In John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, the main character, Christian, is overwhelmed by a massive burden of which he seeks for nearly the entire story to relieve himself. Along the way, he is informed by a man named Evangelist that there is only one way that he must go to find relief from his burden. However, his journey is fraught with distractions from and detractors of the message of hope that he had received. In my mind, perhaps one of the most notable of these detractors was a man named Worldly Wiseman. Upon seeing the burden that Christian carried, he began quickly to use his age and understanding to offer a solution for Christian to shed his burden. Christian explained that there was a path that Evangelist had spoken of that was the only way to find freedom, but immediately Worldly Wiseman scoffed and sought to display his wisdom to Christian.
Worldly Wiseman: How camest thou by thy burden at first?
Christian: By reading this book in my hand. [he is speaking of the Bible]
Worldly Wiseman: I thought so; and it has happened unto thee as to other weak men, who meddling with things too high for them, do suddenly fall into thy distractions; which distractions do not only unman men, as thine I perceive has done thee, but they run them upon desperate ventures, to obtain they know not what.
Worldly Wiseman and all those who he is supposed to represent in this allegory, challenge the truth of Scripture. They have lived a long life. They have taken several trips around the sun, and this means that they really have things “figured out.” They own businesses or have worked their way to the top of their industry. They “know” how life works. They don’t need to be informed of anything, but rather, they inform everyone. They are wise in the wisdom of the world, and no book, or fanatical believers of a book can sway their minds. Sadly, I think that many even imagine that they are using Biblical wisdom, when in reality they have only used the wisdom of the world.
As James pens verses 13-18, he makes a full display of the distinction of the two types of wisdom in God’s economy. One is divisive, destructive, and leads to bitterness, strife and envying. This is the world’s wisdom. It is cunning and manipulative. It seeks to further itself and serve its own interests, leading only to confusion and evil works. The other is from God’s Spirit and is learned from the revelation of God’s Word. It teaches peace, gentleness, meekness, mercy, and kindness. A distinction must be made between the world’s wisdom that discourages Christians from full and radical obedience to God’s Word, and the wisdom of God that Moses had in Hebrews 11:26 that caused him to esteem the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt. We would do well to remember Psalm 1, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly…but his delight is in the Law of the Lord.”
Reflect: What are some examples of worldly wisdom that differs from the wisdom learned through Scripture?