But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits…
Our first thought in reading the description which the apostle gives of the Divine wisdom is this, that it is totally different from the notion of wisdom which we usually adopt. If you were to ask men to define wisdom, they would begin to recapitulate what we may call the intellectual powers of man. If we asked them to define wisdom as she applied herself to the different walks of life, they would tell us that in the statesman it was foresight; in the merchant it was the power of sagacity or shrewdness; in the barrister keenness; in the teacher insight; in the judge comprehensiveness. When we turn to the apostle he sets aside all these; he gives us no picture of logical powers, of clear discrimination, of power of judgment, or power of imagination, but he gives us a catalogue of moral qualities: it is pure, it is gentle, it is full of mercy, it is full of good fruits, it is easy to be intreated. And as he speaks of it our thought is, it is outside the ordinary conduct and the ordinary definitions of man. But I would ask you to see these two things. That in the first place it is the noblest and truest definition of wisdom, because it recognises the true greatness of man; and also that it is the noblest and truest wisdom because it is capable of universal application. It is, in the first instance, the noblest and truest because it, and it alone, recognises the true greatness of man. If you will but search the annals of the past, you will see it is far, far more in the character of man that greatness is to be round than in the skill and intellectual powers which that character possesses. A man may be brilliant in all these capacities, he may have a power to anticipate events just as the foremost in the land, but it seems to me he may be entirely wanting in the very one thing which — as the history of the past can show — alone can gain the confidence of peoples. How was it that in old Athens the Greeks preferred the slower genius of Nicias to the quicker and more brilliant capacities of Alcibiades? Because with the first the moral character was a guarantee that he would live to use his intellectual powers aright. Wherever you scan the story of the past you will find that the true influence of man is the solid power which is built up primarily and first of all of the character which lies in the background. The ability, this is but the colour of the robe; the character is its very texture, and men ask not what the colour is, but what is the durable character of the fabric; they ask not what are the brilliancy of his parts, not the loftiness of his imagination, not the depth of his insight, but rather the solidity and dependableness of his character. And so he wrote rightly, did the apostle, to say that when you are tempted to win your ascendancy over your fellow-men by the biting jest, by the ready sarcasm, by the quick wit of the tongue, take heed lest in the temporary ascendancy you sacrifice the true greatness of your manhood. It is easy to wound by the sharp word, it is easy to make the spirit quail before the rough tongue, but it is a far nobler thing that the mouth should be filled with gentleness, that the heart shall be levelled with love and the character built up in purity. It is, then, the noblest and the truest definition, because it sets aside the mere accidents of intellectual power, and it sets before us a far nobler ideal of wisdom, that which is nearest to the wisdom of God, pure as our Master is pare, gentle as our Redeemer was gentle, and in the hours of His sorrow and His sympathy full of mercy and good fruits, and abundant as the Divine munificence. But if it is thus the noblest definition, our thoughts are struck by another question, and we ask ourselves, Is it possible to work it in the world? Whence do we seek our evidence? My brethren, there are three great spheres which appeal to and touch the life of man. One is the great sphere of the outer world. We look into the heavens above us, into the air around us, and to the earth beneath us. and follow the traces of God's influence — it is the great sphere of nature. We ask from the sphere of nature, and the answer will be given that the wisdom which is from above is indeed full of mercy, for behold the races of men how anxiously they have inquired concerning the God who made all these things. The orbs of the planets and the growth of the flowers tell us of that token of God the Father, tell us that there is a voice from nature that informs us we are not left orphans in His universe, and this is the answer. And men tell us to behold the evidences of design from the hand of God, but what do they draw from its tokens? They do not ask you to behold the designs of the universe, they do not ask you to look upon its beauty, but they ask you to behold the tokens of mercy. It is not that they can tell us of stupendousness of distances which take away the breath as they are contemplated, it is not that they tell of mixed design, or when they take the fragile flower, of its exquisite form and accuracy, but they say behold how, by a marvellous adaptation, the needs of man, and the needs of the feeblest of God's creatures, are anticipated. There is another sphere which touches us. I ask you not to look now upon the outer world of the material universe, but turn for a moment and see the world of history, It is that great world which exhibits the lessons of the past, it is that which men will call history, but which wiser men will call the pictures of God's providence. What is the answer upon this? I answer, it is again that the truest wisdom is found in the moral qualities of purity, gentleness, meekness, and mercy. For our first reading of history is itself a story of man, it is a story of dynasties, it is a story of change, that strange drama which has been going on through all ages. But when we look more closely we begin to read history from another light; it is to mark the deeds of men, it is the development of principles, it is bringing to the test of time what are the enduring powers of the world in which we find ourselves, and as I look back I find once more the powers that endure are the moral qualities which St. James has spoken of. Do you want a clear illustration? Go back nineteen centuries and watch the struggle that is going on. On the one side there is the vast consolidated power of Rome grinding down with its iron heel the nations of the world, heedless of the cries of man and the necessity of reform and purity. On the other side there is the little kingdom which is cradled first in the manger of Bethlehem, which expands in the upper chamber at Jerusalem, which carries its way and plants itself in various parts of the earth, and face to face it has struggled against the imperial power which seeks to crush, and the weapons of the Church are but gentleness, purity, meekness. Do I ask the apostle with what weapons he seeks to combat the world and overcome it, he says by pureness, by knowledge, by love unfeigned, by the Holy Ghost, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left. There shall be the design of the statesman, there shall be the power of the legislature, all combined to crush it; and on the other side the meek spirit of silence, of patience, and of love. There are the two in conflict, and I ask you now what is the result? The empire has ceased to be which has been founded upon force, but the empire which has been founded upon purity, upon mercy, and upon love, has spread itself everywhere. History has given back the triumph into the hand of moral wisdom, of purity and love. There is another voice which we can summon to our aid. It is not the voice which comes from the contemplation of the world without, or of the history of the past, but it is listening to the voice which speaks to the inner heart of man. It is the sphere of religion. And, again, I say that the answer will be that the flue wisdom is that which is built up of pureness, of love, and of mercy. Behold how many have gathered together the superstitions and the "religions of the past, and they have trembled before the God of power, they have been ravished by the face of the god of beauty, but they have not been raised in the social scale, they have not found their hearts touched, for they have failed to cast off the cloak of their sin, and tread their own unworthy self beneath their feet till He came who moved through the world and whose life was one of purity — "Which of you convinceth Me of sin?" They bear witness to His guilelessness, "He did no sin, neither did guile proceed out of His mouth." They bear witness to His gentleness, for they were emboldened to creep to His feet to receive blessings at His hands, as well as His loving-kindness and His mercy. Or I go deeper. I take His religion, and I ask, What is its source and force? You have seen how it seems to spread itself everywhere, that it touches every condition of man, that when it stands face to face with various nationalities it seems to find no difficulty in pouring its beneficent stream into the vessels of whatever shape they may be. The answer is, it is a religion of purity, it is a religion of mercy, it is a religion of gentleness, it comes to man, and it says that purity is the description of the Church, it is the description of dignity, it is the description of humanity, it is the description of God. Here, then, from every voice, of the heart of man, of the history of man, and of the world of man, we get back the same truth that it is indeed the highest wisdom which has as its features gentleness, purity, and love. What, then, shall we say? I say there is the last appeal to our own hearts. My brethren, the glory of it lies in one thing more, and that is that it is a greatness and a wisdom that is open to all. The very power which makes men often so despondent is this, that they say the very walk of life they fain would tread is closed to them because of some weakness of which they are conscious. All men desire greatness; they desire, that is to say, to climb above themselves. Here, then, is the door open to the highest greatness. There is not a greater thing on earth than man; there is not a greater man than the man that has learnt purity, gentleness, and love. And so far more high and noble ambition infinitely than to climb into the high places of the earth, a nobler ambition than all that glittering rank can bestow is the ambition to be a perfect man in Christ Jesus, nearer Him in resemblance of character, in tenderness of heart, in gentleness of speech, nearer to Him in sanctity and purity of life — and this greatness is open to all.
(Bp. Boyd Carpenter.)
Parallel VersesKJV: But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.