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FIFTH SUNDAY AFTER EASTER.
ST. JAMES, i. 26. If any man among you seem to be religious and bridleth not
his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain.
THERE is hardly any single moral or Christian duty, which is so often, or so earnestly enforced in Scripture, as that government of the tongue, which, in these words, and in the third chapter of the same epistle, the apostle James is recommending. Yet, among all the passages, where this virtue, or its opposite vice, is spoken of, I can call none to mind, so strong, or so remarkable, passage,
which I have chosen as the subject of my present sermon, (and which
have this morning heard from the Altar)—as taken in connection with what the same apostle afterwards subjoins : :-“If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man; and able also to bridle the whole body.”! David has, indeed, very
I St. James, iii. 2.
often and very forcibly described the dreadful anger of the Most High against the different sins of slander, lying, reproachful and boasting language, profaneness, blasphemy, and perjury. Our Saviour has pointed out the grievous and aweful judgement, by which every idle word, which men speak, is to be tried'; and has declared, that “ by his words, shall every man be justified, or condemned.” But the assurance of St. James is, in some respects, stronger still ; inasmuch as he seems to place the whole difficulty of religion, and the principal, if not the only, test of a Christian's character, in the disciplining and taming of this unruly member. Unless the tongue be bridled, he declares, on the one hand,--all other pretences to godliness, how great soever, go for nothing; and if the tongue be kept in proper bounds, no further proof is required, on the other hand, that its owner is a perfect Christian. any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, that man's religion is vain.” And“ if
any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.”
These strong and startling expressions are strangely at variance with the small degree of consequence, which the greater part of professed believers attach to their own idle words; or to the
| St. Matthew, xii. 36.
idle words of others; inasmuch as the sins of the tongue very often abound with those, whose general lives are, by no means, marked with extraordinary impiety. Some sins there are, indeed, of this description, such as slander, uncharitable censure, and speaking against dignities, to which persons, in other respects, of the strictest outward conduct, and the highest religious pretensions, have been remarkably and fatally prone; whom yet it would be a want of charity to suspect of being hypocrites ; or to deny that their religion, though inconsistent and imperfect, was yet, so far as it went, sincere. In order, therefore, to shew with how good reason St. James has laid this unusual stress on a single virtuous habit ; and that I may thus more effectually call your attention to the great and aweful necessity of ruling your communication in all meekness, truth, and soberness, I will endeavour to explain to you, in what manner, and on what accounts, the government of the tongue is made a test of genuine Christianity: and that “ He that offendeth not in his word,” is described “as a perfect man.”
There are four different lights, in which St. James may be supposed to have viewed the government of the tongue; when he represented the man, who bridled its wilfulness, as “perfect."
First—he may have considered him, as perfect, in comparison with other men : inasmuch as whatever other faults a man may be guilty of, yet, if he be free from some one offence, of which his neighbours are guilty, and which is in our opinion, more grievous than all the rest, his other and lesser faults are overlooked ; and become hardly worth speaking of, in consideration of his freedom from the greater enormity. Thus, if we supposed a village to exist, where all but one man were robbers and murderers; while that one had always been strictly honest and merciful ; we should be apt to call that man a perfect character, when compared with his fraudulent and bloody neighbours : though we might discover on enquiry, that he seldom went to Church, and that he was sometimes idle, or drunken. In like manner, if it be true, that the sins of the tongue are of all others, the most common in the Christian world ; and if it be also true, that more misery is thus caused to mankind, more disgrace to religion, more offence to the great Judge and Sovereign of men and of angels, than by any other vice, which can be named; we can well understand, how St. James, possessed with a sense of those evils, might hardly stay to notice the less frequent, less prevailing, less widely injurious offences, which arose from a different source : and might call that man comparatively perfect, (whatever sprinkling of vice, and of human infirmity, his character might in other respects display,) by whom the temptations of the
tongue were mastered. And that the sins of the tongue, both from their consequences, and from their frequency, do really answer this description, a very little consideration may serve to make you sensible. As the tongue is the most powerful engine, to the happiness of mankind, and to the glory of the Creator, which God has given to man; so is it also the most formidable in works of mischief, and impiety. With our words, it is that we bless God; and shew forth the praises of His wisdom, and power: but it is with our words, on the other hand, that we blaspheme and defy Him. With our words, we may indeed defend the cause of the innocent and poor ; but it is by our words, also, that we oppress and slander them ; and make the worse appear the better cause. With our words, we may give advice to the weak; comfort to the afflicted; reproof to the sinner; encouragement to the righteous man; but, with our words, we may also lead the blind astray; and revile and insult the broken hearted; we may flatter the sinner, in the folly of his ways; and misrepresent, and perplex the righteous; we may “call evil, good; and good, evil”— and when we measure the vast flood of private and public misery, and of guilt, to which this single fountain gives rise ; when we hear of sinners hardened by false advice; innocent persons ruined by false vows and pretences; hearts broken by slanderous reports ;