The hand is a wonderful member of the body.
Swiftly it glides over the ivory keys, its fingers striking the right ones at a prescribed rhythm, and produces a captivating melody and rich harmonies. Moving up and down, left and right it selects the letters on the linotype machine setting the type for the printing of these words. Firmly it grasps various tools, moves objects, builds structures and machines, controls trains, planes, automobiles, ships and other vehicles with motors. Deftly it applies paint and realizes a beautiful landscape or seascape. It presses buttons, throws switches, weaves and sews, pounds and lifts, throws and gathers, plants and reaps, builds up and tears down. Adapted it is to, every kind of work that needs to, be done here below.
And the mouth serves a twofold purpose. Through that mouth we receive into our bodies the food that we need for our earthly existence. Into it daily we take food and drink. And when we were but babes, before we could use these hands—and indeed they seemed to be all thumbs to us then—we were continually crying for something to be put into that mouth. If food was not forthcoming, our thumbs had to be stuffed in to satisfy us. One does wonder whether it is a carryover of this childlike activity that as soon as parental supervision is relaxed or escaped the craving is to thrust into that mouth a cigarette, a cigar or pipe and “chew” on it many an hour of the day. But surely our mouths are used for putting things into them. God made them for putting food in for the nourishment of our earthly frames. And the hand serves that mouth by bringing our food into it.
But that mouth serves another purpose. It serves also to bring out into the open that which resides in the soul. We use the mouth for speech. We express to others what goes on in our inner being. And it is in regard to this that Jesus said that not that which goeth into, the mouth defileth a man, but that which cometh out. Granted that the things which enter our bodies through our mouths may kill us, that which enters the mouth does not send us to hell or add to the punishment we deserve in hell. But it is that which proceeds out of the mouth that reveals to us what we deserve and whether we are defiled in God’s sight.
And, even as we already pointed out, that hand that serves the mouth by bringing our food and drink into it also serves that mouth in regard to the things that issue forth from it. At least it ought to do so. They belong to the same body and for the good of the person ought to work together for the wellbeing of the man. It is to a very special use of that hand in the service of the mouth, as the instrument through which we express our inmost thoughts, that I would call your attention at this time.
Our theme for these lines, “Laying our hands to our mouths” is borrowed from the words of Job. Quite a bit of philosophy had been issuing from his mouth. He had given expression to many of his inmost thoughts. He had been buffeted by so-called friends, who accused him of all kinds of evils. He was physically miserable to begin with, had lost all his possessions and so recently attended the funeral of his ten children. His wife, who was to be a help meet for him, turned her back upon him and counseled him in the way of wickedness. He stood all alone. Nowhere could he go to man for comfort. In all his physical discomforts he sat with his thoughts and with the evil thoughts that issued from the mouths of those who, had called him their friend. He was not to be envied. To be sure, Elihu came to Job’s defense and reproved his “friends” for their vile and unfounded accusations. But the section of the book where the expression is found from which we borrowed the above theme is the one in which God appears to Job and challenges Job to answer. He appears to Job in the whirlwind and says, “Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?” What an indictment! That mouth of Job had been used to express foolishness. Better had it been that these vile things had never issued forth from that mouth. But they had arisen in his soul, and he did speak them with his lips. For some seventy verses in two chapters God hurls at Job barbed questions that pierce to the very heart of the matter. One after the other these pointed arrows strike into the soul of Job. He is on trial. He must give answer to the Most High. He has spoken. Words have come forth out of his mouth. And because of them he must open that mouth again and give answer to God’s questions. And the Almighty God ends the onslaught with these significant words, “Shall he that contendeth with the Almighty instruct Him? he that reproveth God, let him answer.” Ah, Job, now open your mouth and speak. Use that mouth to give utterance to words of wisdom!
That Job does.
With that mouth Job makes confession and declares with his head hung low in shame. Quietly yet with definiteness and sincerity he says, “Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer thee?” Job 40:4. Such words out of his mouth do not defile him. Such words show a penitent heart full of Godly sorrow.
And then Job remembers that he has a hand as well as a mouth and that there is in this instance a very good use for that hand. He says, “I will lay mine hand upon my mouth. Once have I spoken; but I will not answer: yea twice; but I will proceed no further.” He will use his hand to cover his mouth. He will stifle all that foul and: foolish babbling which reveals a heart boiling with wickedness. Quite a valuable and necessary use of the hand! It ought to, be practiced more today by us as well as by Job.
To be sure, keeping silent does not cure that evil heart. Even though speaking reveals the cesspool of corruption that is within, laying our hands to our mouths will not clean up that source of all our evil thinking in regard to the Most High. No, but it does prevent further sin. It does stifle the practice of sin. And it surely is an act of fighting sin. With God there are no big sins and little sins. That which we would call the smallest sin is so great in His sight that even it demands eternal punishment in hell. Uzzah only touched the ark, but God smote him as well as Pharaoh and his host. And even though we should not speak of little sins and big sins, even though to lay our hands upon our mouths so that we did not speak the filth that is within does not make the sin smaller, we can speak of single and double sins and therefore of greater condemnation. It is bad enough and a great sin—if we want to talk about big sins and little sins, then that cesspool of filth that churns and: boils in the soul is far worse than simply the pronouncing of it with the lips, even as the murder is far worse than the written account in the newspaper or spoken report of it over the radio. But we commit the double sin and feed the fire in our souls, when we use our mouths to speak it instead of laying our hands to our mouths to check and stifle it.
“Out of the same mouth,” James says in James 3:10, “proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.” That surely is not in His fear. And at the moment we are not going to speak about the evil of cursing, which truly is also a manifestation of a wicked heart and a doubling of the sin, and in regard to which we ought daily to lay our hands to our mouths—yea even at times to thrust our whole fist down the throat with force to hurl back the tide of evil that comes rushing up to that open mouth. We say again, such action will not take away the defilement that is already in that heart, and Jesus did not say that the speaking of these things defiles a man. Instead He said that the thing which comes out of man’s mouth defiles him. It defiles him whether it comes out or not, but it defiles him further when it comes out. But to lay our hands to our mouths to stifle these things is, as, we said, a fighting against that sin and is a work for which in God’s grace we will be rewarded in the day of days as a good work of His grace. What is more it will reveal a contrite and penitent heart. It will reveal a regenerated life and give us assurance that even though that cesspool of wickedness is there in the depth of our being, we are children of God in principle and have the promise of full deliverance in the day of Christ. It will reveal to us for our own comfort that we are living in His fear.
As we began to say, we are not at the moment in this article planning on speaking of that evil of cursing our fellowmen and the creatures round about us. Not that there is not room to treat such a matter, nor even that there is not such a need for writing about such things. At the moment we have another matter in mind which also touches each and every one of us. And let us lay our hands to our mouths lest we utter the lie that such does not issue forth from our mouths.
We are bold, and we dare so freely and quickly to criticize the ways of the sovereign and almighty God.
In His providence He governs and controls all things. He upholds the creatures that hurt us as well as those which we use with joy and pleasure. He sends the cheering rain and the warmth of the sunshine. But He also sends, the destructive tornado, the cloudburst, the flood and the scorching heat out of the copper sky. He sends the cooling summer breeze but also the sub-zero blast that numbs, destroys and kills. He sends the biting wind, the pestilence and famine. He is the source and fount of all life: but He also sends death.
How quickly we can rebel against all this and criticize His ways. In disgust we cry out, “That miserable wind!” “Another day of sub-zero weather! Isn’t there going to be any let up?” “Must it rain again today?’ “Why must it always rain when I have my days off?” “The children are sick again just the day when we had planned on going away. Why must it always be that way?” “Life was sweet, our family was all together, and now that old . . . (here perhaps we lay our hand partly over our mouth) has to bring war scares and our boys, our husbands and friends are called to training camps and war.”
Quickly lay that hand over the entire mouth. For you are criticizing the living God in all these things. He sends them all. Be careful that you do not by inference say, “That miserable God Who sends this miserable wind!” You are finding fault with His ways. The heart of the king is in His hand to turn it whithersoever He wills. Your soul is rebelling against His work when He raises up men to bring the wars and rumors of wars that prepare the way for Christ to come. And so it is all down the line. Be careful, lest you be confronted by Him out of the whirlwind as Job was. Be sure that you can answer Him. It might be well to read Job 35-41.
Use your hand to bring food to your mouth. But by all means use it also to lay it upon that mouth in the good fight of faith, opposing the wickedness that by nature is in your soul. That is living in His fear with your old nature. Fight it, do not feed it. In His fear we do not agree with all that evil rebellion and criticism of our soul against the living God. In His fear we fight that evil. Do you?