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slandereth his neighbour, him will I cut off. He that worketh deceit shall not dwell in my house. He that telleth lies shall not abide in my sight," Psal. ci.5, 7. And indeed, it may exceed the abilities of the best and wisest of men, to guard, at all times, against all the arts of detraction.
2. Another thing that should induce us to this care, is, that otherwise we cannot approve ourselves to be truly religious. It is an observation of St. James, already taken notice of, If any“ man among you seemeth to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, that man's religion is vain.” And the truth of that observation is confirmed by what has been said under the foregoing particular, of the importance of this matter. That man is not truly religious, whatever profession be may, make, who talks without consideration, spreads stories to the disadvantage of others, founded only on surmise, or upon testimony that ought to be suspected; or affects to recommend the principles of religion, or of any science, who has neglected inquiry; or, who gives his judgment in affairs about which he is not well informed, and has taken no care to be so.
3. It ought to induce us to aim at the government of the tongue, that it is a great excellence. It is the doctrine of the text. “ If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.” It is a proof of much virtue, great discretion, a full command of the passions, and a prevailing regard to the good of others. Does a man bridle his tongue? Does nothing proceed out of his mouth to the detriment or offence of others ? nothing but what tends to edification? Does he know when to speak, and when to be silent? “ Is his speech always with grace, seasoned with salt ?” Col. iv. 6. *Are his words weighty though few ? Are his discourses solid for the matter, and modest, and agreeable for the manner ? Does he argue without positiveness, advise without assuming authority, and reprove without severity and harshness ? Such an one is an excellent or perfect man.
And it is a character which we may desire to attain to.
III. Which brings me to the third and last thing that was proposed, to lay down some rules and directions, which may assist us in governing the tongue, and curing the faults of it.
1. Let us cherish the principle of the fear of God in our hearts. For that will deter from every kind of evil, and dispose to good words, as well as to good actions.” Come, ye children,” says
the Psalmist, “ hearken unto me. I will teach you
the fear of the Lord. What man is he that de
sireth life, and loveth many days, that he may see good ? Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile,” Psal. xxxiv. 11–13.
2. Let us also cherish and cultivate the love of our neighbour. “ For love,” as the apostle says, “ is the fulfilling of the law," Rom. xii, 10. If we love our neighbour as ourselves, we shall be concerned for his credit, as well as for our own; and not willingly injure him by words, any more than by actions.
3. Let us call to mind former offences and transgressions of this kind, which we have been convinced of, and have been sorry for. This may be of great use for time to come. It will secure our guard, and render it more effectual.
4. If we are acquainted with any excellent masters in this art, who are great examples of this virtue, we should diligently observe them for our imitation. If we know of any, who do not readily receive evil reports, who rarely speak to the disadvantage of any, who never aggravate the real faults of men, who are willing to applaud commendable actions, and to excuse imprudences, and lesser faults; whose discourses are useful and entertaining; in whose mouth is the law of kindness, and whose “wisdom" is accompanied with “ meekness," James iii. 13, they are worthy of our attentive view and observation.
5. Let us endeavour to mortify pride, envy, and inordinate self-love; and cultivate that wisdom, which is a
pure, peaceable,” ver. 17, 18, unbiassed, disinterested, and public spirited. Then we are likely to attain to this perfection, and not offend in word.
6. Let us also endeavour to improve in the knowledge of the works of nature, and the word of God. If a man's mind be filled with a variety of valuable knowledge, he will be under little temptation to divert into the topics of detraction and scandal, for the sake of shining in company.
7. Let us often recollect some of the directions which the scripture affords upon this point : “ Speak evil of no man,” Tit. iii. 2. “Let every one be swift to hear, slow to speak,” James i. 19. “Speak not evil one of another, brethren," ch. iv. 11.
But it is time to conclude, out of reverence to the rules that have been just laid down, some of them especially.
I add therefore but one word more, which is, that we should now make application, not to others, but to ourselves. And if we have this day seen any of our faults, and the causes of them, let us not be like
man, who, having beheld his face in a glass, goes away, and soon forgetteth
what manner of man he was; but having looked into the perfect law of” virtue, “ let us continue therein; not being forgetful hearers, but doers of the word; for such shall be blessed in their deed," James i. 23, 24.
THE BENEFIT OF FEARING ALWAYS.
Happy is the man that feareth always : but he that hard
eneth his heart, shall fall into mischief. Prov. xxviii. 14. ALL know, that a large part of the book of Proverbs consists of sentences unconnected, or observations and maxims independent on each other. : Where that is the case, little light is afforded by the coherence. Nevertheless I shall read the verse immediately preceding. And if any connection was intended, possibly we may perceive it, at least hereafter, when we have considered the meaning of the words of this text.
Ver. 13, and 14, “ He that covereth his sins, shall not prosper ; but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them, shall have mercy: Happy is the man that feareth always; but he that hardeneth his heart, shall fall into mischief.
In discoursing on this text,
II. I would show the happiness of him who feareth always.
Ill. I shall endeavour to show how this fear conduces to a man's happiness.
IV. After which I intend to mention some remarks and observations upon this subject, and conclude.
I. In the first place I should describe the fear here recommended; or show what is meant by fearing always.
There is a good counsel of Solomon in the twenty-third chapter of this book : " Let not thy heart envy sinners; but be thou in the fear of the Lord all the day long,” Prov. xxiii. 17. This is our duty and interest. Whatever advantages some may gain by unrighteousness, we should never be thereby induced to imitate their ways; but should still persevere in the service of God, and the way of virtue, which in time will be rewarded.
But it does not appear very likely, that this is what is here particularly intended by the wise man. The fear here spoken of, seems to be apprehensiveness, diffidence, with the fruits thereof, care, caution, and circumspection; as opposite to security, inconsideration, confidence, and presumption. In this text is meant a temper of mind, which is often recommended by the wise man in other words. « The simple believeth every word; but the prudent man looketh well to his goings, chap. xiv. 15. And,“ keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee. Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy paths be established," chap. iv. 23, 25, 26,
This property of fearing always, may be expedient and useful in a variety of occasions; in the things of this present life, and in the great concerns of our salvation.
It would undoubtedly be of bad consequence with regard to the affairs and business of this world, for men to be void of thought and consideration; to presume upon success, and depend upon good treatment, and honest dealings from all men; and rely upon the kind and faithful assistances of friends and servants, and others with whom we may be concerned, without any previous trial or examination.
And it must be expedient and useful for men, to be so far apprehensive of dangers and accidents, so sensible of the changes and vicissitudes that attend all earthly things, and so far aware of the unskilfulness, unfaithfulness, art, and subtilty of other men, as shall induce them to take care of their own affairs themselves, and use a prudent caution and circumspection.
A like temper may be very useful in the things of religion. And to this the words of Solomon may be applied, if they are not to be directly interpreted in this sense.
Indeed there is a fearfulness, and timorousness of mind, which religion condemns; which is mean and unreasonable, groundless, and indiscreet; when we are too apprehensive of the evils and afflictions of this life, or fear men more than God. Then we are to be blamed; then we act indiscreetly; when for fear of the displeasure of men, and the small evils they can inflict upon us, we do that which will offend God, and expose
us to the long and grievous pains and miseries of another state, with the loss of all that happiness which we might have secured by resolution and courage in the way of religion and virtue.
But there is a fear and apprehension, which may be very useful. It is a fear of offending God, and a diffidence of ourselves and our own strength. It is founded in a persuasion of the great importance of right behaviour in this world, and a sure knowledge of the consequences thereof, either happiness or misery in a future state. It is also owing to a consideration of the power of things sensible, good and evil, agreeable or disagreeable, to bias and influence the mind; and that, oftentimes, on a sudden, and to a degree beyond most men's expectations; whereby many are diverted from right conduct, and act contrary to former convictions, and their best purposes and resolutions.
He who fears always is one who is never unmindful of what is the great design of life, and what will be the consequences of it. He is desirous of obtaining eternal salvation, even a better happiness than this present world affords any prospect of. And he dreads the being finally rejected of .God, and excluded from his presence. And as the reason of things, and the express declarations of the word of God, assures us that final' happiness, or misery, depends upon men's behaviour here; he is desirous, that his behaviour may be such as shall be approved in the end by the impartial and equitable Sovereign and Judge of the world.
But he is aware that there is no small difficulty in executing this design. He therefore fears always. 'In every state and condition, whether prosperity or adversity, he knows there are snares and temptations. For which reason he is at no time secure; but has continually a kind of distrust of himself, and is apprehensive, lest the ease and pleasure of the one should make him forget God and another world; and lest some things in the other condition, of which the afflictions are various, and very moving, should induce him to cast off the fear of God, and say, religion is vain.
He has his fears and apprehensions, arising from solitude, and from company; when alone, and when in conversation. He is aware that there are some snares peculiar to retirement, others to business. Nor is there any age, or time of life, but has its temptations.
He is not without his fears, when he engages in the worship of God, lest his services should be defective and unacceptable; and lest through neglect, inattention, or prejudices, the opportunity afforded him should be unprofitable. And indeed, Solomon has a direction and caution to this purpose : “ Keep thy foot, when thou goest to the house of God; and be more ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools," Eccl. v. 1.
In undertakings for the honour of God, and the interests