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Bible Commentaries

William Godbey's Commentary on the New Testament

James 3

Verses 1-2



1. “Be not many teachers, my brethren, knowing that we shall receive the greater responsibility.” The Bible contemplates many preachers, but few teachers. In the apostolic age all the disciples preached the Word. Acts 8:4. When our Savior wanted preachers He called ‘unlearned and ignorant men.” When He wanted a teacher, He called Saul of Tarsus, a double graduate, having graduated in the Greek schools of Tarsus and the Hebrew colleges at Jerusalem, thus standing at the top of the world’s learning.

Jesus needed such men to expound the Scriptures. The holiness movement has suffered immensely from incompetent teachers. To preach simply means to proclaim the Word, corroborated by our experience. While a collegiate education is in no way essential to the preaching of the Gospel, if not baptized by the Holy Ghost and fire, it will be a serious temptation, very liable to side-track you as it has millions, and get you into preaching that which is not gospel, and destitute of saving power. The trend of the churches to leave the Bible and run into human learning, is the mammoth heresy of the modern pulpit, fast secularizing and infidelizing their congregations. God wants to give all of His people full salvation, and the spirit of prophecy (Revelation 19:10), sending them forth as in the Apostolic age, “preaching the Word.” He is now raising up a grand army of lay men and women, baptizing them with fire, and sending them to the ends of the earth,

“to preach the gospel to every creature before the great and dreadful day of the Lord cometh.” Acts 2:20.

This is a very signal mercy, in view of that human learning which is fast crowding the Gospel out of the popular pulpits, and thus turning the people over to the world and Satan. Let this grand army of the blood- washed and fire-baptized laity content themselves simply to proclaim the Word of the Lord and tell their experiences and never attempt to explore the profoundities of exegesis, lest they propagate all sorts of error, as has been done much to the detriment of the cause. God needs a few well educated, fire-baptized and Spirit-illuminated teachers to expound the Scriptures. He will raise them up and send them forth.

Verse 2

2. “For in many things we all fail. If any one fail not in word, the same is a perfect man, truly able to bridle the whole body.” Sanctification renders no one infallible, but it leaves us encumbered with many infirmities, for glorification to remove “when this mortal puts on immortality.” The Greek logos means God’s Word revealed in the Bible, while reema means man’s word. In this verse we have logos, i. e., God’s Word. In the experience of entire sanctification, the whole Bible enters into the heart; meanwhile the Holy Ghost freely imparts all the grace we need to obey and live in harmony with it. While this perfect man, who is simply the normal gospel saint, is very fallible in his own word and deportment, yet he does not fail in the Word of God, because his experience is in perfect harmony with it, and he receives freely each fleeting moment all the grace he needs to obey all the commandments of God.

Verses 3-18



3-8. The tongue is the exponent of the soul and, consequently, by far the most important of all our members. Your soul passes out from the end of your tongue, and comes back the same way. It is here said of the tongue that it has hell fire in it. This “hell fire” is the inbred sin in the heart which flashes out through the tongue. “No one is able to tame the tongue: an incorrigible evil, full of deadly poison.” That is true, but, thank God, He can, and does, tame it. He puts the sanctification bridle on it, thus not only keeping it out of all mischief, but thoroughly harnessing it up to do His blessed and holy will.

9. “With it bless we the Lord even the Father, and with it we scold people who have been made after the image of God.”

10. James very affectionately salutes these people, who with the same tongue bless and scold, “My brethren, these things ought not so to be,” revealing plainly that he is addressing Christians.

11. “Whether does the fountain send forth the sweet and the bitter.”

12. “My brethren,... the bitter fountain can not send forth sweet water.” These Scriptures clearly and unequivocally set forth the undeniable fact that the unsanctified Christian actually has the two fountains, i. e., the bitter and the sweet, in his heart, both of which flow out ever and anon through his tongue. Consequently, the unsanctified is a very ambiguous character. Today his tongue sends forth the honey and tomorrow the gall. The idea of blasphemy you have in your English entirely disappears from this passage in the Greek. There is but one possible conclusion, deducible from this entire argument, i. e., sinners have but one fountain in the heart: that is corrupt and bitter. The sanctified has but one, which is clean and sweet. Meanwhile the unsanctified Christian has two fountains in his heart, the sweet and the bitter, both of which flow out through the tongue, sometimes the one, sometimes the other. God’s plan is to take the bitter fountain utterly out of the heart. In that case the sweet fountain fills the whole heart. Hence the tongue of the wholly sanctified discharges the sweet water only.

13. This verse follows a logical sequence from the preceding.

14. Here we are warned to adhere pertinaciously to the truth in our testimony.

15. “This wisdom cometh not from above, but is earthly, intellectual and devilish.” Here we are warned against carnal wisdom, in contradistinction to the spiritual and heavenly.

16. So long as this carnal wisdom abides in the heart there is an irrepressible conflict with the spiritual.

17. “The wisdom which is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, easily persuaded, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.” This is a beautiful description of the nature, created in the heart by the Holy Ghost in regeneration. Purity and depravity are not combined in the heart, but mixed, like wheat and cockle in the stack, until a powerful steam thresher effects the separation. So the grace of God is pure in the regenerate, though mixed with depravity till the baptism of the Holy Ghost and fire effects the final separation, consuming the latter. The grace of God in the heart solves the problem of universal peace. A true experience of salvation makes a perfect gentleman, who is so easily persuaded in the way of right that a child can lead him by a hair, while earth and hell can not force him in the way of wrong. O, how opportune is this heavenly wisdom. “Full of mercy and good works,” in a world full of suffering and inundated with calamity! This heavenly wisdom is the divine nature having the very purity of God, hence free from “partiality and hypocrisy.” Grace is perfectly transparent, abounding in universal love.

18. “The fruit of righteousness is sown in peace to them that make peace.” This whole world is involved in implacable hostility and an exterminating war against the Father of the universe. Eternal ruin must supervene in every case where perfect reconciliation is not effected. Hence every true Christian is significantly and pre-eminently a peace maker.

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Godbey, William. "Commentary on James 3". "William Godbey's Commentary on the New Testament".