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Conversation On Conversation
by [?]

“Besides,” said Helen, “are not people sometimes repelled from religion by a want of cheerfulness in its professors?”

“Certainly,” replied her uncle, “and the difference is just this: if a person is habitually trifling and thoughtless, it is thought that they have no religion; if they are ascetic and gloomy, it is attributed to their religion; and you know what Miss E. Smith says–that ‘to be good and disagreeable is high treason against virtue.’ The more sincerely and earnestly religious a person is, the more important it is that they should be agreeable.”

“But, uncle,” said Helen, “what does that text mean that we began with? What are idle words?”

“My dear, if you will turn to the place where the passage is (Matt. xii.) and read the whole page, you will see the meaning of it. Christ was not reproving any body for trifling conversation at the time; but for a very serious slander. The Pharisees, in their bitterness, accused him of being in league with evil spirits. It seems, by what follows, that this was a charge which involved an unpardonable sin. They were not, indeed, conscious of its full guilt–they said it merely from the impulse of excited and envious feeling–but he warns them that in the day of judgment, God will hold them accountable for the full consequences of all such language, however little they may have thought of it at the time of uttering it. The sense of the passage I take to be, ‘God will hold you responsible in the day of judgment for the consequences of all you have said in your most idle and thoughtless moments.'”

“For example,” said Helen, “if one makes unguarded and unfounded assertions about the Bible, which excite doubt and prejudice.”

“There are many instances,” said her uncle, “that are quite in point. Suppose in conversation, either under the influence of envy or ill will, or merely from love of talking, you make remarks and statements about another person which may be true or may not,–you do not stop to inquire,–your unguarded words set reports in motion, and unhappiness, and hard feeling, and loss of character are the result. You spoke idly, it is true, but nevertheless you are held responsible by God for all the consequences of your words. So professors of religion often make unguarded remarks about each other, which lead observers to doubt the truth of all religion; and they are responsible for every such doubt they excite. Parents and guardians often allow themselves to speak of the faults and weaknesses of their ministers in the presence of children and younger people–they do it thoughtlessly–but in so doing they destroy an influence which might otherwise have saved the souls of their children; they are responsible for it. People of cultivated minds and fastidious taste often allow themselves to come home from church, and criticize a sermon, and unfold all its weak points in the presence of others on whom it may have made a very serious impression. While the critic is holding up the bad arrangement, and setting in a ludicrous point of view the lame figures, perhaps the servant behind his chair, who was almost persuaded to be a Christian by that very discourse, gives up his purposes, in losing his respect for the sermon; this was thoughtless–but the evil is done, and the man who did it is responsible for it.”

“I think,” said Helen, “that a great deal of evil is done to children in this way, by our not thinking of what we are saying.”

“It seems to me,” said Miss B., “that this view of the subject will reduce us to silence almost as much as the other. How is one ever to estimate the consequences of their words, people are affected in so many different ways by the same thing?”

“I suppose,” said her uncle, “we are only responsible for such results as by carefulness and reflection we might have foreseen. It is not for ill-judged words, but for idle words, that we are to be judged–words uttered without any consideration at all, and producing bad results. If a person really anxious to do right misjudges as to the probable effect of what he is about to say on others, it is quite another thing.”

“But, uncle, will not such carefulness destroy all freedom in conversation?” said Helen.

“If you are talking with a beloved friend, Helen, do you not use an instinctive care to avoid all that might pain that friend?”


“And do you find this effort a restraint on your enjoyment?”

“Certainly not.”

“And you, from your own feelings, avoid what is indelicate and impure in conversation, and yet feel it no restraint?”


“Well, I suppose the object of Christian effort should be so to realize the character of our Savior, and conform our tastes and sympathies to his, that we shall instinctively avoid all in our conversation that would be displeasing to him. A person habitually indulging jealous, angry, or revengeful feeling–a person habitually worldly in his spirit–a person allowing himself in sceptical and unsettled habits of thought, cannot talk without doing harm. This is our Savior’s account of the matter in the verses immediately before the passage we were speaking of–‘How can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth evil things.’ The highest flow of animal spirits would never hurry a pure-minded person to say any thing indelicate or gross; and in the same manner, if a person is habitually Christian in all his habits of thought and feeling, he will be able without irksome watchfulness to avoid what may be injurious even in the most unrestrained conversation.”