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make sport, acts a part much below the character of a man or a Christian : for jesting, though it may be an innocent diversion, can never be an honest employment; it will not bear being made a profession ; and therefore when men make it their business, it must needs be an unlawful calling; and the jester will lie exposed to the threatening of the text, to be called into judgment for every idle word' he speaks. And if you again
• set before you the dignity and character of a Christian, you will easily discern how suitably and with what a grace a Christian acts, when his whole business is to make himself laughed at. • I said of laughter, it is mad,' says the wise King of Israel. This only difference there is, and let the jester have the benefit of it, the madman's folly and extravagance proceed from misfortune, the jester’s from choice; and this choice will render him accountable for his extravagances : and whether he has not the best title to apply the text to himself, you must judge from what has been said. His talent certainly lies in idle words, and therefore he falls under the letter of the text; his business is poor and sordid : he serves to no other purpose in the world than, like the fool in a great house, to make sport; and whether in this he sustains the character of a disciple of Christ, let all who have learnt Christ judge.
Consider likewise whether he can justify himself against the apostolical rule of conversing as becomes the gospel of Christ.' It you say that he means no harm, I will agree to it; and go yet farther, and add, that he means nothing: but whether this excuse will come well from the mouth of one, whom God has endowed with sense, and reason, and understanding, they who have not lost their own shall determine. But allowing the excuse, it will not exempt him from the judgment of the text; because by idle words, as has been already shown, such words are meant as are capable of this excuse, as not being chargeable with any great evil. Lastly, add to the text the comment of St. Paul, and then by idle words' we must understand · foolish talking and jesting, which are not convenient.' This
may teach us what judgment we are to make from the scope and design of the text: but yet here we can find nothing directly pointing against common conversation, where the
subject of the discourse is poor and mean, and incapable of yielding any profit or improvement; and since we cannot directly conclude from the text, let us consider,
Secondly, the end and design of speech, which is the gift of God to mankind : for if we use our speech to serve any purposes contrary to the end designed by God in giving us speech, we manifestly abuse his gift, and must answer for such an abuse.
Speech was given us for the communication of our thoughts to each other; the mind is furnished with variety of thoughts and reflexions, some of which are proper for discourse, and some not : there are some things which a man cannot but have ideas of, some things which intrude on the mind, but are not fit subjects of discourse. So that though speeeh be given for the communicating of our thoughts, yet all our thoughts are not to be disclosed or brought into conversation. We must judge what are proper subjects, and must be answerable for the government of our tongues. A man may be innocent in having some thoughts in his mind, which he cannot innocently disclose ; the reason is, because he cannot always choose his thoughts, but he can always choose what he will talk of. As to the proper ends of speech, we may reason thus : God has made us reasonable creatures, and fitted us for his service, and therefore expects a reasonable service from us : as he has given us all the good we enjoy, it is our duty to praise and adore him ; to raise in ourselves and others a sense of gratitude and duty towards him : this is one end of speech. As he has made us liable to many wants and necessities, it is our duty to pray to him, and in all our wants to apply to him, both in public and private : this is another end of speech. Under these heads we include, with respect to reason, the contemplation of the works of nature and providence, which serves to give us a just sense of the power and wisdom of God; and with respect to speech, all discourses on these subjects, which tend to inspire others with the same awful sense of the Almighty: these are no doubt proper subjects for reasonable creatures and Christians.
But then farther, the wants and necessities of nature which are present, call for our help. We must by labor and industry supply ourselves with necessaries and conveniencies of life; and as this subject must employ great part of our thoughts, so likewise great part of our speech; for we cannot live without the mutual aid and assistance of each other; and this necessarily makes the business of life the frequent subject of discourse. And a very proper subject it is, and men are usefully employed when they are learning themselves, or instructing others in the business of their trade or profession. So then this is another end of speech, that men may confer concerning the necessary affairs of life, and be mutually aiding and helping to each other.
But farther still, God has made us to delight in each other's company. We are by nature sociable creatures, and there is a pleasure in conversation, though we have no end to serve by it, no business to discourse of, nor any thing to ask or desire of one another. And since God has made us sociable creatures, and it is his will and express command to us, that we love and delight in one another; it follows that it is very lawful and commendable for men to meet for this purpose, for the improving and maintaining mutual love and friendship: and then another end of speech is to be a bond of society, to be a means of bringing and keeping men together.
Now then, if it does appear that men may meet for mutual society and conversation, it follows that nothing can render conversation unlawful that is not sinful : for God made us for the society of each other, and has commanded us to love each other; and therefore if our discourses are friendly and social, they are so far virtuous, as they serve the end of nature.
Now men may talk of many subjects which have no present profit or instruction in them, and yet they may serve this end of conversation, of making men delight in each other's company : and since, love and friendship are such great gospel virtues, a man may safely dedicate some hours in the day to them without a prospect of serving any other end, and yet be virtuously employed. How often is it seen, that men by meeting accidentally, and discoursing only on common subjects, come to have a good liking to each other, which by degrees improves into love and kindness ! How often too are the greatest enemies reconciled by being brought into company together! At first they hardly bear the sight of each other : were they to
talk of their own affairs, or even of any thing that would admit of a dispute, their resentments would fame out into
and passion; but on common and indifferent subjects they make shift to bear with one another in conversation ; which by degrees softens them into a mutual compliance, and restores the long-forgotten friendship and kindness: and will you say the time is ill-spent that ends so profitably, so much to the glory of God, and the good of men ?
At proper seasons, and in proper company, we ought to choose nobler themes: we have all the works of nature before us; we have the history of Providence through many ages
; faithfully preserved in the sacred records; and we cannot be excused in overlooking these great subjects. We owe likewise to one another, whatever each other wants; we should comfort the weak, instruct the simple, rebuke the sinner; rejoice with them that do rejoice, and mourn with them that mourn.' To neglect the proper opportunities of performing these duties, is a fault not to be extenuated. But then they are as improper at some times as they are proper at others; and when well-minded but weak men unskilfully break in on these subjects, all that they get by it is the pity of good men, and the scorn and contempt of the wicked.
Since then society is a thing in itself commendable ; since one end of speech is to be a bond of society, which is preserved by mutual converse ; and since religion is not always a proper subject; it follows that, for the maintaining society, and for promoting love and friendship, men may innocently meet and spend their time on such subjects as offer, though the subject in itself does not tend directly either to the good of men or the glory of God. If this kind of conversation be blameable, it must either be a sin of commission, or a sin of omission. It cannot be a sin of commission, because it is supposed to be innocent; and I know no sin that a man can commit by being innocently employed or diverted. Neither can it be a sin of omission; for no positive act can be a sin of omission. A man may incur the guilt of omitting his duty, whilst he spends his time in this kind of discourse : and so he may if he talks of business or religion. If your
friend or relation wants your im. mediate help, and you will stand disputing or discoursing of
religion, you incur a breach of charity, and are guilty of a sin of omission. So if you waste your time in talking impertinently, when you ought to be at your business or calling, to the neglect and impoverishing of your family; or if you leave no room for the duties of religion, no doubt but you are very guilty: but your guilt does not arise from the nature of your conversation, but from your misapplication of time, from the neglect of your proper business and duty; and your guilt will be the same, if you mispend your time, though you discourse on subjects ever so great and momentous.
But, lastly, let us consider the nature of man in general, and the different degrees of sense and understanding that different men are endowed with. This consideration must have place in this question, because the tongue cannot speak better than the understanding can conceive; which infers a proportion between the abilities of our mind and the soundness of our speech; the latter must be judged by the former; for a man cannot be obliged to utter more wisdom than God has given him.
Now to discourse profitably on the most profitable subjects requires a good share of reason, a clear conception, and a distinguishing judgment; without these qualifications men do but expose the noblest subjects they take in hand ; and, in proportion, there are but few men thus qualified. I ask therefore, what must the rest do? Would you have them choose great and noble subjects, which they do not understand ? Or would you have them hold their tongues? The first, I think, they ought not to do; the last I am sure they will not do. It remains then that they must talk of such things as lie level to their capacities, that is, of mean and every-day subjects: for these men are fitted for society, and have a relish of conversation, as well as brighter spirits, and they ought not to be excluded from it; and therefore they must be allowed to follow their genius, which is not likely to lead to any very useful or improving topics of discourse. It is fit, you may say, that these people should learn, and that others should instruct them; so say I too: but to be always under instruction is not very diverting, and not many will submit to it; and when men of the same stamp meet together, who shall be the instructor ?
I think it would be a good composition, if we could prevail