Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XXII.: of speech and silence. - The Works of John Robinson, vol. 1
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CHAPTER XXII.: of speech and silence. - John Robinson, The Works of John Robinson, vol. 1 
The Works of John Robinson, Pastor of the Pilgrim Fathers, with a Memoir and Annotations by Robert Ashton, 3 vols (London: John Snow, 1851). Vol. 1.
Part of: The Works of John Robinson, Pastor of the Pilgrim Fathers, with a Memoir and Annotations by Robert Ashton, 3 vols.
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of speech and silence.
Man is endowed above beasts; especially with reason, and with speech to utter it: without which, his reason, how deep, and profound soever, were little more profitable unto others, nor many times to himself neither, than a spring hidden in the ground. Hence the tongue is called the index of the mind: and as by the index we know what is in the hook; so do we by the speech what is conceived in the heart. “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh.” Matt. xii. 34. And so ready is the passage from the heart to the tongue, as that what is conceived in the one is usually brought forth by the other: neither doth any outward thing so soon betray a man, as his words. Though Jacob brought his brother Esau's hands, and neck, and meat, and sauce, and smell, to his father Isaac, Gen. xxviii. 32, yet could he not bring his tongue and voice: and though a man put upon his hands the gloves of dissimulation, and the shoes upon his feet, and mask his face never so cunningly; yet can he hardly so tip his tongue, but, in a short time, a wise man will discover him, and discern whether he be good, or bad; specially whether he be wise, or simple. Great is the affinity between the heart and mouth: and so the second Person in Trinity is not called the work, but the word of God. John i. 1; Rev. xix. 13.
Solomon, in his Proverbs, xv. 4, compares the speech of a wise, and righteous man to a tree of life, and to a fountain of life, and to many other pleasant, and profitable things; which must teach both them that speak to preserve pure that fountain, and to prune, dig about, and manure, with all diligence, that tree, that it may bring forth fruit to the hearers:* and so must it teach them that hear, not to neglect that benefit, but to admit, and receive the words of truth and wisdom, as seed, by which they also may conceive, and bring forth good fruit.†
“A word spoken in due season is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.” Prov. xv. 23. And so a wise man must provide, that his words be not only gold for their worth, but also framed to silver-like opportunity: there being a time when nothing, a time when something, but no time when all things, are to be spoken.‡
That which is generally spoken of a blessed man, that he is “like a tree that brings forth his fruit in due season,” Psa. i. 3, may specially be applied to the apples of the tongue, and fruit of the lips. For the bringing forth of which, he that can observe and take a due season, shall as effectually promote his purpose, as he that takes his pull at the bell-rising. “A fool will utter all his mind,” Prov. xxix. 11, and is ready to burst, if he speak not whatsoever he thinks: but a wise man will keep a word for afterward:* and will neither run before, nor neglect, but follow opportunity. Want of wisdom makes men, commonly, too forward in speaking, and over-much wisdom too backward. As the bird often flies away, whilst the fowler still seeks to get nearer, and nearer her: so doth golden opportunity many times, whilst we wait too long for better, and fitter passage for our speech. It is better then to take a reasonable good opportunity presenting itself, than to adventure the loss of all, by waiting still for a better.
He that takes up the time, specially wise and godly men being in the company, with unprofitable, how much more, with ungodly, speech, besides the account which “he must give to God for every vain word,” Matt. xii. 36, that is, for every word not some way or other, profitable; greatly wrongs the whole company, in hindering the speaking and hearing of better things by his vanities; which are like ill humours filling the stomach, and taking from it both appetite of, and benefit by better meat. Let not thy speech, saith one, be vain, but such as serves either to counsel, or to persuade, or to comfort, or to direct:† and the apostle, more divinely, “Let no corrupt communication come out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.” Eph. iv. 29. He that doth this, is God's minister, in his place; and hath his part in the honourable praises of that wise king, “into whose lips grace was poured.” Psa. xlv. 2.
“He that can rule his tongue, considering how unruly an evil that little member is, is able also to bridle the whole body,” James iii. 2, and is a perfect, and entire man, and he to whom no Christian duty is impossible. This he that cannot do, though he seem religious, both to himself, and others, deceives both; and “his religion is in vain.” James i. 26. If this rule were well minded, and rightly applied, either more would bridle their tongues, or fewer seem religious to themselves and others, than do.
Many affect speaking in an imperious and commanding accent. Some out of familiar boldness with friends: but such may easily be more bold than welcome, if they have not both good knowledge of, and interest in their so commanded friends. Men write to friends, “yours to command,” and offer their service: but they that will take all, either in substance, or ceremony, which their friends offer, will weary them in time. Some fools also affect masterfulness in speech, specially with underlings. And of them I have known some so swollen in the mouth, as they have thought, that if they gave their servant a better name, than sirrah, or boy, they lost their authority. There are also which love to snarl, and use surly and currish speech, especially towards inferiors, or equals either. It is pity such are not over some great men's dogs, to order, and govern them. Such become unsociable, and burdensome, and abuse the singular benefit of God, and nature, the tongue, and speech, bestowed on men for the mutual intercourse of their reasonable conceptions, and preservation of human society. On the contrary, besides other benefits, there is nothing, by which men may at so cheap a rate purchase good-will, especially at their hands, who are of a lower rank than themselves, as by kind, and respectful language:* which made Titus Vespasian say, as he also proved the good of it by experience, gaining the opinion, and name of the darling of mankind, that “a prince should never send away any petitioner discontented.” And, albeit, as the saying is, “fair words make fools glad;” yet so do they wise men also. Good language joined with real performance, is as a pleasant sauce to wholesome meat. Without performance, where ability is wanting, it ought to be as acceptable, though it stand us not in so good stead, as if the thing we desire were done for us: and in that case we should account of good words, as Diogenes did of his wortles,† which were for sauce to other meat, and for meat, when he had no other. And even where men fail us in that, which both they are able to perform, and we have reason to look they should; better we receive from them good words, than otherwise: seeing they carry with them some appearance of respect to him, to whom they are used; whereas, the contrary cast withal contempt upon his person; which is more grievous to most men, than a moderate disappointment in their suit. Words are like clothes, used first for necessity, after for convenient ornament, and, lastly, for wantonness. Neither do harlots more strive to inveigle fools by wanton tricking, and trimming themselves; than do fawning orators, and word-wise men, to allure vain hearers, and readers, who, as one saith, had rather be strewed with flowers, than fed with fruits by curious and affected forms of speech. Such deserve, though they oft get a better, the reward of the harper, whom Dionysius pleased with hope whilst he pleased him with singing: and there an end of both.* And truly I know few things by which men are either more puffed up in themselves, as Theodoret taxeth Chrysostom, or purchase from others with less desert, greater opinion of excellency, than by curious and affected eloquence, whether in pompous, or plausible speech, without weight of matter.† This is vanity in all subjects, and in Divine matters, profaneness: and so the truly learned apostle professeth, that his “preaching was not with persuasible words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit, and power; that the Church's faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” 1 Cor. ii.4. He that, without sound information of judgment going before, is either by eloquence, or earnestness persuaded to the liking of any course; will, if he meet with an opposite orator more eloquent and vehement than the former, be as lightly dissuaded from it, and persuaded to the contrary. As a woman over curiously trimmed, is to be suspected; so is a speech. And indeed he that goes about by eloquence, without firm ground of reason, to persuade, goes about to deceive; and he that suffers himself so to be persuaded, is willing to be deceived. I may, and will do something for importunity of speech, but if I like any thing the better, I follow passion, and not reason.
He is rightly eloquent, who observing decorum, and tempering his style according to his person, can speak fitly, fully, and eloquently of all things;‡ temperately of mean things, and weightily of matters of importance:§ and not he that can magnify his mouth above measure, and the weight of the matter; and draw Hercules' hose upon a child's leg;|| which the wise king counted no matter of commendation. And besides affectation, in which men strain the strings of their eloquence, to make persons or things as good or bad; or as great or small, not as they are, but as the speaker can; I have known some by an abused benefit of nature, and art, so impotently eloquent, as that they could hardly speak in praise or dispraise of person, or thing, without doubling, and trebling upon them superlative synonymes of honour, or disgrace. Such orators would make noteable market-folk, in crying up their own wares, which they meant to sell, and in making other men's, which they would buy, double naught. Prov. xx. 14.
Both length, and shortness of speech may be used commendably, in their time; as mariners sometimes sail with larger-spread, and sometimes with narrower-gathered sails. But as some are large in speech out of abundance of matter, and upon due consideration: so the most multiply words, either from weakness, or vanity. Wise men suspect, and examine their words ere they suffer them to pass from them, and so speak the more sparingly: but fools pour out theirs by talents, without fear, or wit. Besides, wise men speak to purpose, and so have but something to say: the other speak everything of everything, and thereupon take liberty to use long wanderings. Lastly, they think to make up that in number, or repetition of words, which is wanting in weight. But above all other motives, some better, some worse, too many love to hear themselves speak; and imagining vainly, that they please others, because they please themselves, make long orations, when a little were too much. Some excuse their tediousness, saying, that they cannot speak shorter; wherein they both say untruly, and shame themselves also: for it is all one, as if they said, that they have unbridled tongues, and inordinate passions setting them a-work. I have been many times drawn so dry, that I could not well speak any longer, for want of matter: but I ever could speak as short as I would.
Some have said, that “hurt never comes by silence,” Numb. xxx. 4—8; but they may as well say, that good never comes by speech: for where it is good to speak, it is ill to be silent. Besides, he that holds his tongue, in a matter that concerns him, is accounted, as consenting. Indeed less hurt comes hy silence, than by speech; and so doth less good. Some are silent in weakness, and want either of wit to conceive what to speak; or of courage to utter what they conceive; or of utterance, where the other defects are not. They of the first sort are not desperately foolish, seeing they are sensible of their own want; which is half the way to mending it: there being “more hope of such a fool, than of a man wise in his own conceit,” Prov. xxvi. 12, that is, thinking himself wiser than he is. Besides, such have the wit to cover their folly; and “a fool whilst he holds his tongue, is accounted wise,” Prov. xvii. 28: whereas “a babbling fool proclaims his foolishness,” Prov. xii. 23. For the second, though it be a misery for a man to be compelled to keep silence, when he would speak:* and that the prison be strait, where the very tongue is tied, yet he wants not all wit, who can for fear of danger hold his tongue, and not make “his lips the snare of his soul.” Prov. xviii. 7. Some again are silent in strength of wisdom, and others of passion. As deep streams are most still; so are many, of deepest judgment, through vehement intention of mind upon weighty or doubtful matters; whereas the shallower are louder, and more forth-putting. And here the testimony which Spintharus gave of Epaminondas hath place, that he met with no man in his days, that knew more, and spake less.† Again, in some, vehemence of passion and affection dams up the passage of speech. The grief is moderate which utters itself; that which is extreme is silent.‡ So Absalom hating his brother Amnon to the death, “spake neither good nor evil to him.” 2 Sam. xiii. 22. Lastly, there are who can bridle their tongue in discretion, and know, not only how to take the time to speak, but also the time to keep silence, Eccl. iii. 7: which surely is no small commendation in a wise, and able person. And this the philosopher knew well, who, when all the rest of his fellows, being each to present the king with some notable sentence, or other, were forward to utter every one his ware, desired of the king's messenger, that it might be certified in his name, that he had skill to hold his peace, when others were forward to speak.