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James 3:17

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

The wisdom that is from above - The pure religion of the Lord Jesus, bought by his blood, and infused by his Spirit. See the rabbinical meaning of this phrase at the end of this chapter.

Is first pure - Ἁγνη· Chaste, holy, and clean.

Peaceable - Ειρηνικη· Living in peace with others, and promoting peace among men.

Gentle - Επιεικης· Meek, modest, of an equal mind, taking every thing in good part, and putting the best construction upon all the actions of others.

Easy to be entreated - Ευπειθης· Not stubborn nor obstinate; of a yielding disposition in all indifferent things; obsequious, docile.

Full of mercy - Ready to pass by a transgression, and to grant forgiveness to those who offend, and performing every possible act of kindness.

Good fruits - Each temper and disposition producing fruits suited to and descriptive of its nature.

Without partiality - Αδιακριτος· Without making a difference - rendering to every man his due; and being never swayed by self-interest, worldly honor, or the fear of man; knowing no man after the flesh. One of the Itala has it irreprehensible.

Without hypocrisy - Ανυποκριτος· Without dissimulation; without pretending to be what it is not; acting always in its own character; never working under a mask. Seeking nothing but God's glory, and using no other means to attain it than those of his own prescribing.

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible

But the wisdom that is from above - Compare the notes at 1 Corinthians 2:6-7. The wisdom which has a heavenly origin, or which is from God. The man who is characterised 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 ( ἁγνη hagnē) is that which would be applied to one who is innocent, or flee from crime or blame. Compare Philemon 4:8; 1 Timothy 5:22; 1 John 3:3; where the word is rendered, as here, “pure”; 2 Corinthians 7:11; where it is rendered clear, (in this matter); 2 Corinthians 11:2; Titus 2:5; 1 Peter 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 a 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.

(It is but too true that much unseemly strife has had the aegis of this text thrown over it. The “wrath of man” accounts itself zeal for God, and strange fire usurps the place of the true fire of the sanctuary. Yet the author‘s statement here seems somewhat overcharged; possibly his own personal history may have contributed a little to this result. Although the Greek word ἁγνη hagnēhere qualifying the σοφια sophiaor wisdom, refers to purity of heart, still it remains true that a pure heart will never relinquish its hold on God‘s truth for the sake of a peace that at such a price would be too dearly purchased. A pure heart cannot but be faithful to the truth; it could not otherwise be pure, provided conscientiousness and love of truth form any part of moral purity. Surely, then, an individual solicited to yield up what he believed to be truth, or what were cherished convictions, might properly assign this text as a reason why he could not, and ought not; and if an individual might, why not any number associated into a church?

It is true the Scriptures do not teach that “doctrinal purity” is to be preferred to a “peaceful spirit.” However pure a man‘s doctrine may be, if he has not the peaceful spirit he is none of Christ‘s. But the common view of this passage is not chargeable with any such absurdity. It supposes only that there may be circumstances in which the spirit of peace, though possessed, cannot be exercised, except in meek submission to wrong for conscience sake; never can it turn traitor to truth, or make any compromise with error. The “first” of the apostle does not indicate even preference of the pure spirit to the peaceful spirit, but only the order in which they are to be exercised. There must be no attempts to reach peace by overleaping purity. The maxim that a pure heart ought not to sacrifice truth on any consideration whatever, never gave rise to persecution: it has made many martyrs, but never one persecutor; it has pined in the dungeon, but never immured any there; it has burned amid the flames, but never lighted the faggot; it has ascended scaffolds, but never erected them; it has preserved and bequeathed civil and religious liberty, but never assaulted them; it is a divine principle - the principle by which Christianity became strong, and will ultimately command the homage of the world. There is another principle, with which this has no brotherhood, that denies the right of private judgment, and enforces uniformity by the sword: its progeny are inquisitors, and Lauds and Sharpes; and let it have the credit of its own offspring.)

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 the Romans 14:19 note; Hebrews 12:14.

Gentle - Mild, inoffensive, clement. The word here used ( ἐπιεικὴς epieikēs) is rendered “moderation” in Philemon 4:5; patient in 1 Timothy 3:3; and gentle in Titus 3:2; James 3:17, and 1 Peter 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. Compare the notes at 2 Corinthians 10:1. It is from this word that we have derived the word “gentleman”; and the effect of true religion is to make everyone, 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 case of the apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 9:20-22. Compare the notes at that passage.

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 the notes at Matthew 5:7.

And good fruits - The fruits of good living; just, benevolent, and kind actions. Philemon 1:11 note; 2 Corinthians 9:10 note. Compare James 2:14-26.

Without partiality - Margin, “or wrangling.” The word here used ( ἀδιάκριτος adiakritos) 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 διακρίνω diakrinōto 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 James 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?

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
These verses show the difference between men's pretending to be wise, and their being really so. He who thinks well, or he who talks well, is not wise in the sense of the Scripture, if he does not live and act well. True wisdom may be know by the meekness of the spirit and temper. Those who live in malice, envy, and contention, live in confusion; and are liable to be provoked and hurried to any evil work. Such wisdom comes not down from above, but springs up from earthly principles, acts on earthly motives, and is intent on serving earthly purposes. Those who are lifted up with such wisdom, described by the apostle James, is near to the Christian love, described by the apostle Paul; and both are so described that every man may fully prove the reality of his attainments in them. It has no disguise or deceit. It cannot fall in with those managements the world counts wise, which are crafty and guileful; but it is sincere, and open, and steady, and uniform, and consistent with itself. May the purity, peace, gentleness, teachableness, and mercy shown in all our actions, and the fruits of righteousness abounding in our lives, prove that God has bestowed upon us this excellent gift.
Ellen G. White
Testimonies for the Church, vol. 4, 558

Jesus invites us to come to Him and He will lift the weights from our weary shoulders and place upon us His yoke, which is easy, and His burden, which is light. The path in which He invites us to walk would never have cost us a pang had we always walked in it. It is when we stray from the path of duty that the way becomes difficult and thorny. The sacrifices which we must make in following Christ are only so many steps to return to the path of light, of peace and happiness. Doubts and fears grow by indulgence, and the more they are indulged, the harder are they to overcome. It is safe to let go every earthly support and take the hand of Him who lifted up and saved the sinking disciple on the stormy sea. 4T 558.1

God calls upon you to mingle the trusting simplicity of the child with the strength and maturity of the man. He would have you develop the true gold of character, and through the merits of Christ you can do this. My soul is burdened for those who do not feel their need of constant connection with heaven in order to do the work devolving upon them as faithful sentinels for God. 4T 558.2

Religion is what is needed. We must eat of the bread of life and drink of the water of salvation. We must cherish love, not that which is falsely called charity, which would lead us to love sin and cherish sinners, but Bible charity and Bible wisdom, that is first pure, then peaceable, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits. 4T 558.3

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Ellen G. White
Selected Messages Book 1, 182

Tell the people in clear, hopeful language how they may escape the heritage of shame which is our deserved portion. But for Christ's sake do not present before them ideas that will discourage them, that will make the way to heaven seem very difficult. Keep all these overstrained ideas to yourself. 1SM 182.1

While we must often impress the mind with the fact that the Christian life is a life of warfare, that we must watch and pray and toil, that there is peril to the soul in relaxing the spiritual vigilance for one moment, the completeness of the salvation proffered us from Jesus who loves us and gave Himself that we should not perish but have everlasting life, is to be the theme. 1SM 182.2

Day by day we may walk with God, day by day following on to know the Lord, entering into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, laying hold on the hope set before us. If we reach heaven it must be by binding the soul to the Mediator, becoming partakers of the divine nature. Leaning on Christ, your life being hid with Christ in God and led by His Spirit, you have the genuine faith. 1SM 182.3

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Ellen G. White
Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, 24

He who has given his life to God in ministry to His children is linked with Him who has all the resources of the universe at His command. His life is bound up by the golden chain of the immutable promises with the life of God. The Lord will not fail him in the hour of suffering and need. “My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19. And in the hour of final need the merciful shall find refuge in the mercy of the compassionate Saviour and shall be received into everlasting habitations. MB 24.1

The Jews were so exacting in regard to ceremonial purity that their regulations were extremely burdensome. Their minds were occupied with rules and restrictions and the fear of outward defilement, and they did not perceive the stain that selfishness and malice impart to the soul. MB 24.2

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Ellen G. White
Gospel Workers 1915, 119

God's workmen must be many-sided men; that is, they must have breadth of character. They are not to be one-idea men, stereotyped in their manner of working, unable to see that their advocacy of truth must vary with the class of people among whom they work and the circumstances they have to meet. GW 119.1

There is delicate work for the minister to do as he meets with alienation, bitterness, and opposition. More than others, he needs that wisdom which “is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.” [James 3:17.] As the dew and the still showers fall gently upon withering plants, so his words are to fall gently when he proclaims the truth. He is to win souls, not to repulse them. He is to study to be skilful when there are no rules to meet the case. GW 119.2

Many souls have been turned in the wrong direction, and thus lost to the cause of God, by a lack of skill and wisdom on the part of the worker. Tact and good judgment increase the usefulness of the laborer a hundred-fold. If he will speak the right words at the right time, and show the right spirit, this will exert a melting power on the heart of the one he is trying to help. GW 119.3

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