James 1:19
Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath:
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(19) We come now to the third subdivision of the chapter. By reason of the Divine benevolence, the Apostle urges his readers—(1) to meekness, (2) self-knowledge, (3) practical religion.

Wherefore, my beloved brethen.—There appears to be some small error in the MSS. here, but the alteration is only just worth mentioning: ye know my brethren beloved, seems the correct version, the very abruptness of which may serve to arrest attention. Yea, “have ye not known?” might well be asked further in the indignant language of Isaiah (Isaiah 40:21; comp. Romans 5:19).

Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.—For all these cautions are required in the building up of the new life. “The quick speaker is the quick kindler;” and we are told later on “how great a matter a little fire kindleth (James 3:5). And what have we at all to do with wrath, much less that our whole life—as unhappily it often is—should be wasted with such bitterness? Anger, no doubt, is a wholesome tonic for some minds, and certain weaknesses; but “he that is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city” (Proverbs 16:32).

James 1:19-20. Wherefore — As if he had said, Since you are regenerated, and that by the word of God, therefore let every man be swift to hear — That word; let him be willing and desirous to receive instruction from it, and therefore diligent in embracing all opportunities of hearing it; slow to speak — To deliver his opinion in matters of faith, that he does not yet well understand. Persons half instructed frequently have a high opinion of their own knowledge in religious matters, are very fond of teaching others, and zealous to bring them over to their opinions. That the converted Jews were fond of being teachers, we learn from James 3:1; 1 Timothy 1:7. Slow to wrath — Against those that differ from him. Intemperate religious zeal is often accompanied by a train of bad passions, and particularly with anger against those who differ from us in opinion. The Jews, even the Jewish Christians to whom this letter was chiefly written, were very faulty in this respect. The apostle, however, may be understood as cautioning his readers against easily yielding to provocation in any respect whatever, and especially when injuriously treated by their persecutors. For the wrath of man — Even when it appears in the garb of religious zeal, worketh not — But, on the contrary, greatly obstructs, the righteousness of God — Instead of promoting the cause of true religion in the world, it is a reproach to it, and a means of exciting the prejudices of mankind against it. Persecution, in particular, the effect of the wrath of man, if violent, may make men hypocrites, by forcing them to profess what they do not believe; but it has no influence to produce that genuine faith which God accounts to men for righteousness. Nothing but rational arguments, with the illumination of the Spirit of God, can do this.

1:19-21 Instead of blaming God under our trials, let us open our ears and hearts to learn what he teaches by them. And if men would govern their tongues, they must govern their passions. The worst thing we can bring to any dispute, is anger. Here is an exhortation to lay apart, and to cast off as a filthy garment, all sinful practices. This must reach to sins of thought and affection, as well as of speech and practice; to every thing corrupt and sinful. We must yield ourselves to the word of God, with humble and teachable minds. Being willing to hear of our faults, taking it not only patiently, but thankfully. It is the design of the word of God to make us wise to salvation; and those who propose any mean or low ends in attending upon it, dishonour the gospel, and disappoint their own souls.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.

19. Wherefore—as your evil is of yourselves, but your good from God. However, the oldest manuscripts and versions read thus: "Ye know it (so Eph 5:5; Heb 12:17), my beloved brethren; BUT (consequently) let every man be swift to hear," that is, docile in receiving "the word of truth" (Jas 1:18, 21). The true method of hearing is treated in Jas 1:21-27, and Jas 2:1-26.

slow to speak—(Pr 10:19; 17:27, 28; Ec 5:2). A good way of escaping one kind of temptation arising from ourselves (Jas 1:13). Slow to speak authoritatively as a master or teacher of others (compare Jas 3:1): a common Jewish fault: slow also to speak such hasty things of God, as in Jas 1:13. Two ears are given to us, the rabbis observe, but only one tongue: the ears are open and exposed, whereas the tongue is walled in behind the teeth.

slow to wrath—(Jas 3:13, 14; 4:5). Slow in becoming heated by debate: another Jewish fault (Ro 2:8), to which much speaking tends. Tittmann thinks not so much "wrath" is meant, as an indignant feeling of fretfulness under the calamities to which the whole of human life is exposed; this accords with the "divers temptations" in Jas 1:2. Hastiness of temper hinders hearing God's word; so Naaman, 2Ki 5:11; Lu 4:28.

Let every man be swift to hear; prompt and ready to hear God speaking in

the word of truth, before mentioned.

Slow to speak; either silently and submissively hear the word, or speak not rashly and precipitately of the things of faith, but be well furnished yourselves with spiritual knowledge, ere you take upon you to teach others.

Slow to wrath; either, be not angry at the word, or the dispensers of it, though it come close to your consciences, and discover your secret sins; the word is salt, do not quarrel if it make your sores smart, being it will keep them from festering: or, be not angrily prejudiced against those that dissent from you.

For the wrath of man: that anger which is merely human, and generally sinful, inordinate passion and carnal zeal.

Worketh not the righteousness of God; will not accomplish the ends of the word in you, viz. to work that righteousness which in the word God prescribes you. But here is withal a meiosis in the words, less being spoken than is intended; it is implied therefore, that the wrath of man hinders the operation of the word, and disposeth to that unrighteousness which is forbidden by it.

Wherefore, my beloved brethren,.... Since the Gospel, the word of truth, is the means and instrument which God makes use of in regeneration, and in forming people for himself:

let every man be swift to hear; not anything; not idle and unprofitable talk, or filthy and corrupt communication; but wholesome advice, good instructions, and the gracious experiences of the saints, and, above all, the word of God; to the hearing of which men should fly, as doves to their windows; should make haste, and be early in their attendance on it, as well, as constant; and receive it with all readiness, and with a sort of greediness of mind, that their souls may be profited, and God may be glorified: the phrase is Jewish; things easy and smooth, a man is , "swift to hear them (l): slow to speak"; against what is heard, without thoroughly weighing and considering what is said; and this may regard silence under hearing the word, and is also a rule to be observed in private conversation: or the sense may be, be content to be hearers of the word, and not forward to be preachers of it; and if called to that work, think before you speak, meditate on the word, and study to be approved to God and men. Silence is not only highly commended by the Pythagoreans, among whom it was enjoined their disciples five years (m); but also by the Jews: they say, nothing is better for the body than silence; that if a word is worth one shekel, silence is worth two, or worth a precious stone; that it is the spice of speech, and the chief of all spices; that it is the hedge of wisdom; hence it is the advice of Shammai; "say little, and do much" (n): and they cry up, as a very excellent precept, "be silent, and hear"; and as containing more than persons are aware of (o):

slow to wrath; in hearing; when admonitions and reproofs are given, sin is exposed, and vice corrected, and the distinguishing doctrines of grace, are preached; which are apt to fill natural men with wrath, and which must greatly hinder the usefulness of the word; see Luke 4:28. This is omitted in the Ethiopic version.

(l) Gloss. in T. Bab. Megilla, fol. 21. 1.((m) Alex. ab Alex. Genial. Dier. l. 2. c. 25. (n) Pirke Abot, c. 1. sect. 15. 17. & 3. 13. T. Bab. Megilla. fol. 18. 1. Vajikra Rabba, sect. 16. fol. 158. 3. Midrash Kohelet, fol. 71. 1.((o) Philo Zuis Rer. Divin. Haeres. p. 482. Vid. T. Bab. Sanhedrin, fol. 7. 1.

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath:
Jam 1:19. To Jam 1:18 is annexed at first the exhortation to hear, and then in Jam 1:22 the more extended exhortation, not only to be hearers, but also doers of the word. By the reading ὥστε, the connection with the preceding is evidently expressed, ὥστε being with the following imperative, as in 1 Corinthians 3:21, Php 2:12 = itaque, therefore. This reading is, however, suspicious, as not only predominant authorities declare for the reading ἴστε, but also ἴστε might be easily changed into ὥστε, in order to mark the thoughts in this verse as an inference from Jam 1:18. It is true the δέ after ἔστω, conjoined with this reading (in B and C), appears to be harsh; but it may be explained from this, that the sentence ἔστωταχὺς εἰς τὸ ἀκοῦσαι κ.τ.λ. is introduced as being almost a proverbial expression. The reading of A: ἔστε δὲκαὶ ἔστω, appears to be a correction, in order to unite this verse more closely with the preceding. ἴστε may be either indicative (comp. Hebrews 12:17; usually οἴδατε) or imperative; it is at all events to be referred, not to what goes before,[87] but to what follows, as otherwise τοῦτο, or something similar, by which it would be referred back to Jam 1:18, would require to be added. Semler explains it as an indicative, paraphrasing it: non ignoratis istud carmen; Sir 5:11 : γίνου ταχὺς ἐν ἀκροάσει σου κ.τ.λ. As, however, the sentence in question is here expressed in different words, so it is not to be assumed that James would here refer to that passage in Ecclesiasticus. It is thus better to consider ἴστε as an imperative, as it then corresponds to μὴ πλανᾶσθε (Jam 1:16), and serves strongly to impress the following sentence on the readers, in favour of which also is the address ἀδελφοί μου ἀγαπητοί, added here as well as there; see also chap. Jam 2:5 : ἀκούσατε, ἀδ. μ. ἀγ.

The sentence is entirely general: let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath. Whilst Laurentius and others consider this as a sententia generalis, which stands in no internal connection with the preceding, but is pressed upon the readers in its entire generality, most interpreters supply to ἀκοῦσαι directly taken from the preceding τὸν λόγον ἀληθείας; thus Estius, Gataker, Gomar, Piscator, Hornejus, Baumgarten, Rosenmüller, Pott, Hottinger, Gebser, de Wette, Wiesinger, and others; but this is arbitrary, particularly as πᾶς ἄνθρωπος points to the universality of the sentence. However, the intention of James is not to inculcate it on his readers in its general sense, but he wishes rather that they, as Christians, should apply it to their Christian conduct; so that for them ἁκοῦσαι certainly refers to λόγος τῆς ἀληθείας (Heisen, Schneckenburger,[88] Theile). ὑμῶν is therefore not to be supplied to πᾶς ἄνθρωπος, still we may say with Semler: pertinet ad Christianos, quatenus sunt Christiani; but the expression is, as part of the general sentence, likewise to be retained in its general meaning; but what holds good of all men, in a peculiar manner holds good of Christians.

The ideas ταχύς and βραδύς, in the N. T. only here (in Luke 24:25, βραδύς has a different meaning), form a direct contrast; as in Philo, de conf. ling. p. 327 B: βραδὺς ὠφελῆσαι, ταχὺς βλάψαι (see Dio O. 32). By βραδὺς εἰς ὀργήν added to the second clause, James announces what kind of speaking he means, namely, speaking ἐξ ὀργῆς.[89] But from Jam 1:20 it is evident that by ὀργή—which, as Cremer correctly remarks, denotes not the passive affection, but active displeasure directed toward any one—is to be understood sinful and passionate zeal. βραδύς is to be taken in both clauses in the same sense, which—as is often the case with expressions in figurative language—goes beyond the literal and direct idea of the word, as Hornejus correctly explains it in reference to the second clause: ita jubet tardos ad iram esse, ut ab eo nos prorsus retrahat. Several expositors refer both clauses, others at least the second chiefly or alone, to the conduct toward God, with or without an express reference to Jam 1:13.[90] But this is incorrect; the ὈΡΓΉ to which James alludes is rather carnal zeal, which will censure its neighbour, whose fruit is not ΕἸΡΉΝΗ, but ἈΚΑΤΑΣΤΑΣΊΑ (chap. Jam 3:16). The warning is addressed to those Christians who misuse the gospel (the ΛΌΓΟς ἈΛΗΘΕΊΑς) as the Pharisees did the law, not for their own sanctification, but for the gratification of their censoriousness and quarrelsome temper; see chap. 3. Although James with this exhortation has specially in view the conduct of Christians in their assemblies, yet ΛΑΛῆΣΑΙ must not be restricted to the idea of mere teaching (Bede, Hornejus, Hottinger, de Wette, Brückner, and others). λαλῆσαι is a more comprehensive term than ΔΙΔΆΣΚΕΙΝ, which is included in it.

[87] De Wette explains it: “Ye know this, namely, that He has regenerated us;” but this, as he himself confesses, gives a wholly unsatisfactory sense.

[88] Schneckenburger: quamvis de sensu dubitari nequeat, nempe de addiscendo λόγῳ ἀληθείας caveas tamen vocem hanc λόγον putes grammatice subaudiendam; sed Jacobus regulam istam generalem … ita hic subnectit, ut eam ad rem christianam imprimis valere moneat.

[89] The circumstance is in favour of this close connection of these two last clauses, that if λαλῆσαι is here taken in a wider sense (as Gunkel thinks), then a different signification must be given to βραδύς in the two clauses, as ὀργή here, as the following verse shows, must be taken in a bad sense. Lange thinks that James does not absolutely reject ὀργή; but whilst he understands by ὀργή eagerness of passion to which one is led from eagerness in speaking by warmth, he evidently understands this as something to be entirely rejected. According to Bouman, the anger here is meant to which one is inflamed by the λαλεῖν of another.

On βραδ. εἰς τὸ λαλ. Bengel remarks: ut nil loquatur contra Deum, nec sinistre de Deo; and on ὀργή: ira sive impatientia erga Deum, iracundia erga proximum. Gebser explains ὀργή = anger, displeasure at God on account of the persecutions. Calvin also has this reference in view when he says: certe nemo unquam bonus erit Dei discipulus nisi qui silendo eum audiat; … non enim Deus nisi sedato animo audiri potest, as is evident from the note: (Jacobus) vult proterviam nostram corripere, ne … intempestive obstrepamus Deo.

Jam 1:19-20. Another isolated saying, strongly reminiscent of the Wisdom literature; the frequent recurrence (see below) of words of this import suggests that here again the writer is recalling to the minds of his hearers familiar sayings.

19–21. Man’s wrath, and God’s righteousness

19. Wherefore] The better MSS. give “Ye know this … but let every man.”

my beloved brethren] The formula of address was common to all the four great writers of the Apostolic Church. We find it in St Paul (1 Corinthians 15:58), in St Peter (2 Peter 3:14-15), in St John (1 John 2:7; 1 John 3:2). In the last two instances, however, the word “brethren” is wanting.

let every man be swift to hear] From the general thought of the high ideal of life implied in the new birth from God, St James passes to the special aspect of that ideal which was most in contrast with the besetting sin of his countrymen. To him speech was of silver, and silence of gold. In this as in many other passages of his Epistle, he echoed the teaching of the sapiential books of the Old Testament (Proverbs 13:3; Proverbs 14:29; Proverbs 17:27; Ecclesiastes 5:2) yet more, perhaps, of those of the Apocrypha. So we find “Be swift to hear” in Sir 5:11, and maxims of a like nature in Sir 20:7. The “slow to wrath” follows on “slow to speak” as pointing to the crucial test of character. If it were hard at all times to be “slow to speak,” it was harder than ever when men were roused to anger.

Jam 1:19. Ὥστε, wherefore) The Summing up[15] or Conclusion, and also a Statement of those things which follow, in three divisions. Excess in words and the affections of the tongue and the heart, Jam 1:26, is unfavourable to hearing with profit.—πᾶς, every man) This is opposed to no man, Jam 1:13; for this 19th verse has reference to that, and not merely to the preceding verse.—ταχὺς εἰς τὸ ἀκοῦσαι, swift to hear) The true method of hearing (receive ye), together with the obedience and right disposition of the hearers, is treated of in verses 21–27, and the whole of ch. 2—βραδὺς εἰς τὸ λαλῆσαι, slow to speak) This is treated of in Jam 1:26, and in ch. 3. Slow to speak; so that he speaks nothing against God, ch. Jam 1:13; nor anything improperly concerning God, ch. Jam 3:1-13.—βραδὺς εἰς ὀργὴν, slow to wrath) This is treated of, ch. Jam 3:13 and following verse, ch. Jam 4:5. Slow to wrath, or impatience, towards God, and proneness to anger as it respects his neighbour. He who is slow to anger will readily forbear all anger, and assuredly all evil anger. Hastiness drives to sin.

[15] See on SYMPERASMA, Append.

Verses 19-27. - EXHORTATION


(2) NOT ONLY TO HEAR, BUT ALSO TO DO. Verse 19. - The text requires correction. For ὥστε... ἔστω πᾶς of the Textus Receptus, read, Ἴστε ἀδελφοί μοι ἀγαπητοι ἔστω δὲ πᾶς, א, A, B, C, Latt. Ἴστε is probably indicative, and refers to what has gone before. "Ye know this, my beloved brethren. But let every man," etc. The verse gives us St. James's version of the proverb, "Speech is silver. Silence is golden." Similar maxims were not infrequent among the Jews. So in Ecclus. 5:11, "Be swift to hear; and let thy life be sincere; and with patience give answer;" cf. 4:29, "Be not hasty in thy tongue, and in thy deeds slack and remiss." In the rabbinical work, 'Pirqe Aboth,' 1. 12, we have the following saying of Rabbi Simeon, the son of Gamaliel (who must, therefore, have been a contemporary of St. James): "All my days I have grown up amongst the wise, and have not found ought good for a man but silence; not learning but doing is the groundwork; and whoso multiplies words occasions sin." This passage is curiously like the one before us, both in the thoughts and in the expressions used. James 1:19Wherefore

The A. V. follows the reading ὥστε. But the correct reading is ἴστε, ye know, and so Rev. Others render it as imperative, know ye, as calling attention to what follows.

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