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show that they have in them neither the fear of God nor a
love for men.
Several things in the preceding context, if reviewed, will confirm this point.
The first is that of the pharisees reflecting upon the disciples for gathering, when hungry, some ears of corn on the sabbath-day. Wherein they showed a malicious disposition; the law dispensing with the bodily rest of the sabbath upon divers occasions; and they themselves approving of it in many cases. By those reflections they showed a greater regard to some positive appointments, than to the eternal laws of equity and righteousness. Therefore our Lord says to them: "If ye had known what that meant, I will have mercy and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless."
The reflections upon our Lord's person and character were of a like kind: "when they spake evil of the Son of man," and represented him as "gluttonous, and a winebibber," though he was guilty of no excess. Thereby they showed a want of respect to truth, and of love for their neighbour. So likewise when they called him "a friend of publicans and sinners," because he was sometimes in company where they were; insinuating thereby, that he countenanced their unrighteous actions and wicked lives; whereas he vouchsafed to be present with them for no other end, but to reform and amend them; and he reproved what was amiss in every one; and expressed favour toward none but those who showed a regard to real holiness. And the pleasure he had in the repentance of sinners was no other than is to be found in the purest spirits in heaven. In these reflections therefore they betrayed a want of a due regard to truth, and to the good name and credit of men.
Their reviling our Lord's miracles, and ascribing them to the power of Satan, and a combination between him and the kingdom of darkness, showed an inveterate, malicious disposition; for our Lord's doctrine was pure and holy; and it was impossible that evil spirits should encourage it. Miracles they allowed, in other cases, to be a proof of the divine approbation and concurrence. It was therefore owing to prevailing pride, ambition, covetousness, envy, and malice, that such words proceeded out of their mouths.
In a word, their many hard speeches and false reflections upon Jesus and his disciples, showed that they had not the love of God in their hearts, and that they were destitute of all religious dispositions of mind. Our blessed Lord says at ver. 30, "He that is not with me is against me, and he
that is not with me scatters abroad." The tendency of my doctrine is such, so holy, so reasonable, so directly for the glory of God, so manifestly suited to promote and strengthen the interests of true religion in the world. And the works I do are so great and conspicuous, that every one who sees them, or hears of them, must heartily approve of my designs, if he love religion and virtue. And if any man, acquainted with my teaching and conduct, asperse me, and revile my works, with a view to disparage the doctrine, and hinder men from receiving it, he manifests that he has not at heart the honour of God and the cause of religion; but only some private interests of his own, or of some sect or party.
These things we know our Lord often told the Jews plainly, that they did not hear his word, because they were not of God:" that " they did not believe, because they sought honour one of another, and not that honour which cometh from God only." And their injurious reflections upon him, and his doctrine, and his works, and his disciples, proceeded from the like bad dispositions, and showed that they were destitute of religion, and under the power of vicious habits.
By their words then men may be condemned; for they show what men really are.
By their words also men may be justified; some by their discourses tending to the honour of God, and the good of men; recommending with mildness, yet assiduity, as occasions offer, the great principles of religion, and the important branches of true holiness, vindicating men's characters unjustly traduced, showing the reasonableness of mutual love and forbearance among men of different sentiments; embracing all opportunities for withdrawing men from sin and folly, and bringing them to a discreet and amiable behaviour; I say, by these and such like good fruits, some show, that the tree is good. They are good men, and out of the good treasure of the heart they bring forth good things.
This point also might be farther illustrated by some particular instances in the gospels. Our Lord says: "Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven," Matt. x. 32. And some there were in his time who made such professions of their faith in him, or so pleaded his cause, as to show by those words their good dispositions; in like manner as the pharisees, by their false and injurious reflections, showed the bad dispositions of their minds.
When Peter answered, and said, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God," Matt. xvi. 16, our Lord declared him blessed. At another time, when many forsook him, and walked no more with him, and he asked the disciples, whether they also would go away, Peter answered, "Lord, to whom should we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we know, and are assured, that thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God," John vi. 68. Peter thereby showed a good and virtuous disposition of mind. Though he was not perfect, and upon some occasions manifested an undue affection for earthly things; yet he had a superior and prevailing regard for things divine and heavenly.
Nicodemus too showed himself a good man by his words. He was sincere though defective. He came to Jesus by night, and made an honest profession: "Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God. For no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him," John iii. 2. Some good while after this, when the council had sent forth officers to take Jesus, and they returned with a great character of him and his discourses, and the pharisees were thereupon offended, "Nicodemus said unto them; Doth our law judge any man before it hear him, and know what he does?" John vii. 50, 51. He had a sincere respect for the rules of justice and equity, as he plainly manifests by that apology, spoken at the hazard of his credit among
The man born blind, whose history is related in the ninth chapter of St. John's gospel, showed an honest and virtuous mind by his words. His eyes had been opened on a sabbath-day. The pharisees pretended to take offence at that circumstance, and examined the man about his cure; who gave them a clear and distinct account how his eyes had been opened. After much discourse they say unto him: "We know that God spake unto Moses. As for this man, we know not from whence he is. He answered and said unto them: Why, herein is a marvellous thing, that ye know not from whence he is. And yet he has opened my eyes. Now, we know, that God heareth not sinners. But if any man be a worshipper of God, and doth his will, him he heareth. Since the world began, was it not heard, that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind. If this inan were not of God, he could do nothing." This resolute defence of the character of Jesus, in the view of much disgrace, and particularly of excommunication, which he afterwards underwent, manifested a grateful, and virtuous, and
religious disposition of mind. Men therefore may be justified by their words.
IV. Nothing now remains, but that I mention a remark or two by way of application.
1. No one may hence infer, that he may be saved by a fair profession of religion without good works.
Our Lord assures us, that men's words will be taken into consideration in the day of judgment. And by them they may be acquitted or condemned. But other things will be considered also, both thoughts and outward actions. And if men are justified by their words, it is when they are virtuous, and show a good habit and disposition of mind. And when good words proceed from a good mind, they will not be alone. There will be good works, as well as good words.
2. We have here a mark, which may be of good use for determining our sincerity or insincerity.
This is a thing about which sometimes we would be glad to be satisfied. Men may in a good measure judge of us by our words. But we can better judge concerning this matter ourselves; because upon recollection we may know, what are our more ordinary discourses. And thereby we may judge of the temper of our minds, and what is the "abundance" of our hearts. Are our discourses generally unprofitable, uncharitable, censorious, or worse, tending to excite vicious inclinations and propensities, or to lessen the obligations and evidences of religion? Our words then show, we are not good men, and by our words we may be condemned. On the other hand, are we often engaged in such discourses as tend to the edification of others? or are they calculated to improve ourselves, that we may receive instruction, and confirmation in truth and virtue? We have reason to be pleased with such an evidence of a religious temper of mind.
3. The doctrine of this text teaches us to be careful of our words. For they will be taken into account in the day of judgment.
Whatever be the direct meaning of the expression idle, we ought not to make it a foundation of needless scruples: as if we were restrained from that mirth which is innocent, and consistent with sobriety, and diligence in our callings; and only tends to refresh our spirits, and fit for more important business. At the same time the observations of our Lord in the text and context plainly teach us the moment of our words, and that they are of greater consequence than
some imagine. We should therefore be careful, that our words be not such as tend to the detriment, but to the good of our neighbour; that they do not favour irreligion and wickedness; but that we take the side of religion and virtue in our discourses. Let us cheerfully applaud the well meant endeavours of all men. Let us acknowledge and encourage meekness, modesty, and other amiable virtues in those who are not of our mind in some speculative points. Nor let us justify, but rather condemn and discountenance, pride, conceit, censoriousness, rigour, and uncharitableness in those who are of the same sentiments with us. By such words we may be justified. They show a religious and virtuous mind. They may not be approved by all men; but they will be remembered by the equitable Judge in the great day of account.
And indeed this declaration of our Lord may be reckoned very gracious and encouraging. There are words, as well as works, that shall be rewarded. And there is a fitness in it, as we have seen. For by our words we may do a great deal of good. And if from our hearts we design, and actually do by our discourses honour God, serve religion, and good men, or reclaim the bad, and turn the feet and hearts of sinners to righteousness; such words shall be joined with good works, and add to the recompences of the future life.
4. Lastly, we may hence discern, that the Lord Jesus was a most excellent person, and is entitled to the esteem, respect, and gratitude of all sincere friends of religion and virtue.
It is one part of his excellent character, that " never man spake like him," John vii. 46. And he was ever ready to good words. Every where he instils good doctrine. He embraceth every opportunity to inculcate the principles and duties of religion, the love of God and our neighbour. He taught not only at the temple, and in the synagogues, but in every other place, and in every company that was favoured with his presence. He preached the gospel to the poor, as well as to the rich. And the most weighty things are often spoken by him in a free and familiar manner. A large part of his instructive, edifying, enlivening discourses, recorded in the gospels, were delivered in conversation with his disciples or others; and always free from partiality and ostentation; seeking not his own glory, but the glory of him that sent him, and the benefit of those to whom he was sent, and with whom he conversed.