« PreviousContinue »
cause they are cunning enough to know, that their own interest would be likely to suffer, if it were trusted to one who had from early youth been in the habit of "deceiving "his neighbour."
Another abuse of the tongue which St. James guards us against, is profane and blasphemous language. No argument can be used against cursing and swearing, so strong as the command of GOD; and He, you know, has delivered this express one, in order to prevent it: "Thou shalt not take "the name of the LORD thy God in vain; "for He will not hold him guiltless that "taketh his name in vain." With all their grievous faults, the Jews appear to have paid great respect to this commandment, during all the time of their history; and even at the present day, they sacredly refrain from pronouncing the word Jehovah (or sacred name of GOD) upon any occasion, lest they should be guilty of taking his name in vain. There seem, however, to be some cases, in which it may be lawfully called upon, even in temporal matters; and christians, grounding their authority upon several passages of scripture, have permitted the name of the Most High to be used, in the form of an oath in the courts of justice, and before magistrates, or persons lawfully empowered
to administer it, in order to obtain the truth in matters which regard life and property. We cannot help observing, however, that the seldomer and the more solemnly such oaths are administered, the better; since a very frequent or careless use of them, even in this way, might in time render this sacred security for getting at the real facts of any matter, little more than a form whereas it ought to be considered, by every conscientious man, as the most solemn act he can perform; it being to call upon the great GOD of heaven and earth to witness that he speaks the truth, and to judge and punish him, if he do not do so. But, however allowable this solemn use of an oath may be, yet there can be no possible excuse for sporting with the name of the Most High in common conversation, or making use of blasphemous expressions merely as words of course; a practice at once foolish and wicked, since it can be attended with no possible pleasure or benefit, and if it mean any thing, certainly means what is sinful. So far, indeed, is common swearing from being advantageous to those who practise it, that every commission of the crime subjects the profane swearer to a penalty; and the law of the land calls upon every good subject to inform against
such a person before a magistrate, that he may be fined in a certain sum for every oath which he utters. But, if the use of profane language be thus unlawful in common conversation, how much more so is it, my brethren, when it is the consequence of passion? Here the sin is doubled: for the man breaks through that law of Gon which forbids all "wrath and clamour," and adds to his crime the breach of the commandment, which enjoins him not to take the name of God in vain. He becomes a "two-fold child of hell," and must expect a proportionate increase to his punishment.
A third abuse of the tongue forbidden by the author of the epistle for the day, is evilspeaking, backbiting, or slandering. A man's good character and reputation are of so much consequence to him in life, that the law of the land considers it as a most precious part of his property; and consequently affords him its protection, if he has been injured in this quarter by another, or can prove that he may sustain such an injury. But, my brethren, there are many ways of committing this crime against our neighbour, without becoming subject to the punishment of human laws; and a man's feelings may be sorely wounded, and his private peace completely destroyed, or
greatly disturbed, by the secret backbiter, without the injured person being able to discover who has been his enemy. "Curse "the whisperer and double-tongued," says the inspired writer, "for they have destroyed many that were at peace." It is surprising to see what mischief characters of this description produce in almost every neighbourhood; how often they "separate "very friends;" how frequently they make divisions in families; and create suspicion against honest, worthy, and inoffensive people.
It is too general a practice, indeed, among all classes of men, the high as well as the low, to give their tongues too much freedom, when they talk of the characters and the business of their neighbours; and though, perhaps, they may have no ill design in doing it, yet too often, by finding fault with them, or sneering at them, or turning them into ridicule, they do an injury to their characters, which they never can repair, and give a stab to their hearts, that they never can heal. Our blessed LORD, when he speaks of the sentence upon "every idle
word," seems to have directed his attention to that very improper use of the tongue, of which I am now speaking; where a man deals out his words at random, without a malicious intention, perhaps, but with a fatal
effect upon the happiness of others. That merciful Saviour, who had such a tender regard for the peace of mankind, both in time and eternity; who has so often commanded us to love one another, to love our neighbour as ourself, and to do unto another as we would wish others should do unto us; may well be supposed to have forbidden his followers to wound the peace of those around them, even by careless conversation; and to have said of such rash and thoughtless language, every" idle word that men "shall speak, they shall give account thereof "in the day of judgment; for, by thy words "thou shalt be justified, and by thy words, "thou shalt be condemned." You know, my brethren, that it is a part of the great duty of christian charity, to "think no evil." Would men but endeavour to practise this, they would never fall into the error of uttering evil; for, "out of the abundance "of the heart the mouth speaketh;" and if there were no ill-natured thoughts encouraged there, no ill-natured speeches would escape the tongue. So true is that remark of our blessed Saviour on this very subject: "A good man out of the good "treasure of his heart bringeth forth good "things; and an evil man out of the evil "treasure bringeth forth evil things."