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contrary, a man of real knowledge, knows so well by his own experience the weakness of the human mind, and so thoroughly understands his own defects, that he keeps in himself a counterpoise for pride; he proposes his opinions only as problems to be examined, and not as decisions to be obeyed. This is what we call the grace of humility. A man ought to submit his judgment to the discussion of those, to whom he proposes it; he should allow every one a liberty of thinking for himself, and pre-suppose that if he has reason, so have others, that if he has learning, others have it too, that if he has meditated on a subject, so have others. Even subjects, of the truth of which we are most fully persuaded, ought to be so proposed as to convince people that it is a love of truth, and not a high conceit of ourselves, that makes us speak, and thus we should exemplify the rule laid down by an apostle, Let nothing be done through strife, or vain glory: but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves, Phil. ii. 3.
3. A bitter spirit of disputing is a third vice of conversation. Yield instantly, yield even when you, have reason on your side, rest satisfied with knowing the truth yourself, when they, to whom you propose it, wilfully shut their eyes against it, The reason of this maxim is this. When a man refuses to admit a proposition sufficiently demonstrated, the more you press him the further he will recede from you. The principle, that induces him to cavil, is pride and not weakness of capacity: if you persist in shewing him the truth, you will irritate his pride by confounding it, whereas if you give his passion time to cool and subside, perhaps he will return of himself and renounce his error.
St. Paul was an excellent model of this grace of moderation, unto Jews he became as a Jew, to
them that were without law, as without law, all things to all men, 1 Cor. ix. 20. Why? was it idleness, or cowardice? Neither, for never was servant more zealous for the interest of his master, never did soldier fight with more courage for his prince. It was owing to his moderation and charity. Unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews, to them that are without law, as without law, that I might by all meuns save some.
4. Obstinacy is incompatible with the grace of docility, a necessary ingredient in agreeable conversation. To persist in maintaining a proposition because we have advanced it, to choose rather to heap up one absurdity upon another than to give up the first, to be deceived a thousand times rather than to say once, I am mistaken; what can be more contrary to good ınanners in conversation than these dispositions? It is a high enjoyment to open one's eyes to the light, when it rises on us, and to testify by a sincere recantation that we proposed our opinions rather with a desire to be instructed in what we did not know, than to display our abilities in what we did understand.
Finally, indiscreet questions are a fifth pest of conversation, questions which put a man's mind upon the rack, and reduce him to the painful dilemma either of not answering, or of betraying his secrets. Too much
Too much eagerness to pry into other men's concerns is frequently more intolerable than indifference; and to determine, in spite of a man, to be his confidant, is to discover more indiscreet curiosity than christian charity. St. Paul reproved the widows of his time for this vice, and in them all succeeding christians. Younger widows learn to be idle, and not only idle, but tattlers also, and busy bodies, speaking things which they ought not, 1 Tim. v. 11. 13. ' The grace opposite to this vice is discretion.
My brethren, the truths you have been hearing are of the number of those, to which in general the least attention is paid. Few people have ideas of piety so refined as to include the duties, which we have been inculcating. Few people put into the list of their sins to be repented of the vices we have been reproving, few therefore are concerned about them. Yet there are many motives to engage us to use extreme caution in our conversations. I will just mention a few.
First, Vices of conversation are daily sins, they are repeated till they form a habit, by slow degrees they impair and destroy conscience, and in a manner the more dangerous because the process is imperceptible, and because little or no pains are taken to prevent it. Great crimes have a character of horror, which throws us off at a distance. If we happen to be surprised into a commission of them through our own weakness, the soul is terrified, repentance instantly follows, and repetition is not very common: but in the case before us, sin makes some progress every day, every day the enemy of our salvation obtains some advantage over us, every day renders more difficult and impracticable the great work, for which we were created.
Secondly. By practising these vices of conversation we give great ground of suspicion to others, and we ought to be persuaded ourselves, that our hearts are extremely depraved. It is in vain to pretend to exculpate ourselves by pretending that these are only words, that words are but air, empty sounds without effect. No, says Jesus Christ, out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh, Matt. xii. 34. Hence this saying of St. Chrysostom, The tongue often blushes to speak, what the heart dictates; but the heart having no witness, gives itself up to irregular passions. It is only owing to a superfluity of depravity within, that the tongue renders it visible.
If then our reputation be dear to us, if we have at heart the edification of our neighbors, if we wish to assure our hearts that we are upright in the sight of God, who continually sees, and thoroughly knows us, let our conversation be a constant and irreproachable witness.
Lastly. The judgment of God should be a prevalent motive with us. You have heard it from the mouth of Jesus Christ. You will be required to give an account in the day of judgment for every idle word. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thij words thou shalt be condemned, Matt. xii. 36, 37. We judge of our conversations only by the impressions they make on our minds, and as they seem to us only as sounds lost in the air, we persuade ourselves they cannot materially affect our eternal state. But let us believe eternal truth; by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned. Dreadful thought! For which of us can recollect all the vain words he has uttered the last ten years? They are gone along with the revolutions of time, they expired the moment they were born. Yet they are all, all registered in a faithful memory, they are all, all writen in a book, they will be all one day brought to our remeinbrance, they will be weighed in the balance of the sanctuary, and will contribute in that day to fix our eternal doom. O Lord! enter not into judgment with thy servant ! O God! cleanse thou me from secret faults ! Psal. cxliii, 2. and xix. 13. These are three motives to ani- , mate us to practise the duty under consideration. We will add three rules to help us the more easily to discharge it.
1. If we would learn to season our conversation, we must choose our company. This is often disputed, however, we affirm, conformity of manners is the bond of this commerce. Seldom does a man pass his life with a slanderer without calumniating. Few people keep company with_libertines unless they be profligate themselves. Example carries us away in spite of ourselves. A pagan poet advanced this maxim, and St. Paul by quoting hath consecrated it. Evil communications corrupt good manners, 1 Cor. xv. 33. Let us begin a reformation of our conversation by selecting our companions. Let us break with the enemies of God. Let us dread the contagion of poison, and avoid the manufacturers of it. As there is no sinner so obstinate as not to be moved by an intercourse with good men, so there is no virtue so well established as not to be endangered by an intimacy with the wicked.
2. A second great secret in conversation is the art of silence. To talk a great deal, and to reflect on all that is said, are two things incompatible, and certainly we cannot speak wisely if we speak without reflection. The book of Ecclesiasticus advises us to make a door and a bar for the mouth, chap. xxviii. 25. The fool, said the wise man, is full of words, Eccles. X. 14. I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue. I will keep my mouth with a bridle, Psal. xxxix. 1. An ancient hermit abused this maxim, for, after he had heard the first verse of the thirty-ninth psalm, he refused to hear the second, saying the first was lesson sufficient for him. The reader of this verse to him asked him many years after whether he had learnt to reduce this lesson to practice. Nineteen years replied the hermit, have I been trying, and have hardly attained the practice. But there was some reason in the conduct of this her