Uncertain Sounds
1 Corinthians 14:8-9
For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?…

There are many sounds in nature which are uncertain and yet pleasing. The murmur of the winds among the leaves of the forests; the soft, regular lapse of the waves on the sandy shore; the roar of Niagara, confused with the cry of blended and intertangled voices, as though every particle of water in falling uttered its own wail of grief or shout of exultation or scream of fear; the hum of insects on a summer's day; all such sounds are uncertain. Yet all awaken in us some feeling, convey some sentiment. The murmuring voices of nature seem to express longing and aspiration; they sound almost like prayer and praise. These voices of nature, therefore, though uncertain, are often full of expression. But of man's voice we require more. We ask that it shall be distinct and clear; that it shall convey meaning; that it shall not darken counsel with vague utterance. To speak plainly, distinctly, with precision, is one of the first accomplishments to be studied, and one of the last to be fully attained. Education begins and ends in telling us how to express ourselves; for the word, in ancient languages, means not only utterance, but also the reason which lies behind utterance. My friend gives himself to me in his speech. If his speech is obscure, perplexed, uncertain, vague, then he is not in it. But a fulness of thought and life makes language very clear. That is why we like simple, direct, straightforward talk. It is sincere, it is moral. "Let your yea be yea, and your nay, nay," says Jesus; "for whatsoever is more than this cometh of evil." Uncertain sounds, inexact expressions, extravagant utterances, come of evil. They mean that the speaker cares more for effect than for truth. Perhaps the most uncertain sounds of all are the words of a politician. Politics, the government of a state, the laws which affect a nation, ought to be the most elevating of pursuits. But it is like religion or art or poetry. They ennoble those who give themselves to them with sincerity and love; but make a trade of them, and they degrade to the utmost. Make a trade of religion, and you become a hypocrite. Make a trade of art, and you become a charlatan. One of the remarkable exploits of Abraham Lincoln was that he expressed himself so as to be understood. His healthy Saxon English dispelled the miasma of falsehood which hung over Washington. "And one of Plutarch's men talked with you, face to face." A clear, distinct meaning is so important in a speaker that it is of itself almost enough. An audience will listen very willingly to a man who makes himself perfectly plain, even if he does nothing else. He need not be rhetorical, he need use no figures of speech, no captivating oratorical arts; he need not be original or profound. Let him only be clear — that of itself is satisfactory. In religion, especially, we want no uncertain sounds. What all men need, what all men long for, is certainty. We need to know; not merely to speculate, not merely to think, to hope, to wish, to fancy; we need to know. Now the difference between Christianity and speculation is simply this — that speculation, by its very nature, gives an uncertain sound; but Christianity gives certainty. Speculation gives us thoughts about God, Christianity gives us the knowledge of God. I once read a lecture by an able writer, in which Christ and Socrates were compared, rather to the disadvantage of the former. Socrates was considered to be, on the whole, rather the stronger and more manly person of the two. But, if so, why did he not do more? Socrates produced a school in philosophy; Christ makes a religion for mankind. One gave thought, the other life. The life of Socrates is known to a few scholars, the life of Jesus is known to millions. The words of Jesus bring strength, comfort, purity, peace; not to students only, but to the ignorant, the lowly, the fallen, the desolate. Why this immense difference in the work of the two teachers? Because the words of the one give an uncertain sound, those of the other a certain sound. One teaches us how to speculate, to conjecture, and to think about the realities of eternity; the other lets us look into the realities themselves, face to face. Striking opinions, noble speculations, came by Socrates, but truth itself came by Jesus Christ. The power — the undying power — of Christianity is that it is everywhere a new revelation of the eternal truth and love of God; that it continually makes souls alive; that it continually renews itself in renewed souls. Therefore it can never grow old, any more than birth, marriage, death, love, can grow old. These have been in the world since the beginning, but they always come as new as at first. And Christianity, appealing ever to new hearts, reforming manners, curing sinners, saving the lost, kindling the soul with faith, hope, and love, is the one certain sound in the world, never vague, never confused. Theology is uncertain; speculation is uncertain; creeds are uncertain; but Christianity is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.

(Jas Freeman Clarke.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?

WEB: For if the trumpet gave an uncertain sound, who would prepare himself for war?

The Worthlessness of Mere Sounds, Apart from Their Meaning
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