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ing a fresh comparison, taken from himself, considered as a person of perfect character.
To speak evil of me, a person of such excellent temper and unblameable behaviour, is indeed an offence of no small magnitude; but it is of a trivial nature, when compared with that of reviling the Divine Being himself
, by attributing his works to a malevolent author. This is an instance of wickedness which can with much greater difficulty be pardoned, either in this world or in that which is to come. The language of Christ upon this occasion is a strong way of expressing how difficult it is for such a sinner to obtain pardon.
The Jews spoke against Christ, as the son of man, when they threw out insinuations against his moral character, saying, “Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber; a friend of publicans and sinners;” and when they charged him with perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Cæsar: but when they misrepresented his miraculous powers, it was not him but God that they traduced.
33. Either make the tree good, and his fruit good, or else make the tree corrupt, ““ bad,” and his fruit bad: for the tree is known by his fruit.
The meaning of which is, Since you cannot but acknowledge that to cast out dæmons is good fruit, you ouginto acknowledge that the tree which produced it is a good tree; or, if you deny that, you ought to say. that to cast out dæmons is bad fruit, which is too absurd to be maintained.
Thus you ought to reason, if you would be consistent: for the fruit always takes the quality of the tree. In this manner Christ endeavours to make the Pharisees acknowledge the divine origin of his doctrine, from their own concessions; or to expose their folly and inconsistency in rejecting it as bad.
34. O generation of vipers, “O brood of vipers," how can ye, being evil,
speak good things ? for out of the. abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.
Take an example, says Christ, of the truth of the observation which I have just made, from yourselves: for since you are wicked at your hearts, we perceive that what you say is wicked; neither can it be otherwise: for the disposition, however concealed, will easily express itself by external actions. The impossibility here spoken of is that which arises from the force of bad habit, and is of the same nature with that which is spoken of by the prophet Jeremiah, when he says, the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye, who have been accustomed to do evil, learn to do well."
Bad men may sometimes say good things: Christ, however, is not here speaking of one or two instances, but of the general practice of those whose hearts are corrupt.
35. A good man, out of the good treasure, rather, “ treasury,” of the heart, bringeth forth good things; and an evil man, out of the evil treasury, bringeth forth evil things.
The source of evil words and actions is an evil heart, with which they correspond as naturally and necessarily, as the contents of a treasury must correspond with the character which it bears.
36. But I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give an account thereof in the day of judgment.
By idle word, Christ does not mean that which is triling or indifferent; but that which is false or inj urious; such as those speeches which the Pharisees had made respecting his miracles. Idle seems to be used here in the same manner as vain is by the Hebrews, who by vain words mean lying words.
In the language of Scripture, as well as in that of other authors, more is frequently implied than is expressed. Thus, Prov. xviii. 5. it is said to be " not good,” to accept the person of the wicked; by which is meant, that it is bad; and Ephes. v. 11. the works of wickedness are called "unfruitful,” when the idea intended to be conveyed by that term is that they are pernicious. So, here, words are called idle which are in reality false, malevolent and injurious. Of those which in any degree bear that character, men must give an account; how much more, Christ intimates, of such wicked calumnies as the Pharisees had just been uttering!
37. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.
By your words you may be acquitted or condemned. If other facts should be wanting, these will afford evidence sufficient for your conviction.
38. Then certain of the Scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee.
A sign is frequently used for any kind of miracle, of whatever nature it might be. But in this instance it seems to be employed for something different from the miraculous cure of diseases; something more excellent and striking; many examples of this these Pharisees had seen from Jesus; but with these they were not satisfied. Moses had given them manna from heaven; Samuel had produced thunder and hail; Elijah had sent down fire and rain; some miracle of this nature the Pharisees probably required: for in the sixteenth chapter of this gospel, the same persons ask him for a sign froin heaven. They might pretend that there was room for imposture, in regard to the miracles performed on the earth; but that to the heavens the art of man did not reach. “If thou be the Messiah, shew that thou hast not less power than former prophets.". This they said not with a view to have their faith in him established, but that they might have an opportunity of objecting to him. If he had exhibited what they desired, they would still have found out some objection; pretending, either that by some deception of the sight, that which appeared to them did not really exist; or that the great distance prevented them from making distinct observation; or assigning some other reason for rejecting his miracles. To which may be added that terrible signs suited the severity of the law, but beneficent ones, the person of the Messiah.
39. But he answered and said to them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas.
By an adulterous generation, Christ meant such as had departed from the law of God, by setting up their traditions in the place of it, or in addition to it. This is here called adultery; in the Old Testament that term is applied to those Israelites who forsook the worship of the true God, for that of idols; but it is generally supposed that they were no longer addicted to this sin, after the Babylonish captivity, their sufferings at that period having cured them of an inclination to it. Others, however, have maintained that idolatrous rites were still practised by many in secret, although not publicly; and that Christ here refers to something of this kind. This opinion seems to be countenanced by the sentiments entertained by the Jews respecting dæmons, which, it is well known, they borrowed from the heathens*.
With respect to the wickedness of the Jews, we have the testimony of one of their own authors, Josephus; who, in speaking of the destruction of their state, says, that as no nation ever suffered such things, so no nation was ever more wicked than that. Such
* Dodson on Isaiah, pp. 156–161.
profligate men had no reason to expect any greater or more excellent miracles than those which Christ had already given, by the miraculous cure of diseases. Yet he says that they should be favoured with one of this kind, not indeed from heaven, but from the bowels of the earth, which bore a considerable resemblance to that of the prophet Jonah.
40. For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
The heart of the earth is a Jewish phrase for the earth. Thus Tyre is said to be in the heart of the sea, when it was situated on an island, a short distance from the land, Christ here refers to his resurrection from the dead; but it is not likely that the Pharisees or his disciples understood what he meant: this instance, therefore, may serve to shew that our Lord adopted language which he did not expect his followers to un derstand at the time, but which he knew would become intelligible to them after his resurrection; or when their minds were more enlightened.
1. From what has been said, we may learn that cal mny or evil speaking is no light offence against God: fer every word of this kind we shall be called to give an account, and this alone, without any other crime, will be sufficient to procure our condemnation. Christ, in