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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. Whatever 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 hereafter; and sometimes their words alone may be found sufficient to decide men's characters.
Ill. 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 influence 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 iii. 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. xviii. 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,” Eph. 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 eat good by the fruit of his mouth ; but the soul of the transgressors shall eat violence,” ch. xiii. 2; 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, shall 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, habitual frame of the mind. Our Lord says as much in this context; and therefore he 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. “ O generation of vipers, 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 : and 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 unrighteous. 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, show that they have in then 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 panous, 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.