« PreviousContinue »
Ah, passing few are they who speak,
Wild stormy month! in praise of thee ; Yet, though thy winds are loud and bleak,
Thou art a welcome month to me. For thou to northern lands again
The glad and glorious sun dost bring, And thou hast joined the gentle train
And wear’st the gentle name of Spring. And, in thy reign of blast and storm,
Smiles many a long, bright, sunny day, When the changed winds are soft and warm,
And heaven puts on the blue of May. Then sing along the gushing rills,
And the full springs, from frost set free, That, brightly leaping down the hills,
Are just set out to meet the sea. The year's departing beauty hides
Of wintry storms the sullen threat;
A look of kindly promise yet.
And that soft time of sunny showers,
Seems of a brighter world than ours.
8.-Sermon upon the Government of the Tongue.
BUTLER. (JOSEPH BUTLER, Bishop of Durham, was born in 1692, and died in 1752. He was the son of a shopkeeper at Wantage, in Berkshire, who was a dissenter of the Presbyterian denomination. Joseph Butler was brought up in a dissenting academy at Tewkesbury. In 1714 he conformed to the established church, having been led to this determination by the result of his own anxious inquiries. He accordingly entered Oriel College, Oxford, and subsequently was admitted into holy orders. The most remarkable of his writings is · The Analogy of Religion, Natural and Revealed, to the constituition and course of Nature—a work of somewhat abstruse reasoning, requiring a diligent study, but admirably calculated to fix the religion of an inquiring mind upon the most solid foundation. His Sermons,' fifteen in number, were preached at the Rolls Chapel, in London, and were first published in 1726.]
JAMES i. 26. “If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain."
The translation in this text would be more determinate if it were rendered more literally thus: “If any man among you seemeth to be religious, not bridling his tongue, but deceiving his own heart, this man's religion is vain.” This determines that the words, “but deceiveth his own heart,” are not put in opposition to “seemeth to be religious,” but to “ bridleth not his tongue.” The certain determinate meaning of the text then being that he who seemeth to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but in that particular deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain; we may observe somewhat very forcible and expressive in these words of St. James : as if the Apostle had said, no man surely can make any pretences to religion, who does not at least believe that he bridleth his tongue; if he puts on any appearance or face of religion, and yet does not govern his tongue, he must surely deceive himself in that particular, and think he does ; and whoever is so unhappy as to deceive himself in this, to imagine he keeps that unruly faculty in due subjection, when indeed he does not, whatever the other part of his life be, his religion is vain; the · 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.