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The Government Of The Tongue by Richard Allestree

Section II. Of the manifold Abuse of Speech.

And now, since the original designs of speaking are so noble, so advantageous, one would be apt to conclude no rational creature would be tempted to pervert them, since tis sure he can substitute none for them, that can equally conduce, either to his honor, or interest.

2. Yet experience (that great baffler of speculation) assures us the thing is too possible, and brings in all ages matter of fact to confute our suppositions. So liable alas, is speech to be depraved, that the Scripture describes it as the force of all our other depravation. Original sin came first out of the mouth by speaking, before it entered by eating. The first use we find Eve to have made of her language, was to enter parley with the tempter, and from that to become a tempter to her husband. And immediately upon the fall, guilty Adam frames his tongue to a frivolous excuse, which was much less able to cover his sin than the fig leaves his nakedness. And as in the infancy of the first world, the tongue had licked up the venom of the old serpent, so neither could the Deluge wash it off in the second. No sooner was that small colony (wherewith the depopulated earth was to be replanted) come forth of the Ark, but we meet with Ham, a detractor of his own father, inviting his brethren to that execrable spectacle of their parent's nakedness.

3. Nor did this only run in the blood of that accursed Person; the holy seed was not totally free from its infection, even the Patriarchs themselves were not exempt. Abraham used a repeated collusion in the case of his wife, and exposed his own integrity to preserve her chastity. Isaac the heir of his blessing, was son of his infirmity also, and acted over the same scene upon Rebecca's account. Jacob obtained his father's blessing by a flat lie. Simeon and Levi spake not only falsely, but insidiously, nay, hypocritically, abusing at once their proselytes, and their religion, for the effecting their cruel designs upon the Shechemites. Moses, though a man of unparalleled meekness, yet spake unadvisedly with his lips, Psa.106.33. David uttered a bloody vow against Nabal, spake words smoother than oil to Uriah, when he had done him one injury, and designed him another. Twere endless to reckon up those several instances the Old Testament gives us of these lapses of the Tongue: neither want there divers in the New; though there is one of so much horror, as supersedes the naming more, I mean that of St. Peter in his reiterated abjuring his Lord, a crime which (abstracted from the intention) seems worse than the one of Judas: that traitor owned his relation, cried Master, Master, even when he betrayed him, so that had he been measured only by his tongue, he might have passed for the better disciple.

4. These are sad instances, not recorded to pratonize the sin, but to excite our caution. It was a politic inference of the elders of Israel in the case of Jehu, Behold two kings stood not before him, how then shall we stand? 2 King.10. And we may well apply it to this: if persons of so circumspect a piety have been thus overtaken, what security can there be for our wretched obstinacy? If those who kept their mouths, as it were, with a bridle, Psa.39. could not have always preserve their innocence, to what guilts may not our unrestrained licentious tongues hurry us? Those which as the Psalmist speaketh in Psa.73.9. go through the world, are in that unbounded range very likely to meet with him who walks the same round. Job 2.2. and by him be tuned and set to his key, be screwed and wrested from their proper use, and made subservient to his vilest designs.

5. And would God this were only a probable supposition! But alas, experience supplants the use of conjecture in the point: we do not only presume it may be so, but actually find it is so; for amidst the universal depravation of our Faculties, there is none more notorious than that of speech. Whither shall we turn us to find it in its pristine integrity? Amidst that infinity of words in which we exhaust our breath, how few are there which do at all correspond with the original designation of speech, nay, which do not flatly contradict it? To what unholy, uncharitable purposes is that useful faculty perverted? That which was meant to serve as the perfume of the tabernacle, to send up the incenses of praise and prayers, now exhales in impious vapors, to eclipse, if it were possible, the Father of light. That which should be the store-house of relief and refreshment to our brethren, is become a magazine of all offensive weapons against them, spears and arrows and sharp swords, as the Psalmist often phrases them. We do not only fall by the slipperiness of our tongues, but we deliberately discipline and train them to mischief. We bend our tongues as our bows for lies. As the Prophet speaks in Jer.9. And in a word, what God affirmed of the old world in relation to thoughts, is too applicable to our words, they are evil and that continually, Gen.6.5. and that which was intended for the instrument, the aid of human society, is become the disturber, the pest of it.

6. I Shall not attempt a particular discussion of all the vices of the Tongue: it doth indeed pass all Geography to draw an exact Map of that world of iniquity, as St. James calls it. I shall only draw the greater lines, and distribute it into its principal and more eminent parts, which are distinguishable as they relate to God, our Neighbor, and our Selves: in each of which I shall rather make an essay by way of instance, than attempt to exact enumeration or survey.

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