James 3:13

The apostle suggests here that those who aspired too hastily to become Christian teachers (ver. 1) showed themselves to be sadly deficient in wisdom. They were unwise at once in their estimate of their own powers, and in their judgment as to the kind of public discussions, which would be profitable for the Church. The cause of gospel truth could never be advanced by dogmatic disputations or bitter personal wrangling. Attend, therefore, says James in ver. 13, to a description first of false wisdom (vers. 14 16), and then of true (vers. 17, 18). Many members of the Churches of "the Dispersion" desired to appear "wise" (ver. 13), but only some were really so. Many might even be "knowing," or "endued with knowledge," who were not wise.

"Knowledge and wisdom, far from being one,
Have ofttimes no connection."

(Cowper.) Knowledge is only a hewer of wood, while wisdom is the architect and builder. A man may possess a large library, or even amass vast stores of knowledge, and yet be "a motley fool." Indeed, no fool is so great as a knowing fool. The wise man is he who can use his knowledge for the largest moral and spiritual good. And the true wisdom is bound up with the life of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Job 28:28; 2 Timothy 3:15). It makes the will of God its rule, and his glory its end. So the man who lives without God should be thought of as the impersonation of stupidity, and Satan as the supreme fool of the universe. But, if a man be "wise unto salvation," how will his wisdom appear?

1. By "his good life. (Ver. 13.) The quiet even flow of one's daily occupation will furnish an ample sphere for it. Even the heathen philosopher, Seneca, has said, Wisdom does not show itself so much in precept as in life - in a firmness of mind and a mastery of appetite. It teaches us to do, as well as to talk; and to make our words and actions all of a color." The weighty 'Essays' of Lord Bacon "come home to men's business and bosoms;" yet their author cannot justly be called "the wisest," if he was in his own life "the meanest of mankind."

2. By "his works in meekness of wisdom. Character is perceived not only by its subtle aroma, but in connection with individual actions. Wisdom shows itself in acts of holiness. And these acts are done in meekness," which is one of wisdom's inseparable attributes. True wisdom is mild and calm, patient and self-restraining. And yet a meek spirit is not a mean spirit. The "poor in spirit" are not the poor-spirited. The "meekness of wisdom" consists with the greatest courage and the most ardent zeal. An old commentator says, "Moses was very meek in his own cause, but as hot as fire in the cause of God." And the Man Christ Jesus was mild, just because he was strong and brave. There was no fierceness, no fanaticism, no sourness, about him. He is our perfect Pattern of the "meekness of wisdom" (1 Peter 2:22, 23; Matthew 27:12-14). The spirit of strife and wrangling is not the spirit of Christ. James now proceeds to a statement of principles regarding false or earthly wisdom (vers. 14 16).

I. ITS NATURE. (Ver. 14.) The spurious wisdom of the "many teachers' carried in it not so much burning zeal as "bitter zeal." Its spirit was factious, arrogant, bigoted, Its roots lay in the angry passions of the heart. Its aim was personal victory rather than the triumph of the truth. While it may be sometimes dutiful to contend earnestly in defense of the gospel, the love of controversy for its own sake, and the cherishing of a contentious spirit towards brethren, is always sinful, much less a ground for "glorying." A professing Christian who lives to foster either doctrinal wranglings or social quarrels presents to the world a caricature of Christianity, and is himself a living lie "against the truth."

II. ITS ORIGIN. (Ver. 15.)

1. "Earthly. Every good gift is from above; but this so-called wisdom is of earthly origin, and busies itself about earthly things. Those cultivate it whose souls are wholly immersed in worldly pursuits.

2. Sensual;" i.e. psychical or natural, as opposed to spiritual. It originates in the lower sphere of man's intellectual nature; it is the wisdom of his unspiritual mind and his unsanctified heart. Until the human spirit becomes possessed by the Spirit of God, its works will be "the works of the flesh."

3. "Devilish." The false wisdom is demoniacal in source, as it is in character. The envious heart, like the evil tongue, "is set on fire by hell" (ver. 6). Implicitly followed, this wisdom will tend to make a man "half-beast, half-devil." These three adjectives correspond to our three great spiritual enemies. Earthly wisdom has its origin in the world; natural wisdom, in the flesh; demoniacal wisdom, in the devil. And, recognizing this, our prayer should be, "From all such deceits, good Lord, deliver us."

III. ITS RESULTS. (Ver. 16.) Where there are "bitter zeal and faction" in the heart, these may be expected to produce commotion and wretchedness in society. What misery has not the spirit of strife and self-seeking wrought in the midst of families, and in the bosom of Churches! It is a fruitful source of heart-burnings and of lifelong alienations. It sows tares among the wheat. And the harvest of "this wisdom" shall be "a heap in the day of grief and of desperate sorrow."


1. Loathe the vile spirit of strife.

2. Covet earnestly the gift of holy wisdom.

3. Remember that the climax of the true wisdom consists in meekness. - C.J.

Who is a wise man, and endued with knowledge.
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.)

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.)

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 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.)

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.)

One of our party greatly needed some elder-flower 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.)

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.)

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 far-sighted 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
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.)

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.)

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 from the 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 genuine influence 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 ever distinguished. 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.)

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.)

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