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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 neighbor's reputation, and should, with great coolness and deliberation, spread it, nobody would choose to say of such a 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 any thing, 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 eager 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 seed of strife and dissension amongst others; and inflames little disgusts and offences, which, if let 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 much 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." This is the faculty or dispo sition which 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 cue 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
* Chap. iii. 6.
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: they administer to delight, as well as 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.
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. The government 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 neighbor. If they will observe and keep clear of these, they may be as free, and easy, and unreserved, as they can desire.
The cautions to be given for avoiding these dangers, 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 yet these great talkers do not at all speak from their having any thing 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. It is possible, that it should never come into people's thoughts to suspect, whether or no it be to their advantage, to show so very much of themselves? "O that you would altogether hold your peace, and it should be your wisdom."* member 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, 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
* Job xiii.
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 learn, but to display themselves, or rather to exert their faculty, and talk without any design at all. And if we consider conversation as an entertainment, 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 company. Attention to the continued discourse of one alone grows more painful often, than the cares and business we come to be diverted from. He, therefore, who imposes this upon us, is guilty of a double offence; arbitrarily enjoining silence upon all the rest, and likewise obliging them to this painful attention.
I am sensible these things are apt to be passed over, as too little to come into a serious discourse; but, in reality, men are obliged, even in point of morality and virtue, to observe all the decencies of behaviour. The greatest evils in life have had their rise from somewhat, which was thought of too little importance to be attended
And as to the matter we are now upon, it is absolutely necessary to be considered. For if people will not maintain a due government over themselves, in regarding proper times and seasons for silence, but will be talking, they certainly, whether they design it or not at first, will go on to scandal and evil speaking, and divulging
If it were needful to say any thing further, to persuade men to learn this lesson of silence, one might put them in mind, how insignificant they render themselves by this execssive talkativeness: insomuch, that if they do chance to say any thing which deserves to be attended to and re