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tractableness and obstinacy on one side, if the other would for peace sake quit a part of his right, or what might be justly claimed by him.
And there may be many occasions, wherein this direction will take place and be obligatory. A true Christian, and a wise man, will often think of those things that are of good report, and will resign somewhat, and comply against his own particular interests, when some valuable purposes are to be served thereby.
The last clause in the text is: If there be any virtue, and if there be any praise. In which two particulars it may be either supposed, that the apostle would summarily comprehend every thing already mentioned: or, that he would be understood to say: And if there be any thing else that is virtuous and praise-worthy, think of it, and reckon yourselves obliged to it.'
One thing, which I apprehend to be designed and implied, both here and elsewhere, is discretion or prudence: which, certainly, is praise-worthy, for the honour of particular persons and societies, and religion in general.
You are to condescend very often; but yet it must be sometimes without familiarity. You are to reprove with mildness; but yet you are not to connive at faults that are manifest. You are to be kind and charitable; but yet you should not be imposed upon. And it will neither be for your credit, nor for the credit of religion, to maintain the robust and strong in sloth and idleness. You are to comply; but still you must consider, when, to whom, and how far. You are to be courteous and affable and condescending: but yet you should keep the dignity of your character. You should forgive, if men repent and acknowledge their fault: and you should pray for them that persecute you, and speak evil of you. But you are not obliged to confide in all without discrimination, nor to put trust in those who shew enmity to you. There is a necessity of weighing circumstances, and calmly considering persons, tempers, times and seasons. We should join those two considerations, and observe those two properties: if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise: whatever things are true, and of good report. Meekness is a virtue. But it is apt sometimes to invite injuries. He who by an imprudent exercise of what he calls meekness, neglects his own safety and security from unreasonable men, and thereby often brings troubles upon himself, and those concerned with him, consults not his own credit, nor the credit and reputation of the religious principles he professes.
These are the several branches of virtue and goodness which the apostle here recommends. And they should be thought of by all in the sense and manner before explained and described. For the exhortation is addressed to all. Every one should think of what suits his station and condition. The bishops or overseers, and the deacons in this church, to whom the apostle was writing, were to attend to and perform the duties of their offices. The rich and the honourable were in like manner to perform the duties of their circumstances and station: they should endeavour to be useful in the world, and think of every thing that is good and laudable. The poor likewise were to think of what suited them, and be resigned, contented, humble, industrious, faithful, thankful. For such things are virtuous, and praise-worthy in them. Such is the exhortation to the Christians of that time: and it is to be attended to by the followers of Jesus in every age.
III. I shall now conclude with a few inferences by way of application.
1. We hence learn, that there are some things, which are fit and excellent in themselves, true, just, and virtuous.
2. We also perceive hence, that the Christian religion teaches and recommends every branch of virtue and goodness: and that Christians ought to reckon themselves obliged to every thing that is true, just, lovely, of good report, virtuous and commendable, according to the stations. they are in.
3. The Christian doctrine does not exclude, or altogether neglect and overlook any reasonable argument to the practice of real duty. Indeed many precepts are delivered in the scriptures, both of the Old and New Testament, in an authoritative way, as the will of God, and with promises of happiness, or threatenings of woe and misery, which none but God can perform and accomplish. Nevertheless arguments from the internal excellence, or the apparent comeliness of things, are not entirely omitted. Nor ought they to be overlooked or slighted by us. The apostle here advises, and directs: "If there be any virtue, if there be any praise, think on those things."
4. We cannot easily forbear observing, that this exhortation of the apostle is not only excel
lent for the sense, but engaging also for the manner of address. He treats the Philippian Christians as men of understanding. And without a prolix enlargement propounds it to them to think of, and reckon themselves obliged to, "whatever things are true, honest, virtuous and praise-worthy." The same things are now in a like manner proposed to you. The fewer words are used in recommending them, the more do you think of them: that you may be fully satisfied of their reasonableness, and be ever ready to practise them as occasions require, in the most agreeable and acceptable manner.
THE IMPORTANCE OF OUR WORDS.
But I say unto you, that every idle word that 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.-Matt. xii. 36.
In the preceding part of this chapter several things are related, which may be reckoned to have given occasion for what is here said. To observe those particulars therefore, 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 the 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 dæmons 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 unto you, that every 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.
I. 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, how 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, ch. 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 kings 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 relections 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 judg ment: 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. III. Which brings me to the third particular, to shew the reasonableness of justifying or con-demning 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 ar. 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 fowarding any good and useful designs.
Solomon says: "A man shall be satisfied with good by the fruit of his lips. And the recom-. pense 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 recompenses 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 shew 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 shew 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, shewed 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 shew 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 shew it in his discourses. With reason therefore does he add, "that men will be justified or condemned by their words:" for their words shew 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 shew 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 vainglorious expressions flow from pride in the heart: and frequently men's words, as well as actions, shew 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 shewed 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 shewed 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 wine-bibber," though he was guilty of no excess. Thereby they shewed 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 shewed 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, shewed 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, shewed 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 reli, gion 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 shewed that they were destitute of religion, and under the power of vicious habits. By their words then men may be condemned; for they shew 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, shewing 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 shew, 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 might also 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 shew by those words their good dispositions in like manner as the Pharisees, by their false and injurious reflections, shewed the bad dispositions of their minds.
When Peter answered, and said, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God," Matt.