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THE GENERAL EPISTLE OF JAMES - Chapter 3 - Verse 17

Verse 17. But the wisdom that is from above. See Barnes on "1 Co 2:6".

The wisdom which has a heavenly origin, or which is from God. The man who is characterized by that wisdom will be pure, peaceable, etc. This does not refer to the doctrines of religion, but to its spirit.

Is first pure. That is, the first effect of it on the mind is to make it pure. The influence on the man is to make him upright, sincere, candid, holy. The word here used (agnov) is that which would be applied to one who is innocent, or free from crime or blame. Compare Php 4:8; 1 Ti 5:22; 1 Jo 3:3, where the word is rendered, as here, pure; 2 Co 7:11, where it is rendered clear, [in this matter;] 2 Co 11:2; Tit 2:5; 1 Pe 3:2, where it is rendered chaste. The meaning here is, that the first and immediate effect of religion is not on the intellect, to make it more enlightened; or on the imagination, to make it more discursive and brilliant; or on the memory and judgment, to make them clearer and stronger; but it is to purify the heart, to make the man upright, inoffensive, and good. This passage should not be applied, as it often is, to the doctrines of religion, as if it were the first duty of a church to keep itself free from errors in doctrine, and that this ought to be sought even in preference to the maintenance of peace—as if it meant that in doctrine a church should be "first pure, then peaceable;" but it should be applied to the individual consciences of men, as showing the effect of religion on the heart and life. The first thing which it produces is to make the man himself pure and good; then follows the train of blessings which the apostle enumerates as flowing from that. It is true that a church should be pure in doctrinal belief, but that is not the truth taught here. It is not true that the Scripture teaches, here or elsewhere, that purity of doctrine is to be preferred to a peaceful spirit; or that it always leads to peaceful spirit; or that it is proper for professed Christians and Christian ministers to sacrifice, as is often done, a peaceful spirit, in an attempt to preserve purity of doctrine. Most of the persecutions in the church have grown out of this maxim. This led to the establishment of the Inquisition; this kindled the fires of Smithfield; this inspirited Laud and his friends; this has been the origin of no small part of the schisms in the church. A pure spirit is the best promoter of peace, and will do more than anything else to secure the prevalence of truth.

Then peaceable. The effect of true religion —the wisdom which is from above—will be to dispose a man to live in peace with all others. See Barnes on "Ro 14:19; Heb 12:14.

 

Gentle. Mild, inoffensive, clement. The word here used (epieikhv) is rendered moderation in Php 4:6; patient in 1 Ti 3:3; and gentle in Tit 3:2; Jas 3:17; 1 Pe 2:18.

It does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament. Every one has a clear idea of the virtue of gentleness—gentleness of spirit, of deportment, and of manners; and every one can see that that is the appropriate spirit of religion. See Barnes on "2 Co 10:1".

It is from this word that we have derived the word gentleman; and the effect of true religion is to make every one, in the proper and best sense of the term, a gentleman. How can a man have evidence that he is a true Christian, who is not such? The highest title which can be given to a man is that he is a Christian gentleman.

And easy to be entreated. The word here used does not elsewhere occur in the New Testament. It means easily persuaded, compliant. Of course, this refers only to cases where it is right and proper to be easily persuaded and complying. It cannot refer to things which are in themselves wrong. The sense is, that he who is under the influence of the wisdom which is from above, is not a stiff, stern, obstinate, unyielding man. He does not take a position, and then hold it whether right or wrong; he is not a man on whom no arguments or persuasions can have any influence. He is not one who cannot be affected by any appeals which may be made to him on the grounds of patriotism, justice, or benevolence; but is one who is ready to yield when truth requires him to do it, and who is willing to sacrifice his own convenience for the good of others. See this illustrated in the ease of the apostle Paul, in 1 Co 9:20-22. See Barnes on "1 Co 9:20-22".

 

Full of mercy. Merciful; disposed to show compassion to others. This is one of the results of the wisdom that is from above, for it makes us like God, the "Father of mercies." See Barnes on "Mt 5:7".

 

And good fruits. The fruits of good living; just, benevolent, and kind actions. See Barnes on "Php 1:11"; see Barnes on "2 Co 9:10".

Compare Jas 2:14-26.

Without partiality. Marg., "or wrangling." The word here used (adiakritov) occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. It means, properly, not to be distinguished. Here it may mean either of the following things:

(a) not open to distinction or doubt; that is, unambiguous, so that there shall be no doubt about its origin or nature;

(b) making no distinction, that is, in the treatment of others, or impartial towards them; or

(c) without strife, from diakrinw, to contend. The second meaning here suggested seems best to accord with the sense of the passage; and according to this the idea is, that the wisdom which is from above, or true religion, makes us impartial in our treatment of others: that is, we are not influenced by a regard to dress, rank, or station, but we are disposed to do equal justice to all, according to their moral worth, and to show kindness to all, according to their wants. See Jas 2:1-4.

And without hypocrisy. What it professes to be; sincere. There is no disguise or mask assumed. What the man pretends to be, he is. This is everywhere the nature of true religion. It has nothing of its own of which to be ashamed, and which needs to be concealed; its office is not to hide or conceal anything that is wrong. It neither is a mask, nor does it need a mask. If such is the nature of the "wisdom which is from above," who is there that should be ashamed of it? Who is there that should not desire that its blessed influence should spread around the world?

{a} "the wisdom that is from above" 1 Co 2:6-7 {b} "pure" Php 4:8 {c} "peaceable" Heb 12:14 {d} "gentle" Ga 5:22 {+} "partiality" or, "wrangling"

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