« PreviousContinue »
Matthew xii. 36.
But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall Speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.
It is very evident from the context, that our Saviour's intention was to distinguish between the heinous offences of blasphemy, perjury, and the like, and the idle words mentioned in the text, as I shall have occasion to observe. We must therefore look among the more common and less crying fins of speech, to know what kind of words they are, which our Saviour threatens with an account at the day of judgment. Of these there are many forts :
First, Idle words may denote words which proceed either from the vanity or the deceitfulness of men's minds; and this sense will take in all the empty boastings and great pretences of vanity and pride, and all the sy insinuations of craft and hypocrify; and there is no doubt to be made, but that men shall be accountable for words of this kind at the day of judgment.
Secondly, Idle words may comprehend the reports which proceed oftentimes from mere curiosity, and a desire of hearing and telling news, by which our neighbour suffers in his credit or reputation ; and questionless these words will be also remembered in the day of the Lord.
Thirdly, Idle words may imply such words as are the impure conceptions of a polluted mind, which often pass for wit and entertainment among those who have learned to make a mock of fin. Under this head will be comprehended the filthiness and foolish talking and jefting, which the Apostle to the Ephe. fians would not have so much as once named among Christians.
Lastly, Idle words may fignify useless and infignificant words. This sense will comprehend a great part of the conversation of the world, which aims at nothing but present amusements; as if it werethe business of a rational creature to divert his mind from thought and reflection. How far words of this kind, when attended with no other evil, may expose a man to guilt, is not easily discerned; though I think it is evident at least, that a man may spend so much of his time in idle or unprofitable words, as to render himself obnoxious to an account for the misuse and misapplication of the reason and speech with which his Maker has endowed him.
These are the common fins of speech, which are comprehended under the general term of idle words, which, if perfifted in, may prove of dangerous consequence to our souls ; for of every idle word we Speak we must give account thereof in the day of judgment.
What these fins are, I shall endeavour to represent to you in the following discourse, under the several heads already mentioned.
And, First, By idle words we may understand such words as proceed generally from vanity or deceit, which will comprehend the pretences and plaufible speeches of the cunning, and the empty boastings of the vainglorious man.
In both these cases there is a want of truth, upon which we ought to build whatever we say one to another. Truth and falsehood have the relation to each other of good and evil; and this is an essential difference, as we may learn from hence, that truth is the attribute of God, and consequently an essential good, and its opposite, falsehood, must be likewise an essential evil ; so that there always is evil where there is not truth. Truth likewise is a part of natural justice which we owe to one another; for whenever we lie to our neighbour, we lead him into wrong notions either of persons or things; and mistakes in either kind may prove prejudicial to him : so that to speak truth to our neighbour is a branch of that justice by which we are obliged to do no man any wrong.
I know many nice cafes have been put upon this question, whether we are always obliged to speak truth? And though some have maintained, that truth may be dispensed with, when it is evidently for our friend's or neighbour's benefit that he should be kept in ignorance ; yet it never was pretended, that vanity or cunning were sufficient excuses for the want of truth.
Our Saviour tells us, that evil things proceed from an evil heart. Now the evil that lies at the
heart of the vainglorious man is pride: he would fain appear to be something considerable, and make a figure; and therefore truth shall never stop him from setting himself out, and ascribing to himself such honours or riches, such wit or courage, as he thinks may merit worship and respect in the world.
There is no attempt that men are more generally unsuccessful in, than in this of praising and extolling themselves. It is an headstrong vanity, that will not be confined to the prudent methods of hypocrisy and dissimulation ; but shews itself fo openly, as hardly ever to escape being discovered, and consequently seldom fails of reaping the fruit it justly deserves, which is scorn and contempt. And yet, in spite of the fin and folly and disappointment that attend upon it, pride will have its work; and whereever this evil has rooted in the heart, it will produce sin and folly in the mouth, such sin and folly as shall be remembered at the day of judgment. For the romances that pride and vainglory lead men to are capable of no excuse; and therefore offenders of this kind must stand liable to all the threatenings, which are denounced against those who take pleasure in a lie.
But vanity may sometimes be the vice of men otherwise good and virtuous; and though they will not lie to gratify their humour, yet they will be very ready to do themselves justice upon all occafions, and set forth the good they are conscious of in themselves to the best advantage. But even these are idle words, and men must answer for the praise and glory they assume to themselves. Besides, it is almost impossible to speak of ourselves and our own works with pleasure, and to keep within the bounds of modesty and discretion, and not to expose the good we have done to be ridiculed and evil-Spoken of by those who observe our vanity and weakness.
It is dangerous at all times to speak of ourselves : if we have done ill, either to excuse or deny it inflames the account; if we have done well, our Saviour tells us that we must nevertheless call ourselves unprofitable servants: and whether this rule be observed by those who boast, and are always talking of the good they do, let any man judge. Our Saviour's advice about charity holds in all other cases of the like nature; our left hand must not know the charity our right hand does ; and whatever else we do that
may seem good in our own eyes should at least be kept from our tongue's end, for fear we should be found in the number of those, who take to themselves the praise that is due to God alone.
One awkward way that some men have of letting others know what good they have done, is by perpetually lessening and discommending in themselves what, in their private thoughts, they think others ought to admire. But there is little difference between pride and affected humility; and whenever men delight to talk of themselves, it is to be fufpected that pride and vanity direct them to the choice of the subject, though it may appear perhaps in the disguise of meekness and humility. If you think that you have done nothing worthy of praise or admiration, whence arises your jealousy that the world should overvalue you ? and why all this care to lessen and debase yourself, unless you are con- . scious to yourself of something that in reason you