James 3:2

Passing from the peculiar responsibility which attaches to teachers of religion, James proceeds to speak generally of the enormous influence of the faculty of speech, especially upon the speaker himself, and of the abuse to which it is liable.

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
A glorious shape appearing!
A broad-winged vessel, through the shower
Of glimmering luster steering!

"She seems to hold her home in view,
And sails as if the path she knew;
So calm and stately in her motion
Across the unfathomed, trackless ocean."

(John Wilson.) The merchantmen of the ancients were of considerable size (Acts 27., 28.); but in our day naval architecture works on a colossal scale of which the ancients never dreamed. And what is it that directs the largest vessel so steadily on its course, and enables it to persevere even in spite of furious storms? It is simply that little tongue, or rudder, at the stern. The steering apparatus is "very small" in proportion to the bulk of the ship; but how wonderfully great its influence! It not only "turns about" the body of the vessel itself; its action is also powerful enough to counteract the driving force of "rough winds." Now, the faculty of speech is the rudder of human nature. The tongue "boasteth great things;" and well it may, for "death and life are in its power" (Proverbs 18:21). If the spirited horse is a symbol of the flesh, the "rough winds" which beat upon the ship are suggestive of the world. The rudder of speech, rightly directed, will help us to continue straight on our heavenward course, despite the fierce gusts and gales of external temptation.

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.

In many things we offend all.

1. From other passages of Scripture (Ecclesiastes 7:20; Proverbs 20:9; 2 Chronicles 6:36; 1 John 1:8, 10).

2. That none can expect to arrive at a sinless perfection in this life will appear, if we consider the many instances which are recorded in the Scripture of the sins of some of the most eminent saints and servants of God.

3. The experience of our own times confirms this same sad truth, that all have their infirmities, and in many things offend.

4. That all do and will offend in many things, will appear if we consider the extensiveness and spirituality of the law of God.

5. Natural corruption is not fully subdued in any here on earth; therefore in many things all will offend.

6. You are here on earth in a state of temptation, and therefore will not be sinless till you leave the world.


1. With regard to the disposition and inclination of the heart.

2. As to the internal employment of the mind.

3. In our communication.

4. In innumerable ways in the actions of life.Conclusion:

1. Here we may infer the impropriety of being saved by the covenant of works, the terms of which were unerring obedience — Do this, and live.

2. See here what infinite reason you have to bless God for the new covenant; herein is your salvation.

3. See here how highly you are concerned to seek an interest in this new covenant.

4. You must take heed that you do not take encouragement to be in the least degree more careless in your life from the miscarriages of good men.

5. Though you will never be able to keep God's commandments perfectly whilst you are in the present state, yet you should press on towards perfection,

(T. Whitty.)

1. None are absolutely freed and exempted from sinning (1 John 1:8; Proverbs 20:9). Well, then —(1) Walk with more caution; you carry a sinning heart about you. As long as there is fuel for temptation we cannot be secure; he that hath gunpowder about him will be afraid of sparkles.(2) Censure with the more tenderness; give every action the allowance of human frailty (Galatians 6:1).(3) Be the more earnest with God for grace; God will keep you still dependent, and beholden to His power.(4) Magnify the love of God with the more praise. Paul groaneth under his corruptions (Romans 7., latter end); and then admireth the happiness of those that are in Christ (Romans 8:1).

2. The sins of the best are many.(1) Be not altogether dismayed at the sight of failings. A godly person observed that Christians were usually to blame for three things: They seek for that in themselves which they can only find in Christ; for that in the law which shall only be had in the gospel; and that upon earth which shall only be enjoyed in heaven. We complain of sin; and when shall the earthly estate be free? You should not murmur, but run to your Advocate.(2) However, bewail these failings, the evils that abound in your hearts, in your duties, that you cannot serve God as entirely as you served Satan; your evil works were merely evil, but your good are not purely good; there your heart was poured out (Jude 1:11), here it is restrained; there is filthiness in your righteousness (Isaiah 64.)

3. To be able to bridle the tongue is an argument of some growth and happy progress in grace (Proverbs 18:21; Matthew 12:37; Proverbs 13:3). There were special reasons why our apostle should be so much in pressing it.(1) Because this was the sin of that age, as appeareth by the frequent dissuasions from vain boasting of themselves, and detracting from others, in the 1st and 2nd chapters; and it is a high point of grace not to be snared with the evils of our own times.(2) It is the best discovery of the heart; speech is the express image of it (Matthew 12:34).(3) It is the hypocrites' sin; they abstain from grosser actions, but usually offend in their words, in boasting professions, and proud censures (see James 1:26).(4) All of us are apt to offend with the tongue many ways; most of a man's sins are in his words.(5) It is a sin into which we usually and easily fall, partly by reason of that quick intercourse that is between the tongue and the heart — we sin in an instant; and partly because speech is a human act which is performed without labour; and so we sin that way incogitantly, without noting or judging it. Well, then, take care, not only of your actions, but your speeches (Psalm 39:1).Consider —

1. Your speeches are noted. Xenophon would have all speeches written, to make men more serious. They are recorded (James 2:12). Every idle word is brought into judgment (Matthew 12:36): light words weigh heavy in God's balance.

2. They are punished (Psalm 64:8).

3. Consider what a vile thing it is to abuse the tongue to strife, censure, or insultation.

4. It is not of small regard that God in nature would show that He hath set bounds to the tongue: He hath hedged it in with a row of teeth. For apt remedies —

(1)Get a pure heart; there is the tongue's treasury and storehouse. A good man is always ready to discourse, not forced by the company, but because the law of God is in his heart (Proverbs 15:7).

(2)Watch and guard speech (Proverbs 30:32).

(3)All our endeavours are nothing. Go to God (Psalm 141:3).

(4)That you may not offend in your words, let them be often employed about holy uses (Ephesians 4:29).

(T. Manton.)


1. In the exercises of the heart. Many remains of the carnal mind.

2. In the communications of their lips.

3. In the actions of their lives.


1. From the absolute purity of the Divine law. Transcript of the Divine mind.

2. From the frailty and weakness of human nature.

3. From unwatchfulness and neglect. Not sufficiently alive to our best interests. Graces allowed to be languid, &c.


1. Deep humility.

2. Spiritual diligence.

3. Fervent prayer.

4. Forbearance and charity to others.

5. Excite within us a longing for heaven. There we shall be sinless inhabitants of a sinless world.

(J. Buries. D. D.)

A gentleman of the perfectionist school of thought called to see an old Christian of his neighbourhood, and began enlarging upon that interesting topic. "Can you point to a single perfect man or woman in the Bible?" inquired the aged saint. "Yes," readily answered the other; "turn to Luke 1:6, you will there read of two — Elisabeth and Zacharias walked 'in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord, blameless.'" "Then you consider yourself a believer like Zacharias?" "Certainly I do," said the visitor. "Ah," replied the old man, "I thought you might be; and we read a few verses further on that he was struck dumb for his unbelief."

Bad men excuse their faults, good men will leave them.


I have been a good deal up and down in the world, and I never did see either a perfect horse or a perfect man, and I never shall until two Sundays come together. The old saying is, "Lifeless, faultless." Of dead men we would say nothing but good, but as for the living, they are all tarred more or less with the black brush, and half an eye can see it. Every head has a soft place in it, and every heart has its black drop. Every rose has its prickles, and every day its night. Even the sun shows spots, and skies are darkened with clouds. Nobody is so wise but he has folly enough to stock a stall at Vanity Fair. Where I have not seen the fool's cap, I have, nevertheless, heard the bells jingle. As there is no sunshine without some shadow, so is all human good mixed up with more or less evil; even poor law guardians have their little failings, and parish beadles are not wholly of heavenly nature. The best wine has its lees. All men's faults are not written on their foreheads, and it's quite as well they are not, or hats would need wide brims; yet as sure as eggs are eggs, faults of some sort nestle in every man's bosom. There is no telling when a man's sins may show themselves, for hares pop out of a ditch just when you are not looking for them. A horse that is weak in the legs may not stumble for a mile or two, but it's in him, and the rider had better hold him up well. The tabby-cat is not lapping milk just now, but leave the dairy door open, and we shall see if she is not as bad a thief as the kitten. There's fire in the flint, cool as it looks; wait till the steel gets a knock at it, and you will see. Everybody can read that riddle, but it is not everybody that will remember to keep his gunpowder out of the way of the candle.

(C. H. Spurgeon.)

Judgment is comparison of things with some standard. There are standard weights and measures in the Tower to which all in the country ought to conform, and if not they are condemned. So a mason judges by his plumb-line of a wall, if true to the perpendicular. If an inspector of weights and measures finds a tradesman using false ones, he takes him before a magistrate for punishment. If the builder finds the wall untrue, he orders it to be pulled down. Now God has a standard by which He judges us, viz., His holy law; and it is because we know we are deficient that the word" judgment" has such an awful sound to us, for we know that to the sinner it includes condemnation and punishment.

If any man offend not in word.

1. The first general observation which occurs to us upon this subject is the difficulty of ruling the tongue. When a man looks into his own mind, the mass of thoughts of all kinds which he meets with there will amaze him. All men's ideas are much alike, and wisdom consists more in the degree of power which a man has to restrain his thoughts, and bring only such forth as are proper, than in the thoughts themselves. What renders it still more difficult to oppose this mass are the passions by which it is often agitated. These press upon it with violence, and force for themselves a passage. Temptations, too, add their pressure, unguarded moments offer, and men are almost always employed, from various motives, to draw your defence, and to draw your thoughts from you. Difficult, however, as the government of speech is, we must observe that it is not impracticable. If a man cannot restrain it completely, he has it in his power at least to moderate it.

2. The second general observation, which offers itself to us upon the government of speech, is the simplicity of it, considered as a method of governing the passions. In the most complex machines there is always one part of them which commands the rest, and a small degree of power applied there will stop their most multiplex operations. It seems in the present case to be exactly so with man. When you restrain the tongue you stop the passions at their commanding point. You do not merely drive them back into their repositories, but you destroy their motion and their force. They acquire strength from motion, and the way to keep them quiet is to restrain them at the issue. This is done easily if you apply your care at the mouth, and suppress the first expression of them. Prevent the movement of the passions and you prevent their violence.


1. TO this part of the subject let me proceed by observing, first in general, that much talking of any kind is but a bad practice. It is a sure waste of time in the first place, and is apt to lead a man into a habit of trifling in the next. But the greatest disadvantage of all is, that much speaking is an enemy to much thinking. The man who talks perpetually is also constantly in danger of discovering what he should conceal, and of prejudicing, by 'this means, both his own affairs and those of other men. How many occasions of offence, how many breaches among friends, holy many fatal enmities have arisen from this cause! The system of education adopted by the Persians was simple, but extremely rational. They taught their youth two things: to be secret, and to tell the truth. This was well adapted to inspire both the confidence and the respect of men.

2. In the second place, let me observe that the evils of speech, upon a general view of them, may be considered as arising from two sources: design and accident, and frequently also from a mixture of both.

3. I shall now mention, as shortly as possible, the most remarkable classes of vain talkers with which life is pestered, and society so often set on fire.(1) The first class whom I shall mention are your abusive talkers. These people value themselves upon nothing so much as upon putting a sober person out of countenance, and they recount their victories of this sort with as much pleasure as if they had performed some memorable achievements. What they say does not necessarily proceed from malice, and they will be friends with you next day if you desire it. But they have the misfortune to be born with violent passions, and as they have never been taught to restrain them, they have at last lost all self-command, and are under the necessity of giving vent to them.(2) The second class of talkers, or of people who offend in word, are your evil speakers. These are your people who are noted in society for a most unhappy habit of detracting from the merit, or of censuring the actions and the lives of others.(3) The last class of talkers whom I shall mention here, and who abuse the faculty of speech more than all the rest, are your plain liars. This is a most amazing set of people. They have acquired a habit which is most pernicious to society, and to their own minds. It misleads others and destroys their own principles. It is not only pernicious, but contemptible.

(John Mackenzie, D. D.)

1. The use of the tongue constitutes a large portion of human business. It is by that organ that very many of the most important transactions of life are carried on. Speech has been appropriately called "the rudder that steereth human affairs, the spring that setteth the wheels of action on going."(2) Speech is the index of the mind (Psalm 39:3). Thought and feeling dictate the language of the lips; and a habitually right use of speech is an indication of a habitually right condition of the mind. "Speak," said Socrates, "that I may see thee." The whirlwind of the tongue is but the outburst of the tumult of the soul. Wise, meek, and generous discourse is the counterpart of the enlightened, tranquil, and benevolent spirit which possesses "the hidden man of the heart."

3. It is a work of much difficulty tightly to regulate the tongue. On the one hand, it is a very facile member, often called, and easily roused, into active exercise; and on the other, one is apt not to associate the idea of so much guilt as is readily attributed to the sins of outward action with an ill-regulated tongue — insomuch that many who would not blasphemously say, "Our lips are our own, who is lord over us?" do not reckon themselves bound to watch, with any special diligence, over what they say.

4. As fearful evil is wont to result from the violation by the tongue of the laws of piety, truth, charity, chastity, and wisdom, so its right regulation is taught with glorious effects to him who speaks, and, it may be, also to him who hears.

(A. S. Patterson, D. D.)

There cannot be a doubt that speech may be the most helpful or unhelpful of all the powers we possess; because it is the expression of our inward life, whatever that inward life may be. And it is not the amount of speech we are capable of which is the main consideration in the ease, so much as the quality and quantity of heart which lies at the back of the tongue which determines the helpfulness or unhelpfulness of speech. A sensitive man would about as soon his enemy came and put a dagger into his heart and finish him, as go about stabbing him behind his back with cruel words. For there are words in which the spirit of murder lurks. We may be naturally very ready of speech or very slow of speech — inconveniently candid or reticent even to miser-ness; and yet our speech will be helpful or unhelpful to others according to the condition of heart which lies behind it. And so the old text, "Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life," controls the region covered by the word "speech." If there be envy in the heart, its tone will get into the speech. If there be hatred in the heart, the speech will betray it to all who have educated ears. If there be a settled deposit of uncharitableness in the heart, a report of it will be in the speech — not only in the matter of it, but especially in the manner of it. So that the first and chief necessity to helpful speech — that without which speech would be very unhelpful — is to keep the heart with all diligence. If we allow evil feelings to take up their abode in our hearts, speech cannot be helpful. If there be a skunk in the cellar, it will be known in every room of the house without asking the eyes to look upon the creature itself hiding away in the basement. The lovableness or lovelessness of the heart is certain to report itself in helpful or unhelpful speech. And so, in order to alter the quality of speech, if it needs altering, we must begin at the centre; we must keep the heart with all diligence, because speech is only one of the streams which issue out of it. The art of speech has been studied from Aristotle downwards. But the morals of speech, the spiritual meaning of helpful and unhelpful speech, this region has not been adequately explored. Such a subject as this — how to be a good conversationalist, interests not a few, because it suggests that this ability may be acquired. How much larger and more important than that is this; how to be under no undue restraint in speech; how to be free, easy, and at home in the use of this faculty and yet how to be always helpful and not unhelpful in the employment of it. Remembering, then, that speech is a sign, a revealer, both as to matter and manner, and that the first necessity for helpful speech is a regenerated heart — that is, a heart in which envy, hatred, and uncharitableness are not encouraged as guests; but if one or the other of them pay a short visit they are never made welcome and entertained as a guest, never supplied with bed and board — remembering this, that without an honest and good heart, continuous honest and good speech is an impossibility — we may be allowed to say that the power of helpful speech will increase in the ratio of our own self-improvement; as the result of processes of inward growth. The rational conversableness of men will come as an effect of their improved rationality. If you have read well, and looked about, and thought on what you have seen, you will show good quality in your speech, and I repeat, it is the quality in the speech which is the main thing towards its helpfulness. If your words be stumbling and broken, the matter and the meaning will redeem them from contempt. It may be sad to have nothing to say, but it is much sadder to say a great deal with nothing in it. Gilded surface easily passes in the stead of golden substance. We cannot, of course, speak helpfully or at all without words, unless we allow that the silent expression of the eye and many other signs are language; but we are not occupied with those mute organs of eloquence now; and yet words are so different from each other that they make speech this or that according to the words chosen. Some words are a blank wall; others are windows through which you see a varied landscape beyond. Real eloquence is always rich in these transparent words. Every great thinker suggests more than he says. Thought starts thinking. I am more and more convinced, however, that speech is helpful or unhelpful, according to the feeling with which it is satured. The same words uttered by two different persons produce effects in feeling, oh, how different! Have you never known what it is to feel a kind of shudder from a compliment — something intended to be sweet, but it was not satured with sweetness? In another case some one comes to you and tries to say a severe thing, attempts reproof, even satire, and the thing fails utterly because the individual has not venom enough in his nature to kill a fly. And so, if you will give attention to the matter you will find that words carry feeling quite as much as they carry intelligence.

(Reuen Thomas, D. D.)

Any one who carefully studies Scripture is often struck with this, that the sacred writers attach the most serious importance to duties of which men make but little account; so here — one who knows how lightly Christians regard the duty of not offending in word is impressed with the solemnity with which the apostle treats the obligation — looking upon the whole character as concerned in it; for he says whoever is faithful in this respect is a thorough man, strong in self-mastery, equal to all the duties of life. He considers faithfulness or unfaithfulness in this respect as a sure indication of the" presence or want of Christian principle; — yes, the surest, for it is only in unguarded hours that his character appears precisely as it is. Words flow carelessly and unthought-of from the tongue; they come from the overflowing of the heart. The apostle also calls our attention to the effect which the management of the tongue has upon the life. It is, he says, as the bit to the horse or the rudder to the vessel; it determines which way we shall go. Thus he thinks that a man's course is not only indicated, but also shaped, by his conduct in this respect. There is another view which he takes of the subject, which is new and strange to many. He says that harsh and bitter language cannot come from a good heart. But let us look a little more nearly at some of those offences of the tongue which the apostle considers so dangerous. First, there are those sharp and angry words of which we hear so many in the world. How often do we see the flashing eye and the cheek flushed with passion, and hear the most savage and bitter retorts and replies from lips which are also opened in prayer to God — how sincerely, how acceptably, we must leave it for eternity to tell! Men think very little of these things; the passion subsides, and they feel as if all was the same as before. But no. As each autumnal storm affects the foliage and hurries on the wintry desolation, so does each and every storm of passion leave much unseen injury, though perhaps few visible traces in the heart. It is impossible to overestimate the injury which is done by these hasty excesses. Human beings are connected with each other by many fine and delicate ties; and this flame of hasty anger burns them like tow. At every flash some of them snap asunder, and there is no power that can replace them. Again, there is a sort of violent language where there is not much anger, but rather malice and bitterness strongly felt and strongly expressed, and, strange as it may seem, indulged in without the least consciousness of sin. How little moral sensibility there is in relation to this appears from the manner of some who think it a crime to "smite with the fist of wickedness," but indemnify themselves for this forbearance by using the hardest terms of reproach which the language affords; — as if the bands of love bound nothing but the hands; as if, not striking with the sword, they might strike the harder with the edge of the tongue! The most painful exhibition we ever see of this kind of violent language is witnessed in the exciting times of party. To this the apostle's strong terms, "earthly, sensual, devilish," would most fitly apply. There is something appalling in this cannibal spirit, perfectly unscrupulous, perfectly hateful, in which so many indulge with perfect unconsciousness of their guilt and danger, though to a superior being who listened to their voice it would seem as if the world had broken entirely loose from the moral government of God. In the intercourse of social life there are many things which show how difficult, and yet how necessary, it is to apply religious principle to the words — difficult because we do not think what we are doing. But we ought to think, it is our duty to think, what we are doing; and the neglect of this duty is the last thing that we can plead in excuse for injurious language or any other sin. There are many who enjoy ridicule cast upon others, and many also who are ready to cast it, showing off their penetrating discernment and power of sarcasm without reflecting that they are guilty of inhumanity — that every indulgence of the kind is a sin against God and His law of love; without reflecting, too, that every indulgence of the kind is exerting a petrifying power upon their own hearts. There are many ways in which the law of love is broken in the social intercouse of life, broken by that thoughtless malice which is so common, but which, however thoughtless, is malice still. Whoever retails the floating reproach, whoever puts a bad construction on the conduct of another, whoever deals bitterly and harshly with the character of others, may do it thoughtlessly, but still he is responsible, perhaps the more so; for if he were conscientious he would reflect, and never, except in cases of necessity, say that which may injure another's feelings, reputation, or peace. There is one way in which unmeasured evil is brought into social life. It is by repeating to a friend the evil that has been said of him by another. If you produce any alienation or unkindness, you do it at your peril; and however you may say you did not think of it, the day will come when you will be obliged to think of it with a heavy heart. We may see in the conversation of social life many other things which show the wisdom and necessity of the charge to be swift to hear, but slow to speak. How many there are who talk themselves into what they call their opinions! When any subject is presented they speak without reflection, according to their impressions, or party associations, or perhaps guided by chance alone, and what they have once happened to say becomes their opinion. They maintain it not seriously and earnestly, as they would if they had seriously formed it; but when they hear it questioned they become angry with those who differ from them, because they have thought upon the subject and deliberately make up their minds. When we consider how much our judgment of moral questions, our views of what is passing round us, our feelings towards others — indeed, how much all the interests of the mind and heart are involved in this thoughtless way of speaking, we see how important it becomes to set a guard at the door of our lips, suffering nothing to pass till we at least know what it is — till we consider whether it will go forth for good or for evil, whether it will be a blessing or a curse to mankind.

(W. B. O. Peabody, D. D.)

I. IF IT BE "OUT OF THE ABUNDANCE OF THE HEART" THAT "THE MOUTH SPEAKETH," THEN THE UTTERANCE OF THE TONGUE IS ONE OF THE SUREST INDICATIONS OF THE ACTUAL STATE OF THE HEART. Falsehood, evasion, artifice, dissimulation, may for a time conceal the state of the heart, but when unmasked, they declare it as surely as the most genuine expressions of sincerity can.


1. First he lives in an atmosphere of prayer, and in watchfulness against every outward influence that might surprise him into the inconsistency of speaking hastily or unadvisedly with his tongue.

2. If the habit of consideration be needful at all times, it is especially needful when we are conscious of any excitement of our inward feelings, occasioned by outward circumstances beyond our control.

3. The "perfect man," the true child of God, is studiously careful for the welfare, while he respects the very feelings of others; and on this account he bridles his tongue, so that he may not, by even an inconsiderate word, injure the one, or wound the other.

4. There is another respect in which the true Christian, aiming at real consistency, is perpetually watchful. Having become aware of those subjects which most occasioned the sinful utterance of his tongue, before he received from God the power of bridling it, he now resolutely abstains altogether from these subjects. If they recur to his mind, he represses them; if unexpectedly he be drawn into them by others, and if at any time he feels tempted to speak in a way that becomes him not of others, he perhaps calls to mind what has been very wisely and truly said, "Weak and foolish minds chatter about persons; strong and wise minds converse about things." And then will come to his aid some holy admonition from the Word of God; or he will call to mind the words of David — "I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I offend not with my tongue; I will keep my mouth with a bridle, when the wicked is before me." Hence he will take heed, that when provoked by the perversity of others, or when wounded by their unbridled tongue, no unchristian bitterness of retort shall escape his lips.

(G. Fisk, LL. B.)

Essex Remembrancer.

1. The proper restraint of the tongue.(1) The preservation of a seasonable silence.(2) Constant care to avoid those sins of the tongue into which men are in most danger of being betrayed. Profaneness: Lying: Slander: Talebearing.

2. A proper employment of the tongue.(1) We should be ever ready to employ our tongues in contributing, as we may be able, to the interest and instruction of the social circle.(2) We muss ever be ready, as occasion may call for it, to testify our regard for Christ and determined obedience to His will.(3) We should watch for and improve every occasion of using this faculty, in suggesting such hints as our own circumstances will justify us in offering, and as the cases of others may evidently require.


1. As a criterion of our Christian character, and the extent of our religious attainments.

2. The powerful influence of speech over the human passions and conduct.

3. The solemn responsibility in which we are involved, in reference to the government of the tongue (Matthew 12:36, 37).


1. Let us seek a renewed and more spiritual state of the heart and affections.

2. Let special vigilance be exerted where special danger is probable. If brought into the society of the ungodly, let us take heed, like David, that we sin not with our tongue; that we are not betrayed by the force of example or the power of ridicule into a levity or impropriety of speech we may have cause to regret.

3. Let us earnestly implore Divine assistance and Divine restraint.

4. Let us seek habitually to conduct all the intercourse of life with a more vivid impression of our accountability to God.

(Essex Remembrancer.)

1. A good governance of speech is a strong evidence of a good mind; of a mind pure from vicious desires, calm from disorderly passions, void of dishonest intentions."

2. From hence, that the use of speech is itself a great ingredient into our practice, and hath a very general influence on whatever we do, may be inferred, that whoever governeth it well cannot also but well order his whole life.

3. To govern the tongue well is a matter of exceeding difficulty, requiring not only hearty goodness, but great judgment and art, together with much vigilance and circumspection; whence the doing it argues a high pitch of virtue.

4. Irregular speech hath commonly more advantages for it, and fewer checks on it, than other bad practices have: that is, a man is apt to speak ill with less dissatisfaction and regret from within; he may do it with less control and hazard from without, than he can act ill.

5. Whereas most of the enormities and troubles whereby the souls of men are defiled and their lives disquieted are the fruits of ill-governed speech, he that by well governing it preserves himself from guilt and inconvenience, must necessarily be, not only a wise and happy, but a good and worthy person.

6. His tongue also so ruled cannot but produce very good fruits of honour to God, of benefit to his neighbour, and of comfort to himself.

7. The observation how unusual this practice is, in any good degree, may strongly assure us of its excellency: for the rarer, especially in morals, any good thing is, the more noble and worthy it is; that rarity arguing somewhat of peculiar difficulty in the attainment of it.

(I. Barrow, D. D.)

The offences of speech are various in kind; so many as there be of thought and of action, unto which they do run parallel: accordingly they well may be distinguished from the difference of objects which they do specially respect. Whence

1. Some of them are committed against God, and confront piety;

2. Others against our neighbour, and violate justice, or charity, or peace;

3. Others against ourselves, infringing sobriety, discretion, or modesty; or,

4. Some are of a more general and abstracted nature, rambling through all matters, and crossing all the heads of duty. Now I shall confine my discourse to the first sort, the offences against piety; and even of them I shall only touch two or three, insinuating some reasons why we should eschew them.These are —

1. Speaking blasphemously against God, or reproachfully concerning religion, or to the disgrace of piety, with intent to subvert men's faith in God, or to impair their reverence of Him. This of all impieties is the most prodigiously gigantic, the most signal practice of enmity towards God, and downright waging of war against heaven. Of all "weapons formed against God," the tongue most notoriously doth impugn Him; for we cannot reach heaven with our hands, or immediately assault God by our actions: other ill-practice indeed obliquely or by consequence dishonoureth God, and defameth goodness; but profane discourse is directly levelled at them.

2. To speak loosely and wantonly about holy things, to make such things the matter of sport and mockery, to play and trifle with them.

3. Rash and vain swearing in common discourse; an offence which now strangely reigns and rages in the world, passing about in a specious garb and under glorious titles, as a gentle and graceful quality, a mark of fine breeding, and a point of high gallantry.

4. Finally, consider, that as we ourselves, with all our members and powers, were chiefly designed and framed to serve and glorify our Maker, so especially our tongue and speaking faculty were given us to declare our admiration and reverence of Him, to express our love and gratitude toward Him, to celebrate His praises, to acknowledge His benefits, to promote His honour and service.

(I. Barrow, D. D.)

There are two thoughts in this passage distinct from each other. The first is that the tongue is an index of the character. If a man offend not in word, he will offend in no way; if he gets the mastery of that unruly member, you may rely on it he is able to control all the rest of his powers. The doctor, when called in to see a patient, asks at once, "Let me see your tongue." the man's physical condition is indicated by the state of his tongue, and, if St. James may be believed, the moral condition of every one is to be determined by the state of the tongue. What is the state of your tongue? The other idea of St. James is more extraordinary still, Not only is the tongue an index of character, it shows what a man is; but the apostle goes beyond that in the figure of the bit which guides the horse, and the helm which turns the ship. The tongue determines character; it makes character; it leads and guides and directs a man into good or bad ways. I solemnly believe this to be true. If, when one is angry, he will refrain from uttering a word, he will soon get the mastery of his temper; he is like a horse held in by the bit; but if he allow himself to begin to speak he will become more and more angry, and. like an unrestrained horse or ship, will break over all bounds, and do mischief to himself and others. It is a well-known fact that a man may tell a lie until he comes to believe it himself, while a sort of converse of this is true that a Christian may talk so humbly of himself as unworthy that he shall greatly foster his spiritual pride.

(T. H. Pritchard, D. D.)

It was once pleaded on behalf of a man who had been criticised and condemned as unsatisfactory, that he was "a good man, all but his temper." "All but his temper!" was the not unreasonable reply, "as if temper were not nine-tenths of religion."

(A. Plummer, D. D.)

The Adige at Verona appears to be a river quite broad and deep enough for navigation, but its current is so rapid as to make it quite unserviceable. Many men are so rash and impetuous, and at the same time so suddenly angry and excited, that their otherwise most valuable abilities are rendered useless for any good purpose.

(C. H. Spurgeon.)

The habit of restraint in speech was admirably illustrated by Lord Palmerston at the cutlers' feast in Sheffield, at the time of the great struggle between the North and the South in the United States. Mr. Roebuck had made a violent speech, urging England to side with the South. It was Lord Palmerston's place to reply, and a word from him might kindle the flames of war. He rose, and every eye was fixed on him. What he said, however, was merely, "I beg to propose a toast — The Ladies!"

Learn to hold thy tongue. Five words cost Zacharias forty weeks' silence.

(R. Fuller.)

A babbler, being at table with a number of persons, among whom was one of the seven sages of Greece, expressed his astonishment that a man so wise did not utter a single word. The sage instantly replied, "A fool cannot hold his tongue."

Some men remind one of the young man who was sent to Socrates to learn oratory. On being introduced to the philosopher, he talked so incessantly that Socrates asked for double fees. "Why charge me double?" said the young fellow. "Because," replied the orator, "I must teach you two sciences; the one how to hold your tongue, and the other how to speak." The first science is the more difficult.

(C. H. Spurgeon.)

He was a wise philosopher who bound his scholars to a silence of five years, that they might not use their tongues till they knew how to govern them, nor speak till they had something to say.

Able, Anyone, Body, Bridle, Character, Check, Complete, Control, Curb, Doesn't, Fall, Fault, Makes, Maturity, Mistakes, Nature, Offend, Offendeth, Often, Perfect, Reached, Says, Slip, Speech, Stumble, Stumbles, Stumbleth, Talk, Wrong
1. We are not rashly or arrogantly to reprove others;
5. but rather to bridle the tongue, a little member,
9. but a powerful instrument of much good, and great harm.
13. The truly wise are mild and peaceable, without envy and strife.

Dictionary of Bible Themes
James 3:2

     5136   body
     5186   stumbling
     6023   sin, universality
     6163   faults
     6200   imperfection, influence
     8322   perfection, human

James 3:1-12

     5547   speech, power of
     8339   self-control

James 3:2-3

     4657   horse

James 3:2-12

     5934   restraint
     8476   self-discipline

January the Twenty-Sixth the Fire of Envy
"Where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work!" --JAMES iii. 13-18. In Milton's "Comus" we read of a certain potion which has the power to pervert all the senses of everyone who drinks it. Nothing is apprehended truly. Sight and hearing and taste are all disordered, and the victim is all unconscious of the confusion. The deadly draught is the minister of deceptive chaos. And envy is like that potion when it is drunk by the spirit. It perverts every moral and spiritual sense.
John Henry Jowett—My Daily Meditation for the Circling Year

The Tongue.
Preached April 28, 1850. THE TONGUE. "Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell."--St. James iii. 5-6. In the development of Christian Truth a peculiar office was assigned to the Apostle James. It was given to St. Paul to proclaim Christianity
Frederick W. Robertson—Sermons Preached at Brighton

How to Make Use of Christ for Taking the Guilt of Our Daily Out-Breakings Away.
The next part of our sanctification is in reference to our daily failings and transgressions, committed partly through the violence of temptations, as we see in David and Peter, and other eminent men of God; partly through daily infirmities, because of our weakness and imperfections; for, "in many things we offend all," James iii. 2; and, "if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us," 1 John i. 8; "a righteous man falleth seven times," Prov. xxiv. 16; "there is not
John Brown (of Wamphray)—Christ The Way, The Truth, and The Life

Whether Wisdom Should be Reckoned among the Gifts of the Holy Ghost?
Objection 1: It would seem that wisdom ought not to be reckoned among the gifts of the Holy Ghost. For the gifts are more perfect than the virtues, as stated above ([2705]FS, Q[68], A[8]). Now virtue is directed to the good alone, wherefore Augustine says (De Lib. Arb. ii, 19) that "no man makes bad use of the virtues." Much more therefore are the gifts of the Holy Ghost directed to the good alone. But wisdom is directed to evil also, for it is written (James 3:15) that a certain wisdom is "earthly,
Saint Thomas Aquinas—Summa Theologica

Whether Prudence of the Flesh is a Sin?
Objection 1: It would seem that prudence of the flesh is not a sin. For prudence is more excellent than the other moral virtues, since it governs them all. But no justice or temperance is sinful. Neither therefore is any prudence a sin. Objection 2: Further, it is not a sin to act prudently for an end which it is lawful to love. But it is lawful to love the flesh, "for no man ever hated his own flesh" (Eph. 5:29). Therefore prudence of the flesh is not a sin. Objection 3: Further, just as man is
Saint Thomas Aquinas—Summa Theologica

Whether Inconstancy is a vice Contained under Prudence?
Objection 1: It would seem that inconstancy is not a vice contained under imprudence. For inconstancy consists seemingly in a lack of perseverance in matters of difficulty. But perseverance in difficult matters belongs to fortitude. Therefore inconstancy is opposed to fortitude rather than to prudence. Objection 2: Further, it is written (James 3:16): "Where jealousy [Douay: 'envy'] and contention are, there are inconstancy and every evil work." But jealousy pertains to envy. Therefore inconstancy
Saint Thomas Aquinas—Summa Theologica

Whether Wisdom is in all who have Grace?
Objection 1: It would seem that wisdom is not in all who have grace. For it is more to have wisdom than to hear wisdom. Now it is only for the perfect to hear wisdom, according to 1 Cor. 2:6: "We speak wisdom among the perfect." Since then not all who have grace are perfect, it seems that much less all who have grace have wisdom. Objection 2: Further, "The wise man sets things in order," as the Philosopher states (Metaph. i, 2): and it is written (James 3:17) that the wise man "judges without dissimulation
Saint Thomas Aquinas—Summa Theologica

Whether the Seventh Beatitude Corresponds to the Gift of Wisdom?
Objection 1: It seems that the seventh beatitude does not correspond to the gift of wisdom. For the seventh beatitude is: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God." Now both these things belong to charity: since of peace it is written (Ps. 118:165): "Much peace have they that love Thy law," and, as the Apostle says (Rom. 5:5), "the charity of God is poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Ghost Who is given to us," and Who is "the Spirit of adoption of sons, whereby
Saint Thomas Aquinas—Summa Theologica

Whether Backbiting is a Mortal Sin?
Objection 1: It would seem that backbiting is not a mortal sin. For no act of virtue is a mortal sin. Now, to reveal an unknown sin, which pertains to backbiting, as stated above (A[1], ad 3), is an act of the virtue of charity, whereby a man denounces his brother's sin in order that he may amend: or else it is an act of justice, whereby a man accuses his brother. Therefore backbiting is not a mortal sin. Objection 2: Further, a gloss on Prov. 24:21, "Have nothing to do with detractors," says: "The
Saint Thomas Aquinas—Summa Theologica

Whether Fasting is a Matter of Precept?
Objection 1: It would seem that fasting is not a matter of precept. For precepts are not given about works of supererogation which are a matter of counsel. Now fasting is a work of supererogation: else it would have to be equally observed at all places and times. Therefore fasting is not a matter of precept. Objection 2: Further, whoever infringes a precept commits a mortal sin. Therefore if fasting were a matter of precept, all who do not fast would sin mortally, and a widespreading snare would
Saint Thomas Aquinas—Summa Theologica

Whether any one Can be Perfect in this Life?
Objection 1: It would seem that none can be perfect in this life. For the Apostle says (1 Cor. 13:10): "When that which is perfect is come, that which is in part shall be done away." Now in this life that which is in part is not done away; for in this life faith and hope, which are in part, remain. Therefore none can be perfect in this life. Objection 2: Further, "The perfect is that which lacks nothing" (Phys. iii, 6). Now there is no one in this life who lacks nothing; for it is written (James
Saint Thomas Aquinas—Summa Theologica

Whether Our Atmosphere is the Demons' Place of Punishment?
Objection 1: It would seem that this atmosphere is not the demons' place of punishment. For a demon is a spiritual nature. But a spiritual nature is not affected by place. Therefore there is no place of punishment for demons. Objection 2: Further, man's sin is not graver than the demons'. But man's place of punishment is hell. Much more, therefore, is it the demons' place of punishment; and consequently not the darksome atmosphere. Objection 3: Further, the demons are punished with the pain of fire.
Saint Thomas Aquinas—Summa Theologica

Whether a Religious Sins More Grievously than a Secular by the Same Kind of Sin?
Objection 1: It would seem that a religious does not sin more grievously than a secular by the same kind of sin. For it is written (2 Paralip 30:18,19): "The Lord Who is good will show mercy to all them who with their whole heart seek the Lord the God of their fathers, and will not impute it to them that they are not sanctified." Now religious apparently follow the Lord the God of their fathers with their whole heart rather than seculars, who partly give themselves and their possessions to God and
Saint Thomas Aquinas—Summa Theologica

Whether the Separated Soul Can Suffer from a Bodily Fire?
Objection 1: It would seem that the separated soul cannot suffer from a bodily fire. For Augustine says (Gen. ad lit. xii): "The things that affect the soul well or ill after its separation from the body, are not corporeal but resemble corporeal things." Therefore the separated soul is not punished with a bodily fire. Objection 2: Further, Augustine (Gen. ad lit. xii) says that "the agent is always more excellent than the patient." But it is impossible for any body to be more excellent than the separated
Saint Thomas Aquinas—Summa Theologica

The Doctrine of Man
Rev. William Evans—The Great Doctrines of the Bible

Man's Inability to Keep the Moral Law
Is any man able perfectly to keep the commandments of God? No mere man, since the fall, is able in this life perfectly to keep the commandments of God, but does daily break them, in thought, word, and deed. In many things we offend all.' James 3: 2. Man in his primitive state of innocence, was endowed with ability to keep the whole moral law. He had rectitude of mind, sanctity of will, and perfection of power. He had the copy of God's law written on his heart; no sooner did God command but he obeyed.
Thomas Watson—The Ten Commandments

Of the Weight of Government; and that all Manner of Adversity is to be Despised, and Prosperity Feared.
So much, then, have we briefly said, to shew how great is the weight of government, lest whosoever is unequal to sacred offices of government should dare to profane them, and through lust of pre-eminence undertake a leadership of perdition. For hence it is that James affectionately deters us, saying, Be not made many masters, my brethren (James iii. 1). Hence the Mediator between God and man Himself--He who, transcending the knowledge and understanding even of supernal spirits, reigns in heaven
Leo the Great—Writings of Leo the Great

"If we Confess Our Sins, He is Faithful and Just to Forgive us Our Sins, and to Cleanse us from all Unrighteousness. If we Say We
1 John i. 9, 10.--"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar," &c. And who will not confess their sin, say you? Who doth not confess sins daily, and, therefore, who is not forgiven and pardoned? But stay, and consider the matter again. Take not this upon your first light apprehensions, which in religion are commonly empty, vain, and superficial, but search the scriptures, and
Hugh Binning—The Works of the Rev. Hugh Binning

Whether it is Lawful to Swear?
Objection 1: It would seem that it is not lawful to swear. Nothing forbidden in the Divine Law is lawful. Now swearing is forbidden (Mat. 5:34), "But I say to you not to swear at all"; and (James 5:12), "Above all things, my brethren, swear not." Therefore swearing is unlawful. Objection 2: Further, whatever comes from an evil seems to be unlawful, because according to Mat. 7:18, "neither can an evil tree bring forth good fruit." Now swearing comes from an evil, for it is written (Mat. 5:37): "But
Saint Thomas Aquinas—Summa Theologica

Attributes of Selfishness.
Formerly we considered the attributes of benevolence, and also what states of the sensibility and of the intellect, and also what outward actions, were implied in it, as necessarily resulting from it. We are now to take the same course with selfishness: and-- 1. Voluntariness is an attribute of selfishness. Selfishness has often been confounded with mere desire. But these things are by no means identical. Desire is constitutional. It is a phenomenon of the sensibility. It is a purely involuntary
Charles Grandison Finney—Systematic Theology

Unity of Moral Action.
CAN OBEDIENCE TO MORAL LAW BE PARTIAL? 1. What constitutes obedience to moral law? We have seen in former lectures, that disinterested benevolence is all that the spirit of moral law requires; that is, that the love which it requires to God and our neighbor is good-willing, willing the highest good or well-being of God, and of being in general, as an end, or for its own sake; that this willing is a consecration of all the powers, so far as they are under the control of the will, to this end. Entire
Charles Grandison Finney—Systematic Theology

Concerning Peaceableness
Blessed are the peacemakers. Matthew 5:9 This is the seventh step of the golden ladder which leads to blessedness. The name of peace is sweet, and the work of peace is a blessed work. Blessed are the peacemakers'. Observe the connection. The Scripture links these two together, pureness of heart and peaceableness of spirit. The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable' (James 3:17). Follow peace and holiness' (Hebrews 12:14). And here Christ joins them together pure in heart, and peacemakers',
Thomas Watson—The Beatitudes: An Exposition of Matthew 5:1-12

The Tribute Money
"And they send unto Him certain of the Pharisees and of the Herodians, that they might catch Him in talk. And when they were come, they say unto Him, Master, we know that Thou art true, and carest not for any one: for Thou regardest not the person of men, but of a truth teachest the way of God: Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not? Shall we give, or shall we not give? But He, knowing their hypocrisy, said unto them, Why tempt ye Me? bring Me a penny, that I may see it. And they brought
G. A. Chadwick—The Gospel of St. Mark

The Third Commandment
Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain: For the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.' Exod 20: 7. This commandment has two parts: 1. A negative expressed, that we must not take God's name in vain; that is, cast any reflections and dishonour on his name. 2. An affirmative implied. That we should take care to reverence and honour his name. Of this latter I shall speak more fully, under the first petition in the Lord's Prayer, Hallowed be thy name.' I shall
Thomas Watson—The Ten Commandments

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