« PreviousContinue »
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 untractableness 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 your'selves 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 show 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 excellent 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 demons 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.
1. 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 inju rious 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 reflections 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