James 1:26

These two verses enforce by an example what those immediately preceding illustrate by a simile. The words "religious" and "religion" denote external religious service - the body, or outward attire of godliness, rather than its inward spirit. The apostle indicates in these two sentences the "work" of which every one who truly "receives" the gospel is a "doer."

I. AN EXAMPLE OF VAIN RELIGIOUS SERVICE. (Ver. 26.) This statement points back to the exhortation of ver. 19. The tongue is an unruly member; it requires to be "held in with the bit and bridle" of Christian principle. A man's words are a true index or evidence of his character; and they also react upon that character, and tend to confirm it for good or evil. Should, therefore, a person who has been for many years a member of a Christian Church indulge always, without restraint, in evil-speaking; should he be in the habit of soiling his tongue with impure, or malicious, or false, or foolish words; what other conclusion can be drawn about his character than just that he is not a true Christian? Such a man is a "hearer only," and therefore either a self-deceiver or a hypocrite. He may cherish some of the sentiments and instincts of religion; but the most sublimated sentiment is quite worthless, if it cannot be translated into everyday life. Where there is no government of the tongue, what avails love for the Church and its services? "This man's religion is vain;" it is an idle, empty, useless, unreal thing - a counterfeit of genuine worship. The apostle's language here is exceedingly strong; but it is the language of inspiration, and it runs parallel with what we read in other parts of Scripture (Matthew 12:36, 37). Many professing Christians may well tremble when they read this verse. How prone we all are to sin with our lips! How constantly we are tempted to idle speaking! Let us guard against the sin of slander, of depreciating goodness, of imputing selfish motives; and against every other form of uncharitable speech. If we do not "keep our mouth with a bridle" (Psalm 39:1), we "deceive our hearts" as to our spiritual state before God; in which case there is danger that all our psalm-singing and sermon-hearing may only help to drag us down to a deeper perdition.

II. AN EXHIBITION OF TRUE RELIGIOUS SERVICE. (Ver. 27) James here submits a rubric for the ritual of the Church. It is to this effect, that the services which God loves are not ceremonial observances, but habits of purity and charity. The moral in our Church life is infinitely more important than the liturgic. Indeed, the moral and spiritual are the great end which our fellowship contemplates, and to that end rites and ceremonies are but the means.

1. The true ritual consists in the maintenance of personal purity in a world of sin. The Christian is a man who, having been once washed all over in the blood of atonement, must labor in the strength of God's Spirit to keep himself from fresh defilement, he is to guard himself against the contaminations of the world, its pursuits, ambitions, counsels, and its grosser pleasures. He must not become an ascetic or a hermit; rather, he is to show to his fellow-men that he can live in the world an unworldly life. It is hard to do so, doubtless; it requires rare moral courage to resist evil, and. to brave the contempt and persecution which such resistance entails. Yet this is the worship to which God calls us. He will not accept our "devotions" if we refuse him our devotion. A holy life is the most beautiful of psalms. It is the blossom and fruit of all other praise. It is grander than the finest cathedral service, for it is the perfect realization of the Divine ideal of worship.

2. The true ritual consists in the exercise of active benevolence in a world of suffering. Christ, when on earth, "went about doing good;" and every Christian is an imitator of Christ. "A doer that worketh" (ver. 25) finds his chief sphere of social activity in kindness to the poor and suffering. We are joined together in the fellowship of the gospel that we may be helpful to our fellow-Christians and our fellow-men who are in affliction and poverty. All our public worship is "vain" if no hearts are made happier, and no firesides warmer, because of it. The Church exists that its members may be inspired to become a fountain of spiritual sympathy to the widow, and a ministry of moral help to the orphan. A congregation can offer no comelier praise than the music of constant acts of loving-kindness and tenderness and self-sacrifice. Where this worship is not rendered, the grandest sanctuary, so called, will be rather only a sepulcher of souls, and the most aesthetic church-service a "vain oblation." The true gospel cultus lies in personal acts of sympathy and kindness, done to the poor out of love to Jesus, and because the poor are his "brethren (Matthew 25:34-40). Every professing Christian should therefore try the reality and strength of his piety by this test: Does he give himself to the celebration of the true full ritual of Christ's house - that which lies in a life of purity and charity? - C.J.

If any... seem to be religious.
The word "religious," here, does not mean the entire religious life — the inner experience and the outward manifestation of religion — but only the outward expression of it. It is the branches and fruit of religion; not its root — that without which the root would be useless, but which is itself dependent upon the root for its very existence. It is the body of religion; not the soul — yet the body by which the soul acts. It is — to use a now commonly repeated word — the ritual of religion. To the Christian the whole world is a temple, and all life that religious service of which we speak. This is the ritual we care to preach, and long to revive; the ritual of pure morality; not the morality of worldly maxims, or human standards; but the morality that springs from love to Christ, and is possible only through faith in Him.

I. A FALSE RITUAL. James is here merely citing one example of many false rituals, and he is probably citing that one because it was emphatically the sin of the Church of that age. It is, in a word, the sins of the tongue — the sin of wantonness of speech. Notice that all external manifestation of religion — if you like, all ritual — is faulty, fantastic, and false — that is —

1. Self-deceptive. There are some sins, in the midst of whose blighting influences a man cannot satisfy even his imagination that he is religious; that are too flagrant to let a man "deceive his own heart." But there are others that many a man commits, and yet imagines that he is religious. Refined sins, that have a smooth attire and a gentle voice; customary sins, that are easily lost in the crowd of other men's sins, because they are so common in their appearance. Such men are their own dupes.

2. Inconsistent. All wrong expression of religious life is inconsistent. Is not murder? Yes, you say quickly — and so is lying! However, James instances a more common, and, some might have thought, excusable, inconsistency. But he quotes it as an example of all the rest, and sternly condemns it. All garrulousness, all excessive talkativeness, is here condemned — whether it is that of uncharitableness, including the words of hatred, of passion, of detraction, or that of untruthfulness, where there is deceit, false witness; or that of unreality, when in social intercourse, or in worship, unmeant, unfelt things are continually being said, or sung — words that circulate in the home, the drawing-room, or the sanctuary that are base coin.(1) The gossip "bridleth not his tongue." Such is the man who is greatly interested in, and constant conversing about, the concerns of others, who is ever ready to say many things about the commercial concerns, the home, the social life, or the moral character of his neighbour.(2) The censor "bridleth not his tongue." Such is the man who is constantly criticising and condemning his fellow-men, forgetting the Divine command, "Judge not, lest ye be judged."(3) The bigot "bridleth not his tongue." Such is the man who has no brotherly words for any beyond his own Church.(4) The sentimentalist "bridleth not his tongue." Such is the man who strongly utters what he weakly feels; who glibly says or sings what is mere matter of superficial feeling rather than of deep spiritual conviction.

3. Valueless. We are as Christians what priests in the sanctuary before the congregations profess to be — we are performing the holy rites, and thus symbolising the faith and uttering the worship of Christ. Our ritual is our life. That life is the performance of religious rites which symbolise our faith to the world, and utter our worship to God. Now, the life of such as we have glanced at, must evidently be a false ritual. It does not symbolise our religion to the world, for when the lynx-eyed world observes the conversation of the gossip, or of the censor, or of the bigot, or of the sentimentalist, it is not awed by it, it is not attracted by it. There is nothing religiously impressive in such conduct. Such a "man's religion is vain." Nor does it honour God.

II. A TRUE RITUAL. Coleridge well says that "While the outward services of ancient religion, rites, ceremonies, and ceremonial restraints of the old law had morality for their end, were the letter of which morality was the spirit, morality itself is the service and ceremonial of the Christian religion."

1. Beneficence. The charities that lead us in the footsteps of Emmanuel, who" went about doing good," are the best authorised rites of our religion.(1) Care for the afflicted.(2):Personal intercourse with the afflicted. Charity seems to do too much of her work in these days by proxy. If you would really be of Christian service to the afflicted, be a brother, not a benefactor only.

2. Purity.(1) The world is a defiling thing.(2) The Christian is to mingle with the world.(3) That the Christian must not be defiled with the world. These two, then, charity and holiness — not apart, but together: not in themselves, but as the expression of piety, the simple and sublime ritual of religion — are necessary and possible to every Christian man. Our Pattern exemplified them.

(U. R. Thomas.)

St. James here speaks of religion under one particular aspect, and one only; that of external form, ceremonial, and observance — those outward expressions which are helpful, and needful, to bring into act and substance the inner workings of heart and soul. Such external things are necessary to all religion, to all worship — such as we in this world can offer. It is a good sign of our days, that there is less of that poverty of heart many of us can remember which made men shrink from all outward appearance of religion; when godlessness, immorality, or levity of life was magnified into a meretricious repute; and the vast majority of people would rather be thought votaries of the world than devout followers of the gospel of Christ. But just as one extreme form of evil diminishes, another, under the fine policy of the enemy of souls, comes in danger of gaining ground. It is that which St. James sorrowfully saw in his day, the mere seeming of religion in outward things; the too easy, often too humanly attractive ways which look like the service of Christ, when really they may be but the service of our own wills and desires, of the fancied ideal we substitute for "pure and undefiled religion."

1. First I would say be jealously watchful against every kind of simulation in the religious life; against any weak or morbid care for the seeming of your character and ways; for what you may appear to be, rather than for what you really and vitally are. In the depth of our own hearts our effort must be to love and serve "our Father which seeth in secret"; and commit to Him the care of "rewarding us openly."

2. That spirit and temper of "religion is vain" too in which a man "bridleth net his tongue." All experience tells us, as the records of other generations in our own history bear witness too, that it is in the very nature of controversy to quicken our most questionable feelings, to stimulate our least beneficial powers; and happiest are they who are most spared its trial.

3. There remains one other note of danger to real and practical religion which St. James touches, when he speaks of a man "deceiving his own heart." This may seem a general form of expression; but we may consider it as enforcing the great lesson that all vital religion has more to do with the heart than the head; and must be judged by its power over those deep-seated affections, to which the most moving appeal of Christ's religion is made.

(Canon Puckle.)

I. A SPECIMEN OF VAIN RELIGION (ver. 26). "If any man among you" — any man, be he who he may, be his standing and authority, his profession and position, what they may, among you Christians. By putting the matter thus, he would lead them to deal with themselves individually and inquire whether the supposition was realised in regard to himself. "Seem to be religious." "Seem," — that is not so much to others as to himself — if he think that this is his character and condition.

1. The sin specified. It is that of not bridling the tongue. The person who speaks uncharitably, maliciously, slanderously, who gives ready utterance, free circulation to calumnies, suspicions, insinuations — who propagates false charges, or true ones, in a bitter, envious or malignant spirit — he assuredly bridles not his tongue. The reviler, the backbiter, the whisperer, the reckless, abusive partisan, the inventor and publisher of bad names and injurious rumours — all such are clearly involved in this condemnation. And short even of this the sin here specified may exist, may reign. We may not bridle the tongue as regards vain, light, foolish talking. Our speech, if free from the bad feeling of those whose words are spears and arrows, may be trivial, frothy, unprofitable. It may signally want dignity, gravity, purity.

2. The evidence it furnishes. Why does James make so much of the bridling of the tongue? Set any part of the Divine statute-book at nought, and you in effect trample on every part; you strike at the foundation of the entire structure. It indicates a rooted rebelliousness, whatever appearances of submission, and even whatever acts of submission, there may be in certain duties and for certain purposes. The tongue, let it be remembered, is regulated and ruled by the heart; for "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh" (Matthew 12:34, 35). The one is the index of the other. The stream corresponds to the hidden spring, and tells us what are its qualities. And yet again, the sin which, in a sense, is begun with speech, does not end there, but goes a great deal farther. It spreads in every direction, and involves often the most extensive evil influences and consequences. As it issues from a fountain of impurity, it becomes in turn such a fountain itself, and the bitter waters flowing forth from it carry desolation and death to quarters which had otherwise been fresh and fruitful.

II. THE NATURE OF TRUE RELIGION (ver. 27). "Pure and undefiled" — characterising it both positively and negatively. "Pure," that is, genuine, sound, as it were, clean like the region from which it comes, and to which it returns. "Undefiled," not contaminated by any corrupt, earthly mixture, not polluted or stained by the introduction of carnal, beggarly elements. "Before God and the Father" — God, who is the Father, the paternal relation being specially mentioned, it may be, with reference to them as begotten by the Word of Truth, and so His spiritual children. "Before Him," meaning in His presence, or in His estimation. "Is this," consists in this, not meaning that it is confined to the particulars which follow. It embraces gracious principles and affections which are now left out of sight, the subject treated of by the apostle being definite and limited. And even as regards outward duties, which are those embraced in the peculiar term rendered religion, only such are singled out as bore on the writer's present purpose — these, however, being highly significant and representative in their character.

1. "To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction." Observe the parties — "the fatherless," orphans, those deprived of parents. In the mention of them there may be an allusion to God, as here presented to view in the character of a father. Such children are in a peculiarly desolate and distressing condition. The duty specified is that of visiting these parties, which includes every kind of friendly office — counsel, aid, defence, soothing their sorrows, supplying their wants, vindicating their rights. We are not to be satisfied with acting through a substitute — a missionary, an agent of some religious or charitable society. We are to come into contact with them — to go to them in person.

2. "To keep himself unspotted from the world." Here strict purity is enjoined. The world is corrupt and defiling. And, mark, we are not even to be spotted by it, we are to guard against the slightest stain, avoiding all its vanities as well as its vices. From everything of the kind we are to "keep ourselves." Now, mark, these two things go together, and may not be separated. There must be both the generous heart and the circumspect walk, goodness in union with holiness. And when genuine, they spring from, and are pervaded by, godliness. They are rooted in a filial relation to the Father above, in a right standing before Him, and a gracious conformity to Him; with Him they originate, and to Him they have respect in all their actings.

(John Adam.)

And bridleth not his tongue.

1. Some men lie maliciously.(1) They may be actuated by a desire to be revenged for some real or fancied injury.(2) They may wish to benefit themselves at the expense of others.(3) They may desire to set two persons at variance, and therefore misrepresent the actions and motives of one to the other.

2. Some men lie indiscreetly. They garnish, modify, or magnify the story, so that it conveys a wrong impression.

3. Some men lie thoughtlessly. Such are tattling gossips, the news vendours of small communities.

4. The unbridled tongue is often the tongue of a hasty, choleric person.


1. He deceives his own heart.

2. He only seems to be religious.

3. He proves that one great ruling sin at least remains unsubdued.


1. To the person himself.

(1)His mind must be unhappy, filled with jealousy, envy, and hate.

(2)No one will trust him, give him his confidence, or listen to him without misgivings.

(3)He gets irate trouble when his indiscretion or his falsehood is found out.

(4)God knows his character

2. To others.

(1)Misrepresentation, trouble, sorrow, injustice.

(2)Men will hate and avoid the unbridled tongue as much as possible.

(3)Lying is the grand characteristic, if not the root, of all vicious conduct, and of which Satan is an embodiment.


At the Stephen's Institute, Hoboken, there is a testing department devoted to the business of testing the quality of oils and other substances; and I am told it is a very lucrative business, since it is a matter of great importance to large numbers of people to have a scientific and impartial test of the quality of the articles alluded to. There is an oil, however, which is not quoted in the markets, though it is of the greatest value, and which is not tested at any of our institutes, though to be sure of the quality is a thing of unspeakable moment. It is that oil which many of us — who, like the virgins in the parable, have gone forth to meet the Bridegroom — are supposed to have taken in our vessels with our lamps. But it is of the last importance that we should know the quality of this our oil, whether it is genuine or no, whether it will burn on through the night of death and trial, or will prove spurious or adulterated oil, so that when the cry is heard, "Behold, the Bridegroom cometh," and we arise and trim our lamps, we find that they burn low, and go out, and leave us in the darkness. Now the Bible furnishes the tests whereby we may ascertain its genuineness. Here is one of them. Sometimes a single chemical test is sufficient to settle the quality of an article: so it is here. If our oil cannot stand this test, it is not pure. The government of the tongue is the test of the genuineness of a man's religion. But one may ask, Why should the tongue be bridled? And what is there in the bridling of it, which carries such significance that it is alone the sufficient and crucial test of the quality of a man's religion? I give three reasons.

I. BECAUSE THE POWER OF SPEECH, WHICH IS THE USE OF THE TONGUE, INVOLVES A VERY GRAVE RESPONSIBILITY. It may not be exercised lightly or thoughtlessly, but reverently, discreetly, soberly, and in the fear of God. The man of science tells us the vibrations of the air which we produce in speech are transmitted on through the centuries. So is it oftentimes with the influence of an idle, or a sinful, or a hasty word; once spoken, who shall recall it? or who shall put a period to its influence for evil? Not one. In the Alps the traveller is sometimes bidden by his experienced guide to avoid speaking, because under certain conditions the vibrations of the voice may precipitate the terrible avalanche. The hasty or the intemperate word, or even the whispered slander, has often precipitated great crises in history which have involved myriads in misery, and oftener has brought down on men, in their social or domestic life, an avalanche of ills and woes.

II. BECAUSE THE TONGUE BOTH MAKES AND REVEALS THE MAN. If it makes the man, then it ought to be bridled, lest it make him ill. If it reveals him, then the bridling of it, so that it shall not transgress its proper limit, is a fair test of the quality of a man's religion. The tongue, I say, makes the man. Yes, for the influence of speech is reflex as well as direct. No word is spoken but leaves its impress behind it upon the lips that utter it before it can exercise any influence upon the ear that hears it. Your speech goes to form your character. You will grow largely what your words make you — light, unstable and unreliable, fickle and false, peevish and irritable, impure and ungodly, if your talk be such. I say, therefore, again, the tongue makes the man. Then let it be bridled, let it be wisely regulated. It is also the expression of the man. It reveals him, tells what he really is. Yes, though he may train his tongue to deceit, misrepresentation, prevarication, suppression of the truth, even downright falsehood, yet in the end, and on the whole, the tongue will be the expression of the man. No man can be false always. The mask worn in public must commonly be laid aside in private. And not only so: the habit of concealing the truth, and assuming a character which is unreal, will beget a habit of tortuous and indirect expression which by and by will reveal the man.

III. BECAUSE OF ITS WILD AND UNGOVERNABLE NATURE AND ITS GREAT AND PECULIAR POWER FOR MISCHIEF. The twelve labours of Hercules were easier than the task of controlling the tongue at all seasons and under all circumstances. Curbed at one point — profanity, for instance — it will break out at another. Subdued to-day, it will break its fetters to-morrow. Docile under the influence of reason and reflection in the quiet of the chamber, it will suddenly become fierce under some unexpected provocation, at some undeserved slight or rebuke. Then, too, the tongue possesses peculiar powers for mischief. A hunter in the Adirondacks drops a spark from his pipe, and soon that little spark has kindled the whole mountains into flame, and for weeks the fire burns on, filling the land with smoke by day and lighting up all the heavens with its lurid glare by night, until at length it dies for want of fuel to feed on. And the tongue, says St. James (James 3:5), little as it is, is likewise destructive. Often some spark from a hasty or an inconsiderate tongue has set a whole neighbourhood on fire, and the flame of hatred has smouldered on for a generation. Often some spark from an unruly tongue has kindled in a household a spirit of petulancy which has scorched all the sweet, tender grass and fragrant flowers of domestic love and fellowship. And then the tongue possesses this peculiarity, that it draws all the members and all the faculties after it in its transgression. He who bridleth not his tongue need not think to govern his temper or to restrain his hands from evil, or to walk in the paths of peace. As poison quickly permeates the blood, as the fire sweeps on the wings of the wind over the prairie, so the tongue inflames the whole man: "it setteth on fire the whole course of nature" the whole compass of man's being, the circumference of his corporeal powers. Whence does it derive this fatal power? "It is set on fire of hell!" Oh, the pity! oh, the shame! that speech — that high prerogative of man, whereby he is in his bodily structure chiefly distinguished from the brutes — should be made the means of bestialising, yea, demonising, this heir of immortality!

(R. H. McKim, D. D.)

This admonition teacheth that the law of God, being a lantern unto our feet and a light unto our paths, and a thing Divinely inspired from above to make a man perfect in righteousness, doth not only restrain the unbridled actions of man, but also the disordered speeches of their mouths, that both in action and communication they may be holy unto the Lord. The reasons hereof are two.

1. It causeth error in our lives and hurt unto ourselves when we are given to babbling and prating; thereby our hearts are deceived and ourselves endangered. Solomon setting down the inconvenience of not restraining the tongue, affirmeth that life and death are therein. He that keepeth his mouth and his tongue keepeth his soul from trouble. As a city lying open and uncompassed with walls, even so is a man that cannot restrain his tongue.

2. As not moderating our tongues we deceive our own hearts, so we corrupt and defile our religion and make it vain before God.(1) Vain talk,. idle and frivolous, serving to no profit, prating where there is no need, we shall give account to God for.(2) Another evil of the tongue to be restrained in men is when we talk of God, of His Word, of His law and religion, not desirous to reform our lives according unto His commandments. This is a great evil and point of halting hypocrisy whereby our religion is vain.

3. As from these evils our tongues must be restrained, so from rash judgment.

4. Another evil is flattery.

5. Dissimulation — when we pretend one thing in our words and speeches and have another thing in our hearts, whether it be to God as hypocrites or to men as counterfeits — maketh also our religion vain.

6. The sixth evil from which we must refrain is lying, which is a false signification of speech or voice with intention to deceive.

7. The next evil which corrupteth our religion and maketh it vain before God is filthy speech, whereby not only our lives are descried to be evil, but our hearts to be wicked and our religion counterfeit.

8. Another is slander, whereof James 4:11.

9. Another, cursing and execration (James 3:9).

10. A tenth evil is blasphemy and swearing, spoken of James 5:12. Of all these may we worthily say with the apostle, "If any man among you seem religious, and restraineth not his tongue from these, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain."

(R. Turnbull.)


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.)

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.)

The text is not solitary in the importance it attaches to the power of controlling our speech. "Death and life are in the power of the tongue," says the wise man. "What man is he that desireth life, and loveth many days, that he may see good," says the Psalmist: "keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile." "He that keepeth his mouth keepeth his life, but he that openeth wide his lip shall have destruction." Nay, more, in that awful description of human depravity contained in the third chapter of Romans, it is observable how the chief instruments of human offending are made to consist in the organs of speech. "Their throat is an open sepulchre," it is said; "the poison of asps is under their lips; their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness": all tending to corroborate the position of the text, that the soul has no greater enemy than an unbridled tongue.

1. In proceeding to illustrate the mischiefs arising from this source, our first example may be taken from the use of unbridled speech when we are yielding to the passion of anger. Well, see we a man given to this fierce contention, it is the argument of the text that such a man's religion is vain. The root of the matter is not in him: his religion is a mere outside show, an empty vessel, a thing without life. Be is ignorant of the first article of practical Christianity, he has no rule over his own spirit. Solomon thus describes the course of one of these — "The beginning of the words of his mouth is foolishness, and the end of his talk is mischievous madness." "For the lips of a fool will swallow up himself." Bold image this of a man swallowing up himself, and what does the wise man mean? Why, that an open mouth on earth may open the mouth of that pit which shall swallow up all who are cast into it. "I say unto you, that whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment; but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire." Vain then is the religion of a man who against the course of anger bridleth not his tongue, for Satan, knowing his tendencies, will always find some occasions for fanning this flame. Through pride and wounded self-love, that most sensitive of all sensitive plants, the man is in a constant broil; his irritability breaks up all the tranquillities of his religious nature. It wounds his peace, frets his spirit, sours his charity, mars his prayers. He gives place to the devil, says the apostle; that is, invites him into his heart, and at the same time he drives out another guest, the blessed Spirit of God. This Divine Being dwells not in the convulsed region of human strife.

2. But another form of tongue sin comprehended in the sentence of the text, is that of detracting, uncharitableness, and malicious gossiping. Thus whosoever makes not conscience of what he repeats to the prejudice of another, who is not slow to speak out against him, and then only with deep and not affected sorrow — that man's religion is vain. He is wanting in that charity which "rejoiceth not in iniquity," even when the report is true, but which "hopeth all things, believeth all things" — covereth all things, as the original has it — in the possibility that the allegation may be after all false. And the lack of this personal grace of our Christianity stamps his whole religion as hollow and unreal.

3. I pass to a third form of the sins of the tongue, which, though we may hope but of rare occurrence, must not be passed over: I mean that which another apostle censures in the worded "Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient." The tongue-sins hitherto commented upon are acknowledged sins; where these are, we shall all admit such a man's religion is vain. But do we judge thus of some other sins to which the tongue chiefly ministers? For instance, the sin of ostentation, and boasting, and vanity, and self-display. Can a man be Diotrephes and Christian? Can the humility, and gentleness, and self-hiding of one who feels that he owes all to free grace consist with the practice of an unbridled tongue? "No," says the apostle, "such a man's religion is vain; and vain," he adds, "for this reason, because he deceiveth his own heart." He has looked so long on the waters that reflect his image, that at length his heart knows not its own bitterness, and is an utter stranger to its own plague. Put the bridle on your tongue, then, whenever you feel it is about to say something which is to attract attention to yourself. It is an offence before God; He will have no flesh glory in His presence. I will touch upon one other form of unguarded speech, very different indeed from any we have yet considered, yet I nothing doubt, designedly comprehended within the range of the apostle's censures. I allude to the sin of rash and violent complainings when we are under the chastening hand of God. In all times of tribulation learn the wisdom of keeping a tight reign upon the tongue. There is only one ear into which you can pour your lamentations with safety. Grief delights in the exhibition of its own passion; it is maddened into frenzy by the extravagance of its own recitals. The truth of this is seen in the case of the patriarch Job. We do not find a single word of impatience from him until he has begun to pour out his sorrows into the ear of human listeners.

(D. Moore, M. A.)


1. An unconverted man may do many decent and honourable things. In domestic life, he can, indeed, discharge his duty faithfully. In the transaction of mercantile business, too, a man who has never appropriated Christ by faith, may scorn to utter a falsehood or to do a dishonest deed.

2. Much, in a man's character and conduct is concealed from the eye of others. Besides the insidious efforts of the hypocrite to conceal his vices the true character of man is withdrawn from the public eye. Vice, too, when practised by a man who seeks to preserve a decent reputation, naturally courts the shade.

3. The world does not prescribe any very lofty standard of religion.

II. WITH RESPECT TO HIS CHARACTER AND CONDITION A MAN MAY "DECEIVE HIS OWN HEART." Neglecting self-examination altogether, some men give themselves up to the direct influence of the pride and self-conceit which are so natural to the human mind. Others, in examining themselves, resort to false and unscriptural tests — such as, Am I not as good as my neighbours? Am I not better than I once was? And some who employ good tests. Do I love the Lord? Have I been born again? — apply them in so unintelligent, so cursory, or so dishonest a way, that they come to a false conclusion respecting their own character and case.


(M. S. Patterson, D. D)

This man's religion is vain.
We must not be deceived by our own profession. If any member of our body be an instrument of sin, it shows that our hearts are still unconquered by the grace of God. And no member more quickly shows this than the tongue. And few things are more injurious than an unbridled tongue. A fool's tongue wanders everywhere, into fields lawful and unlawful. Men have no right to talk heedlessly. It is no excuse that a speaker did not mean to do wrong, or that he "meant nothing by it." We are bound to mean something every time we speak, and we are bound to mean something good; the tongue must have on the bridle of thought, and that must be held by the reason, which is the right hand of religion. It is of those words which were not intended by the speaker to be profitable, words uttered when he "meant nothing," that Jesus said (Matthew 12:36). It may be a question which does most harm, a false tongue, or an unbridled tongue. In the case of the former, it may so soon be discovered that it is the instrument of a liar that all men can guard themselves against it; but the unbridled tongue may belong to a man who has some pleasing qualities, or to a woman who but for her wild tongue would be a charming person, and so people are thrown off their guard, and the secret poison of the bitter and bad word may work disastrously. The man who professes to be a believer, and possesses an unbridled tongue, is utterly useless to the cause of all true religion. He may be very punctual in attendance on all forms of public worship; he may even take part in them, exhibiting great gifts in prayer, and great zeal for religion; he may be a very genial and companionable person, witty and bright; he may seem to take great interest in others, and give of his own income or substance to promote what are considered the interests of religion; all that and much more may he do; with the industry of a gambler striving to cheat from himself the verdict that he is a truly religious man; and yet all the while that man's religion may be as empty as a bubble, vain and unprofitable to others and unhelpful to himself; idle, foolish, useless, trifling, thoughtless, wanton, irreverent, profane, for the word translated "idle" means all these things.

(C. F. Deems, D. D.)

Men will write for religion, fight for It, die for it; anything but live for it.

(W. Cotton.)

A man has no business to call himself a Christian unless the virtues of Christianity are in his life. I do not ask for degree, but I ask that they shall be there. If you have got a plant in a pot that for ten years, through summer and winter, sunshine and cloud, rain and dry, has never put out a leaf, nor shown the least symptom of life, what reason have you to believe that it is alive at all? It looks uncommonly like a bit of dead stick.

(A. Maclaren, D. D.)

It were a great mistake to consider this an authoritative, scientific definition of religion. The writer has been pointing out the marks of a useless religion. He now indicates the characteristics of any religion which is pure and spotless. Indeed, it might be written "any religion," which God sees to be pure and spotless, will have the characteristics of outward beneficence and inward purity. By a beautiful figure, he likens religion to a gem, a precious stone, the value of which depends upon the two qualities of —

1. Being clear through and through, without any inner malformation, and —

2. Being free from all stain or flaw on the outside. Positively, and as to its interior, it is clear and unclouded; negatively, and as to its exterior, it is spotless and flawless. Any religion which has these qualities is a true religion, and will produce purity and usefulness; and, whatever its pretensions, a religion destitute of these is worthless.

(C. F. Deems, D. D.)

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