Brethren Archive

Talkative

by John Dickie


    EVERY reader of the "Pilgrims Progress" must have been struck with the masterly portrait which the author sets before us in Talkative.  Here is a professing saint, the whole of whose sanctity is carried on his tongue.  The picture is a most striking likeness of many, an original still to be met in any neighbourhood in which pilgrims abound.  In looking for a little at the unlovely features, let us seek only to gather warning and profit for ourselves, while we avoid the indulgence of a splenetic censoriousness in regard to a prevailing vice.

    Christian and Faithful, as they were journeying along towards the Celestial City, overtook Talkative, who bore the appearance of a fellow-pilgrim.  Christian had known him of old; for he was the son of one Say-well who lived in Prating Row, in the City of Destruction; but the man was a perfect stranger to Faithful.  It was in a wide part of the narrow way that the two pilgrims discovered him walking "at a distance" abreast of them; for it is only in such parts of the narrow way that the Talkatives are to be seen at all.  When the road contracts to its normal straitness, you will not so readily meet a Talkative in it.  Such men like to be religious only while its profession is easy; and they are perfect adepts in the art of avoiding anything like the bearing of the cross.

    Faithful was at once facinated with the stranger.  His stature was unusually tall, and he was a man of an imposing presence.  In fact, the wide-spread family of the Talkatives never was known to contain a single shabby-looking or self-condemned member in any one of its branches.  They are all men who make a fine appearance; only, as Bunyan says, "they are something more comely at a distance than at hand."

    And the impression which his appearance made on the inexperienced Faithful was deepened by his conversation.  All the Talkatives are wonderfully gifted in the direction of the tongue.  This one can "talk of things heavenly, or things earthly; things moral, or things evangelical; things sacred, or things profane; things past, or things to come; things foreign, or things at home; things more essential, or things circumstantial; provided that all be done to our profit."  And his talk is as evangelical as it is voluble.  "All is of grace," he says, "not of works."  And withal it is exceedingly orthodox; he "could give you a hundred scriptures for the confirmation of" every subject of his talk.  The pity is that all this evangelical orthodoxy is merely talk, with no heart in it, and no exercise of conscience. 

    As for his thoughts about his own spiritual condition, these are very comfortable indeed.  He is assured of his salvation; and he never ceases to look on himself as an unquestionably genuine pilgrim to the heavenly country.  True, he has his own sorrows, as who has not; but these are all owing to the fact that he----good man----lives among bad neighbours.  While he finds his chief enjoyment in profitable discourse, it is his sore affliction that "there are but few who care thus to spend the time.  The many choose rather to be speaking of things to no profit, and this has been a trouble to" the good Talkative.  All this may remind us that it does not the higher degree of grace, or, indeed any degree of grace at all, to qualify a man for being a keen-eyed censor of his neighbour's faults.  Nay, perhaps the grace is needed to help a man to the opposite class of feelings.

    Of course, it is not in the least surprising that humble and inexperienced saints like Faithful  should admire a man like this.  Judging the merits of Talkative merely fron the sample given them by his tongue, they say, "What a brave companion we have got!  Surely this  man will make a very excellent pilgrim."  Truthful and modest themselves, they cannot conceive of a convert who has nothing of the Christian but the tongue; and whose fervent godliness can be easily increased by the free use of the wine-cup.  But experienced Christians, who are better acquainted with their own hearts, and with the infinate self-deceivableness of man, are not so easily misled; though their sober judgments often seem to the inexperienced to be unjustly severe.

    So after our pilgrims had had quite enough of Talkative, they, by a little faithful dealing, soon got rid of him; for, all their readiness for evangelical discourse, these men cannot speak of the working of divine grace in an exercised heart, since they have no experience of it.  And still less can they endure to have their own condition faithfully set before them; for, without a single exception, the Talkatives are all extravagantly self-conceited, and he that will speak to their case will soon be relieved of their company.

    The delineation of this character in the "Pilgrims Progress" is executed by the hand of a master; but the portrait of Talkative had been painted before Bunyan's day, for the warning of the Church, by a still greater proficient.  The apostle James, in his Epistle, has occupied himself with this class of professors,  We see, in the spiritual condition of the men to whom the apostle writes, a host of chatterers fond of talk, whose evangelical creed was, "All is of faith, not of works;" who said they had faith,  but who forgot the necessary connection between faith and its fruits, and to whom the pungent rebuke of the apostle was fittingly addressed: "Wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?"

    And a still greater than either Bunyan or the apostle James had, before that, photographed the features of the same class; and we have their image set before us in the sharpest, clearest outlines.  In the character of the Pharisees, delineated by our Lord in Matthew 23rd and elsewhere, we see a whole Church of Talkatives whose religion lay very much in this, "They say, and do not,"  Never before, or since, has the charateristic vice of Talkative been displayed on such an extensive platform.  An entire people's religious feeling had developed into more sanctimonious talk.  And the  parallel between Bunyan's Talkative and the ancient Pharisees is much more complete than, at first sight, one would fancy.  The Pharisees, like Talkative, thought that all was "of grace, not of works;"  for though, indeed, they turned for their justification and peace of conscience to the law of God, yet it was not to the moral portion of the law, but to the ceremonial, that they betook themselves.  It was to that portion of the ancient dispensation which, in that day, foreshadowed the free grace of the new; and so exclusively were the Pharisees addicted to this half of the divine revelation, that they grievously overlooked the plainest moral precepts.  They were just as Antinomian in their own way as the chatterers of St. James's day, who boasted of an orthodox faith without its appropriate works; or as Bunyan's Talkative was, who knew so well that "all is of grace;" or as the Solifidian Antinomian of our own day is, who fancies that his orthodox sentiments about the efficacy of the atoning blood will make ample amends for all deficiencies of personal obedience.

    And Talkatives have abounded in all ages of the Church, especially in seasons of religious excitement.  "What a swarm of false Christians we have among us," says the Reformer Becon, speaking of the English Reformation,----"gross gospellers, which can prattle of the gospel very finely, talk much of justification by faith,  crack very stoutly for the free remission of sins by Christ's blood.  As for their alms-deeds, their praying, their watching, their fasting, they are utterly banished from these gospellers.  They are puffed up with pride, they swell with envy, they wallow in pleasures, they burn with concupiscence.  Their religion consisteth in words and disputations; in Christian acts and godly deeds nothing at all."

    But we must not think of the Talkatives belonging exclusively to the Christian Church.  The dangerous vice belongs to human nature; and specimens are to be found everywhere, from the most highly cultivated heathen philosopher to the most ignorant Mohammedan fanatic.  Few men can,  even now, read the weighty words of Seneca on the folly and loathsomeness of avarice without being impressed by them.  And yet the impressive Stoic was but a clever Talkative, nothing more.  While he was chattering his glib sentences against the vice of hoarding, he was all the time busily heaping up mountains of gold until his accumulations could be reckoned by the million.  For a Roman Stoic was but the heathen counterpart of a Jewish Pharisee; and both of them serve to show us, that, with our poor human nature what it is, is so much easier to make the tongue holy than the life true.

    And Seneca was but a sample of his class.  The average Roman Stoic, with all his magniloquent speech, was as really a heartless Talkative as the average Jewish Pharisee.  Epictetus, himself a Stoic, but something better than a mere Talkative, exclaims, "Show me a Stoic if you are one!  Where?  You can show a thousand who repeat the Stoic reasonings.  Who, then, is a Stoic?  As we call that a Phidian statue which is formed according to the art of Phidias, so, show me some one person formed according to the principles which he professes.  Show me one who is sick, and happy;  dying and happy; exiled and happy; disgraced and happy.  Show him me; for, by heaven, I long to see a Stoic.  But you have not one perfectly formed.  Show me, then, one who is forming, one who is approaching towards the character.  Do me this favour.  Do not refuse an old man a sight which he hath never yet seen."  How completely different all this is from the experience of Paul in Romans i. 16: "I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ" ----that is, I am not disappointed in regard to its anticipated results----"for it is the power of God unto salvation, to every one that believeth."  Man's systems are easily able to manufacture an accomplished talker, but they are unfit for doing any more; while God's grace, when it is responded to, never fails to make a genuine saint.  Jewish refinements on the law of God, or heathen philosophizings, even when carried to the loftiest, these are but the power of man to produce a Talkative; but the gospel is the power of God unto actual salvation, wherever it is really believed, whether by Jew or Greek.

    With the inconsistent but elequent talk of the heathen Seneca against covetousness, we may contrast that of the Christian Origen, who lived shortly after him.  He, too, denounced with equal severity the lust of gold, but he believed what he wrote, and in proof that he did so,  he practised as he preached.  No poverty could well be poorer than that of this half-famished, ill-clad preacher of contentment, whose daily fare was the very meanest, and whose only bed was the cold damp earth.  The docrtine of Seneca was quite as sound as that of Origen, and it was as powerfully and eloquently enforced; but Seneca himself was only a heartless Talkative, who did not believe what he taught; and the proof is, he did not practise his own lesson.

    Of course, it does not make a man a Talkative that he is unwise and very voluble in speech.  This looseness of the tongue may be a weakness and a sin; but a man does not sink into an utter Talkative, except when his whole religion lies in his talking.  Short of this, however, most of us have need to imitate King David, when he kept his mouth with a bridle lest he should sin with his tongue.  "A fool also is full of words" (Eccles. x. 14); and the unwise man's unprofitable speech is indulged, not only at the cost of his own moral and spiritual debasement, but to the detriment of others.  In the mere multitude of words, quite independently of their character, there wanteth not sin (Prov. x. 19).  The average man would rather talk about a self-denying duty than perform it.  Or, if he set himself to do both, his talk will go beyond his action.  "Mens words are ever bolder than their deeds," says the German poet with an immense field of induction from which to draw his inference.  Nay, the average man would rather speak than listen, would rather give instruction than receive it.  Too often, however, the talk is indulged, not with the view either of giving or of getting information, but, like Bunyan's Talkative,  from the mere vanity of display.  "A fool hath no delight in understanding, but that his heart may discover itself" (Prov. xviii. 2). 

    By all means, however, let the Christian speak.  There is a time to speak, as well as a time to keep silence.  But let him see that his words are worth the speaking; and let him take heed also that he has a clear call to utter them.  Let his speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt.  Old Ambrose of Milan, reminded his hearers of our Lord's warning against idle words, seasonably suggests to them the corresponding danger of indulging in idle silence.  The interests of truth demand that its possessor should often and earnestly speak.  He is Christ's witness, and a part of his testimony is to be borne by his tongue.  And so important is this, that the confession of the mouth is  associated with the belief in the heart as being equally essential to salvation (Rom. x. 9).  The Christian, moreover, is to look on himself as being his brother's keeper, to consider himself a trustee, to whom the knowledge of the truth has been committed, not for his own sake only, but for behoof of his neighbour; and he is to feel himself bound to administer this truth whenever he perceives that his neighbour's true interests require it.  Nay, the Christian himself needs that he give utterance to his convictions in words; for his faithful speech will react on himself, and will strengthen these convictions.  If, on the other hand, he maintain unfaithful silence, his strongest convictions will gradually be dissipated until they disappear.

    And let the Christian cultivate communion with the brotherhood in spiritual converse.  It is as needful now as ever it was, that they who fear the Lord should speak often one to another.   The spiritual refreshment received through mutual godly conference is inconceivable.  The very attempt to shape one's own thoughts in words gives the obscure thought greater clearness and definiteness; while the heart, cold if left to itself, is warmed and revived through contact with another's.  David Brainerd writes in his journal: "Just in the the evening was visited by a dear Christian friend, with whom I spent an hour or two in conversation, on the very soul of religion.  There are many with whom I can talk about religion, but, alas!  I can find few with whom I can talk religion itself; but, blessed be the Lord, there are some who love to feed on the kernel rather than on the shell."  Christian conversation would be less likely to miss its end, if the remark of Tertullian on the early love-feasts were constantly borne in mind.  "The conversation is such as might be expected of men who are fully conscious that God is hearing them."

    The power of the tongue for good or for evil, is simply enormous.  What a flame this little spark can kindle; it can set on fire the whole course of nature, and is able to accomplish infinite results----for evil, if itself be set on fire of hell----for good, if it be touched and kindled by a coal from off the altar.  The commonplace disciple then,----the young especially,----is scarcely competent to handle, with safety, this mighty weapon.  With few exceptions,  we all need to attend more sedulously to the apostolic precept, "let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak."  The self-control thus exercised would be, in general, infinitely more profitable to ourselves as a discipline, and to our neighbours as an example, than all that is attained by our unrestrained speech.  But this is scarcely ever considered.  All can talk.  The lowest orders of intelligence, down to the neighbourhood of imbecility, can talk; and this lust for talk is so universally indulged, that an immense proportion of the sum-total of a human being's sins is made up of sins of the tongue.  "If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body."

    When one soberly thinks of it, how very solemn a thing it is to handle divine words.  "Do you work in fear and trembling?" was asked by the eccentric painter Blake, at a young man who came to consult him.  "Indeed, I do,"  was the young artist's reply.  "Then you'll succeed," responded Blake.  And how much more needful that the Christian handle divine words in the spirit of trembling reverence.  The very words we now speak shall judge ourselves at the last day; and to what an awful retort does every Talkative lay himself open: "Out of thine own mouth will I condemn thee."

    Even when our religious speech is the farthest possible from being insincere, we shall be injured by its unneccessary indulgence.  Idle talk invariably dissapates, in the multiplication of so many useless leaves of words,  much of that energy which should have been expended on the maturing of the fruits of righteousness.  One who is a shrewd observer of human nature thus speaks: "Do you want a man not to practise what he believes? then encourage him to keep often speaking of it in words.  Every time he speaks it, the tendency to do it will grow less."  It was a fig-tree covered with leaves, but without fruit, which seems to have been pointed to as a symbol of Isreal's condition, when her inner life, in our Lord's day, had developed almost wholly into empty talk.  And magnificent talkers of this class always become self-conceited.  They estimate their merits, not by their actual good works they perform, for performing never lies in their peculiar department, but from the grand words which they have spoken.  It is as true still as it was when the author of Ecclesiasticus wrote it, "Honour and shame is in talk; and the tongue of man is his fall."  "Beautiful indeed," says a Jewish proverb, "are the words which come from the mouths of those who act accordingly;" and it would be well if all other speech were accounted as hateful, as it is in reality immoral.

    "A Christian should not speak great things, but he should live them," says one of the most notable of the Church fathers.  And when a good man's conduct exhibits more than his tongue enforces, his very silence is eloquent.  It pleads for modesty,  as well as illustrates it.  But when even a good man's words go far beyond his own practice of them, there is something wrong.  He may be advocating the right thing; but he is scarcely the right man to advocate it.  The hearer is tempted to say to such a man, as Themistocles said to the pompous orator, who, representing some petty village, had addressed him in the most inflated style: "Friend, thy big words require a great city."  And how much more fitting is it for the Christian advocate to remember that lofty and holy utterances, like his, require to be backed by a corresponding life.

    Indeed, the great danger----perhaps the greatest----in connection with a profession of religion, has hitherto been that it be practically dissociated from holy living, an viewed as something quite distinct from a life of devout obedience; while the so-called religion is accounted more acceptable to God than such a life.  Ancient and modern heathenism, in all its forms, has constantly divorced the two.  In heathen eyes, religion has generally been regarded as a something scarcely even related to practical conduct.  Religion had to do with a man's worship of the gods, and morality had to do with his behaviour to his fellow-men; but the connection between the two was very slight indeed.  Romanism has always gone perilously far in the same direction, though never quite so far as heathenism.  The ancient Jews fell into the same fatal error; and in such a passage as the first chapter of Isaiah, we see religion, or at least what man accounted such, flourishing in most healthy vigour, while moral principle was almost extinct.  Instead, however, of commending such a state of things, the Spirit of God vehemently denounces the immoral religionists, and assures them that a worship which is divorced from its essential accompaniment of moral obedience is much worse than having no religion at all.  In the New Testament, we see the climax of the same evil reached by the talking Pharisees, the exaggerated intensity of whose religiousness could be matched only by their unscrupulous immorality.  Our Lord, on the other hand, in all his teachings, and especially in his Sermon on the Mount, enforced a religion whose essential accompaniment should ever be a holy life.  And every Talkative is doing now just what godless heathen, and backslidden Jews, and lifeless Pharisees, and superstitious Romanists have all done in the past.

    Let us be on the guard against carelessness, in this respect, at the first; for, begun in mere heedlessness, the evil will soon come under the imperious law of habit.  And when the bad habit becomes firmly established, there is little prospect of deliverance.  Habit is second nature; and it seem as if we owe quite as much of what we are to the second nature as to the first.  Compared with a hollow Talkative, the blindest stumbler, groping honestly after the truth, if hapily he may find it, is almost angelic.  There is every hope of the one man, scarcely any of the other.

    The Talkative may talk very wisely; but, though their discourse be true, they themselves are false.  Job's friends gave utterance to sentiments which, on the whole, were fully more orthodox than Job's own; but inasmuch as he, in his inmost spirit, was a genuine man of God, his failure was borne with, and his mistakes corrected, while they were dealt with as heartless and orthodox Talkatives.  A man's true character is shown, not by his words, but by his life.  What his actual practice is, that is the man himself.  As for mere speaking, the fool may speak much more wisely than the wise man can; for the fool may speak by head knowledge acquired from others, which knowledge the wise man may have had no opportunity of gathering.  But whatever the spoken words may be, so soon as an important practical choice needs to be made, the fool will always choose like a fool, while the wise man will make a wise and consistent choice.

    In no circumstances are the spirit and conduct of a Talkative so frightfully repulsive as when they are indulged in prayer.  Here he is at his very worst, when, possibly, he fancies himself to be at his best.  It is bad enough to play the Talkative before man, but it is very dreadful to do it before God.  He is a Spirit, and no worship can be acceptable to him except that which is offered in spirit and in truth.  It is the prayer of the upright only that is his delight.  "lying lips" under every form are an abomination to him; and it does not make the matter any better that the lies are uttered, not to man, but to God.  He complained of old by the prophet Hosea, "Ephriam compasseth me about with lies, and the house of Isreal with deceit."

    Now, so unbounded is man's capacity for self-deception, that a Talkative will not only pray with frequency, but will often take delight in praying (Isa. lviii. 2).  Whenever he gets upon his knees, however, he begins to lie with his utmost energy.  Even a Talkative will sometimes speak truthfully when he is conversing with a neighbour, but he can scarcely utter anything but falsehoods when he sets himself to seek communion with the God of truth.  And habit has made this practice of lying so natural to Talkative, that, just as a profane swearer, when he attempts to speak, will utter oaths without being conscious of swearing, so Talkative, when he begins to pray, begins at once to lie, though it never occurs to him that he is lying at all.

    He will express warm words of penitence even to abject humiliation, though he feels no true sorrow.  He will volubly utter the most devout breathings after God, while there is no corresponding thirst for God in his heart.  He will even in his warmer moments carefully select the words he uses,----select them, not because they are the most accurately truthful he can find, but because they are the most fervid that the language furnishes; forgetful that the words expressive of holy feelings at a white heat, are, on lips like his, only a louder lie, he will ask, and seem to wrestle for blessings which he is so far from really desiring, that if they were dropped beside him as he kneels to cry for them, no consideration would induce him to accept the gift or to carry it away.  He never, like the Psalmist, directs his prayer, and then stands looking up for the expected answer.  In short, he deceives himself, while he only mocks God by his seeming worship.  And let no one think that praying of this character is absolutely a rare thing.  Happy is he whose enlightened conscience can truly acquit him of all measures of talkativeness, either in secret or in social prayer----whose prayers have never come out of feigned lips. 

    In Bunyan's allegory, we see that faithful was greatly taken with the discourse of Talkative; and it is a pity that so many are ready, like him, to be carried off their feet through their admiration of a glib tongue.  Wise men feel like Pascal, "I abhor tumid phrases;" but then wise men are always a minority.  Sophicles long ago represented Ulysses as saying,----

"Son of a gallant sire, I was young once,
 And used my tongue not much, my hand full promptly.
But now, schooled by experience, I can see
That in all mortal dealings, 'tis the tongue,
And not the hand, that wins the mastery."

Alas! men change, but man remains the same; and the words of the ancient dramatist are still too applicable even among those who have undertaken pilgrimage towards the Celestial City.

    It seems to have been this popular admiration of a talking profession that tempted Ananias and Sapphira into their fatal sin.  Barnabas and others had made noble sacrifices to Christian love, which sacrifices received, properly enough, the warm commendations of the Church.  Ananias, moved with the vanity of a Talkative, wished to be commended too; only he will earn the coveted distinction at a cheap rate,----he will substitute goodly talk for a goodly doing,----or, at least, he will mix the two judiciously together.  But divine judgment fell on the daring sinners; and for a time, the Church was happily kept from developing into an immense group of sanctimonious Talkatives.

    But very soon there was abundance of Talkatives in the Church.  The epistles are filled with references to them,----men who, by good words and fair speeches, were deceiving the hearts of simple pilgrims like Faithful.  These talking saints were more than apostles, if they were to be judged by their talk; but, in heart, they were grievous wolves, devouring the flock.  The apostle speaks of them with a vehemence of indignation that can scarcely restrain itself to measure its words.  They are wolves, dogs, evil-workers, ministers of Satan.  The spirit of the meek apostle blazes up in holy wrath, as the spirit of his still meeker Master had expressed himself still more strongly towards a set of similar talking saints.  "Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?"  How awfully solemn it is to notice that in both Testaments (see Jeremiah and the later prophets) God expends his severest denunciations on men of this class of Talkatives.  But the apostle does more than denounce; he weeps, and his tears are more impressive than even his indignant words,----"For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ."  The much-enduring sufferer, poor,  persecuted, in chains, whose life was a long dying martyrdom, has not a single tear to shed for himself; but when he thinks of the havoc which the Talklatives in the Church are working, he breaks at once into weeping.  The great, strong heart could endure much in the way of trial, but this was a grief beyond even his endurance.  And the influence of heartless Talkatives is as mischievous now as ever; let the apostle's tears warn us all back from the fatal course.  Let us carefully watch lest we become Talkatives ourselves; and let us watch scarcely less carefully lest we become admirers of the vice in others.

    In his last Epistle, written just before his removal, the same apostle forewarned the Church that Christian profession, like the Jewish, should degenerate into a system of heartless talk, when men should have the form of godliness while they denied the power of it (2 Tim. iii. 1-5).  In reference to this, one of the Church father says, "The perilous times are not coming, for they have already come."  In a day like the present, when our Church rolls are not winnowed by persecution, or indeed, by any effective test, there is little to hinder that the Churches throughout Christendom be crowded with talking saints, most of whose saintship lies in talk.  Let us each know our danger; and, while we presume not to judge others, let a man examine himself.  It is a hideous thing to move about in Christ's Church as a Talkative,----as a man whose godly talk, because it is conjoined with a godless life, only furnishes a frightful stumbling-block to the careless, gives apparent warrant to the enemy to blaspheme, and most grievously weakens the hands as well as afflicts the hearts of God's faithful servants.  And how awful to die and to go before the judgment-seat a mere Talkative; all whose fine words shall only serve to increase condemnation.  Like savourless salt, such men are fit for no useful purpose, not even for being cast on the dunghill, for scarcely any other rubbish is unfit (Luke xiv. 35).  Let each of us then be on our guard against the evil in ourselves; and when we see it unmistakably in others, let us humbly and compassionately remember the wise words from Christian to Faithful, after his rebuke to Talkative, "You did well to deal so plainly with him, as you did; there is but little of this faithful dealing with men nowadays."                                                       

   






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