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OF THE BLESSEDNESS OF GIVING, MORE THAN THAT OF RECEIVING.
And to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.—Acts xx. 36.
The whole verse runs thus:
I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak; and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.
THE words which I have read to you, have this particular advantage to recommend them to our more attentive consideration, that they are a remarkable saying of our Lord himself, not recorded by any of the evangelists among his other sayings and discourses, but remembered by the apostles, and by some of them delivered to St. Paul, and by him preserved to us in his farewell speech to the elders of Ephesus. In which, after he had given them some needful advice, and commended them to the grace of God, he appeals to them concerning the integrity of his conversation among them; that he was so far from seeking his own advantage, and from coveting any thing that was theirs, that be had not only supported himself, but also relieved others by the labour of his own hands; giving them herein a great example of charity, which it seems he was wont to enforce upon them by an excellent 81saying of our Lord, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
And it is really a particular endearment of this saying to us, that, being omitted by the evangelists, and in danger of being lost and forgotten, it was so happily retrieved by St. Paul, and recorded by St. Luke. The common sayings of ordinary persons perish without regard, and are spilt like water upon the ground, which nobody goes about to gather up; but the little and short sayings of wise and excellent men are of great value, like the dust of gold, or the least sparks of diamonds. And such is this saying of our Lord, which is not only valuable out of respect to its author, but for the sake of that admirable sense which is contained in it.
Some interpreters have needlessly troubled themselves to find these words, or something equivalent to them, in the gospel. That the sense of them may be inferred from several passages in the gospels, none will deny; but that they are either expressly to be found there, or that there is any saying that sounds to the same sense, I think nobody can shew. Besides that St. Paul cites a particular sentence or saying of our Lord, that was ῥητῶς, and in those very words spoken by him.
And there is no reason to imagine, that the gospels are a perfect and exact account of all the sayings and actions of our Lord, though St. Luke calls his gospel, “a treatise of all things that Jesus did and spake;” that is, of the principal actions of his life, and the substance of his discourses, at least so much of them as is needful for us to know: for St. Luke leaves out several things related by the other evangelists. And St. John expressly tells us, that Jesus did innumerable things not recorded in the 82history of his life: and there is no doubt but the disciples of our Lord remembered many particular sayings of his, not set down in the gospels, which upon occasion they did relate and communicate to others, as they did this to St. Paul.
The words themselves are the proposition I shall speak to, “It is a more blessed thing to give than to receive.” This I know seems a paradox to most men, who know no happiness but in hoarding up what they have, and in receiving and heaping up more; but as strange as this saying may appear, the sense of it is owned and assented to by those great oracles of reason, the wisest and most considerate heathens; της ἀρετῆς μᾶλλον τὸ ἐῦ ποιεῖν ἢ τό ἐῦ πάσχειν, “It is a more virtuous thing to do, than to receive good,” says Aristotle; which according to his opinion was to say, it is a greater happiness, because he placed happiness in the practice and exercise of virtue. To the same purpose is that saying of Plutarch, ἐῦ ποιεῖν ἤδιόν ἐστιν ἢ πάσχειν; “There is more pleasure in doing a kindness than in taking one.” And that of Seneca, Malim non recipere beneficia, quam non dare; “Of the two, I had rather not receive benefits, than not bestow them.” And that the heathen have spoken things to the same sense with this saying of our Saviour’s, is so far from being any prejudice to this saying of our Saviour, that it is a great commendation of it, as being an argument that our Saviour hath herein said nothing but what is very agreeable to the best notions of our minds, and to the highest reason and wisdom of mankind. In the handling of this proposition, I shall do these two things:
First, Endeavour to convince men of the truth and reasonableness of it.
Secondly, To persuade men to act suitably to it.83
First, To convince men of the truth and reasonableness of this principle, that “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” And this will fully appear by considering these three things:
I. That it is an argument of a more happy spirit and temper.
II. Of a more happy state and condition, And,
III. That it shall have the happiness of a greater reward.
I. To be governed by this principle, is an argument of a more happy spirit and temper. To do good, to be useful and beneficial to others, to be of a kind and obliging disposition, of a tender and compassionate spirit, sensible of the straits and miseries of others, so as to be ready to ease and relieve them (for to this kind of goodness and charity the apostle applies this saying of our Saviour, as appears by the context), this certainly is the happiest spirit and temper in the world, and is an argument of a noble, and generous, and large heart, that is not contracted within itself, and confined to little and narrow designs, and takes care of nobody but itself, envying that others should share with it, and partake of its happiness; but is free and open, ready to do good, and willing to communicate, and thinks its own happiness increased by making others happy.
It is the property of narrow and envious spirits to think their own happiness the greater, because they have it alone to themselves; but the noblest and most heavenly dispositions desire that others should share with them in it. Of all beings, God is the farthest removed from envy and ill-will, and the nearer any creature approacheth to him, the farther it is from this hellish disposition. For it is the temper of the devil to grudge happiness to 84others; he envied that man should be in paradise, and was restless till he had got him out.
Some perfections are of a more solitary nature and disposition, and shine brightest when they are attained to but by few, as knowledge and power: but the nature of goodness is to diffuse and communicate itself, and the more it is communicated the more glorious it is. And therefore knowledge and power may be in a nature most contrary to God’s; the devil hath these perfections in a high degree.
To receive good from others is no certain argument of virtue or merit, for the unworthy and unthankful often receive benefits: but to be good and do good is the excellency of virtue, because it is to resemble God in that which is the most amiable and glorious of all his other perfections. And therefore when Moses desires “to see God’s glory,” (Exod. xxxiii. 19.) he tells him, that “he will cause all his goodness to pass before him.” Without goodness the power and wisdom of God would be terrible, and raise great dread and superstition in the minds of men. Without goodness power would be tyranny and oppression, and wisdom would degenerate into craft and mischievous contrivance. So that a being endowed with all power and wisdom, and yet wanting goodness, would be a dreadful and omnipotent mischief. We are apt to dread power, and to admire knowledge, and to suspect great wisdom and prudence; but we can heartily love and reverence nothing but true goodness. It is not the infinite power and knowledge of God considered abstractedly, and in themselves, but these in conjunction with his great goodness, that make him at once the most awful and amiable being in the world; which is the reason why our Saviour, (Matt. v. 48.) speaks of the mercy, and goodness, and patience of God, as the top and sum of the Divine perfections, “Be ye therefore perfect, as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” How is that? la being “good to the evil and unthankful, as God is, who makes his sun to rise, and his rain to fall, not only on the just but unjust.” And therefore St. Luke renders it, “Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father which is in heaven is merciful.” To be good and merciful as God is, is to be perfect as he is; because it is to imitate him in that which is his chief perfection.
Gratitude is one of the noblest virtues, and our goodness to men is gratitude in us to God. It is an acknowledgment of the blessings we have received from God; the best use we can make of them, and the best requital we can make to him for all his benefits. For we can give him nothing again, because he stands in need of nothing. But a truly grateful person, who hath a kindness done to him by one that is out of all capacity and reach of requital, will inquire whether there be any of his family and relations, to whom he may shew kindness for his sake. Yea, benefits have often been requited by thankful persons, upon those who did but resemble their benefactors, though they were no ways related to them. Though we can do nothing to God, yet we may do it to men, who are “made after the image of God.” We may shew kindness to his relations, and to those of his household and family, to his creatures, to his servants, to his friends, and to his children here in the earth.
Besides that our goodness to others like ourselves, is an argument of great consideration and prudence; it is a sign that we know ourselves, and consider what we are, and what we may be: it shews 86that we have a due sense of the indigence and infirmity of human nature, and of the change and vicissitude of human affairs; it is a just sense and acknowledgment of our state, that we are insufficient for our own happiness, and goodwill, and friend ship of other men; that we all either do or may stand in need of others, one time or other: for he who is now in the greatest plenty and abundance of all things, and thinks his mountain so strong that he can never be moved, may, by a sudden revolution of fortune, by a thousand accidents, be thrown down from his height of prosperity into the depth of misery and necessity.
And as it is an argument of consideration, so of great prudence. He that is good to others, apt to commiserate their sad case, and to relieve them in their straits, takes the wisest and surest way that can be, to incline and engage others to be good to him, when it shall fall to his lot to stand in need of their kindness and pity. Upon this account our Saviour commends the prudence of the unjust steward, who laid in for the kindness of others, against himself should have occasion for it.
And though it should happen otherwise, and that we should have an uninterrupted tenor of prosperity (which few or none have), or that coming to stand in need of others, our kindness should meet with no equal returns, yet it would not be quite lost; for, as Seneca truly says, delectat eliam sterilis beneficii conscientia, though our charity should fall upon stony and barren ground, and we should find no fruit of it from those whom we have obliged, yet there is a pleasure in being conscious to ourselves that we have done well, what was worthy and generous, and what became wise and considerate 87men to do, whatever the event and success be; for, setting aside all selfish respects, purely out of humanity, and charity, and a generous compassion, we should be ready as we have opportunity to do good to all that stand in need of our kindness and help.
So that a disposition to do good is the best and happiest temper of mind, because it is the nearest resemblance of the Divine nature, which is perfectly happy: it is a grateful acknowledgment of our obligations to God, and all that we can render to him for his benefits; it is an argument of great wisdom and consideration; it gives ease and satisfaction to our minds, and the reflection upon any good that we have done, is certainly the greatest contentment and pleasure in the world, and a felicity much be yond that of the greatest fortune of this world: whereas the spirit, contrary to this, is always uneasy to itself; the envious and malicious, the hard hearted and ill-natured man carries his own torment and hell about him, his mind is full of tumultuous agitations and unquiet thoughts; but were our nature rectified and brought back to its primitive frame and temper, we should take no such plea sure in any thing, as in acts of kindness and compassion, which are so suitable and agreeable to our nature, that they are peculiarly called humanity, as if without this temper we were not truly men, but something else disguised under a human shape.
II. To give, is an argument of a more happy state and condition, than to receive. To receive from others is an argument of indigency, and plainly shews that we are in want and necessity; either that we stand in need of something, or that we think we do; and either of these conditions is far from perfect happiness; 88but to give, is an argument of fulness and sufficiency, that we have more than is necessary for ourselves, and something to spare.
To receive kindness from others, supposeth we stand in need of it; and to stand in need of it, is to be in a state of being obliged and indebted. Obligation is a dear thing, and a real debt which lies heavy and uneasy upon a grateful mind: so much obligation as any man hath to another, so much he hath lost of his own liberty and freedom; for it gives him that hath obliged us a superiority and advantage over us: and what Solomon says of the borrower, that he is a servant to the lender, is in proportion true in this case, that the receiver is a servant to the giver.
But to be able to benefit others is a condition of freedom and superiority, and is so far from impairing our liberty, that it shews our power; and the happiness which we confer upon others by doing them good, is not only a contentment to ourselves, but we do in some sort enjoy the happiness we give, in being conscious to ourselves that we are the authors of it. And could we but once come to this excellent temper, to delight in the good that others enjoy, as if it were our own (and it is our own, if we be the instruments of it, and take pleasure in it); I say, could we but once come to this temper, we need not envy the wealth and splendour of the most prosperous upon earth, for upon these terms the happiness of the whole world would in some sort be ours, and we should have a share in the pleasure and satisfaction of all that good which happens to any man any way, especially by our means.
To depend upon another, and to receive from him, and to be beholden to him, is the necessary 89imperfection of creatures; but to confer benefits upon others is to resemble God, and to approach towards divinity. Aristotle could say, that by narrowness and selfishness, by envy and ill-will, men degenerate into beasts, and become wolves and tigers to one another; but by goodness and kindness, by mutual compassion and helpfulness, men become gods to one another. To be a benefactor, is to be as like God as it is possible for men to be; and the more any one partakes of this Divine quality and disposition, the liker and the nearer he is to God, who is good to all, and whose tender mercies are over all his works.
The blessed angels, who behold the face of God continually, are, as it were, perfectly transformed into the image of the Divine goodness, and therefore the work which, with so much cheerfulness and vigour, they employ themselves in, is to be ministering spirits for the good of the elect, to bring men to goodness, and to encourage, and assist, and comfort them in well-doing. And our blessed Lord, when he was upon earth, did in nothing shew himself more like th6 Son of God, than in going about doing good: and the wonderful works which he did gave testimony of his divinity, not so much as they were acts of power as of goodness, and wrought for the benefit and advantage of men; and the true advantage of greatness, and wealth, and power, does not consist in this, that it sets men above others, but that it puts them in a capacity of doing more good than others. Men are apt to call them their betters, who are higher and richer than themselves; but in a true and just esteem of things, they only are our betters who do more good than we. From the meanest creature 90below us up to God himself, they are the best, and happiest, and most perfect beings, who are most useful and beneficial to others, who have the most power and the strongest inclinations to do good.
III. To give, that is, to be beneficial and to do good to others, hath the happiness of a great reward. There is no grace or virtue whatsoever, which hath in Scripture the encouragement of more and greater promises than this, of happiness in general; of temporal happiness in this life, of happiness at death, and of everlasting happiness in the world to come.
1. For promises of happiness in general. “He hath dispersed, he hath given to the poor, his righteousness endures for ever;” that is, shall never be forgotten, shall not pass unrewarded. (Prov. xiv. 21.) “He that giveth to the poor, happy is he.” (Matt. v. 7.) “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” (Luke vi. 38.) “Give, and it shall be given unto you, good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom; for with the same measure that ye mete withal, it shall be measured to you again;” that is, according to our goodness and compassion towards others, we must expect to find the charity of men, and the compassions of God towards us. Job speaks as if some eminent and peculiar blessing did attend and follow acts of charity: (Job xxv. 19.) “The blessing of him that was ready to perish came upon me.”
2. Promises of temporal happiness in this life: (Psal. xxxvii. 3.) “Trust in the Lord, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed.” (Prov. xxviii. 27.) “He that giveth to the poor shall not lack.” Nay, God hath promised 91to have a particular respect to such as do good, in every condition, and all kinds of troubles that befal them. (Psal. xli. 13.) “Blessed is he that considereth the poor: the Lord will deliver him in time of trouble. The Lord will preserve him, and keep him alive, and he shall be blessed upon the earth; and thou wilt not deliver him unto the will of his enemies. The Lord will strengthen him upon the bed of languishing: thou wilt make all his bed in his sickness.”
3. Of happiness in death. “The righteous (saith Solomon, Prov. xiv. 32.) hath hope in his death.” By the righteous, in Scripture, is frequently meant the merciful and good man. And so it is to be understood, as appears from the context; “He that oppresseth the poor, reproacheth his Maker; but he that honoureth him, hath mercy upon the poor. The wicked is driven away in his wickedness; but the righteous hath hope in his death.” If God designs to send calamities upon the earth, upon the place where the good man lives, which it would grieve him to see, or which he might be involved in, so as either to make his life uncomfortable, or to cut him off by a violent death; God considers the merciful man, and removes him out of the way into a better and safer place: (Isaiah lvii. 1.) “The merciful man is taken away from the evil to come.”
4. The promises of eternal life and happiness in the world to come. (Luke xiv. 13, 14.) “But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind: and thou shalt be blessed. For they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just.” And, (chap. xvi. 9.) “And I say unto you, (saith our Lord,) Make to yourselves friends of the 92mammon of unrighteousness,” that is, to do good with what you have, “that when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.” (1 Tim. vi. 17-19.) “Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not high-minded, nor trust to uncertain riches; but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; that they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate, laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.” And the more to fix upon our minds the necessity of doing good, especially in ways of mercy and charity, our Lord represents this as the great matter of inquiry at the great day of judgment, how they have behaved themselves in this kind, what good they have done, or omitted and neglected to do; especially to those who were in misery and want; and as if the sentence of eternal happiness or misery would accordingly pass upon them. And this, methinks, should make a mighty impression upon us, to think that when we shall appear before the great Judge of the world, we are to expect mercy from him, according to the measure that we have shewed it to others. And now, if men be thoroughly convinced of the happiness of this temper, methinks it should be no difficult matter to persuade them to it. If we believe this saying of our Lord, that “It is more blessed to give than to receive;” let us do accordingly.
I know that to carnal and earthly-minded men, this must needs seem a new and wrong way to happiness. For if we may judge of men’s persuasions by their practice (which seems to be a reasonable and good sure way of judging), I am afraid it 93will appear, that few believe this to be the way to happiness. If we mind the course of the world, and the actions of men, it is but too evident that most men place their greatest felicity in receiving and getting the good things of this world; almost all seek their own things, and but few the good of others. Many say, Who will shew us? who will do us any good? but few ask that question, “What good thing shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? And when our Lord tells men that they must “give to the poor,” if they would have “treasure in heaven;” that they must be charitable, if they would be happy; that, “It is a more blessed thing to give than to receive;” these are sad and melancholy sayings to those who have great possessions; and most men are ready with the young man in the gospel to part with our Lord, and to break with him, upon these terms.
But let us remember, that this was the saying of our Lord Jesus, whom we all profess to believe, and to imitate in all things; but more especially let us do so in this, because it was not a bare speculation, a fine and glorious saying, like those of the philosophers, who said great and glorious things, but did them not; but this was his constant practice, the great work and business of his life. He who pronounced it the most blessed thing to do good, spent his whole life in this work, and “went about doing good.” To this end all his activity and endeavours were bent. This was the life which God himself, when he was pleased to become man, thought lit to lead in the world, giving us herein an example, that we should follow his steps. He made full trial and experience of the happiness of this temper and spirit; for he was all on the giving 94hand. He would receive no portion and share of the good things of this world; he refused the greatest offers. When the people would have made him a king, he withdrew and hid himself; he was contented to be worse accommodated than the creatures below us. “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests: but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” He would not so much as have any fixed abode and habitation, that he might be at liberty “to go about doing good.” He received nothing but injuries and affronts, base and treacherous usage, from an ungrateful world, to whom he was so great and so universal a benefactor. The whole business of his life was to do good, and to suffer evil for so doing. So fixed and steady was he in his own principle and saying, “It is a more blessed thing to give than to receive.” He gave away all that he had to do us good, he parted with his glory and his life, “emptied him self, and became of no reputation; and being rich, for our sakes became poor, that we through his poverty might be made rich.”
So that he adviseth us nothing, but what he did himself; nor imposeth any thing upon us, from which he himself desired to be excused. And surely we have great reason to be in great love with this pattern, when that very goodness which he propounds to our imitation was all laid out upon us, and redounds to our benefit and advantage; when our salvation and happiness are the effects of that goodness and compassion which he exercised in the world! He did it all purely for our sakes; whereas all the good we do to others, is a greater good done to ourselves.
So that here is an example and experiment of the 95thing in the greatest and most famous instance that the whole world can afford. The best and happiest man that ever was, the Son of God and the Saviour of men, and who is the most worthy to be the pattern of all mankind, “went about doing good,” and governed his whole life, and all the actions of it, by this principle, that “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” “Let the same mind be in us that was in Jesus Christ: let us go and do likewise.”96
THE EVIL OF CORRUPT COMMUNICATION.
Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth; but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace to the hearers.—Ephes. iv. 29.
As discourses against sin and vice in general are of great use, so it is likewise very necessary to level them against the particular vices of men, and to endeavour by proper and intrinsical arguments, taken from the nature of that vice we treat of, to dissuade and deter them from it; because this carries the discourse home to the consciences of men, and leaves them no way of escape. For this reason, and in compliance with their Majesties pious proclamation, for the discountenancing and sup pressing of profaneness and vice, I have chosen to treat upon this subject, of corrupt and filthy communication, as being one of the reigning vices of this wicked and adulterous generation; of the evil whereof the generality of men are less sensible than almost of any other, that is so frequently and so expressly branded in Scripture. And to this purpose I have pitched upon the words which I have read unto you, as containing a plain and express prohibition of this vice, “Let no corrupt communication,” &c.
I remember St. Austin in one of his epistles tells us, that Tully, the great master of the art of speaking, 97says of one of the great orators, Nullum unquam verbum quod revocare vellet, emisit: “That no word ever fell from him that he could wish to have recalled.” This I doubt is above the perfection of human eloquence, for a man always to make such a choice of his words, and to place them so fitly, that nothing he ever said could be changed for the better. But the greatest faults of speech are not those which offend against the rules of eloquence, but of piety, and virtue, and good manners; and who can say that his tongue is free from all faults in this kind, and no word ever proceeded from him which he could wish to have recalled? “In many things (says St. James, chap. iii. 2.) we offend all;” and in this kind as much, perhaps, and as often, as in any. He is a good and a happy man indeed, that seldom or never offends with his tongue. “If any man (as St. James goes on) offend not in word, the same is a perfect man;” that is, he hath attained to an eminent degree of virtue indeed, and is above the common rate of men, and may reasonably be presumed blameless in the general course of his life and practice, and “able (as follows) to bridle the whole body;” that is, “to order his whole conversation aright.”
To govern the tongue is a matter of great difficulty, and consequently of great wisdom, and care, and circumspection; and therefore, one of the great endeavours of a wise and good man should be, to govern his words by the rules of reason and religion; and we should every one of us resolve and say, as David does, (Psal. xxxix. 1.) “I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue.” For as the virtues, so the vices of the tongue are many and great. In respect of it, David calls it the best member we have; because, of all the members 98and instruments of the body, it is capable of giving the greatest glory to God, and of doing the greatest good and benefit to men. And in respect of the vices of it, it may be as truly said to be the worst member that we have, because it is capable of doing the greatest dishonour to God, and the greatest mischief and harm among men. So that, upon all accounts, we ought to have a great care of the government of our tongue, which is capable of being so useful and serviceable to the best and worst purposes, according as we restrain it and keep it in order, or let it loose to sin and folly.
And among all the vices of the tongue, as none is more common, so none is more misbecoming, and more contrary to the modesty of a man, and the gravity of a Christian, than filthy and obscene talk; of the odious nature, and the evil and mischievous consequences whereof, both to ourselves and others, I design, by God’s assistance, to treat at this time, from the words which I have read unto you,—“Let no corrupt communication,” &c.
That by “corrupt (or rotten) communication,” is here meant filthy and obscene talk, is generally agreed among interpreters. By “that which is good to the use of edifying,” is meant such discourse as is apt to build us up in knowledge and goodness, to make the hearers wiser and better. “That it may minister grace unto the hearers;” that is, such kind of discourse as is acceptable to all; not nauseous and offensive to sober and virtuous persons, not apt to grate upon chaste and modest ears, and to put the hearers out of countenance.
So that the apostle doth here strictly forbid all lewd and filthy discourse amongst Christians; and enjoins them so to converse with one another, that 99all their discourses may minister mutual benefit and advantage to one another, and tend to the promoting of piety and virtue; and may likewise be grateful to the hearers, carefully avoiding every thing that might put them to the blush, or any way trespass upon modesty and good manners, as all filthy communication does.
This sort of argument, though it be frequently mentioned in Scripture, yet it is very seldom treated of in the pulpit, because it is a hard matter to be handled in a cleanly manner, and the preacher must always take good heed to himself, that his discourse be free from the contagion of that vice which he reproves and designs to correct and cure. And, therefore, to dissuade and deter men from this evil practice, so rife and common in the world, and that not only amongst the profane and dissolute sort of persons, but those likewise who would seem to be more strict and religious, I hope it may be sufficient to all considerate persons plainly to represent to them the heinous nature of the thing itself, together with the evil and dangerous consequences of it, both to ourselves and to others. And this I shall endeavour to do in the most general and wary terms, keeping all along, as much as possible, aloof and at distance from any thing that might either offend the chaste and modest, or infect lewd and dissolute minds, which, like tinder, are always ready to take fire at the least spark.
Having premised this in general, my work at this time shall be to offer such particular considerations as may fully convince men of the great evil and danger of this practice; and I hope may effectually prevail with them to leave it, and break it off. And they shall be these following:—100
I. That all filthy and corrupt communication is evidently contrary to nature, which is careful to hide and suppress whatever, in the general esteem of the sober part of mankind, hath any thing of turpitude and uncomeliness in it; and wherever nature hath thought fit to draw a veil, we should neither by words nor actions expose such things to open view. Quæ natura occultavit, (says Tully, de Offic. lib. 1.) eadem omne, qui sana sunt mente, removent ab oculis: “Those things which nature hath thought fit to hide, all men that are in their wits endeavour to keep out of sight.” Nos autem naturam sequamur, (says the same excellent moralist, ibid.) et ab omni quod abhorret ab oculorum auriumque approbatione fugiamus: “Let us (says he) follow nature, and flee every thing that is offensive either to the eye or ear of men.” And this is so plain a lesson of nature, that an actor in a play will never fall into that absurdity, as to represent a grave and virtuous person offering any obscene or immodest word: and, as the same author reasons, Histrio hoc videbit in scena, quod non videbit sapiens in vita? “Shall an actor see this to be improper upon the stage, and a wise man not discern the absurdity and indecency of it in his life and conversation?”
II. All corrupt and filthy communication is a notorious abuse of one of the greatest and best gifts which God hath given us, and does directly contradict the natural end and use of speech. Our tongue is our glory, as the holy Psalmist often calls it, who hath duly considered the excellency and use of this noble faculty, and took great care to employ it to the purposes to which God gave it, and is herein an admirable pattern to us.
And, next to our reason and understanding, our 101speech doth most remarkably distinguish us from the beasts, and sets us above them. Hoc uno præstamus, vel maxime feris, quod colloquimur inter nos, et quod exprimere dicendo sensa possumus: (says the great Roman orator, Cicero, de Orat. lib. 1.) “By this one thing we excel the beasts in a very high degree, that we can talk together, and by speech declare our minds to one another.” By our understanding we know God, and by our tongues we confess and praise him: but to use our tongues to lewd and filthy discourse, is to pervert and abuse one of the best and noblest faculties which God hath given us; it is to affront him with his own gifts, and to fight against him with his own weapons. “Do we thus requite the Lord? foolish creatures and unthankful!”
The two great ends for which this faculty of speech is given us are, to glorify God our maker, and to edify man our neighbour: but all corrupt communication contradicts both these ends; be cause, instead of praising God with pure hearts and lips, we do greatly dishonour him, by polluting our tongues with lewd and filthy talk: for hereby we offer a direct affront to his holy nature and laws. This renders us altogether unfit for the worship and service of Almighty God, who is “of purer eyes than to behold iniquity” and impurity of any kind. For how can we think that he will accept those prayers and praises which are offered to him by such impure and unhallowed lips; when we dishonour God with the same mouth that we pretend to glorify him; and commit sin with the same tongue that we confess it? How can we hope that he will accept the sacrifice of such polluted lips, out of which proceed things so contrary and so inconsistent?”102
Those who thus pervert the use of speech, and, instead of glorifying him who gave them this excellent gift, and setting forth his praise, defile their tongues with filthy and impure language, give just occasion to complain of them, as Elihu does of the wicked in his time; (Job xxxv. 10, 11.) “None saith, Where is God my maker, who giveth songs in the night; who teacheth us more than the beasts of the earth, and maketh us wiser than the fowls of heaven?” His meaning is, that they did not glorify God their maker, by singing his praises; which, by being endued with this noble faculty of speech (which he had denied to the creatures below man, the beasts and birds), they only were capable of performing. The consideration of this high privilege, by which we do so much excel the creatures below us, ought to be a mighty obligation upon us to employ this gift of God in the service, and to the glory of the Giver, and make us very careful not to offend him by it, or by any defilement of it, to render it unfit for one of the principal uses for which God bestowed it upon us.
Another great end of speech is to edify our neighbour. So the apostle here tells us in the text, that nothing should proceed out of our mouths, but what is “good for the use of edifying, that it may minister grace to the hearers.” But, instead of that, corrupt communication offends the chaste and virtuous, and corrupts them who have vicious inclinations, by exciting and cherishing lewd imaginations in them, and making them that are filthy more filthy still.
III. Corrupt communication is an evidence of a corrupt and impure heart, as polluted streams are a sign that the fountain is impure from whence they 103came. An impure mind may be covered and disguised by natural shame and outward reverence, in regard to the company, or from some other particular design; but when it breaks out at any time in lewd talk, our speech betrays us, and discovers the inward thoughts of our hearts, and makes them visible to every eye. For, as our Saviour says, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh:” (Matt. xii. 34, 35.) “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 the heart, bringeth forth good things: and an evil man, out of the evil treasure, bringeth forth evil things.”
“There is not (says an excellent divine of our own, Dr. Barrow) a more certain sign of a mind utterly debauched from piety and virtue, than affecting such talk. A vain mind naturally venteth itself in frothy discourse; and lust boiling within, foams out in filthy talk.” It is St. Jude’s metaphor, when he describes that impure sect of the gnostics, he says of them, that “they were continually foaming out their own shame;” (ver. 13.) that is, by their lewd words and deeds they discovered the inward filthiness of their hearts. And, therefore, it is Tully’s advice to him that would be perfectly virtuous, and not defective in any part of his duty, Imprimis provideat, ne sermo vitium aliquod indicet inesse moribus: (de Offic. lib. i.) “Let him in the first place (says he) take great care that his speech betray not some vice or fault in his manners.” Ἀνδρὸς χαρακτὴρ ἐκ λόγου γνωριζεται: “A man’s character is commonly taken from his talk.” Οἴος ὁ τρόπος τοιοῦτος καὶ ὁ λόγος (says Aristides); “Such as are the manners of a man, such is his discourse:” and Quintilian, (lib. xi. c. 1.) 104 Profert enim mores plerumque oratio, et animi secreta detegit, nec sine causa Græci prodiderunt, ut vivit, quenquam etiam dicere: “Our speech, for the most part, declares our manners, and discovers the secrets of our hearts;” so that not without cause was it become a proverbial saying among the Greeks, that, “As the man lives, so also he speaks.” And to the same purpose, the wise son of Sirach: (Ecclus. xxvii. 6, 7.) “The fruit declareth if the tree hath been dressed; so is the utterance of a conceit in the heart of man. Praise no man before thou nearest him speak: for this is the trial of men.” And, (ver. 13.) “The discourse of fools is irksome, and their sport is in the wantonness of sin.”
Immodest speech is not only an indication of an unchaste mind; but draws, likewise, a great suspicion upon a man’s life. So strict a connexion commonly is there between a man’s thoughts and words, and between his words and actions, that they are generally presumed to be all of a piece, and agreeable to one another.
IV. Corrupt communication doth debauch and defile the minds of men, and that not only of the speaker, but likewise of the hearer of such discourse; because it gratifies and feeds a corrupt humour and a vitiated appetite, besides that it disposeth and inclines to lewd and filthy actions: a smutty tongue and unchaste deeds are seldom far asunder, and do very often go together; for filthy talk and lewd practices seem to differ only in the occasion and opportunity; and he that makes no conscience of the one, will hardly stick at the other, when it can be done with secrecy and safety. The law of God forbids both alike, and his eye be holds both; “For there is not a word in my tongue 105(says David, Psal. cxxxix. 4.) but thou, O Lord, knowest it altogether.” So that whatever may deter us from lewd practice (the authority of God forbidding it, or the awe of his presence, who continually stands by us, and hears and sees all that we say and do), is of equal force to restrain us from lewd and filthy words: for they both proceed from the same ill disposition of mind, and are done in equal contempt of the Divine presence and authority.
V. It is uncivil and unmannerly, very disagreeable, and highly displeasing to all sober and modest persons. It is a clownish and rude thing, says Tully, (de Offic. lib. i.) Si rerum turpitudini adhibetur verborum obscænitas: “If to things which are immodest in themselves, we add the obscenity of words.”
Nothing that trespasses upon the modesty of the company, and the decency of conversation, can be come the mouth of a wise and virtuous person. This kind of conversation would fain pass for wit among some sort of persons, to whom it is acceptable; but whatever savours of rudeness, and immodesty, and ill manners, is very far from deserving that name; and they that are sober and virtuous, cannot entertain any discourse of this kind with approbation and acceptance: a well-bred person will never offend in this way; and therefore it cannot but be esteemed as an affront to modest company, and a rude presuming upon their approbation, impudently taking it for granted that all others are as lewd and dissolute as themselves.
This sort of conversation was not only offensive to righteous Lot, but was a perpetual vexation to him, and grieved him at his very heart. So St. 106Peter tells us, (2 Pet. ii. 7, 8.) that Lot was “vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked. For that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds.” “In seeing and hearing;” that is, in seeing their lewd actions, and hearing their filthy talk, his life became a burden to him; and, therefore, God singled him out, and delivered him both from that wicked company, and from that dreadful judgment of fire and brimstone, which came down from heaven upon them, and consumed them with an utter destruction, for an example to all ages, and an admonition to all good men, that they ought to be in like manner affected, as righteous Lot was, with “the filthy conversation of the wicked.”
VI. As by this practice we offend against nature and reason and true morality; so it is likewise a direct contempt and defiance of the Christian religion, which does so strictly forbid, and so severely condemn it in Christians. Our blessed Saviour seems more particularly to censure and condemn this vice, when he says, (Matt. xii. 36.) “That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give an account thereof in the day of judgment.” “Every idle word,” ῥῆμα ἀργὸν, “every vain and unprofitable word,” that no way tends to edification; that is the very lowest sense the words can bear. But then how much more shall we give an account in that day of every lewd word, which tends to corrupt and debauch the minds and manners of men! Some copies have it, ῥῆμα πονηρὸν, “every naughty and wicked word,” every false, and malicious, and calumniating word: “An idle word (says St. Basil) is that which is not for edification, and such 107words shall come under examination in that great assembly of the whole world; and what then (says he) shall be done to words of scurrility, and calumny, and obscenity?”
But that which will best direct us to the meaning of this phrase, is what the Jewish masters observed, that, by an idle word, the Jews did commonly understand immodest and unchaste speech, scurrilous and obscene words. And then it follows, “For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.”
Men are commonly apt to make a very light matter of such words; but because they shew the mind and manners of the man, his inward temper and disposition, therefore men shall be called to a strict account for them in the day of judgment, and be condemned for lewd and dissolute words, as well as for acts of filthiness and uncleanness; because “these come from the heart, and defile the man,” they proceed from an impure spring and fountain; and though we only perceive them to come out of the mouth, yet they proceed “out of the abundance of the heart,” from an evil disposition of mind.
So that our Judge hath expressly warned us of this fault, and declared to us the danger of it. And, therefore, whosoever believes this declaration of our Saviour, and dreads the judgment of the great day, ought to take heed that he offend not with his tongue, in this or any other kind. Men make but little account of such words now, but they shall all be strictly accounted for another day; and what we utter now so freely and without blushing, will then strike us dumb, and be matter of the greatest shame and confusion to us, in the presence of God and his holy angels.108
And so St. Paul, likewise, not only here in the text, does forbid and reprove this practice, when he says, “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth: but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace to the hearers:” but in several other places of his Epistles he most severely condemns it, as utterly misbecoming Christians, and most directly contrary to our most holy profession. (Eph. v. 3, 4.) “But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not once be named among you, as becometh saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient.” Here he forbids all lewd and filthy talk, as utterly misbecoming the conversation of Christians, who should give no occasion to have the vices of this nature so much as once mentioned, much less practised among Christians; let not these things, says he, “be once named among you, as be cometh saints; but rather giving of thanks.” Here he directs us to that which is the proper employment of the tongue, and one of the chief ends of speech; which is to praise and glorify God, and not to dishonour him by lewd and filthy talk. And this he urgeth again, as the proper fruit of our lips: (ver. 20.) “Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
And at the 5th verse of this chapter he appeals to Christians, whether they had not been constantly taught and instructed, that all lewdness and filthiness, not only in act but in word, will certainly shut men out of the kingdom of heaven. “For this (says he,) ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, (referring to those several sorts of uncleanness he had mentioned before; among which is filthy 109and foolish talk) hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ, and of God.” The apostle here speaks to the gentile Christians, who were newly converted from heathenism, and had been accustomed to make slight of these kinds of sin, which were so common among the idolatrous heathen, and part of the worship of their obscene deities: but he tells them that the Christian religion which they had embraced, required another sort of conversation, and did strictly enjoin all manner of purity, both of heart and life, in all our words and actions; and that “as he that hath called us is holy, so we should be holy in all manner of conversation.” And whatever false teachers might insinuate, as if the Christian religion did allow a greater liberty in these things, and made that “a cloak for licentiousness,” hereby “turning the grace of God,” that is, the doctrine of the gospel, “into lasciviousness,” as St. Jude speaks, (ver. 4.) yet they would certainly find things quite otherwise in the issue, and that God, who punished the heathen for these vices, and sent such terrible judgments upon them, would much less let Christians go unpunished, that should be found guilty of them: (Ephes. v. 6.) “Let.no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience;” that is, the heathen world, who continued still in their infidelity, and lived in the practice of those sins; and would fall much more heavily upon Christians, if, after they had embraced this holy religion, they should allow themselves in any of those vile and impure practices, which they had been guilty of before, and which they had so solemnly promised to renounce and put off in their baptism.110
And so likewise, (Coloss. iii. 5-7.) “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: for which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience,” or unbelief; “in the which ye also walked sometime, when ye lived in them;” that is, whilst ye were heathens, and conversed among them, ye practised these vices; “but now,” that is, now that you are become Christians, “put off all these, anger, wrath, malice, evil-speaking, filthy communication.” Ye see that “filthy communication” is reckoned among those sins of the gentiles, which Christians were utterly to quit and forsake, as contrary to the purity of the Christian profession. And so St. Paul tells the Thessalonians; (1 Thess. iv. 7.) “God hath not called us unto uncleanness; but unto holiness.” And he gives the same precept to the Colossians: (chap. iv. 6.) “Let your speech be always with grace,” that is, acceptable and useful, something that is worthy the hearing, “seasoned with salt,” that is with prudence and discretion, which should always govern our speech, and keep it within the bounds of sobriety and modesty. As our talk should not be insipid and foolish, so much less rotten and unsavoury, immodest and lewd.
And in his Epistle to the Philippians, (chap. iv. 8.) he earnestly recommends the virtues that are directly contrary to this vice: “Finally, my brethren, whatsoever things are honest, ὅσα σεμνὰ, whatsoever things are grave or venerable, ὅσα ἁγνὰ, whatsoever things are pure or chaste, think on these things;” that is, have great regard to them in your conversation and behaviour, there being no sort of virtue 111 which the Christian religion does not strictly enjoin and exact from us; and consequently, whatsoever is light and frothy, and much more whatever is lewd and filthy, ought to be banished from the conversation of Christians, as utterly inconsistent with the gravity and purity of that holy profession.
And the same apostle tells us, that all the promises of the gospel are so many arguments and obligations to purity and holiness: (2 Cor. vii. 1.) “Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting,” or practising, “holiness in the fear of God.” And on the contrary, St. John tells us, that all impurity will be an effectual bar to our entrance into heaven; (Rev. xxi. 27.) speaking of the new Jerusalem, he says, “There shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination.” So that, if either the promises or threatenings of the gospel have any influence upon us, they will effectually restrain this vicious practice.
VII. And lastly, All impure and filthy communication grieves the Holy Spirit, and drives him away from us. And therefore, after he had forbidden this vice here in the text, that “no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers;” he immediately adds, “And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed to the day of redemption;” hereby intimating, that all corrupt and filthy communication “grieves the Holy Spirit of God,” that blessed Spirit which is “the seal and earnest of our redemption;” that is, as the apostle himself explains it, of “the redemption of our bodies, from the bondage of corruption,” 112by the resurrection of them to eternal life. For it is the Spirit of God dwelling in us, which shall raise our bodies at the last day, and make them partakers of a blessed immortality. So the apostle says expressly: (Rom. viii. 11.) “But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead, dwell in you; he that raised up Christ from the dead, shall also quicken your mortal bodies, by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.” If we defile our bodies, or any members of them by uncleanness, we “grieve the Spirit of God which dwells in us,” and force him out of his habitation; that blessed Spirit, which should “quicken our mortal bodies,” and is both the earn est and the cause of their resurrection to eternal life. For our bodies, as well as our souls, are “the temples of the Holy Ghost, and the Spirit of God dwells in them;” and we banish him out of his temple whenever we profane it by lewd and filthy speech.
And the apostle useth this argument more than once, to deter Christians more especially from the sins of uncleanness. (1 Cor. iii. 16, 17.) “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy. For the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.” The Holy Spirit of God sanctifieth the place where he more especially resides, and makes it his temple; and so are our bodies as well as our souls; as the same apostle expressly tells us; (chap. vi. ver. 18-20.) where he argues against the sins of uncleanness, which are committed in the body, and by the members and instruments of it, from this consideration, that our bodies are the temples of the Holy Ghost. “Flee fornication,” says he. “Every sin a man doeth, 113is without the body: but he that committeth fornication, sinneth against his own body;” that is, the body is not the immediate instrument of other sins, as it is of those of uncleanness; and then it follows, “What! know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” Under the name of fornication the apostle comprehends all the sins of uncleanness, of which any member of the body is an instrument: so that the lasciviousness of the eye, or ear, or tongue, is a polluting and profaning this temple of God, and drives the Holy Spirit of God out of his possession.
And whenever the Spirit of God departs from us, we cease to be the children of God, and forfeit the earnest of our eternal inheritance. “Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ,” says the same apostle, (Rom. viii. 8, 9.) “he is none of his;” that is, he does not belong to him; in plain English, he is no Christian. So that, as we would not forfeit the title of Christians, and the blessed hope of a glorious resurrection, we must be very careful that “no corrupt communication proceed out of our mouth,” lest hereby we “grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by which we are sealed unto the day of redemption.”
I have now done with this argument, and what I have said concerning immodest and unchaste words, is of equal force against lascivious books, and pictures, and plays; all which do alike intrench upon natural modesty, and for that reason are equally forbidden and condemned by the Christian religion; and therefore it may suffice to have named them. I 114shall only speak a few words concerning plays, which, as they are now ordered among us, are a mighty reproach to the age and nation.
To speak against them in general, may be thought too severe, and that which the present age cannot so well brook, and would not perhaps be so just and reasonable; because it is very possible, they might be so framed, and governed by such rules, as not only to be innocently diverting, but instructing and useful, to put some vices and follies out of countenance, which cannot perhaps be so decently reproved, nor so effectually exposed and corrected any other way. But as the stage now is, they are intolerable, and not fit to be permitted in a civilized, much less in a Christian nation. They do most notoriously minister both to infidelity and vice. By the profaneness of them, they are apt to instil bad principles into the minds of men, and to lessen the awe and reverence which all men ought to have for God and religion: and by their lewdness they teach vice, and are apt to infect the minds of men, and dispose them to lewd and dissolute practices.
And therefore I do not see, how any person, pretending to sobriety and virtue, and especially to the pure and holy religion of our blessed Saviour, can, without great guilt, and open contradiction to his holy profession, be present at such lewd and immodest plays, much less frequent them, as too many do, who yet would take it very ill to be shut out of the communion of Christians, as they would most certainly have been in the first and purest ages of Christianity.
To conclude this whole discourse: Let us always remember, that gravity and modesty in all our behaviour 115and conversation, in all our words and actions, are duties indispensably required by the Christian religion, and the great fences of piety and virtue, and therefore ought with great conscience and care to be preserved and kept inviolable: and when these fences are once broken down, there is a wide gap made for almost any sin and vice to enter in. Immodest words do naturally tend to “corrupt good manners,” both in ourselves and others.
There is none of us, but would reckon it a very great infelicity to be deprived of that noble and useful faculty of speech, which is so peculiar to man, and which, next to our reason and understanding, doth most remarkably distinguish us from the brute beasts: but it is a much greater unhappiness to have this faculty, and to abuse it to vile and lewd purposes. The first may be only our misfortune: but this can never be without great fault, and gross neglect of ourselves; and much better had it been for us to have been born dumb, than thus “to turn our glory into shame” and guilt, by perverting this excellent gift of God, to the corrupting ourselves and others.
This I hope may be sufficient to restrain men from this vice, which I have all this while been speaking against; at least to preserve those which are not yet infected from the contagion of it; and I hope to reclaim many from so bad a practice. And if any be so hardened in their lewd course, that no counsel of this kind can make impression on them, what remains, but to conclude in the words of the angel to St. John, (Rev. xxii. 11.) “He that is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still!”116
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