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The pernicious Effects of an inflamed Tongue.
JAMES iii. 6.
And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. So is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature, and it is set on fire of
SAINT James, in this chapter, gives us an animated description of the mischiefs produced in the world by a petulant and untameable tongue.
The tongue has so much to do in all the business of life; it is so nimble and voluble an organ; it is so easily put in motion by the lightest breath of passion -and it soinstantly feels the impulse of other tongues, that the regular government of it is considered, in scripture, as an evidence of high attainments in virtue. Hence our Apostle says, "If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body."
The tongue has an influence upon all the human movements; and he who regulates this with wisdom and sobriety, will seldom grossly err in the conduct of life. While this moves aright he will not go wrong. This observation the Apostle illustrates by two similitudes; the bit which guides a horse, and the helm which directs a ship. "We put bits in the horses' mouths, that they may obey us, and we turn about their whole body. And the ships, which though they be so great, and be driven with fierce winds, yet are turned about by a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth. So the tongue is a little member, and boasteth," or performeth, great things." It moves and turns the whole body, as the bit does a horse, or the helm a ship. Nor is its power confined to the man who possesses it ; but extends to many others. One tongue, like the main wheel in a complicated machine, being set a going, will put a hundred more in motion. It may in this respect, be also compared to fire, which is the Apostle's metaphor. A small spark, falling into dry matter, soon mounts into a blaze; and spreading with ungovernable fury, consumes cities, or levels forests in its progress; and it is not extinguished, as long as there are, in its way, any combustibles to feed it. "Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth." "The tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity; it defileth the whole body; it setteth on fire the course of nature.; and it is set on fire of hell."
We will make some remarks on the Apostle's description of this pernicious evil, the inflammation of the tongue. And we may observe,
I. The inflamed tongue "is set on fire of hell." It is, indeed, immediately set on fire by the passions ; but these are inflamed by hell; and, operating as conductors, the flame which they catch from be
neath, they transmit to the tongue. They are the tongs by which the live coal is taken, not from the sacred altar, but from the sooty furnace, to touch the unhallowed lips. Hence our Apostle, speaking of the haughty and malignant passions, envy, strife, deceit and vain glorying, says, "This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish." Saint Paul speaks to the same purpose; "Put away lying, let not the sun go down on your wrath, neither give place to the devil." When these passions, by the operation of an infernal spirit, are excited into action, the tongue obeys their impulse as naturally, as puppets dance to the motion of the wire, or a stringed instrument sounds to the stroke of the bow. "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. From within, out of the heart of man proceed evil thoughts, false witness and blasphemies."
The boasters, false accusers and covenant breakers, who shall come in the last days, are described by the Apostle, as "proud, fierce, high minded, unthankful, and despisers of good men." When the tongue is inflamed by the diabolical passions, it may properly be said to "be set on fire of hell."
II. 'The tongue thus inflamed, "sets on fire the course of nature;" or "defiles the whole body." It spreads disorder through all the members and powers of the man.
As the passions by their action give motion to the tongue, so this by its reaction gives new violence to the passions. If men under high provocation, instead of hastily uttering their resentments, would apply themselves to sober, silent, prayerful meditatation, their passions might soon subside into a calm. But how often, without deliberating what they ought to say, or whether they ought to speak at all, do they pour out their first feelings in a tornado of blusVOL. IV.
tering language, and thus urge their rising passions into a sudden tempest? How often do men, who have met with a supposed injury, force themselves into a rage by relating the injury with all the fictitious aggravations, which jealousy can invent? Men of opposite parties, or of different sects may, at first, dissent from each other in their sober judgment; and their dissent may arise from their different connexions or from different degrees of information. But they enter into a dispute, talk confidently, grow warm, perhaps angry, each asserts more than he knows, each takes advantage of the other's mistakes, and each, instead of confessing, labors to defend his errors. They soon begin to reproach each other as ignorant, and to criminate each other as dishonest, and, by degrees, work themselves into a belief of all the illiberal things, which they have said; and thus contract a mutual hatred, which never would have existed, if they had curbed the licentiousness of the tongue.
The man addicted to sensuality, by often pleading in defence of his conduct, and affecting to glory in his shame, stupifies his conscience, extinguishes modesty, loses a sense of decency, and gives dominion to lust.
Whatever corruption exists in the heart, it will acquire strength by the concurrence of the tongue in aiding and defending it. The fire within, ventilated by the mouth, soon-rises and spreads through the man. Thus "the tongue defiles the body, and sets on fire the course of nature."
But it does not stop here; for the Apostle says,
III. "The tongue is a world of iniquity." It has a concern in all the mischief that is done upon earth.
As it is a principal agent in all the transactions of mankind, it of course has a share in all their injust
ice, fraud, cruelty and oppression. If we look through the world, we see no good work carried on, and no laudable design accomplished without the help of this little organ. It is by this, that companions amuse, friends entertain, and Christians edify one another. It is by this, that neighbors negotiate bargains, and merchants manage their trade. It is by this, that families are educated in piety, and schools instructed in science. It is by this, that legislators frame laws, advocates plead causes, judg es decide controversies, generals command armies, kings rule empires, and preachers proclaim the gospel.
The tongue has an equal concern in works of a different kind. If this werc no more to be used, all social business must cease. The work of Babel was soon stopped, when the language of the builders was confounded. If language should be generally perverted, the world would be in a worse state still; it would be filled with violence, and society must be disbanded. When the nation of the Jews became an assembly of treacherous men ; when every brother would utterly supplant, and every neighbor would walk in slanders; when all bent their tongues, like their bows, for lies, and none were valiant for the truth, the prophet wished to find in the wilderness a lodging place of wayfaring men, that he might leave his people and go from them. It was the perversion of speech, which made the state of society so intolerable then; and to the same cause are owing the
rincipal infelicities of society at any time. If there be brawls in a family, they are begun and kept up by the petulance of the tongue. If there be between man and man a fiery contention, which cannot be extinguished, it is because their two tongues, like the burning ends of two firebrands, come in contact, and thus raise and continue the flame. If there be