A BRIDLE FOR THE BODY
Comments on James 3,2 by Thomas Manton.
By bridling the body is meant, then, governing all his other actions, which are expressed here by the term body because they are acted by the members of the body, eyes, hands, feet, and so forth. Why he pitches so much weight upon this matter of governing the tongue, I shall show you in the observations.
vI. None are absolutely freed and exempted from sinning:
“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1, 8). “Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin?” (Prov. 20. 9.) Solomon makes a challenge to all the world. Many may say so boldly;
but who can say so truly? All of us offend in many things, and many of us in all things. There is in all a cursed root of bitterness, which God doth mortify, but not nullify; it is cast down, but not cast out. Like the wild fig tree, or ivy in the wall: cut off stump, body, bough, and branches; yet some strings or other will sprout out again till the wall be plucked down. God will have it so, till we come to heaven. Well then, 1. Walk with more caution. You carry a sinning heart about you. As long as there is fuel for a temptation, we cannot be secure: he that has gunpowder about him will be afraid of sparkles. 2. Censure with the more tenderness. Give every action the allowance of human frailty (Gal. 6. 1). We all need forgiveness: without grace, you might fall into the same sins. 3. Be the more earnest with God for grace. God will keep you still dependent, and beholden to His power: “Who shall deliver me?” (Rom. 7, 24). 4. Magnify the love of God with the more praise. Paul groans under his corruptions (Rom. 7, latter end); and then admires the happiness of those that are in Christ (Rom. 8. I): they have so many sins, and yet none are damnable.
II. The sins of the best are many. The apostle says, “We offend.” God would not abolish and destroy all at once. There is a prayer against outward enemies: “Slay them not, lest my people forget: scatter them to thy power; and bring them down, O Lord our shield” (Psalm 59. 11.) He would not have them utterly destroyed, but some relics preserved as a memorial. So God deals in respect of sin. It is brought down, but not wholly slain. Something is still left, as a monument of the Divine grace. God will still honour free grace. The condition of His own people is mixed, light chequered with darkness: those that walk in the light may stumble. Oh! then, 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.
You complain, and so do all that have the first fruits of the Spirit: All these things “are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world” (1 Peter 5. 9). They are all troubled with a busy Devil, a corrupt heart, and a naughty world. 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 is filthiness in your righteousness (Isa. 64).
III. To be able to bridle the tongue, is an argument of some growth and happy progress in grace. You shall see, not only our apostle, but the Scripture everywhere, makes it a matter of great weight and moment: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Prov. 18. 21). Upon the right or ill using of it, a man’s safety depends. And lest you should think the Scripture only intends temporal safety or ruin, see Matt. 12. 37, “By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words condemned:” one of the prime things that shall be brought forth to judgment are your words. So, “He that keepeth his mouth, keepeth his life; but he that openeth wide his lips, shall have destruction” (Prov. 13. 3). He intimates a similitude of a city besieged. To open the gates, betrays the safety of it: all watch and ward is about the gate. So the tongue is the gate or door of the soul, by which it goes out in converse and communication. To keep it open, or loosely guarded, lets in an enemy, which proves the death of the soul. So, in other places, it is made the great argument and sign of spiritual and holy prudence: “In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin; but he that refraineth his lips is wise” (Prov. 10. 19). Empty vessels are full of sound: discreet silence, or a wise ordering of speech, is a token of grace. So, “He that hath knowledge, spareth his words; and a man of understanding is of an excellent spirit” (Prov. 17. 27): in the original, it is of a cool spirit, not rash and hot, ready to pour out his soul in wrath. So Daviid makes it to be a great argument or sign of our interest in the promises: “What man is he that desireth life, and loveth many days, that he may see good? Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile” (Psalm 34. 13). That is the first direction. So, elsewhere, he makes it the character of a godly man (Psalm 15. 3). I have heaped up these Scriptures, that the matter of keeping the tongue may not seem light and trivial.