And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.
~ James 3:6
The words of his mouth were smoother than butter, but war was in his heart: his words were softer than oil, yet were they drawn swords.
~ Psalm 55:21
My soul is among lions: and I lie even among them that are set on fire, even the sons of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword.
~ Psalm 57:4
Behold, they belch out with their mouth: swords are in their lips: for who, say they, doth hear?
~ Psalm 59:7
Who whet their tongue like a sword, and bend their bows to shoot their arrows, even bitter words: That they may shoot in secret at the perfect: suddenly do they shoot at him, and fear not.
~ Psalm 64:3-4
Their wine is the poison of dragons, and the cruel venom of asps.
~ Deuteronomy 32:33
Their poison is like the poison of a serpent: they are like the deaf adder that stoppeth her ear;
~ Psalm 58:4
They have sharpened their tongues like a serpent; adders’ poison is under their lips. Selah.
~ Psalm 140:3
Surely the serpent will bite without enchantment; and a babbler is no better.
~ Ecclesiastes 10:11
Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips:
~ Romans 3:13
And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
~ Revelation 12:9
A Check to an Ungoverned Tongue, by Matthew Henry. The following is adapted from, “The Miscellaneous Works of the Rev. Matthew Henry, Volume One”. 1833.
The criminal we are now dealing with, is pronounced by an inspired writer, “An unruly evil, full of deadly poison,” –James 3:8.
…and, which is a very great discouragement to any attempt for the reformation of it. It is there said, “That the tongue can no man tame:” not that it is impossible for men to govern their own tongues, but it is extremely difficult, and next to impossible, to reclaim and reform the extravagances of other people’s tongues. And yet, though no man can tame this unruly evil, doubtless, the almighty grace of God can. With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible; even this. And that grace; though not tied to any methods in its operations, yet, ordinarily, makes use of the endeavors of men, as means to accomplish and effect its purposes.
Against this Goliath, therefore, we go forth to battle, though armed only with a sling and a stone, in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom it hath defied; leaving the success of the attempt to him who made man’s mouth, and is alone able to new-make it, as he certainly does, wherever he gives a new heart.
And we will first mention particularly the most common and daring extravagances of an ungoverned tongue, and severally show the evil of them; designing and endeavoring thereby to confirm the innocent, and, especially, to reform the guilty: and then we will, in some general directions, offer something toward the cure of these epidemical diseases. And God grant that this labor may not be altogether in vain!
I Profane swearing is one of the common transgressions, or rebellions rather, of an ungoverned, ill-governed tongue. A sin so common, that in most places it is become the vulgar dialect of all sorts of persons, with whose poisonous breath the air itself seems to be infected; and yet a sin so exceeding sinful, that the tongue is therein set against the heavens, (Ps. 73:9) insults over and tramples upon that which is most sacred and honorable.
The malignity of this sin lies especially in the prostituting of that solemn appeal, which by an oath is made, to God’s knowledge and justice, to the most impertinent and trivial purposes. Devout and religious swearing, when we are duly called to be sworn, is an ordinance of God, whereby we give unto him the glory due unto his name, as an omniscient, true, and righteous God. Profane swearing is a scornful and insolent contempt of that ordinance, treading it under foot, as a common thing, and thereby doing despite to him, for whose honor it is intended. It is a sacrilegious alienating of those forms of speech which are consecrated to the glory of God, and turning them to a profane and wicked use; like Belshazzar’s polluting the vessels of the temple, by gracing his drunken revels with them, which filled the measure of his iniquity. It is trifling and jesting with that, which in its own nature is awful and reverend, and which ought at all times to be treated and attended to with the greatest seriousness.
Some accustom themselves wholly to this language of hell; all their discourse is corrupted by it. They cannot talk with you about business, nor tell you a story, nor give you an answer to the most common question, but almost every other word must be an oath. It is so familiar to them, that it passes altogether unregarded; charge them with it, and they will tell you in the next breath, they do not know that they swore.
Others, with whom it is not altogether so common, yet think it no harm now and then, when they are in a passion, or speak earnestly, or when they are in company with those to whom they know it is agree able, to “rap out an oath,” (as they call it,) and perhaps, to multiply oaths; and by these frequent acts, at length they contract a habit, and become as bad as the worst. It may be, some swear under pretense of gaining credit, nobody will believe them unless they swear what they say; and I know no wise man will believe them the sooner for it; for he that can dispense with the sin of profane swearing, which he gets nothing by, I fear will not boggle much at the sin of willful lying; especially, when anything is to be got by it. Others swear under pretense of striking an awe upon their inferiors, nobody will fear them unless they swear at them; that is, they would rather be dreaded and shunned, as roaring lions and ranging bears, than respected and honored as wise, sober, and religious men, who make conscience of what they say and do, even when they are ever so much provoked.
And there are many who are such hearty well-wishers to this sin, that though they have not yet learned to swear distinctly, and in plain English, for fear of the censure, either of the law, or of their friends, or of their own consciences, yet they venture to lisp this language, and have the Shibboleth of an oath, upon every occasion, at their tongue’s end. Though it be not swearing at large, and in express terms, it is the abridgment of it; it is swearing in short-hand. They have learnt to contract wicked words, and to disguise them by half words, which, as they have the resemblance of profane swearing, take rise from it, and border upon it; are bad words, and at the best, are idle words, for which they must give account in the judgment; and being more than yea, yea, and nay, nay, more than bare affirmations and negations, they come of evil, Mat. 5:37. No wise man will say he knows not what, or that which has no sense at all; and no good man will say that which he knows has the appearance of evil, and borders upon a bad sense.
And now, O that this paper might seasonably fall into the hands of the swearer, the common swearer, and the more cautious one, and might (by the blessing of God) be an effectual and happy means to convince and reform both the one and the other, before the flying roll which carries the curse (which we read of as the swearer’s doom, Zech. 5:3, 4.) come into their houses, or, which is worse, into their souls, to consume them : that is a roll which cannot be slighted and thrown by, as I suppose this paper will.
You ask sometimes, “What evil there is in swearing?” Why so much ado should be made about a common form of speech, and a man made an offender for a word. You plead, that it hurts nobody, words are but wind. But you will not say so, if you can but be persuaded seriously to weigh the following considerations, and to fix them in your minds:
1 Consider what an enmity there is, in profane swearing, to the Blessed God, and what an indignity is done by it to his glorious and fearful name. Would it not be justly interpreted a very high affront to a magistrate, though a man like yourselves, if you should send for him in all haste, to keep the peace, to decide a controversy, to seize a criminal, or to do any act of his office; and when he comes, it is all ludicrous, and a jest, and you intend nothing but to make a fool of him, and to expose him and his authority to contempt and ridicule? How would such an intolerable abuse be resented among men, especially if it were often repeated! Yet just such an affront, a daring affront, does the insolent swearer put upon God Almighty ; making his truth, justice, and omniscience to attend all the extravagances of an ungoverned passion and an unbridled tongue.
And the affront is so much the worse, because it reflects upon his government, profanes his crown, disgraces the throne of his glory, vilifies his judgment seat, and attempts to make it mean and contemptible, and thereby to render it questionable.
And is there no harm in this? Whence can this proceed but from that carnal mind which is enmity against God, and from a rooted antipathy to him, and to his dominion? To this poisonous fountain the
Psalmist traces all these bitter streams, (Ps. 139:20). “Thine enemies take thy name in vain.” It cannot be imputed either to the lusts of the flesh, or the lusts of the eye, or the pride of life; this is a forbidden fruit that neither is good for food nor pleasant to the eye, nor at all to be desired to make one wise, or bespeak one so; the sinner is not led to it by the love of pleasure, or the hope of any gain or reward; it can, therefore, proceed from nothing else but a spirit of contradiction to God Almighty, a contempt of his honor, and a hatred of his government This sin, as much as any other, seems to have taken occasion from the commandment, and to have pat forth itself purposely in defiance of the divine law; so that it may be questioned whether there would have been such a sin as profane swearing, if it had not been prohibited by the third commandment Now this renders the sin exceeding sinful, and adds rebellion to it; and the swearer being a transgressor without cause, (as the Psalmist speaks, Ps. 25:3) is a sinner without excuse, and sins purely for sinning sake.
And do you think, O man, whoever you are that thus affronts the majesty, ridicules the government, and defies the judgment, of the eternal God, that you shall go unpunished? Be not deceived, God it not mocked. He is jealous for the honor of his own name, and will not see it trampled upon and made a by-word, as it is by every profane swearer. You would resent it, if your names should thus be turned into a proverb, and jested with by every idle fellow; and what then will God do for his great name, which is thus abused? Shall he not visit for these things? Shall not his soul be avenged on such sinners as these? Yes, no doubt, when the day of recompense comes; for, he has said, Vengeance is mine, I will repay. Nemo me impune lacessit —No one provokes me with impunity!
2 Consider what an evidence it is against yourselves, that you have no fear of God before your eyes. Though you should indeed neither fear God nor regard man, yet why should you hang out a sign to give notice of this to everyone who passes by! What need you declare your sin as Sodom, and thus publicly proclaim the devil king in your souls? Is it not enough, that you harbor in your hearts a secret enmity to God and godliness, but dare yon thus avow the quarrel, and openly wage war with heaven? Dare you thus bid defiance to all that is sacred, and wear the livery of Satan’s family? Is it not enough that your hearts are graceless, and you yourselves in the interest of the kingdom of darkness, but you must be industrious to let the world know this? Thy wisdom fails thee, indeed, if (like the fool Solomon describes) when thou walkest by the way, thou thus sayest to everyone that thou art a fool, Eccl. 10: 3.
Shall I beg of you to consider this a little: You are called Christians; your baptism, which I take it for granted you have not renounced, entitles you to that worthy name ; you live in an age and place wherein it is your honor to be called by that name; it will do you neither credit nor kindness to have your Christianity disproved; nay, you would take it as an affront to have it questioned; this you would have looked upon as a thing so certain, that “As I am a Christian” must pass for an oath with you, or vehement assertion; which gives just cause to suspect that you have little value for your Christianity, since you are so willing to pawn it, as you do other sacred things, upon every trifling occasion. But while thus you boast of your Christianity, you do with your own tongues disprove it by your common swearing, and plainly give yourselves and your profession the lie. Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. I see not how it is possible that such a daring contempt of God’s sovereign authority, and sacred name, as profane swearing (especially where it is commonly used) most certainly is, can consist with the reigning fear and love of God in the heart, and that sincere regard to the glory and honor of God, which are necessary to denominate a man a true Christian.
When Peter was charged with it as a crime, that he was a disciple of Christ, he took this method to make it appear that he was not, he began to curse and to swear, Matt. 26:74. His speech indeed betrayed him to be a Galilean; but this manner of speech betrayed him to be none of the followers of Christ, for none of them used to curse and swear; all that knew anything of their Master, and his life and doctrine, would certainly conclude so. When Peter therefore cursed and swore, he did as effectually deny his Master, as when he said, “I know not the man”: It was but once that Peter was thus guilty, and many a bitter tear it cost him; let none, therefore, make Peter’s example an excuse for their swearing, unless they intend, as he did, to signify thereby that they disown Christ, and their Christianity; and since they are resolved not to be ruled by their religion, they disclaim all hopes of benefit by it. I have that charity for you, as to believe that you will not do this professedly, and, therefore, you should be so just to yourselves, as not to do that which amounts to it, and which is capable of such a construction, and which, the apostle tells us, endangers our falling into condemnation, James 5:12. While there is a possibility of your being heirs of heaven, and of the inheritance of the saints in light, prove not yourselves the children of hell, by your speaking the language of that kingdom of darkness.
3 Consider what an injury it is to those with whom you converse. You think it does no harm to others, because it does not hurt them in their bodies, goods, or good name; but is harm done to the souls of others no harm? Nay, is it not the worst harm you can do them? If those who hear you swear be wicked, their hearts are hardened by it, and their hands strengthened, that they may not turn from their evil way; from your poisonous breath they take their infection, and add this to all their other sins. And is it no harm to propagate sin, and to support the devil’s interest, as his agents, and factors for hell? Yes, it is harm to them who are thus, by your means, instructed and confirmed in wickedness; and you will find it harm to you too, when you shall bear the iniquity of those who by your example are taught and encouraged to swear. To what a height will your account rise, when you shall be to answer for all the sins you have thus been accessary to! Which, though it aggravate your sin, yet will not excuse those who have learnt this evil from you, nor lessen their account; for they also shall die in their iniquity.
If they who hear you swear have the fear of God in their hearts, and any concern for his glory, their hearts are grieved, and their hands weakened. It may be, that they have not courage to reprove you for it, but it troubles them, and saddens their spirits, to hear God’s name dishonored, and his sovereignty thus insulted, and to see you thus sell your souls, and all your valuable birthrights, for less than a morsel of meat. It spoils the pleasure of their conversation with you, makes them shy of your company, and, perhaps, dull and uneasy in it; such an affliction it is to them to hear you swear. When David had mentioned those who take God’s name in vain, he immediately adds, “Do I not hate them, am not I grieved because of them?” Ps. 139:21. Though now perhaps you make a light matter of this, and rather take a pride and pleasure in thus creating vexation to a good man; yet, shortly, you will find it had been better that a mill-stone were hanged about your neck, and you cast into the sea, than that you should willfully offend one of Christ’s little ones. They are the words of our Lord Jesus, and we are sure no word of his shall fall to the ground.
Besides this, is it no harm to bring the curse of God into your house, which shall consume it? Is it no harm to add to the measure of the nation’s guilt, and to increase God’s controversy with it? Because of swearing, the land mourns, (Jer. 23:10) the land of your nativity, and is it nothing to you that you contribute to its grief, and to the reproach which this, as other sins, puts upon any people? Prov. 14:34.
4 Consider, how very frivolous all your pleas in defense of this sin are, and how unbecoming one who pretends reason. When your own consciences sometimes rebuke you for it, and admonish you to reform, you shift off these convictions with such trifling excuses as you would be ashamed to oiler in any other case. I cannot think of more than two things that you can allege in your own defense, and they have neither of them so much as the color of an excuse; while there is all that intrinsic malignity in the sin which we have already showed you, and God has declared he will not hold you guiltless.
Be persuaded, therefore, to break off all intimate society and conversation with those, who not only do such things, but have pleasure in them that do them; and with David, (Ps. 119:63.) be companions with those that fear God and keep his precepts, and then you will find it no hard matter (by the grace of God) to break off this wicked practice, however much you have been accustomed to it; and to forbear that language which you know is so provoking to God, so displeasing to all good men, and so destructive to the peace and welfare of your own souls.
Set a double watch before the door of your lips, that you thus offend not. Abstain from all appearances of this sin; avoid temptations to it. If gaming have ensnared you in it, either never play at all, or fix it as a principle, that as there is no gain, so there is no game, worth a profane oath. Keep up a dread of the sin, which certainly you will do if you truly repent of it. Tremble to hear others swear. Learn to pray, and then you will not be so apt to swear.
Cursing is near akin to profane swearing…
…and it is the common companion of it, and is another of the exorbitances of an ungoverned tongue. Cursing is wishing evil to ourselves or others, absolutely or conditionally; a sin exceeding sinful; as great an instance of the corruption and degeneracy of the human nature, and as sure an evidence of the reigning power of Satan in the soul, as any other whatsoever. Nothing is more naturally the language of hell than this. To show you the evil of it, I will only recommend two things to your thoughts:
1 Consider, what a brutish piece of madness it is to curse yourselves.
If you do it absolutely, it is of the same nature with self-murder; wishing harm to yourselves is in effect doing it; and is a breach of one of the first and great laws of nature, that of self-preservation. If you do it conditionally, it is of the same nature with profane swearing, and incurs the same guilt, with this additional stain, that it is not only a mocking of God’s government, by a ludicrous appeal to him, but a defying of his judgment, a challenge to the Almighty to do his worst.
O the daring presumption of these sinners, sinners against their own heads, their own souls! The devils begged of our Savior, whose power they were not ignorant of, not to torment them before the time; but these presumptuous wretches, as if they thought their judgment lingered, and their damnation slumbered too long, pull vengeance down upon their own heads, and pray to God to damn them; and they need not fear but they shall be heard, for so shall their doom be, themselves have decided it. They challenge the devil to take them, and he is ready enough to seize his prey. But, shall I ask you, are the arrests of devils, and the flames of hell, such delectable things that you should court them? Or are they only the creatures of fancy and imagination, that you should make so light of them? Be not deceived, God’s judgment is not a jest, nor hell a sham; if you persist in this impious contempt of divine revelation, you will feel too late what you would not believe in time.
If you have no regard to God, nor any concern for his honor, yet have you no good-will to yourselves, nor any love to your own souls? Is it not enough that you are doing that every day which deserves damnation, but will you be solicitous to demand sentence against yourselves? It is but a moderate curse with you to wish yourselves hanged, yet, I have read of a person of quality in our own nation, who, coming to die upon the gallows for murder, publicly reflected upon it with bitter regret, that he had accustomed himself to that wicked imprecation, “and now,” says he, “I see the Lord is righteous.”
But as if this were a small matter, you challenge God to damn you, and the devil to take you: and what if God should say “Amen” to the next curse, and immediately order death to fetch you, and hell to receive you? What if the devils should be ready at the next call, and take you presently? And can thine heart endure, or your hands be strong, when God shall deal with you? Art you able to dwell with devouring fire, and to inhabit everlasting burnings? Do you know the power of God’s anger? Is your eternal salvation of such small account with you, that you are willing to pawn it upon every trifling occasion, and to imprecate the loss of it, if such or such a thing be not so, which it is very possible may prove otherwise? How dare you thus provoke the Lord to jealousy, whilst you can not pretend to be stronger than he? 1 Cor. 10:22. Woe unto you that thus desire the day of the Lord! You know not what you do, for the day of the Lord, whatever it is to others, will be to you darkness, and not light, Amos 5: 18.
2 Consider what diabolical malice it is to curse others.
It is the highest degree of hatred, nor can anything be more contrary than this to the royal law of love and charity. He who prays to God to damn his neighbor, plainly intimates that he would do it himself if he could; and if he who hates his brother is a murderer, surely he who thus curses him is the worst of murderers, he is Abaddon—a destroyer.
That tongue is doubtless set on fire of hell, which is for sending everybody thither at a word, and which, by cursing men who are made after the similitude of God, would set on fire the whole course of nature, and is an advocate for the devil, that roaring lion which seeks to devour precious souls, James 3:6, 9.
Must the righteous God be summoned to execute your angry resentments, and called upon to destroy those whom he sent his own Son into the world to save, and to whom he is waiting to be gracious? Because you are out of humor, must all about you be sunk and ruined presently? As a madman in his frenzy throws about him firebrands, arrows, and death, so is he who curses his neighbor; nay, perhaps his wife, his child, his friend; and says, “Am not I in passion?” or, “Am not I in sport?” have you no other way of signifying your displeasure (if it be just) but by the imprecation of evil, the worst of evils, which bear no proportion at all to the offence given?
Put this case close to your own heart. When you wish your child, or servant, or neighbor hanged, confounded or damned, or sent to the devil, either you mean as you say, or not. If you do not wish it, (as I charitably hope you do not,) you are guilty of a manifest falsehood, and must own yourself a liar: if you do really wish it, (and what wickedness is it that will not enter into the heart of a furious man?) you cannot but acknowledge your self-guilty of the most barbarous and inhuman malice imaginable. So that every curse proves you a willful transgressor, either of the law of truth, or of the law of love, two as sacred laws, and which have as much of the image of the law-maker, as any mankind is bound by.
Consider further, that the curses you are so liberal of will not hurt those against whom they are levelled; you do but show your ill-will; for as the bird by wandering, and the swallow by flying, so the curse causeless shall not come, Prov. 26: 2. But they will certainly return upon your own head, to your confusion, As he loved cursing so let it come unto him: —into his bowels like water, and like oil into his bones, Ps. 109:17, 18. They who are called to inherit the blessing, are commanded to bless and not to curse, Rom. 12:14. Believe it, sirs, curses are edge-tools, which it is dangerous playing with.
In your furious and outrageous cursing of the brute creatures, or that which is inanimate and in capable of the harm you wish it, what is wanting in malice is made up in folly and absurdity; like that which the apostle calls the madness of Balaam, when he wished he had his sword to kill his own ass with. By such silly nonsensical curses as you sometimes throw about in your passion, ‘you make it to appear, that with your religion you put off common sense.
You are men, you are rational creatures; speak with reason then, and act with reason, and be you not as the horse and the mule, that have no understanding; as natural brute beasts made to be taken and destroyed.
Lying is another of the outrageous evils of an ungoverned tongue, and a very pernicious one.
It has been said of some, that though they do not swear yet they will lie; it is to be feared there are those, of whom it is too true; and let them bear their own burthen; but let not those, who would not for a world do either, suffer for the same; nor let swearers think it will in the least excuse their sin, that there are liars who are no swearers. It is certain they are both damning sins, and either of them persisted in will undoubtedly be the ruin of the sinner. But if we may guess at one sin by another, it is more probable, (as I hinted before,) that they who make no conscience of swearing will not stick at lying; and we may charitably hope, unless we know the contrary, that they who dread a profane oath, will be as much afraid of telling a willful lie.
Let me, therefore, in God’s name, seriously apply myself to those who (as the prophet speaks) have taught their tongue to speak lies, Jer. 9:5. For there is an art in it, whether they be such lies as seem to do good, or such as are directly intended to do hurt, or such as are idle, and intended neither for good nor hurt. If they are lies, they are sins against God. And all liars shall have their portion in the bottomless pit, if they repent not; and the nice distinction, with which they think to justify, or at least excuse, themselves, will prove, in the great day, but a refuge of lies, which the hail will sweep away, Isaiah 28:17.
A few words, one would think, may serve for the conviction and discovery of these sinners. Surely you need not be told what lying is; your own consciences will tell you, if they be not seared, or bribed, or forbidden to deal plainly with you.
In your bargains and contracts, if you say that either for selling the dearer, or buying the cheaper, which you know to be false, it is a lie. Yet how common is it, in the multitude of those words, for the seller to call the commodity good and cheap, and to aver that he gave so much for it, when he knows that it is neither so nor so! And the buyer in his bidding will call that worthless and dear which he has no reason to call so, and will say he can buy it cheaper elsewhere, when he does not know that he can. It is nothing, it is nothing, says the buyer; but when he is gone away, then he boasts of a good bargain, not considering that he was helped to it by a lie, Prov. 20: 14.
In your excuses which you make, either to superiors or equals, if you deny, extenuate, or conceal a fault, by representing a thing otherwise than it was, though you may gain your point, and not be so much as suspected of falsehood, yet the guilt is there, nevertheless. When you are charged with any neglect or injury, you are ready to say you did not know, or did not remember, that which you are conscious to yourselves you did know, and did remember; you plead that you thought or intended so and so, when really you did not think or intend any such thing. These are the common refuges of those who are culpable, because the profession of a man’s thoughts and purposes is not easily disproved. But though men cannot convict us of falsehood in those professions, he that searches the heart can. Men may be shammed with a frivolous excuse, but God is not mocked.
In your commendations of yourselves or others, if you give a better character than you know there is cause or ground for; if you boast of a false gift, and represent your abilities, possessions, and performances, to greater advantage than they deserve, and then the truth will bear witness, though these may pass for innocent hyperboles with those who take the same liberty themselves, yet your own consciences will tell you, if they be faithful, that hereby you add the sin of lying to the sin of pride, than which there are not two sins that God hates more.
In your censures, if you put false constructions upon the words and actions of your neighbors, making a great crime of that which was nothing, or next to nothing, unjustly aggravating faults, and making them worse than really they are, or representing that as certain, which is but suspected and doubtful, much more, if it should prove that you lay to men’s charge things that they know not, hereby you involve yourselves in a double guilt, falsehood and uncharitableness.
In your promises, if you engage that you will do so or so, pay such a debt, or finish such a piece of work within such a time, or do such a kindness for your friend, when either you do not at all intend it, or foresee you cannot perform it, or afterward take no care either to fulfil the promise when it is in the power of your hand, or if disabled to do that, in due time to recall it, hereby there is guilt contracted. Either the promise should not have been made, or it should have been kept.
In your common reports, and the stories you tell fur discourse sake, and the keeping up of conversation, if you report that as true and certain which you know to be otherwise, and do not make conscience of representing everything as near as possible lo the truth, and to your own sober thoughts, you became transgressors.
Sure there need not many words to persuade you to repent of this sin of lying, and carefully to watch against it for the future, and all appearances of it.
Consider how contrary it is to God; it is a breach of his law, it is a defacing of his image, for he is the God of truth; and it exposes us to his wrath, for lying lips are an abomination to the Lord. Consider how conformable it is to the devil, and how much it makes you to resemble him, for he is a liar, and the father of it. It is an injury to your brother, not only to the particular person, who, perhaps, is wronged by it, but to human society in general. And it will be the ruin of your own precious souls, if you persist in it. They who thus do the works of the devil, shall have their portion with the devil and his angels.
A lie is soon told, and perhaps as soon forgotten, and a light matter made of it; but the punishment of it will be everlasting, in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, out of which there is no redemption.
The common, careless using of the blessed name of God, without due application, is another instance of the ill government of the tongue, which needs a check.
Many who never curse or swear, yet allow themselves in the taking of God’s name in vain, and either know not, or consider not, the evil of it, and the dishonor done (though not intended) to God by it. When you use those forms of speech, which are properly expressive of a pious ejaculation, in a light and careless manner, and to any other purpose than their genuine and original signification, which appears by your way of speaking not to be intended, but something else, you profane that which is sacred, and alienate to a common use that which appears to have been dedicated to God, and has holiness to the Lord written on it. To say, “O Lord,” when you mean no more but “I am hurt;” and “God knows,” when you mean no more but “I do not know;” and “God bless me,” when you mean no more but “I am surprised;” and “God help you,” when you mean no more but “I pity you,” or any the like, is certainly taking the name of the Lord your God in vain, and to no purpose, that is, to no good purpose.
Now will you who accustom yourselves to this language consider this…
1 That it is a great affront to the God of heaven. You hereby make his blessed name a by-word, and put that slight upon it which you would not bear to be put upon your own names. That is a great example which the bishop of Sarum tells us was observed of the honorable Mr. Boyle, that he never mentioned the name of God but with a discernible stop or pause in his discourse, in token of a reverence for that glorious and fearful name, and to leave room for a devout thought. Great and serious things ought to be spoken of with great seriousness, and they are abused if they are prostituted to a common use.
2 That it is certainly a breach of the law of the third commandment, which is very express. Thou shall not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain, and it is backed with a threatening that the Lord will not hold them guiltless that do so, in which certainly more is implied than is expressed; it is supposed that many such will hold themselves guiltless, and think they do no harm, and others will hold them guiltless, but God will severely reckon with them, for he is a jealous God.
3 That it is a great profanation of the holy ordinance of prayer. The better any thing is, the worse it is when it is corrupted. There is nothing better than the devout and serious mention of the name of our God as there is occasion, nothing better than pious addresses to God when the heart goes along with them; but if this degenerate into a mockery, if the dead carcass hereof only is retained, and there is no spirit or life in it, if there be not so much as an outward solemnity and decorum observed, but the manner of using those good words plainly shows and avows it, that there is nothing pious and devout intended by them, it is in effect a banter upon prayer, turns it into burlesque and ridicule, and is exceeding offensive to God and good men.
It will be hard to use those words seriously, when they should be used so, when you have so often used vainly when you should not; and what comfort can you expect in prayer, when you are serious and need the comfort of it, if at other times you use the words of prayer thus lightly and profanely.
And now, shall I prevail with you to never to mention the name of God but with seriousness, and in a holy and reverent manner? Say not that you are so used to these expressions that you cannot leave them; resolution, by the grace of God, will change the dialect. Can you completely commit your lives for Christ if you will not leave off sinful, and inconsiderate words for him? One would think this is a small piece of self-denial. Let the fear of God rule in your hearts, and always maintain a holy awe and reverence of him, and then out of the abundance of that the mouth will speak of him with reverence, and will not dare to speak otherwise.
The description which the Scripture gives of hypocrites, (Isa. 48:1.) is, that they make mention of the God of Israel, but not in truth; but the description of true saints is, that they think on God’s name, Malachi 3:16. Act with reason, and either think of what you say, or do not say what you do not think of.
Scoffing at religion and godliness, and jesting with sacred things, is another evidence of an ungoverned tongue.
By the commonness of this sin, in this loose and degenerate age of ours, it appears that we live in the dregs of time; for the Scripture speaks expressly that in the last days, those corrupt and perilous times, there should arise scoffers, walking after their own lusts, 2 Pet. 3:3. Profane people, when they set up for wits, think they cannot better show their wit than in endeavoring to justify their profaneness.
To show you the evil of it, consider,
1 The malignant principles whence it flows. When there is in their heart a habitual contempt of divine things, and an antipathy to them, a reining enmity to the power of godliness vents itself, and holds itself up in jest and banter. When men are resolved not to make themselves serious with the things of God, they will make themselves merry with them, and think they gain their point if they can but turn godliness off with a jest. Being pleased to make the subject of their laughter looked upon as a just object of contempt. They endeavor to represent the Word of God as a sham, heaven as a fool’s paradise, and hell as merely the creature of a disordered imagination. Therefore, by playing upon the things of God, and turning them into burlesque; they sport themselves with their own deceptions. But it will prove, like the Philistines’ making sport with Samson, that it will eventually prove too strong for them, and their profane mirth will be a prologue to their own ruin. Be ye not mockers lest your bands be made strong, Isa. 28:22.
2 The mischievous consequences that flow from it. You who thus make a jest of holy things, though you make a light matter of it, ought to consider what you do, and what will he in the end hereof. Think what an affront you hereby put upon the blessed God, imputing folly to infinite wisdom, and vilifying him who is the fountain of honor. Think what an injury you hereby do to religion, and how much you serve the interest of the devil and his kingdom, as those who are retained of counsel in his cause. Does it seem like a light thing to you, that you are not only wicked yourselves, but will you do what you can to make others wicked too, that you may, besides your own torments hereafter, share in the torments of all the souls you help to ruin? Think how you will answer it at the great day, and what bitter reflections you will then make upon your daring impieties of this kind, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven to execute judgment upon all, for all their hard speeches spoken against him.
It is better to reflect, and repent, and reform now, while there is a possibility of your reconciliation to the God you have provoked, than to be forced to remember it in hell to your utter confusion, in a state of endless and hopeless separation from God.
Scurrilous and reproachful language given to those you have dealings with, or power over, is another evidence of an ungoverned tongue.
This is that which our Savior has told us is a breach of the sixth commandment, Thou shall not kill; it is tongue-murder, a sin exceedingly sinful, and certainly damning to the sinner if it be not repented of and forsaken; so he has forewarned us, who is to be our Judge. We are sure that his judgment will be according to the truth of his word; and he has said, (Matthew 5:22.) Whosoever shall, in wrath and passion, say to his brother, “Raca,” Thou base, empty fellow, rogue, and rascal, (for Raca was used then as those opprobrious names are now,) he that does so shall be in danger of the council, that is, shall be exposed to the wrath and curse of the eternal God; and not only so, but if he had his desert should be called to an account for it by the civil magistrate, for it is an iniquity to be punished by the judge. And whosoever shall in like manner say, Thou fool; thou reprobate, thou wicked wretch, thou damned confounded fellow, shall himself be in danger of that hell fire, to which he so rashly condemns his brother.
Calling foul names, and giving foul language, especially to servants and inferiors, is grown so very common among us, that with those who live at large, and not only set their mouth against the heavens, but let their tongue walk at liberty through the earth, (Psalms 73: 9) it is looked upon as part of the accomplishment of a gentleman to be able to do it blusteringly, and with fluency and variety; and yet, perhaps, there are those of the meanest rank who may vie with them, and can do it with as good a grace.
But however common it is, and how much it is ever countenanced by the practice of some who make a figure, you see it is a sin expressly against the law of Christ, and is certainly included, and perhaps principally intended, in that bitterness and wrath, that clamor and evil speaking, which ought to be put far from us, lest we grieve the Holy Spirit of God, Eph.4:30, 31.
You who allow yourselves this liberty of abusing all about you, and of dealing nick-names, and names of reproach, at your pleasure among those you converse with, or have power over; shall I propound two or three things to your serious thoughts?
1 Consider who they are that you thus abuse and trample upon, thus taunt and hector over, are they not your fellow-creatures, of the same rank of beings with yourselves? Were not you made of the same clay that they were, and as mean as they in your original? Were not they made by the same great and mighty hand that you were, and as honorable as you in their relation to the Father of spirits? This consideration swayed with holy Job to carry it with all possible tenderness and respect, even to his own servant, when he contended with him, (Job 31:15.) Did not he that made me in the womb make him? And the same argument is urged in a case not much unlike, (Malachi 2:10.) Have we not all one Father? Why then do we deal treacherously every man against his brother?
Perhaps those whom you so readily, and with so great an assurance, call “fools “and “knaves,” have as much ingenuity and integrity as yourselves; nay it may be they are every way wiser and better. However, as the apostle argues, (James 3:9) they are made after the similitude of God, they are of that species of creatures which was at first so made; and therefore God is reflected on by the ignominious treatment you give them. If they have natural defects and infirmities of body or mind, which they cannot help, those ought not to he turned to their reproach, for they are as God made them, and he might have made you so. If their condition in the world be mean and despicable, and the distance that Providence has put between you and them seems great, it does not therefore follow that you may give them what language and what usage you please. Though God be high, yet has he respect unto the lowly; much more should you. He that mocks the poor, reproaches his Maker, (Prov. 17:5) not only him that made him, but him that made him poor.
The crime is much aggravated if those you thus abuse are pious and good, such as by grace are renewed after the image of God, and made partakers of his holiness, which possibly they may be, and yet not be numbered among either the witty or the wealthy part of mankind. Whatever you may think of yourselves, in comparison with those you thus insult over, a wiser than you, even infinite wisdom itself, has said it once, yea twice, (Prov. 19:1, and Prov. 28:6.) Better is the poor that walks in his integrity than he that is perverse in his lips, though he be rich. Will you then despise those whom God has honored, and lay those under your feet whom God has laid in his bosom? Dare you put those among the dogs of your flock, whom Christ has put among the lambs of his flock?
2 Consider, that there is no good done by this sort of language, -but a great deal of hurt. What desirable end can you propose to yourselves in it? You would be obeyed, you would be feared, and will not the meekness of wisdom command respect a thousand times better than the outrages of folly? It is certain there is nothing you say, which is introduced and accented with this rude and boisterous language, but the same thing might be better said, and to much better purpose, if it were not so prefaced. Solomon’s observation holds true, that the words of wise men are heard in quiet, more than the cry of him that rules among fools, Eccl. 9:17. Nay, you do a great deal of hurt by using yourselves to such language.
(1.) You disturb and provoke others by it. These grievous words stir up anger; and who knows how long that anger may last, what it may produce, and where it may end t nor how great a matter a little fire of this kind may kindle! Put your souls into their souls’ stead whom you thus abuse, and consider if you were in poverty and meanness, and in an inferior relation, how you would like it, and how you could bear it, to be rated and trampled on, and called by so many ill names: and do not that to others which you would not should be done to you.
(2.) You disgrace and disparage yourselves by it. While you think hereby to keep up your authority, and make yourselves great and formidable, you really prostitute your authority, and render your selves mean and contemptible, and give just occasion to those you abuse to think as ill of you as you say of them, though they dare not speak it out. You declare plainly,
(1.) That you are slaves to your own passions, which is as toilsome and dishonorable a slavery as a man can be in: you say that in the heat of passion, which you yourselves could scarce turn your tongues to if you were sober and calm, and thereby proclaim passion king over you, that great leviathan who is king over all the children of pride, Job 41: 34.
(2.) That you are not masters of your own reason; your anger is a fit of madness, and for the time your wisdom is departed from you. When in wrath you call others fools, the reproach returns upon your own heads. Some of this foul ill-favored language you use to give, carries along with it its own conviction of absurdity. You will call him a “dog,” whom you see to be a man, and a “bastard,” whom you really take to be legitimate: and what sense is there in this? Does this become one who pretends to reason? Blush at it for shame, and resolve never again to make such a fool of thyself.
3 Consider how obnoxious you yourselves are to the righteous judgment of God. If you seriously retire into your own hearts, and impartially reflect upon your own ways, you will find that you have much more reason to reproach yourselves for your provocations against God, than to fall foul upon your servants or others for their defects in their duty to you. We ought to forbear threatening, and to moderate it, (Eph. 6: 9) for what would become of us if God should enter into judgment with us? When we taunt others for their dullness and folly, their carelessness and forgetfulness, we ought to remember the same things against ourselves, and then we shall only give just and gentle reproofs, and not senseless and furious reproaches. Holy Job restrained himself from the heats of passion, with this consideration, (Job 31:14.) What then shall I do when God rises up? And when he visits, what shall I answer him? Think not that the strength of your passion will be a sufficient excuse for the indecencies of your language.
The sin of the heart will never justify the sin of the tongue; but on the contrary, the sin of the tongue will aggravate the sin of the heart. Resolve therefore for the future, whenever your heart is hot within you, that you will keep your mouth as with a bridle.
Lewd, obscene, and filthy talk, is another of the vile evidence of an unsanctified, ungoverned tongue.
It is a thing to be greatly lamented, that this impudent sin, which bids open defiance to virtue and honor, and wages war with them, like a spreading leprosy, stains the beauty of our land, turns a Canaan into a Sodom, and is become an epidemical disease. For the relief of those who are infected with it, and who are not incurably unclean, I would in a few words show you the evil of it.
1 Consider what an offence it is to the pure and holy God, who takes notice of, and is much displeased with, the uncleanness of your lips, as well as of your hearts and lives. It is a violation even of the law of nature, which prescribes modesty, and teaches us to blush at everything that is immodest. The Law of Moses provided for the keeping up of this hedge of chastity, and in many instances punished that which broke through this hedge. It was one of the laws of Romulus, (some of the most ancient human laws that are extant,) Nequis obsccena verba facit—none should dare to speak an obscene word. But (which to us is above all) the law of Christ is very express against all filthiness and foolish talking and jesting, and appoints, that fornication and all uncleanness should not be once named among Christians without the greatest abhorrence, Eph. 5: 3, 4. And is the law of Christ nothing with you? Can you go so directly contrary to it, and yet hope to prosper? God has told you plainly there, (vs. 5.) that such unclean persons have no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God, and (vs. 6.) that because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. And you cannot suppose that the fixed laws of heaven should be dispensed with to gratify your base lusts. The law of Christ shall either rule you or judge you.
2 Consider what an evidence it is against yourselves that you are possessed by the unclean spirit and are under his power. Out of the abundance of the filthiness that is in the heart the tongue speaks thus filthily, and from that root of bitterness arises this gall and wormwood. The abominable lewdness that is in the heart, and is harbored and indulged there, boils up in this noisome dross. Stinking breath is a sign of putrid lungs. While you please yourselves and your companions with this dirty language, you do but foam out your own shame, and sport yourselves with your own deceivings. You think you show your wit by it, but indeed you show your wickedness, and declare your sin as Sodom, as those who are not ashamed, and cannot blush. Chastity and modesty have been virtues, are so, and will be so, howsoever much they are despised and disdained by the first-rate sinners of the age; and that which is a virtue, is a praise, is an honor: which if you want, yet you need not proclaim that you do so, nor be proud of your shame.
Unclean thoughts may, through the infirmity of the flesh, and for want of watchfulness, come into the minds of those who disallow them, lament them, and strive against them, knowing that even these thoughts of foolishness are sin: but unclean discourse is much worse, and more exceeding sinful, for thereby you signify your approbation and allowance of those unclean thoughts; you put an “Imprimatur” to them, and consent to the publication of them for the common service of the devil’s kingdom.
3 Consider what a great deal of hurt it is likely to do to others. Though this sin does not so immediately reflect upon the blessed name of God as swearing does, and, therefore, has not so much malignity in its nature, yet it does more toward the corrupting of the minds of others, and the propagating of vice and wickedness, than perhaps any other tongue-sin whatsoever, and so is more mischievous in its consequences. Such tinder is the corrupt heart of man to these sparks, that one unclean word to an unguarded soul may be the unhappy occasion of a thousand unclean thoughts, which may produce a world of iniquity. If this root of bitterness thus spring up and sprout forth, thereby many are defiled, (Heb. 12:15) more than perhaps you are aware of: and your account in the great day will rise high, if you must be answerable for all that uncleanness which has been spawned in the minds of others by your lewd talk.
Filthy stories, and songs, and jests, are the pestilential breath of hell, which propagates the infection of sin; old Satan’s wiles, by which he betrays unwary souls into their own ruin. And those unclean lips which help to lay those snares, are factors for the unclean spirit, and by debauching the minds of others with their vile discourses, perhaps serve the devil’s kingdom, and the interests of it, as effectually as those who debauch the bodies of others with their vile adulteries. Evil communications corrupt good manners. If those who hear your lewd talk be not so bad as to be infected by it, certainly they are so good as to be offended at it. He is unfit for civil company, and breaks the law of good manners, who takes a pleasure in saying that which a wise and good man must frown upon, and hear with shame, or with an angry countenance.
Therefore, let all who have accustomed themselves to this language, be persuaded to leave it off, and henceforward to set such a careful watch before the door of your lips, that they never more offend thus with their tongue: and if at any time they think this evil, let them lay their hand upon their mouth, (Proverbs 30:32) that it go no further. That mirth is dear bought, which is purchased at the expense of the favor of God, the honor of virtue, and the purity and peace of our own consciences. Better to lose your jest, than to lose all these jewels. Dread the consequences of it, not to others only, but to yourselves. Those who allow themselves in the transgression of the laws of modesty, it is to be feared, will not long be governed by the laws of chastity.
The way of sin is downhill.
And let me bespeak all who are well-wishers to religion and virtue, not only to be very cautious themselves never to say anything that looks like lewdness, or looks toward it, but in all companies to contrive how they may put this vice to the blush, expose it to contempt, and dash it from your presence. They who would approve themselves strictly modest, must never seem pleased at the hearing of that which is otherwise, nor laugh at an immodest jest or story, lest they should have fellowship with these unfruitful works of darkness, which ought to be frowned upon, and reproved rather. Let it be seen that you can be merry and wise, merry and modest. Reckon it a burden to dwell among a people of unclean lips, (Isaiah 6:5) and pray to God that (according to his promise, Zeph. 3:9) he would turn our people to a pure language, that we may be fit to call upon the name of the Lord.
Having thus mentioned some of the vices of an ungoverned tongue, (especially those that are most common with such as are openly profane,) and given some particular hints of argument against them, I shall now close with some general directions for the reducing of the exorbitant power of an unruly tongue.
1 See that the heart be truly and thoroughly sanctified by the grace of God. If you would have the disease cured, you must lay the axe to the root, and meet it in its causes. The offensive humor within must be purged out, else these eruptions, though they may be checked for a time by external restraints, yet will never be healed. The right method prescribed by the great Physician, is first to keep the heart with all diligence, and then by that means to put away the disobedient lips. See Prov. 4:23, 24. The way to heal the poisonous waters is, like Elisha, (2 Kings 2:21.) to cast salt into the spring, Make the tree good, and then the fruit will be good. It is out of an evil treasure in the heart that evil things are brought; men speak slightly of God, and spitefully of their brethren, because they think so; let but the thoughts be rectified, and the language will be soon reformed.
If the law of holy love to God and your neighbor were written in your hearts, and you were, as you should be, actuated and governed by these as a living commanding principle, you would not dare to offend either the one or the other with your tongue; that good treasure laid up in the heart would bring forth good things to the use of edifying, which would manifest grace in him that speaks, and minister grace unto the hearers. The fear of God always before your eyes will be an effectual restraint upon you from saying that by which either his name is dishonored, or his law violated. The grace of God is a coal from the altar, which if it touch the tongue, the iniquity of it will be purged away, Isaiah 6:7.
Let the throne of Christ be set up in your hearts, and his love shed abroad there, and then you will not call it a needless preciseness to be thus careful of your words, but a necessary strictness, because by our words we must be justified or condemned. Then you will not call it a task and a slavery to be thus tied up, and to speak by rule, but an honor and a pleasure; for assuredly this blessed change, wrought in the soul by the renewing grace of God, will open such surprising springs of present joy and comfort, as will abundantly balance all the uneasiness which corrupt nature will complain of in these restraints.
2 Solemnly resolve against these and all other tongue-sins. Let holy David’s vow be yours, and bind your souls with it this day, “I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue”; and remember, as he does there, that you have said it, that you may not break your promise, Ps. 39:1, 2.
While the result of your convictions is no more but this, that you hope you shall govern your tongues better for the future, and that, for ought you know, you will not swear so much as you have done, and in the mind you are in, you will not speak so many idle filthy words as you have spoken—if this be all, you leave room for Satan to thrust in with his temptations; faint purposes are soon shaken, and prove to no purpose: but when you are come to a point, and without equivocation, or mental reservation, will solemnly promise that by the grace of God you will never swear nor curse anymore; you will never take God’s name in vain anymore; you will never speak a lewd or scurrilous word anymore; this fortifies the stronghold against the tempter, who (like Naomi, Ruth 1:18) when he sees you are steadfastly resolved, will leave off speaking to you.
Renew this resolution every day, especially if you have a prospect of any occasion which will be a more than ordinary temptation to you. Thus set a guard upon the door of your lips, and at some times double your guard, where you find yourselves weakest and most exposed. Try the strength of your resolutions, and do not for shame suffer yourselves to be baffled in them. Only remember to make and renew these resolutions, in a dependence upon the grace of Jesus Christ, which alone is sufficient for you. Peter resolved against a tongue-sin in his own strength, but it failed him, and he was made ashamed of his confidence; confide therefore in divine strength only.
3 Keep out of the way of bad company. Speech is learned by imitation, and so is corrupt speech. We are apt in discourse to conform to those will whom we do associate; and therefore, if we would keep those commandments of our God which relate to the government of the tongue, we must say to evil doers. Depart from us, Ps. 119:115. Converse not familiarly, and of choice, with those who accustom themselves to any evil communication, lest you learn their way, lest you learn their words, and get such a snare to your souls as you will not easily disentangle yourselves from.
That dread and terror, and abhorrence of swearing and cursing, and all profane discourse, which all who are virtuously and piously educated, are conscious to themselves of at first, is apt to wear off by frequent and free conversation with those who use such language. It is excused as a slip of the tongue, which does nobody any harm; nay, it I justified as a fashionable ornament of speech; and so by degrees the debauched conscience comes to be reconciled to it, and at last the tongue is taught not only to lisp the same cursed language, but, with a great deal of art and assurance, to speak it plain. Joseph himself, in the court of Egypt, had unawares got the courtier’s oath, by the life of Pharaoh.
If you love your souls, therefore, be very careful what company you keep; choose to converse familiarly with those of whom you may learn that which is edifying, and by those whose discourse and example you may be made wiser and better; and avoid the society of those by whom, without a greater degree of wisdom and watchfulness than you can pretend to, you will certainly get hurt to yourselves. Improper words are sooner learned than unlearned. Therefore, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not, (Proverbs 1:10) though they do not say, (as they there, v. 11 Come, and let us lay wait for blood,) “Come, and let us swear and curse, and bid defiance to all that is sacred;” but palliate the temptation, and make it look very harmless, “Come, and let us take a glass and be merry over it.” If they be such as are commonly profane and lewd in their discourse, fear a snare in their company, and keep at a distance from it. Walk not in their counsel, stand not in their way, sit not in their seat, Ps. 1:1. Make no friendship with those who make no conscience of their words, and who show that they have no veneration for the blessed name of God. Remember Solomon’s advice, (Proverbs 14:7) and be ruled by it; “Go from the presence of a foolish man, when thou perceivest not in him the lips of knowledge.”
4 Think twice before you speak once. We often speak amiss, because we speak in haste; when that comes out which comes uppermost, what can it be but froth and dross? Moses spoke unadvisedly with his lips, not consulting with himself before he spoke, and then he said that which shut him out of Canaan, Ps. 106:33. What we speak in haste, we often find cause afterwards to repent of at leisure. David more than once reflects with regret upon what he said in his haste, and we have all a great deal of reason to do so. Our second thoughts, if we would take time for them, would correct the errors of the first; and we should not offend with our tongues so often as we do, if we would but consider what we say, before we say it. The heart of the righteous studies to answer that which is fit and seasonable, while the mouth of fools pours out foolishness.
Be sparing of your words, and then you will not have so many bad words to answer for as most have; for, in the multitude of words there wanteth not sin, and different vanities. You have often been the worse for speaking, but seldom the worse for keeping silence. Many a thing which you have said, you would have smothered and suppressed if you had but allowed yourselves the liberty of a serious and impartial thought upon it. “Little said, soon amended.”
You dare not profane God’s blessed name with your unhallowed breath, if you would but think seriously what a God he is whom you thus blaspheme and provoke. You durst not curse yourselves or others if you would but consider the weight of the curse, and what a fearful thing it is to fall under it. You dare not scoff at religion if you did but consider how sacred and honorable it is. Reason in other cases is of use to rectify the mistakes of imagination; use it here then.
5 Have a care to the account that is now kept, and must shortly be given, of all your idle wicked words. You believe the Holy Scriptures, you do well. Now they tell you what will be in the end hereof. The word of God will judge you shortly, therefore, let it rule you now.
Notice is now taken of all you say, whether you are aware of it or not. There is not a word in your tongue, though spoken in haste, and not regarded by you, but God knows it altogether, and a book of remembrance is written. God told the prophet Ezekiel what the people said of him by the walls, and in the doors of their houses, (Ezek. 33:30) and he can make a bird of the air to carry the voice of that which is said in the heart, or in the bedchamber, Eccl. 10:20. You think you may curse and swear securely when you are out of the reach of those who would reprove you, or inform against you; and because God for the present keeps silence, you think he is altogether such a one as yourselves, as careless of his government as you are of your duty; but he will reprove you, and set them in order before you, and make it to appear that he kept an exact account of all you said: Now consider this, ye that forget God, (Ps. 1:21) stand in awe of this, and sin not with your tongues. Take heed, God hears; were you in the presence of some grave men that you had a reverence for, you would have a care what you say, and shall not the presence of the great God strike an awe upon you?
But this is not all, the day is coming when there will be a review; when the books that are written will be opened, and all your profane oaths and curses, and corrupt communications, will be found upon record there, and produced as evidence against you. He that is to be the Judge in that day, has himself expressly told us, (Matt. 12:36) every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment; and if for every idle word, much more for every profane and wicked word. What an account will they have to make, all whose breath was corrupt, till their days were extinct; who always allowed themselves a boundless liberty of speech from under the dominion of religion and right reason, and never took care by repentance, and prayer, and reformation, to empty the measure of guilt they had filled, nor to balance the account in the blood of Christ which cleanses from all sin.
Think not that any profession of religion which you make will excuse you, or stand you in any stead in that day, while you thus contradict it, and give the lie to it, by the extravagances of your tongues. The word of God has laid it down as a certain rule, (Jam. 1:26) If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, that man’s religion is vain; and if your religion be vain, it will never bring you to heaven, and then I need not tell you whither your irreligion will bring you.
It will be the eternal doom of those who persisted in their tongue-sins, and would not be reformed, that their own tongues shall fall upon themselves, (Psalms 64:8) and if they do, they will sink them to the lowest hell, in which the remembrance of all the sins of an ungoverned tongue will be very bitter, and bring oil to the flames. We read of it, as the misery of condemned sinners, that they are tormented in a flame, where they have not a drop of water to cool their tongues. Words are soon spoken, and when they are spoken are soon gone, and yet words spoken against an earthly prince, though repented of, have cost many a man his life; and shall it then be difficult to us to believe, that words spoken against the King of kings, and never repented of, shall exclude men from his kingdom, and lay them forever under his wrath? It is commonly said, “Words are but wind,” but wicked words will prove such a mischievous wind, as will not only keep the soul out of the blessed haven of rest and happiness, but sink it into the gulf of everlasting destruction.
6 Reflect upon it with sorrow and shame, and great regret, if at any time you have, ere you were aware, spoken any wicked word. Keep conscience tender in this matter, and if, through the surprise of temptation, you any way offend with your tongue, let your heart presently smite you for it, humble yourselves greatly before God for it, pass it not over with a slight careless, ” God forgive me,” but be in pain and bitterness at the remembrance of it; abhor yourselves, as holy Job, when he was reflecting upon his tongue-sins, and repent in dust and ashes. If you can easily forgive yourselves what is past, it is to be feared you will easily be brought to do the like again.
Lastly, Pray earnestly to God for his grace, to keep you from sinning with your tongue. Though the tongue be an unruly evil, yet he can tame it who sets bounds to the proud waves of the sea, and once stopped the lions’ mouths. To him, therefore, you must apply yourselves by faithful and fervent prayer, and put yourselves under the conduct and custody of his grace, which will be sufficient for you if you seek it, and improve it, and go forth in the strength of it. Let David’s prayer be yours daily, (Ps. 141:3.) Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth, keep the door of my lips; for without his assistance we can do nothing. Pray against provocations to these sins, and pray for wisdom wherewith to govern yourselves in the midst of provocations; Watch and pray, that either you may not be led into temptation, or, however, not overcome by it. If any man lack wisdom, let him ask it of God.
And now what shall be the success of this endeavor? Shall all our reasoning with you, in love to your souls, be slighted and laughed at like the foolish banter of your vain companions? Can we not prevail for a reformation of your language, when we plead the honor of God, the law of Christ, the good of your brethren, and the welfare of your own souls, and you have nothing to plead to the contrary but a foolish, wicked custom? I hope better things, and things that accompany salvation.
Your tongue is your glory, do not turn this glory into shame, but use it as your glory, by honoring God and edifying one another with it; so shall the tongue which is thus accustomed to the language of Canaan, sing Hallelujahs eternally in the New Jerusalem.