James 1:26
If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain.
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(26) But St. James has thus far dilated only on the first part of his advice in James 1:19, “Let every man be swift to hear”; now he must enforce the remaining clause, “slow to speak.”

If any man among you seem to be religious . . .—Better, If any one imagine himself to be religious, not bridling his tongue, but deceiving his own heart, this man’s religion is vain. The sense of the Greek is slightly obscured by the English version. “If any man . . . seem”—i.e., to himself, and not to others merely; the warning is not to the hypocrite, but the self-deceived. A Christian may have, or rather cannot help having, the feeling that he is a religious man; and so far well. But if such a one deceive his own heart, as confessedly he may, and give to those around him the proof of his self-delusion in not curbing his tongue, vain and useless is all his religious service. Just as some mistakenly suppose there can be a religion of hearing without acting, so others rest satisfied “in outward acts of worship, or exactness of ritual.” “But,” remarks Bishop Moberly on this passage, and his voice may win an audience where another’s would not, “if a man think himself a true worshipper because he conforms to outward services, while he lets his tongue loose in untruth or unkindness or other unseemliness, he deceives himself.” The first mark of true religion is gentleness of tongue, just as the contrary, blasphemy, is the most damning fault of all. Our Lord directly says, “By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned” (Matthew 12:37). The text, however, is more a guide for self-examination than a stone to be cast at a neighbour; and “well is” it indeed for “him that hath not slipped with his tongue” (Ecclesiasticus 25:8).

The Apostle returns to this subject, though from a different point of view, in James 3, which compare with the above. The best commentary on the whole is Bishop Butler’s Sermon, No. IV., “Upon the Government of the Tongue.”

James 1:26-27. If &c. — Here the apostle shows more particularly who are the doers of the word; 1st, Negatively, in this verse: 2d, Positively, in the next verse. If any man among you — Who are professors of Christianity; seem to be religious Θρησκος, pious, devout, or a worshipper of God: and if his conduct in other respects be irreprehensible, and he be exact in all the outward offices of religion, yet if he bridleth not his tongue — From tale-bearing, backbiting, evil-speaking, slandering; or from vain, foolish, ostentatious talking and jesting; or rash, bitter, passionate, malicious, revengeful expressions: this man only deceiveth his own heart — If he fancy he has any true religion at all; for his religion is vain — Is a mere empty profession, and neither is nor will be of any service to him. Pure religion — The word θρησκεια, here used, properly signifies worship, which branch of religion is put for the whole. In the epithets here given to it, pure and undefiled, Archbishop Tillotson thinks there is an allusion to the excellence of a precious stone, which consists much in its being καθαρα και αμιαντος, clear, and without flaw, or cloud. And surely, says Doddridge, no gem is so precious or ornamental as the lovely temper here described. Here then the apostle describes the religion which Isaiah , 1 st, True and genuine, in opposition to that which is false and mistaken: 2d, Sincere and solid, in opposition to that which is feigned and pretended: 3d, Pure and holy, in opposition to that which is mixed with the inventions and superstitions of men, and defiled by erroneous principles and vicious practices. But what is this religion? In what does it consist? The apostle informs us: it consists not in speculations or notions, however just and orthodox. Not in forms or modes of worship, however Scriptural and necessary to be observed. Not in the warmth of affection, or ardour of zeal, &c., during worship. But, in consequence of repentance toward God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, of justification by faith, and regeneration by the influence of the Divine Spirit, it consists in the possession and exercise of that love to God and all mankind, which is the source of the various branches of practical religion, of mercy as well as justice toward men, and of holiness toward God. True religion before God — Before his penetrating eyes; even the Father — Whose intelligent and immortal offspring we all are; is this, to visit — With counsel, comfort, and relief; the fatherless and widows — Those who need it most; in their affliction — In their most helpless and hopeless state; and to keep himself unspotted from the world — From the maxims, tempers, habits, and customs of it. But this cannot be done till we have given our hearts to God, and love our neighbour as ourselves. That this is true or pure religion, or the proper effect and evidence thereof, the reader will not question, if he recollects, 1st, That religion consists principally in faith working by love to God and man, Galatians 5:6; 1 Timothy 1:5; 1 Corinthians 13:1, &c.; John 4:8. 2d, That the most eminent and important fruit of faith, and of the love of our neighbour, is not saying, Be thou warmed, (James 2:14; 1 John 4:17,) but visiting, comforting, and relieving the needy and distressed. 3d, That the most important fruit of faith in, and love to, God, is purity of intention and affection, or the being dead to, and unspotted by, the world.

1:26,27 When men take more pains to seem religious than really to be so, it is a sign their religion is in vain. The not bridling the tongue, readiness to speak of the faults of others, or to lessen their wisdom and piety, are signs of a vain religion. The man who has a slandering tongue, cannot have a truly humble, gracious heart. False religious may be known by their impurity and uncharitableness. True religion teaches us to do every thing as in the presence of God. An unspotted life must go with unfeigned love and charity. Our true religion is equal to the measure in which these things have place in our hearts and conduct. And let us remember, that nothing avails in Christ Jesus, but faith that worketh by love, purifies the heart, subdues carnal lusts, and obeys God's commands.If any man among you seem to be religious - Pious, or devout. That is, if he does not restrain his tongue, his other evidences of religion are worthless. A man may undoubtedly have many things in his character which seem to be evidences of the existence of religion in his heart, and yet there may be some one thing that shall show that all those evidences are false. Religion is designed to produce an effect on our whole conduct; and if there is any one thing in reference to which it does not bring us under its control, that one thing may show that all other appearances of piety are worthless.

And bridleth not his tongue - Restrains or curbs it not, as a horse is restrained with a bridle. There may have been some reason why the apostle referred to this particular sin which is now unknown to us; or he may perhaps have intended to select this as a specimen to illustrate this idea, that if there is any one evil propensity which religion does not control, or if there is any one thing in respect to which its influence is not felt, whatever other evidences of piety there may be, this will demonstrate that all those appearances of religion are vain. For religion is designed to bring the whole man under control, and to subdue every faculty of the body and mind to its demands. If the tongue is not restrained, or if there is any unsubdued propensity to sin whatever, it proves that there is no true religion.

But deceiveth his own heart - Implying that he does deceive his heart by supposing that any evidence can prove that he is under the influence of religion if his tongue is unrestrained. Whatever love, or zeal, or orthodoxy, or gift in preaching or in prayer he may have, this one evil propensity will neutralize it all, and show that there is no true religion at heart.

This man's religion is vain - As all religion must be which does not control all the faculties of the body and the mind. The truths, then, which are taught in this verse are:

(1) That there may be evidences of piety which seem to be very plausible or clear, but which in themselves do not prove that there is any true religion. There may be much zeal, as in the case of the Pharisees; there may be much apparent love of Christians, or much outward benevolence; there may be an uncommon gift in prayer; there may be much self-denial, as among those who withdraw from the world in monasteries or nunneries; or there may have been deep conviction for sin, and much joy at the time of the supposed conversion, and still there be no true religion. Each and all of these things may exist in the heart where there is no true religion.

(2) a single unsubdued sinful propensity neutralizes all these things, and shows that there is no true religion. If the tongue is not subdued; if any sin is indulged, it will show that the seat of the evil has not been reached, and that the soul, as such, has never been brought into subjection to the law of God. For the very essence of all the sin that there was in the soul may have been concentrated on that one propensity. Everything else which may be manifested may be accounted for on the supposition that there is no religion; this cannot be accounted for on the supposition that there is any.

26, 27. An example of doing work.

religious … religion—The Greek expresses the external service or exercise of religion, "godliness" being the internal soul of it. "If any man think himself to be (so the Greek) religious, that is, observant of the offices of religion, let him know these consist not so much in outward observances, as in such acts of mercy and humble piety (Mic 6:7, 8) as visiting the fatherless, &c., and keeping one's self unspotted from the world" (Mt 23:23). James does not mean that these offices are the great essentials, or sum total of religion; but that, whereas the law service was merely ceremonial, the very services of the Gospel consist in acts of mercy and holiness, and it has light for its garment, its very robe being righteousness [Trench]. The Greek word is only found in Ac 26:5, "after the straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee." Col 2:18, "worshipping of angels."

bridleth not … tongue—Discretion in speech is better than fluency of speech (compare Jas 3:2, 3). Compare Ps 39:1. God alone can enable us to do so. James, in treating of the law, naturally notices this sin. For they who are free from grosser sins, and even bear the outward show of sanctity, will often exalt themselves by detracting others under the pretense of zeal, while their real motive is love of evil-speaking [Calvin].

heart—It and the tongue act and react on one another.

If any man among you seem to be religious; seems to others, or rather to himself; thinks himself religious, because cause of his hearing and outward worship: thus the word rendered seems is often taken, 1 Corinthians 3:18 8:2 14:37 Galatians 6:3. Here he shows who are not doers of the work, as in the next verse, who are.

And bridleth not his tongue; restrains it not from the common vices of the tongue, reviling, railing, censuring, &c.

But deceiveth his own heart; either deceiveth his own heart in thinking himself religious, when indulging himself in things so contrary to religion, or deceiveth his own heart, being blinded with self-love, and lifted up with self-conceit, which is the cause of his censuring and speaking evil of others.

This man’s religion is vain; empty, and to no purpose, having no reality in itself, and bringing no benefit to him.

If any man among you seem to be religious,.... By his preaching, or praying, and hearing, and other external duties of religion, he is constant in the observance of; and who, upon the account of these things, "thinks himself to be a religious man", as the Vulgate Latin, Syriac, and Arabic versions render it; or is thought to be so by others:

and bridleth not his tongue; but boasts of his works, and speaks ill of his brethren; backbites them, and hurts their names and characters, by private insinuations, and public charges without any foundation; who takes no care of what he says, but gives his tongue a liberty of speaking anything, to the injury of others, and the dishonour of God, and his ways: there seems to be an allusion to Psalm 39:1.

But deceiveth his own heart; with his show of religion, and external performances; on which he builds his hopes of salvation; of which he is confident; and so gives himself to a loose way of talking what he pleases:

this man's religion is vain; useless, and unprofitable to himself and others; all his preaching, praying, hearing, and attendance on the ordinances will be of no avail to him; and he, notwithstanding these, by his evil tongue, brings a scandal and reproach upon the ways of God, and doctrines of Christ.

{18} If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his {y} own heart, this man's religion is vain.

{18} The third admonition: the word of God lays down a rule to not only do well, but also to speak well.

(y) The fountain of all babbling, cursed speaking, and impudence is this, that men do not know themselves.

Jam 1:26. Whilst James—in contrast to the hearers who fail in proof by works—will describe the true θρησκεία (Jam 1:27), he first refers to the false θρησκεία of those who—slothful in action—are ταχεῖς εἰς τὸ λαλήσαι (Jam 1:19). If any one thinks to serve God, not bridling his tongue, but deceiving his heart, his worship is vain.

εἴ τις δοκεῖ] δοκεῖ here denotes (as in Matthew 6:7; Matthew 24:44; 1 Corinthians 3:18; otherwise in 1 Corinthians 7:40) the false opinion which one has of something; it is not = videtur (Calvin, Gataker, Theile, and others); Luther correctly translates: “if any one imagines.”

θρῆσκος εἶναι] θρῆσκος, which elsewhere occurs neither in the N. T. nor in the classics (the substantive besides here and in Jam 1:27, in the N. T. in Colossians 2:18 and Acts 26:5), is not equivalent to εὐσέβεια, inasmuch as it refers to external worship, the manifestation of εὐσέβεια, without, however, having in itself the secondary idea of mere externality. Incorrectly Theile = religiosus singulatim cujus nimia, nimis externa est religio, superstitiosus. In an arbitrary manner, Schneckenburger infers from the adjectives καθαρὰ καὶ ἀμίαντος (Jam 1:27) that it is here said of θρησκεία, quam in accurata lustrationum observatione constantem putabant Judaei ac Judaeochristiani,[106] of which there is no trace in the whole Epistle. The following words: μὴ χαλιναγωγῶν τὴν γλῶσσαν αὑτοῦ, indicate in what the θρησκεία of the readers consisted. It is incorrect, with Rosenmüller, Theile, and others, to supply exempli causa, and, as most interpreters do, to resolve the participle by although; James will blame those who reckon zeal in speaking as a sign of θρησκεία.[107] The verb χαλιναγωγεῖν, in the N. T. only in James, is also found in classical language only in the later classics; comp. the expression in Plato, de legg. ii.: ἀχάλινον κεκτημένοι τὸ στόμα.

By the second participial sentence: ἀλλὰ ἀπατῶν καρδίαν αὑτοῦ, James expresses his judgment—already indicated by the expression μὴ χαλιναγωγῶν—on the opinion of serving God by λαλεῖν ἐν ὀργῇ. Pott correctly: sc. eo quod nimian docendi licentiam et linguae extemperantiam pro vera θρησκείᾳ habet. The clause belongs not to the apodosis (Schneckenburger), but, as in form so in meaning, is closely connected with the preceding participle. The expression ἀπατᾷν καρδίαν αὑτοῦ corresponds to παραλογίζεσθαι ἑαυτόν (Jam 1:22), but is a stronger form, although it does not indicate only the consequence resulting from zeal (Lange); comp. Test. Napht. III. p. 665: μὴ σπουδάζετεἐν λόγοις κενοῖς ἀπατᾷν τὰς ψυχὰς ὑμῶν. Erasmus incorrectly explains ἀπατᾷν by sinere aberrare. The apodosis, which emphatically begins with τούτου, declares that such a θρησκεία is not only without fruit (Baumgarten), but without actual contents, is thus foolish and vain, corresponding to the thought: ὀργὴ δικαιοσύνην Θεοῦ οὐ (κατ)εργάζεται (Jam 1:20).

[106] Some Catholic interpreters, Salmero, Paes, and others, refer the expression to the observance of the so-called consilia Christi, particularly to voluntary circumcision for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.

[107] Rauch also thinks that “the participles must certainly be resolved by although;” but by this explanation all indication is wanting of that on which those blamed by James rest θρησκεία; also what follows (ver. 27), where the nature of true θρησκεία is given, forms no appropriate antithesis to this verse. Brückner explains it: “whosoever seeks worship in striving by teaching to work on others;” here the participle is correctly resolved, but the full meaning is not given to the verb. Correctly Lange: “those who by their fanatical zeal wanted to make good their pretensions of being the true soldiers of God.”

Jam 1:26-27. Although these verses are organically connected with the preceding section, they are self-contained, and deal with another aspect of religion. While the earlier verses, 19b–25, emphasise the need of doing as well as hearing, these speak of self-control in the matter of the tongue. At the same time it must be confessed that these verses would stand at least equally as well before Jam 3:1 ff.—δοκεῖ: the danger of regarding the appearance of religion as sufficient was the greater inasmuch as it was characteristic of a certain type of “religious” Jew, cf. Matthew 6:1-2; Matthew 6:5; Matthew 6:16; it must not, however, be supposed that this represented the normal type; the fact that the need of reality in religion is so frequently insisted upon by the early Rabbis shows that their teaching in this respect was the same as that of this writer.—θρησκός: Hatch, as quoted by Mayor, describes θρησκεία as “religion in its external aspect, as worship or as one mode of worship contrasted with another”; this agrees exactly with what has just been said. θρησκός does not occur elsewhere in the N.T. nor in the Septuagint.—χαλιναγωγῶν: (B reads χαλινων). Not found elsewhere in the N.T. or in the Septuagint; χαλινός is used in Psalms 31 (Heb. 32):9 in the Septuagint, as well as in the versions of Aquila and Quinta; for the thought cf. Psalms 38 (Heb. 39):2, 140 (Heb. 141):3, though the word is not used in either of these last two passages. Mayor quotes the interesting passage from Hermas, Mand., xii. 1. ἐνδεδυμένος τὴν ἐπιθυμίαν τὴν ἀγαθὴν μισήσεις τὴν πονηρὰν ἐπιθυμίαν καὶ χαλιναγωγήσεις αὐτήν.—γλῶσσαν ἑαυτοῦ; the reference is to the threefold misuse of the tongue, slander, swearing and impure speaking; see Ephesians 5:3-6.

26, 27. True and false Religion

26. If any man among you seem to be religious] Better, If any man thinks that he is religious. The Greek adjective is one which expresses the outward ritual side of religion, answering to “godliness” as the inward. Comp. the cognate word rendered “worship of angels” in Colossians 2:18. It is not easy to find an appropriate English adjective for it. “Religious” in its modern sense is too wide, in its old pre-Reformation sense, as meaning one who belonged to a monastic order, too narrow. That sense can hardly be said to have attached to it at the time of the Authorised Version, as the term is used both in the Homilies (e. g. “Christ and his religion,” Hom. on Holy Scripture) and Bacon’s Essays (Of Unity in Religion) quite in its modern sense for a whole system of faith and practice. “Devout,” “pious,” “reverent,” suggest themselves, but all fail to express what the Greek beyond question expresses. “Worshipper” would perhaps be the nearest equivalent. “Ritualist,” which answers most closely to the strict meaning, has unfortunately acquired a conventional and party meaning.

and bridleth not his tongue] The image was a sufficiently common one in the Greek poets and philosophers. St James returns to it in James 3:2-3. See note there.

deceiveth his own heart] Here the word is the more common one, as distinguished from that which had been used in James 1:22.

Jam 1:26. Εἴ τις, if any man) He now adds examples of doing the work.—θρῆσκος, religious) A worshipper of God, in private and in public. Hesychius, θρῆσκος, ἑτερόδοξος, εὐγενής: that is, one who has more knowledge than others, and is endued with a nobler mind. The commentary of Œcumenius agrees with this; for with him θρῆσκος is one who knows the secret things of the law, and diligently observes them.[16]—ΜῊ ΧΑΛΙΝΑΓΩΓῶΝ, not bridling) A most appropriate metaphor. Comp. ch. Jam 3:2-3.—γλῶσσαν, his tongue) and heart also.—καρδίαν, his heart) and tongue also. The one leads and follows the other. The tongue has its faculty of speech, and the heart its affections;[17] Jam 1:19.

[16] γνώστης τῶν ἐν τῷ νόμῳ ἀποῤῥήτων καὶ ἀκριβὴς φύλαξ.

[17] These two things are joined together in a similar way, Ecclesiastes 5:1-2 : “Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thy heart be hasty to utter anything before God.” And that Book of Solomon agrees with this Epistle of James in this respect especially, that they both urge moderation in all things. Compare Matthew 12:34, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” The tongue sins in reproaches, perjuries, lying, jesting, false promises, murmuring, etc.—V. g.

Verse 26. - Seem (δοκεῖ); seems to himself rather than to others; translate, with R.V., thinketh himself to be. Vulgate, Si quis Putat se esse. Religious (θρῆσκος). It is difficult to find an English word which exactly answers to the Greek. The noun θρησκεία refers properly to the external rites of religion, and so gets to signify an over-scrupulous devotion to external forms (Lightfoot on Colossians 2:18); almost "ritualism." It is the ceremonial service of religion, the external forms, a body of which εὐσεβεία is the informing soul. Thus the θρῆσκος (the word apparently only occurs here in the whole range of Greek literature) is the diligent performer of Divine offices, of the outward service of God, but not necessarily anything more. This depreciatory sense of θρησκεία ισ well seen in a passage of Philo ('Quod Det. Pot. 'Jus.,' 7), where, after speaking of some who would fain be counted among the εὐλαβεῖς on the score of diverse washings or costly offerings to the temple, he proceeds: Πεπλάνηται γὰρ καὶ οϋτος τῆς πρὸς εὐσεβείαν ὁδοῦ θρησκείαν ἀντὶ ὁσιότητος ἡγούμενος (see Trench on 'Synonyms,' from whom the reference is here taken). "How delicate and fine, then, St. James's choice of θρῆσκος and θρησκεία! 'If any man,' he would say, 'seem to himself to be θρῆσκος, a diligent observer of the offices of religion, if any man would render a pure and undefiled θρησκεία to God, let him know that this consists, not in outward lustrations or ceremonial observances; nay, that there is a better θρησκεία than thousands of rams and rivers of oil, namely, to do justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with his God (Micah 6:7, 8); or, according to his own words, ' to visit the widows and orphans in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world'" (Trench on 'Synonyms,' p. 170: the whole passage will well repay study. Reference should also be made to Coleridge, 'Aids to Reflection,' p. 15). Bridleth not (μὴ χαλιναγωγῶν). The thought is developed more fully afterwards (see James 3:2, etc., and for the word, cf. Polyc., 'Ad Philippians,' c.v.). James 1:26Seem to be (δοκεῖ)

Rev., correctly, thinketh himself to be. A man can scarcely seem to be religious, when, as Trench observes, "his religious pretensions are belied and refuted by the allowance of an unbridled tongue."

Religious (θρῆσκος)

Only here in New Testament, and nowhere in classical Greek. The kindred noun θρησκεία, religion, occurs Acts 26:5; Colossians 2:18; James 1:26, James 1:27; and means the ceremonial service of religion. Herodotus (ii., 37) uses it of various observances practised by the Egyptian priests, such as wearing linen, circumcision, shaving, etc. The derivation is uncertain. Θρέομαι, to mutter forms of prayer, has been suggested, as the followers of Wycliffe were called Lollards, from the old Dutch lullen or lollen, to sing. Hence the adjective here refers to a zealous and diligent performance of religious services.

Bridleth (χαλιναγωγῶν)

Used by James only. See James 3:2. Lit., to guide with a bridle. So Plato, "Laws," 701: "I think that the argument ought to be pulled up from time to time, and not to be allowed to run away, but held with bit and bridle."

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