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The Government of the Tongue has ever been justly reputed one of the most important parts of human Regiment. The Philosopher and the Divine equally attest this: and Solomon (who was both) gives his suffrage also; the persuasions to, and encomiums of it, taking up a considerable part of his book of Proverbs. I shall not therefore need to say anything, to justify my choice of this subject, which has so much better Authorities to commend it. I rather with that it had not the super-addition of an accidental fitness grounded upon the universal neglect of it, it now seeming to be an art wholly out-dated. For though some lineaments of it may be met with in books, yet there is scarce any footsteps of it in practice, where alone it can be significant. The attempt therefore of reviving it I am sure is seasonable, I wish it were half as easy.
2. Indeed that skill was never very easy, it requiring the greatest vigilance and caution, and therefore not to be attained by loose trifling spirits. The Tongue is so slippery, that it easily deceives a drowsy or heedless guard. Nature seems to have given it some unhappy advantages towards that. Tis in its frame the most ready for motion of any member, needs not so much as the flexure of a joint, and by access of humors acquires a glibness too, the more to facilitate its moving. And alas, we too much find the effect of this its easy frame; it often goes without giving us warning; and as children when they happen upon a rolling engine, can set it in such a carrier, as wiser people cannot on a sudden stop; so the childish parts of us, our passions, our fancies, all our mere animal faculties, can thrust our tongues into such disorder, as our reason cannot easily rectify. The due management therefore of this unruly member, may be rightly be esteemed on of the greatest mysteries of Wisdom and Virtue. This is intimated by St. James, If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body, Jam. 3. 2. Tis storied of Bembo, a primitive Christian, that coming to a friend to teach him a Psalm, he began to him the thirty-ninth, I said I will take heed to my ways, that I offend not with my Tongue; upon hearing of which first verse, he stopped his Tutor, saying, “This is enough for me, if I learn it as I ought”; and being after six months rebuked for not coming again, he replied, that he had not yet learned his first lesson: nay, after nineteen years he professed, that in that time he had scarce learned to fulfill that one line. I give not this instance to discourage, but rather to quicken men to the study; for a lesson that requires so much time to learn, had need be early begun with.
3. But especially in this age, wherein the contrary liberty has got such a prepossession, that men look on it as a part of their birth-right; nay, do not only let their tongues loose, but studiously suggest inordinacies to them, and use the spur where they should the bridle. By this means conversation is so generally corrupted, that many have had cause to wish they had not been made sociable creatures. A man secluded from company can have but the Devil and himself to tempt him; be he that converses, has almost as many snares as he has companions. Men barter vices, and as if each had not enough of his own growth, transplant out of his neighbors soil, and that which was intended to cultivate and civilize the world, has turned it into a wild desert and wilderness.
4. This face of things, I confess, looks not very promising to one who is to solicit a reformation. But whatever the hopes are, I am sure the needs are great enough to justify the attempt; for as the disease is Epidemic, so it is mortal also, utterly inconsistent with that pure religion, which leads to life. We may take St. James’s word for it, “If any man seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, that man’s religion is in vain”, Jam. 1. 26. God knows we have not much Religion among us: Tis great pity we should frustrate the little we have, render that utterly insignificant, which at the best amounts to so little. Let therefore the difficulty and necessity of the task, prevail with us to take time before us, not to defer this so necessary a work, till the night come; or imagine that the Tongue will be able to expiate its whole age of guilt by a feeble “Lord have mercy on me” at the last. Though indeed if that were supposable, Twere but a broken reed to trust to, none knowing whether he shall have time or grace for that. He may be surprised with an Oath, a Blasphemy, a Detraction in his mouth: many have been so. Tis sure there must be a dying moment: and how can any man secure himself, it shall not be the same with that in which he utters those, and his expiring breath, be so employed? Sure they cannot think that those incantations (though hellish enough) can make them scot free, render them invulnerable to death’s darts; and if they have not that or some other as a ridiculous reserves, Tis strange what should make them run such a mad adventure.
5. But I expect it should be objected, that this little despicable Tract is not proportionable to the encounter to which it is brought; that besides the unskillful managing of those points it does touch, it wholly omits many proper to the subject, there being faults of the Tongue which it passes in silence. I confess there is color enough for this objection. But I believe if it were put to votes, more would resolve I had said too much, rather than too little. Should I have enlarged to the utmost compass of this Theme, I should have made the volume of so affrighting a bulk, that few would have attempted it; and by saying much I should have said nothing at all to those who most need it. Men’s stomachs are generally so queasy in these cases, that Tis not safe to overload them; let them try how they can digest this: if they can so as to turn it into kindly nourishment, they will be able to supply themselves with the remainder. For I think I may with some confidence affirm, that he that can confine his Tongue within the limits here prescribed, may without much difficulty refrain from its other excursions. All I shall beg of the Reader, is but to come with sincere intentions, and then perhaps these few Stones and Sling used in the Name, and with invocation of the Lord of Hosts, may countervail the massive armor, of the uncircumcised Philistine; And may that God who loves to magnify his power in weakness, give it the like success.
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