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SUMMARY OF SERMON XIII..
JAMES, CHAP. III.-VERSE 2.
THE words of the text declare that man to be perfect who offends not in speech; and they consequently imply that we should avoid offending therein. The assertion is to be first briefly explained; then its truth declared; and afterwards the duty or obligation of it pressed. To offend originally signifies to impinge, or to stumble dangerously on somewhat lying across our way: by not offending in word then, we may understand such a restraint and careful guidance of our tongue, that it does not transgress the rules of divine law, nor thwart the proper purposes for which it was framed.
By a perfect man is meant a person accomplished and complete in goodness, who, as to the continual tenor of his life, is free from all notorious defects and heinous faults; walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless: such were Noah, Abraham, and Job. So that in effect the words import this; that a constant government of our speech according to duty and reason, is a special argument of a sincere and solid goodness. The truth of which aphorism may from several considerations appear.
1. A good government of the speech is a strong evidence of a good mind, pure from vicious desires, disorderly passions, and dishonest intentions. For speech is a child of thought, which the mind always travails and teems with, and which, after its birth, is wont in features to resemble its parent: confirmation of this truth from Scripture, &c.
2. From hence, that the use of speech is itself a great in
gredient in our practice, and hath a very general influence on whatever we do, it may be inferred that whoever governeth it well, cannot also but well order his life: observations on the province of speech, so large as it is, and so universally concerned, either immediately as the matter, or by consequence as the source of our actions.
3. To govern the tongue well is a matter of exceeding difficulty, requiring not only hearty goodness, but great judgment and art, together with much vigilance and circumspection; whence the doing it argues a high pitch of virtue: especially if we consider that,
4. Irregular speech hath commonly more advantages for it, and fewer checks on it, than other bad practices have: that is, a man is apt to speak ill with less dissatisfaction and regret from within; he may do it with less control and hazard from without, than he can act ill: this enlarged on.
5. Whereas most of the enormities, mischiefs, and troubles, whereby the souls of men are defiled and their lives disquieted, are the fruits of ill-governed speech, he that by well governing it, preserves himself from guilt and inconvenience, must necessarily be, not only a wise and happy, but a good and worthy person.
6. His tongue also so ruled, cannot but produce very good fruits of honor to God, of benefit to his neighbor, and of comfort to himself: this declared in many passages of the Proverbs.
7. The observation how unusual this practice is, in any good degree, may strongly assure us of its excellency for the rarer, especially in morals, any good thing is, the more noble and worthy it is; that rarity arguing somewhat of peculiar difficulty in the attainment of it: the topic enlarged on. This being said for confirmation of the point asserted, it is requisite that we should understand and consider the nature of those several offences to which speech is liable, together with the
special depravity and inconvenience of each: these are various in kind, according to the difference of the objects to which they refer. Whence, 1. some are committed against God, and confront piety; 2. others against our neighbor, and violate justice, charity, &c.; 3. others against ourselves, infringing sobriety, discretion, or modesty; 4. some are of a more general nature, crossing all the heads of duty. As time would not permit a description of all these kinds, the present discourse is confined to some of the first sort, that is, offences against piety, with some reasons why we should eschew them.
I. Speaking blasphemously against God, or reproachfully concerning religion, with intent to subvert men's faith in God, or to impair their reverence of him. This of all impieties is most prodigiously gigantic; enmity towards God, and war waged against heaven. Of all weapons formed against God, the tongue doth most notoriously impugn him; for we cannot reach heaven with our hands, or immediately assault God by our acts: other ill practice obliquely, or by consequence, dishonoreth him, and defameth goodness; but profane discourse is directly levelled at them, and doth immediately touch them, as its formal objects. The extreme folly and wickedness of this practice enlarged on, with the great injury it does to society.
II. Another like offence against piety is, to speak loosely and wantonly about holy things, or to make such the matter of sport and mockery: but this topic will be discussed in a subsequent discourse.
III. Another grand offence is, rash and vain swearing in common discourse, an offence which is by far too prevalent in the world, passing about in a specious garb, as a mark of fine breeding and of graceful quality. To repress this vile practice some considerations are offered.
1. Swearing is most expressly and strictly prohibited to us: Mat. v. 34. Jam. v. 12. What more palpable affront there
fore can be offered to our religion, and to all that is sacred among us?
2. According to the very nature and reason of things, it is evidently intolerable profaneness thus unadvisedly to make addresses and appeals to God: should we thus presume to encroach on the majesty and assail the ears of a human prince?
3. Swearing is by our holy oracles worthily represented to us as an especial piece of worship and devotion towards God: wherefore it is a horrible mockery and profanation of so sacred an ordinance, when we use it without any consideration or respect on every light occasion.
4. The doing so is also very prejudicial to human society; since the decision of right, the security of government, and the preservation of peace, depend so much on an awful regard to oaths, and therefore on their being only used in due manner and season.
5. This way of swearing is also a very uncivil and unmannerly practice; a gross rudeness towards the main body of men, who justly reverence the name of God, and loathe such abuse of it.
6. This practice also derogates from the credit of him that uses it, rendering the truth of whatever he says in reason and justice suspected.
7. It can be no wrong to distrust him, since he implies himself not to be, even in his own opinion, a credible person; since he judges not his own bare affirmation to deserve belief.
8. To excuse this, the swearer must be forced to confess another ugly fault in speaking; that is, impertinence, or the using of waste and insignificant words: this enlarged on.
9. This offence is particularly inexcusable, in that it scarcely has any temptation to it, or brings with it any advantage. It gratifies no sense, yields no profit, procures no honor.
Finally, as to this whole point, about not offending in our
speech against piety, we should consider that, as we ourselves, with all our members and powers, were chiefly designed and framed to serve and glorify our Maker, so especially our tongue was given us, to declare our admiration and reverence of him, to express our love and gratitude to him, to celebrate his praise, and promote his honor: hence it becomes in effect what the psalmist so often terms it, our glory, and the best member we have. Therefore, to apply it to any impious discourse, and the dishonor of God, is a most unnatural abuse of it, and vile ingratitude.