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I Have now touched upon those enormities of Speech which I principally designed to observe, wherein I have been far from making a full and exact Catalogue: therefore, I would have no man take this little Tract for a just Criterion, by which to try himself in reference to his words. Yet God grant that all that read it, may be able to approve themselves even by this imperfect essay: and he that does so, makes fair approaches towards being that perfect man St. James speaks of, Jam. 3. 1. these being such faults of the Tongue as are the harder to avoid, because they are every day exemplified to us in common practice, (nay, some of them recommended as reputable and ingenious). And it is a strange insinuative power which example and custom have upon us. We see it in every trivial secular instance, in our very habit: those dresses which we laugh at in our forefathers wardrobes or pictures, when by the circulation of time and vanity they are brought about, we think very becoming. Tis the same in our diet: our very palates conform to the fashion, and everything grows amiable to our fancies, according as tis more or less received in the world. And upon this account all sobriety and strict virtue lies now under a heavy prejudice, and no part of it more, than this of the Tongue, which custom has now enfranchised from all the bonds Moralists or Divines laid upon it.
2. But the greater the difficulties are, the more it ought to awake our diligence: if we lie loose and carelessly, tis odds we shall be carried away with the stream. We had need therefore fix ourselves, and by a sober recollection of the ends of which our Speech was given us, and the account we must one day give of it, impress upon ourselves the baseness and the danger of misemploying it. Yet a negative innocence will not serve our turns, twill but put us in the condition of him, who wrapped up the talent he was commanded to employ, Matt. 25. 25. Nay indeed, twill be impossible to preserve even that if we aspire no farther. The Tongue is a busy active Part, will scarce be kept from motion: and therefore, if that activity be not determined to good objects, twill be practicing upon bad. And indeed, I believe a great part of its licentiousness is owing to this very thing. There are so few good Themes of discourse in use, that many are driven to the ill for want of better. Learning is thought Pedantic, Agriculture Peasantlike, and Religion the most insufferable of all: so by excluding all useful Subjects of converse, we come together as St. Paul (in another case) says, Not for better but for the worse. 1 Cor. 11. 17. And if the Philosopher thought he had lost that day wherein he had not learned something worthy of his notice, how many days do we worse than lose, by having them not only empty of solid useful acquisitions, but full of noxious and pernicious ones? And indeed, if they be the one, they will not miss to be the other also: for the mind is like the stomach, which if it be not supplied with wholesome nourishment, will at last suck in those humors with which the body most abounds. So that if in our converse we do not interchange sober useful notions, we shall at the best but traffic toys and baubles, and most commonly infection and poison. He therefore, that would keep his tongue from betraying himself or others to sin, must tune it to a quite contrary Key, make it an instrument, an incentive to virtue, by which he shall not only secure the negative part of his duty, but comply with the positive also, employing it to those uses for which it was given him.
3. It would be too vast an undertaking to prescribe the particular subjects of such discourse, nay indeed, impossible, because many of them are occasional, such as cannot aforehand be reduced to any certain account. This only in the general we may rest upon, that all speech tending to the glory of God, or the good of man, is aright directed. Which is not to be understood so restrictively, as if nothing but Divinity or the necessary concerns of human life, may lawfully be brought into discourse: something is to be indulged to common civility, more to the intimacies and endearments of friendships, and a competency to those recreative discourses which maintain the cheerfulness of society; all which are, if moderately used, within the latitude of the rule, as tending (though in a lower degree) to the well-being of men, and by consequent to the honor of God, who indulges us those innocent refreshments. But if the subordinate uses come to encroach upon the higher, if we dwell here and look no farther, they then become very sinful by the excess which were not so in their nature. That inordinacy sets them in opposition to God’s designation, in which they were allowed only a secondary place. We should therefore, be careful to improve all opportunities of letting our tongues pay their more immediate homage to God, in the duties of prayers, and praises, making them not only the interpreters of our pious affections, but the promoters of the like in others. And indeed, he can scarce be thought in earnest, who prays, Hallowed by Thy Name, and does not as much endeavor it with men, as he solicits it from God.
4. And if we answer our obligations in this point, we shall in it discharge the highest part of our duty to man also: for in whose heart we can implant a true reverential awe of God, we sow the seed of immortality, of an endless happy being, the greatest the most superlative good whereof he is capable. Besides, in the interim we do by it help to manumit and release him from those servile drudgeries to vice, under which those remain who live without God in the world. And these indeed, are benefits worthy the dignity of human nature to communicate. And it is both sad and strange to see among the multitude and variety of Leagues that are contracted in the world, how few there are of these pious combinations; how those who show themselves concerned in all the petty secular interests of their friends, never take this at all into their care; a pregnant evidence how little true friendship there is among men.
5. I Know some thing they sufficiently excuse themselves when they shift off this office to Divines, whose peculiar business they say it is. But this is as if one who sees a poor fainting wretch, should forbear to administer a Cordial he has at hand, for fear of entrenching on the Physician’s Faculty. Man opportunities a Friend or Companion may have which a Divine may want. He often sees a man in the very fit, and so may more aptly apply: for where there is an intimacy of Converse, men lay themselves open, discover those passions, those vices, which they carefully veil when a strange or severer eye approaches. Besides, as such a one may easier discern the disease, so he has better advantages for administering remedies: so Children will not take those Medicines from the Doctor’s hand, which they will from a Nurse or Mother: and we are usually too Childish in what relates to our Souls, look on good counsel from an Ecclesiastic as a Divinity Potion, and set our stomachs against it; but a Familiar may insensibly insinuate it into us, and ere we are aware beguile us into health. Yet if Lay Persons will needs give the Clergy the enclosure of this office, they should at least withdraw those impediments they have laid in their way, by depositing those prejudices which will certainly frustrate their endeavor. Men have in these later days been taught to look on Preaching as a thing of form to the Hearers, and of profit only to the Speakers, a craft whereby as Demetrius says They get their living. Acts. 19. 25. But admit it were so in this last respect, yet it does not infer it should be so in the former. If it be a Trade, twas sure thought (as in all Ages but this) a very useful one, or else there would never have been such encouragement given to it. No State ever allotted public certain Salaries for a set of men that were thought utterly useless: and if there be use to be made of them, shall we lose our advantages merely because they gain theirs? We are in nothing else so senseless: no man will refuse counsel from a Physician, because he lives by the Profession. Tis rather an argument on his side, that because such an interest of his own depends on it, he has been the more industrious to fit himself for it. But not to run farther in this digression, I shall apply it to my purpose, by making this equitable proposal, that Lay men will not so moralize the common Fable, as neither to admonish one another themselves, nor suffer Ministers to do it without them. And truly tis hard if neither of these can be granted when both ought. I am sure all is little enough that can be done, though we should have as the Prophet speaks, Precept upon precept, Line upon line, here a little and there a little. Isa. 28. 13. Man’s nature is so unattentive to good, that there can scarce be too many monitors. We see Satan though he have a much stronger party in our inclinations, dares not rely upon it, but is still employing his emissaries, to confirm and excite them, and if whilst he has so many Agents among us, God shall have none, we are like to give but an ill account of our zeal either to God or our neighbor, or of those tongues which were given us to glorify the one, and benefit the other. Indeed, without this, our greatest officiousness in the secular concerns of others is no kindness. When we strive to advance the fame, to increase the fortune of a wicked man, what do we do in it, but enable him to do the more mischiefs, by his wealth to foment his own luxuries, and by his reputation commend them to the practice of others? He only makes his friend truly rich and great, who teaches him to employ those advantages aright; and would men turn their tongues to this sort of Oratory, they would indeed shew they understood for what ends they were given them.
6. But as all good receives enhancement from its being more diffusive, so these attempts should not be confined to some one or two intimates or relatives, but be as extensive as the common needs, or at least as our opportunities. Tis a generous ambition to benefit many, to oblige communities: which can no way so well be done, as by endeavoring to subvert vicious customs, which are the pest and poisons of all societies. The heathens had many ceremonies of lustrations for their cities and countries, but he that could purify and refine their manners, would indeed attain to the substance of those shadows. And because the Apostle tells us that Evil words corrupt good manners, twould be a fundamental piece of reformation, to introduce a better sort of converse into the world: which is an instance so agreeable to my present subject, that I cannot Close more pertinently, than to commend the endeavor to the Reader, which if he have been by this Tract at all convinced of the sin and mischief of those Schemes of discourse deciphered in it, cannot be more just to his convictions, than by attempting to supplant them.
7. It were indeed a design worthy of a noble soul, to try to new model the Age in this particular, to make it possible for men, to be at once conversable and innocent. I know twill be objected, tis too vast a project for one or many single Persons to undertake: yet difficulties use to animate generous spirits, especially when (as here) the very attempt is laudable. But as Christ says of Wisdom, so may we of Courage, The Children of this world are more daring than the Children of light. The great corrupters of discourse have not been so distrustful of themselves: for tis visible to any that will reflect, that tis within man’s memory since much of this monstrous exorbitancy of discourse grew in fashion, particularly the Atheistical and Blasphemous. The first propugners of it were but few, and durst then but whisper their black rudiments, yet the world now sees what a Harvest they have from their devilish industry.
8. And shall we give over our Clime as forlorn and desperate, and conclude that nothing which is not venomous will thrive in our Soil. Would some of parts and authority but make the experiment, I cannot think that all places are yet so vitiated, but that they may meet with many who would relish sober and ingenuous discourse, and by their example be animated to propagate it to others: but as long as Blasphemy, Ribaldry, and Detraction set up for Wit, and carry it without any competition, we do implicitly yield that title we dispute not: and tis hard to say, whether their triumphs be more owing to the boldness of ill men, or the pusillanimity of the good. What if upon the trial they should meet with the worser part of St. Paul’s fate at Athens, That some will mock, Acts 17. 32. yet perhaps they may partake of the better also, and find others that would be willing to hear them again, and some few at least may cleave unto them. And sure they are too tender and delicate, that will run no hazard, nor be willing to bear a little share in that profane drollery, with which an Apostle was, and their God is daily assaulted: especially when by this exposing themselves, they may hope to give some check to that impious liberty. However besides the satisfaction of their own consciences, they may also gain this advantage by the attempt, that it may be a good test by which to try their company. For those whom they find impatient of innocent and profitable converse, they may assure themselves can only ensnare not benefit them; and he is a very weak Gamester, that will be drawn to play upon such terms, as make it highly probable for him to lose, but impossible for him to win. Therefore, in that case the advice of Solomon is very proper, Go from the presence of a foolish man, when thou perceivest not in him the lips of Knowledge. Prov. 14. 7.
9. But he that will undertake so Heroic and enterprise, must qualify himself for it, by being true to his own pretensions. He must leave no uneven thread in his loom, or by indulging to any one sort of reprovable discourse himself, defeat all his endeavors against the rest. Those airy Speculators that have writ of the Philosopher’s Stone have required many personal qualifications, strict abstinences and purities in those who make the experiment. The thing may have this sober application, that those who would turn this Iron Age into Gold, that would convert our rusty, drossy converse into a purer strain, must be perfectly clean themselves. For alas, what effect can that man hope from this most zealous reprehensions, who lays himself open to recrimination? He that hears a man bitterly inveigh against Blasphemy and profaneness, and yet (in that almost the same breath) hears his monitor inveigh bitterly against his Neighbor, will scarce think him a good guide of his tongue, that has but half the mastery of his own. Let every man, therefore, be sure to begin at the right end of his work, to wash his own mouth clean, before he prescribe Gargarisms to others. And to that purpose let him impartially reflect on all the undue liberties he has given his tongue, whether which have been here remarked, or those others which he may find in all Practical books, especially in (the most Practical of all books) his own Conscience. And when he has traced his talk through all its wild rambles, let him bring home his stray; not like the lost sheep with joy, but with tears of penitence and contrition, and keep a strict watch over it that it break not loose again; nay, farther require it to make some restitution for the trespass it has committed in its former excursions, to restore to God what it has robbed of his Honor, by devoting itself an instrument of His service; to his Neighbor what it has detracted from him, by wiping off that fullage it has cast upon his Fame; and to himself by defacing those ill Characters of vanity and folly it has imprinted on him. Thus may the Tongue cure its own sting, and by a kind of Sympathetic virtue, the wound may be healed by dressing the weapon. But alas, when we have done all, the Tongue is so slippery that it will often be in danger to deceive our watch: nay, it has a secret intelligence with the heart, which like a corrupted Gaoler is too apt to connive at its escape. Let us therefore strengthen our guards, call in Him who sees all the secret practices of our treacherous hearts, and commit both them and our tongues to His custody. Let us say with the Psalmist, Try me, O God, and seek the ground of my heart. Psa. 129. 23. And with him again, Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth, and keep the door of my lips, O let not my heart be inclined to any evil thing, Psa. 141. 3. And if hand thus join in hand, Prov. 16. 6. if God’s grace be humbly invoked, and our own endeavor honestly employed, even this unruly evil of the Tongue (as St. James calls it Chap. 3. 8.) may be in some degree tamed. If now and then it get a little out by stealth, yet it will not like the Demoniac be so raving, as quite to break all its chains. If we cannot always secure ourselves from inadvertence and surprise, but that a forbidden word may sometimes escape us, yet we may from deliberate willful offences of the Tongue. And thought we should all aspire higher, yet if we can but reach this, we ought not to excuse ourselves (upon remaining infirmities) from the Christian generous undertaking I was recommending, the reforming of others. Indeed, I had made a very impertinent exhortation to that, if this degree of fitness may not be admitted; for I fear there would be none on earth could attempt it upon other terms: the world must still remain as it is, and await only the Tongues of Angels to reduce it. Nor need we fear that censure of Hypocrisy which we find, Matt. 7. 5. for the case is very differing. Tis indeed as ridiculous as insolent an attempt, for one that has a Beam in his own eye, to pretend to cast a Mote out of his brother’s: but it hold not on the contrary, that he that has a Mote in his own, should not endeavor to remove the Beam in his Brother’s. Every speck does not blind a man, nor does every infirmity make one unable to discern, or incompetent to reprove the grosser faults of others.
10. Yet after all, let us as much as is possible clear our eyes even of this mote, and make our Copy as worth transcribing as we can: for certainly the best instrument of reformation is example: and though admonition may sometimes be necessary, yet there are many circumstances required to the right ordering of that, so that it cannot always be practicable, but a good example ever is. Besides, it has a secret magnetic virtue like the Loadstone, it attracts by a power of which we can give no account: so that it seems to be one of those occult qualities, those secrets in nature, which have puzzled the enquirers, only experience demonstrates it to us. I am sure it does (too abundantly) in ill examples, and I doubt not might do the like in good, if they were as plentiful experimented. And that they may be so, let every man be ambitious to cast in his mite: for the two make but a farthing, yet they may be multiplied to the vastest sum. However, if a man cannot reform, yet I am sure twill be worth his while, so to save himself from this untoward generation, Acts. 2. 40. I have now presented the Tongue under a double aspect, such as may justify the ancient Definition of it, that it is the worst and best part of man, the best in its original and design, and the worst in its corruption and degeneration. In David, the man after God’s heart, it was his glory, Psa. 57. 8. The best member that he had, Psa. 108. 1. But in the wicked it cuts like a sharp Razor, Psa. 52. 2. Tis as the venom of Asps, 140. 3. The Tongues from heaven were Cloven Acts. 2. 2. to be the more diffusive of good: but those that are fired from hell are forked, Jam. 3. 6. to be the more impressive of mischief: it must be referred to every man’s choice, into which of the forms he will mold his. Solomon tells us Death and Life are in the power of the Tongue, and that not only directly in regard of the good or ill we may do to others, but reflexively also, in respect of what may rebound to ourselves. Let Moses then make the inference from Solomon’s premises, Therefore choose life, Deut. 30. 15. a proposal so reasonable, so agreeable to nature, that no flourishes can render it more inviting. I shall therefore leave it to the Reader’s contemplation, and shall hope that if he please but to resolve it with that seriousness which the importance exacts, he will new set his tongue, compose it to those pious Divine strains, which may be a proper preludium to those Allelujahs he hopes eternally to sing.
F I N I S.
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