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is probable that our Saviour, by idle words, meant those jests which were so delighted in and bore so good a character : this subject enlarged on.
Secondly, with regard to the end and design of speech, which is the gift of God to mankind.
Speech was given us for the communication of our thoughts to each other: but though it be given for this purpose, yet all our thoughts are not to be disclosed as fit objects of discourse : we must judge what are proper, and must be answerable for the government of our tongues. A man may be innocent in having some thoughts in his mind, which he cannot innocently disclose; for though he cannot always choose his thoughts, he may choose what he will talk of. As to the
ends of speech we may reason thus : God has made us reasonable creatures and fitted us for his service, and therefore expects a reasonable service from us : as he has given us all the good we enjoy, our duty is to praise him for his goodness, and raise in others a sense of gratitude: this is one end of speech. As he has made us liable to many wants, it is our duty to pray to him to supply them : this another end. Farther, the wants and necessities of nature, which are present, call for our help; we must by industry obtain the necessaries and conveniences of life; as this subject must employ a great part of our thoughts, so it is properly a frequent one of our discourse. Moreover, God has made us to delight in each other's company: we are sociable creatures, and there is a pleasure in conversation ; whence it follows, that men may commendably meet for the maintaining and improving mutual love and friendship: another end therefore of speech is to be a bond of society, a means of bringing and keeping men together. If then it appears that men may meet for mutual society and conversation, it follows that nothing can render conversation unlawful that is not sinful : for God has made us for the society of each other, and has commanded us to love each other; and therefore, if our discourses are friendly and social, they are so far virtuous, as they serve the end of nature: this subject enlarged
Lastly : the nature of man is considered, and the different degrees of sense and understanding in different men.
This consideration must have place in this question, because the tongue cannot speak better than the understanding can conceive ; which infers a proportion between the abilities of our mind and the soundness of our speech. To discourse profitably on the most profitable subjects, requires a clear conception and a distinguishing judgment; without which men only lower noble subjects. What then must the great body of mankind do? They must talk of such things as lie level to their capacities, since even they are fitted for conversation and have a delight therein : let them be prevailed on to abstain from envious and malicious discourse, from lewd and filthy jesting, which are too often ingredients of their conversation : for since God has designed them for society as well as others, and given them no great share of understanding, you can neither restrain them from society, nor exact more wisdom from them than they have received. This consideration will reach wiser men : you must not despise your weak brother, to whom charity obliges you to be civil and courteous. From all these considerations together, it appears that the conversation of the world on common and trivial subjects, is not blameworthy. It is a diversion in which we must not spend too much time: as if we so offend, we shall be answerable for our neglect of weightier matters; but otherwise, if we transgress not the bounds of innocence and virtue, we trust that our harmless though weak and unprofitable words shall not rise up in judgment against us.
MATTHEW, CHAP. XII._VERSE 36.
But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak,
they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.
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 sins 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 sorts :
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 sly insinuations of craft and hypocrisy; 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 neighbor suffers in his credit or reputation ; and questionless these words will be also reniembered 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 sin.' Under this head will be comprehended the filthiness and foolish talking and jesting,' which the Apostle to the Ephesians would not have so much as once named' among Christians,
Lastly, idle words may signify useless and insignificant words. This sense will comprehend a great part of the conversation of the world, which aims at nothing but present amusements; as if it were the business of a rational creature to divert his mind from thought and reflexion. 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 sins of speech, which are comprehended under the general term of idle words,' which, if
persisted 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 sins are, I shall endeavor 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 plausible speeches of the cunning, and the empty boastings of the vain-glorious man. In both these cases there is a want of truth, on which we ought to build whatever we say one of 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 neighbor, we lead bim 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 neighbor is a branch of that justice by which we are obliged to do no man any wrong.
I know many nice cases have been put on 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 neighbor'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 vain-glorious 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 honors or riches, such witor 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 of extolling themselves. It is an headstrong vanity, that will not be confined to the prudent methods of hypocrisy and dissimulation; but shows itself so 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 sin and folly and disappointment that attend on it, pride will have its work ; and wherever 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 vain-glory 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 humor, yet they will be very ready to do themselves justice on all occasions, 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 of 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.