James 3:4
Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, wherever the governor wants.
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(4) The governori.e., the “helmsman,” from the Latin gubernator. The Venerable Bede, our earliest English translator, refers the ships here to an image of ourselves, and the winds to the impulses of our own minds, by which we are driven hither and thither.

St. James, remembering the storms of the Galilean lake, could well rejoice in a simile like this, although he himself may only have known the craft of an inland sea, and never have beheld “broad rivers and streams” wherein went “galley with oars and gallant ship” (Isaiah 33:21). And none knew better than the brother of the Lord who was the true

“Helm of the ships that keep

Pathway along the deep.”

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.Behold also the ships - This illustration is equally striking and obvious. A ship is a large object. It seems to be unmanageable by its vastness, and it is also impelled by driving storms. Yet it is easily managed by a small rudder; and he that has control of that, has control of the ship itself. So with the tongue. It is a small member as compared with the body; in its size not unlike the rudder as compared with the ship. Yet the proper control of the tongue in respect to its influence on the whole man, is not unlike the control of the rudder in its power over the ship.

Which though they be so great - So great in themselves, and in comparison with the rudder. Even such bulky and unwieldy objects are controlled by a very small thing.

And are driven of fierce winds - By winds that would seem to leave the ship beyond control. It is probable that by the "fierce winds" here as impelling the ship, the apostle meant to illustrate the power of the passions in impelling man. Even a man under impetuous passion would be restrained, if the tongue is properly controlled, as the ship driven by the winds is by the helm.

Yet are they turned about with a very small helm - The ancient rudder or helm was made in the shape of an oar. This was very small when compared with the size of the vessel - about as small as the tongue is as compared with the body.

Whithersoever the governor listeth - As the helmsman pleases. It is entirely under his control.

4. Not only animals, but even ships.

the governor listeth—literally, "the impulse of the steersman pleaseth." The feeling which moves the tongue corresponds with this.

The other similitude, in which a man is compared to a ship, the tongue to the rudder, the governing the whole body to the turning about the ship. As the rudder is but a small thing, in comparison of the much greater bulk of a ship, and yet, being itself turned, turns the whole ship (though so great, and driven of so fierce winds) which way soever the steersman pleaseth: so likewise the tongue, though little to the whole man, (which may withal be driven, and acted by storms of furious passions), yet if it be itself under government, the rest of the man will be so too. Behold also the ships, which though they be so great,.... Of so large a bulk, of such a prodigious size, and are such unwieldy vessels:

and are driven of fierce winds; with great vehemence, rapidity, and swiftness:

yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth; the helm, or tiller of a ship, is a beam or piece of timber fastened into the rudder, and so coming forward into the steerage, where he that stands at helm steers the ship (e), who is here called the governor; or "he that directs", as the word may be rendered; that is, that steers; the word for "helm" is translated rudder in Acts 27:40, and the helm or tiller is sometimes, though improperly, called the rudder itself (f); and this is very small, in comparison of the bulk of the ship that is guided by it (g). Aristotle calls it , "a small helm", as the apostle here does, and accounts for it how large ships should be moved and steered by it. And so, though the tongue is to the rest of the body as a small helm to a large ship, yet, like that, it has great influence over the whole body, to check it when it is carrying away with the force of its appetites and passions; and so churches, societies, and bodies of Christians, which are large and numerous, and are like ships upon the ocean, tossed to and fro with tempests, driven by Satan's temptations and the world's persecution, and ready to be carried away with the wind of false doctrine, yet are influenced and directed aright by those that are at the helm, the faithful ministers of the word, who say to them, this is the way, walk in it.

(e) Chambers's Cyclopedia, in the word "Helm". (f) lb. in the word "Rudder". (g) Quaest. Mechanic. c. 5.

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.
Jam 3:4. The second comparison is emphatically indicated by ἰδού. καί is either also or even so. Wiesinger prefers the second meaning, which certainly gives to the thought a peculiar emphasis. The participles ὄνταἐλαυνόμενα are to be resolved by although. Both participial sentences bring forward the difficulty of guiding the ship, in order to cause the power of the small helm to be recognised. It is possible that in the second clause: καὶἐλαυνόμενα, there is an allusion to the lusts moving man (Bede: venti validi … ipsi appetitus sunt mentium), or “to the temptations (πειρασμοί) of the world, coming from without” (Lange).

σκληρός] is also used of the wind in Proverbs 27:16 (so also Aelian, de animal, v. 13, ix. 14; Dio Chrysostom, iii. p. 44 C).

The verb μετάγεται united with τὰ πλοῖα is the same as in Jam 3:3. The words ὑπὸ ἐλαχίστου πηδαλίου] mention by what this guidance takes place. On ὑπό, see chap. Jam 1:14. By the addition of ἐλαχίστου a new point is introduced which is retained in what follows. The superlative is for the purpose of bringing more strongly forward the smallness of the πηδάλιον in contrast to the great ship (τηλικαῦτα ὄντα). The counterpart is the little tongue (Jam 3:5).

The addition: whithersoever the desire of the steersman willeth, is not superfluous; it expresses—in opposition to ὑπὸ ἀνέμων ἐλαυνόμενα—the free mastery of him who steers the ship, which he exercises over it by means of the helm, and corresponds to εἰς τὸ πείθεσθαι κ.τ.λ., Jam 3:3.

ὅπου] (instead of ὅποι, which does not occur in the N. T.) is found also in the classics united with verbs of motion, particularly with τιθέναι, but also with βαίνειν; Sophocles, Trach. 40: κεῖνος ὅπου βέβηκεν. By ὁρμή is not to be understood the external impulse, or “the pressure which the steersman exercises” (Erasmus, Semler, Augusti, Stolz, Pott, Theile, Wiesinger), also not “the course of the navigator kept in action by the helm” (Lange); by both of these interpretations a meaning is imposed upon the word foreign to it. It rather indicates, as in Acts 14:5 (see Meier in loco), the eager will, the desire of something (in Plato, Phil. p. 35 D, it is used as synonymous with ἐπιθυμία); thus Bede, Calvin, Grotius, Baumgarten, Gebser, de Wette, and others.

The participle ὁ εὐθύνων indicates him who sits at the helm and directs the ship; it is thus not = ὁ εὐθυντήρ (Grotius, Pott, Schneckenburger). Luther correctly translates it according to its meaning: “whether he wills who governs it.”

For corresponding passages from the classics, see in Wetstein, Gebser, Theile; particularly Aristotle, Quaest. mechan. ii. 5.Jam 3:4. τηλικαῦτα: Cf. 2 Corinthians 1:10; Hebrews 2:3; Revelation 16:18, the only other N.T. passages in which the word occurs.—πηδαλίου: only elsewhere in N.T. in Acts 27:40.—ὁρμή: only elsewhere in the N.T. in Acts 14:5, used there, however, in the sense of a rush of people. The graphic picture in this verse gives the impression that the writer gives the result of personal observation.4. Behold also the ships …] General as the thought is, we may perhaps connect it, as we have done ch. James 1:6, with personal recollections of storms on the Galilean lake. It will be seen that this also has its counterpart in Sophocles. The two images are brought together by a writer more within St James’s reach than the Greek tragedian. With Philo, Reason in man, the Divine Word in Creation, are compared both with the charioteer and the pilot. (De Conf. ling. p. 336. De Abr. p. 360). In the latter the very word which St James uses for “governor” is employed also by Philo. The same thoughts appear in the beautiful hymn of Clement of Alexandria as describing the work of Christ as the true Teacher. (Paedag. ad fin.):

“Curb for the stubborn steed

Making its will give heed.

Helm of the ships that keep

Their pathway o’er the deep.

whithersoever the governor listeth] Better, the pilot or steersman. This, which, the reader will hardly need to be reminded, is the primary meaning of “governor”, has, in the modern use of the word, all but dropped out of sight. Literally the sentence runs, whithersoever the impulse of the steersman may wish.Jam 3:4. Καὶ) even. Not only animals, but even ships.—σκληρῶν) σκληρὸς, vehement. There is a twofold impulse (momentum): the bulk of the ships, and the force of the winds.—πηδαλίου, with a helm) An elegant simile, as applied to the tongue. The phrases, very small, and a small member, answer to each other. The same may be applied to the pen, which is the substitute for the tongue amongst the absent.—ἡ ὁρμὴ, the impetus) The force moving, and turning, and directing to its place. The feeling which moves the tongue corresponds with this.—βούληται, listeth) An instance of Hypallage:[33] equivalent to, wherever he wishes, who has the command; for the moving force is under his control.

[33] See Append. of Techn. Terms.Verse 4. - Second illustration, showing the importance of the tongue and its government. The rudder is a very small thing, but it enables the steersman to guide the ship wherever he will, in spite of the storm. Whithersoever the governor listeth (ὅπου ἡ ὀρμὴ τοῦ εὐθυνοντος βούλεται, א, B); whither the impulse of the steersman willeth (R.V.); Vulgate, impetus dirigentis. The ships

See Introduction, on James' local allusions. Dean Howson observes that "there is more imagery drawn from mere natural phenomena in the one short epistle of James than in all St. Paul's epistles put together."

So great

As the ship which conveyed Paul to Malta, which contained two hundred and seventy-six persons (Acts 27:37).

Fierce (σκληρῶν)

More literally, and better, as Rev., rough. The word primarily means hard, harsh

Helm (πηδαλίου)

Better, rudder, as Rev. The rudder was an oar worked by a handle. Helm and rudder were thus one. The word occurs only here and Acts 27:40.

The governor listeth (ἡ ὁρμὴ τοῦ εὐθύνοντες βούλεται)

Lit., the impulse or desire of the steersman wisheth. Ὁρμὴ, impulse, only here and Acts 14:5, of an assault, onset.

The governor (τοῦ εὐθύνοντος)

Rev., steersman. Lit., of him who is guiding. Only here and John 1:23. From εὐθύς straight.

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