« PreviousContinue »
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 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 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 neighSo 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 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 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.
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 shewed 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 shewed 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 men.
The man born blind, whose history is related in the ninth chapter of St. John's gospel, shewed 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 man 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 shew 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 our-selves: 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 shew, 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 shew 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.
THE DIFFICULTY OF GOVERNING THE TONGUE.
If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able to bridle the whole body. James iii. 2.
Sr. James is much in correcting the faults of the tongue. Possibly the Jewish believers, to whom he writes, were too liable to be infected with the faults very common at that time in the rest of their countrymen, who had an impetuous and turbulent zeal who were conceited of themselves and despised others: and were imposing and uncharitable. That may be one reason why this writer insists so much, and so frequently, upon this matter.
In the very first chapter, ver. 19, he exhorts with affectionate earnestness: "Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath." And again, ver. 26, "If any man among you seemeth to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, deceiving his own heart, that man's religion is vain." In this chapter he enlargeth upon the point. Some of his expressions are extremely strong, saying, that "the tongue can no man tame :" James iii. 8. meaning, however, no more than that it is very difficult for a man to govern his own tongue, or to teach others that skill. For we are not to suppose that he intends to say, that it is altogether impossible. This may be inferred from his exhortations. He would not be at the pains to admonish and argue as he does, if there were no hopes of success. He would not, then, have said : "My brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak." He would not have argued, and shewn the inconsistency of "blessing God," and "cursing men," James iii. 9; nor have added:
My brethren, these things ought not so to be," ver. 10. Such admonitions and reproofs are delivered upon the supposition of the happy effects of great care in this matter. And here, in the text, it is admitted, that some may, and do attain to a great degree of perfection in this respect.
We are not to suppose, then, that St. James designs to say, the government of the tongue is
absolutely impossible. Much less are we to think that he intends to censure the faculty of speech, when he says, "the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity," James iii. 6. No! he only aims, by emphatical expressions, and pathetic arguments, to correct the abuses of it; which were very great and frequent, as it seems among the Christians to whom he writes, as well as among many other persons. David sometimes speaks of his tongue, as "his glory," it being fitted to celebrate the praises of God. Indeed the communication which we have with each other, and the many advantages of society depend upon it. And the organs of speech are admirable. The dispositions made for it are beyond the description of the most eloquent tongue, and above all the force of human language. Nor is it at all strange, that the thing formed should not be able to comprehend, or fully commend the wisdom and skill of its former.
St. James begins this chapter with a caution against the office and character of a teacher, as was very common among the Jewish people, and against exercising it with too great rigour and severity. My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation," if we offend, which it is very difficult to avoid: "for in many things we all offend. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able to bridle the whole body." But if there be any man among you that does not offend in speech, he is an excellent man, and able to manage all the other parts of the body:' or, as some thereby understand, the whole church, the body of Christian people among whom he resides. He is qualified for the office and station of a teacher of others, and is likely to be very useful and serviceable therein.'
In farther discoursing on this text I shall observe the following method.
I. I shall shew somewhat distinctly the difficulty of governing the tongue.
II. I shall propose some motives and considerations, tending to engage us to do our best to govern the tongue.
III. I intend to lay down some rules and directions which may be of use to assist us in obtaining this excellence and perfection.
1. In the first place I would shew the difficulty of governing the tongue, the point so largely insisted on, and so emphatically represented in this chapter.
The difficulty of this will appear by these particulars: the great number of those who offend in word, the many faults which the tongue is liable to, and the springs and causes of transgressions of this kind.
1. The difficulty of governing the tongue may be argued from hence, that great numbers of men offend in their words.
There are many who scarce set any guard upon their expressions, as if their tongue was their own, and subject to no law, and they had a right to annoy others at pleasure. Yea some who have had the character of goodness, have transgressed here by falsehood, or hastiness of speech, or other ways. An offence of this kind is taken notice of in Moses himself, who was so remarkable for meekness. "They angred him also at the waters of strife, so that it went ill with Moses for their sake; because they provoked his spirit, so that he spake unadvisedly with his lips," Psalm cvi. 32, 33; referring, probably, to what is recorded in Numb. xx. 10. "And Moses and Aaron gathered the congregation together before the rock, and he said unto him: "Hear now, ye rebels: must we fetch you water out of this rock ?"
But I need not insist farther on this particular; though it may be of some use to satisfy us of the difficulty of governing the tongue, that men of excellent characters, who have been almost faultless in other respects, have been surprised into some offences of this sort.
2. Another thing which shews the difficulty of governing the tongue, is the many offences it
is liable to.
I need not enumerate them all; but it is very obvious that they are numerous. Some are guilty of a light and frequent use, or bold profanation of the name of God. Others are murmurers and complainers and because every thing in the world is not to their mind, they take great liberties in complaining of the methods of Providence, or the conduct of their superiors and governors.
There are obscene discourses, called by the apostle "corrupt" and " filthy communication,' Eph. iv. 29; Col. iii. 8. which ought not to proceed out of the mouth of a Christian.
Falsehood is supposed to be a very common fault in the dealings of men one with another: where truth ought to be strictly regarded, as the great bond of society, and of confidence in each other.