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191

CHAPTER XVI.
THE WISDOM THAT IS FROM BELOW.

"Who is wise and understanding among you? let him show by his good life his works in meekness of wisdom. But if ye have bitter jealousy and faction in your heart, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom is not a wisdom that cometh down from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where jealousy and faction are, there is confusion and every vile deed."—St. James iii. 13-16.

THIS section, which again looks at first sight like an abrupt transition to another subject, is found, upon closer examination, to grow quite naturally out of the preceding one. St. James has just been warning his readers against the lust of teaching and talking. Not many of them are to become teachers, for the danger of transgressing with the tongue, which is great in all of us, is in them at a maximum, because teachers must talk. Moreover, those who teach have greater responsibilities than those who do not; for by professing to instruct others they deprive themselves of the plea of ignorance, and they are bound to instruct by example of good deeds, as well as by precept of good words. From this subject he quite naturally passes on to speak of the difference between the wisdom from above and the wisdom from below; and the connexion is twofold. It is those who possess only the latter wisdom, and are proud of their miserable possession, who are so eager to make themselves of importance by 192 giving instruction; and it is the fatal love of talk, about which he has just been speaking so severely, that is one of the chief symptoms of the wisdom that is from below.

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. "Deed, 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.

"Who is wise and understanding among you?" (τίς σοφὸς καὶ ἐπιστήμων ἐν ὑμῖν). The same two words meet us in the questionings of Job (xxviii. 12): "Where shall wisdom (σοφία) be found? and where is the place of understanding (ἐπιστήμη)?"6969   Comp. also Deut. i. 13, and iv. 6, where we have the same combination. Of all the words which signify some kind of intellectual endowment, e.g. "prudence" (φρόνησις), "knowledge" (γνῶσις 193 or ἐπίγνωσις), and "understanding" (ἐπιστήμη or σύνεσισ), "wisdom" (σοφία) always ranks as highest. It indicates, as Clement of Alexandria defines it (Strom. I. v.), "the understanding of things human and Divine, and their causes." It is the word which expresses the typical wisdom of Solomon (Matt. xii. 42; Luke xi. 31), the inspiration of St. Stephen (Acts vi. 10), and the Divine wisdom of Jesus Christ (Matt. xiii. 54; Mark vi. 2; and comp. Luke xi. 49 with Matt. xxiii. 34). It is also employed in the heavenly doxologies which ascribe wisdom to the Lamb and to God (Rev. v. 12; vii. 12). St. James, therefore, quite naturally employs it to denote that excellent gift for which Christians are to pray with full confidence that it will be granted to them (i. 5, 6), and which manifests its heavenly character by a variety of good fruits (iii. 17).

Whether we are to understand any very marked difference between the two adjectives ("wise" and "understanding") used in the opening question, is a matter of little moment. The question taken as a whole amounts to this: Who among you professes to have superior knowledge, spiritual or practical? The main thing is not the precise scope of the question, but of the answer. Let every one who claims to have a superiority which entitles him to teach others prove his superiority by his good life. Once more it is a call for deeds, and not words—for conduct, and not professions. And St. James expresses this in a specially strong way. He might have said simply, "Let him by his conduct show his wisdom," just as he said above, "I by my works will show thee my faith." But he says, "Let him show by his good life his works in meekness of wisdom." Thus the necessity for practice and conduct, as distinct from mere knowledge, is enforced twice over; 194 and besides that, the particular character of the conduct, the atmosphere in which it is to be exhibited, is also indicated. It is to be done "in meekness of wisdom." 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. The spirit of strife, and the spirit of meekness; those are the two properties which chiefly distinguish the wisdom that comes from heaven from the wisdom that comes from hell.

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. He who loses his temper in argument has begun to care more about himself, and less about the truth. He has become like the many would-be teachers rebuked by St. James; slow to hear, and swift to speak; unwilling to learn, and eager to dogmatize; much less ready to know the truth than to be able to say something, whether true or false.

The words "by his good life" (ἐκ τῆς καλῆς ἀναστροφῆς) are a change made by the Revisers for other 195 reasons than the two which commonly weighed with them. As already stated (p. 150), their most valuable corrections are those which have been produced by the correction of the corrupt Greek text used by previous translators. Many more are corrections of mistranslations of the correct Greek text. The present change of "good conversation" into "good life" comes under neither of these two heads. It has been necessitated by a change which has taken place in the English language during the last two or three centuries. Words are constantly changing their meaning. "Conversation" is one of many English words which have drifted from their old signification; and it is one of several which have undergone change since the Authorized Version was published, and in spite of the enormous influence exercised by that version. For there can be no doubt that our Bible has retained words in use which would otherwise have been dropped, and has kept words to their old meaning which would otherwise have undergone a change. This latter influence, however, fails to make itself felt where the changed meaning still makes sense; and that is the case with the passages in which "conversation" (as a rendering of ἀναστροφή) occurs in the New Testament. "Conversation" was formerly a word of much wider meaning, and its gradual restriction to intercourse by word of mouth is unfortunate. Formerly it covered the whole of a man's walk in life (Lebenswandel), his going out and coming in, his behaviour or conduct. Wherever he "turned himself about" and lived, there he had his "conversation" (conversatio, from conversari, the exact equivalent of ἀναστροφή, from ἀναστρέφεσθαι). It was exactly the word that was required by the translators of the Greek Testament. 196 In the Septuagint it does not occur until the Apocrypha (Tobit iv. 14). But it causes serious misunderstanding to restrict the meaning of all the passages in which the word occurs to "conversation" in the modern sense, as if speaking were the only thing included; and the Revisers have done very rightly in removing this source of misunderstanding; but they have been unable to find any one expression which would serve the purpose, and hence have been compelled to vary the translation. Sometimes they give "manner of life" (Gal. i. 13; Eph. iv. 22; 1 Tim. iv. 12; 1 Peter i. 18); iii. 16; once "manner of living" (1 Peter i. 15); three times "behaviour" (1 Peter ii. 12; iii. 1, 2); three times "life" (Heb. xiii. 7; 2 Peter ii. 7; and here); and once "living" (2 Peter iii. 11). These different translations are worth collecting together, inasmuch as they give a good idea of the scope of "conversation" in the old sense,7070   That "conversation" should also have been used as a rendering of πολίτευμα (Phil. iii. 20; comp. i. 27) and τρόπος (Heb. xiii. 5) is very unfortunate. which really represents the word used by St. James. That "conversation," with the modern associations which inevitably cling to it now, should be used in the passage before us, is singularly unfortunate. It not only misrepresents, but it almost reverses the meaning of the writer. So far from telling a man to show his wisdom by what he says in his intercourse with others, St. James rather exhorts him to show it by saying as little as possible, and doing a great deal. Let him show out of a noble life the conduct of a wise man in the gentle spirit which befits such. In modern language, let him in the fullest sense be a Christian gentleman.

"In meekness of wisdom." On this St. James lays 197 great stress. He has already told his readers to "receive with meekness the implanted word" (i. 21), and what implies the same thing, although the word is not used, to "be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath" (i. 19). And in the passage before us he insists with urgent repetition upon the peaceable and gentle disposition of those who possess the wisdom from above (vv. 17, 18). 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. v.). 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. The Jew, with his national contempt for all who were not of the stock of Israel, was always prone to self-assertion, and these Christian Jews of the Dispersion had still to learn the spirit of their own psalms. "The meek will He guide in judgment; and the meek will He teach His way" (xxv. 9). "The meek shall inherit the land, and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace" (xxxvii. 11). "The Lord upholdeth the meek" (cxlvii. 6). "He shall beautify the meek with salvation" (cxlix. 4). In all these passages the Septuagint has the adjective (πραεῖς) of the substantive used by St. James (πραΰτης). "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 states as a mere supposition 198 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? The same conclusion must be drawn now as then.

Jealousy or zeal may be a good or a bad thing according to the motive which inspires it. God Himself is called "a jealous God," and is said to be "clad with zeal as a cloak" (Isa. lix. 17), and to "take to Him jealousy for complete armour" (Wisdom v. 17). To Christ His disciples applied the words, "The zeal of Thine house shall eat me up" (John ii. 17). But more often the word has a bad signification. It indicates "zeal not according to knowledge" (Rom. x. 2), as when the high priest and Sadducees arrested the Apostles (Acts v. 17), or when Saul persecuted the Church (Phil. iii. 6). It is coupled with strife (Rom. xiii. 13), and is counted among the works of the flesh (Gal. v. 20). 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 199 for hire" (Isa. xxxviii. 12), and thence any ignoble pursuit, especially political canvassing, intrigue, or factiousness (Arist. Pol. V. ii. 6; iii. 9; Rom. ii. 8; Phil. i. 16; ii. 3). This also St. Paul classes among the works of the flesh (Gal. v. 20). What St. James seems to refer to in these two words is bitter 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 a crusade against vice! "The whole Christianity of many a devotee consists only, we may say, in a bitter contempt for the sins of sinners, in a proud and loveless contention with what it calls the wicked world" (Stier).

"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 unchristian 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 (i. 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 200 its nature, and sphere, and origin, really is. It belongs to this world, and has no connexion 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. Just as there is a faith which a man may share with demons (ii. 19), and a tongue which is set on fire by hell (iii. 6), so there is a wisdom which is demoniacal in its source and in its activity.

The second of the three terms of condemnation used by St. James (ψυχικός) cannot be adequately rendered in English, for "psychic" or "psychical" would convey either no meaning or a wrong one. It does not occur in the Septuagint, but is found six times in the New Testament—four times in the First Epistle to the Corinthians (ii. 14; xv. 44, 46), where most English versions have "natural;" once in Jude (19), where Tyndale, Cranmer, and the Genevan have "fleshly," the Rhemish, the Authorized, and the Revised "sensual;" and once here, where Genevan, Rhemish, Authorized, and Revised all give "sensual," the last placing "natural or animal" in the margin.7171   Purvey has "beastly" in all six places, which is a translation of the animalis of the Vulgate: "earthly, beastly, fiendly" is his triplet. See p. 453. When man's nature is divided into body and soul, or flesh and spirit, every one understands that the body or flesh indicates the lower and material part, the soul or spirit the higher and immaterial part. But when a threefold division is made, into body, soul, and spirit, we are apt to allow the more simple and more familiar division to disturb our ideas. "Soul" is 201 allowed to keep its old meaning, and to be understood as much more allied with "spirit" than with "body" or "flesh." This causes serious misunderstanding. When the soul is distinguished, not only from the flesh, but from the spirit, it represents a part of our nature which is much more closely connected with the former than with the latter. The "natural" or "sensual" man, though higher than the carnal man, who is the slave of his animal passions, is far below the spiritual man, who is ruled by the highest portion of his nature, which is under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The natural man does not soar above the things of this world. His inspirations are not heavenly. "Of the earth he is, and of the earth he speaketh." The wisdom from above is heavenly, spiritual, Divine; the wisdom from below is earthly, sensual, devilish.

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? If one wished to sum up succinctly the manner in which the activity of demons specially exhibits itself, could one do so better than by saying "confusion and every vile deed"? "God is not a God of confusion, but of peace," says St. Paul, using the very word that we have here (1 Cor. xiv. 33); and every one heartily assents to the doctrine. The reason and conscience of every man tell him that disorder cannot in origin be Divine; it is part of that ruin which Satanic influences have been allowed to make in a universe which was created "very good." Jealousy and faction mean anarchy; and anarchy means a moral chaos in which 202 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. It may have a right to the name of wisdom, just as a correct belief about the nature of God may have a right to the name of faith, even when it remains barren, and therefore powerless to save. But an inspiration which prompts men to envy and intrigue, because, when many are rushing to occupy the post of teacher, others find a hearing more readily than themselves, is the inspiration of Cain and of Korah, rather than of Moses or of Daniel. 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 xxii. 24), that they "all forsook Him and fled."

Note.—A portion of Dr. Newman's description of a gentleman will serve to illustrate what has been said above. It occurs in his Discourses addressed to the Catholics of Dublin. "It is almost a definition of a gentleman to say that he is one who never inflicts pain. He is mainly occupied in merely removing the obstacles which hinder the free and unembarrassed action of those about him, and he concurs with their movements rather than takes the initiative himself. He carefully avoids whatever may cause a jar or a jolt in the minds of those with whom he is cast—all clashing of opinion, or collision of feeling, all restraint, or suspicion, or gloom, or resentment; his great concern being to make every one at their ease and at home. He has his eyes on all his company; he is tender towards the bashful, gentle towards the distant, and merciful towards the absurd. He guards against unseasonable allusions, or topics which may irritate. He has no ears for slander or gossip, is scrupulous in imputing motives to those who interfere with him, and interprets everything for the best."


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