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THE COURSE OF NATURE
Dean Plumptre’s Note on James 3:6.—These words have no parallel in any Greek author. Literally, we might render, the “wheel of nature, or, of birth,” as in chap. James 1:23 we have “the face of nature,” for the “natural face,” that with which we are born. The best interpretation is that which sees in the phrase a figure for “the whole of life from birth,” the wheel which then begins to roll on its course, and continues rolling until death. The comparison of life to a race, or course of some kind, has been familiar to the poetry of all ages; and in a Latin poet, Silius ltalicus (vi. 120), we have a phrase almost identical with St. James’s:
“So, by the law of God, through chance and change,
The wheel of life rolls down the steep descent.”
As an alternative explanation, it is possible that there may be a reference to the potter’s wheel (Jeremiah 18:3; Sir. 38:29, where the word “wheel” is used). On this view the tongue would be represented as the flame that by its untempered heat mars the vessel in the hands of the potter. The frequent parallelisms between St. James and the Wisdom of the Son of Sirach are, as far as they go, in favour of this view. A third view, that the words have the same kind of meaning as orbis terrarum, and mean, as in the English Version, the whole order or course of nature, i.e. of human history in the world at large, has, it is believed, less to recommend it.
OUR SINS OF SPEECH
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
James 3:1. Masters.—Teachers. In the sixteenth century “master” meant “schoolmaster.” Do not get into the way of being teachers. Do not set yourselves up as teachers (Matthew 23:8-10). The title of Doctor of the Law was highly coveted among the Jews. Greater condemnation, judgment, than those who are not judged by the standard for teachers. To assert ourselves as teachers is to bring upon ourselves the responsibilities of teachers.
James 3:2. Offend.—Or, “stumble.” Perfect man.—In the sense of holding himself in complete moral restraint. Control of speech is named, not as in itself constituting perfection, but as a crucial test indicating whether the man has or has not attained unto it.
James 3:3. Behold.—Better, εἰ δέ, “if now.”
James 3:4. Governor.—Read, “the impulse of the steersman willeth, or may wish.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—James 3:1-4
Masterfulness in Speech.—Our Lord in His teaching reproved the pride of the Rabbis, or teachers, of his time: “They love the chief seats in the synagogues, and the salutations in the market-places, and to be called of men, Rabbi.” And He gives the counsel which St. James does but repeat in this passage: “But be not ye [My disciples] called Rabbi; for one is your teacher, and all ye are brethren.” In the tabernacle and temple services everything was kept in the control of the priesthood. There was no attempt at public religious instruction. When the school of the prophets was founded, authorised and systematic religious instruction may be said to have begun. These trained prophets went to and fro through the country using every opportunity for teaching the Scriptures, and the will of God as revealed in them, to the people. After the return from the Captivity synagogues were founded, and the services held in them included both worship and instruction. Persons held in good esteem, or claiming to be Rabbis, were at liberty to give expositions or exhortations, and in this practice is found the beginning of the modern sermon, as a part of Christian worship. But while there was much that was valuable and helpful in this custom, it opened the way to a possible serious evil. It proved difficult to keep unsuitable persons from giving these exhortations, and difficult to put the exhortations into any wise limitations. In every age, and in every society, there are men who love to hear themselves talk, and who push themselves in at every opportunity. In every age, and in every society, there are men who love to be masters, who must lord it over others. And they are often by no means the best persons for the positions they force themselves into. The masterful men and the talkers were a grave anxiety in the synagogue life of the Jews. And when synagogues of Christian Jews were established, the same evil cropped up; it even became more serious because Christianity encouraged the use of special gifts for mutual edification. St. James dealt with a serious and growing evil, when he thus warned the Jewish Christian disciples against too readily setting up to be “masters,” or “teachers.” In the Christian Church, as in the Jewish, there was the peril of self-appointed Rabbiship. The idea that he can teach often comes to a Christian disciple as a temptation from the evil one, which needs to be steadily resisted.
I. The disposition to put everybody else right.—This is not the spirit of the real teacher, but it is the spirit of the would-be teacher, whose masterfulness finds expression in that desire to teach. It is a characteristic of natural disposition, and is close kin with the energy that overmasters difficulties. But it is a perilous characteristic, and needs to be early placed in forcible restraints, and afterwards kept in wise control by the man himself. Unrestrained it makes a man positive, heedless of the opinions of others, and unlovely in his relations with others. It may even make him a heresy-monger, keen to observe any failures from the standard of what he happens to think to be truth. Morally the disposition to set everybody else right is altogether reprehensible: it involves an assumption of superiority which is essentially un-Christian. The man who appoints himself as teacher, whether other people recognise his teaching gifts or not, “thinks of himself more highly than he ought to think”; and consequently does himself as much moral mischief as he does others. St. James puts one thing upon the consideration of those who are so ready to make themselves teachers. They seriously increase their personal responsibility. The judgment of a teacher must necessarily be a more searching and severe thing than the judgment of a private Christian. Instead of wanting to be a teacher, the gifted teacher always shrinks back from the responsibility, saying, “Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Corinthians 2:6). “The test of all ministry must come at last in the day of trial, and fiery inquisition of God.”
II. The need every man has for putting himself right.—The true teacher feels how much he has to learn; the would-be teacher feels how much he knows. Humility is the pervading spirit of the true teacher; self-confidence is the spirit of the man who thinks he can teach. He is confident of being himself right, and is not in the least likely to admit, with St. James, that “in many things we offend all.” Our Lord taught, in a similar way, that the man who could easily find “motes” in his brother’s eyes was most likely to have a “beam” in his own, and he had better see to his own “beam” before he presumed to attend to other peoples’ “motes.” All men have work enough in the disciplining of their own characters; and if a man has a masterful disposition, let him exercise it well on his own faults and frailties. He would do well to exercise that masterful disposition in getting his own masterfulness into good control. We all offend in some things: so we all need to teach and train ourselves.
III. The control of ourselves should come before attempting to control others.—If the would-be teacher means to gain control of his entire self, he will have to begin with his tongue. If he is like a masterful horse, he will have to put a bit in his mouth. If he is like a wayward, tossed-about ship, he will have to put on a rudder, and take care to hold it firm, and move it wisely. If such a man “offend not in word,” he is a “perfect man,” in this sense, that he is able also to “bridle the whole body.” Who cannot recognise the practical wisdom of St. James’s counsel? Who has not earnestly said to himself, “If I could only master my speech, I could easily master myself”? Men talk when they have nothing to say. Men talk before they think. Men talk without criticising what they are going to say. And therefore they constantly “offend in word.” “The work of ruling this one rebel [the tongue] is so great, that a much less corresponding effort will keep the other powers in subjection.” “Control of speech is named, not as in itself constituting perfection, but as a crucial test indicating whether the man has, or has not, attained unto it.” The true spirit of the teacher, whom God calls forth to teach, may be partly seen in Moses, and more fully seen in Jeremiah. With something like unworthy hesitation Moses exclaimed, “O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since Thou hast spoken unto Thy servant; but I am slow of speech and of a slow tongue.” With the shrinking back of a sincere humility, Jeremiah said, “Ah! Lord God, behold I cannot speak; for I am a child.” The man who thinks he can God does not use. In his case it is all the man; there is no room for God. The man who fears he cannot God will use, because He can make His strength perfect in the man’s weakness.
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
James 3:2. Control of Speech a Sign of Character.—“If any stumbleth not in word, the same is a perfect man.” Isaac Barrow says, “A constant governance of our speech, according to duty and reason, is a high instance and a special argument of a thoroughly sincere and solid goodness.” There are remarkable differences in natural disposition, which make the control of speech much easier for some men than for others. And, indeed, sometimes a naturally silent disposition is the real explanation of what seems to be a man’s self-control. And it also needs to be considered, that undue freedom of speech is allied to certain weaknesses of character. The self-assertive man is usually a great talker. So is the conceited man; so is the ambitious man; so is the man who has been a spoilt child. In public life the great talker often succeeds in making himself important. Character means that a man has got all the forces of his being into moderate limitations, and harmonious and mutual relations. His work in his speech gains prominence, because it is most difficult, but most influential when accomplished.
The Sense of Infirmity in Every Man.—“For in many things we all stumble.” This should prevent our showing any superiority, or masterfulness, in our dealing with others. “Were we to think more of our own mistakes and offences, we should be less apt to judge other people. While we are severe against what we count offensive in others, we do not consider how much there is in us which is justly offensive to them. Self-justifiers are commonly self-deceivers. We are all guilty before God; and those who vaunt it over the frailties and infirmities of others little think how many things they offend in themselves. Nay, perhaps, their magisterial deportment, and censorious tongues, may prove worse than any faults they condemn in others. Let us learn to be severe in judging ourselves, but charitable in our judgments of other people”.—Matthew Henry.
James 3:4. Christian Ability.—Dropping the particular reference to the tongue, or the power of the tongue, take the text as illustrating the fact, that man turns about everything, handles all heaviest bulks, masters all hardest difficulties, in the same way—that is, by using a small power so as to get the operation of a power greater than his own. We have no power to handle ships at sea by their bulk. The soul is a magnitude more massive than any ship, and the storms it encounters are wilder than those of the sea. And yet there are small helms given to us, by which we are able always to steer it triumphantly on, to just the good we seek, and the highest we can even conceive. It is assumed that we have no ability in ourselves, more than simply to turn ourselves into the track of another more sufficient power, and so to have it upon us. Helms do not impel ships. Ours is only a steering power, though it is a very great power at that. For when we so use it as to hold ourselves fairly to God’s operation, as we hold a ship to the winds, that is sufficient, that will do everything, turning even our impossibilities themselves into victory. Glance at the analogies of our physical experience. Great, overwhelmingly great, as the forces and weights of nature are, what do we accomplish more easily than to turn about their whole body and bring them into manageable service? Doing it always by some adjustment, or mode of address, which acknowledges their superior force. (Winds, waters, gunpowder, steam, electricity, etc.) Prepared by such analogies, our dependence, in the matter of religion, ought to create no speculative difficulties; but we have as much difficulty as ever in making that practical adjustment of ourselves to God, which is necessary in any and every true act of dependence. Some take it upon themselves to do, by their own force, all they are responsible for. But we have no capacity, under the natural laws of the soul, as a self-governing creature, to govern successfully anything, except indirectly, that is by a process of steering. We can steer the mind off from its grudges, ambitions, bad thoughts, by getting it occupied with good and pure objects that work a diversion. If we could wholly govern ourselves, our self-government would not be the state of religion, or bring us any one of its blessed incidents. The soul, as a religious creature, is put in affiance, by a fixed necessity of its nature, with God. Having broken this bond in its sin, it comes back in religion to become what it inwardly longs for—restored to God, filled with God’s inspirations, made conscious of God. And this is its regeneration. All “impossibilities” we can easily and surely master, by only bringing ourselves into the range of God’s operations. The helm-power only is ours; the executive is God’s. What is wanted is the using of our small helms so as to make our appeal to God’s operation. And there must be a clearing of a thousand particular and even smallest things that will steer off the soul from God—a clearing of the helm for free action. The faith which is the condition of salvation is simply trusting ourselves over to God, and so bringing ourselves into the range of His Divine operation. The reason why so many fail is, that they undertake to do the work themselves, heaving away spasmodically to lift themselves over the unknown crisis by main strength—as if seizing tho ship by its mast, or the main bulk of its body, they were going to push it on through the voyage themselves! Whereas it is the work of God, and not in any other sense their own, than that, coming in to God by a total trust in Him, they are to have it in God’s working. In a similar way many miscarriages occur after conversion. Nothing was necessary to prevent them, but simply to carry a steady helm in life’s duties. Many disciples fall out of course by actually steering themselves out of God’s operation. And there is danger that the man who is tending the small helm of duty with great exactness may become painfully legal in it—a precisionist, a Pharisee. The word “operation” may be taken as referring only to the omnipotent working of His will or spiritual force. But there is a power of God which is not His omnipotence, and has a wholly different mode of working; I mean His moral power—that of His beauty, goodness, gentleness, truth, purity, suffering, compassion, in one word, His character. In this kind of power He works, not by what He wills, but by what He is. What is wanted, therefore, in the regeneration of souls, and their advancement toward perfection afterward, is to be somehow put in the range of this higher power and kept there. And here exactly is the sublime art and glory of the new Divine economy in Christ. For He is such, and so related to our want, that our mind gets a way open through Him to God’s Divine beauty and greatness, so that we may bring our heart up into the transforming, moulding efficacy of these, which we most especially need. This exactly is Christianity—that Christ in humanity is God humanised, Divine feeling and perfection let down into the modes of finite sentiment and apprehension. In His human person, and the revelation of His cross, He is the door, the interpreter to our hearts, of God Himself—so the moral power of God upon our hearts. Christ, as the Son of man, is that small helm put in the hand, so to speak, of our affections, to bring us in to God’s most interior beauty and perfection, and to put us in the power of His infinite, unseen character; thus to be moulded by it and fashioned to conformity with it.—Horace Bushnell, D.D.
Ships and Rudders.—The ships that were “so great” in former days were, in fact, scarcely more than cock-boats, or small coasters, scraping round the shores of the inland seas; whereas, now, what we call the great ships are big enough to store in their hold a whole armed fleet of the ancient time, vessels and men together; and these huge bulks strike out into the broad oceans, defying the storms, yet still turned about as before, whithersoever the helmsman will. There he stands at his post, a single man, scarcely more than a fly that has lighted on the immense bulk of the vessel, having a small city of people and their goods in the world of timber under him, and perhaps with only one hand, turning gently his lever of wood, or nicely gauging the motion of his wheel, he steers along its steady track the mountain mass of the ship, turning it always to its course, even as he would an arrow to its mark.—Horace Bushnell, D.D.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
James 3:5. A matter.—Better, “a forest.” The picture presented is of the wrapping of some vast forest in a flame by the falling of a single spark. Philo uses the same figure: “As the smallest spark will, if duly fanned, kindle a vast pyre, so is the least element of virtue capable of growth till the whole nature of the man glows with a new warmth and brightness.”
James 3:6. Course of nature.—Wheel of birth; R.V. margin, “whole sphere of life.” The wheel of life which begins rolling at birth, and continues rolling until death. “From the beginning of life till its close, the tongue is an ever-present inflammatory element of evil.” Hell.—Gehenna; the place of torment, as distinguished from Hades, the abode of the dead, or the unseen world.
James 3:7. Serpents.—Or, more generally, “creeping things.” “Kind of beasts” would be better “nature of beasts”; then “mankind” would read “by the nature of man.” Every nature is continually tamed, and is kept in a state of subjection by the human race.
James 3:8. Unruly evil.—ἀκατάσχετον, irrestrainable. Alex. and Vatican manuscripts read ἀκατάστατον, a restless, inconstant evil. Prefer “uncontrollable.” Deadly.—Death-bringing.
James 3:10. So to be.—“These things ought not to occur in this way.”
James 3:11. Send forth.—Or, “spout out.”
James 3:12.—The better manuscripts render thus, “Neither can a salt [spring] yield sweet water.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—James 3:5-12
The Agency of the Tongue for Good and Evil.—The tongue, as a bodily organ, has no moral quality, good or bad. It is the organ of speech, and does but help to express thought and feeling in language, by means of which one man may influence another. The language-power is man’s dignity and man’s peril. So truly is it the expression of a man for apprehension by other men, that it can be said, “By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” In this paragraph St. James reminds us in what different spheres the tongue works, and what different things, good and bad, it can do. Evidently it is so supremely important an agency in our lives, that every effort should be made to have it, and to keep it, in full control. “The tongue is the best part of man, and also his worst; with good government none is more useful; and without it, none more mischievous.”
I. The tongue is man’s agency for boasting.—“And boasteth great things”; or, “vaunts great words which bring about great acts of mischief.” Boasting is the expression of pride and self-conceit; and it implies that a man fails to see things as they really are, but swells them out by his imagination, so that they may increase his self-importance. The boaster
(1) injures himself by his boasting, for it is a habit that grows by exercise;
(2) does mischief to others, because undue praise of self always tries to gain support in the disparagement of other people—and men are always injured when they are compelled to take up false impressions;
(3) dishonours God, who “desireth truth in the inward parts,” and cannot allow His work in a man to be exaggerated, misrepresented, and therefore misjudged. Boasting is one of the surest signs of moral weakness, Those who give way to it are altogether untrustworthy in the relations of life. No one feels safe in having dealings with them.
II. The tongue is man’s agency for inciting to moral evil.—“The tongue is a fire.” A spark of fire which, if only it fall in fitting place, will do fearfully destructive work.
1. The unclean word may burn up innocence in other souls.
2. The slanderous word may burn up the reputations of other people.
3. The critical word may burn up trustfulness in other people.
4. The doubtful word may burn up honesty in other people. A word spoken, or heard, in early life may work as a deadly poison through a whole life. The serpent in Eden incited Eve to disobey with his words. “Every idle [mischievous] word that man shall speak, he shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.”
III. The tongue is man’s agency for doing wild and wicked things.—“A world of iniquity among our members.” With this should be taken the untamableness of the tongue. It is a wild animal, that even at its best, and in the best men, is but imperfectly brought into control. “Three temptations to ‘smite with the tongue are specially powerful for evil, viz. as a relief from passion, as a gratification of spite, as revenge for wrong. The first is experienced by hot-tempered folk; the second yielded to by the malicious; the third welcomed by the otherwise weak and defenceless; and all of us at times are in each of these divisions.” See the prayer of the Catechism, that we may be kept from “evil-speaking, lying, and slandering.” “The tongue is an unruly [restless] evil, full of deadly poison.” What evil is wrought by the slanderer, traducer, liar, foul-mouthed, and blasphemer!
IV. The tongue is man’s agency for both blessing and cursing.—It is not St. James’s immediate purpose to show how much good can be accomplished by the tongue, when it is in fitting Christian control. He is dealing with the unrestrained tongue, as that is suggested by the free talk of the would-be teachers. He is showing what lengths the evil may run to when the curb is taken off. Here he is showing what contrasted things it can do. It can “bless God,” and at the very same time “curse men.” What a strange and unreasonable thing that appears to be! How impossible it should be to Christian disciples, whose fountain has been cleansed, whose will is renewed, and who ought to have only pure, loving, worthy things for which they want the tongue to be their agency. James 3:11 is probably “a vivid picture of the mineral springs abounding in the Jordan Valley, near the Dead Sea; with which might be contrasted the clear and sparkling rivulets of the north, fed by the snows of Lebanon. Nature had no confusion in her plans; and thus to pour out cursing and blessing from the same lips were unnatural indeed.” Get the control which makes the tongue utter blessing, and it will cease to curse. Fail to get the control, and let the tongue curse; it will then very soon cease to be able to bless.
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
James 3:5-6. The Tongue.—In the development of Christian truth a peculiar office was assigned to the apostle James. It was given to St. Paul to proclaim Christianity as the spiritual law of liberty, and to exhibit faith as the most active principle within the breast of man. It was St. John’s to say that the deepest quality in the bosom of Deity is love, and to assert that the life of God in man is love. It was the office of St. James to assert the necessity of moral rectitude: his very name marked him out peculiarly for this office; he was emphatically called “the Just”; integrity was his peculiar characteristic. A man singularly honest, earnest, real. Accordingly, if you read through his whole epistle, you will find it is, from first to last, one continued vindication of the first principles of morality against the semblances of religion. This is the mind breathing through it all: all this talk about religion, and spirituality—words, words, words—nay, let us have realities. How can we speak of the gospel, when the first principles of morality are forgotten? when Christians are excusing themselves, and slandering one another? How can the superstructure of love and faith be built, when the very foundations of human character—justice, mercy, truth—have not been laid?
I. The licence of the tongue.—
1. The first licence given to the tongue is slander. It is compared to poison. The deadliest poisons are those for which no test is known. In the drop of venom which distils from the sting of the smallest insect, or the spikes of the nettle-leaf, there is concentrated the quintessence of a poison so subtle that the microscope cannot distinguish it, and yet so virulent that it can inflame the blood, irritate the whole constitution, and convert day and night into restless misery. In St. James’s day, as now, idle men and women went about from house to house, dropping slander as they went, and yet you could not take up that slander and detect the falsehood there.
2. The second licence given to the tongue is in the way of persecution: “therewith curse we men.” Even in St. James’s day that spirit had begun. Christians persecuted Christians. From that day it has continued, through long centuries, up to the present time. Persecution is that which affixes penalties upon views held, instead of upon life led.
II. The guilt of this licence.—
1. The first evil consequence is the harm that a man does himself. Calumny effects a dissipation of spiritual energy. Few men suspect how much mere talk fritters away spiritual energy—that which should be spent in action spends itself in words. In these days of loud profession, and bitter, fluent condemnation, it is well for us to learn the Divine force of silence.
2. The next feature in the guilt of calumny is its uncontrollable character. “The tongue can no man tame.” You cannot arrest a calumnious tongue; you cannot arrest the calumny itself. Neither can you stop the consequences of a slander. It is like the Greek fire used in ancient warfare, which burned unquenched beneath the water; or like the weeds which, when you have extirpated them in one place, are sprouting forth vigorously in another spot.
3. The third element of guilt lies in the unnaturalness of the calumny. “My brethren, these things ought not so to be”; ought not—that is, they are unnatural. The truest definition of evil is that which represents it as something contrary to nature; evil is evil, because it is unnatural. The teaching of Christ was the recall of man to nature. Christianity is the regeneration of our whole nature, not the destruction of one atom of it. The office of the tongue is to bless. Slander is guilty, because it contradicts this.
4. The fourth point of guilt is the diabolical character of slander. The tongue is “set on fire of hell.” This is no mere strong expression; it contains deep and emphatic meaning. Slander is diabolical. “Devil,” in the original, means traducer or slanderer. Beware of that habit which becomes the slanderer’s life, of magnifying every speck of evil and closing the eye to goodness—till at last men arrive at the state in which generous, universal love (which is heaven) becomes impossible, and a suspicious, universal hate takes possession of the heart, and that is hell. Love is the only remedy for slander.—F. W. Robertson.
James 3:6. The Evils of the Tongue.—Amongst the most important of all subjects must be reckoned the government of the tongue. The consideration of it is well calculated to convince the profane, pluck off the mask from the hypocrites, humble the sincere, and to edify every description of persons. In these words we have given us such a description of the tongue, as, if it had proceeded from any other than an inspired writer, would have been deemed a libel upon human nature.
I. The true character of the human tongue.—
1. It is a fire. Fire, in its original formation, was intended for the good of man; if subordinate, it is highly beneficial, but its tendency is to consume and to destroy. So with the tongue. Even the smallest spark is capable of producing such incalculable mischief as may be beyond the power of man to repair. So a single motion of the tongue may irritate and inflame a man, and change him instantly into a savage beast and an incarnate devil.
2. It is a world of iniquity. There is not any sin which does not stand in the nearest connection with the tongue, and employ it in its service. Search the long catalogue of sins against God, against our neighbour, against ourselves, and there will not be found one that has not the tongue as its principal ally.
II. Its effects.—
1. Defiling. Sin in the heart defiles the soul; when uttered by the lips, “it defileth the whole body.” Utterance gives solidity and permanency to that which before existed in idea. Though all communications are not equally polluting, yet there is a stain left, which nothing but the Redeemer’s blood can ever wash away.
2. Destruction. Look at individuals; what malignant passions it has kindled in them! Visit families; what animosities and inextinguishable feuds! Survey churches, nations; it has kindled flames of war, and spread desolation.
III. The reason of its producing these effects.—
1. It is “set on fire of hell.” Satan is the source and author of all the evils that proceed from the tongue. The wickedness of the heart may account for much; but if the flames were not fanned by Satanic agency, they would not rage with such an irresistible force, and to such a boundless extent.
1. How great must be the evils of the human heart. If God should leave us without restraint, there is not one of us but would proclaim all the evil of his heart, as much as the most loathsome sensualist or most daring blasphemer.
2. How much do we need the influences of the Holy Spirit. It is absolutely impossible for man to tame this unruly member. The Holy Spirit will help our infirmities. Christ will give us His Spirit if we call upon Him.
3. How careful should we be of every word we utter. Immense injury may we do by one unguarded word. We may take away a character which we can never restore, or inflict a wound we can never heal. We must account for every idle word. Let our tongue be as choice silver, or a tree of life, to enrich and comfort the Lord’s people. Let our “speech be always with grace seasoned with salt,” for God’s honour and man’s good.—C. Simeon, M.A.
The Sins of the Tongue.
I. Among the many sins of the tongue are idle words. “Avoid foolish talking.” A wise man “sets a watch on the door of his lips” even when he utters a pleasantry.
II. Malicious words are cousins in sin to idle words. Kind words are the oil that lubricates every-day inter-course. There was an ancient male-diction that the tongue of the slanderer should be cut out. A slanderer is a public enemy.
III. A filthy imagination comes out on the tongue.
IV. There is profane swearing. This is the most gratuitous and inexcusable of sins. The man who swears turns speech into a curse, and before his time rehearses the dialect of hell.—Theodore L. Cuyler.
Defiling Power of the Tongue.—There is a great pollution and defilement in sins of the tongue. Defiling passions are kindled, vented, and cherished by this unruly member. And the whole body is often drawn into sin and guilt by the tongue. The snares into which men are sometimes led by the tongue are insufferable to themselves and destructive of others. The affairs of mankind and of societies are often thrown into confusion, and all is set aflame, by the tongues of men. There is no age of the world, nor any condition of life, private or public, but will afford examples of this. Where the tongue is guided and wrought upon by a fire from heaven, there it kindleth good thoughts, holy affections, and ardent devotions. But when it is set on fire of hell, as in all undue heats it is, there it is mischievous, producing rage and hatred, and those things which serve the purposes of the devil. As therefore you would dread fires and flames, you should dread contentions, revilings, slanders, lies, and everything that would kindle the fire of wrath in your own spirit, or in the spirit of others.—Matthew Henry.
James 3:8. The Taming of the Tongue.—Here is a single position, guarded with a double reason. The position is—“No man can tame the tongue.” The reasons:
1. It is unruly.
2. It is full of deadly poison. Each reason hath a terrible second. The evil hath for its second “unruliness”; the poisonfulness hath “deadly.” The fort is so barricaded that it is hard scaling it; the refractory rebel so guarded with evil and poison, so warded with unruly and deadly, as if it were with giants in an enchanted tower, as they fabulate, that no man can tame it.
I. The nature of the thing to be tamed.—The tongue, which is
(1) a member; and
(2) an excellent, necessary, little, and singular member.
II. The difficulty of accomplishing this work of taming.—A threefold instruction for the use of the tongue is insinuated to us.
1. Let us not dare to pull up God’s mounds; nor like wild beasts, break through the circular limits wherein He hath cooped us. “Weigh thy words in a balance, and make a door and bar for thy mouth.” Let thy words be few, true, weighty, that thou mayest not speak much, not falsely, not vainly. Remember the bounds.
2. Since God hath made the tongue one, have not thou a tongue and a tongue. Some are double-tongued, as they are double-hearted. The slanderer, the flatterer, the swearer, the talebearer, are monstrous men; as misshapen stigmatics as if they had two tongues and but one eye, two heads and but one foot.
3. Do not put all strength into the tongue, to the weakening and enervation of the other parts. He that made the tongue can tame the tongue. He that gave man a tongue to speak can give him a tongue to speak well. Let us move our tongue to intreat help for our tongues; and, according to their office, let us set them on work to speak for themselves. We must not be idle ourselves; the difficulty must spur us to more earnest contention. Look how far the heart is good; so far the tongue. If the heart believe, the tongue will confess; if the heart be meek, the tongue will be gentle; if the heart be angry, the tongue will be bitter. The tongue is but the hand without to show how the clock goes within. A vain tongue discovers a vain heart. “The heart of fools is in their mouth; but the mouth of the wise is in their heart.”—Thomas Adams.
James 3:10. The Discipline of the Tongue from the Christian Standpoint.—“My brethren, these things ought not so to be.” The Christian regards his body, and the various relations with men into which his body enables him to come, as the agency and the sphere in which his renewed and regenerated self is to find and exercise its ministry. His idea for himself he gains through a proper apprehension of the human Christ. Christ was a Spirit, but that Spirit could only work through the agency of a human body, and in those spheres which the human body enabled him to occupy. It was therefore essential that Christ should have His body—every part and force of His body—under perfect control, and at perfect command. His experience would not really be like ours if He had that command as a result of something other than self-discipline. The delay of His ministry until He was thirty years old suggests that, even in His case, prolonged self-culture was necessary, in order to gain practical command of all His bodily powers and forces. If we can realise this, and carefully keep away the idea that He had a sinful nature, we shall find ourselves drawn nearer to One, who was “in all points tempted like as we are,” for we shall see that His powers of silence, restrained speech, wise speech, were as truly (on the human side) the results of self-discipline, and self-culture, as the same speech-mastery is in our case. It will then come to us that we have in our Divine-human Lord the model of that control of our tongue, of that mastery of our speech-power, which we recognise as the first Christian demand made on us, and the last to which we succeed in worthily responding. The impossibility of gaining that self command, which so often oppresses us, is relieved when we can see that one man has fully gained it, and that, as a man, He gained it in the same way that we must, by the self-discipline of years, in the inspiration and leading of the indwelling Spirit.
James 3:11-12. The Lesson of the Fountain and the Fig.—These illustrations impress the inconsistency of Christians using their tongues for unworthy ministries. With a clean soul can only go clean uses of the power of speech. The thought is similar to that so abruptly, and almost startlingly, expressed by St. John. The Christian man “cannot sin, because he is born of God.” Sin and the divine life in souls cannot conceivably go together. A fountain pours forth only what is consistent with itself. If its store of water is in any sense impregnated, you cannot expect to draw sweet water from it. If the stores are sweet, you cannot expect to find foul streams pouring forth, and it would be a surprise and an offence if you did. A wild fig tree properly enough bears wild figs; but if the branch is grafted into the good fig, and receives its good life, you properly expect that it will bear only good figs. It should be thus with Christians. What a man’s speech should be is not here considered; what a Christian man’s speech should be is presented to our view. And it must be consistent with himself, the fitting expression of his new life. You do not expect to hear unclean or unloving speech from a Christian professor. You are sure that there is something wrong if you do. This consideration suggests the appeal which St. James would make. The fountain, in the case of the Christian, had long been polluted, and the streams flowing from it had long been foul, so that the very channels and pipes had become impregnated with evil, and defiled even fresh water that flowed through them. In the case of the Christian the fountain-head had been cleansed and sweetened, so that what was ready to flow forth was pure; but there remained the difficulty of the foul channels and pipes. And the work of daily Christian living is the cleansing of the old channels and pipes, so that the cleansed fountain may pour forth the streams that, untainted and wholly sweet, shall flow into all the associations of the life—sweet even flowing from the tongue which had so long been the instrument of evil.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 3
James 3:6. Mischief done by the Slanderous Tongue.—A man who, for a moment’s gossiping gratification, drops an idle word affecting a neighbour’s character, resembles that Scotchman who, from partiality to the flora of his native land, sowed a little thistledown in the British colony where he had raised his tabernacle, and where that nuisance to agriculturists had been unknown up to that time. It grew and flourished; and breezes—like the active wind of talk, that soon propagates a slander—carried the winged seeds hither and thither, to found for their obnoxious species thousands of new homes.—F. W. Robertson.
The Consequences of Slander.—Never can you stop the consequences of a slander. You may publicly prove its falsehood, you may sift every atom, explain and annihilate it, and yet, years after you had thought that all had been disposed of for ever, the mention of a name wakes up associations in the mind of some one who heard the calumny, but never heard or never attended to the refutation, or who has only a vague and confused recollection of the whole, and he asks the question doubtfully, “But were there not some suspicious circumstances connected with him?” It is like the Greek fire used in ancient warfare, which burnt unquenched beneath the water, or like the weeds which when you have extirpated them in one place are sprouting forth vigorously in another spot, at the distance of many hundred yards; or to use the metaphor of St. James himself, it is like the wheel which catches fire as it goes, and burns with a fiercer conflagration as its own speed increases; “it sets on fire the whole course of nature” (lit. “the wheel of nature”). You may tame the wild beast; the conflagration of the American forest will cease when all the timber and all the dry underwood is consumed; but you cannot arrest the progress of that cruel word which you uttered carelessly yesterday or this morning.
Mischief of a Bitter Word.—A bitter word dropped from our lips against a brother is like a pistol fired amongst mountains. The sharp report is caught up and intensified and echoed by rocks and caves, till it emulates the thunder. So a thoughtless, unkind word in passing from mouth to mouth receives progressive exaggerations, and, snowball-like, increases as it rolls. Gossip-mongers are persons who tear the bandages from social wounds, and prevent their healing; they are persons who bring flint and steel, and acid and alkali together, and are justly chargeable with all the fire and ebullition. A whisper-word of slander is like that fox with a firebrand tied to its tail that Samson sent among the standing corn of the Philistines. It brings destruction into wide areas of peace and love. Evil-speaking is like a freezing wind, that seals up the sparkling waters and tender juices of flowers, and binds up the hearts of men in uncharitableness and bitterness of spirit, as the earth is bound up in the grip of winter, when
“The bitter blast of north and east
Makes daggers at the sharpened eaves.”
James 3:6. The “Course of Nature.”—The Greek word translated “course” is derived from a verb signifying “to run,” and according to the way the accent is placed, it is read either a wheel or a course. In the verse the former sense is preferable, as expressing the constant recurrence of similar events in this life; so the old Greek poet (Anacreon) puts it: “Like a chariot-wheel our life rolls on.” And Isidorus writes, “Time like a wheel rolls round upon itself.” But the allusion of James has also been applied to the unceasing succession of men born one after another, as if he had said, “The tongue has been the means of plaguing our ancestors; it still plagues us, and will hereafter plague our descendants.” Plutarch uses the simile, the “stream of nature,” referring to the successive generations of men; and Simplicius speaks of “the unceasing circle of nature, wherein there is a constant production of some things by the decay of others.” The best critics seem to consider that the apostle has mankind in view in this clause of the verse.—Parkhurst.
James 3:8. The Tongue.—“Some men have a tongue as rough as a cat’s, and biting as an adder’s.” “The tongue was intended for an organ of the Divine praise; but the devil often plays upon it, and then it sounds like the screech-owl.” “Let your language be restrained within its proper channels; if a river swells over its bank, it leaves only dirt and filthiness behind.” “The evil-speaker or whisperer is accuser, witness, judge, and executioner of the innocent.” “In the temple at Smyrna there were looking-glasses which represented the best face as crooked and ugly; so is every false tongue.” “It is a fountain both of bitter waters and of pleasant; it sends forth blessing and cursing; it praises God and rails at men; it is sometimes set on fire, and then it puts whole cities in combustion; it is unruly, and no more to be restrained than the breath of the tempest; it is volatile and fugitive; reason should go before it, and when it does not repentance comes after it.” “There are some persons so full of nothings, that, like the strait sea of Pontus, they perpetually empty themselves by their mouths, making every company or single person they fasten on to be their Propontis.” “The talking man makes himself artificially deaf, being like a man in the steeple when the bells ring.” “Great knowledge, if it be without vanity, is the most severe bridle of the tongue. For so have I heard that all the noises and pratings of the pool, the croaking of frogs and toads, is hushed and appeased upon the instant of bringing upon them the light of a candle or torch. Every beam of reason and ray of knowledge checks the dissolutions of the tongue.” When it breaks out in trivialities and vanities, these “are like flies and gnats upon the margin of a pool; they do not sting like an asp or bite deep as a bear, yet they can vex a man into a fever of impatience, and make him incapable of rest and counsel.”
James 3:10. Eastern Swearing and Offensive Language.—Oaths may be classified as of two kinds—in one the name of God is used, in the other that of some other object; in both cases for the same purpose. Though it is common for people in the East at the present day to use the name of God in their oaths, yet they more frequently swear by something else—as by some person or themselves, or some part of themselves, as the head or hand, or by some animal or inanimate thing. Nothing is more common than the use of such oaths. They not only employ them to confirm what they say, but to add, as it seems, strength to their expressions. (See Matthew 26:74.) But beyond this they employ them with no purpose whatever—even the most solemn forms—in speaking to their animals, or in soliloquising, until, to those who can understand the language they speak, nothing is more wearisome or painful. They use them in all companies, and on all occasions—both men and women, old and young. There seems to be among them an utter perversion of conscience as to the moral intent or obligation of an oath. Aside from the positive sin of thus employing an oath, this deadness of conscience is the worst feature, as it is one of the worst results of this thoughtlessly sinful practice. Surely the command of the Saviour to “swear not at all” has unusual pertinence and force in the presence of a custom at once so common and wicked. Again, the use of obscene and offensively bad language has a development among the Orientals wholly unknown to us. This also pervades all classes in the community, and is employed by both sexes. I was informed by persons long resident in the East that the use of obscene, vile language passes any ordinary conception among any cooler-blooded Western people. I am sure I have never heard such torrents of verbal abuse anywhere else as in some parts of Egypt or Turkey or Palestine. We were pursued with the vilest epithets, for example, at Hebron, or in the streets of Shechem, or of Endor, or in some of the villages in Bashan, east of the Jordan. In speaking to each other, especially when angry, they not only heap abuse on one another, but on every member of their respective families—wife, children, father, mother, living or dead, present, past, and to come; and beyond this on their religion, in terms often so aggravatingly bad as that even a dragoman will refuse to repeat it. It is in reference to this almost universal practice the Saviour speaks when He says: “Whosoever shall say to his brother Raca, shall be in danger of the council; but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire” (Matthew 5:22).
James 3:12. Grafting the Olive on the Fig Tree.—The metaphor here used is one which the Roman gardeners, who were fond of horticultural paradoxes, endeavoured to realise, and, according to an old naturalist, Columella was the first who attempted to unite by inoculation or inarching trees of so opposite a character as the fig and olive. The subjoined statement by Pliny is interesting as bearing upon this subject: “After that the fig tree hath gotten some strength, and is grown to a sufficient highness to bear a graft, the branch or bough of the olive being well cleansed and made neat, and the head end thereof thwited (sio) and shaped sharp, howbeit not yet cut from the mother stock, must be set fast in the shank of the fig tree, where it must be kept well and surely tied with bands. For the space of three years it is suffered to grow indifferently between two mothers, or rather, by the means thereof two mother stocks are grown and united together; but in the fourth year it is cut wholly from the own mother, and is become altogether an adopted child to the fig tree wherein it is incorporate. A pretty device, I assure you, to make a fig tree bear olives, the secret whereof is not known to every man” (Pliny, lib. xvii., cap. 19).—W. R. C.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
James 3:13. Good conversation.—Or, his “good life”; “good conduct.” The usual New Testament idea of “conversation.”
James 3:14. Strife.—Prefer “rivalry.”
James 3:15. Sensual.—Or, “animal.”
James 3:17. Gentle.—Lit. “forbearing.” Intreated.—Persuaded. Partiality.—Chap. James 2:4; R.V. “variance”; without doubtfulness, vacillation, which leads to wrangling.
James 3:18. Sown in peace.—So as to consist in peace. “Every good deed is a fruit produced by the good seed sown in good soil; and every such deed is in its turn the seed of a future fruit like in kind.” “True wisdom will go on to sow the fruits of righteousness in peace, and thus, if it may be, to make peace in the world. And that which is sown in peace will produce a harvest of joys. Let others reap the fruits of contentions, and all the advantages they can propose to themselves by them; but let us go on peaceably to sow the seeds of righteousness, and we may depend upon it our labour will not be lost” (Matthew Henry).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—James 3:13-18
Practical Wisdom seen in the Spirit of a Life.—Two things need to be kept in mind if the point of teaching in this passage is to be apprehended.
1. St. James began his epistle by dwelling on the importance of wisdom. He meant that sort of practical wisdom for the ordering and guiding of life and relations which comes to a man through
(1) waiting upon God in believing prayer, and
(2) through sanctified personal observations and experiences.
2. St. James recognises that these would-be teachers, who set up for themselves in the Jewish Christian Churches, claimed a superiority of wisdom and knowledge, and based their claim to teach on this claim to superior wisdom. The claim was founded on self-assurance; there was no characteristic Christian humility in it. And self-assertive work was doing the practical mischief in the Churches which it always does. It could be known by the bad fruits that it was bringing forth. There is something very like satire in the contrast between the false wisdom and the true in this passage. The man truly wise never is found pushing himself into the place of teacher—he has to be found out; and he will be known by the character of his ordinary conversation, and by the skill with which he orders all his conduct, and tones all his relationships.
I. What will indicate the wise man?—How may we recognise him? What tests shall we apply to him? Here is a man who claims to be wise for the practical management of life, and possessed with altogether superior intellectual knowledge. How shall we satisfy ourselves concerning his claim?
1. It is a ground of suspicion if he pushes himself forward as a teacher. True wisdom always has humility for its companion. The man who thinks himself to be something, generally is nothing. Men find out the true teachers; very seldom do they find themselves out. The true teacher teaches because he cannot help it, and often does not know that he can teach. The man who pushes himself into the teaching-place will usually be found more interested in self-aggrandisement than in teaching.
2. It is suspicious if the supposed wise man is more anxious about putting other people’s lives straight than about putting his own. Let a man be really wise, and the responsibility of the trust of his own life is sure to weigh heavily upon him; and he will be anxious about his own “conversation,” his own turning about in the relations of life, his own good conduct. Let a man assume wisdom for self-seeking ends, and he will usually be found indifferent to his own conduct and relations; attention to these things will in no way serve his purpose.
3. It is more than suspicious if there is to be seen no sign of “meekness.” Meekness, in the Scriptures, is not precisely the same thing as “humility.” It is the opposite of “self-assertiveness.” The meek man never pushes himself to the front. He trusts to value, not to show; to what he is, not to what he can make himself out to be. But precisely what these would-be teachers in the Churches, whom St. James reproves, lacked, was this meekness in their so-called wisdom. From this James 3:13 the importance of personal character and holy example in all Christian teachers may be earnestly presented. Holy living must ensure confidence in him who teaches, and wing the arrows of his good words.
II. What will indicate the unwise man?—The results of his personal influence and of his teaching. His pushing will create envying. The places into which he gets other people will be sure to think that they ought to have. Hence will come strife, contentions, disputes, rivalries, schemes for injuring one another, and every evil work. James and John wanted to push into the chief places in the coming kingdom, and they upset the kindly relations of the apostolic company, introducing envying and strife. And that which is true of the unwise man’s personal influence will also be true of his teaching. It will upset the kindly relations of the people. It will be inconsiderate. It will be peculiar. It will exaggerate the teacher’s own ideas. It will fail to keep the harmony and proportion of Christian truth; and so it will cause heart-burnings, jealousies, envyings, hatred, strife. It is the secret of sectarianism. One is for Paul, and separates himself to Paul. One is for Apollos, and separates himself to Apollos. One is for Cephas, and separates himself to Cephas. And so sectarianism creeps in, and in Christ’s Church there is confusion and every evil work.
III. What will indicate the Christianly wise man? (James 3:17).—This verse seems distinctly to lift us into a higher plane. St. James appears now to be thinking of the true Christian teacher, in whom is both the spirit and the wisdom of the “great Teacher”; the man who is not inspired to teach by a self-seeking, self-satisfied, and self-reliant spirit, but by the wisdom and the grace that come down from above; the man who is wise through the gifts and teachings of the Holy Spirit; the man who is an “epistle of Christ.” St. James does not describe the true Christian teacher; he says that you can always know him by the tone which is on all the results of his personal influence and Christian work. The terms he uses express two things: righteousness, peaceableness. The Christian teacher stands firm to that which is right, just, pure. He shows no partiality, favours no one to serve his own end, is “without hypocrisy”; he always is what he seems to be, and so can be fully trusted. And he is peaceable; never makes difficulties, always smoothes them; is accessible to all, pitiful to the erring, gentle to the weak, and inventive in forms of service to others. The atmosphere in which alone the Christian can work is the atmosphere of peace. Spiritual life can never be cultured by any Christian teaching where self-assertive men are creating envying and strife, confusion and every evil work. Three go together—wisdom, humility, and peaceableness.
IV. What will be the moral power of the Christianly wise man? (James 3:18).—He who makes peace wherever he goes, sows peace; and when the seeds of peace come to their fruitage, that fruitage is found to be “righteousness.” And that is the supreme end of Christ’s work; and the supreme end of all the work which Christ’s servants do for Him. Heaven is come when of humanity it can be said, “The people are all righteous.” Out of the seeds of the wise Christian teaching, that makes for peace, that universal righteousness alone can come.
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
James 3:12. Wisdom seen in Wise Speech.—“Let him show out of a good conversation his works.” While it may be admitted that St. James uses the term “conversation” in the general sense of “conduct,” it may also be recognised that he had in mind the sins of the tongue, and the mischievous talking and teaching of those who pushed themselves into places of authority in the Christian Churches. We may therefore take St. James to suggest that a man can always be known by his talk. Illustrate from different kinds of men: the unclean-minded man; the vain man; the hypocrite; the shallow-minded man; the foreigner; the learned man; the humorous man; the depressed man; etc. The same must be true of the Christian man.
1. What should be the characteristic conversation of a Christian man?
2. How can he secure that the right character shall always rest upon his conversation? To answer with St. James we may say—It depends upon his keeping the “meekness of wisdom.” Several shades of meaning attach to the term “meekness,” and in each of them we may notice a close connection with wisdom, that is, with the practical wisdom which enables a man to order his life aright, gaining a restraint over himself, and over his circumstances, which is at once represented and illustrated by the control he gains over his speech. 1. Meekness may mean humility, the spirit of the man who has come to estimate himself aright. But that right estimate is the work of wisdom, which guides judgment and presents the Divine standard. A man is never humble until he is wise enough to look at himself in the light of God and God’s claims.
2. Meekness may mean modesty, the spirit that does not push, that will not assert itself. And this never comes to a man save out of the practical wisdom that reads life aright, and knows that in the long-run God always proves to be on the side of the man who is good, not on the side of the man who asserts that he is.
3. Meekness may mean receptiveness, the disposition which keeps a man open to ever fresh supplies of Divine grace and strength. And only practical wisdom brings home to a man that sense of insufficiency which prepares him to receive ever fresh Divine help.
James 3:14-16. The Secret Source of Strife.—Self is pushing to the front somewhere. That will always be found the source of strife in families, churches, society, nations. Somebody wants something for himself. His getting it is against the interests of others. Nevertheless, he is determined to get it.
James 3:15. A Threefold Description of False Wisdom: “Earthly, Sensual [Animal], Devilish [Demoniacal].”—Each word is full of meaning.
1. The counterfeit wisdom is “earthly” in its nature and origin, as contrasted with that which cometh from above (Philippians 3:19).
2. It is “sensual.” The word is used by classical writers for that which belongs to the “soul,” as contrasted with the “body.” This rested on the twofold division of man’s nature. The psychology of the New Testament, however, assumes generally the threefold division of body, soul, and spirit, the second element answering to the animal, emotional life, and the third being that which includes reason and will, the capacity for immortality and for knowing God. Hence the adjective formed from “soul” acquired a lower meaning, almost the very opposite of that which it once had, and expresses man’s state as left to lower impulses without the control of the spirit. What St. James says of the false wisdom is, that it belongs to the lower, not the higher, element in man’s nature. It does not come from the Spirit of God, and therefore is not spiritual.
3. In “devilish” we have a yet darker condemnation. Our English use of the same word “devil,” for two Greek words, διάβολος and δαιμόνιον, tends, however, to obscure St. James’s meaning. The epithet does not state that the false wisdom which he condemns came from the devil, or was like his nature, but that it was demon-like, as partaking of the nature of “demons” or “unclean spirits,” who, as in the gospels, are represented as possessing the souls of men and reducing them to the level of madness. Such, St. James says, is the character of the spurious wisdom of the “many masters” of James 3:1. Met together in debate, wrangling, cursing, swearing, one would take them for an assembly of demoniacs. Their disputes were marked by the ferocity, the egotism, the boasting, the malignant cunning of the insane.—Dean Plumptre.
James 3:17. Practical Christian Wisdom.—If a man has it, no doubt it will find its first sphere in the management of his own body, mind, temper, passions, etc. But it will be sure also to find its sphere in the relationships and associations of life. It will direct all his dealings with others, and give them a peculiarly gracious character. What will be the leading features of that character? Will they, as St. James gives them, go into the word “sensitiveness” (not touchiness, nor the mere weakness of a nervous disposition)?—sensitive to the clean, to the very beginnings of strife, to the needs of others, to insincerity, to everything unsympathetic, and to a proper response, in good fruits, to the grace of which the Christian feels himself to be the monument. “Confound not wisdom with erudition. They may be connected, and should accompany one another; but they are not always so, and perhaps only in a few instances. Confound not wisdom with a sullen, morose character, with a gravity frightful to all mirth and pleasure, with a life consisting entirely in rigid abstinence and perpetual mortification. Confound not wisdom with singularity in the bad sense of the term, according to which it is an endeavour to attract notice, and to distinguish oneself from others, not so much in important and essential matters, as in insignificant trifles relative to externals. Confound not wisdom with understanding and sagacity. They come, indeed, the nearest to it, are more or less implied in it, and belong in some measure to it; however, they are not wisdom itself.”—Zollikofer.
James 3:18. Righteousness and Peace always go together.—“The work of righteousness shall be peace, and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever.” “Righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” “Then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea.” Righteousness always works towards peace. Peace provides a seed-bed in which righteousness can be sown. Find either one of these anywhere, and you will find the other close by. If everybody simply wanted the right, and worked for the right, there could be no wars of nations, no contentions of society, no ruptures in families. The absolute right may sometimes seem to be unattainable; but the Christian right is always within our reach, and that is the interest of my brother and my neighbour rather than my own. In the triumph of the Christian right comes the world’s eternal peace.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 3
James 3:13. The Power of Temptation lessens as Life advances.—The precious sago-palm, when young and tender, is covered with strong sharp thorns, which effectually guard it from injury by wild animals. As soon, however, as the tree, shooting on high, grows strong, and is no longer a tempting morsel to wild hogs and other animals, the thorns fall off. It is very often thus with young Christians. They frequently display an asperity and sharpness in their treatment of the ungodly that answers something in their case to the thorns of the sago-palm. There is a use in this. They are inexperienced in the Christian life, and especially are liable by reason of their youth to be snared and enticed by the world’s blandishments. This very roughness and angularity is a great preservative in erecting around them, as it were, a bristling fence, and cutting them off from contact with dangerous foes. But as faith and love grow, as experience is gained, and they become established in grace, their life, though not a whit less faithful, becomes less severe and forbidding. The power of many temptations which especially beset the young as the pilgrim’s path is further pursued becomes necessarily lessened with the lessening heat of the calmer pulse of age. The head that once may have been turned by pride with advancing years has been tutored to “wise meekness” by long and invaluable discipline. Now that they are not in so much danger from the world as formerly the thorns fall off. There is a similar train of thought to be met with in the poet Southey’s verses on the “Holly.” This tree somewhat resembles the sago-palm in that its lower leaves only are armed with thorns, while those which rise out of reach are quite smooth. Unlike our palm, however, these thorns on the leaves near the ground never fall off with age, but continue to the last.—James Neil, M.A.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on James 3". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29