“The tongue,” says James, “is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature, and it is set on fire of hell.” James 3:5, 6. SLH 54.1

This is said of an unsanctified tongue, and shows that though the tongue is a small member yet it exerts a mighty influence. It sustains a relation to and exerts an influence over the whole body. It is compared to bits that we put in the horses’ mouths and by which we turn about the whole body; and to a helm by which the mighty ships are turned whithersoever the governor listeth. Verses 3, 4. SLH 54.2

Such is the importance that James attaches to governing the tongue that he declares, “If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able to bridle the whole body.” “If any among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.” Verse 2: Chap 1:26. And Solomon must have been forcibly struck with the necessity of governing the tongue when he wrote, “Life and death are in the power of the tongue.” Proverbs 18:21. SLH 54.3

The tongue, as an instrument of speech, is one of those prerogatives which exalt man above the beast, and was designed by the Creator to express holy and virtuous thoughts. It is an index to the heart; “for out of the abundance of the heart,” says our Saviour, “the mouth speaketh.” Matthew 12:35. The use that is made of the tongue indicates the moral condition of the heart, and consequently the character of the whole man; and there are as many ways in which men sin with their tongues as there are in which they sin with their thoughts, tempers and actions. SLH 54.4

It is readily seen that the sanctification of the tongue is a vast subject. But we will confine ourselves to some leading principles and thoughts, and to some of the many Bible instructions on the subject. SLH 55.1

And first, the tongue is rightly used in speaking of and addressing the Creator with reverence, according to his holy and exalted perfections and our dependence upon him. If we do this from the heart we shall not be guilty of taking God’s holy name in vain. We shall realize his goodness and love, and will not be inclined to murmur against him, but will be grateful to him for his dealings with us, and for the least blessing we receive at his hand. SLH 55.2

But while the tongue is properly used in speaking of, and addressing, God in a manner compatible with his holy perfections and our dependence upon him, it should speak of, and address, others with respect, according to the relations they sustain to us and the Creator. In speaking of the wrong use of the tongue, James says, “Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing My brethren, these things ought not so to be.” James 3:9, 10. SLH 55.3

It is not a small matter to curse others with the tongue. If we curse our fellow creatures who are made in the image of God and have God for their Father, we offend God, and are not in a condition to bless or exalt him, and he cannot accept a blessing from us, Indeed, he cannot look on any thing that we can say to exalt him as a blessing. What we say of him proceeds from the same heart that leads us to curse those whom he has created, and over whom his care, love and mercy are extended. This is clearly illustrated in the following verses: “Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? So can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.” Verses 11, 12. SLH 56.1

Cursing is the opposite of blessing, and we can curse others in various ways. And the ungodly are not the only ones that are guilty here. James is here admonishing and correcting his “brethren.” SLH 56.2

We curse others with the tongue in slandering and backbiting. The unsanctified tongue is said to be full of deadly poison, and its deadly and poisonous influence is felt by others. It would be considered a heinous crime to put a portion of strychnine or arsenic into food prepared for others; but many consider it a light thing to poison the character of others, and injure their feelings by slandering, backbiting or talebearing. By these, thousands of innocent characters have been shamefully and maliciously martyred. SLH 56.3

Many professed Christians are not guarded enough, and fail on this point. If they are tried with a brother or sister, and see or hear any thing unfavorable about them, they are sure to tell it to others, and perhaps in their tried condition they will put a wrong construction on what they have learned; and if their remarks take and they are not checked, they will tell it to others, and then to others, and so on; and some are not satisfied till they have spread their slanderous reports among the enemies of truth. And then the poor, blinded, deceived souls may think they have done a noble work. But what have they done? They have got the sympathy of some, who will perish with them unless they repent. They have blown on and fed the fire of hatred which they in weakness suffered Satan to kindle in their breasts, till it has grown and kindled a great matter, and others have been set on fire of hell. They perhaps have discouraged weak and well-meaning brethren, who have not sufficient experience to meet their influence, and some of whom may never recover from the shock they have received. They have caused the good way to be evil spoken of, and some may have been shut out of the kingdom. The Spirit and lovers of peace have been grieved, and Satan and his contentious host rejoice. SLH 56.4

It is not strange that those who know not God, and the power of his truth, should indulge in slandering and backbiting; but for those who profess to know God and his truth, for professed followers of Jesus Christ, to backbite and slander, is shameful and criminal in the extreme. SLH 57.1

But thank God, those sins need not exist in the church of God, if gospel order and discipline are carried out. Says Christ, “Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone,” etc. Matthew 18:15-17. Here is the proper course marked out by the Saviour. First go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone. He does not say, go and tell his fault to everybody in the church and to everybody in the world. Those who do this err, and need to be immediately labored with themselves. If those who are tried with their brethren, would go directly to them with their grievances, they would not have so much to say, and much trouble might be saved. SLH 57.2

But some will here say, if ever wisdom is needed it is in doing this duty. This is true. But James says, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him;” chap 1:5; and he describes heavenly wisdom as follows: “The wisdom that is from above, is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.” Chap 3:17. If every trait of this wisdom were fully examined, and strictly followed, this would be an easy duty to perform. SLH 58.1

The following scriptures show how God looks upon slandering, backbiting and talebearing: “He that hideth hatred with lying lips, and he that uttereth a slander, is fool.” “Thou givest thy mouth to evil, and thy tongue frameth deceit. Thou sittest and speakest against thy brother; thou slanderest thine own mother’s son. These things hast thou done, and I kept silence; thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself: but I will reprove thee, and set them in order before thine eyes.” “Whoso privily slandereth his neighbor, him will I cut off.” “For I fear, lest when I come, I shall not find you such as I would, and that I shall be found unto you such as ye would not: lest there be debates, envyings, wraths, strifes, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults.” “Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people...I am the Lord thy God.” “He that goeth about as a talebearer revealeth secrets: therefore meddle not with him that flattereth (or enticeth, margin) with his lips.” “Where no wood is, there the fire goeth out; so where there is no talebearer, the strife ceaseth.” Proverbs 10:18; Psalm 1, 20; 101:5; 2 Corinthians 12:20; Leviticus 19:16; Proverbs 20:19; 26:20. SLH 58.2

One of those sins of backslidden Israel over which Jeremiah was grieved, and which ripened Israel to receive the lingering wrath of Jehovah, was slandering. Jeremiah 9:1-4. And when David undertakes to describe the man who will abide in the tabernacle of the Lord, and dwell in his holy hill, among other things he says, “He that backbiteth not with his tongue.” Psalm 15:1-3. SLH 59.1

We should never use the tongue in speaking of others in any way to injure them. We should guard against bearing false witness. This is often done unintentionally by exaggerating. It is better to say nothing about the faults of others, than to speak of them in a manner to defame the character. When it becomes necessary to speak of the sins of our fellow creatures, we should show that while we hate sin, we love and pity the sinner. When we are about to speak concerning the faults of others, we should ask ourselves questions like these: Will what I am about to say benefit any one? Will it be rightly handled? Will it benefit the cause? Am I going to speak as I would like to have others speak of me if I were in the same condition? SLH 59.2

Evil-speaking is strictly and repeatedly prohibited by the Scriptures; and under the head of evil-speaking, is speaking evil of dignities. Jude 8. The evil of this sin is not realized by all. Some are liable to overlook the sacred position of those whom God calls to help in leading out his people toward the rest that remains for the children of God. Like ancient Israel, they look upon these agents as though the work with which they are connected was merely a human work, and speak accordingly. Some, like Korah, Dathan and Abiram, and a host of others, not realizing the weight and responsibilities of this work, will envy the position of those who are called to it. Numbers 16. They think they are of consequence and that the servants of God take too much upon themselves. They despise dominion, attribute the cause of their trials to dignities, and murmur when they are corrected for their sins. By pursuing this course they despise God, and murmur against him. “He that heareth you, heareth me; and he that despiseth you, despiseth me; and he that despiseth me, despiseth him that sent me.” Luke 10:16. SLH 59.3

The fate of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, and the punishment of others spoken of in the Scriptures, are sufficient to teach us how God regards this sin. But besides this, we have in the backsliding and fall of many within our own recollection, a clear demonstration of God’s disapprobation for this sin, and of the necessity of guarding against it. SLH 60.1

We curse others with the tongue in speaking angry words, in fretting and scolding. No good has ever resulted from so doing. Angry words, fretting and scolding, have never benefited any one. On the they have often proved a curse and a source of much evil. They may overpower and intimidate the fearful for the time being; but they will never reform them. They are destructive of peace, affection, and happiness. Peace and angry words do not exist together, and who can love habitual fretters and scolders with a love of approbation? Such are more dreaded than loved. Even the meek will feel an uneasiness while in the society of such. Though they may bear with, and pity them, they will feel as if among nettles and thistles. SLH 60.2

Thousands of families are made miserable and unhappy by irritating words. In many instances, parents fail here. Instead of speaking kind and cheerful words; they complain and fret and scold. As they do this, they are shut up to each others’ faults. The husband sees no virtue in his wife, and the wife sees no virtue in her husband. Separation often follows. Many a husband has been driven to the tavern by a fretful and peevish wife, and many a wife has been discouraged and made miserable by a fretful and complaining husband. SLH 61.1

But the evil is not confined to the heads of families: the children generally imitate their parents. They do not obey them through love, but through fear and dread, and perhaps to not be annoyed by their fretting and scolding. Some children will conceal from their parents important matters, and tell falsehoods to avoid a scolding. Home has no attractions to such children; and many in discouragement will leave their parents. SLH 61.2

Proverbs 12:18: “There is that speaketh like the piercings of a sword: but the tongue of the wise is health.” While the unsanctified tongue causes discord, sorrow, gloom, discouragement and death, the sanctified tongue brings peace, joy, light, courage, health and life to those who use it, and to those who eat of its fruit. SLH 61.3

It is quite an easy matter to speak pleasant and cheerful words to the meek, to those who always bless us; but it is more difficult to speak words of pleasantness to those who address us with angry words, to such as curse and revile us. But we are expressly commanded to bless them that curse us, to bless and curse not, to not render railing for railing. Luke 6:28; Romans 12:14; 1 Peter 3:9. “For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example that ye should follow in his steps.... Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously.” 1 Peter 2:21-23. SLH 61.4

“A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.” Proverbs 15:1. In our intercourse with our fellow-creatures, a spoonful of oil is better than a quart of vinegar. By taking revenge of an injury we are only even to our enemy; but by passing it over we are superior. And a more glorious victory cannot be obtained over another than to return injury with kindness. SLH 62.1

Those who give away to anger and speak angry words, manifest real weakness of soul. They may at times think they gain victories over their enemies; but they are overcome by Satan and their own corrupt propensity. They are apt to say things that they would be ashamed of if they were in their right mind. For instance how liable some are to call others fools, devils, etc., when they are angry with them. But Christ shows in what light he views these rash and irritating expressions when he says, “Whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca (or vain fellow, margin), shall be in danger of the council; but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.” Matthew 5:22. SLH 62.2

Christ pronounces a blessing upon peace-makers. He says, “They shall be called the children of God.” Matthew 5:9. In striving to make peace they imitate their Creator, who has done so much to bring peace into this revolted province, and to reconcile us unto himself. God sacrificed his dearly beloved Son for this object, and can we not deny ourselves a little, by not indulging in angry expressions? Can we not encourage and enforce the principles of peace by a meek and godly conversation? SLH 63.1

The tongue is wrongly used in lying, and should be employed in telling the truth. The Lord has spoken clearly and repeatedly on this point, both in the Old and New Testaments, showing the evil that is caused by lying, and setting forth the awful consequences that await liars, and the advantages and blessings that result from telling the truth. SLH 63.2

Lying originated with the Devil, who is the father of lies, and a liar from the beginning. He lied to Eve and beguiled her, and since then, lying has been practiced in many ways, and for various purposes. SLH 63.3

But the lying tongue cannot be relied upon. It is ever looked upon with suspicion by the prudent. But it is considered safe to confide in those who are always known to tell the truth. He that sets out to tell a lie is not sensible of the task he undertakes; for he may be forced to invent many more to support it. SLH 63.4

Lying is often practiced to get gain. This is seen in buying and selling. It has almost become a universal custom for those who sell to speak too highly of the articles they hold out for sale, and to say little or nothing about their defects, thus making an impression that these articles are worth more than they really are; and for those who buy to undervalue the articles they wish to buy, and to say little or nothing about their qualities, thus conveying the idea that they are worth less than they are in reality. SLH 63.5

And just here we would notice the case of Ananias and Sapphira. They sold their possession, and kept back part of the price, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles’ feet. They lied in trying to convey the idea that they had brought the whole price. But what language was used to convey this false idea? Peter said to Sapphira, “Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much? And she said, Yea for so much.” Acts 5. And the fate of Ananias and Sapphira is known to all Bible students. SLH 64.1

Doubtless if many at the present time were in the condition of Ananias and Sapphira, and were permitted to live and speak for themselves, they would justify themselves somewhat as follows: Why, I did not lie: I said I sold it for so much. I did sell it for that and something else. But would such be more justified than were Ananias and Sapphira? And will not the punishment of such be as certain as was theirs? SLH 64.2

One common way of lying is to attempt to uphold error by the word of the Lord. Those who do this knowingly, or ignorantly when they might have known but refused to know, may be classed among liars. In order to give force to what they say, and make their remarks appear truthful, they must intimate or affirm that the Lord has spoken when he has not spoken; that the Bible says thus and so when it does not. SLH 64.3

Cases of lying spoken of in the Bible are sometimes referred to, to prove that guile may be used on certain occasions to bring about a good end; and falsehoods are often told to cover sin. But the Bible nowhere justifies lying. It teaches that we should not do evil, that good may come. None of those who used guile in Bible times were blessed of God for lying; but such as were blessed of God, were blessed for good traits that they possessed; and their lives would shine brighter in the heavenly records if they had not spoken guile. SLH 64.4

No consideration should lead us to practice deceit. It is better to frankly confess our sins than to tell falsehoods to cover them, and to lose by telling the truth, than to gain by using guile. Of the holy Pattern we read, “Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth.” 1 Peter 2:22. And of the last church it is written, “The remnant of Israel shall do no iniquity, nor speak lies; neither shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth.” Zephaniah 3:13. “And in their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God.” Revelation 14:5. SLH 65.1

The tongue is wrongly used in speaking vain and idle words. “But I say unto you, That for every idle word that men shall speak they shall give an account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” Matthew 12:36, 37. If all were duly impressed with the truthfulness of this solemn declaration of the Saviour, vain and idle words would be fewer than they now are. But men will have to give account for their idle words in the day of judgment, whether they realize it or not. By our words we will either be justified or condemned in that day. SLH 65.2

“How careful then ought we to live,
With what religious fear,
Who such a strict account must give
Of our behavior here.”
SLH 66.1