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BY THY WORDS ACQUITTED; BY THY WORDS CONDEMNED
“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. But I say unto you, that every idle [unprofitable or pernicious] word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof on a day of judgment. For by thy words thou wilt be acquitted, and by thy words thou wilt be condemned.”—Matt. 12:34-37.
REALIZING that we, the Church, are at the present time under the inspection of our kingly Bridegroom, who is now present (Matt. 22:11) to gather out of his Kingdom [in its present embryo or formative condition] all things that offend” (Matt. 13:41), and to gather unto himself his jewels, his bride (Mal. 3:17), we cannot too carefully consider the principles upon which this judgment and this selection are made.
The above words of our Lord indicate that the heart and the mouth are under very special scrutiny, the former representing the individual character, and the latter being an index of the character. It is in this same view of the matter that those words of wisdom were penned,—”Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life. Put away from thee a froward mouth, and perverse lips put far from thee.” (Prov. 4:23,24.) The indication is clear that a right condition of heart is necessary to right words; for “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh,” as experience testifies to every man. It is therefore just that our words should be a criterion of judgment in the Lord’s estimation, as he tells us they are. True, honied words are sometimes only the masks of deep hypocrisy; but the mask is sure to drop off some time, as soon as selfish policy renders a change of tactics necessary. The fact therefore remains that the words, the entire course of conversation and conduct, are an index of the heart.
Our first concern, then, should be for the heart—that its affections and dispositions may be fully under the control of divine grace; that every principle of truth and righteousness may be enthroned there; that justice, mercy, benevolence, brotherly kindness, love, faith, meekness, temperance, supreme reverence for God and Christ, and a fervent love for all the beauties of holiness, may be firmly fixed as the governing principles of life. If these principles be fixed, established, in the heart, then out of the good treasure of the heart the mouth will speak forth words of truth, soberness, wisdom and grace.
Concerning our Lord Jesus, whose heart was perfect—in whom was no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth, it was said, “Grace is poured into thy lips;” and again, “All bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words that proceeded out of his mouth.” (Psa. 45:2; Luke 4:22.) Moses, personating Christ, foretold the blessed influences of the Lord’s words, saying, “My doctrine shall drop as the rain; my speech shall distil as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass.” (Deut. 32:2.) And Jesus said, “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life.”
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(John 6:63.) So wise, just and true were the Lord’s words, that, though his enemies were continually seeking to find some fault, it is said, “They could not take hold of his words before the people; and they marveled at his answers and held their peace.” (Luke 20:26.) And others said, “Never man spake like this man.”—John 7:46.
Thus our Lord left a worthy example to his people, which the Apostle urges all to follow, saying, “Let your speech be always with grace [with manifest love and kindness], seasoned with salt [a purifying and preservative influence].” (Col. 4:6.) And Peter adds, “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God,”—wisely, and in accordance with the spirit and Word of the Lord. Again, it is written, “Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile [deceit].” “Whoso keepeth his mouth and his tongue, keepeth his soul from troubles.” “The words of a wise man’s mouth are gracious words: but the lips of a fool [an unwise, reckless talker] will swallow up himself. The beginning of the words of his mouth is foolishness, and the end of his talk is mischievous madness.” “Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thy heart be hasty to utter any thing before God; for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few.”—Psa. 34:13; Prov. 21:23; Eccl. 10:12,13; 5:2.
Job, in the midst of all his afflictions, was very careful not to sin with his lips. (Job 2:10; 31:30; 1:21,22.) He knew that his words would be taken by the Lord as an index of his heart, and he was careful to keep both the heart and the words right, saying, “What! shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil [calamities, troubles—for discipline or refining]? … The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” There was no spirit of rebellion in a heart out of whose abundance came such words of loving submission, patience and faith under severe testings, and that, too, without a clear apprehension of the divine wisdom in permitting them.
The Psalmist puts into the mouth of God’s consecrated and tried people these words of firm resolution:—”I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue. I will keep my mouth with a bridle, while the wicked [who tempts and tries the righteous] is before me.”—Psa. 39:1.
How necessary to the stability of Christian character is such a resolution, and the self control which develops under a firm adherence to it. In an unfriendly world we can expect to receive only the reproaches of our Master; for the servant is not above his Lord. The world, the flesh and the devil oppose our way: there are fightings within and fears without, and many are the arrows and fiery darts aimed at the righteous. But what is the safe attitude of the soul under afflictions and severe testings? Is it not in silence before God, waiting and watching first to see his leading, his will, in every matter before presuming to touch things that often involve so much? So the Psalmist suggests, saying, “I was dumb with silence: I held my peace, even from good [even from doing or saying what seemed good in my own sight]; and my sorrow was stirred. My heart was hot within me, and in my self-communing there burnt a fire [description of a fiery trial]. Then spake I with my tongue”—not to the revilers, nor to others, but to the Lord.
Yes, it is always our blessed privilege to carry our sorrows and vexations to the Lord;
“For he knows
How to steal the bitter from life’s woes.”
He does it, as the Psalmist suggests (vs. 4-6), by showing us, through experience, the vanity of all earthly things and their utter inability to satisfy the soul’s cravings, or to comfort the wounded spirit. Then comes the thought that the present life, with its cares, vexations and sorrows is passing away, that our days are but as a handbreadth, and however vexing our experiences, they will soon be over; and if we permit them to do so they will only work out in us the peaceable fruits of righteousness, and develop in us strong and noble characters, disciplined to thorough self-control, thoughtful consideration, patient endurance of affliction and loving loyalty and faithfulness and trust in God. Then the assurances of the blessed rewards of righteousness in the life to come begin to have a new and deeper significance, and we are made to realize that this is not our continuing city, but we seek one to come. Thus the heart is separated from earthly things, and made to realize the superior worth of heavenly things. Nothing but the Lord himself can satisfy the longings of the soul, which, tempest-tossed and tried, comes to realize—
“How vain is all beneath the skies,
How transient every earthly bliss,
How slender all the fondest ties,
That bind me to a world like this!”
Thus chastened and comforted, we learn to look beyond the present to the glory that shall by and by be revealed in the faithful overcomers, who, by patient continuance in well-doing in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, seek for the prize revealed to faith alone. Thus disciplined and blessed under fiery trials by going to the Lord for comfort and help, the child of God begins to realize what it means to be dead to the world and alive toward God, with a keen appreciation of his love and goodness and grace; and being thus separated from the world, and more firmly united to Christ, the language of the heart is, as the Psalmist further suggests, “And now, Lord, what wait I for? my hope is in thee.” (Vs. 7.) Thus
“E’en sorrow, touched by heaven, grows bright
With more than rapture’s ray,
As darkness shows us worlds of light
We never saw by day.”
Such is the blessed result of bridling the tongue under circumstances of trial and vexation, and humbly taking all our cares to the Lord in prayer, to the end that, when we speak, our speech may be with grace, seasoned with salt,
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and that under all circumstances we may speak as the
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oracles of God.
Considering our Lord’s words above quoted—that we must give an account for “every idle [unprofitable or pernicious] word”—in view of the fact that the present is our (the Church’s) judgment day, we see what great importance attaches to our words. All our words are taken by the Lord as an index of our hearts. If our words are rebellious, or disloyal, or frivolous, or flippant, or unkind, unthankful, unholy or impure, the heart is judged accordingly, on the principle that, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” Thus our words, in all the varied circumstances of our daily life, are bearing testimony continually before God of the condition of our hearts. So our Lord’s words imply: and in this view of the case how timely is the admonition,—”Be not rash with thy mouth; and let not thy heart be hasty to utter anything before God [And remember that “all things are naked and opened to the eyes of him with whom we have to do.”—Heb. 4:13]; for God [our Judge] is in heaven [upon the throne], and thou upon earth [under trial before the bar of God]: therefore let thy words be few.” Let them be thoughtful and wise, as uttered before God, and not rash, hasty and illy considered.
Again, in harmony with the Lord’s statement of the responsibility incurred by our words, it is also written, “He that keepeth his mouth, keepeth his life: but he that openeth wide his lips shall have destruction.” (Prov. 13:3.) What a fearful responsibility attaches to the tongue that wags in an evil, or even in a flippant, way, which is also dishonoring to God! And how necessary is the injunction of the Apostle Peter, “Be sober and watch unto prayer!”—1 Pet. 4:7; 1:13; 5:8.
The Psalmist puts this prayer into the lips of all who feel this responsibility, “Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth: keep a guard at the door of my lips. Permit not my heart to incline after any evil thing.” “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.” “My lips shall utter praise when thou hast taught me thy statutes. My tongue shall speak of thy word; for all thy commandments are righteousness. Let thy hand help me; for I have chosen thy precepts. I have longed for thy salvation [from all sin, and for the perfection and beauty of holiness], O Lord; and thy law is my delight.”—Psa. 141:3,4; 19:14; 119:171-174.
That, as imperfect beings, we may always be perfect in word and deed is not possible. Despite our best endeavors we will sometimes err in word as well as in deed, yet the perfect mastery of our words and ways is the thing to be sought by vigilant and faithful effort. But, nevertheless, for every idle word we must give an account in this our day of judgment. If, in the daily scrutiny of our ways, which is the duty of every Christian, we discover that in any particular our words have been dishonoring to the Lord, we should remember that, “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1); and in the name of our Advocate we may approach the throne of grace, explain to our Heavenly Father our realization of the error, our deep regret at our failure to honor his name and his cause by a holy walk and conversation, and humbly request that the sin be not laid to our charge, but that it may be blotted out through his gracious provision for our cleansing through Christ, humbly claiming that in his precious blood is all our hope and trust.
Thus we should render up our account for every idle word; and by our words of repentance, supplemented by the merits of Christ applied by faith, shall we be acquitted. Otherwise the idle words, dishonoring to the Lord, will stand against us and condemn us, and we will be obliged to suffer the consequences. The first consequence will be self-injury, for every evil thought or word indulged hardens the character and inclines it the more toward unrighteousness. The second consequence is a bad example to others, and the stirring up of evil in them. “A soft answer turneth away wrath, but grievous words stir up anger.” (Prov. 15:1.) Thus, as the result of unwise or unkind words, we may stir up about us difficulties which will become the agents of retributive justice to teach us the lesson of self-control, and consideration for the feelings and opinions of others. It is often the case that the Lord (or the devil) is blamed for sending trials which are simply the natural results of our own mistakes. And those who fail to locate the root of the trouble (in themselves) pray in vain for the Lord to remove miraculously what they themselves could obviate by obedience to the Word, and vigorous self-discipline. “If we would judge [and correct] ourselves, we should not be judged; but when we are judged we are chastened of the Lord [largely by the experiences through which our own faults put us], that we should not be condemned with the world.” (1 Cor. 11:31,32.) But even should it be admitted that the difficulties are not directly caused by God, or the devil (“Every man is tempted [tried] when he is drawn away of his own lusts [desires] and enticed”), the natural tendency is to blame the matter on some one else, and to think that our loss of patience, our hasty word or act was the fault of another. How many deceive and encourage themselves with the thought: “If every body else had as reasonable and generous a nature as I have our family or church gathering or community would be a veritable heaven upon earth!” Beloved, let us examine ourselves, let us be very humble, lest the very words of self-congratulation and self-satisfaction which we consider in our hearts (if we do not utter them aloud) bring our condemnation. “If ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them. And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye [what merit is there in it]?” (Luke 6:33-38.) It is only when we “endure grief, suffering wrongfully,” that our suffering is acceptable to God as a sacrifice of sweet
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incense. “What glory is it if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God; for even hereunto were ye called.” (1 Pet. 2:19-21.) Beloved, let us see to it that our sufferings are for righteousness’ sake only, and let us not charge God or our neighbors for tribulations resulting from the indulgence of our inherited or cultivated faults.
“In many things we are all faulty. If any one does not err in word, he is a perfect man, able to control the whole body.” (Jas. 3:2.) But such a man does not exist. We all need and must continually plead the merit of our Redeemer and Advocate, while we strive daily to bring every thought into captivity to the will of Christ, and to perfect holiness in the fear (reverence) of the Lord.
In view of this fact, which we trust all of the Lord’s people will endeavor more and more fully to realize, viz., that we now stand before the bar of judgment, we inquire, in the words of Peter, “What manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness?” God-likeness certainly cannot include any harmful gossip, any unclean or unholy conversation, any disloyal or rebellious words. Let such things be put far away from all who name the name of Christ in sincerity and truth. And let us remember daily to settle our accounts with the Lord, to make sure that no record of idle words, unrepented of, and consequently unforgiven, stands against us. “Let your conversation be as becometh the gospel of Christ.” “Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” Thus out of the good treasure of the heart we shall be able to speak the words of truth and soberness, to honor our Lord by a godly walk and conversation, to subdue the evil tendencies of our fallen nature, and to have our conversation “honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evil doers, they may, by your good works which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.”—Phil. 1:27; 4:8; 1 Pet. 2:12.
If daily we render up our accounts to God and seek his grace for greater overcoming power with each succeeding day, we shall be acquitted in judgment and stand approved before God through Christ, having the testimony of his holy spirit with our spirits that we are pleasing and acceptable to him.
— February 15, 1896 —