James 3
Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.
Jam 3:2

She gossiped, like all the rest of Old Chester; but by some mysterious method, Susan Carr's gossip gave the listener a gentler feeling towards his kind. When she spoke of her neighbour's faults, one knew that somehow they were simply virtues gone to seed; and what was more remarkable, her praise had no sting of insinuation in it, no suggestion that she could speak differently if she chose.

—Margaret Deland, Philip and His Wife, p. 44.

References.—III. 2.—J. Keble, Sermons for Christmas and Epiphany, p. 483. III. 4.—T. F. Crosse, Sermons, p. 226. S. Gregory, How to Steer a Ship, p. 1. H. Bushnell, Christ and His Salvation, p. 140. III. 4-15.—T. Spurgeon, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlix. p. 344.

Jam 3:5

These fires are one of the saddest features of the mountain districts. The ravages of the past are visible in almost every valley; and every year fresh areas of living green we being swept by the pitiless flames and left a melancholy wilderness. The ease with which a forest fire is started is astounding, and only rivalled by the rapidity of its progress, when once it gains a hold upon the trees, and by the extent of the destruction ere the blaze is quenched. A single lighted match thrown carelessly upon the ground, a shower of sparks from a passing locomotive, a camp-fire insufficiently extinguished, may be the origin. And from this tiny cause, 'how great a matter a little fire kindleth'.

—James Outram, In the Heart of the Canadian Rockies, p. 147.

These fires are one of the great dangers of California. I have seen from Monterey as many as three at the same time, by day a cloud of smoke, by night a red coal of conflagration in the distance. A little thing will start them, and, if the wind be favourable, they gallop over miles of country faster than a horse.

—R. L. Stevenson, in The Old Pacific Capital.

References.—III. 5.—O. Bronson, Sermons, p. 229. III. 5, 6.—J. J. Blunt, Plain Sermons, p. 123.

Jam 3:6

An Apostle speaks of the tongue both as a blessing and as a curse. It may be the beginning of a fire, he says, a 'universitas iniquitatis,' and, alas! such did it become in the mouth of gifted Abelard. His eloquence was wonderful; he dazzled his contemporaries, says Fulco, 'by the brilliancy of his genius, the sweetness of his eloquence; the ready flow of his language, and the subtlety of his knowledge'. People came to him from all quarters;—from Rome, in spite of mountains and robbers; from England, in spite of the sea; from Flanders and Germany; from Normandy, and the remote districts of France; from Angers and Poitiers; from Navarre by the Pyrenees, and from Spain, besides the students of Paris itself; and among those who sought his instructions now or afterwards, were the great luminaries of the schools in the next generation.... It was too much for a weak head and heart, weak in spite of intellectual power; for vanity will possess the head, and worldliness the heart, of the man, however gifted, whose wisdom is not an effluence of the Eternal Light.

—Newman, University Sketches (ch. XVI.).

Jam 3:6

In the eighth pit of punishment, within the Eighth Circle of the Inferno, Dante describes the doom of evil counsellors in imagery drawn from this verse. Each is swathed in a fiery tongue, which burns them with agonising fury just as their tongues on earth set on fire the world.

Jam 3:6

Knowledge, the discipline by which it is gained, and the tasks which it forms, have a natural tendency to refine the mind, and to give it an indisposition, simply natural, yet real, nay, more than this, a disgust and abhorrence, towards excesses and enormities of evil... a simple hatred of that miserable tone of conversation which, obtaining as it does in the world, is a constant fuel of evil, heaped up round about the soul.

—Newman, The Idea of a University, p. 187.

The chief end I purpose to myself in all my labours is to vex the world rather than to divert it.

—Swift (in a letter to Pope).

'All sins,' said St. Francis de Sales, 'come under the head of thought, word, and deed; and faults in word are the most common and often the most dangerous for several reasons. First, because sins of thought only injure oneself, and give no scandal or bad example to others; God alone sees and is displeased with them, and moreover a loving repentance and ready turning to Him blots them out; whereas sins of the tongue go further, the evil word once uttered can only be recalled by a humble retractation, and even thus a brother's heart may have been poisoned by it. Again, notorious acts of sin are liable to public punishment; but evil speaking, unless it is exceptionally gross and slanderous, is subject to no check. Thirdly, sins of the tongue are specially dangerous because people do so little in the way of restitution or reparation for them.'

Jam 3:7

Our learned Dr. Hakewill, in his Apology of God's Power and Providence, quotes Pliny to report that one of the emperors had particular fish ponds, and, in them, several fish that appeared and came when they were called by their particular names. And St. James tells us, that all things in the sea have been tamed by mankind. And Pliny tells us, that Antonia, the wife of Drusus, had a lamprey at whose gills she hung jewels or ear-rings.

—Izaak Walton, The Complete Angler (The Fourth Day).

Reference.—III. 7-12.—R. W. Dale, The Epistle of James, p. 96.

Jam 3:8

Our intercourse with others renders itself mainly into government of the tongue. I do not know which of these two things is the most astonishing, the unexpected importance of the place assigned to this duty in Holy Scripture, or the utter unconcern which even good men often feel about it. For the most part we have gone far along our road in devotion and done ourselves many an irreparable mischief, before we bestow half the carefulness on the government of our tongue, which it not only deserves but imperiously requires.

—F. W. Faber, Growth in Holiness, pp. 91, 92.

A very great part of the mischiefs that vex the world arise from words. People soon forget the meaning, but the impression and the passion remain.


'Most people,' says Plutarch (Life of Timoleon, XXXII.), 'seem to feel hard words more than hard deeds, and are more upset by insults than by actual injuries. What we do to an enemy in war is done from necessity, but the evil we say of him seems to arise from an excess of spite.'

In a letter to his son Philip, Sir Henry Sidney warns him that 'a wound given by a word is oftentimes harder to be cured than that which is given with the sword. Be rather a hearer and bearer away of other men's talk than a beginner and procurer of speech.... Think upon every word before you utter it, and remember how nature hath ramparted up, as it were, the tongue with teeth, lips, yea, and hair without the lips, and all betokening reins or bridles for the loose use of that member.'

The Ruin of a Masterpiece (a Temperance Sermon)

Jam 3:9

St. James is speaking here in his searching, practical way about the use of the tongue and the sins of the tongue. He reminds us that it is possible for the same tongue to speak or sing the praises of God, and to say bitter or cruel things against men. The wrongness of saying these things about men, he says, lies in this: that man is so sacred, and has so much in his nature of affinity to God, that to curse man is to curse a being made after the similitude of God. To speak harsh and bitter and loveless things about man is thus an offence against what is great and holy in the estimation of his Maker.

I. St. James reminds us that bad words against men—words that can hurt and injure and assault men—are bad because man is so great, because his nature is so sacred. Does not that work out all round the circle of our duty to human nature and to ourselves? This drink curse—what does it invade? What does it deteriorate? What does it drag down lower than the dust? What does it ruin and wreck? Not the beasts that perish, but men that are after the similitude of God. The injury is an injury upon what its Author designed to be a masterpiece of His perfect and Divine skill. The nature of the most miserable victim of drink was made after the similitude of God. The greater the thing wrecked, the more awful, the more pathetic, the more deplorable, the more tremendous is the wreck. If a cottage falls down by the sinking of a coal-pit under it, it is a great pity; but suppose the earth should heave and Westminster Abbey go down; that would be terrific, and the greatness of the Temple alone could measure the boundless greatness of the evil of the ruin. Man was designed by the Architect of all to be the shadow and the image of His own nature, with a will which is the true centre of causation, the shadow of the will of God, with a reason which can respond to the thought of the Divine mind, with a love which makes him most akin to the Divine nature. That is a temple, and shall that temple be wrecked and ruined, infinitely debased and bemired by a vice which plants itself on the border-line between the body and the spirit, between the physical and the psychical, and lays its horrible hands upon both, wrecking the physique and making the spiritual nature worse than ruined—an antagonism to its Lord? It is this greatness and significance of man that makes the greatness of his fall and the greatness of his sin and the greatness of the peril to his soul, and the greatness of the call for all who would be on the side of good against evil, right against wrong, heaven against hell.

II. Have none of you appeals very near at hand? Such is the curse of drink in England that there are not many homes which have not some one or other of their kinship more or less a victim to this abominable peril and curse and temptation. I believe I must be speaking to hundreds in this congregation who, if it were the right thing to do, could say, Yes, I have a relative; I have a friend who has fallen or is falling a victim to it—perhaps one with a fine intellect, a delicate imagination, and noble powers for usefulness; perhaps, on the other hand, one who began life all unsuspecting and unwarned, and now finds the temptation has coiled like a serpent round the life, stifling every hope of better things. Be it so or be it not so with any one of you, you know the public facts. You know what is meant all over this city by the countless centres of temptation that flare their light across the street, that invite the tired and the disgusted and the down-trodden within their doors, and send them out again a step lower down the slope that leads to the final wreck. And these are the men and the women who were made after the similitude of God!

III. There is one last thought The greatness of man made the greatness of his fall, and the greatness of his fall called down the greatness of His Redeemer and his Redeemer's work. It was because God had made us to be so like Himself, and man made such a ruin of the work, that the Eternal Son of the Father for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven. His delights were with the sons of men; His mighty compassions overflowed upon the sons of men as they had made themselves, whom God had made to be so great. Behold the greatness of Christ, and the greatness of His claim that we should take our place upon His side. But forget not that this all-mighty Christ, the Lord, is in the field against the evil.

—Bishop Handley Moule, Christian World Pulpit, vol. LXXVI. p. 361.

Jam 3:9

In Rob Roy (pt. i. ch. XIII.) Andrew Fairservice remarks: 'I have heard wives flyte in England and Scotland—it's nae marvel to hear them flyte ony gate—but sic ill-scrapit tongues as thae Hieland carlines'—and sic grewsome wishes, that men should be slaughtered like sheep—and that they may lapper their hands to the elbows in their heart's blude—sic awsome language as that I never heard oot o' a human thrapple;—and, unless the deil wad rise among them to gie them a lesson, I thinkna that this talent at cursing could be amended.'

We are told that, at the breaking up of the Council of Trent, the legate pronounced the words 'Anathema to all heretics,' and then the whole assembly rose, and the hall re-echoed from every lip, 'Anathema! Anathema!' It was well suggested by an American bishop of our own day, that if the Angel of Peace could have appeared at that moment, and whispered in the ears of the infuriated Romanists the Scriptural warning, 'Bless and curse not,' there might have been a flush of shame on every cheek.

—F. W. Robertson, Essays and Addresses, p. 248.

Reference.—III. 9.—Expositor (4th Series), vol. iii. p. 140.

Jam 3:10

I have several times seen the stiletto and the rosary come out of the same pocket.


Ruskin, in the fiftieth number of Fora Clavigera, quotes the following from a correspondent's letter: 'Could you but hear the blasphemous and filthy language our rosy village bairns use as soon as they are out of the parson's earshot, even when leaving the Sabbath School!... I know that the children are well taught six days a week, yet there is little fruit of good behaviour among them, and an indecency of speech which is amazing in rural children. On Christmas morn a party of these children, boys and girls, singing carols, encountered my young daughter going alone to the church service. The opportunity was tempting, and as if moved by one vile spirit, they screamed at her a blast of the most obscene and profane epithets that vicious malice could devise. She knew none of them; had never harmed them in her life. She came home with her kind, tender heart all aghast 'Why do they hate me so?' she asked. Yet a short time after the same children came into the yard, and began with the full shrill powers of their young lungs:—

Why do I love Jesus!

the refrain

Because He died for me,

with especial gusto.'

A grandson of the late Rev. Dr. Primrose (of Wakefield, vicar), wrote me a little note from his country living this morning, and the kind fellow had the precaution to write 'No thorn' upon the envelope, so that ere I broke the seal, my mind might be relieved of any anxiety lest the letter should contain one of those lurking stabs which are so painful to the present gentle writer.

—Thackeray, Roundabout Papers.

The printed word is a tongue—a tongue that reaches very far; and for this reason all that is said of the tongue relates also to the printed word: 'Therewith bless we God, and therewith curse we men, made after the likeness of God?'

—Tolstoi (to Peter Verigin).

Thomas Boston remarks that he was 'particularly surprised with "one thing at Ettrick," viz., the prevalency of the sin of profane swearing; and was amazed to find blessing and cursing proceeding out of the same mouth; praying persons, and praying in their families too, horrid swearers at times; so that by the month of November I behoved to set myself to preach directly against that sin.'

References.—III. 10.—J. M. Neale, Readings for the Aged (3rd Series), p. 1; ibid. Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. i. p. 11.

Jam 3:13

Erskine of Linlathen, in 1832, wrote to M. Gaussen: 'My dear Brother, although I have had much enjoyment in meeting you once more in this world, yet I have also suffered much, chiefly because I am sensible that in witnessing for God's truth to you, I often sinned against the law of love and meekness and patience'. This apology was drawn out by the writer's memory of many keen theological discussions between himself and his friend during the latter's visit to Scotland.

Jam 3:14

'I remember Miss Bronte once telling me,' writes Mrs. Gaskell, 'that it was a saying round about Haworth, "Keep a stone in thy pocket seven year; turn it and keep it seven year longer, that it may be ever ready to thine hand when thine enemy draws near".'

By religion we live in God: all these quarrels lead to nothing but life with men or with cassocks.


'Talking of Goldsmith, Johnson said, he was very envious. I defended him,' says Boswell,' by observing that he owned it frankly upon all occasions. Johnson: "Sir, you are enforcing the charge. He had so much envy that he could not conceal it. He was so full of it that he overflowed. He talked of it, to be sure, often enough. Now, sir, what a man avows, he is not ashamed to think; though many a man thinks what he is ashamed to avow. We are all envious naturally; but by checking envy, we get the better of it!"'

Reference.—III. 13-18.—R. W. Dale, The Epistle of James, p. 107.

Jam 3:15

'Sterne,' wrote Dr. William Robertson, of Irvine, 'Sterne is a blackguard, morally speaking; a pleasant enough sort of person in other respects. His Sentimental Journey must, with all its wickedness, have impressed me much, for although I have not read it, I am sure for a good many years its successive stages and incidents are about as familiar as those of our own tour along the Rhine. That monk, that imaginary prisoner, that dead ass, that melancholy girl, Marie, I think, that grace before meat, I am sure I shall never forget them in the world. I wish I may be able to forget them in the next, for there's a dash of the "earthly, sensual, and devilish" in them, that makes them unsuitable companions for a better world.' Reference.—III. 15.— Expositor (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 43.

Jam 3:16

One thing is certain in our Northern land,

Allow that birth or valour, wealth or art,

Give each precedence to their possessor,

Envy, that follows on such eminence,

As came the lyme-hound on the roebuck's track,

Shall pull them down, each one.

Sir David Lyndsay.

Speaking of Oxford in the eighteenth century, Mr. Cotter Morison (Gibbon, p. 6) observes: 'The strange thing is that, with all their neglect of learning and morality, the colleges were not the resort of jovial if unseemly boon companionship; they were collections of quarrelsome and spiteful litigants, who spent their time in angry law-suits. The indecent contentions between Bentley and the Fellows of Trinity were no isolated scandal.'

'In former days,' wrote Vinet during the religious squabbles at Basle, 'God seemed to be an intimate personal friend. Today, controversial theology has come to separate us from Him.'

He is a wonderful man that can thread a needle when he is at cudgels in a crowd; and yet this is as easy as to find Truth in the hurry of disputation.

—Joseph Glanvill.

The people of Alexandria, a various mixture of nations, united the vanity and inconsistency of the Greeks with the superstition and obstinacy of the Egyptians. The most trifling occasion, a transient scarcity of flesh or lentils, the neglect of an accustomed salutation, a mistake of precedency in the public baths, or even a religious dispute, were at any time sufficient to kindle a sedition among that vast multitude, whose resentment was furious and implacable.

—Gibbon, Decline and Fall (ch. x.).

Mr. Badman's envy was so rank and strong, that if it at any time turned its head against a man, it would hardly ever be pulled in again. He would watch over that man to do him mischief, as the cat watches over the mouse to destroy it; yea, he would wait seven years, but he would have an opportunity to hurt him, and when he had it, he would make him feel the weight of his envy.


To hate indistinctly is soothing, and suffices for some time; but in the end there must be an object Hate without object is like shooting without a mark. What makes the sport interesting is a heart to pierce. There must be a man, a woman—some one to ruin.

—Victor Hugo.

References.—III. 16.—W. R. Inge, All Saints' Sermons, p. 40. F. B. Cowl, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xviii. p. 190.

Jam 3:17

In describing the anointing (5:14) of the Regent, Mary of Guise, Mr. Andrew Lang (History of Scotland, II. 67) remarks that 'the Apostle least loved of Knox, St James, was her warrant The same author writes: "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". Little, indeed, of this wisdom prevailed in either party at this period. In the Regent at her death we see this spirit, and almost in her alone. "She embraced, and with a smiling countenance kissed the nobles, one by one, and to those of inferior rank who stood by she gave her hand to kiss, as a token of her kindness and dying charity."'

In a letter from Cambridge written during 1885, Dr. Mandell Creighton points out to a younger friend: 'We should all of us try to feel something of the Divine love towards man, in spite of his weaknesses. "Men my brothers" should be a thought constantly before us. I freely admit that what is called "society" is a sore trial to one's charity. The failings of the natural man are not so revolting as the meannesses of the cultivated and pretentious world. The empty head and the cold heart are unpleasant to see; yet most heads are not entirely empty, and most hearts are not entirely cold. There is often a great deal of mute misery concealed under an affectation of frivolity. One can try to understand and help all sorts of people, and no one is quite hopeless. All answer in some degree to a call to them to bring out the best that is in them.'

'What we need at present for our Church's well-being,' wrote Newman in his Prophetical Office, 'is not invention, nor originality, nor sagacity, nor even learning in our divines, at least in the first place, though all gifts of God are in a measure needed, and never can be unseasonable, when used religiously, but we need peculiarly a sound judgment, patient thought, discrimination, a comprehensive mind, an abstinence from all private fancies and caprices and personal tastes,—in a word, Divine wisdom.' Newman recurs to this text in his University Sketches (ch. XV.): 'The Church does not think much of any "wisdom" that is not desursum, that is, revealed; nor unless, as the Apostle proceeds, it is "primum quidem pudica, deinde pacifica". These may be called the three vital principles of the Christian student, faith, chastity, love; because their contraries, viz., unbelief or heresy, impurity, and enmity are just the three great sins against God, ourselves, and our neighbours, which are the death of the soul.'

In his first speech to the Little Parliament of 1653, Cromwell declares: 'It's better to pray for you than to counsel you in that matter, that you may exercise the judgment of mercy and truth! It's better, I say, to pray for you than to counsel you; to ask wisdom from heaven for you; which I am confident many thousands of saints do this day and have done and will do, through the permission of God and His assistance. I say it's better to pray than advise: yet truly I think of another Scripture which is very useful, though it seems to be for a common application to every man as a Christian—wherein he is counselled to ask wisdom; and he is told what that is. That's "from above," we are told; it's "pure, peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruit"; it's "without partiality and without hypocrisy". Truly my thoughts run much on this place, that to the execution of judgment (the judgment of truth, for that's the judgment) you must have wisdom "from above"; and that's "pure". That will teach you to exercise the judgment of truth; it's "without partiality". Purity, impartiality, sincerity; these are the effects of "wisdom," and these will help you to execute the judgment of truth.'

Jam 3:17

Compare the maxim which Newman used almost as a proverb: 'Holiness rather than peace'.

In Wesley's Journal for Friday, 31st January, 1766, it is noted: 'Mr. Whitefield called upon me. He breathes nothing but peace and love. Bigotry cannot stand before him, but hides its head wherever he comes.'

'I rejoice that I have avoided controversies,' wrote Darwin in his autobiography, 'and this I owe to Lyell, who many years ago, in reference to my geological works, strongly advised me never to get entangled in a controversy, as it rarely did any good and caused a miserable loss of time and temper.'

'True wisdom is not only "pacifica," it is "pudica"; chaste as well as peaceable. Alas for Abelard! a second disgrace, deeper than ambition, is his portion now.... A more subtle snare was laid for him than beset the heroic champion or the all-accomplished monarch of Israel; for sensuality came upon him under the guise of intellect, and it was the high mental endowments of Eloisa, who became his pupil, speaking in her eyes and thrilling on her tongue, which were the intoxication and the delirium of Abelard'.

—Newman, University Sketches (ch. XVI).

Jam 3:17

I have known, and still know, many Dissenters, who profess to have a zeal for Christianity; and I dare say they have. But I have known very few Dissenters indeed, whose hatred to the Church of England was not a much more active principle of action with them than their love for Christianity. The Wesleyans in uncorrupted parts of the country are nearly the only exceptions. There never was an age since the days of the Apostles in which the Catholic spirit of religion was so dead, and put aside for the love of sects and parties, as at present.

—Coleridge, Table Talk (28th December, 1831).

Jam 3:17

Why is the Giver of the Divine the permitter of those tremendous passions, which are not without their glory, but which wreck so many human lives? Perhaps the reason may be found in the sacredness of pity. Evil and agony are the manure from which spring some of the whitest lilies that have ever bloomed beneath that enigmatic blue which roofs the terror and the triumph of the world. And while human beings know how to pity, human beings will always believe in a merciful God.

—Robert Hichens, in The Gall of the Blood.

Nothing gives me so much the idea of God on earth as intelligence and kindness. I dearly love, above all things, to meet these two things united, and to enjoy them intimately.

—From Eugénie de Guérin's Journal.

Reference.—III. 17.—C. Gutch, Sermons, p. 66.

Jam 3:18

'Also the good Bishop labours night and day to preserve peace,' says the Prior in the sixteenth chapter of Quentin Durward, 'as well becometh a servant of the altar; for it is written in Holy Scripture, Beati pacifici. But—' here the good Prior stopped, with a deep sigh.

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.
Behold, we put bits in the horses' mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body.
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.
Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!
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.
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:
But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.
Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.
Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.
Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?
Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.
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.
But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth.
This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.
For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.
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.
And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.
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