« PreviousContinue »
of fedition, turners of the world upfide down, &c. and thus. contirbuted largely to their death. It has had a full part in the murder of all the martyrs in all ages. Thefe things fhould engage christians to avoid this abomination.
Fourthly, frown upon and difcountenance this fin in others, and it will be an excellent prefervative against it in yourselves "As the North wind, faith Solomon, driveth away rain, fo "doth an angry countenance a backbiting tongue." Better we never had tongues than employ them for fuch deftructive purpotes. "Whofoever privately flandereth his neighbour, him "will I cut off, faith the Lord." "If any man among you "feemeth to be religious and bridleth not his tongue, that "man's religion is vain." Wherefore let us all be exhorted to avoid this evil of backbiting as we would with to efcape hell, and to have the gates of heaven opened unto us.
The Excellencies and Evils of the Tongue.
James, iii. 6. And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity; fo is the tongue amongst the members, that it defileth the whole body, and fetteth on fire the course of nature, and it is fet on fire of hell.
HERE is an awful defcription of an unruly and ungoverned tongue. St. James in this epiftle fets himself to corre & many evils which had taken place among the chriftians to whom he wrote, and for the inftruction of the churches in all future ages. Some in these early days had imbibed the fatal error, that if they had but faith, they might indulge themselves in the most licentious practices. Therefore the apostle having corrected various vices in the preceding chapters, comes in this to reprove the fins of the tongue. He propofes the exceeding great difficulty of bridling this unruly member. Hence he declares, that he who offendeth not in word is a perfect man and able to bridle the whole body. As if he had faid, the person who can govern this member, can eafily govern all others. This truth he illuftrates by two fimilitudes. By the fmall bits in a horfe's mouth we turn his whole body and ren
der him obedient to our will; fo he that ruleth his tongue holds all his other members in subjection." Behold also the "ships, which, tho' they be fo great, and driven of fierce winds, "yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whitherfoever the governor lifteth." As the helm governs the ship, altho' toffed by tumultuous waves, fo a well bridled tongue eafily governs the whole body. These small things can perform great matters, fo the tongue is capable of accomplishing mighty deeds, both good and bad.
Having spoken of the great power of this little member, he then proceeds to fhow the mischievous evils, it produces, when ungoverned. "Behold how great a matter a little fire kindleth." A small spark blows up a magazine or confumes a city. Thus this little member, the tongue, often throws a parish, a town, or a whole nation into flames.-Then the apostle introduces an hideous picture of the tongue in the words of our text. "And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity; fo is the "tongue amongst the members, that it defileth the whole body, " and fetteth on fire the course of nature, and is fet on fire of "hell." The images here are bold and the coloring ftrong. A lecture upon fuch a disagreeable portrait can never be very pleafing to fpeaker or hearer; yet it is neceffary at times for our edification and reformation, to attend to fubjects that are rather grating than acceptable.
First he tells us "the tongue is a fire." The iffues refemble this furious element in many particulars. A fmall fpark will kindle much fuel, fo this little member can do much mischief. A raging fire is ungovernable, fo is this. Fire bears away all before it with its deftructive flames, fo likewife this. Fire is very useful when confined to its proper place, fo the tongue is a most important member, when held under proper regu lations.
Secondly, it is two conftructions.
a world of iniquity." This may admit of Either that it inflames an unhappy world Or the tongue itfelf is a world of fm. As the world is a collection of natural bodies, fo the tongue is an aggregate of evils.
filled with iniquity.
Thirdly, "fo is the tongue among the members that it defilety the whole body." It infecteth the whole man with fin. It is often the cause of fins being committed by the other members. Tho' fin has its origin in the foul, yet it extends through the whole man, therefore the foul and body is morally pollu. ted.
Again, "it fetteth on fire the course of nature." By the courfe of nature is understood the tenor of a perfon's life. This is all impregnated and inflamed with iniquity. There is no state nor age free from the evils of the tongue. Some vices are abated by age, but thefe often reach through the whole time of aman's life.
Lafly, "it is fet on fire of hell." This expreffion is full of horror. Muft fire be brought from the infernal furnace to enkindle the tongue for the deftruction of the fouls and bodies, of men? An unbridled tongue is fet on fire of hell, and Satan blows up the flame. How should all then fet a watch before the door of their lips? The more unruly this member, the greater ought to be our exertions for its government. The more mifchief it is apt to create, the more it fhould be watched and refrained within proper limits. Before we proceed further to be particular in confidering the evils of the tongue, we may take a brief view of its excellencies, the ends for which it was given, and the duties of it.
Fira, in regard to its excellency. I fhall not fpeak of that which is natural, which we hold in common with the brutes, but of that which is moral. The tongue of man is his glory
How wonderful the work of God, that it fhould be able to articulate fuch an infinite number and variety of founds. The more noble and excellent it is, the more it ought to be refpected, and the greater is the evil in perverting it to bafe ufes. The tongue is the index and difcoverer of the mind. It is out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. If the mind is to be regarded, fo alfo is the tongue. By words we read the character of a man's heart, whether it be virtuous and good, or vain and corrupt. Men's works are likewife exceedingly dependant upon their words. Wherefore, if their deeds are to be refpected, fo are their words. Actions of the most exalted nature, words are cften the caufe of them. Daily experience informs us of the power of speech; a fpeech has faved a nation, and a speech has deftroyed one. If the perfons with whom we converfe are to be refpected, our language must be regarded, for this is an eminent inftrument either of good or hurt. God employs the tongues of his minifters and others, for the conversion and falvation of men 5 and the devil by his emiffaries ufeth the fame for their fubverfion and deftruction. How many thoufands every day are injured by the tongues of others, fome deceived, fome provoked to finful paffions, &c. And on the other hand, how many thousands are daily edified, inftructed and comforted thereby St. Paul could fay, "The weapons of our warfare are "mighty through God." One once declared, that the tongue cuts deeper than a fword, this only pierces the body, while the other reaches to the foul.
Morcover, our tongues are the inftruments of our Creator's praife. This exhibits its diftinguishing excellency and glory. This was one great end for which speech was given us, to fhew forth the wonders of the name of the Moft High. A confiderable part of the fervice, which God requires of men, is performed by the tongue. The ufe of the