The Evil Tongue
by Thomas Watson (1620-1686)
"And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity." (James 3:6)
The apostle James in this Scripture, describes the evil of the tongue, "The tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity."
1. "It is a fire." It burns with intemperate heat; it causeth the heat of contention; it sets others in a flame.
2. "A world of iniquity." It was at first made to be an organ of God's praise, but it is become an instrument of unrighteousness. All the members of the body are sinful, as there is bitterness in every branch of wormwood, but the tongue is excessively sinful, "full of deadly poison" (verse 8).
Doctrine: The tongue, though it be a little member, yet it has a world of sin in it; the tongue is an unruly evil. I shall show you some of the evils of the tongue.
1. The evil tongue is the silent tongue; it is wholly mute in matters of religion; it never speaks of God or of heaven, as if it cleaved to the roof of the mouth. Men are fluent and knowledgeable enough in other things, but in matters of religion their lips are sealed up. If we come into some people's company, we do not know what religion they are of, whether Jews or Mohammedans, for they never speak of Christ; they are like the man in the gospel, who was possessed with a dumb spirit (Mark 9:17).
2. The evil tongue is the earthly tongue; men talk of nothing but the world, as if all their hopes were here, and they looked for an earthly eternity; these have earthly minds, "He that is of the earth, speaketh of the earth" (John 3:31).
3. The evil tongue is the hasty or angry tongue; it has no command of passions, but is carried away with them, as a chariot with wild horses. I know there is an holy anger, when we are angry with sin: Christ had this anger when they made the temple a place of merchandise (John 2:15). That anger is without sin, which is against sin; but that is an evil tongue, which is presently blown up into exorbitant passion; this "tongue is set on fire from hell." A wrathful spirit is unsuitable to the gospel; it is a gospel of peace, and its author is the Prince of Peace, and it is sealed by the Spirit, who came in the form of a dove, a meek peaceable creature. You who art given much to passion, whose tongue is often set on fire, take heed you dost not one day in hell desire a drop of water to cool thy tongue.
4. The evil tongue is the vain tongue, that vents itself in idle words: "Under his tongue is vanity" (Psalm 10:7). A vain tongue shows a light heart; a good man's words are weighty and prudent; his lips are as a tree of life to feed many and his speech is edifying, "The tongue of the just is as choice silver"
(Proverbs 10:20). But, "The mouth of fools Pours out foolishness" (Proverbs 15:2). How many idle away the day of grace in frivolous discourses? A wise man's words are like gold, weighty, and will sink into the hearts of others; but the words of many are light and feathery and will make no impression, "Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give an account thereof in the day of judgment" (Matthew 12:36).
5. The evil tongue is the censorious tongue, "Who art thou that judgest another?" (James 4:12). Some make it a part of their religion to judge and censure others; they do not imitate their graces, but censure their failings. Such an one is an hypocrite, for this comes from pride. Were men's hearts more humble, their tongues would be more charitable. The censurer sits in the chair of pride, and passeth sentence upon another, and does reprobate him; this is to usurp God's prerogative, and take his work out of his hands; it is God's work to judge, not ours. He who spends his time in censuring others spends but little time in examining himself and does not see his own faults. There is not a greater sign of hypocrisy than to be overhasty in judging and censuring persons.
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