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that one convincing and persuasive rule: "All things whatever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so unto them."
At other times, however, both Christ and his apostles have insisted on particular duties, and enforced them with very moving considerations.
Here the direction is general. "Whatever things are just, think of them." So consider this point, that you may perform all acts of justice, and avoid every thing unjust, unfair, unequal.
May not a regard to this rule induce some to caution and circumspection in their dealings, and to avoid extending their commerce beyond the measure of their ability? Should not wise and equitable persons take heed, not so much as to run the hazard of ruining those who depend upon them, or deal with them, or trust them? The wisest and best of men are liable to unavoidable and unforeseen accidents. But the thinking on whatever things are just might discourage some schemes and projects, which are as likely to miscarry, as to succeed: and if not successful, may reduce a man beyond the possibility of his returning to all what he has received.
The thinking of this part of duty may also be of use to discourage and prevent an expensive course of life, beyond the proportion of a man's income and substance. For is he to be reckoned just, who consumes in luxury, and excess of any kind, not only his own patrimony, but likewise the right and property of other men?
Might not a respect to every thing that is just be of extensive use, and vast advantage to mankind? and prevent distresses and inconveniences, inexpressible and innumerable!
"Whatever things are just, think of them." Avoid lesser as well as greater acts of injustice. Think what is just and equitable toward those of your own family, whether relatives, servants, or dependents: what is fair and equitable in the way of commerce with other men your equals: what is just and due to superiors and governors: what regard you ought to have for the welfare of the public society, of which you are a part, in whose prosperity you are interested, by the powers of which you are protected in your commerce, and the secure possession of your property. Says St. Paul to the Romans: Render therefore to all their dues, tribute to whom tribute is due, custom to whom custom, fear to whom fear, honour to whom honour. Owe no man any thing, but to love one another," Rom. xiii. 7, 8.
"Whatever things are pure, [or chaste,] think of them." Reckon yourselves obliged to all purity, in body and mind, in thought, word, and action, in every state, and in every age, and part of life, and in every circumstance, upon every occasion. Think and consider, how you may best be able to preserve that purity, which is acceptable to God, for the honour of religion, and your own peace and comfort. Think and consult with yourselves, how you may avoid temptations, and how you may resist and overcome them, if you should unexpectedly and suddenly meet with them. Meddle not with writings where a proper decorum is neglected, or in which, under specious appearances, the worst and most dangerous poison is insinuated. Never be present at indecent shews and spectacles, much less be at any time delighted with them, or applaud them. Decline resolutely, and with the utmost care, ensnaring and vicious conversation. So far from tempting and enticing others, or contributing by any means whatever to their being ensnared, and deluded from the paths of strict sobriety; do what lies in your power as you have opportunity, by the most proper and likely, the most effectual, the most acceptable, or least offensive methods, not only to preserve your own purity, but also to strengthen the wise and holy resolutions of others; that they may be stedfast in their purpose, overcome in a time of temptation, and pass through the world pure and unsullied.
"Whatever things are lovely," or amiable. So the original word seems most properly to signify. But herein, very probably, is included what is loving and friendly. For such things are usually lovely, and agreeable in the eye of the world.
All such things the apostle desires his Christian friends at Philippi to think of: to "follow after the things that make for peace," Rom. xiv. 19, among themselves and others. Says the Psalmist, "How good, and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!" Psal. cxxxiii. It is not only a great happiness to those persons themselves, but it is likewise agreeable to others to behold and observe.
It is not unlikely, that the apostle intends here some exalted acts of virtue, care of the sick, bounty to the necessitous and indigent, readiness to appear in the behalf of such as are injured by prevailing power, endeavours to clear up doubtful points, and vindicate innocence, accused, censured, and reproached.
The Philippians, very probably, would be led by this advice, to think of benevolence toward each other, and toward their fellow-christians, and also toward other men, their Heathen and Jewish neighbours: a readiness to do good to them, when they had opportunity and ability, and their services and kind offices would be accepted.
Herein may be also included steadiness in the faith, and in the profession of the truth, free from any appearance of obstinacy, and without unreasonable scorn and disdain of others of different sentiments: a readiness to give a reason of their belief and hope to all who demand it and doing it with meekness and modesty.
Hereby may likewise be intended condescension upon many occasions, forgiveness of injuries, meekness and gentleness, mildness in precepts and reproofs, and doing every thing, so far as may be, in the most acceptable and agreeable manner.
Once more: Think of whatever things are lovely. Shew an affable carriage to all men, And if any of you have it in your power to be extensively useful, manifest cheerfulness of mind, in such good designs as you engage in, and promote them to the utmost.
Whatever things are of good report, or well spoken of, and generally commended.
But hereby the apostle intends those things only, that are justly commended, or are really commendable. It can never be imagined, that he advises any Christians to pay such deference to prevailing customs as to approve of any thing that is in itself evil. No: Christians were at that time few in number, in comparison of others, and were obliged to be stedfast in the faith, whatever others might think or say of it. And at some seasons, and in some places, there are some so degenerate and corrupt, as to vilify those who join not with them in shameful practices. "For the time past of our life may suffice us," says St. Peter, "to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries: wherein they think it strange, that you run not with them to the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you," 1 Pet. iv. 3, 4. Nevertheless there are some branches of virtue and real goodness, which are generally approved, and well spoken of. St. Peter himself supposeth as much in another exhortation. Having your conversation honest, [or good, fair and unspotted,] among the gentiles: that whereas they speak against you, as evil-doers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation," 1 Pet. ii. 12.
This particular may in some measure coincide with the preceding. Such things as are amiable, taking and agreeable, will be generally commended. In both, especially the latter, I apprehend the apostle to recommend some sublime acts of virtue and goodness, which depend upon much self-denial, and consist in discreet compliances, and a departing from our just right upon some occasions, for weighty reasons and considerations, and out of a regard to the honour of religion, or with a view to the welfare and advantage of some particular persons, or the good of society in general.
There are particular directions in some other epistles, which may be recollected by you, and may_illustrate this general advice, and help us to discern what is included in it.
In an argument, which the apostle has in the epistle to the Romans, he says, "Let not then your good be evil spoken of," Rom. xiii. 16. The Christian liberty, or freedom from an obligation to observe a distinction of meats, and such like indifferent things, was, in the general, good and reasonable. Yet he advises, not to assert it always, but to decline the so doing, when there should be a manifest danger of offending a weak and scrupulous person, so as to cause him to fall. Whereby it might happen, that what was good would be evil spoken of.
Another particular, which I suppose may suit this general direction, is that in the first epistle to the Corinthians. "I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, that shall be able to judge between his brethren? But brother goes to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers. Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? Why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded?" 1 Cor. vi. 5-7. Those persons had not a due regard to the circumstances of things. Contention and strife are unreputable among friends and relatives, and those who are of the same religious society and communion. It would therefore have been a good work, if some, who were of the best capacity and understanding among the Christians at Corinth, had endeavoured to reconcile disagreeing parties, and to induce them to make up their differences in an amicable way. And it might have been fit and commendable, supposing un
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. Ο 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 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,