Evil Speaking, and the Proper Means to Prevent It
Psalm 39:1-13
I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue: I will keep my mouth with a bridle, while the wicked is before me.…

I. THE REASONABLENESS OF THIS RESOLUTION, and particularly with respect to us, as Christians, not to offend with the tongue.

1. Evil speaking brings a great scandal upon our holy religion, as it is so directly opposite to the genius and spirit of it, to the many express precepts which occur in it, and that goodness and candour of temper which so remarkably discovered itself in our blessed Saviour.

2. The injustice of this crime with respect to others.

(1) It is a very evident truth, that according to the worth of anything, wherein we invade another man's right, the wrong we do him is proportionably heightened. It is no less certain that of all the external advantages and comforts of human life, there are none of greater importance to a man than a good name.

(2) Besides defrauding a man of reputation and honour, this crime is for the most part highly injurious and prejudicial to him with respect to his other interests, and very often proves an injury to the public. For, as Plutarch well observes, the reputation of honour and worth affords one a thousand opportunities of doing good in the world, by opening to him an easy passage to the hearts and affections of men; whereas, says he, if a man lie under any calumnies or suspicions, he cannot exert his virtues, be he never so well qualified, to the benefit of others, without committing a kind of violence upon them.

(3) That which heightens the injustice of this crime the more, is, that it is so difficult to make the injured party any reparation. A scandal, when it is once gone abroad, is not easily recalled; but as a poisonous vapour sometimes infects a whole city or region, so a calumny, once set forward, and meeting with so general an inclination to provoke it, is not only apt to spread itself wide, but the further it spreads, the more it usually increases its malignity.

3. The impudence of those who are guilty of this crime.

(1) There are few persons who give their tongues a general liberty of scandal and defamation that do not irritate others to take the same freedom with them.

(2) The folly and imprudence of this vice of evil speaking appears further from hence, that it seldom if ever answers one great end we propose to ourselves by it. We are apt to imagine that by lessening or throwing dirt upon other people, we set ourselves off to greater advantage, and appear in a better light; but we ought to consider the world has, at that very moment, an eye upon our conduct, and the same right to make a judgment of it, as we have to sit upon the actions of other people. And that it will judge of us, not from our declaiming against their vices or defects, and the elevation we would thereby give ourselves above them; but from our personal qualifications or behaviour.

(3) Persons who give themselves the liberty to reflect upon the criminal actions and behaviour of other people, or to charge them perhaps with crimes they never thought of, are frequently observed to speak their own inclinations, and to give some visible and plain hints what they themselves would have been disposed to do under the same circumstances of temptation.


1. To take heed to our ways implies in general that we keep a strict and watchful eye upon all our actions, that we frequently examine and call them over, and impartially state accounts between God and our own consciences.

2. But I shall consider this expression in its more restrained sense, as it imports the great duty of self-reflection or examination. A duty which, if we discharge with that care and frequency we ought, we shall have less time and less inclination to concern ourselves about the failings or disorders of other people.

(1) We shall have less time for this criminal amusement; because, by calling our own ways frequently to remembrance, we shall discover how many opportunities of religious improvement we have trifled away already, or perhaps abused to very wicked and irreligious purposes; and that it concerns us therefore, by a more strict and constant application to the duties of religion for the future, to use our utmost endeavours towards redeeming the time.

(2) By frequently examining into the state of our own souls, we shall also have less inclination to censure the conduct of others. By considering how apt we ourselves are to be tempted, and how easily we have been overcome by temptation, we shall be disposed to make a more favourable judgment of the failings of other people; we shall think it unreasonable to expect that they should be perfect, while we are conscious to ourselves of so many personal defects; we shall be ashamed to condemn men of like passions for taking those liberties which we think excusable in ourselves.


1. If evil speaking be in general so heinous a sin, and on so many accounts injurious to the party spoken against, the guilt of it must still be increased, when such particular persons are defamed who bear any extraordinary character, or whose reputation is of greater influence; such as princes and civil magistrates that are put in authority under them, whose honour it is the common interest of society itself to support and maintain, because in proportion to any contempt or indignity offered to their persons, their authority itself will grow cheap and precarious.

2. From what has been said, we may observe the general decay of Christian piety.

3. If evil speaking be so heinous a crime, let us take care not only to avoid it ourselves, but to discountenance it in others. I must own there is some courage and resolution required to stem a torrent which runs so strong, and wherewith such multitudes are carried away; but the more general any sinful practice is, it is an argument of the greater bravery and generosity of mind to oppose it. But if we have not power enough over ourselves to do that, let us take care, at least, that we be not thought by any seeming complacency in it, to encourage so unchristian a conversation.

(R. Fiddes.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: {To the chief Musician, even to Jeduthun, A Psalm of David.} I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue: I will keep my mouth with a bridle, while the wicked is before me.

WEB: I said, "I will watch my ways, so that I don't sin with my tongue. I will keep my mouth with a bridle while the wicked is before me."

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