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Bible Commentaries

John Trapp Complete Commentary

James 3

Verse 1

1 My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.

Ver. 1. Be not many masters ] Masters of opinions, that boldly obtrude upon others their own placits, and will not have them disputed or debated. Such are the Sorbonists, who rejoice to be called Magistri nostri Parisienses, our Masters of Paris. Bacon, the Carmelite, was called Doctor resolutissimus, because he would endure no guessing or maybes. (Praefat. in 1 Sent.) The pope’s parasites persuade the people, that what interpretation soever he gives of Scripture, be it right or wrong, it is without further trial to be received as the very word of God. Est ipsissimum Dei verbum. (Hosius.)

Knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation ] sc. If either we become heresiarchs and sect masters, Revelation 19:20 , or supercilious censurers of others, Matthew 7:1 ; Romans 2:1 .

a A leader or founder of a heresy. ŒD

Verse 2

2 For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.

Ver. 2. For in many things, &c. ] This is triste mortalitatis privilegium, the sad privilege of mankind, as one phraseth it, to have leave to offend sometimes. Every pomegranate hath at least one rotten grain within it, saith Crates. And it is the honour of God alone to be perfect, saith Plato (Euphormio). Jerome pronounceth a curse upon him that shall say that the fulfilling of the whole law is impossible to any. But patres legendi cum venia; Jerome was out in this, and too to blame, μονου Θεου γερας εστι ειναι τετραγωνον . St James, a far better man than Jerome (for he was worthily called James the Just), affirmeth here of himself and other sanctified persons, We offend or stumble all, πταιομεν , impingimus omnes.

A perfect man ] That is, a prudent man, Psalms 37:30-31 .

Verse 3

3 Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body.

Ver. 3. That they may obey us ] Horses, asses, camels, elephants, God in great wisdom, for the use of man, hath made without galls, that they might with the more ease be made tame and serviceable.

Verse 4

4 Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth.

Ver. 4. Whithersoever the governor ] Peterent caelum Belgae si navibus peti posset, Ley them ask for the skys of Belge if it would be possible to reach them by ship, saith one (Johnston, de Nat. Constant.)

Verse 5

5 Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!

Ver. 5. Boasteth great things ] Gr. μεγαλαυχει . It doth magnifically lift up itself, as an untamed horse doth his head. It exalts itself and exults of great things. It walketh through the earth, and faceth the very heavens, Psalms 73:9 . It can run all the world over, and bite at everybody; being as a sharp razor, that doth deceit, that instead of shaving the hair cutteth the throat, Psalms 52:2 . It is made in the shape of a sword; and David felt it as a sword in his bones, Psalms 42:10 . It is thin, broad, and long, as an instrument most fit to empty both the speaker’s and the hearer’s heart. It is of a flame colour, as apt to set on fire the whole wheel of nature, James 3:6 .

Behold how great a matter ] Or wood. Camerarius tells a story of two brethren walking out in a star light night. Saith one of the brethren, Would I had a pasture as large as this element; and said the other, Would I had as many oxen as there be stars. Saith the other again, Where would you feed those oxen? In your pasture, replied he. What? whether I would or no? Yea, said he, whether you will or no. What, in spite of me? Yes, said he. And thus it went on from words, till at length each sheathed his sword in the other’s bowels.

Verse 6

6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.

Ver. 6. A world of iniquity ] A newly found world. Not a city or country only, but "a world of iniquity," a sink, a sea of sin, wherein there is not only that Leviathan, but creeping things innumerable, Psalms 104:26 .

So is the tongue among our members ] For better purpose it was there set, sc. in the midst between the brain and the heart, that it might take the advice of both; and that we might verba prius ad limam revocare, quam ad linguam.

That it defileth the whole body ] Leaving a stain upon the speaker, and setting a stain upon the hearer; even the guilt and filth of sin.

The course of nature ] Gr. The wheel of our nativity. Their breath, as fire, devoureth, Isaiah 33:10 ; "The poison of asps is under their lips,"Romans 3:13; Romans 3:13 . The venomous heat of which deadly poison, like a fire in the flesh, killeth the wounded with torments, the likeliest hell of any other. In the holy tongue dabber signifieth a word, debher a pest; to show (saith one) that an evil tongue hath the pestilence in it.

And is set on fire of hell ] That is, of the devil (called elsewhere the gates of hell), as the Holy Ghost (on the other side) set on fire the apostles’ tongues with zeal, that flame of God, Song of Solomon 8:6 ; Acts 2:3 . Evil speech is the devil’s drivel; a slanderer carries the devil’s pack. He hath his name in Hebrew from footing it, trotting and tracing up and down to sow strife: Ragal, to defame or slander; regel, a foot. In Greek the same word signifieth a devil and a slanderer. The talebearer carrieth the devil in his tongue (saith one), the talehearer in his ear.

Verse 7

7 For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind:

Ver. 7. For every kind of beasts, &c. ] See Trapp on " Heb 2:7 " Some creatures indeed may be taken, but not tamed, as the tiger, panther, monoceros, of which last it is testified, quod interimi potest, capi non potest; slain he may be, but not taken. Such unruly talkers and deceivers the Church is pestered with, Titus 1:10 ; 1 Thessalonians 5:14 ; sons of Belial, untamable, untractable, untouchable, unteachable, 2 Samuel 23:6-7 1 Samuel 25:17 .

Verse 8

8 But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.

Ver. 8. But the tongue, &c. ] Where then are our justiciaries with their pretended perfection? David’s heart deceived him Psalms 39:1 ; "I said, I will look to my ways, I will bridle my tongue." But presently after, he shows how soon he brake his word. "My heart was hot," &c., and "I spake with my tongue." Pambus, in the ecclesiastical history, could never take out that one lesson read him out ofPsalms 39:1; Psalms 39:1 . There is one Bennus celebrated in the same ecclesiastical history for this (but I can hardly believe it), that he was never seen of any man to be angry, never beard to swear, or lie, or utter a vain word. (Sozomen, vi. 28.)

An unruly evil ] There be but five virtues of the tongue reckoned by philosophers. But there are 24 different sins of the tongue, as Peraldus recounteth them. The Arabians have a proverb, Cave ne feriat lingua tua collum tuum; Take heed thy tongue cut not thy throat. An open mouth is often a purgatory to the master. See Trapp on " Jam 3:6 "

Full of deadly poison ] Such as poisoneth itself, and poisoneth at a distance, which no other poison doth. Some poisons are not poisonous to some creatures; storks feed upon serpents, ducks upon toads, &c. But the tongue is a universal poison, &c.

Verse 9

9 Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.

Ver. 9. Therewith bless we God ] And so make our tongues our glory.

Therewith curse we men ] Yea, the best of men; as Korah and his accomplices fear not to object to Moses the meek, with one breath, pride, ambition, and usurpation of authority. So Shimei cursed David, the pope curseth the Reformed Churches. But cursing men are cursed men; those detestable God-damn-mes especially, with their fearful self-damning imprecations, and innominate soul-damning oaths, God justly may, and doubtlessly doth, take many of them at their words, as he did those who wished they might die in the wilderness,Numbers 14:28-29; Numbers 14:28-29 .

Verse 10

10 Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.

Ver. 10. Out of the same mouth ] As it did once out of the mouth of Pope Julius II, who in the battle of Ravenna on Easter Day, between him and the French, as he sat by the fire reading his prayers, and having news of the defeat, he flung away his book, saying, Sit ergo Gallus in nomine diabolorum, Let Gaul be in the name of the demons. The devil take the French. (Annal. Gallic.) Is not this that mouth that speaketh great things and blasphemies? Revelation 13:5 . A loaf of the same bran was that foul mouthed cardinal, who entering the city of Paris, and being met by the people who begged his blessing, blessed them at first; but when they came thicker upon him, and hindered his passage, he cursed them as fast; using these words, Quandoquidem hic populus vult decipi, decipiatur in nomine diaboli, i.e. Since this people will needs be deceived, let them be deceived in the devil’s name. Os sceleratum et profanum! The mouth is wicked and imious! (Dr Prideaux, Lect.) Plutarch in Dion tells of a land about Athens, that brings forth the best honey and worst poison. In Polypidis capite bonum inest et malum. Lo, such is the tongue.

Verse 11

11 Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?

Ver. 11. Doth a fountain send forth ] The fountain, or rather the botch, of sensual and sinful pleasures doth. Sin is a bitter sweet, γλυκυπικρον , the poison of asps, which first tickleth, and then killeth. All creature comforts are dulcis acerbitas, saith one. Amarissima volulptas, saith another, (Tertul.)

" Principium dulce est, at finis amoris amarus;

Laeta venire Venus, tristis abire solet. "

Verse 12

12 Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.

Ver. 12. Both yield salt water and fresh ] That is strange that is reported of the rivers of Peru, that after they have run into the main sea, yea, some write 20 or 30 miles, they keep themselves unmixed with the salt water; so that a very great way within the sea men may take up as fresh water as if they were near the land. (Abbot’s Geog.) But that is as sure as strange, that an eyewitness reporteth of the Danube and Sara (two great rivers in Hungary), that their waters meeting mingle no more than water and oil; so that near the middle of the river I have gone in a boat (saith mine author) and tasted of the Danube, as clear and pure as a well; then putting my hand not an inch farther, I have taken of the Sava, as troubled as a street channel, tasting the gravel in my teeth. Thus they run 60 miles together. (Blount’s Voyage.)

Verse 13

13 Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.

Ver. 13. Who is a wise man ] Not he that words it most; for multiloquio stultiloquium; follish excessive talking and as any one is more wise, he is more sparing of his censures; but every fool will be meddling. Sapiens is est, cui res sapiunt prout sunt, saith Bernard (lib. iii. cap. 30). He is a wise man that judgeth aright of everything. And all the wisdom of a man is in this one thing, saith Lactantius, ut Deum cognoscat et colat, that he know and worship God.

With meekness of wisdom ] As it is said of Athanasius, that he was high in worth and humble in heart; a loadstone in his sweet, gentle, drawing nature, and yet an adamant in his wise and stout deportment towards those that were evil. (Nazianzen in encom. Athan.) Jerome and Austin in their disputations, it was no matter who gained the day; they would both win by understanding their errors. What a sweet resolution was that of Calvin, Though Luther call me devil, yet I will honour him as a servant of God.

Verse 14

14 But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth.

Ver. 14. Bitter envying ] Properly so called; for it flows from the gall; it shows that the man is in the gall of bitterness, and of kin to the star called Wormwood, Revelation 8:11 . It is also an evil wherein is steeped the venom of all other vices. It is the observation of a late reverend divine, that, Genesis 38:29 , Pharez was the son of Tamar, division, of a palm tree, which hath its name ab amaritudine, from bitterness, saith Pagnine. Division comes from bitterness, and envy drinks up the most part of its own venom. It infecteth also others with her venomous breath; as that maid mentioned by Avicen, who fed upon poison.

Glory not ] viz. Of your wisdom.

Lie not against the truth ] As if ye were true Christians, when in truth you are not so; Jesuits you may be (those great boutefeans of the world), but Christians ye are none; ye have not so learned Christ.

Verse 15

15 This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.

Ver. 15. Earthly, sensual ] Here is a true character of carnal wisdom; the world is a pearl in its eyes, it cannot see God. Earthly it is called, as managing the lusts of the eyes unto the ends of gain; sensual, managing the lusts of the flesh unto the ends of pleasure; and devilish, managing the pride of life unto the ends of power.

Verse 16

16 For where envying and strife is , there is confusion and every evil work.

Ver. 16. For where envying and strife is, &c. ] The number of two hath been therefore accounted accursed, because it was the first that departed from unity. Divisions (saith one) are like the torrid zone, nothing prospers under it. (Dr Rayner.) When the dogstar ariseth, no plants thrive as at other times. When a fire is kindled in a town, the bells ring backwards; when fires of contentions are kindled in places, all things go awry. (Mr Burr’s Heart Divisions.)

Verse 17

17 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.

Ver. 17. Easy to be entreated ] Tractable, docile, not as horse and mule that must be ruled with rigour, not with reason, Psalms 32:9 . Without partiality (or, without judging), without hypocrisy. These two stand fitly together; to note, that the greatest censurers are usually the greatest hypocrites; and as any one is more wise, he is more sparing of his censures.

Verse 18

18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.

Ver. 18. Is sown in peace ] Only we must not think to sow and reap all in a day. By the fruit of righteousness may be meant the crown of righteousness,2 Timothy 4:8; 2 Timothy 4:8 , which Christ (the Prince of peace) shall put upon all the sons of peace,Luke 10:6; Luke 10:6 ; as, in the mean time, they shall be called the sons of God, Matthew 5:9 , have not only the comfort, but the credit, the name and note of such.

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Bibliographical Information
Trapp, John. "Commentary on James 3". John Trapp Complete Commentary. 1865-1868.