, according to their ability.

7. It is without partiality; without partiality to themselves, esteeming others better than themselves; and to others, showing no respect of persons.

8. It is without hypocrisy to God and man, not making a show of what they have not, and intend not to do: as it is a grace, it has a close connection with faith unfeigned, with a hope that is without hypocrisy, and with love which is without dissimulation. (T. Hannam.)

The heavenly wisdom

What a change passes on the scene! A bright, celestial form appliers. A fair and fragrant landscape bursts upon the view.

1. The apostle commences his description of “the wisdom that is from above” with the statement, “It is first pure.” It avoids and excludes what is false in doctrine, and what is vile in character and action; and this process leads the way and regulates the rest.

2. It is “then peaceable.” It leads him who possesses it to “follow peace,” to maintain peace, and to promote peace. The voices of the world are constantly exclaiming, “We are for war.”

3. It is “gentle.” It leads him to deal mildly with the broken heart, and even to use meekness towards “such as oppose themselves.”

4. It is “easy to be entreated.”

5. It is “full of mercy and good fruits.” It awakens and sustains a practical kindness in the heart.

6. It is “without partiality”--a representation, probably, referring to the case of “respect of persons,” as animadverted on in the second chapter.

7. It is “without hypocrisy.” Itself genuine and true, it prompts and inclines to strict and consistent honesty in speech, and conduct, and profession. (A. S.Patterson, D. D.)

The heavenly wisdom

I. ITS PURITY. “First pure”--not in the order of time, but in importance, in the sense that it is the basal attribute of true wisdom.

1. Christ could not be the wisdom of God if He had not been the holiness of God, and we can never be wise if we are not pure.

2. But there is more implied than sinlessness: it means Divine and spiritual energy. Think of the purity of nature, how beautiful it appears when it is renewing its youth in spring. When the grass grows, the trees bud, and the leaves and flowers open, we see the working of the Divine energy bringing fresh forms of life before us, robed in the purity and beauty of the sanctuary of the Divine life. So in moral and spiritual beings their purity is a sign of the Divine energy which is working in and through them, keeping their thoughts holy and their lives sinless.

II. ITS PEACEABLENESS. This means that inward peaceable temper which is the fruit of purity of heart, and is never to be found apart from purity. That Divine energy expels from man’s nature all the elements of disorder, discord, and restlessness, and fills the soul with order, harmony, and heavenly peace.

III. ITS GENTLENESS. This was a new spirit brought into the world by Jesus, and which should distinguish His followers from all other men. According to the text, no one is a gentleman in the highest sense of the word if he has not received and is not practising the wisdom that is from above. To the Christian gentleman humanity is sacred, and he can never intentionally hurt the feelings and injure the reputation of others, and will burn in indignation against all that are guilty of such vile and unmanly conduct.

IV. ITS PERSUASIVENESS. True wisdom shows itself, St. James seems to say, in that subtle yet gentle power to persuade and win, which we all feel when we come in contact with one who is clearly not fighting for his own rights, but for the cause of truth. The followers of Jesus speak not in words which man’s wisdom teaches, but in the words of the wisdom that is from above, which fell from the mouth of the Incarnate Word. But there is more in this persuasiveness than the power of eloquent and earnest words of entreaty, for its mightiest influence will be felt through the holy lives and deeds of love and kindness of those who are possessors of this heavenly wisdom.

V. ITS MERCIFULNESS AND FRUITFULNESS. The train of thought is carried on. Wisdom is suasive because she is compassionate. In dealing with the froward she is stirred, not by anger, but by pity, and she overflows, not with every vile deed, but with the good fruits of kindly acts. Her purity makes her hate sin with perfect hatred, but she loves the sinner with intensity, and yearns for his return from his sinful ways to walk in her ways of pleasantness and paths of peace. She returns a blessing for a curse, a smile for an insult, good for evil, and with a heart overflowing with benevolence she gives water and bread to her enemies.

VI. ITS IMPARTIALITY. TO suffer wrong to pass uncondemned is impossible to her, for she is first pure. She shows that there is an everlasting distinction between right and wrong, and that according to the necessity of her pure nature she is for the right and against the wrong in whatever form it may show itself. Her eyes that look with compassion upon the oppressed, flash lightnings of holy indignation against the oppressor, and from her mouth that speaks words of heavenly tenderness to the weak, the sorrowful, and the lowly, come thunderbolts against all selfishness, cruelty, sinful ambition, arrogancy of spirit, and pride of heart. And even in the objects of her greatest love and highest delight she detects the least sin and condemns it unreservedly.

VII. ITS GUILELESSNESS. This wisdom is free from all dissimulation, deceit, and trickery, and is as pure as the light, as transparent as the crystal. Let Divine light in the soul illuminates man’s whole nature, so that he is perfectly what he appears. (Z. Mather.)

Divine wisdom

Our first thought in reading the description which the apostle gives of the Divine wisdom is this, that it is totally different from the notion of wisdom which we usually adopt. If you were to ask men to define wisdom, they would begin to recapitulate what we may call the intellectual powers of man. If we asked them to define wisdom as she applied herself to the different walks of life, they would tell us that in the statesman it was foresight; in the merchant it was the power of sagacity or shrewdness; in the barrister keenness; in the teacher insight; in the judge comprehensiveness. When we turn to the apostle he sets aside all these; he gives us no picture of logical powers, of clear discrimination, of power of judgment, or power of imagination, but he gives us a catalogue of moral qualities: it is pure, it is gentle, it is full of mercy, it is full of good fruits, it is easy to be intreated. And as he speaks of it our thought is, it is outside the ordinary conduct and the ordinary definitions of man. But I would ask you to see these two things. That in the first place it is the noblest and truest definition of wisdom, because it recognises the true greatness of man; and also that it is the noblest and truest wisdom because it is capable of universal application. It is, in the first instance, the noblest and truest because it, and it alone, recognises the true greatness of man. If you will but search the annals of the past, you will see it is far, far more in the character of man that greatness is to be round than in the skill and intellectual powers which that character possesses. A man may be brilliant in all these capacities, he may have a power to anticipate events just as the foremost in the land, but it seems to me he may be entirely wanting in the very one thing which--as the history of the past can show--alone can gain the confidence of peoples. How was it that in old Athens the Greeks preferred the slower genius of Nicias to the quicker and more brilliant capacities of Alcibiades? Because with the first the moral character was a guarantee that he would live to use his intellectual powers aright. Wherever you scan the story of the past you will find that the true influence of man is the solid power which is built up primarily and first of all of the character which lies in the background. The ability, this is but the colour of the robe; the character is its very texture, and men ask not what the colour is, but what is the durable character of the fabric; they ask not what are the brilliancy of his parts, not the loftiness of his imagination, not the depth of his insight, but rather the solidity and dependableness of his character. And so he wrote rightly, did the apostle, to say that when you are tempted to win your ascendancy over your fellow-men by the biting jest, by the ready sarcasm, by the quick wit of the tongue, take heed lest in the temporary ascendancy you sacrifice the true greatness of your manhood. It is easy to wound by the sharp word, it is easy to make the spirit quail before the rough tongue, but it is a far nobler thing that the mouth should be filled with gentleness, that the heart shall be levelled with love and the character built up in purity. It is, then, the noblest and the truest definition, because it sets aside the mere accidents of intellectual power, and it sets before us a far nobler ideal of wisdom, that which is nearest to the wisdom of God, pure as our Master is pare, gentle as our Redeemer was gentle, and in the hours of His sorrow and His sympathy full of mercy and good fruits, and abundant as the Divine munificence. But if it is thus the noblest definition, our thoughts are struck by another question, and we ask ourselves, Is it possible to work it in the world? Whence do we seek our evidence? My brethren, there are three great spheres which appeal to and touch the life of man. One is the great sphere of the outer world. We look into the heavens above us, into the air around us, and to the earth beneath us and follow the traces of God’s influence--it is the great sphere of nature. We ask from the sphere of nature, and the answer will be given that the wisdom which is from above is indeed full of mercy, for behold the races of men how anxiously they have inquired concerning the God who made all these things. The orbs of the planets and the growth of the flowers tell us of that token of God the Father, tell us that there is a voice from nature that informs us we are not left orphans in His universe, and this is the answer. And men tell us to behold the evidences of design from the hand of God, but what do they draw from its tokens? They do not ask you to behold the designs of the universe, they do not ask you to look upon its beauty, but they ask you to behold the tokens of mercy. It is not that they can tell us of stupendousness of distances which take away the breath as they are contemplated, it is not that they tell of mixed design, or when they take the fragile flower, of its exquisite form and accuracy, but they say behold how, by a marvellous adaptation, the needs of man, and the needs of the feeblest of God’s creatures, are anticipated. There is another sphere which touches us. I ask you not to look now upon the outer world of the material universe, but turn for a moment and see the world of history, It is that great world which exhibits the lessons of the past, it is that which men will call history, but which wiser men will call the pictures of God’s providence. What is the answer upon this? I answer, it is again that the truest wisdom is found in the moral qualities of purity, gentleness, meekness, and mercy. For our first reading of history is itself a story of man, it is a story of dynasties, it is a story of change, that strange drama which has been going on through all ages. But when we look more closely we begin to read history from another light; it is to mark the deeds of men, it is the development of principles, it is bringing to the test of time what are the enduring powers of the world in which we find ourselves, and as I look back I find once more the powers that endure are the moral qualities which St. James has spoken of. Do you want a clear illustration? Go back nineteen centuries and watch the struggle that is going on. On the one side there is the vast consolidated power of Rome grinding down with its iron heel the nations of the world, heedless of the cries of man and the necessity of reform and purity. On the other side there is the little kingdom which is cradled first in the manger of Bethlehem, which expands in the upper chamber at Jerusalem, which carries its way and plants itself in various parts of the earth, and face to face it has struggled against the imperial power which seeks to crush, and the weapons of the Church are but gentleness, purity, meekness. Do I ask the apostle with what weapons he seeks to combat the world and overcome it, he says by pureness, by knowledge, by love unfeigned, by the Holy Ghost, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left. There shall be the design of the statesman, there shall be the power of the legislature, all combined to crush it; and on the other side the meek spirit of silence, of patience, and of love. There are the two in conflict, and I ask you now what is the result? The empire has ceased to be which has been founded upon force, but the empire which has been founded upon purity, upon mercy, and upon love, has spread itself everywhere. History has given back the triumph into the hand of moral wisdom, of purity and love. There is another voice which we can summon to our aid. It is not the voice which comes from the contemplation of the world without, or of the history of the past, but it is listening to the voice which speaks to the inner heart of man. It is the sphere of religion. And, again, I say that the answer will be that the flue wisdom is that which is built up of pureness, of love, and of mercy. Behold how many have gathered together the superstitions and the “religions of the past, and they have trembled before the God of power, they have been ravished by the face of the god of beauty, but they have not been raised in the social scale, they have not found their hearts touched, for they have failed to cast off the cloak of their sin, and tread their own unworthy self beneath their feet till He came who moved through the world and whose life was one of purity--“Which of you convinceth Me of sin?” They bear witness to His guilelessness, “He did no sin, neither did guile proceed out of His mouth.” They bear witness to His gentleness, for they were emboldened to creep to His feet to receive blessings at His hands, as well as His loving-kindness and His mercy. Or I go deeper. I take His religion, and I ask, What is its source and force? You have seen how it seems to spread itself everywhere, that it touches every condition of man, that when it stands face to face with various nationalities it seems to find no difficulty in pouring its beneficent stream into the vessels of whatever shape they may be. The answer is, it is a religion of purity, it is a religion of mercy, it is a religion of gentleness, it comes to man, and it says that purity is the description of the Church, it is the description of dignity, it is the description of humanity, it is the description of God. Here, then, from every voice, of the heart of man, of the history of man, and of the world of man, we get back the same truth that it is indeed the highest wisdom which has as its features gentleness, purity, and love. What, then, shall we say? I say there is the last appeal to our own hearts. My brethren, the glory of it lies in one thing more, and that is that it is a greatness and a wisdom that is open to all. The very power which makes men often so despondent is this, that they say the very walk of life they fain would tread is closed to them because of some weakness of which they are conscious. All men desire greatness; they desire, that is to say, to climb above themselves. Here, then, is the door open to the highest greatness. There is not a greater thing on earth than man; there is not a greater man than the man that has learnt purity, gentleness, and love. And so far more high and noble ambition infinitely than to climb into the high places of the earth, a nobler ambition than all that glittering rank can bestow is the ambition to be a perfect man in Christ Jesus, nearer Him in resemblance of character, in tenderness of heart, in gentleness of speech, nearer to Him in sanctity and purity of life--and this greatness is open to all. (Bp. Boyd Carpenter.)

Divine wisdom

I. VERY LOVELY, THOUGH VERY BRIEF, IS THIS DELINEATION OF TRUE GODLINESS. It is “wisdom from above.” Wherein lies wisdom? and what is her true character? Wisdom is the choice of the best end, and the pursuit of it by the best means. It is more than knowledge; for we may know the best end, and we may know the best means, and yet we may neither pursue the one, nor employ the other. But wisdom differs from knowledge in this--that it is knowledge carried into practice; it is knowledge, not in the abstract, but in the concrete--knowledge, not in the head alone, but in the heart and in the life, wrought out, and carried into effect. Can there be any doubt, then, as to what is the noblest end of mortal man? When man fell from his Maker, he fell from his being’s end. Now, the wisdom that comes from above has for its end and object to restore man to the pursuit of that high favour, and to put into his soul means for the attainment of that end. Every one that believes in Jesus is restored to God’s love; every one that is led and renewed by His Spirit is “transformed” again “into His image.” He, therefore, who is taught this wisdom, chooses God for his Father, Christ for his way, the Spirit for his life. This wisdom is “from above,” not from beneath. The wisdom that is from beneath is “earthly, sensual, devilish,” full of pride, and full of dark rebellion against God. Nor is the wisdom which “maketh wise unto salvation” taught of man, nor discovered by man.

Mighty intellect avails not here; profound learning avails not here; acute understanding is baffled here. Wisdom that maketh wise is from above in the revelation; it is from above in the impartation to the soul. We have not to rest our faith on the decisions of men, or on the vain conjectures of would-be philosophers, who would be “wise above that which is written,” or wise without what is written; but we have God’s own blessed immutable truth, as the rock of our rest. It has stood, and it shall stand when all things else disappear. The, e can be no doubt, for God hath spoken: there can be no incertitude, for God hath sworn, “that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might bare a strong consolation who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us.” Never lose sight of this in studying Scripture: it is “wisdom from above.” We too little study the Bible in this spirit; we too little remember that it is entirely God’s, that it is in no sort of man or from man, and that therefore we are not to treat it as if it were man’s. But it is “wisdom from above” in a still more intimate, and a still more solemn, even in a personal sense. It is “wisdom from above” in the record, and it is so in the revelation to the soul. “God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Then there is light within; then there is salvation to the soul; then there is “wisdom from above”: the Spirit teacheth, and the Spirit giveth life.

II. SHOW THE IMMEDIATE PRACTICAL POWER AND INFLUENCE OF THIS DIVINE WISDOM WHEN THUS RECEIVED BY ANY MAN IN HIS SOUL. It is “first pure, then peaceable.” Here is its beautiful order: here is the process that works in the soul.

1. It is pure; pure as contrasted with error in principle; pure as contrasted with impurity and uncleanness in moral affection. It is pure in both senses--

Divine wisdom, as seen in the nature of the gospel

I. Revealed truth--the wisdom that is from above--is “FIRST PURE, THEN PEACEABLE.” It shows how God may dwell with man, and yet not sacrifice His purity; how man may dwell with God, and yet not lose his peace. It neither tarnishes Divine holiness, nor crushes human hope. It guards first the righteousness of the Judge; thereafter and therewith it obtains the pardon of the criminal. It is in Christ crucified that the two apparent contradictions meet. The substitution of Christ for His people is the fulcrum which sustains alike the honour of God and the safety of believing men. God preserves His own purity, and yet lifts the lost into His bosom: the guilty get a free pardon, and yet the motives which bind them to obedience, instead of being relaxed, are indefinitely strengthened.

II. Revealed truth--the wisdom that is from above--is “GENTLE AND EASY TO BE ENTREATED.” This is not the view which springs in nature, and prevails in the world. Fear in the conscience of the guilty, after passing through various degrees of intensity and forms of manifestation, ever tends to culminate in the question, “Shall I give the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” See the result as it is exhibited in India. The chief gratification of a chief idol is the self-murder of his worshippers under the wheel of the truck that bears his weight. The wisdom that is from above is gentle; “a bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench.” The wisdom that is from above is easy to be entreated; nay, more, He tenderly entreats you--“Come unto Me, all ye That labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

III. Revealed truth--the wisdom that is from above--is “FULL OF MERCY AND GOOD FRUITS.” So far from being in all cases united, these two, in their full dimensions, meet only in the gospel. The administration of a government might be full of mercy, and yet destitute of good fruits: nay, more, the want of good fruit might be directly due to the fulness of mercy. Mercy to the full--an absolutely unconditional pardon to the guilty is in human governments inconsistent with the public good. In the gospel of the grace of God, absolute fulness of mercy to the guilty binds the forgiven more firmly to obedience. The wisdom which is exhibited in the covenant is full of mercy. God could not put more mercy in His covenant, for all His mercy is in it already. Woe to us if that which it contains comes short of our need. It is not a wider door of mercy that we want, but a larger liberty to sin. This Divine wisdom is also full of good fruits. The tree is good, its fruits are good, and it bears them abundantly. Either attribute is in itself precious; and there is an additional interest in the union of the two. If there had not been Divine wisdom in the plan, the profusion of mercy would have blasted in the germ all the promises of fruit. The mercy that is free to us was dearly bought by our Divine substitute. Justice was satisfied while the guilty were set free. There lies the peculiar feature of the mercy which God gives and sinners get through Christ. It does not encourage the forgiven to continue in sin. It makes the forgiven love the forgiver much; and love is the greatest, the only fulfiller of the law.

IV. Revealed truth--the wisdom that is from above--is “WITHOUT PARTIALITY, AND WITHOUT HYPOCRISY.” We are so much accustomed to partiality and hypocrisy in human affairs, that it becomes difficult to lodge in our minds the conception of an off, r entirely equal, and an announcement absolutely true. Accustomed in the moral department of human things to a continual state of siege, we have contracted a corresponding habit of suspicion. We lack the tendency, and perhaps the power, to exercise a pure implicit trust. How shall we be brought, in very deed and in simplicity, to trust that God is true, although every man should be a liar?” Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” Take away this suspicious heart, and give a tender, trustful one. The Mediator’s proposal for peace with God is--

1. Without partiality offered alike to all. All the fallen are in need, and all alike. His own goodness will not admit the best into favour; his own badness will not keep out the worst. Grace, absolutely sovereign and free, is the main principle of the gospel.

2. Without hypocrisy truly offered to each. What have we here? Can the Supreme, consistently with His own honour, plead before His creatures, that He is not a hypocrite, making His offer appear more generous than it really is? Yes; such is His longsuffering condescension. All the repetitions of His offer are of this kind--the overflowings of a compassion that is more than full He stands at the door and knocks; He pleads with sinners, Why will ye die? Strange measure of forbearance this! But is it needed? Do men deny or doubt the sincerity of the offer which the Messenger of the covenant has brought to the world? They do. Nor is it here and there a rare example of peculiar wickedness; it is the commonest sin I know. We do not speak this distrust; but we live it. I have seen a dog tried in this fashion: his owner took a full dish of finest human food from the table, as it had been prepared for the family, and set it before him, encouraging him by word and gesture to eat. The sagacious brute shrank back, lay down, refused, and gave many unmistakable indications that he would be too glad to eat, but he saw clearly it was all a pretence it was too good for him, and never intended for him--and if he should attempt to taste it, the dish could be snatched away, while he would perhaps receive a blow for daring to take the offer in earnest. The picture, although its associations are less grave, possesses, in relation to our subject, the one essential quality of trueness. It represents, more exactly than anything I know in nature, the treatment which God’s offer gets from men. We treat the offer as if the offerer were not sincere. Alas for the pitiful condition of sinful men!--refusing the great salvation, because it is so great that they cannot believe it is really intended to be given free to the unworthy. (W. Arnot.)

Divine wisdom, as seen in the effects of the gospel

I. THE NEW CREATURE--the work of the Sprit in believers--is “FIRST PURE, THEN PEACEABLE.”

1. In relation to God. In His approach to you there was first purity and then peace; therefore, as an echo answers to the sound that waked it, the same two in the same order will characterise your approach to Him. As God would not come in peace to the sinful, except on the foundations of holiness, honoured first, true Christians, much as they desire peace, do not expect--will not ask it on other terms. He who is at peace in impurity has not received upon his heart the imperial seal of the King Eternal, but the counterfeit of some false pretender.

2. In relation to ourselves. Peace of conscience is sweet, whether it be false or true, The desire to avoid or escape remorse is an instinct of humanity, acting as strongly and steadily as the desire to avoid or escape bodily pain. When I accept mercy through the blood of Christ, my desire for peace of conscience, one of the strongest forces in my being, becomes a weight hung over a pulley exerting a constant pressure to lift me up into actual righteousness.

3. In relation to the world around. Those who have, through faith, gone down with Christ in His baptism of blood to wash their sins away, acquire a depth and solidity of character which enables them to bear unmoved the tossings of a troubled time. Their life, “hid with Christ in God,” bears, without breaking, all the strain of the storm. “He that believeth shall not make haste.” In times of trial the deepest is steadiest.

II. THE NEW CREATURE--the work of the Spirit in believers--IS “GENTLE, AND EASY TO BE ENTREATED.” Although the lot of men is, on the whole, much more equal than it seems, yet at certain particular points some have more to bear and do than others. Hard knots occur in some persons as in some trees, while others are constitutionally smoother in the grain. But while I willingly confess that more gnarled natures must endure more pain in the process of being made meek and gentle, I hesitate to own that, in the end, these Christians remain ordinarily more harsh and ungainly than others. I think, although it is not a uniform law, it is, notwithstanding, a common experience, to find in the new man a very low place where in the old man there was a mountain-height. Where the old was harsh and overbearing, the new may be gentle and easy to be entreated; where the old was timidly yielding, the new may bee faithful and bold.

III. THE NEW CREATURE--the work of the Spirit in believers--Is “FULL OF MERCY AND GOOD FRUITS.” It is a principle of the gospel that he who gets mercy shows mercy. The little cistern is brought into connection with the living spring, and the grace which is infinite in the Master, is transferred to the disciple in the measure of his powers. When a man is full of mercy in this sinning, suffering world, a stream of benevolence will be found flowing in his track, all through the wilderness. If the reservoir within his heart be kept constantly charged by union with the upper spring, there need be neither ebbing nor intermission of the current all his days, for opening opportunities everywhere abound. Let no disciple of Christ either think himself excused, or permit himself to be discouraged from doing good, because his talents and opportunities are few. Your capacity is small, it is true; but if you are in Christ, it is the capacity of a well. Although it does not contain much at any moment, so as to attract attention to you for your gifts, it will give forth a good deal in a lifetime, and many will be refreshed.

IV. THE NEW CREATURE--the work of the Spirit in believers--Is “WITHOUT PARTIALITY, AND WITHOUT HYPOCRISY.” These plants, though not now indigenous in human nature, may, when transplanted, and watched, and watered, grow there, and bear substantial fruit.

1. Without partiality. It is not the impartiality of indifference, but the impartiality of love.

2. Without hypocrisy. When a sinner, softened in repentance, lays himself for pardon along a crucified Christ, he takes on from the Lord a transparent trueness which tells distinctly whose he is, to every passenger he meets on the highway of life. (W. Arnot.)

The wisdom that is from above

I. THE JUST MOTION OF WISDOM IN GENERAL.

1. True wisdom distinguishes the particular seasons and circumstances of action. All times and all circumstances will not bear all things. It is very possible to destroy the best-laid scheme by an ill-seasoned execution. Every duty to God claims a proper time, and so likewise every duty to our neighbours and ourselves. To gain upon men for their good, there are soft times of address, which a mere accident may present, when a word spoken fitly will have greater weight than the most powerful arguments on other occasions. These a wise man will carefully observe, and strike the iron while it is hot and capable of yielding.

II. THE EXCELLENCY OF THIS WISDOM.

1. The origination of wisdom is from above.

2. It heightens the excellency of wisdom, that the objects about which it is employed are suitable to its sublime original.

3. The great end it advances shows its excellency. It not only sets us on the way, but puts us in the possession of true happiness at last.

III. MARK THE DIVINE LINEAMENTS OF IT here touched by the pen of the apostle, and so form a judgment of its beauty and excellence.

1. It is pure. It is like the blessed Author of it. It is the image of God in the soul; resembles Him in that which is the beauty and glory of His nature, His holiness.

2. It is peaceable. Peace is the fruit of holiness, and, therefore, properly placed after it. A pure conscience keeps a calm breast, and disposes the soul to seek and keep peace with others.

3. It is gentle, that is, equal and moderate.

4. It is easy to be intreated, ready to oblige, pliable and condescending to anything for the good of others, that is consistent with a good conscience.

5. It is full of mercy and good fruits; compassionate and liberal; not resting in good words and fair speeches, but doing good works.

6. That we may not be blinded or biassed by prejudice, that we may not confine our good opinions or good deeds to any one party of men, the apostle adds, Wisdom is without partiality, will not suffer us to judge men’s characters by their circumstances, to think well or ill of them by external appearances, and treat them accordingly.

7. Without hypocrisy. True wisdom can never be divided from integrity. No man can be wise without being honest. He that walketh uprightly walketh surely.

IN CONCLUSION it follows:

1. That prayer is an indispensable duty on every soul of man. True wisdom is the gift of God; and no man can have the least room or reason to expect it without asking.

2. How foolish, sinful, and contrary to our holy religion are all uncharitable principles and practices! (Wm. Beet.)

Christianity--“the wisdom that is from above”

1. With propriety it is designated wisdom; for a God of wisdom is its author and its end, and it reveals a scheme of mercy in the device of which omniscience itself was exerted. Yes, with propriety is it called wisdom; for it teaches man to know the character of God, and the riches of God’s love, the natural debasement of humanity, and the means that have been put in operation for securing his eternal weal. With propriety is it called wisdom; for it enlightens the mind, informs the judgment, and regulates the life. With propriety is it called wisdom; for it makes him who lives under its influence wise in the estimation of God Himself. Once more, with propriety is it entitled wisdom; for the end of it is to make men wise unto salvation.

2. Not less appropriately is it designated a wisdom that cometh from above. Its origin is indeed celestial; for it is a beam that issues from God the fountain of light. Its origin is celestial; for the angel of the covenant Himself came down from heaven to reveal its first promise, and make known to Adam the great truth on which it all depends. Yes, its origin is celestial; for without the teaching of the Holy Spirit its high lessons cannot be learned. (Wm. Craig.)

The heavenly origin of wisdom

The ancients, when speaking of any valuable art or discovery highly beneficial to mankind, commonly deduce its origin from heaven, and acknowledge that they owed it to the teaching of the gods. Thus fire is said to have been stolen from heaven; the useful arts of agriculture, and such like, are ascribed to the direction of such and such particular deities; and philosophy itself is said to have come down from heaven. (F. Carmichael.)

The wisdom which is from above

I. THE NATURE OF THIS WISDOM (James 3:17). Now what are its properties, what its distinctive features?

1. The most internal and fundamental of these is purity. It is so, both in its nature and in the influence which it exerts. It is holy and makes holy.

2. “Peaceable.” This is the opposite of that characteristic of the false wisdom which the apostle had been speaking of, namely, “envying and strife.” The true, the heavenly, is disposed to peace, it follows after, it delights in peace. It animates its possessor with such a spirit, so that he desires, though he cannot always secure, this blessing.

3. “Gentle”--mild, forbearing. It corresponds to the “meekness of wisdom” spoken of in a preceding verse. It is ranked by Paul among the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). A really peaceable disposition may be connected with not a little roughness and harshness of manlier. There may be a sternness, a severity which repels others, and does injustice to the genuine principles and affections of the bosom. This wisdom should subdue and soften the spirit, should infuse into it a real tenderness and sweetness, and it must so far as it is imparted and has free course. Yes; for it embraces a sense of our own obligations to infinite mercy, matchless long-suffering,--it assimilates us to Him from whom it all proceeds, for Christ is made unto His people, wisdom; and how conspicuous was this feature in His character! And it teaches us that such is the disposition which not only becomes us as Christians, but is the most effectual in winning over others to the faith of the gospel.

4. “Easy to be entreated”--readily persuaded, compliant. It is not obstinate, unbending, implacable. It is willing to learn, whoever may be the teacher, and however disagreeable may be the lesson. It is ready to listen to reason and remonstrance. It does not require much persuasion to induce it to forgive injuries and be reconciled to adversaries. It insists not on studious etiquette, nor on carefully adjusted and elaborately expressed acknowledgments. In this respect its possessors have the mind of Him whose ear is open to the cry of sinners, rebels, and who is always standing waiting to be gracious--ready to pardon.

5. “Full of mercy and good fruits.” These two are closely connected in the mode of expression, and this accords with their real relation. Mercy is compassion, pity, and has respect to the offending and the miserable. It manifests itself with respect to temporal distress, and still more with reference to spiritual destitution. Tats wisdom has not merely a little of it, but is full of it, according to the text. The mercy which has its spring here, not only flows but overflows. It is cherished, not toward a narrow circle of objects, but one large and stretching far beyond those barriers which limit the sympathies of many. It is shown, not on rare occasions, but frequently, habitually, well-nigh as often as the appeal is made or the need discovered. And it is not a half-hearted thing, not a shallow, superficial feeling, soon exhausted and gone--for it is not only real but deep and enduring.

6. “Without partiality and without hypocrisy.” The heavenly wisdom is impartial. It does not respect persons. Neither is it one-sided in its attachment to truth and duty. It does not choose this and reject that; but embraces the whole will of God in its regards. And it is equally unprejudiced with reference to the modes of usefulness, means and ways of doing good, being largely free from that narrow-mindedness which is so common in these respects, and which forces itself on our view in so many quarters. It is also “without hypocrisy.” There is about it no feigning, no pretence, no insincerity. It is open, transparent, consistent. With it the reality and the semblance, the substance and the form, correspond.

II. THE RESULT OF TINS WISDOM (James 3:18). It yields precious fruit--the fruit of righteousness. The expression may mean, either that the fruit springs from, or consists in, righteousness. We understand it in the latter sense. This is its substance, its nature. And so we read in the Epistle to the Hebrews of chastisement yielding “the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.” Righteousness is conformity to the will of God, and largely taken, as it is here, embraces the discharge of all the duties we owe directly to Him, as well as those we are bound to perform toward our fellow-creatures. It is equivalent to holiness of heart and life in all its parts; indeed, to true religion in the whole compass of its personal influence and effects. (John Adam.)

The wisdom that is from above

The “first” and the “then” may be seriously misunderstood. St. James does not mean that the heavenly wisdom cannot be peaceable and gentle until all its surroundings have been made pure from everything that would oppose or contradict it; in other words, that the wise and understanding Christian will first free himself from the society of all whom he believes to be in error, and then, but not till then, will he be peaceable and gentle. This interpretation contradicts the context, and makes St. James teach the opposite of what he says very plainly in the sentences which precede, and in those which follow. He is stating a logical, and not a chronological order, when he declares that true wisdom is “first pure, then peaceable.” In its inmost being it is pure; among its very various external manifestations are the six or seven beneficent qualities which follow the “then.” If there were no one to be gentle to, no one coming to entreat, no one needing mercy, the wisdom from above would still be pure; therefore this quality comes first. Here “pure” must certainly not be limited to mean simply “chaste.” The word “sensual,” applied to the wisdom from below, does not mean unchaste, but living wholly in the world of sense; and the purity of the heavenly wisdom does not consist merely in victory over temptations of the flesh, but in freedom from worldly and low motives. Its aim is that truth should become known and prevail, and it condescends to no ignoble arts in prosecuting this aim. Contradiction does not ruffle it, and hostility does not provoke it to retaliate, because its motives are thoroughly disinterested and pure. Thus, its peaceable and placable qualities flow out of its purity. It is “first pure, then peaceable.” It is because the man who is inspired with it has no ulterior selfish ends to serve that he is gentle, sympathetic, and considerate towards those who oppose him. He strives, not for victory over his opponents, but for truth both for himself and for them; and he knows what it costs to arrive at truth. A critical writer of our own day has remarked that “by an intellect which is habitually filled with the wisdom which is from heaven, in all its length and breadth, ‘ objections’ against religion are perceived at once to proceed from imperfect apprehension. Such an intellect cannot rage against those who give words to such objections. It seems that the objectors do but intimate the partial character of their own knowledge.” It will be observed that while the writer just quoted speaks about the intellect, St. James speaks about the heart. The difference is not accidental, and it is significant of a difference in the point of view. The modern view of wisdom is that it is a matter which mainly consists in the strengthening and enrichment of the intellectual powers, Increase of capacity for acquiring and retaining knowledge; increase in the possession of knowledge: this is what is meant by growth in wisdom. And by knowledge is meant acquaintance with the nature and history of man, and with the nature and history of the universe. All this is the sphere of the intellect rather than of the heart. The purification and development of the moral powers, if not absolutely excluded from the scope of wisdom, is commonly left in the background and almost out of sight. What St. James says here is fully admitted: the highest wisdom keeps a man from the bitterness of party spirit. But why? Because his superior intelligence and information tell him that the opposition of those who dissent from him is the result of ignorance, which requires, not insult and abuse, but instruction. St. James does not dissent from this view, but he adds to it. There are further and higher reasons why the truly wise man does not rail at others or try to browbeat and silence them. Because, while he abhors folly, he loves the fool, and would win him over from his foolish ways; because he desires not only to impart knowledge, but to increase virtue; and because he knows that strife means confusion, and that gentleness is the parent of peace. Christians are charged to be “wise as serpents, but harmless as doves.” “Full of mercy and good fruits.” The wisdom from above is not only peaceable, reasonable, and conciliatory, when under provocation or criticism, it is also eager to take the initiative in doing all the good in its power to those whom it can reach or influence. The intellectual miser, who gloats over the treasures of his own accumulated knowledge, and smiles with lofty indifference upon the criticisms and squabbles of the imperfectly instructed, has no share in the wisdom that is from above. He is peaceful and moderate, not out of love and sympathy, but because his time is too precious to be wasted in barren controversy, and because he is too proud to place himself on a level with those who would dispute with him. No selfish arrogance of this kind has any place in the character of the truly wise. His wisdom not only enlightens his intellect, but warms his heart and strengthens his will. “Without variance, without hypocrisy.” These are the last two of the goodly qualities which St. James gives as marks of the heavenly wisdom. Similarity in sound, which cannot well be preserved in English, has evidently had something to do with their selection ( ἀδιάκριτος ἀνυπόκριτος). The first of the two has perplexed translators. Of the various possible meanings of the word before us we may prefer “without doubtfulness.” The wisdom from above is unwavering, steadfast, single-minded. Thus Ignatius charges the Magnesians (xv.) to “possess an unwavering spirit” ( ἀδιάκριτον πνεῦμα), and tells the Trallians (i.) that he has “learned that they have a-mind unblamable and unwavering in patience” ( ἀδιάκριτον ἐν ὑπομονῇ). And Clement of Alexandria (Paed. II. 3., p. 190) speaks of “unwavering faith” ( ἀδιακρίτῳ πίστει), and a few lines farther on he reminds his readers, in words that suit our present subject, that “wisdom is net bought with earthly coin, nor is sold in the market, but in heaven.” If he had said that wisdom is not sold in the market, but given from heaven, he would have made the contrast both more pointed and more true. “The fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for them that make peace.” The Greek may mean either “for them that make peace,” or “by them that make peace”; and we need not attempt to decide. In either case it is the peacemakers who sow the seed whose fruit is righteousness, and the peacemakers who reap this fruit. The whole process begins, progresses, and ends in peace. (A. Plummer, D. D.)

The seven qualities of wisdom

The seven qualities which James attributes to the wisdom from above are nothing but the seven colours of the one ray of light of heavenly truth, which has been revealed and has appeared in Christ Himself. He is therefore supremely entitled to the name “the Wisdom of God.” (Lange’s Commentary.)

The sequence

is that of thought, not of time. It is not meant, e.g., that purity is an earlier stage of moral growth in wisdom than peace, but that it is its foremost attribute. (Dean Plumptre.)

Peaceable

The person endowed with this will not indeed give up the fundamentals of religion, the articles of faith, under the notion of being peaceable. He will not sit by an unconcerned spectator, void of all concern and zeal, while others are doing this. He will not sacrifice good order and government in the Church of God to the caprice or clamours of enthusiasm or faction. No; this is not being peaceable, but a criminal lukewarmness and indifference unworthy of a Christian. In such cases, however peaceable he is otherwise, he will within his proper sphere contend most earnestly for the faith. (Win. Thorold, M. A.)

Gentleness

The Archbishop of Canterbury, speaking after Earl Granville had unveiled the memorial to his predecessor, adorned the occasion by a reference to the secret of the beautiful life of Dr. Taft. “I have heard,” said he, “and I believe it is true, that on the first day of his wedded life he and his bride pledged themselves to each other that they would never quarrel with any one, and I believe that pledge was kept to the end.” This memory is better than any memorial in marble.

Power of gentleness

Morning by morning God’s great mercy of sunshine steals upon a darkened world in still, slow, self-impartation; and the light which has a force that has carried it across gulfs of space that the imagination staggers in trying to conceive, yet falls so gently that it does not move the petals of the sleeping flowers, nor hurt the lids of an infant’s eyes, nor displace a grain of dust. So should we live and work, clothing all our power in tenderness, doing our work in quietness, disturbing nothing but the darkness, and with silent increase of beneficent power filling and flooding the dark earth with healing beams. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Full of mercy and good fruits.--“Mercy” may here be taken for the inward principle, and “good fruits” for the effect of this principle in our outward actions. Divine wisdom fills men with tenderness and compassion towards those that are miserable in any respect, whether it be from their infirmities of body or mind, or from any calamity that befals them from without; it disposes them to look on the case of others as if it were their own; to have an inward feeling of their unhappiness, and consequently to do whatever lies in their power for their release or assistance; to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to visit the sick, to comfort the disconsolate, to instruct the ignorant, to admonish and reclaim transgressors; these are the good fruits which naturally spring from the mercy here mentioned, of which the apostle tells us the wise man is full. True wisdom will be particularly tender and compassionate towards those who have erred from the right path, either in their principles or practice, inclining rather to save than to destroy them, and trying every possible laudable means of bringing them back to a right mind. (F. Carmichael.)

Full of mercy and of good fruits

Far from being savage, unrelenting, or cruel, it feels the Godlike impressions of pity and compassion towards every proper object, the unfortunate and the miserable; it is touched with a strong sense of the miseries of human nature; it cannot but weep with those that weep, and commiserate and assist the indigent and the distressed; it is not content to afford them the cheap offer of mere verbal pity only, of the eye or of the tongue, but will add the real and substantial one of actual aid in proportion to their wants and its own ability; it will not only be full of mercy but full of good fruits likewise. By which last expression we may observe how valuable these works of mercy are in the sight of God, when He who is the blessed author and adorable fountain of all good calls them good; good by way of eminence, not indeed the only way of doing good, yet a principal one, a way most acceptable to Him, most beneficial to man, good in its nature, in its principle, in its fruits and consequences, good to those who receive, and superlatively good to those who truly and religiously practice it. (Wm. Thorold, M. A.)

Without partiality

Superior to a narrow spirit

The person who is endowed, with this heavenly wisdom is above that narrow and selfish spirit which men who act upon worldly motives are always of, who are inclined to think well of, and to wish and do well to such only as are of the same opinion or party, sect, or persuasion with themselves. No, the truly wise and the good man is a man of more enlarged, a more generous, a more Christian spirit and disposition. He is not unmindful indeed of those particular obligations he lies under towards those who are endeared to him by blood, by friendship, by religion. These, all other circumstances equal, will be sure to have the preference, but still they will not so wholly engross his good opinion, his favour, his charity, as to exclude all others from them. No, he will to his power, after the example of his Heavenly Father, be peaceable, he will be gentle, he will be equitable, he will be merciful and charitable to all; and this not out of a motive of vainglory or ostentation, or self-interest, but out of a sincere principle of love to God and to man, without partiality, without hypocrisy, appearing to all what he really is, without disguise, without dissimulation. (Wm. Thorold, M. A. )

The fruit of righteousness is sown in peace

Sowing seeds of peace

Whatever difficulty there may be in this verse in its detail, its broad intention is quite clear--that “peace” is the seedtime of “righteousness,” and not “righteousness” of “peace”: that we rather become good because we are at “peace,” than that we have “peace” because we are good. “Peace” is the seed. Every truth has in it its higher and its lower range: its higher, which is spiritual; and its lower, which is natural. There is a higher “righteousness,” which is between God and the sinner; and there is a lower “righteousness,” which is between man and man. There is a higher “peace,” which lies in reconciliation with God; and there is a lower “peace,” which is the man being in harmony with his fellow-creatures, and at rest with his own conscience. Only in both cases the higher carries the lower. To be “righteous,” in God’s righteousness, is the surest way to be upright in common life. “Peace” with heaven makes “peace” on earth. The two are wrapped together when we say, “The fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.” Let me trace the history or pedigree of “righteousness.” God is the One only “Righteous”; and “there is no unrighteousness with God.” The “righteous” God made an upright creature in His own image: but He made him free to stand or fall; and, in his freedom, he fell from his uprightness. The “righteous” God willed to restore him. And here is the problem: to restore the rebel and maintain the “righteousness.” And He solved it. He, who was Himself “the Just One,” His own beloved Son, more than consented to His Father’s counsel. And He did it. He went Himself through the whole punishment that was due to all the world. So the law was satisfied; the equivalent was complete and abundant; and it was just with God to forgive the sinner. But here lay another mystery. Christ was not a Man only; He was a Representative Man. He was a Head, and all we His body. What a head does, it is the same as if the body did it. We suffered and died in our Head. “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” And man’s pardon has become “the righteousness of God.” By God’s grace a man sees this, feels this, believes this. Then he is in the body. Then that man is for-given--because that man’s sins have been already punished. And much more than this. That man being in Christ, the “righteousness” of Christ--which is “the righteousness of God”--passes on to him. He is covered with it. God sees him in it. He is a justified man. So that, even in the sight of a pure and holy God, that man is “righteous.” But what as respects his relative duty to his fellow-men? How does he go down to the lower range? He must be an upright man. Else he is no Christian at all! But let us take the other away; let us see the genealogy of “peace.” “Peace” was in heaven, and God placed “peace” in paradise. But sin came, and “peace” flew away. Then God willed to restore “peace.” “And the counsel of peace was between them both.” He who is “our peace” said, “Lo, I come.” And He came. And “made peace by the blood of His Cross.” And man became “reconciled to God.” Immediately that he was reconciled the Holy Ghost came. And now, man knowing and feeling that he is forgiven, is at “peace” in his own mind. The sacred Dove comes back again, and nestles sweetly in his bosom. Now, see the moral consequence. Man, being at “peace” with man, is gentle, peace-loving, peace-making. For love is the child of “peace.” The Church knits herself into unity; and Christians go forth in forgiveness to enemies--in charity to every man--in mission to the world. And thus--according to the pedigree of “righteousness,” and according to the genealogy of “peace”--in both ways, “the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.” And who are they that “make peace”? The Holy Trinity--embodied to us in the Person of the blessed Jesus. It is He who “makes peace.” He “sowed” it in those tears, and those drops of blood, which fell so thick in the garden and on Calvary. Seeds, often long dawning, never dead; seeds which, when the Spirit waters them in a man’s soul, draw up, and make sweet spring-time, till, in due time, they cluster in the harvest of righteousness: “and the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.” It may be strange, but all experience establishes the fact, that the ministry which speaks most of “peace,” that is, of Christ, which imparts “peace,” is always the ministry which most checks sin, and raises the moral tone, and promotes, in any people, “righteousness” in all the common relationships of life. I feel that I have very little else to do but to sow “peace.” And if you were all at “peace” with God, in your consciences, and with men, my work would be well-nigh done! But not ministers only. You also, by virtue of your common Christianity--you are all to be making “peace.” First, you must be yourself at “peace”; at “peace” with God, at “peace” in your own heart, at “peace” with everybody. You must go about with that “peaceful” feeling, that gentle quietness, that subdued tone, which only an interest in Christ can give, and which it never fails to give. Speak to every one about the happy parts of religion. Tell of its “peace.” Be everywhere a comforter. Show Jesus in His attractiveness, especially to the world, and to the bad. Deal tenderly. Aim at a holy, loving influence with those that you have to do with. Be always dropping a seed of heaven. And if thereby you be not a reformer of your age (though you may be); or, if you do not die as one who has done great things for God in your day and generation (yet you may have done)--at least you will have been a faithful follower of your meek and blessed Master, and you will have shown His Spirit, and you will have recognised and acted out His fundamental law, that “the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.” (James Vaughan, M. A.)

Fruit of righteousness sown in peace

These words admit of two different interpretations. As the great design which the apostle has in view is to correct the pride, wrath, and malice which prevail among those he wrote to, which he does by laying before them its bad consequences, strife and confusion, and representing how inconsistent it was with that true and heavenly/ wisdom which inspires men with gentleness, peace, and mercy: in this verse he may be understood as showing the advantages of following this true wisdom rather than indulging such noxious passions. The fruit, the reward of righteousness is sown in peace; is kept and reserved in a happier, a more peaceful and glorious state hereafter, of them that make peace, that is, for them that are endued with this wisdom, which delights in peace. The fruits are the reward of the toil of the husbandman; these fruits may be said to be sown when that seed is sown which, by the blessing of God, will produce them. The apostle therefore tells us that peace is a seed, which whoever sows, it will by the goodness of God yield to him the fruits of righteousness. Others conceive the apostle here to be answering an objection against what he had said. Shall we by our gentleness and meekness indulge and cherish the wickedness of others? Ought we not rather to use all our zeal to punish and root it out? The truly wise man, says the apostle, by his compassion and meekness, neither favours nor connives at vice and wickedness, but will correct it with such moderation as is consistent with good order and peace, and shall thereby always have most success on the minds of men. Like a wise physician, he will treat his patients softly and tenderly, will not immediately apply the last and most dreadful remedies, but reserve them till he has tried those of a milder nature without success. Thus, in peace, that is, by the most endearing means of persuasion and kindness, in the spirit of meekness, will the wise

124 man who follows peace sow the fruits of righteousness; correct the vices and reform the lives of those who have gone astray, and bring them to the practice of righteousness with infinitely greater success than those whose harshness and severity may frighten men, or raise their hatred and detestation, but will never succeed so as to persuade or gain them. (F. Carmichael.)

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "James 3:4". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/james-3.html. 1905-1909. New York.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, November 14th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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