|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
3:1-12 We are taught to dread an unruly tongue, as one of the greatest evils. The affairs of mankind are thrown into confusion by the tongues of men. Every age of the world, and every condition of life, private or public, affords examples of this. Hell has more to do in promoting the fire of the tongue than men generally think; and whenever men's tongues are employed in sinful ways, they are set on fire of hell. No man can tame the tongue without Divine grace and assistance. The apostle does not represent it as impossible, but as extremely difficult. Other sins decay with age, this many times gets worse; we grow more froward and fretful, as natural strength decays, and the days come on in which we have no pleasure. When other sins are tamed and subdued by the infirmities of age, the spirit often grows more tart, nature being drawn down to the dregs, and the words used become more passionate. That man's tongue confutes itself, which at one time pretends to adore the perfections of God, and to refer all things to him; and at another time condemns even good men, if they do not use the same words and expressions. True religion will not admit of contradictions: how many sins would be prevented, if men would always be consistent! Pious and edifying language is the genuine produce of a sanctified heart; and none who understand Christianity, expect to hear curses, lies, boastings, and revilings from a true believer's mouth, any more than they look for the fruit of one tree from another. But facts prove that more professors succeed in bridling their senses and appetites, than in duly restraining their tongues. Then, depending on Divine grace, let us take heed to bless and curse not; and let us aim to be consistent in our words and actions.
Verses 11, 12. - Illustrations showing the absurdity of the conduct reprobated. From one principle opposite things cannot be produced. Nothing can bring forth that which is not corresponding to its nature.
(1) The same fountain cannot give both sweet and bitter water.
(2) A fig tree cannot yield olives, nor a vine figs.
(3) Salt water cannot yield sweet.
How, then, can the tongue yield both blessing and cursing? It will be seen that the thought in (2) is different from that in Matthew 7:16, to which it bears a superficial resemblance. There the thought is that a good tree cannot yield bad fruit. Here it is that a tree must yield that which corresponds to its nature; a fig tree must yield figs and not olives, etc. So can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh. The Received Text, which the A.V. follows, is wrong here. Read, οὔτε ἀλυκόν γλυκὺ ποιῆσαι ὕδωρ (A, B, C, and א, except that it reads οὐδέ), and translate, neither can salt water yield sweet; Vulgate, sic neque salsa dulcem potest facere aquam; Syriac, "Thus also salt waters cannot be made sweet." The construction, it will be seen, is suddenly changed in the middle of the verse, and St. James ends as if the previous clause had been οὔτε δύναται συκῆ ἐλαίας, κ.τ.λ. (cf. Winer, p. 619, Grimm's 'Lexicon of N. T. Greek,' p. 324).
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
Doth a fountain send forth at the same place,.... "Or hole"; for at divers places, and at different times, as Pliny (m) observes, it may send forth
sweet water and bitter: and it is reported (n), there is a lake with the Trogloditae, a people in Ethiopia, which becomes thrice a day bitter, and then as often sweet; but then it does not yield sweet water and bitter at the same time: this simile is used to show how unnatural it is that blessing and cursing should proceed out of the same mouth.
(m) Nat. Hist. l. 2. c. 103. (n) Isodor. Hispal. Originum, l. 13. c. 13. p. 115.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
11. fountain—an image of the heart: as the aperture (so the Greek for "place" is literally) of the fountain is an image of man's mouth. The image here is appropriate to the scene of the Epistle, Palestine, wherein salt and bitter springs are found. Though "sweet" springs are sometimes found near, yet "sweet and bitter" (water) do not flow "at the same place" (aperture). Grace can make the same mouth that "sent forth the bitter" once, send forth the sweet for the time to come: as the wood (typical of Christ's cross) changed Marah's bitter water into sweet.
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