Charles Simeon Commentary - James 3:13 - 3:13

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Charles Simeon Commentary - James 3:13 - 3:13


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INFLUENCE OF WISDOM UPON THE CONDUCT

Jam_3:13. Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.

THE government of the tongue is of all things the most difficult; because every evil that is in the heart seeks for vent through that organ. A man who should be able so to controul it that no unadvised word should ever escape from his lips, would be a perfect man. Yet, if a man profess to be religious, and have not so much self-government as to impose an habitual restraint upon his tongue, he deceives his own soul, and his religion is vain [Note: Jam_1:26.]. The gift of speech is to be improved for God by holy and heavenly communications, and the man who suffers it to be a vehicle of sin, discovers himself to be a hypocrite before God. The inconsistency of such conduct is obvious. “A fountain cannot send forth both fresh water and bitter; nor can a tree bear both olives and figs:” so neither can a renewed heart bear such different and discordant fruits [Note: ver. 9–12.]. Whoever therefore professes godliness, should take care that no such inconsistency be found in him. “Who is a wise man, and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.”

In these words we see,

I.       The proper character of Christians—

When we say that the Christian is “a wise man, and endued with knowledge,” we seem to be guilty of great arrogance; since it is a notorious fact, that the great majority of religious persons, as St. Paul himself acknowledges, are of the lower orders of society, whose talents and attainments are extremely limited [Note: 1Co_1:26-28.]. And even where the disadvantages of education are not so great, it is often found that “the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.” How then can we presume to designate the godly by such inappropriate and high-sounding names? I answer, That the wisdom of this world is in God’s estimation, folly; and that his people alone deserve the titles that are here assigned them. They are wise and intelligent,

1.       As fearing God—

[They all without exception fear God. This is the lowest attainment that will justify any pretensions to true piety. And what is said of it by holy Job? “The fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding [Note: Job_28:28.].” Here then at once is their character fixed by the testimony of God himself. And to them does it belong exclusively: for of all others the Prophet Jeremiah says, “They have rejected the word of the Lord; and what wisdom is in them [Note: Jer_8:9.]?” They may possess much which passes under that name: they may be skilled in arts and sciences, even as Solomon himself: yet they shew that they are fools and idiots, as it respects the things of God. They shew that they know not the true end of their being: they know not wherein real happiness consists: they know not the value of an immortal soul: they know not the judgment that awaits them, or the importance of preparing for it. Their views are circumscribed by the things of time and sense; and of heaven and heavenly things they have no knowledge. “Their wisdom and knowledge, such as it is, only perverts them [Note: Isa_47:10.].” Hence of them it is said, that “madness is in their hearts while they live [Note: Ecc_9:3.].” But of the Lord’s people, how ignorant soever they may be of other matters, it may be said, as on this very ground it was said of the Jews of old, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people [Note: Deu_4:6.].”]

2.       As instructed by God himself—

[This also is peculiar to them, and abundantly vindicates their title to the character given them in the text. To them universally, and to them exclusively, does that promise belong, “They shall all be taught of God [Note: Joh_6:45.].” They are taught of God, who by his Spirit has “opened the eyes of their understanding [Note: Eph_1:17-18.],” and “brought them out of darkness into the marvellous light of his Gospel [Note: 1Pe_2:9.].” To them he has given a spiritual discernment, whereby they are enabled to discern the things of the Spirit [Note: 1Co_2:9-12.]. He has given to them such views of Christ as “flesh and blood could never have revealed to them [Note: Mat_16:16-17.].” “Wonderful things are they enabled to behold in God’s law [Note: Psa_119:18.].” They see—what others have no conception of—the spirituality of that law, extending to every thought and desire of the heart. They see in that glass the unsearchable wickedness of their own hearts [Note: 1Ki_8:38.]; their just desert of God’s wrath and indignation; their utter need of a Saviour; the suitableness of Christ to their extreme necessities, and his sufficiency for all their wants. “They have an understanding given them to know Him that is true; and, in consequence of that, they are in Him that is true, even in the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the true God and eternal life [Note: 1Jn_5:20.].” To them are made known things which from all eternity were hid in God; and things which the natural man, whatever be his endowments, cannot receive or know [Note: 1Co_2:7-8; 1Co_2:14.]: yea, though they be in every other respect mere “babes, to them God has revealed what he has hid from the wise and prudent [Note: Mat_11:25.]:” so that, whilst the man of learning, that is wise in his own conceit, looks down upon them with contempt as weak and foolish, they see the vanity of all his boasted wisdom, and they pity the blindness of his deluded mind. See how strongly all this is asserted by the Apostle Paul: “He that is spiritual (however destitute he may be of human learning) judgeth all things: yet he himself is judged of no man: (he estimates rightly the state of others, whilst they can form no just estimate of his:) for who (what carnal man) hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we (we who are taught of God) have the mind of Christ;” and consequently can form a correct judgment both of our own state and theirs [Note: 1Co_2:15-16.]. Thus, whilst all others are “perishing for lack of knowledge [Note: Hos_4:6.],” they have “that unction of the Holy One whereby they know all things [Note: 1Jn_2:20; 1Jn_2:27.],” and are become truly wise, being made “wise unto salvation through faith in Christ [Note: 2Ti_3:15.].”]

Such being their high character, they are concerned to know, and to consider well,

II.      The conduct that befits them—

Doubtless their deportment should be such as is suited to the distinguished rank which they bear amongst their fellows: and their superiority to others should be marked,

1.       In their works—

[Their whole “conversation should be such as becometh the Gospel of Christ [Note: Php_1:27.].” A tree must be known by its fruits; and their faith be judged of by their works [Note: Jam_1:18.]. The whole tenour of these must be good: and, though they are not to be done with a view to man’s applause, they must be such as to evince to all around them the excellence of the principles which they profess: “they must make their light so to shine before men, that all who behold their good works may glorify their Father that is in heaven [Note: Mat_5:16.].” They must “shew out of a good conversation their works.”

But in relation to these (their works) the godly will find no difficulty, if they attend to that which is principally adverted to in our text, namely, to walk worthy of their profession.]

2.       In their spirit—

[The Christian is renewed, not in knowledge or in the outward conduct only, but “in the spirit of his mind [Note: Eph_4:23.].” He is poured into a new mould, the mould of the Gospel [Note: Rom_6:17. the Greek.]. He is assimilated to the Lord Jesus Christ himself, especially in the meekness and gentleness of his spirit under the heaviest trials, and the bitterest provocations. Of him we are told, that “he was led as a lamb to the slaughter; and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so opened he not his mouth [Note: Isa_53:7.]:” and in that particular he is more especially commended to us as an example: for “he suffered, leaving us an example that we should follow his steps; who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth; who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously [Note: 1Pe_2:21-23.].” This is the state which God approves. The outward act is comparatively of little value in his sight; since that may abound even where the inward principle is most corrupt: but when he sees “the hidden man of the heart” thus habited, he views it with delight: “the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit is in his sight of great prices. [Note: 1Pe_3:4.].” This is what the Apostle so beautifully inculcates in our text: “Let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.” Meekness and wisdom are intimately and indissolubly connected: as it is said, “He that is hasty of spirit, exalteth folly; whereas he who is slow to wrath, is of great understanding [Note: Pro_14:29.].” In this then must every true Christian excel: and it will be in vain for him to pretend that he has been taught of God, if he have not learned, and practically too, this important lesson. Do you ask how the true Christian must be distinguished? St. Paul shall tell you: “Put on, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye [Note: Col_3:12-13.].” This is the proper test of your principles. If you have knowledge, it is well: if you have faith, it is well: if you have works, it is well: but you may “have the knowledge of men and angels, and a faith that can remove mountains; and such zeal, both of an active and passive kind, as may lead you to give all your goods to feed the poor, and your bodies to be burned, and yet, after all, want that internal principle of love, which is necessary to your acceptance with God [Note: 1Co_13:1-3.].” Your proper character is, that you are “the meek of the earth: seek righteousness therefore, and seek meekness [Note: Zep_2:3.].” “I beseech you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ [Note: 2Co_10:1.]” that you cultivate this spirit to the uttermost: for, if you have not in this respect “the mind that was in Christ Jesus [Note: Php_2:5.],” you are not, you cannot be, his [Note: 1Jn_3:24; 1Jn_4:17.].]

For the more extensive improvement of this subject,

I would add two solemn admonitions—

1.       Rest not in attainments, whilst destitute of knowledge—

[There is a great diversity in the natural dispositions of men: some are from their very birth more meek and gentle than others: and certainly they whom nature has formed in this better mould, have much to be thankful for. But let not any one mistake this natural gentleness for grace. The meekness of which my text speaks, is “a fruit of the Spirit [Note: Gal_5:22-23.],” and is always associated with true wisdom. It springs from a sense of our own unworthiness, and of the obligations which we owe to Christ for all the wonders of redeeming love. It is a humble submission to Almighty God, whose hand is viewed in all events, and whose love is tasted in the bitterest dispensations. It is a resignation of the soul to him, that he may perfect it in his own way, and glorify himself upon it, as seemeth him good. Before you draw inferences then from your comparative proficiency in gentle habits, inquire how they have been obtained? Examine whether they are associated with this heavenly wisdom; and whether they are the result of deep humiliation, and of ardent love to God? If you have not been taught of God to know yourselves and the Lord Jesus Christ, you are in darkness even until now: and though you appear to be in the fold of Christ, you have never entered it at the strait gate, and therefore are not regarded by him as his sheep indeed. O! may God instruct you, and by his Holy Spirit guide you into all truth!]

2.       Rest not in knowledge, whilst destitute of these attainments—

[Many possess a very clear knowledge of Scripture truths, whilst yet they experience not their sanctifying and transforming efficacy. It is a melancholy fact, that many who profess religion are grievously under the dominion of evil tempers. It was evidently so among those to whom St. James addressed this epistle. But, beloved, “these things ought not so to be,” and must not so be: for, if they be, they will terminate in fearful disappointment at the last day. Think not to excuse yourselves by saying, That your temper is naturally hasty and violent. It may be so: but this is no reason why it is to have the mastery over you. If the struggles which you have to maintain be the greater, the strength of Christ shall be the more displayed in the victories which he will enable you to gain. Only go to him in fervent and continual prayer, and you shall find, that “his grace is sufficient for you:” it never failed yet; nor shall it ever fail, when sought in sincerity and truth. Only prostrate yourselves before him with shame, and sorrow, and contrition, and implore of him the assistance of his good Spirit; and then will he “beautify you with salvation [Note: Psa_149:4.];” for “instead of the thorn shall grow up the fir-tree, and instead of the brier shall grow up the myrtle-tree: and you shall be to the Lord for a name, and for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off [Note: Isa_55:13.].”]