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NEW EVANGEJLICA1L MAGAZINE,
THE CAUSE, CRIME, AND CURE OF EVIL SPEAKING.
Preached at the Baptist Monthly Meeting in Devonshire Square, April 22, 1816.
[Now first printed.]
as if there were some texts of scripture that are not to be made use of or introduced) this very tongue eejveth his own heart, and this jit for himself, he strives todo«8
And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, endsettelh on fire the course of nature: mi it is set on fire of hell. Jam. iii. 6.
I Have for a long time had a prevalent desire of preaching to you, and the more publicly the better, from these words; because I have thought, and from considerable experience and observation been of the opinion, that there is much instruction, and that of the last and most necessary importance (necessary and useful more especially, in the age and place in which we live) to be deduced from them: and also because, that after all the clamour uttered against the tongue, I do not remember to have heard or seen this text touched upon by any preacher or sermonizer, though it is perhaps one of the most descriptive and alarming in the whole Bible. It is a very delicate subject I confess, but not to be passed over superficially. If the tongue be the ornament of our rational and intellectual nature, whatsoever hath a tendency to injure or deface the beauty of that faculty is an enemy to the wiage of God, at first ens tamped upon the soul. But there is a formidable objection to a minister's taking such a text (tacitly implying VOL. Hi.
is apt to let loose, and give itself unwarrantable liberties, suggesting that perhaps the reason the minister speaks from this text is that some of the people have said something that has been injurious and has vexed him, and so he took this text to scold them that had done it! I freely profess to you, that I am not conscious of any such motive. When I at first proposed to preach from this text, it was rather unceremoniously, and not without a considerable quantity of hauteur and self-sufficiency, demanded of me in a public company, "Whether by chusing such a text I had a mind to set the city of London on fire? I had a ready reply to that thoughtless question, namely, that the City of London is already on fire, and that by a worse conflagration than what took place in the days of King Charles II. and that I wished to erect a monument against it. I wished to be if possible under the divine direction an humble means of stepping the City's total destruction—or to change the idea: you know when a general and infectious disorder such as the plague, breaks out in a district, and the help of phy2 L
sicians is called in, it is their business to study all the symptoms of the malady, and, if they are able, to get at the radical cause; if they can make that out and correct or remove it, it may be presumed to be an important step to the cure, and that other symptoms will die away, according as the influence of that decreases. If they are able to take the poisonous qualities (the virus) out of the spring, the poison will no longer spread itself into the streams. Now the same is observable in matters of a spiritual nature, yea even of spiritual wickedness. It is said that human nature is corrupt, and all that is said of it is too true. Our blessed Lord characterising the human heart describes it in general as so vile, that out of it, as its native produce, proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witnesses, blasphemies, yea all things which can debase and dishonour the man, and render him obnoxious to infinite purity, Matt. xv. 18. He does not admit, nor do his words imply, that nativrally there is any good quality whatever in it, but insists that all t4iat comes out of it is in every respect unclean, loathsome and wicked. The tree must first of all be made good before the fruit can be good. But may we not descend more intimately into the workings of the human mind, and come at the root of the evil in my text?
The Apostle James in a strain which in any other author (more especially an Heathen sage) would be pronounced philosophical, relates one particular way, in which the evil heart finds vent for its malignity—a way indeed which, as he describes it, is most fearful; it quickly overflows and makes itself a passage by the tongue; on which account the Apostle declares that if any man stem to be religious and bridlethnot his tongue, hede
man's religion is vain, false and unavailing; he merely seemeth to
be religious, in fact he is not so.
There are many symptoms of this disorder that I shall have occasion to touch upon as I proceed; they are all summed up in my text, and the deepest root, and radical source of the whole, 1 conceive to be most aptly and awfully expressed in the last clause, (hat the tongue is set on fire of Hell. What I propose therefore in endeavouring to illustrate the words will be,
I. To explain this clause, that it (meaning the tongue) is set on
fire of hell.
II. The fruits and effects of this calamity, that it is a fire, a world of iniquity among our members, defileth the whole body, andsetteth on fire the course of nature; from whence,
III. By the divine direction we shall be able to point out from whence the cure 'must come, and how be administered.
1. I am to endeavonr to explain what is meant by the tongue being set on fire of hell. Now H is saying nothing, or to no purpose to observe here, that to be set on fire of hell, imports that some persons are so full of hell, and so much resemble the Devil, that they may be said to have him working in them to do evil; this is universally true of all unconverted persons; and there is a reason why even the Devil is set on mischief, which eggs him on and stirs him up without ceasing, to seek whom he may devour. He is stiled a roaring lion, 1 Pet. v. 8. and this points out the latent cause of his walking about, however speciously, with thafview. As the lion roars for food when he is hungry (roan from the pain he feels) so the pain and horror and despair which Satan feels within his own breast agonize him with rage; that as he has no happiness or even hope of the mischief he can to others, and to make them equally miserable. For this reason he so assiduously lays his snares, and tempts men to (in; and he is in the greater rage because he knoweth that he hath but a short time. Rev. xii. 12. Now, where the tongue is set on fire of hell, we are to understand by it the very same reason, in a measure at least, as that which influences the Devil so earnestly to do, and to be what he is and does—so maliciously to delight to do mischief. Do we not all know, that if a man be in any respect thoroughly happy—suppose, for instance, that a great sum of money has unexpectedly fallen to him; he is for the time as happy as so much money can make him; and if so, how will he prove it? How will his behaviour discover it? Will be not be pleasant and good natured, placid and friendly, agreeable to all about him 1 He will think no evil of, do no evil to, any one. Correspondent to the joy of his heart will be the frankness of his countenance the affability of his words, and the kindness of his general demeanor also. On the contrary, suppose a man to be in his mind unhappy, and you behold him, unless great caution cover or disguise it, fretful and discontented, cross and captious to every one about him—reluctant to do good—if provoked he is full of wrath at those who he imagines have injured him, and if he can return the injury tenfold he is the better pleased; and he is glad also if he can see other people revenge him, and wishes them as miserable as himself. The temper of his mind drives him to all these and similar extravagancies; and the aforecited recollections will help to explain what I have to suggest about the tongue set on fire of hell, via. that the whole soul is set on fire of hell; and if it be enquired, What is that fire 7 I answer, What can it be but the wrath of God in a guilty con
science? We frequently observe, that not only does the scripture speak of wrath, of fire and brimstone, of body and soul destroyed, of a burning lake, of outer darkness, a bottomless pit, and of weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth, but every man in his sins has an hell in his own mind even while he now lives; that every man hat it in his own breast, until God subdue it, take it away, and speak peace to the 'soul. For what is conscience? It is God's voice in the soul—the voice of God's law, for instance, under the energy of his own influence, which declares the Lord to be most holy, his law most righteous, and the man himself to be a sinner; which declares also that there is vengeance due for sin, that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven, and is ready to burst upon all ungodliness, and unrighteousness of men. Now, every man hath this sad malady within himself, unless he have been made a partaker of the peace of God and the enjoyment of bis favour. For to have peace with God is not to be dull and stupid, to think seldom of him and but little about him; no, it is daily and, uniformly to derive our principal satisfaction from him, and to delight and be happy in him. If then a man be not happy in the Lord his God, he hath no peace from God, but is restless and uneasy; an unhappy conscience, the mens conscia mali makes him miserable; and though he try all methods to avert or to drive away the pain, yet like a ghost the wretched spectre returns again upon him, and fills him with dismay. "What man dares I dare; take any shape but that, and I'll meet thee," is the language of his obstinate heart! But who can dwell with the devouring fire; who can dwell with the everlasting burnings 1 Tis a degree of hell in the conscience; the whole course of nature, the whole soul is poisoned by the guilt of unpardoned sin.