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may conduce very much to the better understanding of our Lord's design in these words.
One thing, related at the beginning of this chapter, is our Lord's going through fields of corn, and the reflections cast upon the disciples by the pharisees for plucking ears of corn on the sabbath-day, together with his vindication of tbe disciples from those reflections.
Afterwards is an account of our Lord's meekness in withdrawing from the pharisees, who sought to apprehend him, with a general character of the mildness of his ministry.
After which, notice is taken of a miracle wrought by the Lord Jesus, and the false and injurious charge of the pharisees, that “ he cast out demons by Beelzebub, their prince;" and the reproof of those who therein had blasphemed the Holy Ghost. Which sin he declares would not be forgiven, “ neither in this world, nor in that which is to come.” And then he adds these general observations in his teaching, “ Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and its fruit corrupt. For the tree is known by its fruit. O generation of vipers, how can ye being evil speak good things ? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth good things. And an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things. But I say
idle word which men shall speak, they shall give an account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned."
I. In explaining and improving this text I would first consider, what our Lord calls an idle word.”
II. In what sense our Lord is to be understood; and how we can be justified by our words, when good; and condemned by them, when they are evil,
III. I shall inquire into the reason of this sentence of justification, or condemnation.
IV. And then, in the fourth and last place, I intend to conclude with some remarks, by way of application,
1. In the first place, we will consider what our Lord calls an “ idle word.”
And here it must be owned, that there is some variety of explication among pious and learned interpreters.
Some by idle word understand the same as unprofitable. They think this to be the best interpretation, and that the word ought not to be restrained to false and injurious words, such as are spoken of in the preceding context. They judge our Lord to argue from the less to the greater,
to convince the pharisees, bow dreadful an account they must give of their blasphemous and reproachful speeches; when all men must give an account even of useless words, which they speak to no good purpose, but vainly; without respect either to the glory of God, or the good of others, or their own necessary and lawful occasions.
So some. Others hereby rather understand false, reproachful, hurtful words; the word vain, or idle, according to the Hebrews, being often used for deceitful, false, lying. The third commandment in the law of Moses is thus expressed : “ Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” Thou shalt take care, never to make use of the name of God to attest and support a falsehood. When Pharaoh issued a severe order against the Israelites, to increase their labour, it is added : “ And let them not regard vain words,” Exod. v. 9; or false and deceitful speeches. Hosea, ch. xii
. 1, “ Ephraim feedeth on the wind, and followeth after the east wind. He daily increaseth lies and desolation," In the ancient Greek version, the style of which is often very agreeable to that of the writers of the New Testament, the text is rendered in this manner : “ Ephraim daily increaseth vain and unprofitable things.' And Micah, cb. i. 14, “ The house of Achzib shall be a lie to the kings of Israel." In the same ancient version it is, " shall be vain to the king's of Israel.” Habb. ii. 3, “ For the vision is yet for an appointed time; but at the end it shall speak, and not lie." . In the same ancient Greek version, “ it shall not be in vain.” And St. Paul, “ Let no man deceive you with vain [or false] words; for because of these things the wrath of God cometh upon the children of disobedience,” Eph. v. 6.
And the coherence likewise countenanceth this sense ; for of this sort are the words spoken by the pharisees. At the beginning of the chapter they are related to have cast reflections on Christ's disciples, to prejudice their character without reason. Afterwards they are said to have blasphemed our Lord's miracles, done by the finger of God, ascribing them to the prince of evil spirits. And our Lord, representing the real guilt and great malignity of that sin, does also take notice of some other reproachful speeches concerning himself, which seem to have been more especially personal. “Wherefore I say unto you; All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men; but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven; but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, nor in the world to come,” ver. 31, 32. Where, by “ speaking against the Son of man," seem to be intended those false characters given of our Lord by some, of his being. “ a glutton and a wine-bibber, a friend of publicans and sinners :" consisting of false and injurious representations of some part of his conduct, and embraced by some who were little acquainted with him or his works.
We might farther argue, that this is the design of our Lord from what is said at ver. 34, 35: “ How can ye being evil speak good things ? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth good things; and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things." Whereupon follow the declarations and observations of the text.
All this may well incline us to think, that by idle words our Lord does not mean those words which are insignificant and unprofitable, and have no immediate tendency to promote some good; but rather such words as are evil, false, injurious and detrimental to men's personal characters, or to the interests of religion.
II. Secondly, we are to consider, how men can be justified by their words, if they are good; and how they can be condemned by them, if evil.
It is what our Lord here declares expressly and strongly. And the justification or acquittal, and the condemnation or censure, relate to the solemn transactions of the great day; when men's characters and states shall be finally and for ever determined; and not barely to any sentences of applause or disgrace in this world. These are our Lord's expressions : " But I say unto you, that every idle word which men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment; for by thy words thou shalt be justified; and by thy words thou shalt be condemned."
But how can this be? Are there not other things that will be taken into consideration in the day of judgment beside men's words? Yes, certainly. According to the doctrine of our Saviour, there are evil thoughts and evil actions as well as evil words, which shall be examined into, censured, and punished. And there are good thoughts and useful works, which are highly acceptable in the sight of God.
The design of our Lord therefore is, to assure men, that their words also are of great importance. Men are often apt to be very heedless in this respect. They indulge great
freedom of speech, not being duly apprehensive of the consequences of good or bad words. And our Lord, upon the pharisees reviling his miracles, takes occasion to discourse upon the point, and delivers this doctrine: that men's words will come into consideration in the day of judgment. Wbatever some may think, or endeavour to persuade themselves, this is the judgment of God; their words are of no small moment. God observes them now, and will call men to an account for them hereaster; and sometimes their words alone may be found sufficient to decide men's characters.
III. Which brings me to the third particular, to show the reasonableness of justifying or condemning men by their words.
One reason is, that a great deal is in the power of the tongue. Good or bad discourse has a great effect and inAuence on the affairs of the world. As St. James says, “the tongue,” though“ a little member, boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! The tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity,and setteth on fire the whole course of nature,” James iij.5, 6. The abuse of the tongue in false and injurious speeches is often prejudicial and ruinous to the good character and prosperity of particular persons, and to the peace and quietness of whole societies. “ The words of a tale-bearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly,” Prov. xvii. 8. St. Paul exhorts: “ Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, be put away from you with all malice,” Epb. iv. 25; also ver. 31, 32.
False and injurious words are evil and vicious. And there is virtue in good words; in vindicating the characters of the injured, pleading the cause of the oppressed, reconciling differences, recommending peace and friendship, and forwarding any good and useful designs.
Solomon says: “ A man shall be satisfied with good by the fruit of his lips. And the recompence of a man's hands shall be rendered unto him," Prov. xii. 14; that is, the author of good counsel and advice, whether in private or public concerns, will reap advantage by it. And a man shall be recompensed for good words as well as for good actions.
Again : “ A man shall cat good by the fruit of his mouth; but the soul of the transgressors shall eat violence," ch. xiii. ?; that is, he who gives men good and faithful counsel, or he who speaks well of others, as they deserve, will have a benefit by it. And they also who injuriously calumniate and revile others; or who deceive men by their speeches, sball in the end suffer the like evils which they bring upon others.
Good words then are virtuous, and evil words are unrighteous; and oftentimes, even in this world, meet with suitable recompences of peace, comfort, and credit on the one hand; of trouble, vexation, reproach, and disgrace on the other.
But there is another thing still more material, which may fully show the justness of our Lord's declaration, and the reasonableness of men being hereafter justified or condemned by their words; for as men's words are, so are their hearts. Their speeches show the real, babitual frame of the mind. Our Lord says as much in this context; and therefore le himself leads us to this true ground and reason of his declaration.“ Either make the tree good, and its fruit will be good:” or “else make the tree corrupt, and its fruit will be corrupt; for the tree is known by its fruit.” The evident design of which instance is to teach those to whom our Lord was speaking, that men's words as well as their actions, showed their real temper. “ () generation of vipers,
O how can ye, being evil, speak good things?” ver. 34. You yourselves are an instance of it. The evil affections of covetousness and ambition prevail in your breasts : ana whilst they do, you will not speak right things : " For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things.” If a man's mind be filled with just sentiments, and pious affections, and useful designs, his words will show it. They will be such as shall tend to promote and recommend religion and virtue, and to encourage good and upright persons. “ And an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things.” A man of an evil mind
. will show it in his discourses. With reason therefore does he add, “ that men will be justified or condemned by their words;" for their words show their inward temper, and what are the prevailing habits of their minds; in short, what men themselves are.
This may be made farther manifest by obvious instances. Irreligious discourses show a man not to be religious. Falsehood and lying in a man's dealings declare him to be covetous and uurighteous. Detraction and calumny demonstrate a man to be destitute of true love for his neighbour. Arrogant and vain-glorious expressions flow from pride in the heart; and frequently men's words, as well as actions,