James 3:8

At first the apostle had reminded his readers that speech may be made a great power for good (vers. 2-4). Then he went on to say that in actual fact it is employed by most men as an engine of evil (vers. 5, 6). He proceeds now to justify his strong language on this point.

I. THE UNTAMABLENESS OF THE TONGUE. (Vers. 7, 8.) We have here a fourfold classification of the inferior creatures. God gave man dominion over them at the creation, and intimated his supremacy anew after the Flood. There is no variety of brute nature that has not yielded in the past, and that does not continue to yield, to the lordship of human nature. The horse, the dog, the elephant, the lion, the leopard, the tiger, the hyena; the partridge, the falcon, the eagle; the asp, the cobra; the crocodile; - these names suggest ample evidence of man's power to tame the most diverse species of wild animals. But, says James, there is one little creature which human nature, in its own strength, finds it impossible to domesticate. The tongue of man is fiercer than the most ferocious beast, The rebellion of our race against good is far more inveterate than any insubordination of the brutes. Indeed, the revolt of the lower creatures against the authority of man is only the shadow and symbol of man's revolt against the authority of God. Year by year man is subduing the earth and extending his dominion over it; but his natural power to govern the tongue remains as feeble as it was in the days of Cain. This "little member" reveals the appalling depths of human corruption. "It is a restless evil;" unstable, fickle, versatile; ever stirring about from one form of unrighteousness to another; assuming Protean shapes and chameleon hues; its words sometimes filthy, sometimes slanderous, sometimes profane, sometimes angry, sometimes idle. And the untamed tongue "is full of deadly poison." It is a worse poison-bag than that of the most hurtful serpent. The words of a false tongue are fangs of moral venom, for which no human skill can supply an antidote. Is not calumny just a foul virus injected into the social body, which kills character, happiness, and sometimes even life? Its venom spreads far and wide, and man is powerless to destroy it.

II. THE INCONSISTENCY OF THE TONGUE. (Vers. 9-12.) The same person may just now put the faculty of speech to its highest use; and, almost immediately afterwards, wickedly abuse it. The tongue has been given us that therewith we may "bless the Lord and Father;" and to utter the Divine praise is the most ennobling exercise of human speech. The Christian calls him "Lord," and adores him for his eternal Godhead; he also calls him "Father," and blesses him for his adopting grace. Then, with melancholy inconsistency, the same mouth which has been praising God may be heard invoking evil upon men. How often do those who profess godliness speak passionate and spiteful words! Do not Christians who belong to the same congregation sometimes backbite one another? Do not believers of different communions often, out of mere sectarian rivalry, denounce one another's Churches? Even godly men sometimes cherish the spirit which would "forbid" others to work the work of the Lord, simply because these are not of their company. Now, such inconsistency is seen in all its aggravation when we consider the fact that truly to bless God forbids the cursing of any man. "The Lord" is the "Father" of all men, for men "are made after the likeness of God." In his princely intellect, and his hungering heart, and even in his uneasy conscience, man reflects the image of his Maker. God and he are so close of kin to each other - by nature, and through Christ's incarnation - that real reverence for God requires that we "honor all men." How inconsistent, then, for the same mouth to bless the Father and to curse the children! The inconsistency appears on the very face of the English word "curse." To curse means primarily "to invoke evil upon one, by the sign of the cross. The cross is the symbol of the highest blessing to the world; and yet those who enjoy the blessedness which it brings have used it as an instrument of cursing. We bless God for the cross; and then we curse men in the name of the cross. Such inconsistency, the apostle adds, is flagrantly unnatural (vers. 11, 12). None such is to be met with in the physical world. A spring of water cannot transgress the law of its nature. A fruit tree can only bear fruit according to its kind. How unnatural, then, that in the moral world the same fountain of speech should emit just now a rill of clear sweet praise, and soon afterwards a torrent of bitter slander, or a stream of brackish minced oaths! Where a true believer falls into this sinful inconsistency, it is because the fountain of the old nature within his heart has not yet been closed up. He needs to have the accursed tree on which Jesus died cast into the bitter stream within him, to sweeten it, and to make it a river of living water. In the case of a soul that has experienced the renewing grace of the Holy Spirit, this unnatural inconsistency of speech not only ought not so to be," but does not need to be. - C.J.

The tongue can no man tame.
The intense practicalness of James as a religious teacher leads him directly to this topic of the taming of the tongue. Here he sees, what every man to whom behaviour is a chief concern must see, one of the pivotal points of character. The religion that does not rule the speech is a failure and a fraud. The tongue, in the figure of James, is a wild beast that needs taming — fierce, reasonless, uncontrollable. A good part of the evils of life arise from its depredations.

1. First, of course, is the lying tongue. Of all the evils of speech falsehood is central and seminal.

2. Next to the lying tongue we must put the reviling tongue.

3. After the reviling tongue the foul tongue must be reckoned — the tongue that is the channel through which the impurities of a bad heart discharge themselves; the tongue that deals in indecent speech.

4. Next we think of the passionate tongue; the tongue that hastens to give voice to the anger and the hate that arise within. Anger, the Latin poet said, is a brief insanity; and when it begins to rage within the breast it needs to be chained and kept under till its paroxysm is past. But the mischievous tongue sometimes sets it loose and becomes its servitor — to hurl missiles of hot and stinging words right and left, doing damage that it is hard to repair.

5. The sarcastic tongue is another kind that needs taming. Sarcasm has its uses, no doubt; in our warfare with incorrigible evil-doers we must sometimes resort to it; but in the common intercourse of life it is scarcely more legitimate than the cudgel or the rapier. The arrows of sarcasm are barbed with contempt; that is what makes them rankle so; and contempt is a feeling that a good man cannot afford to indulge.

6. The scolding tongue is another kind that calls for a curb. Reproofs must be spoken, but sometimes there are too many of them, and their tone is too impatient, or too harsh, or too loud. Reproof must sometimes be severe, but it may be severe without being petulant.

7. The flattering tongue is a tongue that needs the bit. Honest and hearty praise is not to be avoided; we do not have half enough of it. Many are toiling on, heartsick and hopeless, to whom such a word of recognition would be as cold water to a thirsty soul. But this is not flattery. Flattery is either false praise, or praise addressed, not to the quality of our actions so much as to our excellences of person or that which is external to us. To praise your child's looks, and so stimulate his vanity, that is flattery, a most nauseous exhibition of it; and the tongue that indulges in it ought to be bridled. But the worst kind of flattery is that which seeks to please, and so to entice, by artful and insincere praises. This is a species of lying, of course; but it is a species so mean and dangerous that it needs to be singled out and denounced.

8. The chattering tongue is another kind that needs restraint and discipline. A few people are too taciturn; a great many are too talkative. Such endless prattle is an encroachment on other people's rights. How much time is consumed in attending to words that are utterly destitute of thought, that convey no ideas and impart no benefits! How many things we might have done that were worth doing, how many things we might have thought of that were worth thinking of, while we were listening! But what is worse, it is debilitating to the one who indulges in it. He talks so much that he has no time to think. "Set a watch, C God," prayed the psalmist, "before my mouth; keep the door of my lips." The trouble with some of these constant talkers-seems to be that there is no door to their lips, nothing but a doorway.

9. The last kind of tongue I shall mention that needs taming is the slanderous tongue. To speak evil of their neighbours is to some men and women a positive luxury. You would use harsh words about a man who got his living by retailing scandal, orally, for five cents a customer; what have you to say about the man who spices his newspaper with such items to make it sell? "But the tongue can no man tame." So much the more need, then, that a power stronger than man's should be invoked to subdue its unruliness and mitigate its fierceness. Such a Divine power the fables of all the peoples have celebrated; the power that tames the wildest beasts, and makes the tiger as gentle and docile as a lamb. The mythic song of Amphion is but a prelude of the triumph of the Prince of Peace, under whose blessed reign all savage and noxious creatures shall learn obedience and service. He at whose word the demoniac ceased his ravings, and the savage seas hushed their tumult — He who has the power and the purpose to subdue all things unto Himself — can cause the lying tongue to speak verities, and the reviling tongue to praise and bless, and the passionate tongue to be silent when the anger rises, and the foul tongue to utter purity, and the sarcastic tongue to temper its severities, and the scolding tongue to learn gentleness, and the flattering tongue to speak with sincerity, and the chattering tongue to be more discreet, and the talebearing tongue to be still.

(W. Gladden, D. D.)

1. The tractableness of the beasts to man, and the disobedience of man to God (Isaiah 1:3). Fallen man may go to school to the beasts to learn mildness and obedience; and yet God hath more power to subdue, and we have more reason to obey,

2. The greatness of man's folly and impotency in governing his own soul. Though he tameth other things, he doth not tame himself.

3. The deepness of man's misery. Our own art and skill is able to tame the fiercest beasts, and make them serviceable; beasts as strong as lions and elephants; fishes that do, as it were, inhabit another world; birds as swift almost as a thought; serpents hurtful and noxious. But, alas! there is more rebellion in our affections; sin is stronger, all our art will not tame it.

4. Art and skill to subdue creatures is a relic and argument of our old superiority. The heathens discerned we had once a dominion, and the Scriptures plainly assert it (Genesis 1:26).

(T. Manton.)

Here is a single proposition, guarded with a double reason. The proposition is, "No man can tame the tongue." The reasons —

1. It is "unruly."

2. "Full of deadly poison." As the proposition is backed with two reasons, so each reason hath a terrible second. The evil hath for its second unruliness; the poisonfulness being deadly.It is evil, yea, unruly evil; it is poison, yea, deadly poison.

1. In the proposition we will observe —

(1)The nature of the thing to be tamed.

(2)The difficulty of accomplishing it.

2. The insubjectable subject is the tongue, which is —

(1)A member; and —

(2)An excellent, necessary, little, singular member.

1. It is a member. He that made all made the tongue; he that craves all must have the tongue. It is an instrument; let it give music to Him that made it. All creatures in their kind bless God (Psalm 148). They that want tongues, as the heavens, sun, stars, meteors, orbs, elements, praise Him with such obedient testimonies as their insensible natures can afford. They that have tongues, though they want reason, praise Him with those natural organs. Man, then, that hath a tongue, and a reason to guide it, and more, a religion to direct his reason, should much more bless Him. Not that praise can add to God's glory, nor blasphemies detract from it. As the sun is neither bettered by birds singing, nor battered by dogs barking. Yet we that cannot make His name greater can make it seem greater; and though we cannot enlarge His glory, we may enlarge the manifestation of His glory. This both in words praising and in works practising. They that before little regarded Him may thus be brought to esteem Him greatly; giving Him the honour due to His name, and glorifying Him, after our example. This is the tongue's office. Every member, without arrogating any merit, or boasting the beholdenness of the rest unto it, is to do that duty which is assigned to it. The tongue is man's clapper, and is given him that he may sound out the praise of his Maker. Infinite causes draw deservingly from man's lips a devout acknowledgment of Gods praise.

2. It is a member you hear; we must take it with all its properties; excellent, necessary, little, singular.(1) Excellent. First, for the majesty of it. It carries an imperious speech, wherein it hath the pre-eminence of all mortal creatures. Secondly, for the pleasantness of the tongue, No instruments are so ravishing, or prevail over man's heart with so powerful complacency, as the tongue and voice of man. If the tongue be so excellent, how, then, doth this text censure it for being so evil? I take the philosopher's old and trite answer, Than a good tongue, there is nothing better; than an evil, nothing worse. It hath no mean; it is either exceedingly good or excessively evil. If it be good, it is a walking garden, that scatters in every place a sweet flower, an herb of grace to the hearers. If it be evil, it is a wild bedlam, full of madding mischiefs. So the tongue is every man's best or worst movable. A good tongue is a special dish for God's public service. The best part of a man, and most worthy the honour of sacrifice. This only when it is well seasoned. Seasoned, I say, "with salt," as the apostle admenisheth; not with fire (Colossians 4:6). But an evil tongue is meat for the devil, according to the Italian proverb: The devil makes his Christmas pie of lewd tongues.(2) It is necessary; so necessary that without a tongue I could not declare the necessity of it. It converseth with man, conveying to others by this organ that experimental knowledge which must else live and die in himself. It imparts secrets, communicates joys, which would be less happy suppressed than they are expressed. Lastly, it speaks our devotions to heaven, and hath the honour to confer with God. It is that instrument which the Holy Ghost useth in us to cry, "Abba, Father." It is our spokesman; and he that can hear the heart without a tongue, regardeth the devotions of the heart better, when they are sent up by a diligent messenger, a faithful tongue.(3) It is little. As man is a little world in the great, so is his tongue a great world in the little. It is a "little member," saith the apostle (ver. 5), yet it is a world; yea, "a world of iniquity" (ver. 6). It is little in quantity, but great in iniquity. What it hath lost in the thickness it hath gotten in the quickness; and the defect of magnitude is recompensed in the agility. If it be a talking tongue it is a world of prating. If it be a wrangling tongue it is a world of babbling. If it be a learned tongue it is, as Erasmus said of Bishop Tonstal, a world of learning. If it be a petulant tongue it is a world of wantonness. If it be a poisonous tongue, saith our apostle, "it defileth the whole body" (ver. 6). It is "little." So little that it will scarce give a kite her breakfast, yet it can discourse of the sun and stars, of orbs and elements, of angels and devils, of nature and arts, and hath no straighter limits than the whole world to walk through. It is a "little member," yet "boasteth great things" (ver. 5). Though it be little, yet if good, it is of great use. A little bit guideth a great horse to the rider's pleasure. A little helm ruleth a great vessel, though the winds blow and the floods oppose, yet the helm steers the ship. Though little, yet if evil, it is of great mischief. A little sickness distempereth the whole body. A little fire setteth a whole city on combustion. "Behold how great a matter a little fire kindleth" (ver. 5). It is little in substance, yet great to provoke passion, to produce action. It either prevails to good, or perverts to evil; purifieth or putrefieth the whole carcase, the whole conscience. It betrayeth the heart when the heart would betray God; and the Lord lets it double treason on itself when it prevaricates with Him. It is a little leak that drowneth a ship, a little breach that loseth an army, a little spring that pours forth an ocean. Little; yet the lion is more troubled with the little wasp than with the great elephant. Many have dealt better with the greater members of the body than with this little one.(4) It is a singular member. God hath given man two ears; one to hear instructions of human knowledge, the other to hearken to His Divine precepts; the former to conserve his body, the latter to save his soul. Two eyes, that with the one he might see to his own way, with the other pity and commiserate his distressed brethren. Two hands, that with the one he might work for his own living, with the other give and relieve his brother's wants. Two feet, one to walk on common days to his ordinary labour (Psalm 104:23); the other, on sacred days to visit and frequent the temple and the congregation of saints. But among all, He hath given him but one tongue, which may instruct him to hear twice so much as he speaks; to work and walk twice so much as he speaks (Psalm 139:14). Stay and wonder at the wonderful wisdom of God! First, to create so little a piece of flesh, and to put such vigour into it; to give it neither bones nor nerves, yet to make it stronger than arms and legs, and those most able and serviceable parts of the body. Secondly, because it is so forcible, therefore hath the most wise God ordained that it shall be but little, that it shall be but one. That so the parvity and singularity may abate the vigour of it. Thirdly, because it is so unruly, the Lord hath hedged it in, as a man will not trust a wild horse in an open pasture, but prison him in a close pound. A double fence hath the Creator given to confine it, the lips and the teeth; that through these mounds it might not break. And hence a threefold instruction for the use of the tongue is insinuated to us. First, let us not dare to pull up God's mounds; nor, like wild beasts, break through the circular limits wherein He hath cooped us. "Weigh thy words in a balance, and make a door and bar for thy mouth." Let this be the possession thou so hedgest in, and thy precious gold thou so bindest up. "Beware thou slide not by it, lest thou fall before him that lieth in wait." Commit not burglary by breaking the doors and pulling down the bars of thy mouth. Much more, when the Lord hath hung a lock on it, do not pick it with a false key. Rather pray with David (Psalm 51:15). It is absurd in building to make the porch bigger than the house; it is as monstrous in nature when a man's words are too many, too mighty. Let thy words be few, true, weighty, that thou mayest not speak much, not falsely, not vainly. Remember the bounds, and keep the non ultra. Secondly, since God hath made the tongue one, have not thou "a tongue and a tongue." It is made simple; let it; not be double. Thirdly, this convinceth them of preposterous folly, that put all their malice into their tongue, as the serpent all her poison in her tail; and as it were by a chemical power, attract all vigour thither, to the weakening and enervation of the other parts.

3. We see the nature of the thing to be tamed, the tongue; let us consider the difficulty of this enterprise. No man can do it. Which we shall best find if we compare it —(1) With other members of the body.(2) With other creatures of the world.

1. With other members of the body, which are various in their faculties and offices; none of them idle.(1) The eye sees far, and beholdeth the creatures in the heavens — sun, and stars; on the earth — birds, beasts, plants, and minerals; in the sea — fishes and serpents. That it is an unruly member, let our grandmother speak, whose roving eye lost us all. Yet this eye, as unruly as it is, hath been tamed. Did not Job "make a covenant with his eyes, that he would not look upon a maid" (Job 31:1)? The eye hath been tamed, "but the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil."(2) The ear yet hears more than ever the eye saw; and by reason of its patulous admission, derives that to the understanding whereof the sight never had a glance. It can listen to the whisperings of a Doeg, to the susurrations of a devil, to the noise of a Siren, to the voice of a Delilah. The ear hath been tamed, "but the tongue can no man tame," &c.(3) The foot is an unhappy member, and carries a man to much wickedness. It is often swift to the shedding of blood; and runneth away from God, Jonah's pace. There is "a foot of pride" (Psalm 36:11), a saucy foot, that dares presumptuously enter upon God's freehold. There is a foot of rebellion, that with an apostate malice kicks at God. There is a dancing foot, that paceth the measures of circular wickedness. Yet, as unruly as this foot is, it hath been tamed. David got the victory over it (Psalm 119:59). "But the tongue can no man tame," &c.(4) The hand rageth and rangeth with violence, to take the bread it never sweat for, to enclose fields, to depopulate towns, to lay waste whole countries. Yet it hath been tamed; not by washing it in Pilate's basin, but in David's holy water — innocence. "I will wash my hands in innocency, and then, O Lord, will I compass Thine altar."

2. With other creatures of the world, whether we find them in the earth, air, or water.(1) On the earth there is the man-hating tiger, yet man hath subdued him; and (they write) a little boy hath led him in a string. There is the flock-devouring wolf, that stands at grinning defiance with the shepherd; mad to have his prey, or lose himself; yet he hath been tamed. The roaring lion, whose voice is a terror to man, by man hath been subdued. Yea, serpents that have to their strength two shrewd additions, subtlety and malice; that carry venom in their mouths, or a sting in their tails, or are all over poisonous; the very basilisk, that kills with his eyes (as they write) three furlongs off. Yea, all these savage, furious, malicious natures have been tamed.(2) In the sea there be great wonders (Psalm 107:23, 24). Yet those natural wonders have been tamed by our artificial wonders — ships.(3) In the air, the birds fly high above our reach, yet we have gins to fetch them down. Snares, lime-twigs, nets, tame them all; even the pelican in the desert, and the eagle amongst the cedars. Thus far, then, St. James's proposition passeth without opposition. "The tongue can no man tame"; the tongue is too wild for any man's taming. It would be foolish to infer that, though no man can tame the tongue, yet a woman may. Woman, for the most part, hath the glibbest tongue; and if ever this impossibility preclude men, it shall much more annihilate the power of the weaker sex (Proverbs 7:11; Proverbs 9:13). "The tongue can no man tame." Let us listen to some weightier exceptions. The prophets spake the oracles of life, and the apostles the words of salvation; and many men's speech ministers grace to the hearers. Yield it; yet this general rule will have no exceptions: "no man can tame it"; man hath no stern for this ship, no bridle for this colt. How then? God tamed it. God must lay a coal of His own altar upon our tongues, or they cannot be tamed. And when they are tamed, yet they often have an unruly trick. Abraham lies; Moses murmurs. Peter forswears his Master, his Saviour. If the tongues of the just have thus tripped, how should the profane go upright?" The tongue can no man tame." The instruction hence ariseth in full strength; that God only can tame man's tongue. First, to open our lips when they should speak is the sole work of God (Psalm 51:15). God must open with His golden key of grace, or else our tongues will arrogate a licentious passage. We had better hold our peace, and let our tongues lie still, than set them a-running till God bids them go. Secondly, to shut our lips when they should not speak, is only the Lord's work also. It is Christ that casts out the talking devil; He shuts the wicket of our mouth against unsavoury speeches. Thus all is from God. Man is but a lock; God's Spirit the key "that openeth, and no man shutteth; that shutteth, and no man openeth" (Revelation 3:7). Away, then, with arrogation of works, if not of words. When a man hath a good thought it is gratia infusa, when a good work it is gratia diffusa. If, then, man cannot produce words to praise God, much less can he procure his works to please God. If he cannot tune his tongue, he can never turn his heart. Two useful benefits may be made hereof. First, it is taught us, whither we have recourse to tame our tongues. He that gave man a tongue can tame the tongue. Let us move our tongues to entreat help for our tongues; and, according to their office, let us set them on work to speak for themselves. Secondly, we must not be idle ourselves; the difficulty must spur us to more earnest contention. As thou wouldest keep thy house from thieves, thy garments from moths, thy gold from rust, so carefully preserve thy tongue from unruliness. Look how far the heart is good, so far the tongue. If the heart believe, the tongue will confess; if the heart be meek, the tongue will be gentle; if the heart be angry, the tongue will be bitter.The tongue is but the hand without, to show how the clock goes within.

1. It is "an unruly evil." The difficulty of taming the tongue, one would think, were sufficiently expressed in the evil of it; but the apostle seconds it with another obstacle, signifying the wild nature of it — unruly. It is not only an evil, but an unruly evil.(1) To ourselves; "it is so placed among the members that it defileth all" (ver. 6). A wild cannibal in a prison may only exercise his savage cruelty upon the stone walls or iron grates. But the tongue is so placed that, being evil and unruly, it hurts all the members.(2) To our neighbours. Some iniquities are swords to the country, as oppression, rapine, circumvention; some incendiaries to the whole land, as evil and unruly tongues.(3) To the whole world. If the vast ruins of ancient monuments, if the depopulation of countries, if the consuming fires of contention, if the land manured with blood, had a tongue to speak, they would all accuse the tongue for the original cause of their woe. Slaughter is a lamp, and blood the oil; and this is set on fire by the tongue. You see the latitude and extension of this unruly evil, more unruly than the hand. Slaughters, massacres, oppressions, are done by the hand; the tongue doth more. The hand spares to hurt the absent, the tongue hurts all. One may avoid the sword by running from it; not the tongue, though he run to the Indies. The hand reacheth but a small compass; the tongue goes through the world. If a man wore coat of armour, or mail of brass, yet the darts of the tongue will pierce it. It is evil, and doth much harm; it is unruly, and doth sudden harm. Saint James here calls it fire. Now you know fire is an ill master; but this is unruly fire. Nay, he calls it "the fire of hell," blown with the bellows of malice, kindled with the breath of the devil. Nay, Stella hath a conceit, that it is worse than the fire of hell; for that torments only the wicked; this all, both good and bad. Swearers, railers, scolds, have hell-fire in their tongues.

2. "Full of deadly poison." Poison is loathsomely contrary to man's nature; but there is a poison not mortal, the venom whereof may be expelled; that is "deadly poison." Yet if there was but a little of this resident in the wicked tongue, the danger were less; nay, it is full of it, "full of deadly poison." It is observable that which way soever a wicked man useth his tongue, he cannot use it well. He bites by detraction, licks by flattery: and either of these touches rankle; he doth no less hurt by licking than by biting. All the parts of his mouth are instruments of wickedness. Logicians, in the difference betwixt vocem and sonum, say that a voice is made by the tips, teeth, throat, tongue. The lips are the porter, and that is fraud; the porch, the teeth, and there is malice; the entertainer, the tongue, and there is lying; the receiver, the throat, and there is devouring. I cannot omit the moral of that old fable. Three children call one man father, who brought them up. "Dying, he bequeaths all his estate only to one of them, as his true natural son; but which that one was left uncertain. Hereupon every one claims it. The wise magistrate, for speedy decision of so great an ambiguity, causeth the dead father to be set up as a mark, promising the challengers that which of them could shoot next his heart, should enjoy the patrimony. The elder shoots, so doth the second; both hit. But when it came to the younger's turn, he utterly refused to shoot; good nature would not let him wound that man dead, that bred and fed him living. Therefore the judge gave all to this son, reputing the former bastards. The scope of it is plain, but significant. God will never give them the legacy of glory, given by His Son's will to children, that like bastards shoot through, and wound His blessed name. Think of this, ye swearing and cursing tongues! To conclude, God shall punish such tongues in their own kind; they were full of poison, and the poison of another stench shall swell them. They have been inflamed, and shall be tormented with the fire of hell. Burning shall be added to burning, save that the first was active, this passive. But blessed is the sanctified tongue. God doth now choose it as an instrument of music to sing His praise; He doth water it with the saving dews of His mercy, and will at last advance it to glory.

(T. Adams.)

1. The tongue is hardly tamed and subdued to any right use. No human art and power can ever find a remedy and curb for it.(1) Come before God humbly; bewail the depravation of your nature, manifested in this untamed member.(2) Come earnestly.

2. There is an unbridled license and violence in the tongue (Job 32:19). When the mind is big with the conception, the tongue is earnest to utter it (Psalm 39:3). Meeken the heart into a sweet submission, lest discontent seek the vent of murmuring.

3. A wicked tongue is venomous and hurtful; us Bernard observeth, it killeth three at once — him that is slandered, his fame by ill report; him to whom it is told, his belief with a lie; and himself with the sin of detraction. Bless God when you escape those deadly bites, the fangs of detraction.

(T. Manton.)

The assertion may seem at first somewhat hyperbolical, but the well-known cases of tame rats and tame wasps, the lion of Androcles, and the white fawn of Sertorius, furnish what may well be termed "crucial instances" in support of it. The story related by Cassian, that St. John in his old age kept a tame partridge, makes it probable that St. James may have seen, among his fellow-teachers, such an instance of the power of man to tame the varied forms of animal life around him.

(Dean Plumptre.)

Men have gained the ascendancy over many evils which it has pleased God should be intermingled with the course of earthly things; they have been able to encounter and overcome them. Many poisons in minerals, plants, or animals, have been rendered harmless, or turned to beneficial purposes. But to tame the tongue, this most unruly of all evils, to neutralise this deadliest of poisons, to regulate this most refractory agent, has surpassed the power of mortals. The laws of nature have been partially ascertained, and are becoming every day more fully known to us, in proportion as the human mind succeeds in diving into the depths of nature, and investigating her counsels and mysteries. Hence there is a gradual development of intelligence and power, of patient and persevering investigation; hence each generation avails itself of the experience of the preceding; one nation extends the hand of brotherly union to another, and even inquiries apparently unsuccessful at the time, have in the end led to beneficial results. Oh, why has the result been so very different when attempts have been made to gain the supremacy over sin, and to bring under the law of the Spirit only a single member of our frame, that has been under the domination of sin! Oh, here are more profound depths, more hidden mysteries, than in "all the nature of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents." Here are greater wonders than in all the wonders of the deep! This baffles the most acute understanding, the most powerful will, the most determined industry of man!

(B. Jacobi.)

When anything goes wrong with a ship at sea which prevents her from being moved or answering the helm, she is bound to put up a signal, so that other ships may keep at a safe distance. This, which is called the "not-under-control" signal, consists of three iron balls. It would be well if some of us could put up "not-under-control" signals at times when our tempers are not what they should be. Indeed, we know of one man who used to do this. He was an eccentric author, and when, owing to preoccupation of mind, or any ether circumstance, he was likely to be peevish and snappish to his family, he would stick on his forehead a red wafer. This was a danger signal, telling every one to keep out of his way.


It is an untamable, venomous beast. It combines the ferocity of the tiger and the mockery of the ape with the subtlety and venom of the serpent.

(A. Plummer, D. D.)

Christian Age.
Scandal, hydra-headed, poison-ranged, lives on the garbage of the world, and slays even after it is seemingly killed. There is a story of a cobra which got into a West Indian church during service. Some one saw it, went quietly out, procured a weapon, and coming back, cut off the snake's head. After the service the people went to look at the animal, and a native touched the dead head with his foot. He drew it back with a cry of pain, and in an hour he was dead. The poison-fangs had power to kill, though their owner was dead.

(Christian Age.)

Cambridge Bible for Schools.
In the "Shepherd" of Hermas (ii. 2), calumny is described as a "restless demon."

(Cambridge Bible for Schools.)

Able, Controlled, Deadly, Death, Death-bringing, Ever-busy, Evil, Full, Human, Mischief, Nobody, Poison, Restless, Subdue, Tame, Tongue, Unresting, Unruly, Unsettled
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 3:8

     4500   poison
     5933   restlessness

James 3:1-12

     5547   speech, power of
     8339   self-control

James 3:2-12

     5934   restraint
     8476   self-discipline

James 3:3-8

     5330   guard

James 3:3-12

     5193   tongue

James 3:5-8

     5922   prudence
     8493   watchfulness, believers

James 3:7-8

     4604   animals, nature of

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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