Chapter IV. Of Charity, Preparatory to the Blessed Sacrament.
IF it be not in our hands to do well, it must be in our hearts; and the contrary must never be upon our tongues: we are sure we can speak well, or we can abstain from speaking ill. If it be otherwise with us, we cannot be welcome here, we shall not worthily communicate. God opens his month, and his heart, and his bowels, his bosom, and his treasures to us in this holy sacrament, and calls to us to draw water as from a river; and can we come to drink of the pleasant streams, that we may have only moisture enough, to talk much and long against the honour of our brother or our sister? Can it be imagined that Christ, who never spake an ill word, should take thee into his arms, and feast thee at his table, and dwell in thy heart, and lodge thee in his bosom, who makest thyself all one with the devil? whose office and work it is to be an accuser of the brethren? No: Christ never will feast serpents at his table; persons who have stings, instead of tongues, and venom in all the moisture of their mouth, and reproach is all their language.
We should easily consent, that he that killed a man yesterday, and is like to kill another to-morrow, were not this day worthy to communicate: now some persons had rather lose their lives than lose their honour: what then think we of their preparation to the holy communion, that make nothing of murdering their brother's or their sister's fame? that either invent evil stories falsely and maliciously,--or believing them easily, report them quickly, and aggravate them spitefully, and scatter them diligently? He that delights to report evil things of me, that will not endure so much as to have me well spoken of, hath certainly but little kindness to me: he would very hardly die for me, or lay out great sums of money for me, that will not afford me the cheapest charity of a good word. The Jews have a saying, that "it were better that a man were put into a flame of fire, than he should publicly disgrace his neighbour." But in this there are two great considerations, that declare the unworthiness of it.
1. They who readily speak reproachfully of others, destroy all the love and combinations of charity in the world; they ruin the excellency and peculiar privilege of mankind, whose nature it is to delight in society, and whose needs and nature make it necessary. Now slander and reproach, and speaking evil one of another, poisons love, and brings in hatred, and corrupts friendship, and tempts the biggest virtue by anger to pass unto revenge. For an evil tongue is a perpetual storm; it is a daily temptation; and no virtue can, without a miracle, withstand its temptation. "If you strike a lamprey but once with a rod," saith the Greek proverb, "you make him gentle; but if often, you provoke him." A single injury is entertained by Christian patience, like a stone into a pocket of wool; it rests soft in the embraces of a meek spirit which delights to see itself overcome a wrong, by a worthy sufferance: but he that loves to do injury by talk, does it in all companies, and takes all occasions, and brings it in by violence, and urges it rudely, till patience being weary goes away, and is waited upon by Charity, which never forsakes or goes away from patience. "A wound with the tongue is like a bruise; it cannot be cured in four-and-twenty hours."
2. No man sins singly in such instances as these. Some men commit one murder and never do another; some men are surprised, and fall into uncleanness or drunkenness; but repent of it speedily, and never again return to folly: but an evil and an uncharitable tongue d is an accursed principle, it is, in its very nature and original, equal to an evil habit; and it enters without temptation, and dwells in every part of our conversation, and injures every man, and every woman. It is like the evil spirit that was in love with Tobias's wife; if you drive him from Nineveh, he will run to the utmost parts of Egypt; there also, unless an angel bind him, he will do all the mischief in the world; for there is not in the world a worse devil, than a devilish tongue.
But I am not now to speak of it as it is injurious to our neighbour, but as it is an hinderance to our worthy communicating. "The mouth that speaketh lies," or stings his neighbour, or "boasteth proud things," is not fit to drink the blood of the sacrificed Lamb. Christ enters not into those lips, from whence slander and evil talkings do proceed: and the tongue that loves to dispraise his brother, cannot worthily celebrate the praises and talk of the glorious things of God. Let no man deceive himself; an injurious talker is an habitual sinner; and he that does not learn the discipline of the tongue, can never have the charity of Christ, and the blessings of the peaceful sacrament. Persons that slander s or disgrace their brother, are bound to make restitution; it is as if they had stolen a jewel,--they must give it back again, or not come hither. But they that will neither do nor speak well of others, are very far from charity: and they that are so, ought to be as far from the sacrament, or they will not be very far from condemnation. But a good man will be as careful of the reputation, as of the life, of his brother; and to be apt to speak well of all men, is a sign of a charitable and a good man; and that goes a great way in our preparation to a worthy communion.