Swift to hear - Talk little and work much, is a rabbinical adage. - Pirkey Aboth, cap. i. 15.
The righteous speak little, and do much; the wicked speak much, and do nothing. - Bava Metzia, fol. 87.
The son of Sirach says, cap. v. 11: Γινου ταχυς εν τῃ ακροασει σου, και εν μακροθυμιᾳ φθεγγου αποκρισιν . "Be swift to hear, and with deep consideration give answer."
Slow to wrath - "There are four kinds of dispositions," says the Midrash hanaalam, cap. v. 11: "First, Those who are easily incensed, and easily pacified; these gain on one hand, and lose on the other. Secondly, Those who are not easily incensed, but are difficult to be appeased; these lose on the one hand, and gain on the other. Thirdly, Those who are difficult to be incensed, and are easily appeased; these are the good. Fourthly, Those who are easily angered, and difficult to be appeased; these are the wicked." Those who are hasty in speech are generally of a peevish or angry disposition. A person who is careful to consider what he says, is not likely to be soon angry.
Wherefore, my beloved brethren - The connection 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 honor 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 practiced, is pursued at length in this and the following chapter. The particular statement here James 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 ingrafted 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, someone 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 ( ἐν μακροθυμίᾳ en makrothumia) give answer.” So the Rabbis 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 Ecclesiastes 5:2. “Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter anything before God.” So Proverbs 10:19. “In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin.” Proverbs 13:3. “He that keepeth his mouth keepeth his life.” Proverbs 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 Proverbs 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; Proverbs 11:17; Proverbs 13:10; Proverbs 14:16; Proverbs 15:18; Proverbs 19:19; Proverbs 22:24; Proverbs 25:28; Ecclesiastes 7:9; Romans 12:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:14; 1 Peter 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 investigation of truth with a calm mind, and an imperturbed spirit. A state of wrath or anger is always unfavorable to the investigation of truth. Such an investigation demands a calm spirit, and he whose mind is excited and enraged is not in a condition to see the value of truth, or to weigh the evidence for it.
Where the Spirit of God is, there is meekness, patience, gentleness, and longsuffering; there is a tenderness of soul, a mildness which savors of Christ. But these fruits are not manifested by the unconverted. The more real need there is for this class to humble themselves before God, the less sense they have of their real standing, and the more self-confidence they assume. The more they claim to be led by God, the more overbearing they are to all around them, the more incapable of receiving any reproof, the more impatient of contradiction, and the less they feel the need of counsel. Instead of being meek and gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy, love, and good fruits, they are exacting and tyrannical; instead of being swift to hear and slow to speak, they are slow to hear and swift to speak. TDG 291.2Read in context »
There is at the present time great need of caution. “Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.” James 1:19. Let us heed the warning: “I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, ...and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple. For your obedience is come abroad unto all men. I am glad therefore on your behalf: but yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil.” Romans 16:17-19. 8T 167.1
“I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” 1 Corinthians 1:10. This is the will of God concerning us. Shall we obey it? “The preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? ...For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: but we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.” Verses 18-24. 8T 167.2Read in context »
Some think it is a virtue to be unrestrained, and they will speak in praise of their outspoken habit of talking out disagreeable things which are in the heart. They let an angry spirit exhaust itself in a torrent of reproach and faultfinding. The more they talk, the more excited they become, and Satan stands by to help on the work, for it suits him. The words irritate the one to whom they are spoken, and they will be thrown back, giving provocation for still harder words, until a little matter has blazed into a great flame. Both of you feel that you have all the trials that you can possibly endure and that your lives are most unhappy. Resolutely commence the work of controlling your thoughts, your words, your actions. When either of you feels the rising of resentment, make it a rule to go by yourself and humbly pray to God, who will hearken to the prayer which goeth not forth from feigned lips. 4T 243.1
Every passion must be under the control of enlightened conscience. “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.” 4T 243.2
If you live upon the plan of addition, adding grace to grace, God will multiply unto you His grace. While you add, God multiplies. If you cherish a habitual impression that God sees and hears all that you do and say, and keeps a faithful record of all your words and actions, and that you must meet it all, then in all you do and say you will seek to follow the dictates of an enlightened and wakeful conscience. Your tongue will be used to the glory of God and will be a source of blessing to yourself and to others. But if you separate from God, as you have been doing, take heed lest your tongue shall prove a world of iniquity and bring upon you fearful condemnation; for souls will be lost through you. 4T 244.1Read in context »
When a man professes to be sanctified, and yet in words and works may be represented by the impure fountain sending forth its bitter waters, we may safely say, That man is deceived. He needs to learn the very alphabet of what constitutes the life of a Christian. Some who profess to be servants of Christ have so long cherished the demon of unkindness that they seem to love the unhallowed element and to take pleasure in speaking words that displease and irritate. These men must be converted before Christ will acknowledge them as His children. SL 16.1
Meekness is the inward adorning, which God estimates as of great price. The apostle speaks of this as more excellent and valuable than gold or pearls or costly array. While the outward adorning beautifies only the mortal body, the ornament of meekness adorns the soul and connects finite man with the infinite God. This is the ornament of God's own choice. He who garnished the heavens with the orbs of light has by the same Spirit promised that “he will beautify the meek with salvation” (Psalm 149:4). Angels of heaven will register as best adorned those who put on the Lord Jesus Christ and walk with Him in meekness and lowliness of mind. SL 16.2
There are high attainments for the Christian. He may ever be rising to higher attainments. John had an elevated idea of the privilege of a Christian. He says, “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God” (1 John 3:1). It is not possible for humanity to rise to a higher dignity than is here implied. To man is granted the privilege of becoming an heir of God and a joint heir with Christ. To those who have been thus exalted, are unfolded the unsearchable riches of Christ, which are of a thousandfold more value than the wealth of the world. Thus, through the merits of Jesus Christ, finite man is elevated to fellowship with God and with His dear Son. SL 16.3Read in context »