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GREAT DIFFICULTY AND DANGER
JAMES iii. 1.
My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall
receive the greater condemnation. THE text may at first sight appear to some to stand at a very wide distance from the present occasion. But I hope, by that time I have spent a little pains in explaining it, I shall set the text and occasion at a perfect agreement.
The words therefore are by interpreters diversely exó pounded. Among the rest, two interpretations there are, which stand as the fairest candidates for our reception.
1. Some understand the masters here in my text to be proud, malicious censors and judges of other men's actions, and so expound the text as a prohibition of rash and uncharitable judgment, and make it parallel to that of our Saviour, Judge not, that ye be not judgeda. Be not rash and hasty in censuring or judging the actions of others, or speaking evil of them, considering that by so doing you will but procure a greater judgment of God upon yourselves. The chief, if not the only argument for this interpretation, is the context of the apostle's discourse, which in the following verses is wholly spent against the vices of the tongue. But,
2. Others there are, who interpret the masters in the text to be pastors or teachers in the church of God; and
* Matth. vii. l.
accordingly understand the words as a serious caution against the rash undertaking of the pastoral office or function, as an office attended with great difficulty and danger, a task very hard to'be discharged, and wherein whoever miscarries makes himself thereby liable to a severer judgment of Almighty God.
This latter interpretation (with submission I speak it) seems to me, almost beyond doubt, the genuine sense of the apostle. The reasons are evident in the text itself. For, 1. unless we thus expound the words, it will be hard to give a rational account of this word, Tondo, many, why it should be inserted. For if we understand those masters the apostle speaks of to be rash judges and censurers of others, it is most certain then, one such would be too many, and the multiplicity of them would not be the only culpable thing. But on the other side, if we receive the latter interpretation, the account of the word tool is easily rendered, according to the paraphrase of Erasmus, thus; “Let not pastors or teachers be too vulgar and
cheap among you; let not every man rush into so sacred 6 an office and function b.” And Drusius's gloss on this very
word is remarkable: Summa summarum; quo pauciores sunt magistri, eo melius agitur cum populo. Nam ut medicorum olim Cariam, ita doctorum et magistrorum nunc multitudo perdit rempublicam. Utinam vanus sim. I need not English the words to those whom they concern.
2. If we embrace any other interpretation, we must of necessity depart from the manifest propriety of the Greek word, which our translators render masters. The word is Erdáoxanos, which whoso understands the first elements of the Greek tongue knows to be derived from Sidéoxw, to teach, and so literally to signify teachers. Be not many teachers.
And so accordingly the Syriac renders it by a word, which, the learned Drusius tells us, is parallel to the Hebrew D710, which undoubtedly signifies doctors or teachers.
These reasons are sufficient to justify our interpretation, though I might add the authority of the ancients, who generally follow this sense, as also the concurrent judgment of our most learned modern annotators, Erasmus, Vatablus, Castellio, Estius, Drusius, Grotius, with many others.
As for the connection of the words, thus explained, with
b Ne passim ambiatis esse magistri.
the following discourse of the apostle, I suppose this very easy account may be given of it. The moderation and government of the tongue, (on which St. James, in the sequel of the chapter, wholly insists,) though it be a general duty, (for there is no man's tongue so lawless as to be exempted from the dominion of right reason and religion,) yet it is a duty wherein the pastor or teacher hath a peculiar concern. The minister's tongue is a chief tool and instrument of his profession, that which ex officio he must often make use of: he lies under a necessity of speaking much and often, and the Wise Man tells us, in the multitude of words there wanteth not sinc. And certainly there is scarce any consideration more powerful, to deter a man from undertaking the office of a teacher, than this; how extremely difficult and almost impossible it is, for a man that speaks much and often, so to govern his tongue, as to speak nothing that either is itself unfit, or in an unfit time, or after an undue manner; and yet how highly every teacher is concerned so to do.
So that it is a very easy knot to fasten my text to the next verse, thus : Let not every man ambitiously affect the office of a teacher in the church of God, considering that it is an office of great difficulty and danger; for in many things we offend all; if any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, &c. As if he had said, As there are many ways, whereby the best of us do offend, so there is no way whereby we so easily fall into sin, as by that slippery member the tongue; and there is no man more exposed to this danger of transgressing with the tongue, than the teacher, who makes so much and so frequent use of it. So that the teacher-is tesiog ávip, a rare and perfectly accomplished man indeed, that hath acquired the perfect government of his tongue. He that can do that, who fails not in that piece of his duty, may easily also bridle his whole body, i. e. rightly manage himself in all the other parts of his pastoral office. But this, as it is very necessary, so it is extremely difficult, and therefore be not many teachers d.
To this it will not be amiss to add, what Grotius wisely observes, that the admonition of the apostle concerning the vices of the tongue, subjoined to the caution in my text, “ is chiefly directed against brawling and contentious “ disputerse such teachers as abuse their liberty of
c Prov. x. 19.
speaking unto loose discourses, and take occasion from thence to vent their own spleen and passions: men of intemperate spirits and virulent tongues, troublers rather than teachers of the people, whose tongues are indeed cloven tongues of fire, but not such as the apostles were endowed with from above, as serving to burn, rather than to enlighten, to kindle the flames of faction, strife, and contention, rather than those of piety and charity in the church of God.
And, indeed, the direful and tragical effects, which the apostle in this chapter ascribes to the evil tongue, as that it is a fire, a world of iniquity, defiling the whole body, setting on fire the course of nature, full
of deadly poison f, &c. are such as are not so easily producible by the tongue of a private man, as of a teacher: “Whose discourse (saith Eras6 mus) spreads its poison by so much the more generally “ and effectually, as the authority of the speaker is greater, “ and his advantage also of speaking to many 8."
Having removed this seeming rub in the context, I return again to the text itself; wherein you may please to observe, 1. A serious dissuasive from the rash undertaking of the pastoral office; My brethren, be not many masters, or teachers. 2. A solid argument or reason to enforce it, drawn from the difficulty and the danger thereof; knowing that we shall receive, &c. keičov xpira, a greater or severer judgment; i. e. God will require more of us that are teachers, than of others; we shall not escape or be acquitted in the divine judgment at so easy a rate as they. There is a place in the excellent Book of Wisdom h, that is exactly parallel to my text, and gives great light to it, A sharp judgment shall be to them that are in high placesi. Where the oi Útepézovtes, those that are in high places in the state, answer to the sidéo xador in my text; the teachers in the church: the xplois årótolos, the sharp, or, the precise and severe judgment, to the pergov repója, the greater judgment in the text.
I shall not at all insist on the first branch of the division, the dissuasive; as remembering that I am to preach not an ordination, but a visitation sermon; and to discourse not to candidates of holy orders, but to such as are already engaged in that sacred profession. I come therefore to the reason or argument in the text, (as of very
f Φλογίζουσα τον τρόχων της γενέσεως. .
& Cujus sermo hoc latius ac periculosius spargit suum venenum, quod auctoritate dicentis commendetur.
h Wisd. vi. 5.
much concernment to all that are in the priestly office,) drawn from the great difficulty and danger thereof. To represent both which, as fully as my short allowance of time, and much shorter scantling of abilities will permit, shall be my present business.
And first, as to the difficulty of the teacher's office, it is a very great difficulty fully to explain it. So many are the branches of his duty, that it were a tedious labour to reckon them up: Lord, what a task is it then to discharge them! I shall content myself therefore rudi Minerva, briefly and only in general to describe the chiefest requisites that are necessary to constitute a complete teacher in the church of God; and even by that little which I shall say, I doubt not but it will appear how very formidable, how tremendous an undertaking that function deserves to be accounted. The teacher's office then requires a very large knowledge, a great prudence, an exemplary holiness. And surely much is required of him, of whom these things are required.
1. Then, the first requisite to the office of a teacher is a very large knowledge. The very name of his office implies this; he is Sidéoxanos, a teacher; and he that is such must be, as the apostle requires k, apt or fit to teach?.. And this he cannot be, unless he be well learned m and instructed himself, and furnished with a plentiful measure of divine knowledge. God himself, by the prophet Malachi, requires that the priest's lips nyy rawn should keep or preserve knowledgen. Methinks the expression is more emphatical than is ordinarily conceived. It seems to imply that the priest should be a kind of repository or treasury of knowledge, richly furnished with knowledge himself, and able also abundantly to furnish and supply the wants of those that shall at any time have recourse to him for instruction. And therefore it presently follows: And they (that is, the people) shall seek the law at his mouth. Yea, the words import that the priest should be a treasury of knowledge not to be exhausted.
He must have knowledge not only to spend, but to keep; not like those that live from hand to mouth, or whose stock of knowledge is quickly spent in a few sermons, but he must have something still reserved and laid up in store. Methinks our Saviour doth excellently expound this text,
k I Tim. iii. 2.
Aidartixos, aptus sive idoneus ad docendum.
n Mal. ii. 7.