Stacks Image 905



On the grace of silence as the means of sustaining a Holy Life.

WE proceed now to the consideration of a topic, in some degree related to those of the two preceding chapters. It is obvious, that neither the social principle nor the principle of curiosity can be carried out to their anticipated and legitimate results in all respects, without the use of the tongue. Both principles imply communication; and communication is effected chiefly by the use of speech. And on the other hand both principles are susceptible of being kept in check and of being regulated, in some degree, by the restricted and regulated use of this important medium of intercourse. It is in consequence, therefore, of its various relations, particularly to the principles which have just been mentioned, that the regulation of the tongue has a close connection, perhaps more so than is generally imagined, with the permanent support of the Interior Life. Our remarks, however, will be of a general character.

In the first place, a great freedom in the use of the tongue, an incontinence of speech, if we may so express it, necessarily involves a loss of time. When people meet together, as they generally do, without recollection in God, how many things are said, which are obviously unprofitable; but which, nevertheless, do not occupy less time, on account of their inutility. It was one of the rules of conduct, laid down by that devoted servant of God, Herman Franke, "not to make the things of this world a subject of conversation, except when God may be honored, or good done to our neighbor thereby." The application of some rule of this kind to the conversation of the great mass of Christians, would undoubtedly show, that much of it neither honors God nor benefits their neighbor; and that, consequently, the precious time, which it requires, is lost. But he, who is fully resolved to walk in holiness before the Lord, cannot deliberately waste his time. It is a precious deposit, which his heavenly Father has committed to his trust; and for which he is responsible. We repeat, therefore, that a holy person cannot deliberately waste it; and consequently he will feel constrained by the most serious reasons, to refrain from frivolous and useless conversation.

(2.) — But this is not all. We remark, in the second place, that it is almost impossible to speak much, without saying that which is positively injurious, as well as unprofitable. It would be unreasonable to expect to indulge freely in conversation with others, in the manner in which men commonly do, without conforming, in part at least, to their own views and terms of social intercourse. In other words, we seem to be under the necessity of sympathizing, to some extent, with their trains of thought and experience; and are not at liberty wholly to reject subjects, which are pleasing to them. And who does not know, that, acting on this view, we are often introduced to various topics, which, both in their nature and tendency, are exceedingly remote from a religious and edifying character. How large a portion, for instance, of the conversation of the great mass of mankind is taken up with censorious and unfavorable comments on the conduct of their neighbors. How much there is of expressed or hinted suspicion! How much of back-biting and slander! Now, if we would not be accessory to sins of this kind, we must learn the difficult art of controlling the tongue, and of forming habits of conscientious silence.

(3.) — Again, too much conversation has an injurious effect upon the religious interests of the mind, in addition to what has already been said, by filling the soul with many vain and useless thoughts. All such thoughts take up more or less of the mind's attention; and just so far as it is so occupied, it is necessarily deprived of the consciousness of God's sweet and purifying presence. Such are the laws of the mind, that it cannot possibly be occupied with God and a multitude of worldly vanities at the same time.

And in addition to this, it should be remembered, that words are one of the outward signs and natural expressions of the inward passions; and whatever may be true of those of a different character, it is well understood, that the resentful or angry passions, which often interpose an obstacle to holiness, generally acquire great vigor by outward exhibitions. On the contrary it is equally well understood, that they as generally wither and die under a system of repression and silence. So that by maintaining a judicious practice of silence, we shall not only find our thoughts less liable to wander and more collected in God, than they would otherwise be; but shall also find the resentful passions, and the exciting passions generally, when thus deprived of the powerful stimulation of words, more submissive, and more perfectly under control.

(4.) — Again, outward silence favors inward silence. In other words, it promotes inward and spiritual REST; a cessation from that inordinate and grasping activity, which is prompted by the life of nature. This is involved, in part, in what has already been said; but it is worthy of a distinct and particular notice. The utterance of words necessarily connects us with things outward to ourselves; and sometimes implicates us very strongly with scenes transactions, and interests of an external and generally of a worldly character. But the natural and almost necessary result of outward silence is the retrocession of the soul into itself, and, in general, a decided tendency to the resumption of inward peace. And this state of things, as we have already had occasion to notice, is favorable to the entrance, in-dwellings, and operations of the Holy Spirit. It is in such a soul much more than in others, that the great Comforter and Teacher loves to take up his residence and to expand his benign influence. "As much as lies in thy power," says the devout Kempis, "shun the resorts of worldly men; for much conversation on worldly business, however innocently managed, greatly retards the progress of the spiritual life. We are soon captivated by vain objects, and employments, and soon defiled. And I have wished a thousand times, that I had either not been in company or had been silent."

(5.) — It should also have great weight with us, that the Scriptures impart so much instruction on this subject. So liable are we to offend in the use of the tongue, and so difficult is it to regulate ourselves in this respect, that we are told by the Apostle James, "If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body." In Proverbs also, 21:23, it is said, " Whoso keepeth his mouth and his tongue, keepeth his soul from troubles." There are other passages of similar import; but how little, notwithstanding, is the importance of properly regulating our speech realized. Some persons, even some Christians, seem to think, (if we may be allowed to judge from their conduct,) that crime may attach to almost any form of human action but this. Oh, that they would remember the words of the Savior; words, which should be engraven upon the heart of every one, who aims at holiness! "But I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified; and by thy words shalt thou be condemned."

But some will perhaps inquire, whether we may not converse much, if our object, be to do good. I admit that we may, if we can do more good in this way, including what we owe to ourselves as well as what we owe to others, than we can by a judicious mixture of conversation and silence. But then we should consider, that we cannot reasonably expect to do much good, without a heart richly replenished with divine grace. And I believe it is a common opinion, that the disbursements of frequent talking, without the incomes of a prayerful silence, generally result, and, very rapidly too, in the evaporation and loss of the inward life. And accordingly it is a frequent saying, that a man may, in a modified sense of the expressions, "talk away his religion." And it may be added further, as in accordance with what has now been said, that pious ministers not unfrequently lament, that calls for outward action and for much speaking to others leave them too little time for interior retirement, and for seasons of spiritual refreshment and advancement, by communication with the Everlasting Fountain.

In connection with the subject, we proceed to make a few brief practical remarks. And the first, which we have to make, relates to the manner of our conversation, viz. We should make it a general rule to avoid expressing ourselves in a very emphatic and passionate manner, and with a high tone of voice. It is well understood, that such a method of outward expression reacts upon the mind, and has a tendency to produce an excited and inordinate state of the feelings within. And besides, it is generally unpleasant and unprofitable to the hearers. It will be noticed, that we are not speaking here of public occasions, in respect to which the rule must be adopted with its appropriate restrictions, but of conversation. And I think we may profitably add here, that the rule is capable of some extension. A truly consecrated person will not only be characterized by quietness of manner, so far as words and voice are concerned; but also in other outward respects. His countenance, his action, his general movement will be pervaded, in a great measure, by the same beautiful and Christ-like trait.

Another remark is, that we should be careful not to speak much of ourselves and of our own affairs. There are undoubtedly some exceptions to this view; especially when suitable opportunities present themselves of speaking of God's dealings with our souls. But, nevertheless, this seems to be the correct general rule. Such conversations, viz. those which turn frequently and almost exclusively upon ourselves, besides not being in general edifying to others, are apt, by directing our thoughts from the glory of God to the persons and the affairs of the creature, to reanimate and strengthen the dying life of self.

Again, it is not religiously profitable to make the persons and concerns of our
neighbors the frequent subjects of our discourse, unless it be for the purpose of saying what we know can properly be said in their favor, of vindicating them against aspersions, or for some other good and charitable purpose. This rule too has, in practice, its appropriate limitations, which a judicious piety will be likely to suggest. The only further practical remark, which we wish to make on this subject at present, is, that, when we are falsely spoken against, or in some other way greatly injured, we should not, as a general rule, be hasty to reply. The life of nature would prompt us to reply quickly, to vindicate ourselves at all hazards; and sometimes perhaps with a considerable degree of sharpness and violence. But the gentle spirit of Christ in the soul which says, "without my Father I can do nothing," always leads us to look to God for aid and direction before we look to ourselves and our own wisdom, or to the precipitate help of earthly friends. It was thus with the prophet Daniel. When misrepresented, injured, and persecuted; he at once turned his thoughts to God as his only protection. In his solitary chamber, kneeling before the face of the Infinite Presence, and with no disposition to look any where else, he entrusted his cause to Him; who alone is able to help. The example of the Savior also, in relation to this subject, is particularly instructive. When brought to trial before Pilate, although he could easily have made a defense, he chose to be silent; "he answered him to never a word, insomuch that the Governor marveled greatly." In the language of the evangelical prophet, "He was oppressed and he was affllicted, yet he opened not his mouth; he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth." The deep grace, which manifests itself by patience and silence under the circumstances which have been mentioned, will plead far more eloquently in our behalf, than all the torrent of words and all the vivacity of effort, which the life of nature is so ready to pour forth.

"Teach us in time of deep distress,
To own thy hand, O God!
And in submissive silence learn
The lessons of thy rod.
In every changing scene of life,
Whate'er that scene may be;
Give us a meek and humble mind,
A mind at peace with thee."