Page images

to our actual state of existence. In the fifth division—I am sorry to say not the smallest—I placed those words of which it is said, that out of the heart the mouth speaketh ; and which proved that our hearts were not wholly occupied with that charity which is the bond of perfectness. Of these were the angry words, the proud words, the envious words, the boastful words, the impatient words, the selfish words, which did not so much belie as betray our actual meaning.

And under another head, I ranged communications respecting others that had better not have been made, and the repetition of words that had better never have been spoken, much less repeated. If these portions of our conversation could not be in the mass pronounced evil, it will not be contended that any were good ; therefore the whole may be marked off as a waste of powers, and must be entirely subtracted from, if not set against, the product, when the reckoning for our talents shall be required. Those who are not in the habit of selfexamination, will scarcely believe, when all this has been withdrawn, how little of the use of speech remained to be examined. A few expressions of affectionate feeling and benevolent sympathy; a very little communication of intellectual enjoyment; a touch or two of innocent humour intended to please, were like beautiful blossoms scattered here and there on an ill-thriven tree. And rarer still than the flowers, when I looked for the abiding fruits of all our interchange of words, they were not to be found. Of all I had spoken or heard, I could not fix upon one word by which permanent good had been done, or been even intended by the speaker ; by which God had been honoured, or man benefitted, or ourselves amended. Even when the most serious

subjects had been alluded to, all the words might have been distributed among the preceding heads; unless we form another for that fearful license with which young people laugh and talk, and cavil, and play off their dangerous witticisms, upon things most sacred, and persons who should be sacred for the things' sake; their hearts never misgiving them, that they are not all the time talking very religiously,

It will be answered that this careless interchange of words is all very well : it is natural and agreeable, and lightens the daily task of life. We cannot be always talking to purpose; we need not be perpetually on the subject of religion, or making a parade of our knowledge and acquirements: talking nonsense is very agreeable, and often evinces more talent than solid discourse. To some extent this may be true; and as far as it is so, we would abridge nothing of the freedom of social intercourse. The woodman did not root up all the ivy, nor turn from their native growth all the woodbines of the park. But we must take care that what is agreeable does not overbear what is permanently valuable; and that the indulgence of natural propensities does not work our destruction. Much of the talk I have described is not innocent and is not agreeable; and, instead of lightening the task of life, adds many an item to the burden's weight, and many a pang to the trial's bitterness.

I have no doubt that much of our daily discourse bears the positive character of sin. Still more, not directly sinful, comes under the Apostle's warning against “ foolish talking and jesting, which are not convenient;" by which, I imagine, he meant not to forbid innocent mirth on right subjects and at right times, but that habitual levity of discourse that be

speaks a mind taking no responsibility for the utterance of the lips; forgetting itself, as it were, in the intoxication of idle talk: a position “ not convenient” indeed, for one prone to sin and encompassed with tempation, enlisted for battle, and in the midst of enemies. But my aim is not so much to prove that we do harm with this invaluable gift, as that we are bound to do more good with it than we do. I think we might make it more conducive to the rational and real enjoyments of life, to the general sum of human happiness, to the spiritual improvement of each other and ourselves, the credit of religion and the glory of God. And so far as we could do this and do not, our plea of harmlessness can deserve only the reception of the servant with his buried talent.

Certainly it is not desirable to be always talking of religion. In the way in which it is too generally handled by the inconsiderate, I would rather they never talked of it. But we may talk religiously, without talking of religion; we may speak as if God were never forgotten, but as much present to our recollection, as he is actually present as a witness and observer of our words ; and so avoid every expression that consists not with our faith. As to the display that might appear in speaking always rationally, proud, vain, and selfish, would be all the words spoken from such a motive : but that sort of communication which affords improvement, and gives useful information, is not necessarily a display of talent -it may be interchanged where no talent is. Fruitful in excuses, we plead that conversation is a spontaneous and uncultivated growth; the moment it should become studied, artificial, and constrained, it would lose its charm. Let us remember that this heaven-implanted flower, like every other blossom

that once decked the bowers of Eden, and may some time blow again in a yet fairer garden, has had no place to grow on in the interval, but an unkept and fallow soil : and, like the produce of some fetid marsh, it may spread luxuriantly, but grows rank and worthless. It is no longer best as nature produces it. We must not root it out, and leave the place desolate; but we must enclose it, and prune it, and direct its growth, and mend the soil about it: not to change its native characters, but to restore them. This is true of our feelings, our affections, and all that is within us; and it is true of our words, which are no more than the expression of these.

We would not have art to take the place of nature, nor get up speeches by measure, and words by rule ; keep silence till we have something very important to say; utter wise sentences while our hearts are foolish, and pious phrases while our thoughts are earthly, and benevolent speeches while our

feelings are unkind. This would be to pick the blossoms from the fig-tree and stick them on the brier, in hope to gather fruit from it. But let us have a motive for our words, and let that motive be a good

Let us have a design in our words, and let that design be a good one. Let us have a meaning in all we say, and let the meaning be a right one. Nay, so far are we from this, perhaps it would have been enough as a first step to say, let us be convinced that our powers of speech are a gift for which we are responsible. Many of us, I fear, have never yet had any intention of doing good by our daily domestic interchange of words—by good, I mean what I have explained before—to promote happiness, give innocent pleasure, communicate desirable knowledge, cultivate kindly affection, amend the heart, or glorify God. Have we ever reflected that


for this our speech was given, and habitually disposed ourselves to make this use of it? The inquiry might soon be answered. Take a day-examine it through ; what have we done with the gist?—What have we meant to do? The answer of most days will be, “ We have done harm by accident-we meant to do nothing."

I speak not of those, who, under the meridian light of truth, have drunk so deeply of self-knowledge and of self-reproof, that their thoughts and words, the misuse of talents and the waste of powers, are among those things of which the remembrance is grievous to them, the burden is intolerable. They will not carelessly add to that grievous remembrance, and increase that intolerable burden. Their boughs have been already withered and overborne by the embraces of that earthliness which grew unchecked around them. Their branches have run enough to waste and perished, for want of timely training and support; and left them to perpetual, painful, and sometimes unsuccessful struggles against obstinate and deep-rooted habit. These need no persuasion; but well might the young be persuaded by them to look early to the garden committed to their keeping.

« PreviousContinue »