James 1:26 – “If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.
This little member of our body can do so much damage and be so abominable — from blasphemies to slanders. And so, it is important it be bridled.
Puritan Thomas Manton in his most excellent work “A Practical Commentary, or an Exposition with Notes, on the Epistle of James” explains why he believes James felt this was important to include.
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Thomas Manton – James Commentary
From Thomas Manton:
The apostle, having showed the blessedness of those which are doers of the word, lest any should seem to challenge a share in it to whom it doth not belong, he discovers who are hearers only and not doers of the word; men that do allow themselves in any known sin; and he instances in the evils of the tongue.
Question: Before I open the words any further, I shall inquire why James does pitch so much weight upon this one particular, it seeming so inconsiderable in itself, and it having so little respect to the context?
Answer: The reasons assigned in the answer will afford us so many notes.
Therefore the apostles usually bring this argument to unmask and discolour hypocritical persuasions: as, “He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even till now” (1 John ii. 9). So, “If he shut up his bowels from his brother, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” (1 John iii. 17, 18.) How can it be imagined that those that are sensible of the love of God, should be merciless towards others? So, “He that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” (1 John iv. 20.) The good and attractiveness that are in others is an object of the senses, and usually they make a strong impression. Well then, do not flatter yourselves with duties of worship in the neglect of duties of commerce.
Well then, watch over it; the more natural corruptions are, the more care should we use to suppress them: “I will take heed to my ways, that I offend not with my tongue” (Psa. xxxix. 1); there needs special caution for that: and, as you should watch, so you should pray, and desire God to watch over your watching: “Set a watch before my mouth, keep the door of my lips” (Psa. cxli. 3). The awe of God is a great restraint.
So, “Be not conformed to this world” (Rom. xii. 2); or “to this age”; the meaning is, do not get into the garb of the times. So, “He walked after the trade of Israel” (2 Chron. xvii. 4). Many do so; they walk after the fashion and trade of the country and times wherein they live. Oh consider, this is the sure note of a vain [useless] profession. Sins, when they grow common, become less odious; and therefore slight spirits commit them without remorse.
They are miserably mistaken that hope to redeem their souls from the guilt of one sin by abstaining from the practice of another. Some are precise in small things, that they may be excused for non-observance of the weightier things of the law; as the stomach when it cannot digest solid food, naturally desires to fill itself with water, or such light stuff as breeds nought [nothing] but wind. The Pharisees tithed mint and cummin, etc. Others avoid grosser sins, and hope that it is an excuse for other corruptions that are not so odious. We all plead, “Is it not a little one, and my soul shall live?”
Partly because, being acquainted with the guilt of their own spirits, they are most apt to suspect others. Nazianzen said of his father, he being of an innocent and candid soul, was less apt to think evil of others; and he gives this reason, goodness is least suspicious, and plain hearts think all like themselves.
Partly because they use to be much abroad [observing others], that are so little at home their own hearts]. Censuring is a trick of the Devil, to take off the care from their own hearts; and therefore, to excuse indignation against their own sins, their zeal is passionate in declaiming against the sins of others. Gracious hearts reflect most upon themselves: they do not seek what to reprove in others, but what to lament in themselves.
Partly because they are not so meek and gentle as true Christians. When a man is sensible of his own failings, he is very tender in reflecting upon the weaknesses of others: “Ye which are spiritual, restore him with meekness” (Gal. vi. 1): they which are most spiritual, are most tender to set a fallen Christian “in joint” again.
Partly because a hypocrite is a proud person; he would have every one to be his own foil, and therefore he blemishes others. Diotrephes would be prating against John, “because he loved the pre-eminence” (3 John 9).
Partly because hypocrites are best at their tongue, and therefore cannot bridle it. When men make religion a talk, their way is to blemish others: it is a piece of their religion.
The Lord give you to discern into your own souls, whether these dispositions be not in you, or no.
The quality of many men’s religion may be discerned by the intemperateness of their language; words are but the excrements and overflow of their wickedness. A man may soon discern of what religion they are (says Pareus of the Jesuits) that, like angry curs, cannot pass by one another without snarling.
May God grant us a sense of our own sins, a tenderness to the failings of others, a hatred of the least sin, and help in the watch over the small member of our body that can do so much evil!
James 3:1-8: My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.
2 For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.
3 Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body.
4 Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth.
5 Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!
6 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.
7 For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind:
8 But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.