Government of the Tongue
James 1:26-27
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.…


1. Consider what amazing good or awful mischief your tongue may be the instrument of effecting. The tongue of the eloquent Demosthenes roused the Athenians against the boundless ambition of Philip; the bold tongue of the eloquent Cicero delivered his country from the deep-laid plots of the artful Catiline; the wild harangues of a solitary hermit filled all Europe with frenzy, and armed them for the romantic exploits of the Crusade; and there have not been wanting in modern times instances of the power of words, when, at the name of Austerlitz or Marengo, thousands have rushed upon the bayonet's point and hurried to the arms of death.

2. Consider the intimate connection of your words with your thoughts and actions.

3. The laws which all civilised nations in every age have found it necessary to enact for the government of the tongue. In the laws of Menu, the great legislator of the Hindoos, the most tremendous judgments are threatened to the slanderer or the perjured witness. These are the remarkable words: "Whatever places of torture have been prepared for the slayer of a priest, for the murderer of a woman or a child, for the injurer of a friend, or for an ungrateful man, those places are ordained for a witness who gives false evidence"; and again: "The fruit of every virtuous action which thou hast done, O good man, since thy birth, shall depart from thee to dogs if thou deviate in speech from the truth." In China excessive talkativeness in a woman is by the law considered a sufficient ground for a divorce. Solon enacted wholesome laws against calumny and slander, and annexed heavy fines to the violation of them. Augustus Caesar declared the authors of all libels, &c., attacking or blackening the reputation of any person whatsoever, guilty of high treason, and punishable with death. Amongst the Egyptians perjury was regarded as a capital crime, and the false accuser was doomed to undergo the punishment which, had the charge been substantiated, would have been inflicted on the accused.

4. Your tongues are the property of God. It should, then, be your constant care that it unite with its kindred organs to advance the Redeemer's praise.


1. The profane tongue. Under this head maybe classed —

(1) All kinds of blasphemy.

(2) Perjury.

(3) Common swearing.

(4) All jesting with the Scriptures.

(5) All sorts of incantations and enchantments.

(6) All cursing or imprecating the Divine vengeance upon ourselves or others.

(7) The performance of religious services in an irreverent and thoughtless manner.

2. The false tongue.

(1) Lying in the common acceptation of the word.

(2) There is a species of lying, however, for which some writers on moral philosophy have contended as not being injurious to society or unlawful in itself, but which, in my opinion, is highly prejudicial to the simplicity and confidence of social intercourse, and very far from the undisguised and open spirit inculcated by the gospel. I mean the habit of exaggeration and embellish-meat in narratives; the practice of denying one's self to those persons whom it does not suit either our convenience or our inclination to see; the compliments and declarations of friendship which come not from the heart; and the welcomes which are dictated by politeness to persons whom we secretly dislike: in all which cases truth and sincerity would dictate a very different style of address to that which is actually employed.

(3) In addition to this it may be observed that there may be lying, and that of a most aggravated kind, without absolute untruth: as in the case of prevarication, or dissimulation, or when words are used in another sense by the speaker than that in which it was intended the hearer should understand them.

3. Idle tongue.

(1) All vain, foolish, and frivolous conversation.

(2) Hence follows tale-bearing in all its hateful and injurious varieties.

4. The malignant tongue. Under this head I might say much of —

(1) Detraction, a species of calumny and a vice of the malignant tongue far too prevalent, and that where least of all it should be known; I mean among friends and brethren — the tongue which, under the colour of friendship, aims a deadlier blow and inflicts a deeper wound.


1. Look well to the cultivation of the heart, for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.

2. Look well to the furniture of the head. "Some people's heads," says an old divine, "are like a bell, in which there is nothing but tongue and emptiness." If you would have your tongue delivered from stupid silence on the one hand and vain and foolish talking on the other, take care to be well furnished with holy and useful matter for discourse; and that you may be so, accept the following advice: — Read much; think much, and upon the best of subjects; hear much, and for this purpose seek the best society; write much if you have leisure, for this will correct the flippancy of speech and habituate you to express your thoughts with sobriety and precision.

3. Learn the art of silence. I say the art, for there is as much wisdom required in knowing when to be silent as when to speak.

4. That your tongue may be well regulated in company, always furnish yourselves for the occasion, according to the nature of the society in which inclination or necessity may place you — as the surgeon, who carries his instruments about him, and the traveller wire is furnished for the necessities of his journey. Go with a chastened spirit into the presence of the haughty, with powerful arguments into the society of the sceptic, with useful information into the company of the ignorant; and thus supplied from those treasuries of wisdom which are "profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness," you will be thoroughly furnished unto every good word and work.

5. Watch against the influence of pride, vanity, and passion. The first will make your speech disgusting, the second contemptible, and the third dangerous.

6. Bear constantly in mind how great a conquest is the government of the tongue. This is more than repulsing armies and subduing kingdoms. It is related of one of the ancients that a man without learning came to him to be taught a psalm. He turned to the thirty-ninth. But when he had heard the first verse of it — "I said I would take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue" — the man would hear no more, saying this was enough if he could practise it; and when the instructor blamed him that he had not seen him for six months, he replied that he had not done the verse; and forty years after he confessed he had been all that time studying it, but had not learned to fulfil it yet.

7. Make the government of the tongue the subject of your daily prayer.

8. Every evening, ere you retire to rest, let the words you have uttered constitute an important part in the retrospect of the day.

9. Realise the presence of the Eternal God.

(T. Raffles, LL. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: 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.

WEB: If anyone among you thinks himself to be religious while he doesn't bridle his tongue, but deceives his heart, this man's religion is worthless.

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