‘Speak not evil one of another, brethren.’—Jas. iv. II.
ONE of the most difficult of ‘His commandments,’2 and yet one which is in a peculiar degree ‘for our good’ and personal happiness, as well as for those around us! The more difficult, the more need of grace; and the more need, the more the full supply.3
* 2 Cor. i. 4. 8 Deut. x. 13. 8 2 Cor. xii. 9; Phil. iv. 19.
Well might St. Paul say, ‘Put them in mind to speak evil of no man,’1 for do we not easily fail to keep this in mind? The command is ‘exceeding broad;” let us not seek to narrow it, but humbly bow to our Master’s distinct orders in all their exactness.
Do we really wish to know them fully, that we may obey fully? Then what are they?’ Speak evil of no man.” Shall we venture practically to say, ‘Yes, Lord, except of So-and-so’?
‘Laying aside all evil speakings.’* Does not this include the very least?
‘Let all bitterness, . . . and evil speaking, be put away from you ;’6 then does He give us leave to cherish even one little hidden root of that bitterness from which the evil speaking springs ? *
‘Put away’ implies resolute action in the matter,—have we even tried to ‘put away all’?
But this great clause of the ‘royal law” is broader still: ‘Let none of you imagine evil in your hearts against his neighbour.’8 And the characteristic of that charity, without which we are only ‘sounding brass’ and ‘nothing,’ is, that it ‘thinketh no evil.” Is not this the root from which the far-poisoning fruit springs? We have first disobeyed another order: ‘Whatsoever things are of good report; . . . think on these things.”0 Instead of that, we ‘think’ about the bad reports that we may have heard; we develop the unkind
1 Titus iii, 2. 2 Ps, cxix. 96. 3 Titus iii. 2.
4 I Pet. ii. I. 6 Eph. iv. 31. 6 Heb. xii. 15.
7 Jas. ii. 8. 8 Zech. vii. 10; ib. viii. 17.
0 I Cor. xiii. z; ib. xiii. 2 ; ib. xiii. 5. 10 Phil. iv. 8.
hint into suspicion, and perhaps into accusation, by thinking about it, instead of thinking on and thinking out the probable ‘other side’ of the case. This thinking has tempted us not to ‘refrain our tongue;’1 and thus we have set some one else ‘thinking,’ and thereby to more speaking evil one of another. At last the little fire has kindled a great matter,3 and we come ourselves and bring others under the condemnation of taking up ‘a reproach against his neighbour,” instead of not enduring nor receiving it (see the striking marginal reading). And what is the just penalty annexed by implication ? Not to abide in His tabernacle, not to dwell in His holy hill !*
How very often we speak evil of things which we, more or less, ‘understand not’5—ah, even of ‘things which they know not’!*—instead of obeying another part of the royal law, ‘Judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come,” when the very person whom we have been condemning shall ‘have praise of God!’ This often arises from disobedience to two other plain commands: ‘Debate thy cause with thy neighbour himself, and discover not a secret to another :’8 and, ‘go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone.’9 Yet away we go, and tell somebody else about it instead!
Let us guard against the negative form of evil speaking, generally the most dangerous and cruel, even when the most thoughtless. Absalom was extremely clever in this. Who could quote any actual
1 I Pet. iii. lo. 2 Jas, iii. 5. 8 Ps. xv, 3.
* Ps. XV. I. S 2 Pet. ii. 12. * Jude 10.
7 z Cor. iii. 5. 8 Prov. xxv. 9. • Matt, xviii. 15.
evil speaking against his royal father?1 Who could charge him with speaking evil of dignities?2 And yet by insinuation, by his way of putting things, by his very manner, he wrought a thousand-fold more cruel harm than any amount of speaking out could possibly have done. Oh to be watchful as to such omissions to speak well, as amount to speaking evil! watchful as to the eloquence of even a hesitation, watchful as to the forcible language of feature and eye!
Of course the question arises: ‘But what about cases in which wrong-doing must be spoken of for the sake of truth and justice?’ Clear as crystal are our instructions here: i. We are to speak ‘the truth.” TJie truth, not such part of it as will best prove our case, and nothing else! Not what we suppose to be the truth. 2. ‘In love.’ Does all our testimony stand this test? 3. ‘In the name of the Lord Jesus.’* Would not this check many a word against another? 4. ‘To the glory of God.” Failure in any one of these four rules brings us in guilty of sin. Oh may He give us grace to keep our heart with all diligence,’ and Himself set a watch this day before our mouth, and keep the door of our lips !7 May we cease to ‘reason with unprofitable talk, or with speeches wherewith we can do no good.8
Take my lips, and let them be.
Filled with messages from Thee.
1 2 Sam. XV. 3-5. s 2 Pet. ii. lo. * Eph. iv. 15.
4 Col. iii. 17. & I Cor. x. 31. « Prov. iv. 23.
‘ Ps. cxli. 3. 8 Job XV. 4.