The Power of Speech
Proverbs 18:21
Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.

Of all the powers that man possesses there is scarcely any more awful than the power of speech. It is a God-like power. Human speech is no mere evolution from the cry of the animals. Speech became possible on the earth only when on the earth there appeared one into whom the Divine Spirit had breathed the breath of life, and made him a living soul. It is because the origin of speech is Divine that words have such awful power. Consider what a word is. From the materialist's point of view, it is but a slight agitation of the particles of air around us. Nothing feebler, nothing more evanescent, can be conceived. Yet that word can make or mar a human life; that word can fill a home with gladness or despair.

I. DEATH IS IN THE POWER OF THE TONGUE. How significant it is of the fallen condition of our race that death should here be put first! To prove the truth of our text, let us take some illustrations of the death-dealing power of the tongue.

1. Take the deadly power of careless, vain, frivolous words. They seem harmless. How much harm is done by the light and careless conversation even of Christian people about religion! How much damage is done by the far too common habit of jesting with Scripture! Such a habit induces irreverence, and lays the foundation for irreligion.

2. Take the deadly power of mocking words. A gibe, a sneer, cuts many a man like a knife. By the mocking words of companions many a soul who has just escaped has been forced back into the bondage of sin, and driven to a Christless grave.

3. As a graver illustration of the same thing, take the power of false words. While open and deliberate lying is reprobated by all, many have not a sufficient sense of the mischief wrought by falsehood and insincerity of speech. Every lie begets other lies; and from the thoughtless exaggerations of conversation to the deliberate perjury, which has in our day become so common in our law courts, the descent is quick and easy.

4. A still more serious illustration of the death-dealing power of the tongue is seen in connection with slander. Says Robertson, of Brighton, in a great sermon upon the tongue, "In the drop of poison which distils from the sting of the smallest insect, or the spikes of the nettle leaf, there is concentrated the quintessence of a poison so subtle that the microscope cannot distinguish it, yet so virulent that it can inflame the blood, irritate the whole system, and convert night and day into a restless misery. So it is in the power of slanderous words to inflame hearts, to fever human existence, to poison human society at the fountain springs of life."

5. But the supreme illustration of the death-dealing power of the tongue is found in indecent words. The man of indecent speech may be compared with the murderer. The one destroys the body, the other destroys the soul. If we would execrate the man who in the time of pestilence would smear the walls of a city with plague-poison, what shall we say of the man who defiles the temple of the soul with his indecent speech? To thousands and tens of thousands indecent speech is the revelation of a world of wickedness previously unknown. By it the imagination is defiled, the corrupt nature set on fire, the barriers that guard purity broken down, and the soul led to absolute ruin.

II. LIFE IS IN THE POWER OF THE TONGUE. When the tongue is consecrated, when it is guided and controlled by a heart full of the Holy Ghost, it becomes a mighty power to destroy the works of the devil.

1. Grave and gracious speech takes the place of careless, light, and frivolous speech. Our words lead seekers to Christ, in Him to find eternal life.

2. Comforting and encouraging words take the place of mocking words. The power of words of comfort to encourage those who are sorrowing and desponding is simply marvellous. They literally bring life to the soul.

3. Kind words take the place of cruel words. Every kind word that is uttered makes this world more like heaven. For where slander begets hate, kindness begets love.

4. True words go forth to do battle against the falsehoods of which the earth is full. Every true word that is spoken binds human society more closely together, and makes the burden of life easier to bear.

5. And then pure words go forth to enlighten and purify and cleanse lives darkened and debased and defiled by the evils of the world. Before the man of pure speech the indecent man hides himself. Purity is like the sunlight. When it is let in upon the mind the evil and unclean things which dwell there flee, as noisome creatures under a stone flee from the light of day. But what is true of the tongue is true also of the pen. Literature to-day has a tremendous power. And who doubts that in countless instances it is a power making for death?

(1) Who can estimate the damage done by the innumerable frivolous and absolutely worthless books which are issued from the press? Even where they are not positively harmful, they waste time.

(2) And if these are hurtful, how much more so are the false and misleading books which are issued in such numbers in our day!

(3) But the death-dealing power of the press is seen in nothing so dreadfully as in its issue of impure and indecent literature. But if the press has such power, and if authors are using this power for evil, it becomes all the more necessary that we should use it for good. A good book entering a house may prevent the entrance of a bad book. A good book following a bad book may largely neutralise the mischief which the first has done.

(G. H. C. Macgregor, M. A.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.

WEB: Death and life are in the power of the tongue; those who love it will eat its fruit.

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