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What confirms this interpretation is, that this crime is here called, not, as is generally supposed, the sin against the Holy Ghost, but blasphemy against the Holy Ghost; which evidently refers not to actions but to words; not to any thing done, but to something said against the Holy Ghost. This being the case, it is clear, that as miracles have long since ceased, and this blasphemy against the Holy Ghost relates solely to those who saw miracles performed with their own eyes, it is impossible for any one in these times to be literally guilty of this impious and unpardonable kind of blasphemy in its full extent.
Our Lord then addresses himself more directly to the authors of this spiteful calumny. "Either make the tree good and his fruit good, or else make the tree corrupt and his fruit corrupt; for the tree is known by his fruit:" that is, Be uniform and consistent with yourselves. If you pretend to holiness and sincerity of heart, suffer not your mouths to utter these blasphemies; or, if you persist in such behaviour, lay aside all claim to religion, with which this obstinate malice is as inconsistent as it is for a tree not to discover its nature by the quality of the fruit it produces. He then adds, O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, peak 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 of his heart, bringeth forth evil things." The import of which words is this: But it is impossible that you should speak otherwise than evil. You are a perverse and malicious generation, and the thoughts of men's hearts will of course show themselves by their words. They arise immediately from the fund within, and will necessarily discover whether it be good or bad.
Then follows another very remarkable declaration of our Lord's in the thirty-sixth verse. "" I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment." From hence some have imagined, that at the day of judgment we shall be called to an account, and punished, for every idle and unprofitable, every trifling and ludicrous word, that we have ever uttered in the gaiety of the heart during the whole course of our lives. If this be the case, how hard is it, will the enemies of the Gospel say, in the author of your religion, to exact from you what is utterly inconsistent with the infirmities of human
nature, and which must completely destroy all the freedom, all the ease, all the cheerfulness, all the comforts of social converse, and render it necessary for every man, that hopes to be saved, to seclude himself from society, and, like the once celebrated fathers of the order of La Trappe, impose upon themselves an everlasting silence! That this must be the consequence of the sentence here pronounced by our Lord, if it is to be understood in that strict, literal, and rigorous sense, which has just been stated, and which at the first view the words seem to import, cannot be denied; and therefore we may fairly conclude, that it is not the true meaning of the passage in question; because we know, that we do not serve a hard master, who requires more from us than our strength will bear; but one who can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, and who has declared, that "his yoke is easy, and his burthen light."
In order, then, to set this text of Scripture in its true light, we must look back to what had just passed: we must remember, that the Pharisees had a little before reproached our Lord with having cast out devils through Beelzebub the prince of the devils; and it is this calumny that he alludes to in the words before us; for they are a continuation of that very same conversation, which he was holding with the Jews. Now the words made use of by the Pharisees, in the above-mentioned charge, are not merely idle, or foolish, or trifling words, they are in the highest degree malevolent, false, and wicked; they constitute one of the grossest, most detestable, and most infamous calumnies, that ever was uttered by man. Consequently, by idle words our Saviour plainly meant false, lying, and malicious words, such as those which the Pharisees had a few minutes before applied to him.
In confirmation of this it should be observed, that the language then spoken by the Jews was not their primitive tongue, but one mixed and made up of the dialects and idioms of the several nations that surrounded them, particularly of the Chaldeans, Syrians, and Arabians. In this our Saviour delivered all his instructions, and held all his discourses. In this (as some learned men think) St. Matthew originally wrote his Gospel, for the use of the Jewish converts; and it has been remarked, that in almost all the languages, of which this miscella
neous one is made up, by idle or unprofitable words are meant false, lying, malicious, and scandalous calumnies.
But though, in the passage before us, the phrase of idle words refers more immediately to the malignant calumny of the Pharisees against Jesus; yet it certainly includes all false, slanderous, and vindictive accusations of our neighbour; all discourse, which is in any respect injurious to God or man, which is contrary to truth, to decency, and evangelical purity of heart. All conversation of this sort is plainly inconsistent with the sanctity of our religion, and must of course subject us to God's displeasure here, and his judgments hereafter. And even in the literal and most obvious sense of idle words, though we are not excluded from the innocent cheerfulness of social converse, yet we must be aware of giving way too much to trifling, foolish, unprofitable, and unmeaning talk. Even this, when carried to excess, becomes in some degree criminal; it produces, or at least increases, a frivolous turn of mind; unfits us for the discharge of any thing manly and serious; and indicates a degree of levity and thoughtlessness, not very consistent with a just sense of those important interests, which, as candidates for heaven, we should have constantly present to our thoughts, nor suitable to those awful prospects into eternity, which the Christian revelation opens to our view, and which ought to make the most serious impressions on every sincere believer in the Gospel of Christ.
WE are now arrived at the thirteenth chapter of St. Matthew; in which our blessed Lord introduces a new mode of conveying his instructions to the people. Hitherto he had confined himself entirely to the plain didactic method, of which his sermon on the mount is a large and a noble specimen. But his discourses now assume a different shape, and he begins in this chapter, for the first time, to address his hearers in parables. "The same day," says the evangelist, "went Jesus out of the house, and sat by the sea-side; and great multitudes were gathered together unto him, so that he went into a ship and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore, and he spake many things unto them in parables."
The word parable is sometimes used in Scripture in a large and general sense, and applied to short sententious sayings, maxims, or aphorisms, expressed in a figurative, proverbial, or even poetical manner.
But in its strict and appropriate meaning, especially as applied to our Saviour's parables, it signifies a short narrative of some event or fact, real or fictitious, in which a continued comparison is carried on between sensible and spiritual objects; and under this similitude some important doctrine, moral or religious, is conveyed and enforced.
This mode of instruction has many advantages over every other, more particularly in recommending virtue, or reproving vice.
1. In the first place, when divine and spiritual things are represented by objects well known and familiar to us, such as present themselves perpetually to our observation, in the common occurrences of life, they are
much more easily comprehended, especially by rude and uncultivated minds (that is, by the great bulk of mankind), than if they were proposed in the original form.
2. In all ages of the world, there is nothing with which mankind hath been so much delighted as with those little fictitious stories, which go under the name of fables or apologues among the ancient heathens, and of parables in the sacred writings. It is found by experience, that this sort of composition is better calculated to command attention, to captivate the imagination, to affect the heart, and to make deeper and more lasting impressions on the memory, than the most ingenious and most elegant discourses that the wit of man is capable of producing.
3. The very obscurity in which parables are sometimes involved has the effect of exciting a greater degree of curiosity and interest, and of urging the mind to a more vigorous exertion of its faculties and powers, than any other mode of instruction. There is something for the understanding to work upon; and when the concealed meaning is at length elicited, we are apt to value ourselves on the discovery as the effect of our own penetration and discernment, and for that very reason to pay more regard to the moral it conveys.
4. When the mind is under the influence of strong prejudices, of violent passions, or inveterate habits, and when under these circumstances it becomes necessary to rectify error, to dissipate delusion, to reprove sin, and bring the offender to a sense of his danger and his guilt; there is no way in which this difficult task can be so well executed, and the painful truths, that must be told, so successfully insinuated into the mind, as by disguising them under the veil of a well-wrought and interesting parable.
This observation cannot be better illustrated than by referring to two parables, one in the New Testament, the other in the Old, which will amply confirm the truth, and unfold the meaning, of the preceding remarks.
The first of these, which I allude to, is the celebrated parable of the good Samaritan.
The Jews, as we learn from our Lord himself, had established it as a maxim, that they were to love their neighbour and to hate their enemy*; and, as they consi
* Matt. v, 43.