In the same way, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it boasts of great things. Consider how small a spark sets a great forest ablaze.
I. A DIRECT STATEMENT OF THIS POWER. "If any stumbleth not in word, the same," etc. (ver. 2). In most cases, the capacity to control one's utterances indicates the measure of one's attainment as regards the keeping of his heart. Sins of the tongue form so large a portion of our multitudinous "stumblings" - they so frequently help to seduce us into other sins - and they afford such a searching test of character, that any one who has learned to avoid riffling into them may without exaggeration be described as "a perfect man." Of course, no person lives in this world of whom it can be affirmed that he never errs in word. James has just remarked that "in many things we all stumble." But he is now suggesting an ideal case - that of a man who is perfectly free from lip-sins; and he asserts that such a person would be found to be both blameless and morally strong over the whole area of his character. The power which can bridle the tongue can control the entire nature. So great is the influence of human speech!
II. SOME ILLUSTRATIONS OF THIS POWER. (Vers. 3-6.) The apostle here compares the tongue first to two familiar mechanical appliances, and then to one of the mighty forces of nature. In all the three selected cases very insignificant-looking means suffice to accomplish great results. The illustrations are extremely graphic; each is more telling than the preceding. They together show that James, the apostle of practical Christianity, possessed the perceptions and the instincts of a poet.
1. The horse-bridle. (Ver. 3.) The first illustration only emphasizes the thought which underlies the word "bridle" in ver. 2, and in James 1:26. The wild horses that roam at will over the American prairies seem quite unsubduable. Yet how complete is the control which man acquires over the tame horse! By means of the bit - the part of the bridle, which the animal bites - he is kept completely under command. The horse is controlled literally by the tongue. Now, in like manner, a man may "turn about his whole body" by subjecting his speech to firm self-government. The spirited steed of this verse may be regarded as a symbol of the flesh, with its lusts and passions. But the man who uses his tongue aright will find its influence very powerful in helping him to subdue his depraved carnal nature.
2. The shifts rudder. (Ver. 4.) Both romance and poetry gather round the idea of a ship. Even the old "galley with oars" was a "gallant" spectacle; and in our time there is no sight more picturesque than that of a sailing-vessel.
"Behold! upon the murmuring waves "She seems to hold her home in view, 3. The little fire. (Vers. 5, 6.) What a terrific power there is in fire! One tiny neglected spark may kindle a conflagration that will consume a city. The great fire of 1666 in London, which began in a little wooden shop near London Bridge, burned down every building between the Tower and the Temple. And how terrible are the seas of fire, kindled often by some casual spark, which roll along the prairies of North America! The power of a little tongue of flame is simply stupendous; and thus it is a most apposite illustration of the destructive energy of human speech. For "the tongue is a fire." Sometimes this tremendous power is exerted for good; indeed, the "tongue of fire" is the appropriate emblem of Christianity as the dispensation of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:3). More usually, however, fire is contemplated as an instrument of evil. So "the tongue is a fire" as regards its intense energy. Unsanctified speech scorches and consumes. The liar scatters firebrands; the slanderer kindles lambent flames; the profane swearer spits the fire of hell into the face of God. "The world of iniquity among our members is the tongue;" i.e. a whole microcosm of evil resides within the sphere of its operation. It "defileth the whole body;" just as fire soils with its smoke, the tongue stirs up the heart's corruption, and uses it to stain one's own life and character. It "setteth on fire the wheel of nature;" - for the whole circle of an unsanctified life, from birth onwards, is kept burning by the evil tongue. And it "is set on fire by hell;" for the ultimate inspiration of this destructive agency is of internal origin. This fire is devil-lighted, hell-kindled. Satan loaded the human tongue at the Fall with dynamite; and every day he ignites the treacherous magazine from the unquenchable fire. Thus, as the spirited horse represents the flesh, and the fierce winds the world, the raging fire leads us to think of the devil - the power of "the evil one." CONCLUSION. Let us earnestly seek the grace of God, to deliver our tongue from the deceits of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Let us guard the portals of our lips, so that no uncharitable or slanderous words may issue from them. Let us welcome the Pentecostal "tongue of fire," that it may purify us from the evil tongue which is "set on fire by hell." - C.J.
"She seems to hold her home in view,
3. The little fire. (Vers. 5, 6.) What a terrific power there is in fire! One tiny neglected spark may kindle a conflagration that will consume a city. The great fire of 1666 in London, which began in a little wooden shop near London Bridge, burned down every building between the Tower and the Temple. And how terrible are the seas of fire, kindled often by some casual spark, which roll along the prairies of North America! The power of a little tongue of flame is simply stupendous; and thus it is a most apposite illustration of the destructive energy of human speech. For "the tongue is a fire." Sometimes this tremendous power is exerted for good; indeed, the "tongue of fire" is the appropriate emblem of Christianity as the dispensation of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:3). More usually, however, fire is contemplated as an instrument of evil. So "the tongue is a fire" as regards its intense energy. Unsanctified speech scorches and consumes. The liar scatters firebrands; the slanderer kindles lambent flames; the profane swearer spits the fire of hell into the face of God. "The world of iniquity among our members is the tongue;" i.e. a whole microcosm of evil resides within the sphere of its operation. It "defileth the whole body;" just as fire soils with its smoke, the tongue stirs up the heart's corruption, and uses it to stain one's own life and character. It "setteth on fire the wheel of nature;" - for the whole circle of an unsanctified life, from birth onwards, is kept burning by the evil tongue. And it "is set on fire by hell;" for the ultimate inspiration of this destructive agency is of internal origin. This fire is devil-lighted, hell-kindled. Satan loaded the human tongue at the Fall with dynamite; and every day he ignites the treacherous magazine from the unquenchable fire. Thus, as the spirited horse represents the flesh, and the fierce winds the world, the raging fire leads us to think of the devil - the power of "the evil one."
CONCLUSION. Let us earnestly seek the grace of God, to deliver our tongue from the deceits of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Let us guard the portals of our lips, so that no uncharitable or slanderous words may issue from them. Let us welcome the Pentecostal "tongue of fire," that it may purify us from the evil tongue which is "set on fire by hell." - C.J.
The tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things.
Monday Club Sermons.I. WORDS ARE THE EXPRESSIONS OF THOUGHTS. Says Max Muller, with concise truth, "The word is the thought incarnate." The Greek word translated "brotherly love" was unknown until Christianity coined it to declare a new relation revealed to men. It depended upon the Christian Church to exemplify the virtue expressed in the word "humility." Every word we speak has its history, and in its appointed time each has been added to the library of the world's thought. "Words are things," said Mirabeau, and he was right.
II. WORDS, AS INCARNATE THOUGHTS, ARE REVELATIONS OF CHARACTER, The morality both of nations and men is stamped in their words. "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." The speech of every Peter betrays the man. Just as the despatches of Napoleon were of "glory," while those of the Iron Duke centred in "duty," so may their respective characters be known. He whose thoughts are on noble things will never grovel in speech. The "Incarnate Word" was compelled to reach men through their own vernacular, yet the purity of His teaching is as matchless as His own Divine nature. Humanly speaking, the voice of Jacob will always be Jacob's, though he dissemble Esau. Conversation touching impurity photographs for the world an impure heart. Ecstatic language, like purling brooks, denotes shallowness of thought. Repeated quotations of others' opinions are proofs of having no substantial opinions of our own. Willingness to speak freely about others' business is proof positive that we are not attending to our own affairs.
III. THIS POWER OF LANGUAGE DECLARES THE SOLEMNITY OF ITS USE. The spoken word, like an arrow from the quiver, has its mark. Said Hawthorne, "Nothing is more unaccountable than the spell that often lurks in a spoken word." A kind word has given courage to more than one despondent heart; and, struck by a cruel word, more than one gentle spirit has sobbed itself into the grave. Each word has a meaning, and the word is that meaning sent home to another — a word alive with fear, or joy, or love, or hate. It matters not as to their derivation, the words we speak mean ourselves back of them.
IV. THIS POWER OF SPEECH EMPHASISES THE NECESSITY OF SELF-CONTROL. Man is at the same time a king to rule his tongue and a slave to suffer from its abuse. The school of life deals with a double danger — the arrogant assumptions of self and the oppositions experienced from without. The first is illustrated in the control of the nervous horse held in with bit and bridle; the other means the steadfastness of the ship that no tempest can turn from its course. The helmsman's duty on the tongue is no easy calling. It requires strength to hold the bits. The small rudder firmly held gives the promise of safety to the ship.
V. OUR WORDS SHALL CONFRONT US AT THE JUDGMENT. We often unwittingly send them on before us, as though they were sand to be blown into the eyes of others, forgetting that they shall blind or bless ourselves. It is serious business to write a book like the "Pilgrim's Progress," or its opposite, "The Age of Reason." It is serious business to declare in speech even the gospel of Christ. It is no meaningless service to expound the Bible in the Sabbath school. It is no less serious when every word of father and mother makes its impression upon the children's lives, to see that such words are rightly spoken.
(Monday Club Sermons.)
(J. B. Shaw, D. D.)I. THE LICENSE OF THE TONGUE.
1. The first license given to the tongue is slander. I am not of, course, speaking now of that species of slander against which the law of libel provides a remedy, but of that of which the gospel alone takes cognisance; for the worst injuries which man can do to man are precisely those which are too delicate for law to deal with. Now observe, this slander is compared in the text to poison. The deadliest poisons are those for which no test is known: there are poisons so destructive that a single drop insinuated into the veins produces death in three seconds, and yet no chemical science can separate that virus from the contaminated blood, and show the metallic particles of poison glittering palpably, and say, "Behold, it is there!" In the drop of venom which distils from the sting of the smallest insect, or the spikes of the nettle-leaf, there is concentrated the quintessence of a poison so subtle that the microscope cannot distinguish it, and yet so virulent that it can inflame the blood, irritate the whole constitution, and convert day and night into restless misery. In St. James's day, as now, it would appear that there were idle men and idle women, who went about from house to house, dropping slander as they went, and yet you could not take up that slander and detect the falsehood there. You could not evaporate the truth in the slow process of the crucible, and then show the residuum of falsehood glittering and visible. You could not fasten upon any word or sentence, and say that it was calumny; for in order to constitute slander it is not necessary that the word spoken should be false — half truths are often more calumnious than whole falsehoods. It is not even necessary that the word should be distinctly uttered; a dropped lip, an arched eyebrow, a shrugged shoulder, a significant look, an incredulous expression of countenance, nay, even an emphatic silence, may do the work: and when the light and trifling thing which has done the mischief has fluttered off, the venom is left behind, to work and rankle, to inflame hearts, to fever human existence, and to poison human society at the fountain springs of life.
2. The second license given to the tongue is in the way of persecution: "therewith curse we men which are made after the similitude of God." "We!" — men who bear the name of Christ — curse our brethren! Christians persecuted Christians. Thus even in St. James's age that spirit had begun, the monstrous fact of Christian persecution; from that day it has continued, through long centuries, up to the present time. We congratulate ourselves that the days of persecution are gone by; but persecution is that which affixes penalties upon views held, instead of upon life led. Is persecution only fire and sword? But suppose a man of sensitive feeling says, The sword is less sharp to me than the slander: fire is less intolerable than the refusal of sympathy!
II. THE GUILT OF THIS LICENSE.
1. The first evil consequence is the harm that a man does himself: "so is the tongue among the members, that it defiles the whole body." I will take the simplest form in which this injury is done, it effects a dissipation of spiritual energy. There are two ways in which the steam of machinery may find an outlet for its force: it may work, and if so it works silently; or it may escape, and that takes place loudly, in air and noise. There are two ways in which the spiritual energy of a man's soul may find its vent: it may express itself in action, silently; or in words noisily: but just so much of force as is thrown into the one mode of expression, is taken from the other. Few men suspect how much mere talk fritters away spiritual energy, — that which should be spent in action, spends itself in words. In these days of loud profession, and bitter, fluent condemnation, it is well for us to learn the Divine force of silence. Remember Christ in the Judgment Hall, the very symbol and incarnation of spiritual strength: and yet when revilings were loud around Him and charges multiplied, "He held His peace."
2. The next feature in the guilt of calumny is its uncontrollable character: "the tongue can no man tame." You cannot arrest a calumnious tongue, you cannot arrest the calumny itself; you may refute a slanderer, you may trace home a slander to its source, you may expose the author of it, you may by that exposure give a lesson so severe as to make the repetition of the offence appear impossible; but the fatal habit is incorrigible: to-morrow the tongue is at work again. Neither can you stop the consequences of a slander; you may publicly prove its falsehood, you may sift every atom, explain and annihilate it, and yet, years after you had thought that all had been disposed of for ever, the mention of a name wakes up associations in the mind of some one who heard the calumny, but never heard or never attended to the refutation, or who has only a vague and confused recollection of the whole, and he asks the question doubtfully, "But were there not some suspicious circumstances connected with him?" It is like the Greek fire used in ancient warfare, which burned unquenched beneath the water, or like the weeds which when you have extirpated them in one place are sprouting forth vigorously in another spot, at the distance of many hundred yards; or, it is like the wheel which catches fire as it goes, and burns with a fiercer conflagration as its own speed increases. You may tame the wild beast, the conflagration of the American forest will cease when all the timber and the dry underwood is consumed; but you cannot arrest the progress of that cruel word which you uttered carelessly yesterday; that will go on slaying, poisoning, burning beyond your own control, now and for ever.
3. The third element of guilt lies in the unnaturalness of calumny. "My brethren, these things ought not so to be"; ought not — that is, they are unnatural. That this is St. James's meaning is evident from the second illustration which follows: "Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?" "Can the fig-tree, my brethren, bear olive berries, or a vine, figs?" The truest definition of evil is that which represents it as something contrary to nature: evil is evil, because it is unnatural; a vine which should bear olive berries, an eye to which blue seems yellow, would be diseased: an unnatural mother, an unnatural son, an unnatural act, are the strongest terms of condemnation. It is this view which Christianity gives of moral evil: the teaching of Christ was the recall of man to nature, not an infusion of something new into humanity. Now the nature of man is to adore God and to love what is god-like in man. The office of the tongue is to bless. Slander is guilty because it contradicts this; yet even in slander itself, perversion as it is, the interest of man in man is still distinguishable. What is it but perverted interest which makes the acts, and words, and thoughts of his brethren, even in their evil, a matter of such strange delight? Remember therefore, this contradicts your nature and your destiny; to speak ill of others makes you a monster in God's world: get the habit of slander, and then there is not a stream which bubbles fresh from the heart of nature, — there is not a tree that silently brings forth its genial fruit in its appointed season, — which does not rebuke and proclaim "you to be a monstrous anomaly in God's world.
4. The fourth point of guilt is the diabolical character of slander; the tongue "is set on fire of hell." Now, this is no mere strong, expression — no mere indignant vituperation — it contains deep and emphatic meaning. The apostle means literally what he says, slander is diabolical. The first illustration we give of this is contained in the very meaning of the word devil. "Devil," in the original, means traducer or slanderer. The first introduction of a demon spirit is found connected with a slanderous insinuation against the Almighty, implying that His command had been given in envy of His creature: "for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil." There is another mode in which the fearful accuracy of St. James's charge may be demonstrated. There is one state only from which there is said to be no recovery — there is but one sin that is called unpardonable. To call evil, good, and good, evil — to see the Divinest good, and call it Satanic evil — below this lowest deep there is not a lower still. There is no cure for mortification of the flesh — there is no remedy for ossification of the heart. Oh I that miserable state, when to the jaundiced eye all good transforms itself into evil, and the very instruments of health become the poison of disease. Beware of every approach of this! Beware of that spirit which controversy fosters, of watching only for the evil in the character of an antagonist! Beware of that habit which becomes the slanderer's life, of magnifying every speck of evil and closing the eye to goodness! — till at last men arrive at the state in which generous, universal love (which is heaven) becomes impossible, and a suspicious, universal hate takes possession of the heart, and that is hell! Before we conclude, let us get at the root of the matter. "Man," says the Apostle James, "was made in the image of God"; to slander man is to slander God: to love what is good in man is to love it in God. Love is the only remedy for slander: no set of rules or restrictions can stop it; we may denounce, but we shall denounce in vain. The radical cure of it is Charity — "out of a pure heart and faith unfeigned," to feel what is great in the human character; to recognise with delight all high, and generous, and beautiful actions; to find a joy even in seeing the good qualities of your bitterest opponents, and to admire those qualities even in those with whom you have least sympathy — this is the only spirit which can heal the love of slander and of calumny. If we would bless God, we must first learn to bless man, who is made in the image of God.
(F. W. Robertsort, M. A.)1. A usual sin of the tongue is boasting. Sometimes the pride of the heart shooteth out by the eyes (Proverbs 6:17); but usually it is displayed in our speech. The tongue trumpeteth it out —(1) In bold vaunts (1 Samuel 2:3; Isaiah 14:13).(2) In a proud ostentation of our own worth and excellency. It is against reason that a man should be judge in his own cause. In the Olympic Games the wrestlers did not put the crowns upon their own heads; that which is lawful praise in another's lips, in our own it is but boasting.(3) In contemptuous challenges of God and man.(4) Bragging promises, as if they could achieve and accomplish great matters above the reach of their gifts and strength: "I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil," &o. (Exodus 15.).
2. Small things are to be regarded; and we must not consider matters in their beginning only, but progress, and ultimate issue. A little sin doth a great deal of mischief, and a little grace is of great efficacy (Ecclesiastes 10:13).
(R. Wardlaw, D. D.)
(H. O. Mackey.)
How great a matter a little fire kindleth.
1. Let me remark, then, that evil passions in their early stage do not wear the disgusting appearance which they afterwards do when they are carried to excess. The buds even of the most noxious weeds appear pretty. The most savage animals, while yet young, only amuse us with their gambols as they lie in ambush for their prey or spring upon it. But however harmless their mirth may then be, it is easy to perceive in it the spirit which by and by will tear to pieces with fury the quivering victim.
2. I observe, further, that the foundation of all great vices is laid in those little things which often are scarcely noticed, or scarcely appear to need correction. It is by little things that habits are formed and principles become established. They resemble the spots or eruptions which sometimes appear in the human body, which are of no material importance in themselves, but are of great consequence when they are considered aa indicating a general unsoundness of constitution. It should be remembered that principle is as truly sacrificed by little offences as by great ones.
3. I remark, also, that little sins are the steps by which we travel on to greater acts of transgression. Temptation has, in general, but little force, except when it solicits to those sins which have often before been committed, or which are but a single degree beyond what we have been accustomed to commit. Thus persons are brought imperceptibly to practices and principles which would once have shocked them.
4. It follows, therefore, that little sins are what, most of all, ought to be attended to and resisted. Watch against the beginnings. The spark may soon be extinguished, but the conflagration rages with irresistible fury. The first channel by which confined waters run over their banks may soon be stopped; but by and by it becomes a torrent which tears down the mounds and spreads itself with desolating fury. Here, therefore, religion will most successfully operate in restraining at first the evil disposition as soon as it arises; in watching against those little sins by which corrupt principles and corrupt dispositions are chiefly gratified and nourished.
5. This subject presents useful lessons of instruction to parents. They form the minds of their children. And it is too much to be feared that many of those unhappy persons who have been brought to ruin have been brought to it chiefly by the operation of those very principles which their parents instilled into them and encouraged.
6. The consideration of the subject of my discourse should lead us also to deep humiliation on account of our great corruption, and to earnest prayers for the grace of Christ to pardon and to cleanse us.
7. And as we see evil arrive at its perfection by small gradations, so let us remember that good advances in the same manner. We should not despise little things, either in what is good or bad; for "he that despiseth little things shall fall by little and little." The character is formed very much from the repetition of little acts; and a progress in religion is made by small successive steps, none of which ought to be despised. Try to do a little, and that little will prepare you for more. Take the first step, and that will prepare the way for a second.
(J. Venn, M. A.)A circumstance, probably without a parallel even in the history of the United States, is reported in advices received from Ashland, Wisconsin territory (1888), viz., the destruction of the town of Wakefield by fire through the mischievousness of a monkey. The monkey was located in the Vaudeville Theatre, and had the freedom of the place. During the evening of the 25th ult. he got to some kerosene and covered himself with the oil. He then set fire to himself with a lamp which was burning in the room, and then appeared at the window of the theatre amusing the people. Presently the building was in flames, and the monkey running about in its frenzy set fire to other places. The buildings in the town were of wood, and the conflagration spread from place to, place, until the whole of the town was burnt down. Gangs of roughs during the progress of the fire commenced looting the stores, and in most instances the flames had scarcely reached the respective places before the robbers commenced sacking the premises. The owners tried to protect their stores, and in the encounters many pistol shots were exchanged. The proprietor of the theatre was a man named O'Brien, and between him and a storekeeper named Lewis, whose premises were destroyed, an altercation took place, Lewis blaming O'Brien for allowing the monkey to be in the theatre. O'Brien became enraged, and shot Lewis twice with a revolver, wounding him mortally.
(J. F. B. Tinling, B. A.)
(Son of Sirach.)A fire at first no bigger than the flame of a taper may consume a mansion or a palace. One Roman soldier's torch flung into the holiest of all, burned down to the ground the temple of the Lord, in the days of Titus.
(M. G. Pearse.)
(C. Stanford, D. D.)
The tongue is a fire.
1. The first tongue-sin which I will name is that of tattling; by this I mean a thoughtless, trifling, heedless talking. There is a process in chemistry by which you can arrest the invisible gas, and weigh it, and separate it into its constituent elements; and were there moral re-agents by which we could arrest the gaseous tattle of these busybodies, and resolve it into its elements, its constituent parts would be folly, slander, falsehood, flattery, and boastfulness.
2. The second tongue-sin is slander. Under this head I enumerate backbiting, or speaking evil of one behind his back; defaming one's good name by absolute or implied censure; detraction, envious jealousies, secret whisperings, and innuendoes, and all other ways by which the tongue wounds and injures the name and reputation of another. The devil, then, is, as Christ says, "the father of lies"; and every one who gives his tongue to slander, and maligns his neighbours, or utters words of falsehood or detraction, comes into the class of those false accusers, those Diaboloi of which Jesus truly said, "Ye are of your father the devil." The grossest kind of slander is bearing false witness: that is, saying a person did things which he did not do. This false witness is sometimes spoken openly, sometimes in secret, but always with malicious intent; and in every instance the tongue which utters it, not only setteth on fire the course of nature, but is set on fire of hell. Another way of slandering is to impute false motives to good actions. When we say of a liberal man that he is vainglorious; of an active man in Church affairs, that he is a Diotrephes; of a prudent man, that he is miserly; of a devout man, that he is hypocritical. Another way is to distort views, words, and actions; giving them a false construction; suppressing what might appear good; magnifying what might seem to be evil. This is taking a man's words and deeds, and, like Romish inquisitors, stretching them upon the rack until they become disjointed, and the once symmetrical form is all distorted and awry by reason of the unjust treatment to which slander subjects it. Another way is by insinuations, sly suggestions, expressions of doubt, intimations as to something concealed, a qualifying of the praise of others by some question implying distrust, or lack of confidence.
3. The third tongue-sin which St. James mentions is the fretful, scolding tongue. There are those who are always complaining. Even if blessings come, they murmur because they are no greater, and are ready to find fault, not only with all the dealings of their fellow-men, but with all the providences of God.
4. Falsehood is another grievous tongue-sin; and in this I would include all kinds of lying. The lie positive, and the lie negative; the lie direct, and the lie by implication; the lie malignant, and the lie sportive; every designed departure from truth is falsehood; and every falsehood is a sin against one's own soul, a sin against your fellow-men, and a sin against God, which He will punish with fearful severity.
5. The tongue commits a great sin when it is used in filthy talking and indecent speech. It .is greatly to be lamented that even in polite, and what would pass for modest, society there is too much of tampering with this sin.
6. Another tongue-sin is boasting. "The tongue is a little member, but boasteth great things." Boasting results from an overestimate of ourselves, and an underestimate of others. It is selfishness manifesting itself in words. It is the inflated mind, venting itself in windy words. It betrays weakness, littleness, ignorance, vanity, self-conceit, arrogance, presumption.
7. Another sin of the tongue is flattery, or the giving of undue and undeserved praise. The desire to say something that will please the person we are speaking to, or that will secure his favour, or elevate us in his regard; or the desire, perhaps, to have him reciprocate the compliment, and flatter us, is the usual motive for this sin of the tongue.
8. Lastly, there is the sin of profanity, the taking of God's name in vain. With what caution use an instrument of speech which has under it "the poison of asps"! With what assiduity should we seek to tame that most untamable of things, that it rends us not by its fierceness, and ravin not upon society by its brute-like goadings! Yet we cannot do this in our own strength or wisdom, and our prayer must be that of the Psalmist, "Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth. Keep the door of my lips." We must seek for Divine grace to aid us in subduing and controlling the tongue. We must seek to have hearts created anew in Christ Jesus; for if our hearts are right with God our speech will be also.
(Bp. Stevens.)The keeping of the tongue is one of those duties that entitles a man to safety from evil times, and therefore must now be urged as a seasonable duty. The wisest monarch could hardly govern a great part of the world; how difficult then must it be to govern a world, and that a world of iniquity. The tongue is a world of iniquity, a heap of evils; as in the world many things are contained, so in the tongue. This world of iniquity is divided into two parts, undue silence, and sinful speaking. These are the higher and lower parts of this world, yet quickly may men travel from the one to the other.
I. UNDUE SILENCE, WHEN THE TONGUE RESTS IDLE, WHEN GOD CALLS IT TO WORK. Our tongues are our glory, and should not be involved in a dark cloud of silence when God calls them to shine forth.
1. Silence is unseasonable when sin rageth and roareth. Oar tongues testify that we are men, and they should show we are Christians and in a covenant with God, offensive and defensive. By this undue silence we are injurious to God, in that we do not vindicate His glory, bespattered with the sins of others. His glory, I say, Who hath given us a tongue as a banner to be displayed because of truth. This undue silence is also injurious to our neighbour. We see him pulling down the house about his ears, and yet we will not help him; selling his soul for a trifle, and yet we do not bid him rue his bargain. It is injurious likewise to ourselves, for thereby we adopt the devil's children brought forth by others, and set down their debts to our own account (Ephesians 5:7-11). This silence also leaves a sting in our conscience, which remains inactive in the hearts of some for a while; but when the opportunity of bearing testimony against sin is gone, it bites dreadfully the hearts of those whose consciences are not seared.
2. When an opportunity of edifying others inviteth us to speak. Oh, what iniquity is contracted by the neglect of heavenly discourse among professors! A dumb Christian is a very unprofitable servant. A philosopher, seeing a man with a fair face and a silent tongue, bade him speak that he might see him. When scholars or merchants meet, we know what they are by their discourse; and why should not Christians also discover themselves?(1) Dumb Christians are very unlike Christ, whose ordinary way it was to spiritualise all things, and turn the current of the discourse toward heaven.(2) Either there is no religion at all, or but very little, in that heart. Nearest the heart, nearest the mouth. If fire be upon the hearth, the smoke will come out at the chimney.(3) They are very useless sort of people; like the vine that is fruitless.
3. Silence is unseasonable when our wants are crying. These should make us cry to God, like that woman who cried to the king of Israel, saying, "Help, my Lord, O King."
II. SINFUL SPEAKING: WHEN THE TONGUE IS EXERCISED, BUT ILL EXERCISED; AND THIS IS A STRONG PIECE OF THIS WORLD OF INIQUITY. I may divide it again into two parts — one against our duty to God, the other against our duty to man.
1. Against our duty to God.(1) Rash swearing by the name of God.(2) A light, irreverent, and profane using of the name of God in common talk.(3) Cursing; whereby we wish some horrid ill to ourselves or neighbours; but, because it is a kind of profane prayer, I speak of it under this head.(4) Profaning of Scripture phrases, by jesting or scoffing on the Scriptures; or using them to express the conceptions of men's wanton wits, alluding to them in common talk, and the like.(5) Mocking of religion and seriousness.(6) Reasoning against religion, and defending sinful opinions and practices.(7) Murmuring and complaining. Proud hearts make us fret at the dispensations of providence (Jude 1:14-16).
2. Against our duty to man.(1) Idle speaking — that is, words spoken to no good purpose, tending neither to the glory of God, nor the good of ourselves or others, either in spiritual or temporal things. A gracious soul will beware of idle words, as of vain thoughts.(2) A trade of jesting. It is not unlawful to pass an innocent jest, to produce a moderate recreation. But if a jest be allowed to be sauce to our conversation, yet it is impious to make it the meat.(3) Lying. Pernicious; officious; the sporting lie; the rash lie, when men through inadvertency and customary looseness tell an untruth. This is so common that we may say truth hath fallen in the streets. Few so tender as to avoid making a lie. Consider God is a God of truth, and therefore it is most contrary to His nature, and the devil is the father of lies. It is a badge of the old man.(4) Uncharitable speaking of truth, to the wounding of the reputation of others. It is not enough that what ill we speak of others be true, but the speaking of it must bring a greater than the disadvantage the party gets by it.(5) Slandering or backbiting. Of this three sorts of persons are guilty.(a) He that raiseth a false report of his neighbour (Exodus 23:1). Here is a true son of the devil, with malice and lying in conjunction.(b) He who readily reports it, though he knows it to be false, as readily receives, though he is not sure it is true.(c) He that spreads it.
(T. Boston, D. D.)1. The evil tongue is the silent tongue; it is wholly mute in matters of religion; it never speaks of God or of heaven, as if it cleaved to the roof of the mouth.
2. The evil tongue is the earthly tongue. Men talk of nothing but the world, as if all their hopes were here, and they looked for an earthly eternity.
3. The evil tongue is the hasty or angry tongue; they have no command of passions, but are carried away with them as a chariot with wild horses.
4. The evil tongue is the vain tongue, that vents itself in idle words: "under his tongue is vanity." A vain tongue shows a light heart; a good man's words are weighty and prudent: "the tongue of the just is as choice silver," but "the mouth of fools pours out foolishness."
5. The evil tongue is the censorious tongue: "who art thou that judgest another?" Were men's hearts more humble, their tongues would be more charitable.
6. The evil tongue is the slanderous tongue. A slanderer wounds another's fame, and no physician can heal these wounds. The sword doth not make so deep a wound as the tongue.
7. The evil tongue is the unclean tongue that vents itself in filthy and scurrilous words: "let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth."
8. The evil tongue is the lying tongue: "lie not one to another." Nothing is more contrary to God than a lie; it shows much irreligion; lying is a sin that doth not go alone, it ushers in other sins. Absalom told his father a lie, that he was going to pay his vow at Hebron, and this lie was a preface to his treason.
9. The evil tongue is the flattering tongue, that will speak fair to one's face but will defame: "he that hateth, dissembleth with his lips." When he speaketh fair believe him not; dissembled love is worse than hatred.
10. The evil tongue is the tongue given to boasting: "the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things." There is a holy boasting: "In God we boast all the day," when we triumph in His power and mercy: but it is a sinful boasting when men display their trophies, boast of their own worth and eminency, that others may admire and cry them up; a man's self is his idol, and he loves to have this idol worshipped: "there arose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody."
11. The evil tongue is the swearing tongue. Some think it the grace of their speech; but if God will reckon with men for idle words, what will He do for sinful oaths?
12. The railing tongue is an evil tongue; this is a plague-sore breaking out at the tongue when we give opprobrious language.
13. The seducing tongue is an evil tongue. The tongue that by fine rhetoric decoys men to error: "by fair speeches they deceive the hearts of the simple." A fair tongue can put off bad wares; error is bad ware, which a seducing tongue can put off.
14. The evil tongue is the cruel tongue, that speaks to the wounding the hearts of others. Healing words are fittest for a broken heart: but that is a cruel, unmerciful tongue which speaks such words to the afflicted as to cut them to the heart: "they talk to the grief of those whom Thou hast wounded."
15. The evil tongue is the murmuring tongue: "these are murmurers." Murmuring is discontent breaking out at the lips; men quarrel with God, and tax His providence as if He had not dealt well with them. Why should any murmur or be discontented at their condition? Doth God owe them anything? Or can they deserve anything at His hands? Oh, how uncomely is it to murmur at Providence I
16. The evil tongue is the scoffing tongue.
17. The evil tongue is the unjust tongue: that will for a piece of money open its mouth in a bad cause.
(T. Watson.)1. There is a resemblance between an evil tongue and fire.(1) For the heat of it. It is the instrument of wrath and contention, which is the heat of a man — a boiling of the blood about the heart (Proverbs 17:27).(2) For the danger of it. It kindleth a great burning. The tongue is a powerful means to kindle divisions and strifes. You know we had need look to fire. Where it prevaileth it soon turneth houses into a wilderness: and you have as much need to watch the tongue (Proverbs 26:18).(3) For the scorching. Reproaches penetrate like fire.(4) It is kindled from hell. When you feel this heat upon your spirit, remember from what hearth these coals were gathered.
2. There is a world of sin in the tongue. Some sins are formal and proper to this member, others flow from it. It acteth in some sins, as lying, railing, swearing, &c. It concurreth to others, by commanding, counselling, persuading, seducing, &c. It is made the pander to lust and sin. Oh! how vile are we if there be a world of sin in the tongue — in one member!
3. Sin is a defilement and a blot.
4. Tongue sins do much defile. They defile others. We communicate evil to others, either by carnal suggestions, or provoke them to evil by our passion. They defile ourselves. By speaking evil of them we contract guilt upon ourselves.
5. All evil tongue hath a great influence upon other members. When a man speaketh evil, he will commit it. When the tongue hath the boldness to talk of sin, the rest of the members have the boldness to act it (1 Corinthians 15:33).
6. The evils of the tongue are of a large and universal influence, diffuse themselves into all conditions and states of life. There is no faculty which the tongue doth not poison, from the understanding to the locomotive; it violently stirreth up the will and affections, maketh the hands and the feet "swift to shed blood" (Romans 3:14, 15). There is no action which it doth not reach; not only those of ordinary conversation, by lying, swearing, censuring, etc., but holy duties, as prayer, and those direct and higher addresses to God, by foolish babbling and carnal requests; we would have God revenge our private quarrel. There is no age exempted; it is not only found in young men that are of eager and fervorous spirits, but in those whom age and experience hath more matured and ripened. Other sins decay with age, this many times increaseth; and we grow more forward and pettish as natural strength decayeth, and "the days come on in which is no pleasure."
7. A wicked tongue is of an infernal origin. Calumnies and reproaches are a fire blown up by the breath of hell. The devil hath been "a liar from the beginning" (John 8:44), and an accuser of the brethren, and he loveth to make others like himself. Learn, then, to abhor revilings, contentions, and reproaches, as you would hell flames; these are but the eruptions of an infernal fire; slanderers are the devil's slaves and instruments. Again, if blasted with contumely, learn to slight it; who would care for the suggestions of the father of lies? The murderer is a liar. In short, that which cometh from hell will go thither again (Matthew 5:22).
A world of iniquity.
(R. Turnbull.)Psalm 104:26).
(J. Trapp.)The tongue is a centre from which mischief radiates; that is the main thought. A wheel that has caught fire at the axle is at last wholly consumed as the fire spreads through the spokes to the circumference. So also in society. Passions kindled by unscrupulous language spread through various channels and classes, till the whole cycle of human life is in flames. Reckless language first of all "defiles the whole" nature of the man who employs it, and then works destruction far and wide through the vast machinery of society. And to this there are no limits; so long as there is material the fire will continue to burn.
(A. Plummer, D. D.)
Bet on fire of hell.
Baxendale's Anecdotes.Of Dr. Annesley it is recorded that, taking coffee one evening at an hotel, he heard one of two gentlemen in the next compartment swearing violently in conversation with the other, upon which he rang for the waiter and ordered a glass of water. When brought to him he said, "Take it to the gentleman in the next box." The gentleman was surprised, and said he had ordered no such thing. "I thought," said the venerable doctor, gravely, "to cool your tongue after the fiery language you have been uttering."
(J. T. Mombert, D. D.)
(J. H. A. Ebrard, D. D.)
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