And I will tell you two other things, said sharp-sighted and plain- spoken Shame, that your present religion will compel you to do if you adhere to it. It will compel you from time to time to ask your neighbour's forgiveness even for petty faults, and it will insist with you that you make restitution when you have done the weak and the friendless any hurt or any wrong. And every manly mind will tell you that life is not worth having on such humbling terms as those are. Whatever may be thought about Shame in other respects, it cannot be denied that he had a sharp eye for the facts of life, and a shrewd tongue in setting those facts forth. He has hit the blot exactly in the matter of our first duty to our neighbour; he has put his finger on one of the matters where so many of us, through a false shame, come short. It costs us a tremendous struggle with our pride to go to our neighbour and to ask his forgiveness for a fault, petty fault or other. Did you ever do it? When did you do it last, to whom, and for what? One Sabbath morning, now many years ago, I had occasion to urge this elementary evangelical duty on my people here, and I did it as plainly as I could. Next day one of my young men, who is now a devoted and honoured elder, came to me and told me that he had done that morning what his conscience yesterday told him in the church to do. He had gone to a neighbour's place of business, had asked for an interview, and had begged his neighbour's pardon. I am sure neither of those two men have forgotten that moment, and the thought of it has often since nerved me to speak plainly about some of their most unwelcome duties to my people. Shame, no doubt, pulled back my noble friend's hand when it was on the office bell, but, like Faithful in the text, he shook him out of his company and went in. I spoke of the remarkable justice of the newspaper press in the opening of these remarks. And it so happens that, as I lay down my pen to rest my hand after writing this sentence and lift a London evening paper, I read this editorial note, set within the well-known brackets at the end of an indignant and expostulatory letter: ['Our correspondent's complaint is just. The paragraph imputing bad motives should not have been admitted.'] I have no doubt that editor felt some shame as he handed that apologetic note to the printer. But not to speak of any other recognition and recompense, he has the recompense of the recognition of all honourable-minded men who have read that honourable admission and apology.
Shame was quite right in his scoff about restitution also. For restitution rings like a trumpet tone through the whole of the law of Moses, and then the New Testament republishes that law if only in the exquisite story of Zaccheus. And, indeed, take it altogether, I do not know where to find in the same space a finer vindication of Puritan pulpit ethics than just in this taunting and terrifying attack on Faithful. There is no better test of true religion both as it is preached and practised than just to ask for and to grant forgiveness, and to offer and accept restitution. Now, does your public and private life defend and adorn your minister's pulpit in these two so practical matters? Could your minister point to you as a proof of the ethics of evangelical teaching? Can any one in this city speak up in defence of your church and thus protest: 'Say what you like about that church and its ministers, all I can say is, that its members know how to make an apology; as, also, how to pay back with interest what they at one time damaged or defrauded'? Can any old creditor's widow or orphan stand up for our doctrine and defend our discipline pointing to you? If you go on to be a Puritan, said Shame to Faithful, you will have to ask your neighbour's forgiveness even for petty faults, and you will have to make restitution with usury where you have taken anything from any one, and how will you like that?
And what did you say to all this, my brother? Say? I could not tell what to say at the first. I felt my blood coming up into my face at some of the things that Shame said and threatened. But, at last, I began to consider that that which is highly esteemed among men is often had in abomination with God. And I said to myself again, Shame tells me what men do and what men think, but he has told me nothing about what He thinks with Whom I shall soon have alone to do. Therefore, thought I, what God thinks and says is wisest and best, let all the men of the world say what they will. Let all false shame, then, depart from my heart, for how else shall I look upon my Lord, and how shall He look upon me at His coming?
'A man full of talk.'--Zophar. 'Let thy words be few.'--The Preacher. 'The soul of religion is the practick part.'--Christian.
Since we all have a tongue, and since so much of our time is taken up with talk, a simple catalogue of the sins of the tongue is enough to terrify us. The sins of the tongue take up a much larger space in the Bible than we would believe till we have begun to suffer from other men's tongues and especially from our own. The Bible speaks a great deal more and a great deal plainer about the sins of the tongue than any of our pulpits dare to do. In the Psalms alone you would think that the psalmists scarcely suffer from anything else worth speaking about but the evil tongues of their friends and of their enemies. The Book of Proverbs also is full of the same lashing scourge. And James the Just, in a passage of terrible truth and power, tells us that we are already as good as perfect men if we can bridle our tongue; and that, on the other hand, if we do not bridle our tongue, all our seeming to be religious is a sham and a self-deception,--that man's religion is vain.
With many men and many women great talkativeness is a matter of simple temperament and mental constitution. And a talkative habit would be a childlike and an innocent habit if the heart of talker and the hearts of those to whom he talks so much were only full of truth and love. But our hearts and our neighbours' hearts being what they are, in the multitude of words there wanteth not sin. So much of our talk is about our absent neighbours, and there are so many misunderstandings, prejudices, ambitions, competitions, oppositions, and all kinds of cross-interests between us and our absent neighbours, that we cannot long talk about them till our hearts have run our tongues into all manner of trespass. Bishop Butler discourses on the great dangers that beset a talkative temperament with almost more than all his usual sagacity, seriousness, and depth. And those who care to see how the greatest of our modern moralists deals with their besetting sin should lose no time in possessing and mastering Butler's great discourse. It is a truly golden discourse, and it ought to be read at least once a month by all the men and all the women who have tongues in their heads. Bishop Butler points out to his offending readers, in a way they can never forget, the certain mischief they do to themselves and to other people just by talking too much. But there are far worse sins that our tongues fall into than the bad enough sins that spring out of impertinent and unrestrained loquacity. There are many times when our talk, long or short, is already simple and downright evil. It is ten to one, it is a hundred to one, that you do not know and would not believe how much you fall every day and in every conversation into one or other of the sins of the tongue. If you would only begin to see and accept this, that every time you speak or hear about your absent neighbour what you would not like him to speak or hear about you, you are in that a talebearer, a slanderer, a backbiter, or a liar,--when you begin to see and admit that about yourself, you will not wonder at what the Bible says with such bitter indignation about the diabolical sins of the tongue. If you would just begin to-night to watch yourselves--on the way home from church, at home after the day is over, to-morrow morning when the letters and the papers are opened, and so on,--how instinctively, incessantly, irrepressibly you speak about the absent in a way you would be astounded and horrified to be told they were at that moment speaking about you, then you would soon be wiser than all your teachers in the sins and in the government of the tongue. And you would seven times every day pluck out your tongue before God till He gives it back to you clean and kind in that land where all men shall love their neighbours, present and absent, as themselves.
Take detraction for an example, one of the commonest, and, surely, one of the most detestable of the sins of the tongue. And the etymology here, as in this whole region, is most instructive and most impressive. In detraction you DRAW AWAY something from your neighbour that is most precious and most dear to him. In detraction you are a thief, and a thief of the falsest and wickedest kind. For your neighbour's purse is trash, while his good name is far more precious to him than all his gold. Some one praises your neighbour in your hearing, his talents, his performances, his character, his motives, or something else that belongs to your neighbour. Some one does that in your hearing who either does not know you, or who wishes to torture and expose you, and you fall straight into the snare thus set for you, and begin at once to belittle, depreciate, detract from, and run down your neighbour, who has been too much praised for your peace of mind and your self-control. You insinuate something to his disadvantage and dishonour. You quote some authority you have heard to his hurt. And so on past all our power to picture you. For detraction has a thousand devices taught to it by the master of all such devices, wherewith to drag down and defile the great and the good. But with all you can say or do, you cannot for many days get out of your mind the heart-poisoning praise you heard spoken of your envied neighbour. Never praise any potter's pots in the hearing of another potter, said the author of the Nicomachean Ethics. Aristotle said potter's pots, but he really all the time was thinking of a philosopher's books; only he said potter's pots to draw off his readers' attention from himself. Now, always remember that ancient and wise advice. Take care how you praise a potter's pots, a philosopher's books, a woman's beauty, a speaker's speech, a preacher's sermon to another potter, philosopher, woman, speaker, or preacher; unless, indeed, you maliciously wish secretly to torture them, or publicly to expose them, or, if their sanctification is begun, to sanctify them to their most inward and spiritual sanctification.
Backbiting, again, would seem at first sight to be a sin of the teeth rather than of the tongue, only, no sharpest tooth can tear you when your back is turned like your neighbour's evil tongue. Pascal has many dreadful things about the corruption and misery of man, but he has nothing that strikes its terrible barb deeper into all our consciences than this, that if all our friends only knew what we have said about them behind their back, we would not have four friends in all the world. Neither we would. I know I would not have one. How many would you have? And who would they be? You cannot name them. I defy you to name them. They do not exist. The tongue can no man tame.