1 S. PETER iii.10.
"For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile."
Among the scientific wonders of the day, one of the most remarkable is the telephone, by which we can hear each other's words at a considerable distance. By means of that instrument the sermon of the preacher, the music of the singer, the weighty words of the wise, and the silly babble of the foolish, can be carried over a great space. Have you ever thought, brethren, that if a telephone could be invented sufficiently large to convey the words uttered in one day in one of our great cities, or even in this place, what a babel of strange discordant sounds would come to our ears? What a mixture of wisdom and folly, love and hate, selfishness and self-denial, would be heard! Few of us would be the happier for hearing all the talk of their town or parish for one day. Now, God does hear every word spoken throughout the world. All that men say, good or bad, wise or foolish, is known to that God to whom all hearts are open, and from whom no secrets are hid. And more than this, these words of ours are noted in God's Book of Remembrance, from which we shall one day be judged. When a man is taken into custody on suspicion of having committed some crime, he is always warned that whatever he may say will be used in evidence against him. Such a man is very careful to keep a curb upon his tongue. My brothers, we have all need to remember that for every idle word we must give account, and that what we say every day of our life will be used as evidence against us, since "by our words we shall be justified, and by our words we shall be condemned."
I have read of one of old time who, being unable to read, came to a Priest, and asked to be taught a Psalm. Having learnt the verse, "I said I will take heed to my ways, that I offend not with my tongue," he went away, saying that was enough if it were carried out practically. Six months later he was asked why he had not come to learn another Psalm, and he answered simply that he had not yet been able to master what he had learned already.
Most important, then, and most necessary among Christian duties, is control of the tongue, and yet it is much neglected. Many, who would hesitate to do a foolish or wicked thing, do not scruple to say what is both unwise and wrong. There are men living respectable and clean lives who yet love to tell an unclean story. There are those who sing God's praises in Church, and pray earnestly, and with the same tongue swear and use bad language when their temper is ruffled. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. There are some good mothers, perhaps, who would shudder at a bad word, or an immodest story, who yet habitually sin with their tongue. They shoot out their arrows, even bitter words, which wound a sister's reputation, and leave scars which never pass away. Truly says a well-known writer, "Heaven keep us from the destroying power of words. There are words which sever hearts more than sharp swords do; there are words, the points of which sting the heart through the course of a whole life."
My brothers, we all, like a deadly serpent, carry a fearful weapon in our tongue, and woe unto our happiness, and that of others, if the poison of asps is under our lips. No one has learnt aright the lessons of Christianity unless he can curb his tongue. We dare not call ourselves followers of Him who went about doing good, and spake as never man spake, if we go about with lies, with cruel speeches, with the sneering sarcasm which maddens, and the unjust judgment which kills. Let us put this matter before ourselves very practically, and think of some words from which we must restrain our mouth as it were with a bridle. First, let us guard against the unkind word of every class. This world is full of sunshine, and flowers, and singing birds, because God is full of kindness. So, if we would find sunshine in our life, and flowers about our path, we must be kindly affectioned one to another, pitiful, courteous, in our words. The man who goes through life saying cruel things is like a musical instrument out of tune, whose only sounds are discord. It is the kindly tongue which makes "the music of men's lives." Think what an unkind word can do! It can, and has, parted husband and wife, parent and child, for ever. It has driven a man from the Paradise of home, to the cold, outer world of lonely misery. It has blighted a young life as a cruel frost kills the budding may. It has embittered a parent's declining years, and brought down grey hairs with sorrow to the grave. Of all miseries, surely one of the greatest must be to stand by the open grave of some friend, and to feel that the poor heart, lying cold and still beneath us, has been wounded by our cruel and unkindly words. O sons and daughters, take heed to your words, lest when you lay father or mother in the grave there comes the sad accusing whisper, "my angry temper, and my thoughtless tongue, saddened my parent's last days on earth." A great English writer said sadly, "What would I give to call my mother back to earth for one day, to ask her pardon upon my knees for all those things by which I gave her gentle spirit pain." Watch and pray against unkind words, they never did, or can do, good. They never softened a hard heart, or convinced an unbeliever, or converted a sinner. You cannot shape lives into beauty by hard words, as you can a stone by hard blows. Say a kindly word whenever you have the opportunity, and you will be like one sowing the seed of a fragrant flower, which will bring sweetness to others, and most surely to yourself. One of the best lessons we can learn is to be silent at the right time. One of the greatest of the old Greek philosophers condemned each of his pupils to five years' silence, that he might learn self-control; and Holy Writ tells us plainly that a man full of words shall not prosper upon the earth.
Another which we must guard against is the discontented word. Everywhere around we hear people murmuring, and finding fault. Nearly everyone whom we meet has some complaint. It is almost a miracle to find a man who says, "I am well, very happy, and quite contented." Let the skies be ever so blue, the eyes of the murmurer can discover a rising cloud. Let to-day be ever so bright and prosperous, the discontented forsees trouble to-morrow. The greatest and the best of men appear in his eyes to be full of faults and weaknesses. Everyone has his price, he says, no man serves God for nought. In a word, he can see no good in God's world, no beauty in God's creatures, no blessings in his own life. He can tell you all his misfortunes, but ask him what good things God has done for him, and he cannot remember. My brothers, guard against the discontented tongue. It is a grievous sin against God, and it makes its owner and all around him wretched. Let the praises of God be in your mouth, and the two-edged sword of faith in your hand, and you will make your way through all difficulties, and triumph over all troubles. Count up God's mercies and blessings every day, and you cannot murmur. Sing the Te Deum oftener, and you will have no time for the miserable ditties of the discontented. Imitate the bees, who gather sweetness from the common things of life. Look up to God's bright sky, and not down into the gloomy cavern of your own heart. Pray to be lifted out of self, and filled with thoughts of God's love and mercy, then you will be able to say --
"My heart leaps up when I behold
The rainbow in the sky!
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die."
And next, let us guard against the untruthful word of every kind. There are hundreds of ways in which men sin against the truth, and yet the world does not call them by the terrible name, the most shameful of all names -- a liar. The world is very fond of giving wrong names to certain sins. A man appears in the morning with pale face, and shaking hand, and lack-lustre eye, and the world says he has been spending a festive evening, whereas the truth is he has been drunk. The man who leads an unclean life is pleasantly styled by the world a fast man. God in the Bible calls him by a very different name.
Let us learn to call things by their right names. If what we say is not quite true it is a lie, neither more nor less. If we go about with idle tales of our neighbour, tales which have some truth in them, but not all the truth, then we are verily guilty concerning our brother; since the truths which are only half truths "are ever the worst of lies." If in our business we say more than the truth, or less than the truth, we are verily guilty. A lie is no less a lie because it is printed in a prospectus, or written up in a shop window. A tradesman who sells a pair of boots which fall to pieces, or a garment which will not wear, and tells us that they are good and genuine articles, is just as false as Ananias himself. I have heard traders declare that they cannot afford to be honest. This is an utter mistake. Every Christian man is bound by the vows of his Baptism both to speak and act the truth. Well says a preacher of our day, "we have dethroned the Most High in the realm of commerce, and in the place of the Heavenly Majesty have erected unclean and pestiferous idols; we have put into the holy place the foul little gods, named Trickery and Cunning. We have tried to lock God up in the Church, and have shut upon Him the iron gates of the marketplace."
My brothers, if you would prosper you must have God with you in your business, guiding your plough, blessing your farm, ruling your trade. You must have God with you behind the counter of your shop, or your office, and if God is to be there you must speak the truth. A Christian man must have nothing to do with an unjust balance, or a false weight. He must refuse to adulterate his wares, for these things are lies. The Chinese are in the habit of adulterating some of their tea for the market, but they are honest enough to call it in their language lie tea. I only wish our traders would do the same when they offer us false articles under the name of genuine wares. The time would fail me to tell one quarter of the ways in which God's law of truth is broken. I may not stay to speak of the false advertisement, of the highly-coloured description, of the quack medicine, which we are solemnly told will cure any kind of disease. I would only say, take the matter home to your own hearts. Whoever you are, make up your mind that as Christians you must speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. And may the God of all truth give your strength.