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whole Scripture tells us, that not every wilful sin is certainly unto death: and our Saviour in the text hath told us, that only the blasphemy, the malicious evil speaking, against the Holy Ghost is such. Now they who believe in the Father and the Son cannot surely think ill either of the person or the operations of the Spirit; and therefore cannot be ordinarily tempted to speak ill of them, with any real meaning of what they say: and unmeaning profane expressions, though undoubtedly very full of guilt, and likely to produce more and greater guilt, are yet far from that most abandoned wickedness, to which the passage before us relates.
Sometimes indeed Christians, and very good ones, may accuse themselves of having entertained irreverent thoughts, and, it may be, spoken irreverent words of religion, of the Scriptures, of the Holy Spirit himself: but this hath been, when they were under so peculiar a disturbance of mind, that they had not the command of their thoughts or words : and then they may be absolutely sure, that the allknowing, just, and good God will not consider these offences, as, in a moral sense, theirs. In some disorders, it is no more possible for men to hinder wicked thoughts from taking possession of their minds, or blasphemous words from coming out of their mouths, than to hinder any other distemper, (for plainly this is one) which may attack any other part of them, from shewing itself by its common effects. And it is no more a crime, when they are in such a condition, to utter things even against God; than it is for a child, in convulsions or light-headed, to strike its parent. And though they may not think themselves disordered, and in other respects may not be so; yet in this want of self-government, proportionably to
the degree of it, they certainly are. And it makes no difference at all with regard to their innocence, whether the disorder be a natural bodily one, affecting the mind; which is notoriously the common case, though attended sometimes with very unaccountable symptoms; or whether it arise from the suggestions of the wicked one. For as he tempted Christ himself, so he hath ever since molested Christians; and often suggested the worst of things to the best of men. Our words indeed, notwithstanding such temptations, we may
for the most part restrain: but we can by no means always prevent impressions being made on our imaginations: and how strongly soever any one may experience them to be made on his, still the wicked thoughts, which he laments all the while, is terrified at, and almost in agonies about, certainly do not proceed from his own will and choice; and for that reason, far from being unpardonable sins, they are in truth no sins at all; but grievous afflictions, for which God will hereafter reward him, if he endeavours to suffer them patiently. This you would immediately perceive, and say, in the case of any other person : and therefore, when occasion requires, you should say it to yourself. But if you cannot, or if it proves to no great purpose, nay to so little that you are driven to the very borders of despair, yet despair itself, so far as it is a mere disease, is not an offence against God.
But then, how remote soever we are from committing the sin, which cannot be pardoned; we may too easily commit such, as will not be pardoned: for none will, without true repentance. And every transgression either invites or drives us into repeated and worse transgressions, which insensibly so harden us through their deceitfulness *, that though, while the
• Heb, ii, 13.
day of salvation * continues, we always may repent, it becomes less and less likely, that we ever shall. And even if we do, we shall, notwithstanding, even in this world, usually be great sufferers one way or another: and, unless we become uncommonly zealous in our duty, shall attain a much lower degree of happiness in the next. Bear in your minds therefore the Son of Sirach's words: Flee from sin, as from the face of a serpent : for if thou comest too near it, it will bite thee : the teeth thereof are as the teeth of a lion, slaying the souls of men. All iniquity is as a two edged sword, the wounds whereof cannot be healed t: cannot be healed at all, without danger and difficulty and pain; nor so perfectly at best, but that still either weakness, or scars and deformities however, will be left behind. Let us therefore carefully avoid all sin : but particularly avoid all sins relating to the Holy Ghost, and practise all duties relating to him: that so, abiding in his fellowship, being supported by his testimony, and rejoicing in his comfort, we may at length be sealed with the spirit of promise, the earnest of that inheritance I, to which, &c.
• 2 Cor, vi. 2. + Eccles. xxi. 2, 3. | Eph. i. 13, 14.
MATTH. 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. Our blessed Saviour, whenever his hearers were persons of well-disposed minds, and free from prejudices, taught them the duties of religion in the plainest terms. But length of time, and difference of language, have made some of his expressions, even on such occasions, hard to be understood, or liable to be misunderstood : and hence, unless we are both upright and considerate, may arise mistakes of great importance. For if we interpret these passages with too much indulgence to ourselves, as human nature is very prone to do, we corrupt the purity of his precepts, and endanger our own salvation: first aiming at less than we ought, then of course falling short of that. And yet the opposite extreme, of straining them too high, hath seldom done good, and often harm: hath deterred weak spirits from taking the burthen of religion upon them, entangled scrupulous tempers with endless perplexities, and made rigid ones uncharitable and superstitious : given the enemies of Christianity opportunities of declaiming against it, as unnaturally severe; and tempted the careless professors of it, after rejecting, as they well might, the over-strict sense of such phrases, not to take the pains of looking for any other; but go on, unrestrained by them, to live as they please.
Thus it hath happened in relation to the text of Scripture, which I have just read to you. Some few, understanding by every idle word, every needless or trifling one; and by giving account, being condemned; have either forced themselves to an absurd reservedness and silence in company, or been very uneasy, that they were unable to do it; while the profane have ridiculed both them and the Gospel, on that account. But the generality of mankind, soon perceiving, that this could not be the meaning of the words, have never concerned themselves to inquire what was; but have freely taken all the same libertie in discourse, as if no such warning had ever been given by our blessed Lord.
Now that he was far from the intention of laying down unsociable rules for behaviour, his whole character sufficiently shews; which was in no respect harsh and austere, but humane and conversible. The whole temper of his religion proves it yet more fully : it is an easy yoke*; it enjoins whatsoever things are lovely and of good report t: it enjoins particularly, being courteous I; of which being affable is a material part: and this can never consist with disapproving, as unlawful, every word that might have been spared. Discourse on subjects of little or no importance is as necessary, at times, for the relaxation of our minds, as exercise without business for the refreshment of our bodies. It is a proper exertion of that chearfulness, which God hath plainly designed us to shew, on small occasions, as well as great. Besides, it wins and engages those, whom speechless or sententious gravity might not only displease, but prepossess against every thing good: wherèas observing, even in slight matters, the Apostle's rule, of Matth. xi. 30.
Phil. iv. 8." # 1 Pet. ii. 3. VOL. I.