Jumping to Conclusions

It seems to be the season for jumping to conclusions. Whether from anxiety over the Republic’s election choices, our ongoing family squabbles at Thanksgiving and Christmas time, or as a result of offenses done toward us in the course of our days here on earth. The Apostle James speaks to that last issue; at least according to some commentators:

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger. James 1:19 English Standard Version (ESV)

Matthew Henry, a Presbyterian minister, gives us three possible understandings of this verse. He considers the third one most likely. All of them have to do with restraining our passions, or, as we say today: “holding our tongue,” “holding fire,” or “cooling off.” First, he explains by what means we should restrain our passions:

This lesson we should learn under afflictions; and this we shall learn if we are indeed begotten again by the word of truth. For thus the connection stands—An angry and hasty spirit is soon provoked to ill things by afflictions, and errors and ill opinions become prevalent through the workings of our own vile and vain affections; but the renewing grace of God and the word of the gospel teach us to subdue these: Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath, v. 19.

Henry then offers that this verse may refer to verse 18 immediately preceding that concerns God’s word:

…So, we may observe, it is our duty rather to hear God’s word, and apply our minds to understand it, than to speak according to our own fancies or the opinions of men, and to run into heat and passion thereupon. Let not such errors [(i.e., substituting conjectures and opinions for truth)]…ever be hastily, much less angrily, mentioned by you; but be ready to hear and consider what God’s word teaches in all such cases.

Or, verse 19 may refer to the verses at the chapter’s beginning:

This may be applied to the afflictions and temptations spoken of in the beginning of the chapter. And then we may observe, it is our duty rather to hear how God explains his providences, and what he designs by them, than to say as David did in his haste, “I am cut off;” or as Jonah did in his passion, “I do well to be angry.” Instead of censuring God under our trials, let us open our ears and hearts to hear what he will say to us.

Or, finally, Henry suggests this understanding most confidently:

This may be understood as referring to the disputes and differences that Christians, in those times of trial, were running into among themselves: and so, this part of the chapter may be considered without any connection with what goes before. Here we may observe that, whenever matters of difference arise among Christians, each side should be willing to hear the other.

People are often stiff in their own opinions because they are not willing to hear what others have to offer against them: whereas we should be swift to hear reason and truth on all sides, and be slow to speak anything that should prevent this: and, when we do speak, there should be nothing of wrath; for a soft answer turns away wrath.

As this epistle is designed to correct a variety of disorders that existed among Christians, these words, swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath, may be very well interpreted according to this last explication. And we may further observe from them that, if men would govern their tongues, they must govern their passions. When Moses’s spirit was provoked, he spoke unadvisedly with his lips. If we would be slow to speak, we must be slow to wrath.

In this holiday season, may we join with Moses, as he was during his better days, and be men and women of meek spirits. Hope well of others, for we are not acquitted and we, too, shall stand before the Judge.

Freedom from Want - NARA

Freedom from Want, Norman Rockwell (1894–1978), Office for Emergency Management. Office of War Information. Domestic Operations Branch. Bureau of Special Services. (03/09/1943 – 09/15/1945), Public Domain

Your Fiery Trial

No doubt you’ve suffered “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” Perhaps you’ve been insulted, falsely accused, or unjustly condemned when you’ve tried to do good for others? All alive will at some time suffer one or more of these adversities. However, only those saved by God’s grace can grow as a result of them. The Apostle Peter says in his first letter:

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 1 Peter 4:12-13 English Standard Version (ESV)

Although Peter elsewhere counsels that Paul’s writings are sometimes hard to understand, I find this passage of his difficult as well. Let’s see what John Calvin has to say:

Beloved, think it not strange, or, wonder not. There is a frequent mention made in this Epistle of afflictions; the cause of which we have elsewhere explained. But this difference is to be observed, that when he exhorts the faithful to patience, he sometimes speaks generally of troubles common to man’s life; but here he speaks of wrongs done to the faithful for the name of Christ.

And first, indeed, he reminded them that they ought not to have deemed it strange as for a thing sudden and unexpected; by which he intimates, that they ought by a long mediation to have been previously prepared to bear the cross. For whosoever has resolved to fight under Christ’s banner, will not be dismayed when persecution happens, but, as one accustomed to it, will patiently bear it. [In order] that we may then be in a prepared state of mind when the waves of persecutions roll over us, we ought in due time to habituate ourselves to such an event by meditating continually on the cross.

Moreover, he proves that the cross is useful to us by two arguments, — that God thus tries our faith, — and that we become thus partakers with Christ. Then, in the first place, let us remember that the trial of our faith is most necessary, and that we ought thus willingly to obey God who provides for our salvation. However, the chief consolation is to be derived from a fellowship with Christ.

Hence Peter not only forbids us to think it strange, when he sets this before us, but also bids us to rejoice. It is, indeed, a cause of joy, when God tries our faith by persecution; but the other joy far surpasses it, that is, when the Son of God allots to us the same course of life with himself, that he might lead us with himself to a blessed participation of heavenly glory.

For we must bear in mind this truth, that we have the dying of Christ in our flesh, that his life may be manifested in us. The wicked also do indeed bear many afflictions; but as they are separated from Christ, they apprehend nothing but God’s wrath and curse: thus it comes that sorrow and dread overwhelm them.

Hence, then, is the whole consolation of the godly, that they are associates with Christ, that hereafter they may be partakers of his glory; for we are always to bear in mind this transition from the cross to the resurrection. But as this world is like a labyrinth, in which no end of evils appears, Peter refers to the future revelation of Christ’s glory, as though he had said, that the day of its revelation is not to be overlooked, but ought to be expected.

But he mentions a twofold joy, one which we now enjoy in hope, and the other the full fruition of which the coming of Christ shall bring to us; for the first is mingled with grief and sorrow, the second is connected with exultation. For it is not suitable in the midst of afflictions to think of joy, which can free us from all trouble; but the consolations of God moderate evils, so that we can rejoice at the same time.

One might object that suffering for righteousness sake in the hope of future joy is nothing more than “pie in the sky when we die.” But it is so much more. This kind of suffering shows we are His possession, and if we are His, this world has no hold on us. This momentary light affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.

Steel Mill Run-off

Run-off from a Steel Mill Open Hearth Furnace, Republic Steel Corp., Youngstown, Ohio, November 1941, A work of the U.S. federal government, in the public domain