James 3:1
Throughout this chapter the apostle sounds a loud note of warning against sins of the tongue. The opening exhortation directs our thoughts to the responsibilities and dangers of the religious teacher. No one is under more constant temptation to sin with his lips; for it is the daily work of his life to speak regarding the most solemn themes.

I. THE CAUTION. "Be not many teachers, my brethren" (ver. 1). It would appear that the Pharisaic Jews of the time of the apostles vied with one another for distinction as teachers. At Church meetings it often happened that the time for free conference was consumed by those who had least to say which was likely to be profitable. So James counsels the members of the Church to be "swift to hear" and "slow to speak" in the religious assembly. While the office of the spiritual teacher is highly honorable, it is difficult to sustain it with honor. To do so demands superior intellectual power, keen spiritual insight, intimate acquaintance with Scripture, accurate knowledge of human nature, and a variety of other aptitudes which few possess. This dissuasive is needed by the modern Church little less than by the congregations of "the Dispersion." Our young men who aspire to the pulpit should consider well whether they have received a heavenly call thither. They should ponder the wise advice of an experienced pastor to a young student: "Do not enter the ministry if you can help it;" i.e. unless you have a burning desire to serve the Lord Jesus Christ as a preacher. This dissuasive reminds us also of Paul's rule: "Not a novice" (1 Timothy 3:6). How often is the young convert, especially in times of feverish revivalism, encouraged to narrate his "experience," and to address large religious meetings, greatly to his own spiritual detriment, and to the damage of the cause of Christ! James's counsel has a relation also to the pew. In its spirit it enjoins those who "hear the Word" to cultivate a docile and teachable frame of mind. Nothing hinders edification more than habits of pert and paltry criticism of the accidents of preaching.

II. ITS GROUND. (Vers. 1, 2.) How weighty is the responsibility of the religious teacher! He undertakes to perform the most important of all kinds of work, and by the use of means which involve the most difficult of all attainments, even to a godly man. The minister of the gospel is especially tried as regards the government of the tongue; and, alas! the most experienced pastors, even James and his fellow-apostles, - often "stumble in word." Teachers who are habitually unfaithful are guilty of peculiarly heinous sin; they shall be indicted at the bar of God for blood-guiltiness. Since the pastor is like a city set on a hill, his errors work more mischief in society than those of an ordinary member of the Church. The lowest deep of perdition shall be occupied by unconverted preachers of the gospel.


1. To Christian teachers. Let us labor and pray, with heart and mind, and with books and pen, so that our pulpit utterances shall not be hasty or unguarded, and that we may be "pure from the blood of all men."

2. To the members of the Church. Give your minister your loving sympathy, and do not continually advertise and bewail his infirmities. Seeing that his work is so arduous, maintain the habit of constantly "helping him with your prayers. - C.J.

Be not many masters
The words might have been better rendered thus, "Be not many teachers, knowing that we shall undergo a severer judgment"; and were occasioned by certain novices assuming the office of teachers when utterly unqualified for it. The meaning is, the office of a spiritual instructor is attended with great difficulty and danger, and the duties of it are hard to be discharged. Let none undertake it rashly, destitute of the gifts and graces necessary for so sacred a function; for teachers, as well as hearers, must appear before the judgment-seat of Christ. God will require more from teachers than from others; and their private miscarriages, or unfaithfulness to the duties of their office, will expose them to the severest punishment.

I. PERSONAL RELIGION is a necessary qualification in the Christian teacher. Those must be clean that bear the vessels of the sanctuary. Their Master is holy, their work is holy, and therefore it becomes them to be holy also. They engage in the work of the ministry, not seeking their own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved (1 Corinthians 10:33). Having tasted that the Lord is gracious, they are unwilling to eat their spiritual morsels alone, and earnestly wish to have others partakers of the same grace of life. Animated by such a spit it, the pious minister is vigorous and active, diligent and unwearied, in his Master's service. Grace, in lively exercise, makes the teacher honest and impartial, bold and courageous. He will not, through a slavish dread of man, put his candle under a bushel, or withhold the truth in unrighteousness; but endeavours to keep back from his hearers nothing profitable, however distasteful, and to declare to every one of them the whole counsel of God. He is no respecter of persons; but warns every man, and teaches every man, in all wisdom, that he may present every man perfect in Christ. With sacred sincerity, what the Lord saith that will he speak; though philosophers should call him enthusiast, the populace salute him heretic, or the statesman pronounce him mad. This integrity and uprightness preserves the minister from fainting under a prospect of outward difficulties and a sense of his own weakness. Grace, in lively exercise, not only animates the teacher to his work, but assists him in it, and greatly tends to crown it with success. It does so by disposing him to give himself to prayer, as well as to the ministry of the Word. He is a favourite at the court of heaven, and improves all his interest there for his people's good. Further, personal religion promotes knowledge of the truth and aptness to teach, both which are indispensably necessary in the spiritual instructor. And as piety thus prevents men from mistaking the duties, so it preserves them from prejudices against the doctrines of Christianity. Just as one who perceived the light and brightness of the sun would be little moved by any attempts to prove that there was nothing but darkness around him. But, above all, inward piety assists in understanding and explaining experimental religion. Those are best suited to speak a word in season to weary souls who can comfort them in their spiritual distresses with those consolations wherewith they themselves have been comforted of God. True religion will promote in ministers a pious and exemplary behaviour.

II. ORTHODOXY, or soundness in the faith, is highly necessary in a spiritual instructor. Much more stress is laid upon this in the sacred writings than some seem willing to allow (1 Timothy 1:3; 1 Timothy 6:3, 5, 20, 21; 2 Timothy 1:13; Titus 1:9; Titus 2:1, 7, 8; Jude 1:2). Is it either ridiculous or hurtful to judge of things as they really are? If orthodoxy, in this sense, has done evil, let its enemies bear witness of the evil; but if good, why do they reproach it? Do superstition, enthusiasm, bigotry, or persecution for conscience sake, flow from just sentiments of religion and of the proper means to promote it? or rather do they not flow from wrong sentiments of these? Truth and general utility necessarily coincide. The first produces the second.

III. A TOLERABLE GENIUS AND CAPACITY, WITH A COMPETENT MEASURE OF TRUE LEARNING, are requisite to fit for the office of a spiritual instructor. Infidels may wish, as Julian the apostate did, to see learning banished from the Christian Church. And men of low education, or of selfish spirits may think meanly or speak diminutively of a gospel ministry, as if the weakest abilities sufficed to qualify for it. But a Paul cried out, "Who is sufficient for these things?" (2 Corinthians 2:16). Elihu tells us that scarcely one of a thousand is qualified to deal with the conscience (Job 33:23). Uncommon talents are necessary to explain obscure passages of Scripture, to resolve intricate cases of conscience, and to defend the truth against gainsayers — services to which ministers have frequent calls. But, above all, one who would teach others to be religious, must himself have a clear and distinct notion of religion. We cannot avoid despising the man who is ignorant in his own profession, whatever his knowledge may be of other matters. The spiritual instructor should be mighty in the Scriptures, able not only to repeat, but to explain them, having the Word of God dwelling in him richly, in all wisdom and spiritual understanding.

IV. Ministers have need to be persons of PRUDENCE AND CONDUCT, and to know men as well as books. A minister should study himself. He should not only be acquainted with his own spiritual state, but with the particular turn of his genius; for our usefulness will in a great measure depend upon knowing what our gift is. A minister should study the make and frame of the human mind; for till the springs of human nature are, in a good measure, disclosed to him, and he has learned how far the bodily passions, or a disordered imagination, may either cloud genuine piety or cause a resemblance of it, he will be often at a loss what judgment to frame of religious appearances. He should know all the avenues to the soul, and study the different capacities and tempers of men, that he may be able, with becoming address, to suit himself to them all.

V. A due mixture OF A STUDIOUS DISPOSITION AND OF AN ACTIVE SPIRIT is necessary in teachers of Christianity. The ministry is no idle or easy profession, but requires an almost uninterrupted series of the most painful and laborious services.

(J. Erskine, D. D.)

1. The best need dissuasives from proud censuring. It is the natural disease of wit, a pleasing evil; it suiteth with pride and self-love, and feedeth conceit. It serveth vainglory, and provideth for our esteem abroad; we demolish the esteem of others, that out of the ruins of it we may raise a structure of praise to ourselves.

2. Censuring is an arrogation of mastership over others. It is a wrong to God to put myself in His room; it is a wrong to my neighbour to arrogate a power over him which God never gave me.

3. Christians should not affect this mastership over their brethren. You may admonish, reprove, warn, but it should not be in a masterly way. How is that?(1) When we do it out of pride and self-conceit, as conceiving yourselves more just, holy, wise, etc.(2) When we do it as vaunting over their infirmities and frailties in a braving way, rather to shame than to restore them: this doth not argue hatred of the sin, but envy, malice against the person.(3) When the censure is unmerciful, and we remit nothing of extreme rigour and severity; yea, divest the action of extenuating circumstances.(4) When we infringe Christian liberty and condemn others for things merely indifferent.(5) When men do not consider what may stand with charity as well as what will agree with truth; there may be censure where there is no slander.(6) When we do it to set off ourselves, and use them as a foil to give our worth the better lustre, and by the report of their scandals to climb up and commence into a better esteem. In the whole matter we are to be actuated by love, and to aim at the Lord's glory.

4. A remedy against vain censures is to consider ourselves (Galatians 6:1). How is it with us? Gracious hearts are always looking inward; they inquire most into themselves, are most severe against their own corruptions.(1) Most inquisitive after their own sins.(2) Most severe against themselves.

5. Rash and undue judging of others, when we are guilty ourselves, maketh us liable to the greater judgment. The apostle proceedeth upon that supposition. Sharp reprovers had need be exact, otherwise they draw a hard law upon themselves, and in judging others pronounce their own doom; their sins are sins of knowledge, and the more knowledge the more stripes.

(T. Manton.)

Introduction into the office of religious teachers is the subject to which the admonition has reference. The unconverted Jews were vain of their privileges, and of their superiority in knowledge to the unenlightened Gentiles. This part of their character is forcibly drawn by Paul (Romans 2:17-20). There were some corrupters also of the gospel — mixing up its simple provisions for human salvation into a heterogeneous compound with the observances of the Mosaic ceremonial who manifested the same propensity to become teachers of others; their character, too, is graphically touched by the same apostle (1 Timothy 1:5-7; Titus 1:9-11). In the latter passage, the motive to which the teaching of such false doctrine is attributed — doctrine that trimmed itself to the prejudices and likings of the hearers for selfish ends — is inexpressibly base. But by various other motives besides avarice may the same desire be prompted. It may spring from vanity — from the ambitious love of distinction and fondness for pre-eminence — even when the teaching is not that of false doctrine, but of the true gospel, the doctrine of the Cross. Envy of the eminence of others, it would appear from Paul's representation, had actuated some in his day — a motive even more unworthy than the simple love of distinction for themselves (Philippians 1:15-18). What a shocking way for malice to adopt to give itself indulgence! — preaching Christ from rivalry, and under the idea that the success of such rivalry might be a new element of distress to the suffering apostle! How little such men — who judged of others by their own narrow-minded selfishness — knew of the elevation and nobleness of principle and feeling by which this servant of Christ was animated. Still further. Ill-directed zeal, where there is a deficiency of prudence, or of self-diffidence and experience, may produce, without any morally-evil motive, the same effect. This is frequently the case with new converts. Undue eagerness, then, for the office of teachers in the Church — whether thus arising from such corrupt motives as vanity, avarice, ambition, and envious rivalry, or from the less censurable ones of self-ignorance, inconsideration, and misguided zeal — the apostle seeks to repress. The meaning plainly is, that the believers should be in no haste to become public instructors, in order that the number might not be multiplied of such as, in knowledge and in character, were not suitable for the office. The ground on which James here rests his caution, is that of the specially solemn responsibility with which the office of teacher is invested: "Knowing that we" (we who are, or become, teachers namely) "shall receive greater condemnation" — we shall be subjected to "stricter judgment," as by some the words have been rendered — of which, as a necessary consequence, the result must be, when there is wilful or careless failure, or failure even from incompetency, "greater condemnation." The errors of teachers — whether arising from want of proper and sufficient investigation and study, from prejudice and partiality, or from whatever other corrupt or defective source — as they are more extensively mischievous than those of others, so are they proportionally more criminal; the obligation lying upon them being the greater to find out, by diligent search and careful discrimination of truth from falsehood, what they ought to teach and what to shun, so thus they may faithfully and fully, without alteration, addition, or abatement, declare "the thing that is right." And, while such considerations constitute the ground of a specially solemn account which public teachers have to render for what they teach, hasty aspirants after the office should further bear in mind that a station of public eminence exposes its occupant to observation, that the sins and failings of such a one are more marked, and are more injurious to the cause of God and of His truth than even grosser misdemeanours on the part of Christians in more private spheres; and hence, even in the present life, we need not be surprised should we observe discipline peculiarly severe dealt out by Providence to those who either, from any corrupt motive, go aside in their teaching from the Divine standard, or who, while they publish truth, fail to adorn it by their own consistent deportment.

(R. Wardlaw, D. D.)

Mark here how the apostle includes himself. He says, "We shall receive." He does so in a spirit of humility and self-distrust, which serves to bring out more forcibly the magnitude of the danger against which he is warning his readers. We find Paul writing in a similar manner (1 Corinthians 9:27). The most eminent ministers of the Church in all ages have felt this, and to such an extent that they have often shrunk back at first from the sacred office altogether. It was so with , who, when elected Bishop of Milan, fled from the city, and had to be searched out and brought back from his place of concealment. It was so with the still more celebrated Father , who went forward to receive ordination only after the most urgent solicitations. It was so with John Knox, for he, when called to the ministry in the Castle of St. Andrews, first made an ineffectual attempt to address the congregation that had chosen him, and then, bursting into tears, rushed out of the assembly and hid himself in his own chamber. "His countenance and behaviour, from that day till the day he was compelled to present himself in the public place of preaching, did sufficiently declare the grief and trouble of his heart, for no man saw any sign of mirth from him, neither had he pleasure to accompany any man for many days together." What a lesson is here to all who either have entered on, or are looking forward to, the work of spiritual teaching I

(John Adam.)

When Faraday was preparing to lecture in natural science at the Royal Institution, he advertised for a retired sergeant to help him with his experiments. Being asked why he sought for a military man, he explained that some of the materials that would be used were dangerous, and that, therefore, he wanted for an assistant not one who would follow his own ignorant judgment, and blow up himself, the professor, and the audience, but one who would do exactly what he would be told, and nothing else.

(E. J. Hardy, M. A.)

self-constituted censors of others.


Wiesinger heads this chapter, "Against the itch of teaching."


Words had taken the place of works.


The sages of Israel had given the same caution as in the maxim: Love the work, but strive not after the honour of a teacher.

(Pirke Aboth. 1:10.)

It is obvious that true teachers must always be a minority. There is something seriously wrong when the majority in the community, or even a large number, are pressing forward to teach the rest.

(A. Plummer, D. D.)

Bishop Hall said, "There are three things which, of all others, I will never strive for: the wall, the way, and the best seat. If I deserve well, a low place cannot disparage me so much as I shall grace it; if not, the height of my place shall add to my shame, while every man shall condemn me for pride matched with unworthiness."

(H. O. Mackey.)

Dare any of us say with the French king, "L'etat c'est moi" — "The State is myself" — "I am the most important person in the Church"? If so, the Holy Spirit is not likely to use such unsuitable instruments; but if we know our places, and desire to keep them with all humility, He will help us, and the Churches will flourish beneath our care.

(C. H. Spurgeon.)

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