The Perfect Tongue marks the Perfect Man.
1 In many things we all stumble. If any stumbleth not in word, the same is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body also.'—J AS. iii. 2.
rriHEEE can be no perfection in art or science -*- without attention to little things. One of the truest marks of genius is the power, in presence of the highest ideal, to attend to even the least details. No chain is stronger than its feeblest link. The weakest point in the character of a Christian is the measure of his nearness to perfection. It is in the little things of daily life that perfection is attained and proved.
The tongue is a little member. A word of the tongue is, oh! such a little thing in the eyes of many. And yet we are told by none less than our blessed Lord: 'By thy words shalt thou be justified.' When the Son of man shall come in the glory of His Father to render to every man according to his deeds, every word will be taken into account. In the light of the great day of God, if any man stumble not in word, the same is a perfect man. This is the fullgrown man, who has attained maturity, who has reached unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.
But is it possible for any man to be thus perfect, and not to stumble in a single word? Has not James just said, 'In many things we all stumble?' Just think of all the foolish words one hears among Christians, the sharp words, the hasty, thoughtless, unloving words, the words that are only half honest and not spoken from the heart. Think of all the sins of the tongue against the law of perfect love and perfect truth, and we must admit the terrible force of James' statement: 'In many things we all stumble.' When he adds, 'If any stumble not in word, the same is a perfect man,' can he really mean that God expects that we should live so, and that we must seek and expect it too?
Let us think. With what object does he use these words? In the beginning of his Epistle he had spoken of patience having its perfect work, that ice may be perfect and entire, lacking in nothing. There, entire perfection, with nothing lacking, is set before us as a definite promise to those who let patience have its perfect work. His Epistle is written, as all the Epistles are, under the painful impression of how far ordinary Christian experience is from such perfection, but in the faith that it is no hopeless task to teach God's people that they ought to be, that they can be, perfect and entire, lacking in nothing. Where he begins to speak of the tongue, the two sides of the truth again rise up before him. The ordinary experience he expresses in the general statement: 'In many things we all stumble.' The will of God and the power of grace he sets forth in the blessed and not impossible ideal of all who seek to be perfect and entire: 'If any man stumble not in word, the same is a perfect man.' James speaks of it in all simplicity as a condition as actual as the other of all stumbling.
The question is again asked: But is it really a possible ideal? Does God expect it of us? Is grace promised for it? Let us call in Peter as a witness, and listen to what God's Spirit says through him, as to that terrible necessity of always stumbling which some hold fast, as to the blessed possibility of being kept from stumbling. 'Give the more diligence,' lie ■writes, 'to mako your calling and election sure; for if ye do these things, ye shall never stumble.' Never, that includes, not even in word. Let us hear what Jude says, 'Now unto Him, who is able to guard you from stumbling through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and power, before all time, and now, and for evermore. Amen.' It is the soul that knows and without ceasing trusts God as a God who guards from stumbling, as a God who watches and keeps us every moment through Jesus Christ, that will without ceasing sing this song of praise.
The three texts on stumbling are the only ones in the New Testament in which the word occurs in reference to the Christian life. That in James one hears quoted a hundred times for once that those in Peter and Jude are cited. And Christ has said, 'According to your faith be unto you.' If our faith feeds only and always on, 'In many things we all stumble,' no wonder that we do stumble. If with that stumble we take the stumble not that follows, 'If any man stumble not in word, the same is a perfect man,' and the 'not stumble' of Peter and Jude, the faith that embraces the promise will obtain it: God's power will translate it into our experience, and our life be a living Epistle into which God's words have been transcribed. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh: out of a heart that is perfect towards God, in which the love of God is shed abroad, in which Christ dwelleth, the tongue will bring forth words of truth and uprightness, of love and gentleness, full of beauty and of blessing. Gcd wills it: God works it: let us claim it.