This is a command of God, and should be meditated upon and obeyed. A failure to do this leads to innumerable evils. Myriads of souls have backslidden; multitudes, almost persuaded, have turned back into darkness; many revivals have been quenched; and many houses of God have become spiritual sepulchers, all because of evil-speaking.
I. What is evil-speaking?
It is evil to tell lies about any man, or slander him in any way. 'Thou shalt not bear false witness' (Exod. xx. 16), God says. A man's reputation and character are sacred in the sight of God, and just as He forbids one man to rob another of his property, or take his life, so He forbids him to lie about another, or rob him of his good name. This is a holy commandment, and commends itself to every man's conscience.
It is evil to retail the faults and infirmities of others. This is a very common form of evil-speaking, but love will cover up such faults and infirmities. Just as it is beautiful in children to never speak about or appear to notice the club-feet or hunch-back or cross-eyes of a little playmate, so it is lovely and Christ-like in us to pass by faults and infirmities, and is evil not to do so.
It is evil to tell of any man's sins and actual wrongdoing where and when it will do no good.
II. Why should we speak evil of no man?
Because in speaking evil we wrong the man. It is a grievous wrong to speak evil of any man. You do not like any one to speak evil of you, and you consider it wrong for anyone to do so. But why? When you have answered you have given yourself a reason why you should not speak evil of any man.
Because in speaking evil of any man we wrong those to whom we thus speak. It fills their minds with unholy, unjust prejudice. It excludes good thoughts, and it tempts them to think and speak evil.
Because we wrong our own souls by evil-speaking. It destroys all generous and kindly thoughts in us, and quenches love. It opens our hearts for the devil to enter, and he will make haste to come in. It prevents us from praying in faith and love for the person, which would be infinitely better than speaking evil of him, and which he especially needs, if he is in any way wrong.
Because in speaking evil of any man we grieve the Holy Spirit and break the commandment of God. The Holy Spirit leads us to love all men -- even our enemies; leads us to love them -- even as Jesus loved them, but evil-speaking destroys love. The Holy Spirit leads us to pray for all men, especially for those who are faulty and sinful, but evil-speaking quenches the spirit of prayer as water quenches fire.
Because in speaking evil of any man we wrong Jesus. He died for that man. He bought him with His Blood, and even though the man may be a sinner, a backslider, a hypocrite, and refuses to obey God and love and trust Jesus, yet Jesus loves him and spares him, and is wronged when he is evil spoken of. Jesus identifies Himself with the sinner to whom we give a cup of cold water in His name, and says the good we do is done unto Him, and so He will identify Himself with the sinner whom we wrong by evil-speaking, and in the Judgment will face us with the wrong as done to Himself unless we hastily and heartily repent.
III. What is the remedy?
If he is bad or faulty in any way, consider the fact that he may have secret trials and temptations that you know nothing about. He may have business troubles and cares that lead him to wrong, or he may have family trials to which you are a stranger, or he may have had very faulty early training which has marred him for life. Not that these things will excuse him in the Day of Judgment, but they should lead you and me to pity rather than to abuse him by speaking evil of him.
Think about your own evils. This will be far more profitable to you than to think about his, and will be infinitely more likely to make a better man or woman of you.
I often see in my own thoughts, When they lie nearest Thee,
That the worst men I ever knew Were better men than me.
One of the chief dangers to ourselves in evil-speaking is that we come to under-estimate everybody else, and to esteem ourselves more highly than we ought. We come to look at our own virtues and other people's faults, when we ought to look long at their virtues and at our own faults.
Yes, they have caught the way of God, To whom self lies displayed
In such clear vision as to cast O'er other's faults a shade.
If we want to be like Jesus, we must obey the command, 'In lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves' (Phil. ii. 3), but this will be impossible where evil-speaking is indulged in.
Consider how Jesus loves him. If Jesus loved him enough to die for him; if He still loves him enough to spare him, in spite of all his faults and sins, and to save him the moment he repents, trusts and obeys, how dare we speak evil of him! And if he is a follower of Jesus and a child of God, even though he may be very imperfect, how dare we speak evil of him! Would we dare speak evil of an angel by the Throne of God and expect God to be deaf and allow our sin to go unpunished? Would we not rather expect His holiness to flame out in terrible wrath and consume us? And is any poor sinful soul that has looked to Jesus for salvation, any less dear to the heart of God than the shining angels around His Throne?
'Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye' (Matt. vii. 5). Get a clean heart, full of the Holy Ghost, full of love, and you cannot speak evil of any man. With a heart flaming with love, you will pray for the wrong-doer, and if you see evil in him, you will go to him in love and try to correct him, just as you would go to a blind man walking toward a precipice, and try to turn him from certain death.
I need Thy mercy for my sin; But more than this I need
Thy mercy's likeness, in my soul, For others' sin to bleed.
All bitterness is from ourselves, All sweetness is from Thee;
Sweet God, for evermore be Thou Fountain and fire in me.
Faith Is What You Want
Once in one of our holiness meetings I met a sister who was evidently in great spiritual distress, with intense hunger for full salvation. After a few moments' conversation, I felt assured that she was ready to accept the blessing, and so we knelt in prayer; but for some reason our prayers did not prevail. I then asked her if she was sure her consecration was complete. She at once declared it was; she was willing to die for it.
'Then,' said I, 'sister, there are three things you must believe. First, do you believe God is able to sanctify you wholly?'
'Second. Do you believe He is willing?'
'Then, with your perfect consecration, there is but one other step to take, and the wonder work of grace will be done. Will you believe that He doeth it? For the promise is: "What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive (are receiving) them, and ye shall have them' (Mark xi. 24). Will you believe this?'
'But I don't feel that He does.'
'That makes no difference, sister; your faith must precede all feeling.'
'But I can't believe that He has done it.'
'I don't ask you to believe that He has done it, but that He is doing it, in answer to your present faith. You must believe that He doeth it, if ever you are to get the witness of the Spirit. Say, "I will believe God."
'Well, I will try.'
'No, that won't do; you must believe, not try to believe.'
'Well, I am determined to struggle on till the blessing comes.'
'No, sister, your struggles will do no good unless you believe; and, until you do this, you are making God a liar.'
'But won't I be lying to say I will believe, when I don't feel like it?'
'No, for "faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Rom. x. 17), and the word of God to you is, "Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you" (John xv. 3). "Ask, and ye shall receive" ' (John xvi. 24).
That evening I saw the sister again. She said, 'I have committed myself to God, and shall trust Him, till the witness of my acceptance comes.'
The next day she was in the meeting, and related her experience, telling us that in the night God awoke her with an assurance of His love, and gave her the clear witness of the Spirit that she was entirely sanctified, putting glory in her heart, and hallelujahs on her tongue.
Entire consecration is not entire sanctification. You are commanded to 'present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God' (Rom. xii. 1). This is entire consecration; but it is also said, 'For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation' (Rom. x. 10). So then, there must be entire consecration, unwavering faith, and a frank, artless confession of both to Jesus. This is man's part, and, when these simple conditions are met and steadfastly maintained, against all contrary feelings, God will suddenly come into His Holy temple, filling the soul with His presence, purity, and power. This twofold work by man and God constitutes the one experience of entire sanctification. When this experience is yours, at your very earliest opportunity confess it before men.
Faith: The Grace And The Gift
"Be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises" (Heb. vi. 12).
"Without faith it is impossible to please Him: for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him" (Heb. xi. 6).
"Ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise. For yet a little while, and He that shell con" will come, and will not tarry" (Heb. x. 36, 37).
There is an important difference between the grace of faith and the gift of faith, and I fear that a failure to note this difference and to act accordingly has led many people into darkness, and possibly some have even been led to cast away all faith and to plunge into the black night of skepticism.
The grace of faith is that which is given to every man to work with, and by which he can come to God.
The gift of faith is that which is bestowed upon us by the Holy Ghost, at the point where we have made free use of the grace of faith.
The man who is exercising the grace of faith, says: "I believe God will bless me," and he seeks God with his whole heart. He prays secretly and publicly. He searches the Bible to know God's will. He talks with Christians about the ways of God's dealings with the soul. He takes up every cross, and at last, when he has reached the limits of the grace of faith, God suddenly, by some word of Scripture, some testimony, some inward reasoning, bestows upon him the gift of faith, by which he is enabled to grasp the blessings he has been seeking, and then he no longer says: "I believe God will bless me," but he joyfully exclaims: "I believe God does bless me!" Then the Holy Spirit witnesses that it is done, and he shouts for joy and declares: "I know God blesses me!" and then he would not thank an angel to tell him that it is done, for he knows it is done, and neither men nor devils can rob him of his assurance. Indeed, what I have here called the gift of faith might be called, and probably is by some, the assurance of faith. However, it is not the name but the fact that is important.
Now the danger lies in claiming the gift of faith before having fully exercised the grace of faith. For instance, a man is seeking the blessing of a clean heart. He says: "I believe there is such a blessing, and I believe God will give it to me." Now, believing this, he should at once seek it from God, and if he perseveres in seeking, he will surely find. But if some one comes up and gets him to claim it before he has by the grace of faith fought his way through the doubts and difficulties he has to meet, and before God has bestowed upon him the gift of faith, he will probably drift along for a few days or weeks and then fall back, and probably come to the conclusion that there is no such blessing as a clean heart. He should be warned, instructed, exhorted and encouraged to seek till he gets the assurance.
Or suppose he is sick, and he says: "There are some people who have been sick, and God has healed them, and I believe He will heal me." Having this faith, he should seek this healing from God. But if someone persuades him to claim healing before he has, by the grace of faith, worked his way through the difficulties that oppose him, and before God has bestowed upon him the gift of faith by which he receives the healing, he will probably crawl out of bed for a short time, find out he is not healed, get discouraged and, maybe, call God a liar, or possibly declare that there is no God, and cast away all confidence for ever.
Or, again, suppose he is an officer or a minister and his heart is set on seeing souls saved, and he reasons with himself that it is God's will to save souls. Then he declares: "I am going to believe for twenty souls tonight"; but night comes, and twenty souls are not saved. Then he wonders what was the matter, the devil tempts him, and he gets into doubt and, probably, is at last landed into skepticism.
What was the trouble? Why, he said he was going to believe before he had earnestly and intelligently wrestled and pleaded with God in prayer, and listened for God's voice till God wrought in him the assurance that twenty souls should be saved. "God is ... a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him."
"But," says some one, "should we not urge seekers to believe that God does the work"?
Yes, if you are certain that they have sought Him with all their hearts. If you feel sure they have exercised the grace of faith fully and yielded all, then urge them tenderly and earnestly to trust Jesus; but if you are not sure of this, beware of urging them to claim a blessing God has not given them. Only the Holy Ghost knows when a man is ready to receive the gift of God, and He will notify that man when he is to be blessed. So, beware not to attempt to do the work of the Holy Ghost yourself. If you help seekers too much, they may die on your hands. But if you walk closely with God in a spirit of humility and prayer, He will reveal to you the right word to say that will help them through.
Again, let no one suppose that the grace of faith will necessarily have to be exercised a long time before God gives the assurance. You may get the blessing almost at once, if you urge your claim with a perfect heart, fervently, without any doubt, and without any impatience toward God. But, as the prophet says, "Though it (the vision) tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry" (Hab. ii. 3). "Yet a little while, and He will come; He will not tarry." If the blessing should tarry, do not think because it is delayed that, therefore, it is denied; but, like the Syro-phoenician woman (Mark vii. 26) who came to Jesus, press your claim in all meekness and lowliness of heart, with undaunted faith. He will in love soon say to you: "O man, O woman, great is thy faith; be it unto thee even as thou wilt."