With the tongue we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness.
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.
Therewith bless we God.i.e., God in His might and in His love; "and therewith curse we men, which are made after the likeness of God." The heathen fable tells us the apparent contradiction of being able to blow both hot and cold with the same breath; and the son of Sirach points out that "if thou blow the spark, it shall burn; if thou Spit upon it, it shall be quenched; and both these come out of thy mouth" (Ecclus. 28:12). St. James, who may have had this passage in his mind, shows us that there is a real and a moral contradiction which goes far beyond either of these: "Out of the same mouth cometh forth blessing and. cursing." Well may he add, with affectionate earnestness, "My brethren, these things ought not so to be." Assuredly they ought not; and yet how common the contradiction has been, and still is, among those who seem to be, and who think themselves to be, religious people! There is perhaps no particular in which persons professing to have a desire to serve God are more ready to invade His prerogatives than in venturing to denounce those who differ from themselves, and are supposed to be therefore under the ban of Heaven. There are many questions which have to be carefully considered and answered before a Christian mouth, which has been consecrated to the praise of our Lord and Father, ought to venture to utter denunciations against others who worship the same God and are also His offspring and His image. Is it quite certain that the supposed evil is something which God abhors; that those whom we would denounce are responsible for it; that denunciation of them will do any good; that this is the proper time for such denunciation; that we are the proper persons to utter it? The illustrations of the fountain and the fig-tree are among the touches which, if they do not indicate one who is familiar with Palestine, at any rate agree well with the fact that the writer of this Epistle was such. Springs tainted with salt or with sulphur are not rare, and it is stated that most of those on the eastern slope of the hill-country of Judaea are brackish. The fig-tree, the vine, and the olive were abundant throughout the whole country; and St. James, if he looked out of the window as he was writing, would be likely enough to see all three. It is not improbable that in one or more of the illustrations he is following some ancient saying or proverb. Thus, Arrian, the pupil of Epictetus, writing less than a century later, asks, "How can a vine grow, not vinewise, but olivewise, or an olive, on the other hand, not olivewise, but vinewise? It is impossible, inconceivable." It is possible that our Lord Himself, when He used a similar illustration in connection with the worst of all sins of the tongue, was adapting a proverb already in use (Matthew 12:33-36). And previously, in the Sermon on the Mount, where He is speaking of deeds rather than of words (Matthew 7:16-18). Can it be the case that while physical contradictions are not permitted in the lower classes of unconscious objects, moral contradictions of a very monstrous kind are allowed in the highest of all earthly creatures? Just as the double-minded man is judged by his doubts, and not by his forms of prayer, so the double-tongued man is judged by his curses, and not by his forms of praise. In each case one or the other of the two contradictories is not real. If there is prayer, there are no doubts; and if there are doubts, there is no prayer — no prayer that will avail with God. So also in the other case: if God is sincerely and heartily blessed, there will be no cursing of His children; and if there is such cursing, God cannot acceptably be blessed; the very words of praise, coming from such lips, will be an offence to Him. But it may be urged, our Lord Himself has set us an example of strong denunciation in the woes which He pronounced upon the scribes and Pharisees; and again, St. Paul cursed Hymensaeus and Alexander (1 Timothy 1:20), the incestuous person at Corinth (1 Corinthians 5:5), and Elymas the sorcerer (Acts 13:10). Most true. But firstly, these curses were uttered by those who could not err in such things. Christ "knew what was in man," and could read the hearts of all; and the fact that St. Paul's curses were supernaturally fulfilled proves that he was acting under Divine guidance in what he said. And secondly, these stern utterances had their source in love; not, as human curses commonly have, in hate. And let us remember the proportion which such things bear to the rest of Christ's words and of St. Paul's words, so far as they have been preserved for us. All this applies with much force to those who believe themselves to be called upon to denounce and curse all such as seem to them to be enemies of God and His truth: but with how much more force to those who in moments of anger and irritation deal in execrations on their own account, and curse a fellow-Christian, not because he seems to them to have offended God, but because he has offended themselves! That such persons should suppose that their polluted mouths can offer acceptable praises to the Lord and Father, is indeed a moral contradiction of the most startling kind. The writer of this Epistle has been accused of exaggeration. It has been urged that in this strongly worded paragraph he himself is guilty of that unchastened language which he is so eager to condemn; that the case is over-stated, and that the highly-coloured picture is a caricature. Is there any thoughtful person of large experience that can honestly assent to this verdict? Who has not seen what mischief may be done by a single utterance of mockery, or enmity, or bravado; what confusion is wrought by exaggeration, innuendo, and falsehood; what suffering is inflicted by slanderous suggestions and statements; what careers of sin have been begun by impure stories and filthy jests? All these effects may follow, be it remembered, from a single utterance in each case, may spread to multitudes, may last for years. One reckless word may blight whole life. And there are persons who habitually pour forth such things, who never pass a day without uttering what is unkind, or false, or impure.
(A. Plummer, D. D.)I. THE INCONSISTENCY OF THE TONGUE.
1. Its blessing of God. This is the great end for which the human tongue exists — this the highest employment in which it can be engaged. We do this in various ways. We thus bless Him in our praises. These are sung either more privately in our own dwellings or more publicly in the sanctuary. He requires, above everything, the soul, but He will have the body also; the members and organs of the one, not less than the faculties and affections of the other. We thus bless God also in our prayers, whether these be secret, domestic, or public. In them adoring and thankful praises constitute no small or subordinate element. We extol the Lord for His infinite perfections, we give Him the glory due unto His great and holy name. We testify our obligations to Him for His mercies without number, and lay offerings of grateful homage on His altar.
2. Its cursing of men. Even the most orthodox and charitable Christians are not wholly exempt from this tendency. We are far too ready to pass sentence on our brethren, and in effect, if not in form, to curse such as do not happen to agree with us in some respects, and these, it may be, of quite secondary importance. Everything of this sort is of the nature of cursing — it partakes in one degree or another of that character. And mark the aggravating circumstance, that which involves the frightful inconsistency charged against the tongue — "men, which are made after the similitude of God." We were at first created in His image, stamped with His moral lineaments in knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness. And in a sense too, as the, language here obviously implies, we still bear that likeness. Such cursing is in reality a cursing of God Himself. whom we yet bless — a cursing of Him in man, who is not only His workmanship, but His reflection, His image — not merely a being formed by His hand, but formed after His likeness. We cannot keep the first table of the law, and at the same time set at nought the second. The strangely, outrageously inconsistent nature of the whole proceeding is still more forcibly exhibited by bringing the two contrary things together, placing them side by side, presenting them in sharpest contrast (ver. 10). There it is that the flagrant, shocking contradiction appears.
II. THE UNNATURALNESS OF THIS INCONSISTENCY (vers. 11, 12). "Doth a fountain send forth at the same place" — the same hole, chink, or fissure, as in the rock whence it issues — "sweet water and bitter?" No — nothing of this kind is ever witnessed. The water which flows from the spring may have either, but it cannot have both of these qualities. It may indeed afterwards undergo a change, it may lose its original properties, and be turned into the opposite of what it was, by reason of the soil through which it runs, or the purposes to which it is applied. What was sweet may by certain mixtures become bitter. But at first, in its own nature, and apart from all foreign ingredients, it is wholly the one or the other. There is no inconsistency in the material region. He passes to a higher department, the vegetable kingdom, and shows that there too plants and trees bring forth a single kind of fruit, and that which is suited to the order, the species to which they belong. "Can the fig-tree, my brethren, bear olive-berries, either a vine figs?" Of course it cannot. Any such thing would be a monstrosity. Titan, returning to the spring, not without reference to the internal, hidden source from which all our words proceed, be adds, "So can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh." He wishes to fix attention on the inconsistency manifested in the use of the tongue, and lead them to the right explanation of its origin. This anomaly does seem to be exhibited in the moral world, if not in the material. But it is so more in appearance than in reality. That water is often the same which looks different. What to some tastes and tests is fresh, when thoroughly examined, is found to be salt as the ocean. Much that to our earthly senses is sweet, to the spiritually-discerning is bitter indeed. Thus the blessing of many is formal, if not even false, having nothing gracious in it, no love or homage of the heart, no element or quality fitted to render it acceptable to the great object of worship. In its origin and essence it is not opposed to, nor, indeed, different from the cursing of man, with which it is associated. The latter reveals the true nature of the common source, or there may be two fountains where only one is perceptible. The former supposition applies to nominal and hypocritical Christians — this latter to living, genuine believers. They have an old man and a new, corruption and grace both existing and working within them; and as the one or the other gains the ascendancy, and, for the time, governs the tongue, the stream of discourse that issues from it is wholesome or deleterious — fresh as that of the bubbling spring, or salt as that of the briny deep.
(J. M. Chaunter, M. A.)
Made after the similitude of God.
1. In His nature, which was intellectual. God gave him a rational soul, spiritual, simple, immortal, free in its choice; yea, in the body there were some rays and strictures of the Divine glory and majesty.
2. In those qualities of "knowledge" (Colossians 3:10); "righteousness" (Ecclesiastes 7:29); and "true holiness" (Ephesians 4:24).
3. In his state, in a happy confluence of all inward and outward blessings, as the enjoyment of God, power over the creatures, &c. But now this image is in a great part defaced and lost, and can only be restored in Christ. Well, then, this was the g, eat privilege of our creation, to be made like God: the more we resemble Him the more happy. Oh! remember the height of your original. We press men to walk worthy of their extraction. Those potters that were of a servile spirit disgraced the kingly family and line of which they came (1 Chronicles 4:22). Plutarch saith of Alexander, that he was wont to heighten his courage by remembering he came of the gods. Remember you were made after the image of God; do not deface it in yourselves, or render it liable to contempt, by giving others occasion to revile you.
TopicsBless, Curse, God's, Image, Likeness, Praise, Similitude, Therewith
Outline1. 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 ThemesJames 3:9
1194 glory, divine and human
5547 speech, power of
5549 speech, positive
LibraryJanuary 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
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Whether Wisdom Should be Reckoned among the Gifts of the Holy Ghost?
Whether Prudence of the Flesh is a Sin?
Whether Inconstancy is a vice Contained under Prudence?
Whether Wisdom is in all who have Grace?
Whether the Seventh Beatitude Corresponds to the Gift of Wisdom?
Whether Backbiting is a Mortal Sin?
Whether Fasting is a Matter of Precept?
Whether any one Can be Perfect in this Life?
Whether Our Atmosphere is the Demons' Place of Punishment?
Whether a Religious Sins More Grievously than a Secular by the Same Kind of Sin?
Whether the Separated Soul Can Suffer from a Bodily Fire?
The Doctrine of Man
Man's Inability to Keep the Moral Law
Of the Weight of Government; and that all Manner of Adversity is to be Despised, and Prosperity Feared.
"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
Whether it is Lawful to Swear?
Attributes of Selfishness.
Unity of Moral Action.
The Tribute Money
The Third Commandment
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