If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridles not his tongue, but deceives his own heart, this man's religion is vain.…
I. Then it would seem that there is such a thing as not only being religious, BUT APPEARING TO BE; that rejoicing though we can in the sincerity of some, we are not to be blind to the pretence and hypocrisy of others, Now this sin is one which may consist with an assumed high standing in grace. It may be so managed as to conceal its deformity; it may assume even an air of religiousness. It may, and it does, abound within the most sacred enclosures; and it tells sadly for our fallen nature that in spots the most favoured there not unfrequently it most luxuriates: where the gospel is most faithfully preached there does it most prevail. Not that at the door of the gospel the evil lies, nor that its faithful ministrations have any natural tendency to beget or to strengthen it; but it springs altogether from the native vileness of the heart brought in contact with the gospel. Its own native tendency is to change and purify the heart, but when this its direct object is not attained, it serves but to call forth latent corruption; or, while it puts a check upon a sinful propensity in one direction, it is the innocent and accidental cause of its rushing more violently in another. And it is in this manner that we account for what, at first sight, might seem to cast dishonour on the gospel.
II. Now How DOES HE PROCEED TO DETECT AND EXPOSE THIS SEEMING RELIGIOUSNESS? YOU remark that he .makes no appeal to any open or gross violation of the moral law. It is the sin of the tongue, "the best member that we have," whose right use most dignifies and exalts, but by reason of our apostasy becomes the very worst. Now, it may seem strange that our apostle should have made this selection by which to test the conscience; but what better test could he apply? Take the connection which subsists between the tongue and the heart. "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh"; and surely an evil tongue is undeniable demonstration of an evil heart. Besides which, what is religion but a link, a bond, a tie between God and the soul? What God is in His moral nature, that religion binds man to be; and so close is the union cemented that the soul of a truly religious man begins to love what God loves and hate what God hates. Impossible, therefore, whatever he may profess, that the man who "bridles not his tongue," but suffers it to sport itself in reviling, censuring, or detraction — impossible this man's religion can be other than "vain." Hath not He whose religion bids us love Him "with all our heart and soul and mind and strength "also commanded us to love our neighbour as ourselves? Can we obey the one command and disobey the other? We stop not to inquire into the thousand ways in which an unbridled tongue, with an open ear, evidences an unsanctified heart. The love of slander, whether it be to tell it or to hear it, argues a disposition as fallen as Satan's, and with sad but certain truth may it be said of all who love to indulge in it, "Ye are of your father the devil," for his works ye do, whose very name betrays his nature — "accuser," slanderer of "the brethren." There is one tiling, however, we must not leave unnoticed; it is the effect of this sin upon the individual himself. "He deceiveth his own heart." The fabricator of lies, by repeating them, soon begins to believe them; and if at the onset there were some slight misgivings of conscience, they are soon silenced, and a hardened conscience and a deceived heart are the appalling reward of a deceiving, slandering, unbridled tongue.
III. And now we come TO THE JUDGMENT THE APOSTLE DELIVERS ON SUCH A RELIGION: "It is vain" — unprofitable, injurious, destructive. To the individual himself it is the pathway to endless ruin; to others it is frightfully mischievous; to God most dishonourable.
(J. Hazlegrave, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.