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gorernment of the tongue being a most material restraint which virtue lays us under, without which no man can be truly religious.
In treating upon this subject, I will consider,
First, What is the general vice or fault here referred to; or what disposition in men is supposed in moral reflections and precepts concerning bridling the tongue.
Secondly, When it may be said of any one, that he has a due government over himself in this respect.
I. Now the fault referred to, and the disposition supposed, in precepts and reflections concerning the government of the tongue, is not evil speaking from malice, nor lying or bearing false witness from indirect selfish designs. The disposition to these and the actual vices themselves, all come under other subjects. The tongue may be employed about and made to serve all the purposes of vice, in tempting and deceiving, in perjury and injustice. But the thing here supposed and referred to, is talkativeness; a disposition to be talking, abstracted from the consideration of what is to be said, with very little or no regard to, or thought of doing, either good or harm. And let not any imagine this to be a slight matter, and that it deserves not to have so great weight laid upon it, till he has considered what evil is implied in it, and the bad effects which follow from it. It is perhaps true, that they who are addicted to this folly would choose to confine them. selves to trifles and indifferent subjects, and so intend only to be guilty of being impertinent: but as they cannot go on for ever talking of nothing, as common matters will not afford a sufficient fund for perpetual continued discourse; when subjects of this kind are exhausted, they will go on to defamation, scandal, divulging of secrets, their own secrets as well as those of others, anything rather than be silent. They are plainly hurried on in the heat of their talk to say quite different things from what they first intended, and which they afterwards wish unsaid; or improper things, which they had no other end in saying but only to afford employment to their tongue. And if these people expect to be heard and regarded, for there are some content merely with talking, they will invent to engage your attention; and when they have heard the least imperfect hint of an affair, they will out of their own head add the circumstances of time and place, and other matters to make out their story, and give the appearance of probability to it: not that they have any concern about being believed, otherwise than as a means of being heard. The thing is to engage your attention, to take you up wholly for the present time; what reflections will be made afterwards is in truth the least of their thoughts. And further, when persons who indulge themselves in these liberties of the tongue are in any degree offended with another, as little disgusts and misunderstandings will be, they allow themselves to defame and revile such an one without any moderation or bounds; though the offence is so very slight, that they themselves would not do nor perhaps wish him an injury in any other way. And in this case the scandal and revilings are chiefly owing to talkativeness, and not bridling their tongue; and so come under our present subject. The least occasion in the world will make the humour break out in this particular way, or in another. It is like a torrent, which must and will flow; but the least thing imaginable will first of all give it either this or another direction, turn it into this or that channel: or like a fire, the nature of which, when in a heap of combustible matter, is to spread and lay waste all around; but any one of a thousand little accidents will occasion it to break out either in this or another particular part.
The subject then before us, though it does run up into, and can scarce be treated as entirely distinct from all others, yet it needs not be so much mixed and blended with them as it often is. Every faculty and power may be used as the instrument of premeditated vice and wickedness, merely as the most proper and effectual means of executing such designs. But if a man, from deep malice and desire of revenge, should meditate a falsehood with a settled design to ruin his neighbour's reputation, and should with great coolness and deliberation spread it; nobody would choose to say of such an one, that he had no government of his tongue. A man may use the faculty of speech as an instrument of false-witness, who yet has so entire a command over that faculty, as never to speak but from forethought and cool design. Here the crime is injustice and perjury; and strictly speaking no more belongs to the present subject, than perjury and injustice in any other way. But there is such a thing as a disposition to be talking for its own sake; from which persons often say anything, good or bad, of others, merely as a subject of discourse, according to the particular temper they themselves happen to be in, and to pass away the present time. There is likewise to be observed in persons such a strong and cager desire of engaging attention to what they say, that they will speak good or evil, truth or otherwise, merely as one or the other seems to be most hearkened to: and this, though it is sometimes joined, is not the same with the desire of being thought important and men of consequence. There is in some such a disposition to be talking, that an offence of the slightest kind, and such as would not raise any other resentment, yet raises, if I may so speak, the resentment of the tongue, puts it into a flame, into the most ungovernable motions. This outrage, when the person it respects is present, we distinguish in the lower rank of people by a peculiar term; and let it be observed, that though the decencies of behaviour are a little kept, the same outrage and virulence, indulged when he is absent, is an offence of the same kind. But not to distinguish any further in this manner; men run into faults and follies, which cannot so properly be referred to any one general head as this, that they have not a due government over their tongue.
And this unrestrained volubility and wantonness of speech is the occasion of numberless evils and vexations in life. It begets resentment in him who is the subject of it; sows the seeds of strife and dissension amongst others; and inflames little disgusts and offences, which if left alone would wear away of themselves : it is often of as bad effect
upon the good name of others as deep envy or malice: and to say the least of it in this respect, it destroys and perverts a certain equity of the utmost importance to society to be observed ; namely, that praise and dispraise, a good or bad character, should always be bestowed according to desert. The tongue used in such a licentious manner is like a sword in the hand of a madman; it is employed at random, it can scarce possibly do any good, and for the most part does a world of mischief; and implies not only great folly and a trifling spirit, but great viciousness of mind, great indifference to truth and falsity, and to the reputation, welfare, and good of others. So good reason is there for what St. James says of the tongue, It is a fire, a world of iniquity, it defileth the whole body, setteth on fire the course of nature, and is itself set on fire of hell. (Chap. iii. v. 6.) This is the faculty or disposition we are required to keep a guard upon: these are the vices and follies it runs into, when not kept under due restraint.
II. Wherein the due government of the tongue consists, or when it may be said of any one in a moral and religious sense that he bridleth his tongue, I come now to consider.
The due and proper use of any natural faculty or power, is to be judged of by the end and design for which it was given us. The chief purpose for which the faculty of speech was given to man, is plainly that we might communicate our thoughts to each other, in order to carry on the affairs of the world; for business, and for our improvement in knowledge and learning. But the good Author of our nature designed us not only necessaries, but likewise enjoyment and satisfaction, in that being he hath graciously given, and in that condition of life he hath placed us in. There are secondary uses of our faculties which administer to delight, as the primary administer to necessity : and as they are equally adapted to both, there is no doubt but he intended them for our gratification, as well as for the support and continuance of our being. The secondary use of speech is to please and be entertaining to each other in conversation. This is in every respect allowable and right: it unites men closer in alliances and friendships; gives us a fellow-feeling of the prosperity and unhappiness of each other; and is in several respects serviceable to virtue, and to promote good behaviour in the world. And provided there be not too much time spent in it, if it were considered only in the way
of gratification and delight, men must have strange notions of God and of religion, to think that he can be offended with it, or that it is any way inconsistent with the strictest virtue. But the truth is, such sort of conversation, though it has no particular good tendency, yet it has a general good one; it is social and friendly, and tends to promote humanity, good nature, and civility. Therefore as the end and use, so likewise the abuse of speech, relates to the one or other of these; either to business, or to conversation. As to the former; deceit in the management of business and affairs does not properly belong to the subject now before us; though one may just mention that multitude, that endless number of words, with which business is perplexed, when a much fewer would, as it should seem, better serve the purpose; but this must be left to those who understand the matter. ment of the tongue, considered as a subject of itself, relates chiefly to conversation, to that kind of discourse which usually fills up the time spent in friendly meetings and visits of civility: and the danger is, lest persons
entertain themselves and others at the expense of their wisdom and their virtue, and to the injury or offence of their neighbour. If they will take heed and keep clear of these, they may be as
free, and easy, and unres
eserved, as they can desire. The cautions to be given for avoiding them, and to render conversation innocent and agreeable, fall under the following particulars : silence; talking of indifferent things; and, which makes up too great a part of conversation, giving of characters, speaking well or evil of others.
The wise man observes, that there is a time to speak, and a time to keep silence.” One meets with people in the world who seem never to have made the last of these observations. And
great talkers do not at all speak from their having anything to say, as every sentence shows, but only from their inclination to be talking. Their conversation is merely an exercise of the tongue; no other human faculty has any share in it. It is strange these persons can help reflecting, that, unless they have in truth a superior capacity, and are in an extraordinary manner furnished for conversation, if they are entertaining, it is at their own expense. Is it possible that it should never come into people's thoughts to suspect, whether or no it be to their advantage to shew so very much of themselves ? “O that ye would altogether hold your peace, andit should be your wisdom.” (Job xiii. 5.) Remember likewise there are persons who love fewer words, an inoffensive sort of people, and who deserve some regard, though of too still and composed tempers for you.
Of this number was the son of Sirach : for he plainly speaks from experience, when he says, “ As hills of sand are to the steps of the aged, so is one of many words to a quiet man.” But one would think it should be obvious to every one, that when they are in company with their superiors of any kind, in years, knowledge, and experience, when proper and useful subjects are discoursed of which they cannot bear a part in, that these are times for silence, when they should learn to hear and be attentive; at least in their turn. It is indeed a very unhappy way these people are in ; they in a manner cut themselves out from all advantage of conversation, except that of being entertained with their own talk ; their business in coming into company not being at all to be informed to hear, to learnbut to display themselves, or rather to exert their faculty and talk without any design at all. And if we consider conversation as an en. tertainment-as somewhat to unbend the mind—as a diversion from the cares, the business, and the sorrows of life, it is of the very nature of it, that the discourse be mutual. This, I say, is implied in the very notion of what we distinguish by conversation, or being in com