Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) died a century before Mankind mastered the ability to pass along unverified news stories and unfounded rumors at the speed of light. But while the medium is new, the sin of gossip isn’t, and Spurgeon’s warning remains as relevant as ever.
What a pity that there’s no tax on words: what an income the government would get from it. And if lies paid double, we could pay off the National Debt!
But, alas, talking pays no tax.
Silence is golden
Now if men only said what was true, what a peaceable world it would be. But we pass on hearsay. And hearsay is half lies – consider how a tale never loses in the retelling of it. As a snowball grows by rolling, so does the story. So those who talk much, lie much.
While silence rarely causes mischief; too much talking can be a plague to the parish. Since silence is wisdom, it’s clear, then, that wise men and wise women are scarce. As they say, still waters are the deepest, but the shallowest brooks babble the most.
An open mouth shows an empty head. It’s like a treasure chest – if it had gold or silver in it, it wouldn’t always be standing wide open. Talking comes naturally for us, but it takes a good deal of training to learn to be quiet; yet regard for truth should put a bit into every honest man’s mouth and a bridle on every good woman’s tongue.
Be free of slander
If we must talk, at least let us be free from slander. Spreading slander may be fun for some, but it is death to those they abuse. We can commit murder with the tongue as well as with the hand. The worst evil you can do a man is to injure his character. As the Quaker said to his dog, “I’ll not beat thee, nor abuse thee, but I’ll give thee an ill name.”
The world, for the most part, believes that where there is smoke there is fire, and what everybody says must be true. Let us be careful, then, that we do not hurt our neighbor in so tender a spot as to besmirch his character, for it is hard to get dirt off, once it is thrown. When a man finds himself put in people’s bad books, he might never be able to get out of them.
So, again, if we want to be sure not to speak wrongly, it might be just as well to speak as little as possible; for if all men’s sins were divided into two bundles, half of them would be sins of the tongue. “And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body” (James 3:2).
So, gossips, give up the shameful trade of tale-spreading; don’t be the devil’s bellows, giving more air to the fire of strife. If you are going to talk, at least season your tongues with the salt of grace – praise God more, and blame neighbors less.
Any goose can cackle, any fly can find a sore place, and any empty barrel can make a big noise. But the flies will not go down your throat if you keep your mouth shut, and no evil talk will come out either. So think much, but speak little; be quick at work and slow at talk; and, above all, ask the great Lord to set a watch over your lips.
This is an abridged, modernized, version of Chapter 6, “On Gossips” from Charles Spurgeon’s “The Ploughman Talks.”