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James 3:1 . Be not many masters: διδασκαλοι , teachers. In some assemblies they might all prophesy one by one, but no man should be too forward; he will never shine as a teacher, unless he be a teacher. Paul gives the same caution against premature teachers, in 1 Timothy 1:7.
James 3:17 . The wisdom that is from above is first pure. It converses with glory, it hates sin, and shuns its first approach. Then peaceable, doing nothing to vex or grieve another. Gentle, full of equanimity. Calm and temperate, easy to be entreated. Such is the state of mind where truth and love, and all the graces reign. This wisdom is without partiality. Levi knew not his father or his mother, when the glory of God was concerned. It is noble and divine in conduct, scorning all hypocrisy, to cover evil with a spotless garb.
Slander is here the most prominent feature; and of all sins there is none more base and odious. He who speaks against you is either your enemy, or your friend, or an indifferent person. If he be your enemy, it is either hatred or envy that prompts him to a crime which has ever been regarded as mean and despicable. If he be your friend, how perfidious must it be thus to violate the obligations of amity. If an indifferent person, why does he traduce you? He has not offended you, nor have you offended him.
Slander attacks the honour of others; and of what arms does it avail itself? A sort of arms which have ever been deemed reproachful; these are, the weapons of the tongue. What time does he choose to give the blow? That when one is the least prepared for defence, or when the person traduced is absent. Slander, that it may eat with more effect, commits three other faults. Of some occurrences it affects to speak in secret. It endeavours to palliate and please. It covers itself with a thousand pretexts, which have the semblance of equity.
There is no sin more odious to God and man: to God, who is love and charity; to man, whom it assails with so much licentiousness. Hence the scriptures represent such a man as formidable and dangerous, on account of the numerous mischiefs he everywhere occasions. But, do you say, we are diverted with hearing him. I grant it; but at the same time that you are pleased and diverted, you despise and hate him. For though you take pleasure in hearing when others are concerned, you fear for yourselves, well judging that you will not be better treated when occasion offers.
There is no sin which more seriously involves the conscience, or imposes upon it more rigorous obligations. It is a sin against justice. All injustice to our neighbour involves consequences dangerous to salvation; and of all kinds of injustice, there is none which affects more closely and awfully before God.
The required reparation of honour is extremely delicate and important. You must repair the honour you have snatched from your brother, and no power can dispense with the duty. You must repair it as far as possible, because it is dear and precious. You must repair it even at the expense of your own character; and we well know how difficult it is to consent to this kind of humiliation.
The required obligation admits of less excuse, and has fewer claims to the palliation of self-love. When we speak of the restitution of goods, fraudulently obtained, we may sometimes dispense with the duty on the ground of absolute impossibility. But when honour is concerned, what can we say? To detail pretexts would be to excuse the crime.
The obligation also extends to a multitude of consequences, which should make every conscience tremble. Slander, besides the wound of honour, is productive of numerous wrongs. That young person, for example, has no more hope of establishment in the world, after your defamation. All his fortune is lost by a single slander, and which you have propagated. See then what you have to repair.
Is it not hitherto a matter of surprise, that a sin which involves so many consequences should be so little regarded? And is it not more surprising still, that it should be committed by persons who make a profession of severe morality, and who largely insist on the restitution of honour as an essential point? Let us learn then to be silent when the reputation of our neighbour is concerned; and let us learn to speak when it is our interest to restore him to the honour we have taken away. In this manner the good Bourdaloue reasoned, from whose sermon I have translated this admirable piece.
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Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on James 3". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany