James 1:19-20

JAM 1:29-20  •  6 min. read  •  grade level: 8
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The critical correction which opens verse 19 rests not only on excellent authority, but on internal evidence of no small weight; while the common reading followed by the A. V. seems a rather obvious change of transcribers who failed to apprehend the force of the verb here.
“Ye know [it], my brethren beloved; but let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for man's wrath worketh not God's righteousness” (vers. 19, 20).
It is characteristic of Christianity to know not only the privileges and experience of saints but the depths of God, as we are told in 1 Cor. 2:1010But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. (1 Corinthians 2:10), and not simply as revealed objectively but in inward spiritual consciousness, as being born of God and thus having a new nature derived of Him. Of this we were fully told in the verse before; and, as knowing it, we have important consequences now urged on us. It is not that saints of old were destitute of that nature, as answering to faith which is the ground of all divine affections and of everything that pleases God in holy conduct. But it would be difficult to find, throughout the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets, so simple an enunciation of it as our Epistle lays down; and this not as a novel communication to those addressed, but as a truth so known to them that there was no need of enforcing the fact or enlarging on its importance. We are therefore led at once to weighty practical results.
Others were given to set forth the work of redemption in Christ, or His personal glory, which are outside the believer and of all moment for purging the conscience and filling the heart. But it was the place of James writing to those peculiarly liable to be content with objects of sight only, to instruct in that interior dealing with the heart which is no less essential to the Christian, and secured to faith, both by a life given in Christ and by the gift of the Holy Spirit consequent on His blood-shedding and ascension. Here James had taught them in the clearest terms, that of His own purpose God gave us birth by the word of truth. So in the Fourth Gospel the apostle told us that “as many as received Him (Christ), to them gave He title to become children of God, even to them that believe on His name: who were born, not of blood nor of flesh's will, nor of man's will, but of God.” It is inexcusable to mistake so plain an intimation, or (if seen) to lower its importance. The believer has already this new life, knows it, and is called to manifest it accordingly. Christianity is not only the revelation of a Lord and Savior not less truly divine than the Father, but this inseparably from a new nature now imparted to the believer, who is responsible to walk suitably in the practical exercise of that life.
The exhortation therefore here is: “let every man be swift to hear.” Christ Himself is the model of this, as of all else that is good. Though the Holy One of God, never was any so swift to hear God's word. So the prophet distinguished Him, “The Lord Jehovah hath given me the tongue of them that are taught, that I should know how to speak a word to him that is weary. He wakeneth morning by morning, he wakeneth mine ear to hear as they that are taught. The Lord Jehovah hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away backward.” Nor was it otherwise with His bearing in presence of the tempter: the word of God was His constant resource, and only the more if Satan perverted it. “It is written again” was His lowly God-honoring answer. And so it is, and has ever been, with His sheep. They hear His voice, and follow Him; they know not the voice of strangers.
The word of truth abides in its value. By it they were begotten of God; by it the new life is fed, formed, directed, and strengthened. All the written word is prized as well as authoritative; but for special instructions God has been pleased to furnish those communications we call the New Testament. If we rightly heed all scripture, we assuredly shall welcome every word that explains the new life and its duties, and His glory and grace Who is its spring and fullness.
But we are told also to be “slow to speak.” For we have another nature which is self-confident and impulsive; and there do we need to be on our guard, that, knowing ourselves weak, ignorant, and naturally prone to evil, we may look up to God and wait dependently on Him. As born of Him, it is ours to be jealous that we may neither misrepresent nor grieve Him. And therefore are we warned of another danger, when it is added “slow to wrath.” How often it is impotent and hasty self-will! We are now sanctified to do His will, to obey as Christ obeyed. There is of course a right occasion for wrath. So the Lord looked round about on those that misused the sabbath to oppose God's grace in an evil world. But we are exhorted to be slow to wrath, and to let it soon be over. “Be ye angry and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath; neither give place to the devil” (Eph. 4:26, 2726Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: 27Neither give place to the devil. (Ephesians 4:26‑27)).
A weighty reason is added which calls for explanation, because the similarity of phrase might lead the hasty to confound it with the well-known but little understood language of the apostle Paul. The two writers can only be rightly appreciated by giving due weight to their respective aims. In Romans and elsewhere in that apostle's writings, it is God's consistency with what is due to Christ's work in redemption. God therefore justifies him that believes in Jesus according to the value of His atoning death in His sight; and so we are made (or become) that righteousness in Him risen and ascended. But James is occupied with our practical ways in consistency with God's sovereign will in begetting us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first-fruit of His creatures. And He looks for conduct according to that new nature He has given us by faith. Submissiveness of heart becomes us in hearkening to Him, and in avoiding our natural haste of speech and proneness to wrath; for, he adds, man's wrath worketh not God's righteousness. It is practical, not our standing according to Christ's work as in Paul's epistles; and it recalls our Lord in Matt. 6:3333But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. (Matthew 6:33), “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness.” This again is not our standing in Christ by virtue of God's righteousness, but the power of His kingdom and character in our souls and ways.