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Abusive speeches, proceeding from anger or contempt, are too common among men. blessed Lord has condemned all such expressions when he shews the guilt of those who say to their brother," Racha," or, "thou fool," Matt. v. 22. How apt are some, upon occasion of slight provocations, to break forth into very abusive and contemptuous language against those who have, or are supposed to have, disobliged them!
Calumny is another great fault of the tongue, which too many are guilty of, for carrying on selfish designs, and to weaken and disparage their enemies or rivals. And many arts of detraction there are, divulging lesser faults that might be concealed or passed by, without detriment to any aggravating the known offences of men, lessening the merit of good and commendable actions, or converting actions that are innocent, or at the most suspicious only, into heinous transgressions.
Flattery is another fault of the tongue, and an abuse of the noble faculty of speech: when, to carry on designs of private interest, we deceive men, by ascribing to them excellencies they are destitute of, and thus fill them with an empty conceit of imaginary worth, and encourage sloth and indolence, or otherwise mislead them to their great detriment.
Ridicule, ill applied, is another fault of the tongue. Some make a mock at sin, and would scoff away the weighty and awful truths of religion. Some endeavour to bring the sacred scriptures into contempt. Others expose their neighbours by ridiculing the natural defects and infirmities of the body or the mind, which are no real faults, but their own unhappiness.
There is a fault, which we may stile the uncharitableness of the tongue: when men strive to lessen all those who differ from them in opinion, representing them as prejudiced, or destitute of a love of truth, and out of the favour of God and the way of salvation. And accordingly they pronounce hard and unmerciful sentences of condemnation upon them. St. James seems particularly to have an eye to this conduct: and he shews, that it cannot proceed from a principle of true religion. It may indeed consist with a profession of religion: but it is inconsistent with virtue and true piety. Sincere praises of God, and severe and unrighteous sentences against our neighbour, can no more proceed from the same mind, than bitter and sweet water from one and the same fountain. Consequently, if men so condemn their brother, their love of God is not sincere and genuine. So in his argument, ver. 9, 10, "Therewith bless we God, and therewith curse we men, made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to to be. Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter ?"
Another fault of the tongue, which we are sometimes guilty of, is too great severity of reproof and censure of real offences and miscarriages. This is one thing which St. James has an eye to in this context, when he cautions against being many masters; intending to soften the rigour of those who are forward in taking upon them that character. St. Paul has particularly cautioned against the same thing. "Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye that are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness, considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted," Gal. vi. 1.
Another fault of the tongue is talkativeness, or a multitude of words, in which, as Solomon says, "there wanteth not sin," Prov. x. 19. This fault St. James has an eye to in several of his directions and observations in this epistle, particularly in the text above cited: "Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak." Where he seems to condemn talkativeness, abstracting from. the consideration of what is said; when men speak with little or no regard to, or thought of, doing good or harm. Which, though it may seem an indifferent matter, or of no great consequence, yet an indulgence of such a disposition leads men into many offences; inasmuch as: when innocent or indifferent topics of discourse are exhausted, such will not fail, in order to gratify that disposition, to go into defamation and scandal: so it is in conversation and the like temper will shew itself on other occasions. Some may desire to be "teachers of the law," 1 Tim. i. 7, who are unacquainted with its design and may affect prolixity of discourse, and. use a multitude of words, not because their subject requires it, but to gratify the disposition to: discourse, and an ambition of shining as very knowing men, and fluent speakers..
These and other faults there are of the tongue and this is one thing that shews the difficulty of governing it.
3. And we shall be farther satisfied of this, if we consider the causes and springs of these faults and there are many of them. This was observed by St. James. Does he say of the tongueat ver. 6, "That it setteth on fire the whole course of nature?" He adds: "And it is set on
fire of hell." There are within bad principles, that give the tongue this wrong direction, and set it on work for mischief. Blasphemy, or evil-speaking, is one of those defilements which our Lord says "come from the heart," that is, from some bad disposition there. And St. James, ver. 14, 15, "If "If ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom is not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish."
The causes of the offences of the tongue are such as these. Unbelief and discontent. These were the causes of the murmurings and complaints of the people of Israel against God and Moses, in the wilderness: and the many murmurings and complaints of men in all ages, are owing to the like causes. Other springs and principles of faulty discourse are inordinate selflove, pride, arrogance, envy and ill-will, contempt of other men, and a disregard to their interests, covetousness, emulation and ambition. These lead men into falsehood and defamation, for promoting their own gain, and lessening those whom they envy, or whose influence stands in their way. St. Paul speaks of some who " taught things which they ought not for filthy lucre's sake." Tit. 1. 11. Some depart from the truth, and forward erroneous conceits, because they are pleasing. Detraction is one way of lessening those who are eminent, and of carrying a point against them. St. John had experience of this, and therefore says in his third epistle: "I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the pre-eminence, receiveth us not. Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious words."
These, and other causes there are of the offences of the tongue. And when it is considered how difficult it is to root all these bad principles out of the heart of man, it must be apparent, that governing the tongue is no easy thing: for "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh," Matt. xii. 34. The streams will partake of the qualities of the fountain; and according to the root, so will the fruit be.
II. In the second place some arguments should be mentioned, to induce us to use our best endeavours to bridle the tongue.
And St. James does presently furnish us with three considerations to this purpose: first, the importance of the thing to the good of the world. Secondly, its importance to us: forasmuch as without it our religion would be vain. And thirdly, it is a great perfection.
1. The importance of this matter. St. James has illustrated this by several instances and comparisons, the "bit in the horse's mouth, the helm of ships," and "fire," a spark of which kindles into a devouring flame. That is, the use or abuse of the tongue is of much importance, and great things, for good or evil, are effected thereby, in the state, in lesser societies, and among particular persons. By the right use of the tongue truth is recommended, virtue promoted, the peace and happiness of mankind advanced. By a perverse employment of speech the peace of society, of families, and particular persons, is interrupted and disturbed: the interests of error are promoted, instead of those of truth: good designs are obstructed, or quite defeated the reputation of innocent, and even excellent men, is blasted: seeds of animosity and dissension are sown among brethren, friendships broken and dissolved, and many bad effects produced, more than can be easily numbered.
How much did Joseph suffer by the calumny of his mistress! how long, before his reputation could be vindicated, or his innocence cleared up! And sometimes the reputation of the innocent and virtuous is for ever ruined by malicious and artful detraction. We have a remarkable instance of the bad effect of a studied misrepresentation of things in the history of David. When he fled from Jerusalem, on occasion of Absalom's rebellion, Ziba, servant of Mephibosheth, son of Jonathan, came to David, bringing him presents. "And David said unto him: Where is thy master? And Ziba said unto the king: Behold, he abideth at Jerusalem: for he said: To day shall the house of Israel restore me to the kingdom of my father. Then said the king to Ziba Behold, thine are all that pertained unto Mephibosheth," 2 Sam. xvi. 3, 4. But when David returned victorious, and in safety, to Jerusalem, it appeared, that during the time of his absence, Mephibosheth had lived with all the outward tokens of mourning and affliction, without putting on his usual ornaments, or taking the refreshments, customary in times of peace and prosperity. "And when he" met the king, David said unto him: Wherefore wentest thou not with me, Mephibosheth? And he answered: My lord, O king, my servant deceived me. For thy servant said: I will saddle me an ass, that I may ride thereon, and go to the king, because thy servant is lame. And he has slandered thy servant unto my lord the king. But my lord the king is an angel of God. Do therefore what is good in thy eyes." What now is the answer,
which David makes to Mephibosheth, after so submissive a speech, and so full a defence of himself? It is this. "The king said unto him: Why speakest thou any more of thy matters? I have said: Thou and Ziba divide the land." An answer, if we may presume to judge, unworthy of David. It seems to shew that Ziba's story still made impressions upon him, and that he was not fully reconciled to Mephibosheth or else, that he was unwilling to own how much he had been deceived and imposed upon by the artifice of Ziba, Mephibosheth's servant. Such effect had flattery and slander, improbable slander, upon the mind of king David.
David seems not now to have recollected the resolutions which he had formed, the plan of government which he had laid down to himself before his settlement on the throne of Israel. When he said: "Whoso privily slandereth his neighbour, him will I cut off. He that worketh deceit shall not dwell in my house. He that telleth lies shall not abide in my sight," Psalm ci. v. 7. And indeed, it may exceed the abilities of the best and wisest of men, to guard, at all times, against all the arts of detraction.
2. Another thing that should induce us to this care, is, that otherwise we cannot approve ourselves to be truly religious. It is an observation of St. James, already taken notice of. If any "man among you seemeth to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, that man's religion is vain." And the truth of that observation is confirmed by what has been said under the foregoing particular, of the importance of this matter. That man is not truly religious, whatever profession he may make, who talks without consideration, spreads stories to the disadvantage of others, founded only on surmise, or upon testimony that ought to be suspected or affects to recommend the principles of religion, or of any science, who has neglected inquiry; or, who gives his judgment in affairs about which he is not well informed, and has taken no care to be so.
3. It ought to induce us to aim at the government of the tongue, that it is a great excellence. It is the doctrine of the text. "If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body. It is a proof of much virtue, great discretion, a full command of the passions, and a prevailing regard to the good of others. Does a man bridle his tongue? Does nothing proceed out of his mouth to the detriment or offence of others? nothing but what tends to edification? Does he know when to speak, and when to be silent? "Is his speech always with grace, seasoned with salt?" Col. iv. 6. Are his words weighty though few? Are his discourses solid for the matter, and modest, and agreeable for the manner? Does he argue without positiveness, advise without assuming authority, and reprove without severity and harshness? Such an one is an excellent or perfect man. And it is a character which we may desire to attain to.
III. Which brings me to the third and last thing that was proposed, to lay down some rules and directions, which may assist us in governing the tongue, and curing the faults of it.
1. Let us cherish the principle of the fear of God in our hearts. For that will deter from every kind of evil, and dispose to good words, as well as to good actions." "Come, ye children," says the Psalmist, "hearken unto me. I will teach you the fear of the Lord. 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 xxxiv. 11-13.
2. Let us also cherish and cultivate the love of our neighbour. "For love," as the apostle says, "is the fulfilling of the law," Rom. xiii. 10. If we love our neighbour as ourselves, we shall be concerned for his credit, as well as for our own: and not willingly injure him by words, any more than by actions.
3. Let us call to mind former offences and transgressions of this kind, which we have been convinced of, and have been sorry for. This may be of great use for time to come. It will secure our guard, and render it more effectual.
4. If we are acquainted with any excellent masters in this art, who are great examples of this virtue, we should diligently observe them for our imitation. If we know of any, who do not readily receive evil reports, who rarely speak to the disadvantage of any, who never aggravate the real faults of men, who are willing to applaud commendable actions, and to excuse imprudencies, and lesser faults: whose discourses are useful and entertaining: in whose mouth is the law of kindness, and whose "wisdom" is accompanied with "meekness," James iii. 13. they are worthy of our attentive view and observation.
5. Let us endeavour to mortify pride, envy, and inordinate self-love; and cultivate that
wisdom, which is "pure, peaceable," ver. 17, 18, unbiassed, disinterested, and public spirited. Then we are likely to attain to this perfection, and not offend in word.
6. Let us also endeavour to improve in the knowledge of the works of nature, and the word of God. If a man's mind be filled with a variety of valuable knowledge, he will be under little temptation to divert into the topics of detraction and scandal, for the sake of shining in company.
7. Let us often recollect some of the directions which the scripture affords upon this point: Speak evil of no man," Tit. iii. 2. "Let every one be swift to hear, slow to speak," James i. 19. " Speak not evil one of another, brethren," ch. iv. 11.
But it is time to conclude, out of reverence to the rules that have been just laid down, some of them especially.
I add therefore but one word more, which is, that we should now make application, not to others, but to ourselves. And if we have this day seen any of our faults, and the causes of them, let us not be like a "man, who having beheld his face in a glass, goes away, and soon forgetteth what manner of man he was: but having looked into the perfect law of" virtue," let us continue therein: not being forgetful hearers, but doers of the word: for such shall be blessed in their deed," James i. 23, 24.
THE BENEFIT OF FEARING ALWAYS.
Happy is the man that feareth always; but he that hardeneth his heart, shall fall into mischief.
ALL know, that a large part of the book of Proverbs consists of sentences unconnected, or observations and maxims independent on each other. Where that is the case, little light is af forded by the coherence. Nevertheless I shall read the verse immediately preceding. And if any connection was intended, possibly we may perceive it, at least hereafter, when we have considered the meaning of the words of this text.
Ver. 13 and 14. "He that covereth his sins, shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them, shall have mercy. Happy is the man that feareth always: but he that hardeneth his heart, shall fall into mischief.
In discoursing on this text
I. I shall describe the fear here recommended.
II. I would shew the happiness of him who feareth always.
III. I shall endeavour to shew how this fear conduces to a man's happiness.
IV. After which I intend to mention some remarks and observations upon this subject, and conclude.
I. In the first place I should describe the fear here recommended; or shew what is meant by fearing always,
There is a good counsel of Solom in the twenty-third chapter of this book: "Let not thy heart envy sinners: but be thou in the fear of the Lord all the day long," Prov. xxiii. 17. This is our duty and interest. Whatever advantages some may gain by unrighteousness, we should never be thereby induced to imitate their ways: but should still persevere in the service of God, and the way of virtue, which in time will be rewarded.
But it does not appear very likely, that this is what is here particularly intended by the wise man. The fear here spoken of, seems to be apprehensiveness, diffidence, with the fruits thereof, care, caution, and circumspection: as opposite to security, inconsideration, confidence and presumption. In this text is meant a temper of mind, which is often recommended by the wise man in other words. "The simple believeth every word: but the prudent man looketh well to his goings," chap. xiv. 15. And, "keep thy heart with all diligence: for out of it are the
issues of life Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee. Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy paths be established," chap. iv. 23, 25, 26.
This property of feariug always, may be expedient and useful in a variety of occasions: in the things of this present life, and in the great concerns of our salvation.
It would undoubtedly be of bad consequence with regard to the affairs and business of this world, for men to be void of thought and consideration: to presume upon success, and depend upon good treatment, and honest dealings from all men; and rely upon the kind and faithful assistances of friends and servants, and others with whom we may be concerned, without any previous trial or examination.
And it must be expedient and useful for men, to be so far apprehensive of dangers and accidents, so sensible of the changes and vicissitudes that attend all earthly things, and so far aware of the unskilfulness, unfaithfulness, art and subtilty of other men, as shall induce them to take care of their own affairs themselves, and use a prudent caution and circumspection.
A like temper may be very useful in the things of religion. And to this the words of Solomon may be applied, if they are not to be directly interpreted in this sense.
Indeed there is a fearfulness, and timorousness of mind, which religion condemns: which is mean and unreasonable, groundless and indiscreet: when we are too apprehensive of the evils and afflictions of this life, or fear men more than God. Then we are to be blamed; then we act indiscreetly: when for fear of the displeasure of men, and the small evils they can inflict upon us, we do that which will offend God, and expose us to the long and grievous pains and miseries of another state, with the loss of all that happiness which we might have secured by resolution and courage in the way of religion and virtue.
But there is a fear and apprehension, which may be very useful. It is a fear of offending God, and a diffidence of ourselves and our own strength. It is founded in a persuasion of the great importance of right behaviour in this world, and a sure knowledge of the consequences thereof, either happiness or misery in a future state. It is also owing to a consideration of the power of things sensible, good and evil, agreeable or disagreeable, to bias and influence the mind: and that, oftentimes on a sudden, and to a degree beyond most men's expectations; whereby many are diverted from right conduct, and act contrary to former convictions, and their best purposes and resolutions.
He who fears always is one who is never unmindful of what is the great design of life, and what will be the consequences of it. He is desirous of obtaining eternal salvation, even a better happiness than this present world affords any prospect of. And he dreads the being finally rejected of God, and excluded from his presence. And as the reason of things, and the express declarations of the word of God, assures us, that final happiness, or misery, depends upon men's behaviour here; he is desirous, that his behaviour may be such as shall be approved in the end by the impartial and equitable Sovereign and Judge of the world.
But he is aware that there is no small difficulty in executing this design. He therefore fears always. In every state and condition, whether prosperity or adversity, he knows there are snares and temptations. For which reason he is at no time secure; but has continually a kind of distrust of himself, and is apprehensive, lest the ease and pleasure of the one should make him forget God and another world and lest some things in the other condition, of which the afflictions are various, and very moving, should induce him to cast off the fear of God, and say, religion is vain.
He has his fears and apprehensions, arising from solitude, and from company: when alone, and when in conversation. He is aware that there are some snares peculiar to retirement, others to business. Nor is there any age, or time of life, but has its temptations.
He is not without his fears, when he engages in the worship of God, lest his services should be defective and unacceptable; and lest through neglect, inattention, or prejudices, the opportunity afforded him should be unprofitable. And indeed, Solomon has a direction and caution to this purpose: "Keep thy foot, when thou goest to the house of God; and be more ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools," Eccl. v. 1.
In undertakings for the honour of God, and the interests of religion among men, he is sometimes in doubt and suspense, whether his zeal, though well-meant, be right and just. And he admits a re-examination of his design, that he may act according to knowledge, and upon