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THE GENERAL EPISTLE OF JAMES - Chapter 1 - Verse 19

Verse 19. Wherefore, my beloved brethren. The connexion is this: "Since God is the only source of good; since he tempts no man; and since by his mere sovereign goodness, without any claim on our part, we have had the high honour conferred on us of being made the first-fruits of his creatures, we ought to be ready to hear his voice, to subdue all our evil passions, and to bring our souls to entire practical obedience." The necessity of obedience, or the doctrine that the gospel is not only to be learned but practised, is pursued at length in this and the following chapter. The particular statement here (Jas 1:19-21) is, that religion requires us to be meek and docile; to lay aside all irritability against the truth, and all pride of opinion, and all corruption of heart, and to receive meekly the engrafted word. See the analysis of the chapter.

Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak. That is, primarily, to hear God; to listen to the instructions of that truth by which we have been begotten, and brought into so near relation to him. At the same time, though this is the primary sense of the phrase here, it may be regarded as inculcating the general doctrine that we are to be more ready to hear than to speak; or that we are to be disposed to learn always, and from any source. Our appropriate condition is rather that of learners than instructors; and the attitude of mind which we should cultivate is that of a readiness to receive information from any quarter. The ancients have some sayings on this subject which are well worthy of our attention. "Men have two ears, and but one tongue, that they should hear more than they speak." "The ears are always open, ever ready to receive instruction; but the tongue is surrounded with a double row of teeth, to hedge it in, and to keep it within proper bounds." See Benson. So Valerius Maximus, vii. 2: "How noble was the response of Xenocrates! When he met the reproaches of others with a profound silence, some one asked him why he alone was silent? Because, says he, I have sometimes had occasion to regret that I have spoken, never that I was silent." See Wetstein. So the son of Sirach, "Be swift to hear, and with deep consideration (en makroyumia) give answer," chap. v. 11. So the Rabbins have some similar sentiments. "Talk little, and work much," Pirkey Aboth. c. i. 15. "The righteous speak little, and do much; the wicked speak much, and do nothing," Bava Metsia, fol. 87. A sentiment similar to that before us is found in Ec 5:2, "Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter anything before God." So Pr 10:19, "In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin;" Pr 13:3, "He that keepeth his mouth keepeth his life;" Pr 15:2, "The tongue of the wise useth knowledge aright, but the mouth of fools poureth out foolishness."

Slow to wrath. That is, we are to govern and restrain our temper; we are not to give indulgence to excited and angry passions. Compare Pr 16:32, "He that is slow to anger is greater than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city." See also on this subject, Job 5:2; Pr 11:17; Pr 13:10; 14:16; 15:18; 19:19; 22:24; 25:28; Ec 7:9; Ro 12:17;

1 Th 5:14; 1 Pe 3:8. The particular point here is, however, not that we should be slow to wrath as a general habit of mind, which is indeed most true, but in reference particularly to the reception of the truth. We should lay aside all anger and wrath, and should come to the a calm in a investigation of truth with mind, and an imperturbed spirit. A state of wrath or anger is always unfavourable to the investigation of truth. Such an investigation demands a calm spirit, and he whose mind is excited and enraged is not condition to see the value of truth, or to weigh the evidence for it.

{a} "slow to speak" Ec 5:2 {b} "slow to wrath" Pr 16:32

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