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operation of Christian ordinances and teaching, might, by the sanctification of all the doings of the pious man, in all his engagements and relations, be effectually acted upon, to the restraint of their personal and conventional improprieties, and to the conversion of their hearts to God; and thus many, who plead the number and importance of their secular engagements to excuse their non-participation in the evangelical activities of the church, might be beneficially employed in the sphere of their ordinary avocations; and where, in maintaining consistency of conduct, their efforts would be respected. In his worldly concerns a Christian must not live to himself; but in them all, as in the sanctuary, he must live to God.
Thus circumstanced, a good man must necessarily—and, therefore, he may lawfully-speak of many things that are not religious. He must engage in conversation touching his varied circumstances. His business must be transacted, and his speech must be fittingly engaged therein. But though all this must be obvious, though his speech cannot be alway of grace, yet it is equally certain that it may and should “ be alway with grace.” On all subjects, however diversified, he is required to converse religiously, as a Christian man. This is part of that necessary “wisdom” in which it is his duty to “ walk toward them that are without;” (Col. iv. 5 ;) that his actions and words may be in accordance with, and ornamental to, his profession; and that no occasion be given to the enemies of God to blaspheme, or to strengthen themselves in their wickedness. And forasmuch as out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh," so will the man whose heart is occupied with the “good treasure" of holy principles and dispositions speak, according to the tendencies, and by the force, of his regenerate nature, religiously on all subjects which engage his attention, or require his speech. His heart being replenished with grace, he will speak of good things with ease, his soul being at home in them; and of all things with pious propriety, preserving the simplicity of the Gospel, and honouring God. Men usually speak like themselves or in character, vainly or wisely, rashly or temperately, kindly or rudely, with veneration or profaneness, according to their varied states of mind. The rule exerts itself with uniformity; and a Christian will he must be-distinguished by Christian speech. The conversation which is full of almost any thing but religion, and the animus of which claims little or no affinity to piety, discloses a state of heart opposed to the will of God, and not suitably affected by the sanctification of Christianity. Happy is the man who is not condemned by this most certain rule; who keeps his “mouth as with a bridle," and is steadfastly purposed, that his “mouth shall not transgress!”
The conversation of a Christian being always as befits his religion, he must be careful to speak of religious subjects wisely. His speech must be “ seasoned with salt,” or wise and pertinent.
It is a manifestation of this wisdom to seek for, determine on, and
employ, proper opportunities for the introduction of religious discourse, or more detached pious observations. The uniform attempt to engage all companies, irrespective of times and circumstances, in such conversation, however well intended, is not the more excellent way; neither are its results so beneficial as some suppose. In the altering condition of men's minds and affairs, numerous opportunities will be afforded to the observant Christian to introduce, seasonably and profitably, the great theme of his affections to the attention of those whose hearts are, on some of these occasions, better disposed than usual to listen and to defer to it. And as such disposition may be as transient as the cause or causes which have produced it, it behoves the pious carefully to improve its presence. When men's hearts are softened by calamity or affliction; when their attention is aroused by solemn events; when their career of worldly thought is interrupted or suspended ; or when the circumstance of our being with them has anything directly or indirectly of a religious character belonging to it; then sow the good seed in humble dependence on God, whose blessing can make it productive of all the fruit of righteousness.
In speaking of religion to "them that are without,” the affection of Christianity must be cultivated and exhibited. This is, in itself, proper; and it is the most likely method to repress the enmity of the natural man against the truth, and to engage his attention profitably to its lessons. Let not Christian conversation be made the occasion of finding fault, or of indulging in anything like censoriousness. This is improper and unwise, as it tends directly to arouse the opposition of the heart, and to give religion a repulsive character. Even when reproof is necessary, great tenderness and affection are required in its administration, in order to its success. Neglecting this, some have unhappily become too cynical in their speech ; and have, by their manner, defeated the intention of their effort. This has too often been the case in the government of families; the rising members of which, being only accustomed to consider religion as a system of prohibitions, and being only familiarized with its condemning operation, -its invaluable privileges and amiable character being shrouded from their view,-conceive a prejudice against it most inimical to their interests, and which has confirmed not a few in their alienation from God, and in their separation from his church. Let the propriety and advantages of Christianity, and the exceeding great love of God which it embodies, be prominently set forth, in kindness of manner and in affectionate speech, and we may hope for the production of salutary and abiding consequences.
It is equally necessary that religious conversation be sober, reverent, and clear. Flippancy is to be utterly condemned, as the product of ignorance, as repugnant to all right feeling, and as disgusting to all persons of good sense and correct taste. It is an offence against decency in any conversation ; but in professedly religious discourse it
Vol. XXIII. Third Series. JULY, 1814,
is offensive to God. Reverential speech is becoming, and will ever proceed from those who have a just estimate of the importance of Christianity; who hold communion with God, necessarily productive as it is of awe, even in its inspiration of the firmest confidence, and of the highest pleasures ; and who speak as “ in the sight of God” to his glory. So also it is most desirable that such speech should be clear and perspicuous, not confused and obscure. It should be “sound," and “ that cannot be condemned.” For want of this characteristic, the conversation of some persons is inefficient for the promotion of the cause which they advocate, and sometimes prejudicial to its interests. Clear conceptions must be sought, and the material of correct speech accumulated and arranged in the mind. To do this effectually, all the means of Christian information accessible must be employed with diligence ; the word of God must be heard, read, marked, learned, and inwardly digested; the Scriptures must be read with attention and prayer; and thus the indwelling of the word, in all wisdom, will be secured. The fountain of sound speech is knowledge, drawn from the Bible, treasured up in the mind of the speaker. Our speech does not produce our knowledge ; but knowledge enables us to use correct speech. Knowledge precedes discreet speech, and is indicated by it; as it gives proof that the speaker is endowed with that distinctive information which becomes him as a Christian. Let all, then, seek this qualification, which is graciously within their reach, that they be no longer babes, but men, in the knowledge of God.
But as to determine aright of opportunities for pious discourse; to judge of the condition and adaptation of men's minds; and to suit both the temper and subject of our conversation to these opportunities, and to the advantage of our fellows; will frequently, or usually, exceed our sagacity, however aided by experience; it is necessary that we constantly seek and rely upon the assistance of God. To this our oftdiscovered inability should constrain us; and in this practice we are encouraged by the fact, that God gives liberally of the requisite wisdom to those that ask, and without upbraiding. (James i. 5.) Animated by an ardent devotion, and endowed with this gift, we shall delight in such conversation, and be enabled to engage in it with ease, -suitably, seasonably, and in a profitable manner.
Thus will the Christian “know how he ought to answer every man." He will be qualified to reply to the objections of the enemies of religion, either to the conviction of opposers, or to their confusion; aiming at the former result, that he may save some. He will be “ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh a reason of the hope that is in him, with meekness and fear;” (1 Peter iii. 15;) and he will do this with “sound speech that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of” him. (Titus ii. 8.) He will be able to answer the inquirer after salvation, in whom the grace of God is producing repent
ance, not in a vague and unsatisfactory way, but with intelligence and distinctness. General declarations, which appear, by some, to be expected to operate as charms, will not be rested in; but the argument of faith will be stated and explained; and God's method of saving the guilty penitent, through the atonement of his Son, illustrated. Thus will such a man contribute to the necessary illumination of mind which is at the foundation of all godliness; and wisely, and in the order of God, assist in the formation of well-established and right-principled Christian character. For want of this grace and wisdom in all who engage in the encouragement of the penitent, many of the latter have rather been led to rest in the excitement of their feelings, their understandings remaining in great ignorance ; and have, consequently, in “time of temptation,” fallen away. There can be no doubt, but that the declension which frequently follows what are termed “revivals of religion” is to be attributed, in some degree, to this cause.
The possessor of the qualifications before described will be an able and safe counsellor to the afflicted, distressed, and perplexed among his brethren ; and each should be solicitous to augment the comparatively small number to whom the troubled seek for advice and relief in their tribulations. They who are exercised with sorrow, distracted with the perplexity of their circumstances, or harassed by the temptations of Satan, do not ask advice indiscriminately; but, passing by the many among professors, expose their trials, and state their difficulties, only to those who have a just reputation for grace and wisdom, and who are known to be able to answer and direct them suitably and religiously. Able men of this sort are as rare as they are valuable; they are pillars in the church, adding at once to its stability and beauty.
Let it not be supposed that such ability must remain the exclusive endowment of some few eminent Christians. True it is, that in any state of improvement to which the church may advance, some would be better qualified so to act than others, as the peculiar constitution of their minds, their greater acquaintance with men and things, and the discipline to which they may have been subjected, would give them an advantage. Yet, notwithstanding this, all religious persons may obtain sufficient information, grace, and wisdom, to enable them, in all ordinary circumstances, to be helpers of the faith and patience of their brethren; to direct the inquirer in the way to heaven ; and to meet the enemy in the gate : whilst, for all extraordinary times and occurrences, God will provide suitable men to care for, to promote the edification and to secure the establishment of, his church ; or he will bless the more feeble instrumentality of his approval in the accomplishment of his purposes.
It will be obvious, that the admonition of the text condemns vain and trifling conversation, into which some, through the vivacity of their minds, and the want of self-control and watchfulness, are too
prone to enter. Christian cheerfulness is far removed from trifling. The one should be cultivated, the other repressed and avoided. Vain speech proceeds from a vain and foolish mind: those who trifle in their speech, will hardly scruple to trifle in their actions; and those that trifle are not far from danger. General society, which is conservative of its own interests, will not trust a trifler; nor can the church safely or properly employ or trust a trifling professor. The life of such an one is worse than a blank to himself; and is injurious, or, to say the least, without advantage, to others. Let young persons flee from trifling and from triflers, and seek, not the gravity of premature old age, but that Christian sobriety which will profitably blend itself with, and direct, the natural and expected buoyancy of younger years. It is not the “ salt” of satire and jocularity, with which the petulant and the witty season their conversation, that is here intended by the Apostle, but the “salt” of heavenly wisdom. An iinmoderate indulgence in wit and humour is destructive of Christian reputation, and comports not with a “sound mind ;” and all “ foolish talking and jesting,” as they are “not convenient,” are discreditable, and out of place, in the speech of those who claim to be considered godly.
All injurious, detracting, slanderous speech is, by the same rule, condemned. Most unequivocally and sternly is such practice frowned upon by the word of God, and its meanness and wickedness are admitted in the judgment of men. We need, however, to “set a watch before our mouth, and to keep the door of our lips,” lest we fall into this snare ; and especially as the evil is so prevalent, and comes to us in manifold disguises, and would seduce us often under the veil of holiness. Such speech should not be heard among Christians; its nature is base and odious, its procedure cowardly and hypocritical ; it is offensive, in a high degree, to God, who is love and equity; and it is injurious to man, whom it licentiously assails. It involves consequences dangerous to salvation, and requires deep repentance towards God, and a severe reparation and humiliating restitution to man. Let us learn to “honour all men," shunning all backbiting and whispering, as most pestilent and disgraceful crimes; and let us guard, against all “false tongues" and detractors, the reputation of our neighbours and brethren, as we would guard our own. See,” says Mr. Wesley, “ that you 'speak evil of no man ;' of the absent, nothing but good. What a blessed effect of this self-denial we should quickly feel in our hearts ! How would our "peace flow as a river,' when we thus followed
peace with all men ! How would brotherly love increase, when this grand hinderance to it was removed! And what an effect might this have on the world! By this chiefly would God convince the world, and prepare them also for his kingdom.”
Those professors who, while they talk well on other subjects, are
Works, vol. vi., p. 123, 3d edit.