When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.”Proverbs 10:19
It is a very common mistake of wicked men to say, “Our lips are our own; who is Lord over us?” Even godly people often fail in circumspection here, and speak as if they thought words were of very little consequence. But our Lord has taught us, “I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.” Matthew 12:36. The apostle James speaks of the government of the tongue as one of the highest and most difficult points of Christian attainment, and an indispensable mark of the sincerity of our Christian profession. “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.” James 1:26
There is great danger of sinning with the tongue, because the depravity of our own hearts inclines us to it. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked;” and “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”
There is danger of sinning, because it is so very easy to do so. Some sins require time, preparation, exertion; and while all this is going on, a better thought may come in, and check the mischief. But the instant an improper thought or feeling enters the mind, what can be so easy as for the doors of the mouth to fly open, and give it utterance? Hence the too frequent apology, “I am sorry I said it—I meant no harm—it was but a hasty word—I spoke without a thought.” Not quite, we may say, for speaking is but thinking aloud; but the fact is, we should think twice before we speak once.
We are in danger also from the frequency of speech; that which we do but seldom, we are more apt to weigh well, and take pains to do properly; but we are obliged to speak many times every day of our lives, and it is a great wonder if we do not often speak amiss. To avoid this, it is wise not to speak without real occasion. “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.”Proverbs 10:19. “God has given us two ears and but one tongue, as if to intimate that we should be twice as ready to hearken as to speak.” “Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak.” “Life and death are in the power of the tongue.” “Do you see a man hasty in his words? There is more hope of a fool than of him.” “A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even-tempered. Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue.” Proverbs 17:27-28
The following are excellent maxims of wisdom in this particular:
1. “There are times when we may and ought to say nothing, and there are times when we may and ought to say something; but there will never be a time when we should say all things.”
2. “We must never say anything but the truth, nor must we say the truth at all times.”
3.”One often repents of saying too much, but seldom of saying too little.”
4.”Better say nothing than nothing to the purpose.”
5.”Great talkers discharge too thick to take good aim.”
6. “To one you find full of questions, it is better to make no answer at all.”
7.”Praise no man too liberally before his face, nor censure any man severely behind his back.”
8.”Say nothing to any one in a fury, for that is like putting out to sea in a storm.”
9.”In times of joy and grief, set a special guard upon the tongue, for then you are most in danger of speaking imprudently.”
10.”Words spoken in meekness and wisdom, not from an angry spirit, are most searching to him to whom they are addressed, and most comfortable to him that speaks them.”
11.”Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you also be like unto him. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.” This paradox has been well explained.
12.”The fool” is one who does not make a proper use of his reason. When he speaks in the folly of passion, answer him not with like folly, but give ‘a soft answer, which turns away wrath.’
13. “Answer not the folly of mere talkativeness with similar folly. Perpetual prating about nothing may often be put down by a dead silence. Answer not the folly of unreasonableness, false argument, or prejudice, by like folly; but ‘prove all things, and hold fast that which is good.’
14. “Answer not the folly of profaneness by folly like his own, but by marked silence, or well-timed reproof. (The Rev. John Howe, walking in the park, met two gentlemen, who, in eager discourse, repeatedly uttered the awful word ‘damn,’ to each other. Mr. Howe took off his hat, and, with much solemnity, said, ‘Gentlemen, I pray God to save you both.’ A word spoken in season, how good is it!’)
15. “Answer not the folly of malignity with like folly. ‘There is that which speaks like the piercings of a sword; but the tongue of the wise is as a healing medicine. In the mouth of the foolish there is a rod of pride; but the lips of the wise shall preserve them.’
16. “Answer not the folly of peevishness according to its folly, but pity, forbear, and forgive; and
‘The tear that is wiped with a little address,
May be followed, perhaps, with a smile.’
17. “Answer not the folly of captiousness with similar folly. Be not displeased when you are contradicted; above all, do not wait for an opportunity of contradicting in your turn, to pay off the supposed affront.
18. “Answer not the folly of flattery according to itself, but turn to it a deaf ear, and a disgusted heart; for he who flatters his neighbor, spreads a net for his feet. Flattery cherishes pride, self-love, and self-ignorance.
19. “But ‘answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit;’ that is, answer him so as to refute him on his own false principles, lest his being left without an answer, should lead him to suppose that his folly is unanswerable, and so confirm him in his mistake. Answer him, if he fancies himself right when he is clearly in the wrong, if possible to prevent him from deluding others.”
Gorham Abbott, The Family At Home