Of the Use of Speech.
Man at his first creation was substituted by God as his Viceregent, to receive the homage, and enjoy the services of all inferior beings: nay, farther was endowed with excellencies fit to maintain the port of so vast an Empire. Yet those very excellencies, as they qualified him for dominion, so they unfitted him for satisfaction or acquiescence in those his vassals: the dignity of his nature set him above the society or converse of mere animals; so that in all the pomp of his royalty, amidst all the throng and variety of creatures, he still remained solitary. But God who knew what an appetite of society he had implanted in him, judged this no agreeable state for him, It is not meet that man should be alone. Gen.2.18. And as in the universal frame of nature, he engrafted such an abhorrence of vacuity, that all creatures do rather submit to a preternatural motion than admit it, so, in this empty, this destitute condition of man, he relieved him by a miraculous expedient, divided him that he might unite him, and made one part of him an associate for the other.

2. Neither did God take this care to provide him a companion, merely for the intercourses of Sense: had that been the sole aim, there needed no new productions, there were sensitive creatures enough: the design was to entertain his nobler principle, his reason, with a more equal converse, assign him an intimate, whose intellect as much corresponded with his, as did the outward form, whose heart, according to Solomon's resemblance, answered his, As in water face answers face, Prov.27.19. with whom he might communicate minds, traffic and interchange all the notions and sentiments of a reasonable soul.

3. But though there were this sympathy in their sublimer part which disposed them to a most intimate union; yet there was a cloud of flesh in the way which intercepted their mutual view, nay, permitted no intelligence between them, other than by the mediation of some Organ equally commensurate to soul and body. And to this purpose the infinite wisdom of God ordained Speech; which as it is a sound resulting from the modulation of the Air, has most affinity to the spirit, but as it is uttered by the Tongue, has immediate cognition with the body, and so is the fittest instrument to manage a commerce between the rational yet invisible powers of human souls clothed in flesh.

4. And as we have reason to admire the excellency of this contrivance, so have we to applaud the extensiveness of the benefit. From this it is we derive all the advantages of society: without this men of the nearest neighborhood would have signified no more to each other than the Antipodes now do to us. All our arts and sciences for the accommodation of this life, had remained only a rude Chaos in their first matter, had not speech by a mutual comparing of notions ranged them into order. By this it is we can give one another notice of our wants, and solicit relief; by this we interchange advices, reproofs, consolations, all the necessary aids of human feebleness. This is that which possesses us of the most valuable blessing of human life, I mean Friendship, which could no more have been contracted amongst dumb men, than it can between pictures and statues. Nay, farther to this we owe in a great degree the interests even of our spiritual being, all the oral, yea, and written revelations too of God's will: for had there been no language there had been no writing. And though we must not pronounce how far God might have evidenced himself to mankind by immediate inspiration of every individual, yet we may safely rest in the Apostle's inference in Rom.10.14. How shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard, and how shall they hear without a preacher?

5. From all these excellent uses of it in respect to man, we may collect another in relation to God, that is in praising and magnifying his goodness, as for all other effects of his bounty, so particularly that he hath given us language, and all the consequent advantages of it. This is the just inference of the son of Syrach in Ecclus.51.22. The Lord hath given me a tongue, and I will praise him therewith. This is the sacrifice which God calls for so often by the Prophets, the Calves of our Lips, which answers to all the oblations out of the herd, and which the Apostle makes equivalent to those of the floor and winepress also, Heb.13.15. The fruit of our lips, giving thanks to his name. To this we frequently find the Psalmist exciting both himself and others, Awake up my glory, I will give thanks unto Thee, O Lord, among the people, and I will sing unto Thee among the nations. Psa.57.9, 10. And O praise the Lord with me, and let us magnify His name together. Psa.34.3. And indeed, whoever observes that excellent magazine of Devotion, the book of Psalms, shall find that the Lauds make up a very great part of it.

6. By what hath been said, we may define what are the grand Uses of speech, viz. the glorifying of God, and the benefiting of men. And this helps us to an infallible test by which to try our words. For since everything is so far approvable as it answers the end of its being, what part soever of our discourses agrees not with these primitive ends of speech, will not hold weight in the balance of the sanctuary. It will therefore nearly concern us to enter upon this scrutiny, to bring our words to this touchstone: for though in our depraved estimate the Eloquence of Language is more regarded than the innocence, though we think our words vanish with the breath that utters them, yet they become records in God's Court, are laid up in his Archives as witnesses either for, or against us: for he who is truth itself hath told us, that By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned. Mat.12.37.

the contents
Top of Page
Top of Page