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James 3:8

King James Version (KJV)
Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

But the tongue wan no man tame - No cunning, persuasion, or influence has ever been able to silence it. Nothing but the grace of God, excision, or death, can bring it under subjection.

It is an unruly evil - Ακατασχετον κακον· An evil that cannot be restrained; it cannot be brought under any kind of government; it breaks all bounds.

Full of deadly poison - He refers here to the tongues of serpents, supposed to be the means of conveying their poison into wounds made by their teeth. Throughout the whole of this poetic and highly declamatory description, St. James must have the tongue of the slanderer, calumniator, backbiter, whisperer, and tale-bearer, particularly in view. Vipers, basilisks; and rattlesnakes are not more dangerous to life, than these are to the peace and reputation of men.

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible

But the tongue can no man tame - This does not mean that it is never brought under control, but that it is impossible effectually and certainly to subdue it. It would be possible to subdue and domesticate any kind of beasts, but this could not be done with the tongue.

It is an unruly evil - An evil without restraint, to which no certain and effectual check can be applied. Of the truth of this no one can have any doubt, who looks at the condition of the world.

Full of deadly poison - That is, it acts on the happiness of man, and on the peace of society, as poison does on the human frame. The allusion here seems to be to the bite of a venomous reptile. Compare Psalm 140:3, “They have sharpened their tongues like serpent; adders” poison is under their lips.” Romans 3:13, “with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips.” Nothing would better describe the mischief that may be done by the tongue. There is no sting of a serpent that does so much evil in the world; there is no poison more deadly to the frame than the poison of the tongue is to the happiness of man. Who, for example, can stand before the power of the slanderer? What mischief can be done in society that can be compared with that which he may do?

- ‘Tis slander;

Whose edge is sharper than the sword; whose tongue

Outvenoms all the worms of Nile; whose breath

Rides on the posting winds, and doth belie

All corners of the world: kings, queens, and states,

Maids, matrons, nay, the secrets of the grave

This viperous slander enters.

Shakespeare in Cymbellna.

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
We are taught to dread an unruly tongue, as one of the greatest evils. The affairs of mankind are thrown into confusion by the tongues of men. Every age of the world, and every condition of life, private or public, affords examples of this. Hell has more to do in promoting the fire of the tongue than men generally think; and whenever men's tongues are employed in sinful ways, they are set on fire of hell. No man can tame the tongue without Divine grace and assistance. The apostle does not represent it as impossible, but as extremely difficult. Other sins decay with age, this many times gets worse; we grow more froward and fretful, as natural strength decays, and the days come on in which we have no pleasure. When other sins are tamed and subdued by the infirmities of age, the spirit often grows more tart, nature being drawn down to the dregs, and the words used become more passionate. That man's tongue confutes itself, which at one time pretends to adore the perfections of God, and to refer all things to him; and at another time condemns even good men, if they do not use the same words and expressions. True religion will not admit of contradictions: how many sins would be prevented, if men would always be consistent! Pious and edifying language is the genuine produce of a sanctified heart; and none who understand Christianity, expect to hear curses, lies, boastings, and revilings from a true believer's mouth, any more than they look for the fruit of one tree from another. But facts prove that more professors succeed in bridling their senses and appetites, than in duly restraining their tongues. Then, depending on Divine grace, let us take heed to bless and curse not; and let us aim to be consistent in our words and actions.
Ellen G. White
In Heavenly Places, 174.3

The tongue is a little member, but the words it frames have great power. The Lord declares, “The tongue can no man tame” (James 3:8). It has set nation against nation and has caused war and bloodshed. Words have kindled fires that have been hard to quench.... HP 174.3

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Ellen G. White
SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 3 (EGW), 1142

Direction to Study Several Psalms—How terrible it is when the acknowledgment of God is not made when it should be made! How sad to humble one's self when it is too late! Why, O why, do not men heed the invitation? The psalmist said, “When thou saidst, Seek ye my face, my heart said unto thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek” [Psalm 27:8]. The whole of this psalm is excellent, and should be placed in the reading and spelling lessons of the classes. The twenty-eighth, twenty-ninth, and seventy-eighth psalms tell of the rich blessings bestowed by God upon His people, and of their poor returns for all His benefits. The eighty-first psalm explains why Israel was scattered. They forgot God, as the churches in our land are forgetting Him today. Read the eighty-ninth, ninetieth, ninety-first, ninety-second, and ninety-third psalms. My attention has been called to these matters. Shall we not consider the Word of the Lord? These things were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come, and should they not be the objects of study in our schools? The Word of God contains instructive lessons, given in reproof, in warning, in encouragement, and in rich promises. Would not such food as this be meat in due season to the youth (Manuscript 96, 1899)? 3BC 1142.1

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Ellen G. White
Testimonies for the Church, vol. 2, 82

There must be a thorough reformation in your life, a transformation by the renewing of your mind. God requires His people to help you because you need help, and you should be humble enough to be helped by them. When tempted to give loose rein to the unruly member, oh! bear in mind that the recording angel is noting every word. All are written in the book, and, unless washed away by the blood of Christ, you must meet them again. You now have a spotted record in heaven. Sincere repentance before God will be accepted. When about to speak passionately, close your mouth. Don't utter a word. Pray before you speak, and heavenly angels will come to your assistance and drive back the evil angels, who would lead you to dishonor God, reproach His cause, and weaken your own soul. 2T 82.1

Especially have you a work to do to confess with humiliation your disrespectful course toward your parents. There is no reason for this unnatural manifestation toward them. It is purely a satanic spirit, and you have indulged in it because your mother has not sanctioned your course. Your feelings amount not only to positive dislike, decided disrespect, but to hatred, malice, envy, jealousy, which are manifested in your actions, causing them suffering and privation. You do not feel like making them happy, or even comfortable. Your feelings are changeable. Sometimes your heart softens, then it closes firmly as you see some fault in them, and the angels cannot impress it with one emotion of love. An evil demon controls you, and you are hateful and hating. God has marked your disrespectful words, your unkind acts to your parents, whom He has commanded you to honor, and if you fail to see this great sin, and repent of it, you will grow darker until you will be left to your evil ways. 2T 82.2

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Ellen G. White
Testimonies for the Church, vol. 4, 236-7

God has given you abilities which you can use to good account, or abuse to your own injury and to the injury of others. You have not realized the claims that God has upon you. It should be ever borne in mind that we are living in this world to form characters for the next. And all our associations with our fellow mortals should be with reference to their eternal interest and to our own; but if our interviews with them are devoted only to pleasure and to our own selfish gratification, if we are light and trifling, if we indulge in wrong acts, we are not co-workers with God, but are decidedly working against Him. The precious lives God has given us are not to be molded by unbelieving relatives in a way to please the carnal mind, but to be spent in a manner which God can approve. 4T 236.1

If Brother J enjoyed the love of God, he would be a channel of light. He has too little moral power, with strong tendencies to unbelief. He is pitied by the heavenly angels, for he is surrounded with darkness. His ears hear words of unbelief and darkness almost continually. He has doubts and questionings constantly thrown before him. The tongue is a world of iniquity. “The tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.” If Brother J would cling to God more firmly and feel that he should preserve his integrity before God even at the cost of his natural life, he would receive strength from above. If he allows his faith to be affected by the darkness and unbelief that surrounds him—the doubts and questioning and much talk—he will soon be all darkness and doubt and unbelief, and will have no light or strength in the truth. 4T 236.2

He need not think that by seeking to compromise with his friends, who are embittered against our faith, he will make it easier for himself. If he stands with the single purpose to obey God at any cost he will have help and strength. God loves and pities Brother J. He knows every perplexity, every discouragement, every bitter speech. He is acquainted with it all. If he will lay aside his unbelief and stand in God unmoved, his faith will be strengthened by exercise. “Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, My soul shall have no pleasure in him.” 4T 237.1

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