The Young Man's Guide to the Harmonious
Development of Christian Character

by Harvey Newcomb, 1847


The apostle James says, the tongue is an unruly member, and that it is easier to control a horse or a ship, or even to tame wild beasts and serpents, than to govern the tongue. And, though a very little member, it is capable of doing immense mischief. He even likens it to a fire. A very small spark, thrown into a heap of dry shavings, in a wooden house, in a great city, will make a terrible fire. It may burn up the whole city. So a very few words, carelessly spoken by an ungoverned tongue, may set a whole neighborhood on fire. You cannot, therefore, be too careful how you employ your tongue. It is of the highest importance to your character and usefulness, that you early acquire the habit of controlling this unruly member. For the purpose of aiding you in this, I shall give a few simple rules.


I. Think before you speak. Many people open their mouths, and set their tongues a-going like the clapper of a wind-mill, as though the object was, to see how many words could be uttered in a given time, without any regard to their quality—whether sense or nonsense, whether good, bad, or indifferent. A tongue, trained up in this way, will never be governed, and must become a source of great mischief. But accustom yourself, before you speak, to consider whether what you are going to say is worth speaking, or whether it can do any mischief. If you cultivate this habit, your mind will speedily acquire an activity, that will enable you to make this consideration without waiting so long before answering your companions as to be observed; and it will impose a salutary restraint upon your loquacity; for you will find others often taking the lead of conversation instead of yourself, by seizing upon the pause that is made by your consideration. This will be an advantage to you, in two ways. It will give you something better to say, and will diminish the quantity. You will soon perceive that, though you say less than some of your companions, your words have more weight.

II. Never allow yourself to talk nonsense. The habit of careless, nonsensical talking, is greatly averse to the government of the tongue. It accustoms it to speak at random, without regard to consequences. It often leads to the utterance of what is not strictly true, and thus insensibly diminishes the regard for truth. It hardens the heart, and nourishes a trifling, careless spirit. Moreover, if you indulge this habit, your conversation will soon become silly and insipid.

III. Do not allow yourself in the habit of JOKING with your companions. This tends to cultivate severe sarcasm, which is a bad habit of the tongue. And, if you indulge it, your strokes will be too keen for your companions to bear; and you will lose their friendship.

IV. Always speak the truth. There is no evil habit, which the tongue can acquire, more wicked and mischievous than that of speaking falsehood. It is in itself very wicked; but it is not more wicked than mischievous. If all were liars, there could be no happiness; because all confidence would be destroyed, and no one would trust another. It is very offensive to God, who is a God of truth, and who has declared that all liars shall have their part in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone. It is a great affront and injury to the person that is deceived by it. Many young people think nothing of deceiving their companions, in sport; but they will find that the habit of speaking what is not true, even in sport, besides being intrinsically wrong, will so accustom them to the utterance of falsehood, that they will soon lose that dread of a lie which used to fortify them against it.

The habit of exaggeration, too, is a great enemy to truth. Where this is indulged, the practice of uttering falsehood, without thought or consideration, will steal on insensibly. It is necessary, therefore, in detailing circumstances, to state them accurately, precisely as they occurred, in order to cultivate the habit of truth-telling. Be very particular on this head. Do not allow yourself so little an inaccuracy, even, as to say you laid a book on the table, when you put it on the mantel, or on the window-seat. In relating a story, it is not necessary that you should state every minute particular, but that what you do state should be exactly and circumstantially true. If you acquire this habit of accuracy, it will not only guard you against the indulgence of falsehood, but it will raise your character for truth. When people come to learn that they can depend upon the critical accuracy of whatever you say, it will greatly increase their confidence in you. But if you grow up with the habit of speaking falsehood, there will be very little hope of your reformation, as long as you live. The character that has acquired a habitual disregard of truth is most thoroughly vitiated. This one habit, if indulged and nourished, and carried with you from childhood to youth, and from youth upwards, will prove your ruin.

V. Remember that all truth is not to be spoken at all times. The habit of uttering all that you know, at random, without regard to times and circumstances, is productive of great mischief. If you accustom your tongue to this habit, it will lead you into great difficulties. There are many of our own thoughts, and many facts that come to our knowledge, that prudence would require us to keep in our own bosom, because the utterance of them would do mischief.

VI. Never, if you can possibly avoid it, speak anything to the disadvantage of another. The claims of justice or friendship may sometimes require you to speak what you know against others. You may be called to testify against their evil conduct in school, or before a court of justice; or you may be called to warn a friend against an evil or designing person. But, where no such motive exists, it is far better to leave them to the judgment of others and of God, and say nothing against them yourself.

VII. Keep your tongue from tale-bearing and gossiping. There is much said in the Scriptures against tattling. "You shall not go up and down as a tale-bearer, among the children of your people." "A tale-bearer reveals secrets." "Where no wood is, the fire goes out; and where there is no tale-bearer, the strife ceases." Young people are apt to imbibe a taste for neighborhood gossip, and to delight in possessing family secrets, and in repeating personal matters, neighborhood scandal, etc. But the habit is a bad one. It depraves the taste and vitiates the character, and often is the means of forming for life the wicked habit of tale-bearing. And tale-bearers, besides the great mischief they do, are always despised, as base, mischievous, and contemptible characters.

If you will attentively observe and follow the foregoing rules, you will acquire such a habit of governing the tongue, that it will be an easy matter; and it will give dignity and value to your character, and make you beloved and esteemed, as worthy of the confidence of all.