Matthew 12:36
But I tell you that men will give an account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.
Accounts for EternityMatthew 12:36
Cheerful Words not IdleA. Watson, D. D.Matthew 12:36
Christianity Judged by its WordsClement Bailhache.Matthew 12:36
Conversation Pleasurable Though not ProfoundH. W. Beecher., T. Sherlock, D. D.Matthew 12:36
Conversation with GraceMatthew Henry.Matthew 12:36
Evil Will not Conspire Against ItselfA. Watson, D. D.Matthew 12:36
Faith and WorksH. Melvill, M. A.Matthew 12:36
Idle WordsA. Watson, D. D.Matthew 12:36
Idle WordsH. W. Beecher.Matthew 12:36
Idle WordsH. Melvill, B. D.Matthew 12:36
Idle WordsN. Lardner.Matthew 12:36
Innocent TalkJ. H. Norton.Matthew 12:36
Language a Heart ReflectorH. Melvill, B. D.Matthew 12:36
Language Too Good to be AbusedH. Melvill, B. D.Matthew 12:36
Language Too Sacred to be ProfanedH. Melvill, B. D.Matthew 12:36
Little Agencies DestructiveO. Feltham.Matthew 12:36
Our Words to Justify, or CondemnJ. H. Norton.Matthew 12:36
Slanderous WordsJ. H. Norton.Matthew 12:36
Speech Without WordsF. W. Robertson, M. A.Matthew 12:36
Talking of Religion Without Possessing ItH. Melvill, M. A.Matthew 12:36
The Eternal Influence of Idle WordsDr. Thomas.Matthew 12:36
The Reflex Influence of Idle WordsDr. Thomas.Matthew 12:36
Unconscious InfluenceClement Bailhache.Matthew 12:36
Words that Dispel GloomH. W. Beecher.Matthew 12:36
Words Without InterestJ. Ford.Matthew 12:36
Casting Out Devils, and Blasphemy Against the Holy GhostMarcus Dods Matthew 12:22-37
The Bathos of Detracting BlasphemyP.C. Barker Matthew 12:22-37
The Heart in the TongueJ.A. Macdonald Matthew 12:33-37

Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. It is in our Lord's mind here to account for the bad speech of the Pharisees. It was the natural expression of bad minds, minds full of prejudice and malice. How could they, "being evil, speak good things"? But a great principle is involved in our Lord's appeal.

I. WORDS MAY BE MERE WORDS. Our Lord calls them "idle words." Much that we say we have not really thought. We often speak first and think last. And such idle words, though they do not express our real selves, often make sad mischief. Words glibly pass our tongues, and we forget them the moment after they are uttered, but they are as scorpion-stings to those who hear; they light up fires like the fires of hell. Therefore Christ warns so severely against words that have no thought and no heart behind them, and yet do their fatal work, saying, "For every idle word that man shall speak, he shall give account in the day of judgment." The first law of good speech is - think before you speak.

II. WORDS MAY UTTER A BAD HEART. The skill of life is keeping bad thoughts from gaining utterance. At the most, they only injure one person if they are kept from utterance. There is no knowing how many they may injure if they get expressed. These Pharisees had bad enough thoughts concerning Christ. If they had kept them to themselves, they would only have ruined themselves. Speaking their thought out, they started evil in other minds; words were agencies for communicating thought to thought; so the mischief ran, other souls were blocked against Christ, and his redeeming work was hindered in men.

III. WORDS MAY UTTER A GOOD HEART. Think pure things, and you need not restrain utterance; you will find pure words. Think kind things, trustful things, God-honouring things, and then, out of the abundance of the heart, the lips may freely speak. What you say will not be "idle things" with nothing behind them; nor will they be evil things with malice behind them. Let God make the soul-fountains of thought and heart fresh and sweet by his Holy Spirit's regenerating and sanctifying, and there need be no fear - our speech will be good speech, "seasoned with salt." - R.T.

That every idle word.
The Pharisees bad said, "This fellow doth not east out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils." Christ meets this objection in two ways.

I. He shows its UNREASONABLENESS. It is against experience that any power, good or bad, consciously seeks its own destruction. The powers of evil and of good are distinct, and each power is ready to defend itself.

II. He condemns THE SPIRIT IN WHICH IT WAS MADE, and brings out the serious nature of the sin it involved. Why did Christ warn them against this dangerous sin? Not because of any act unmistakably wicked and cruel, but because they called evil good, and good evil, confounding the two, and this from dislike to the truth when it reflected on themselves. There lay the danger; and there it lies still. The essence of sin is being out of sympathy with goodness.

(A. Watson, D. D.)

Just as it can be shown in nature that the law of gravitation in a drop of water is the same law which binds the planets in their courses in the distant heavens, and the same law which reigns through the whole universe of matter; so the law which binds goodness to goodness, or which draws evil to evil, in the instinctive feeling that they are in themselves one, is a law which holds good in the visible and invisible worlds. The powers of evil — so far as they know one another — are all under one great power, and they will not conspire consciously against themselves.

(A. Watson, D. D.)

They are words that issue out of a condition of idleness.

1. Tattling. Tattling dims the charity of the charitable mind as a spider dims the light of a window, spinning his web over it.

2. Tale-bearing.

3. "Slang" conversation. Slang is to language what profanity is to reverence.

4. Boasting.

5. Swearing.

(H. W. Beecher.)

A child that is in trouble in the nurse's arms is sung to; some little song, the whole of which does not give a single solitary particle of meaning; but the movement of it, and the various associations that are connected with it, charm the child away from tears, and make him happier.

(H. W. Beecher.)

I think no musical instrument in the world is like the utterance of speech in one whose voice is well trained, whose mind is rich with emotion, and who is accustomed to describe in graceful and appropriate language one's own experience in life. The conversation that flows in the quietude of a family, like the tinkling of a brook under the shadow of green trees; the conversation that flows like a river whose banks are efflorescent, and which holds its way deep and tranquil — such conversation may become a habit, not only in the sense of not being hurtful but in the sense of having a beauty which is pleasurable.

(H. W. Beecher.)


1. By idle words we may understand such words as proceed from vanity or deceit, which comprehend the pretences and plausible speeches of the cunning, and the empty boastings of the vain-glorious man.

2. Idle words may comprehend the reports of envy and malice, by which our neighbour suffers in credit or reputation.

3. Idle words may imply such as are the product of a loose and idle mind, such as represent the impure conceptions of a mind polluted with lust.

4. By idle words we may understand useless and insignificant words which are spent to no great end or purpose, either good or bad.


1. He descends from the greater to the less evils of speech; from blasphemy to the other evils which are generated in the heart, and from thence derived to the tongue — "Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders," etc. Not only these but idle words will be punished. Jesting does not become the gospel.

III. THE END AND DESIGN OF SPEECH, which is the gift of God to mankind. If we use our speech to serve any purpose contrary to the end designed by God, we abuse His gift and must answer for it.

1. Speech was given for the communication of our thoughts to each other, yet all our thoughts are not to be brought into conversation.

2. The wants and necessities of nature call for our help, and as these subjects must employ great part of our thoughts, so likewise of our speech, for we cannot live without mutual aid.

3. Further, God has made us to delight in each other's company, hence it is lawful to employ speech for improving mutual love and friendship. Men may talk of many subjects which have no present instruction, Yet they may serve this end.

4. Consider the different degrees of sense and understanding that men are endowed with. The tongue cannot speak better than the understanding can conceive. Must not despise the conversation of weaker men.

(T. Sherlock, D. D.)

Many imagine that this sin is too insignificant to be remembered at a moment when the vast things of eternity shall be waiting the allotment of the Judge. It cannot be a small thing to disobey God, though it may be a small thing in which I disobey Him. We maintain that sins of the tongue, if compared with other sins, should be regarded as aggravated, rather than trivial. David speaks of the tongue as of the best member which he had. And never should it be forgotten that language is not a human invention; men left to themselves could not have arranged such a system for communicating their thoughts one to the other. There was silence in creation till man was made with the faculty of expressing what he felt, and creation thrilled at the melody of speech.

1. We ought to consider the faculty of speech, how eminent its power, before we marvel at the criminality attached to its abuse. Every one condemns the prostitution of reason, because it is a high attribute; but "what is language but reason walking abroad? Can it be a light thing to use the tongue against God, and dishonouring Him through that whence He looked for His chief glory?

2. If these remarks prove the " idle word" so criminal that of itself it might justly procure the condemnation of the speaker, they will also prove that our conversation may evidence whether or no we have justifying faith. St. James makes the power of the tongue equivalent to power over the whole man. He who is master of his chief faculty is little likely to be the slave of an inferior. It is true that no sin is more easily committed than one of the tongue; hence the non-commission of it is a high attainment. It is just because the thing may be so easily done, that the not doing it marks singular power and vigilance. But this is evidence from their being no idle words; there may be positive as well as negative witness, "the witness of what is uttered as well as of what is repressed. If it be true that " out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh," we may confidently reckon that where there is genuine piety it will give tone to the conversation. "With the mouth confession is made unto salvation." Hence there is a high duty to be performed by the tongue. Therefore, whilst we admit that faith is the instrument of justification, we can understand why words, which are the confession of Christ before men, should be given as securing salvation. They are but faith embodied. It was to a particular description of idle words that our Lord had respect — scoffing words. What helps our laughter will soon lose our reverence.

(H. Melvill, B. D.)

Language is so curious, so costly a gift, so impregnate with Deity, so vast in empire, that to misuse it, though in the least particular, may be likened to sacrilege, the profanation of an august and infinite mystery.

(H. Melvill, B. D.)

It is grievous, for example, to think of God irreverently: the soul should be His sanctuary: and to profane Him there, is to aggravate the contempt by offering it at the shrine which He reared for Himself. But it is yet more grievous to speak of Him irreverently. This is worse than dishonouring Him at the secret shrine: this is taking the material of His costliest temple — for is it not said, that He " inhabiteth the praises of Israel?" as though words were the columns, the walls, the domes, which combine for the noblest dwelling-place of Deity — I say, then, that to speak irreverently of God, is to take the material of His costliest temple, and fashion it into a structure where He may be openly contemped. The richness of the material enhances the dishonour. Give me the stars with which to build, give me the treasures of immensity with which to adorn, and the temple which I rear to an idol shall be so much the more an insult to the one living God. And it is thus with speech. Words are as the stars of heaven, fitted to illumine the yet dark places of creation. Burning with truth, they may guide the wanderings, and be as messengers for the depths of eternity.

(H. Melvill, B. D.)

Their words are more than exhibitions of the workings and movements of the intellect, more than the displayed rushings and soarings of the imagination. They are the discoverings of a heaven-born principle, a principle which apprehends truths that are above the human intellect, and glories that defy the human imagination. They are the signs, the evidences, of a second creation — the order, the symmetry, the beauty, the stateliness, of a new and spiritual world, demonstrated, unveiled, laid open, incorporated. If they be words of prayer, they are the ascendings towards heaven of renovated affections: if of praise, they are the vibrations of chords which a Divine hand has returned: if of reproof, counsel, exhortation, they are but the soul, once "dead in trespasses and sins," appearing as an armed man to fight the battle of the Lord. Then words may justify, as incontrovertible proofs of a justifying faith, and a renewed nature. Actions furnish no better criterion: and when the great white throne shall be set, and the earth and the sea shall have given up their dead, the righteous and the wicked may alike have their portions determined by their use of the tongue: speech, forgotten speech, may be heard again, piercing as the trumpet-peal, by which the graves have been rent; and there will be no fear of erroneous decision, should there be no rule of judgment but this, "By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned."

(H. Melvill, B. D.)

Consider some of the ways by which words minister to our condemnation.

I. At the head of the list we must put PROFANE SWEARING.

II. Another way in which we expose ourselves to God's displeasure is by FOOLISH WALKING (Ephesians 5:4).

III. Another example of the improper use of the gift of speech is an indulgence in the PETULANT AND COMPLAINING LANGUAGE which so often destroys the harmony of private life.

IV. A fourth illustration of our text is found in the case of MISREPRESENTATION AND SLANDERS.

V. ANGRY WORDS may endanger our salvation.

(J. H. Norton.)

Happy are the friends of those whose conversation "ministers grace to the hearers." It may not always be grave and serious; it may even dance and sparkle like a mountain stream in the cheerful sunlight; but it is always innocent and pure.

(J. H. Norton.)

You could not fasten upon any word or sentence, and say that it was calumny; for in order to constitute slander it is not necessary that the word spoken should be false — half truths are often more calumnious than whole falsehoods. It is not even necessary that a word should be distinctly uttered: a dropped lip, an arched eyebrow, a shrugged shoulder, a significant look, an incredulous expression of countenance; — nay, even an emphatic silence, may do the work; and when the light and trifling thing which has done the mischief has fluttered off, the venom is left behind, to work and rankle, to inflame hearts, and to poison human society at the fountain springs of life.

(F. W. Robertson, M. A.)

There is a machine in the museum at Venice, by which some forgotten Italian tyrant used to sheet poisoned needles at the objects of his hatred. How much worse was he than the unscrupulous agent of slander to whom the great Judge of all is heard to say: "By thy words thou shalt be condemned"?

(J. H. Norton.)

I do not call words idle simply because they cannot be registered and measured by a matter-of-fact standard. How often has an airy word of pleasantry fallen on the ear and pierced the shield of prejudice or passion! How often has the cloud, no bigger than a man's hand, but which would soon have overspread the whole sky, been dispersed by a momentary gleam of bright sunshine, and by a word which in itself was only fugitive, and hardly to be remembered. You cannot call that an idle word which is the outflow of simple cheerfulness, if it dissipates an angry thought.

(A. Watson, D. D.)

The man who indulges in frivolous and idle talk damages his own mental faculties and moral sense. In such speech there is no demand for the reflective powers, and they become impotent; no development of the sentiments of truth, benevolence, and religion, the very stamina of our moral nature, and they become more and more inoperative and dead. In idle talk the soul in every way is injured; its rich soil, capable of producing trees of knowledge and life, is wasted in flowery, it may be, but still noxious weeds.

(Dr. Thomas.)

Science affirms that every movement in the material creation propagates an influence to the remotest planet in the universe. Be this as it may, it seems morally certain that every word spoken on the ear will have an influence lasting as eternity. The words we address to men are written, not on parchment, marble, or brass, which time may effiace, but on the indestructible pages of the soul. Everything written on the imperishable soul is imperishable. All the words that have ever been addressed to you by men long since departed, are written on the book of your memory, and will be unsealed at the " Day of Judgment," and spread out in the full beams of eternal knowledge.

(Dr. Thomas.)

The meaning may best be gathered from the metaphor whence it appears to be taken — that of money, not employed, but lying dead in the hands of the possessor. Our words are as precious in their proper use as gold and silver; but they become "idle" words when they yield no interest, when they bear no good fruit to the glory of God, the edification or comfort of our neighbour, the salvation of ourselves and of those who hear us.

(J. Ford.)

Idle words are deemed of little consequence. There are more deaths occasioned by unperceived irregularities of diet, than by open and apparent surfeits. If venial sins be less in quality, they are more in quantity; and their multitude makes them equal to the other's magnitude. The aggregation of atoms made at first the world's huge mass; and the aggregation of drops did drown it, when it was made.

(O. Feltham.)

An infidel once remarked jestingly to a clergyman, "I always spend the Sunday in settling my accounts." "You may find, sir," was the solemn reply, "that the Day of Judgment is to be spent in exactly the same manner!"

Our conversation need not always be of grace, but it should be with grace.

(Matthew Henry.)

I. THE CONNECTION BETWEEN FAITH AND WORKS WHICH CAUSES THE JUSTIFICATION DERIVED FROM THE FORMER, OFTEN TO BE SPOKEN OF AS DERIVED FROM THE LATTER. Turn away the mean and despicable notion of a faith, which doth not cordially embrace Christ, and concentrate all the affections of the soul in Him as in one centre, like as a thousand rivers pour forth their mighty waters into the bosom of the ocean, or as the scattered rays of the midday sun, gathered by the optic glass, meet in one bright focus. Whenever there is true faith in Christ, works of righteousness and .peace are the inevitable consequences of her dominion. Whenever justification is in Scripture ascribed to works, it is not for their own sake, but for the sake of that faith whence they spring.

II. How THE PARTICULAR FRUIT TO WHICH OUR TEXT ALLUDES IS A JUST CRITERION OF OUR FAITH, AND A FITTING STANDARD FOR THE AWARDS OF FINAL TRIUMPH. "For by thy words," etc. Such is the law, and its justice will be evinced by our referring to the fruit of the lip as an indication of the faith of the heart. God may be denied by words and thoughts, hence both may fairly decide the great assize. From the tenor of a man's conversation we may estimate his conversion. Various methods by which this law might be vindicated — words of prayer and praise. Absence of these leads to condemnation. Faith speaks through these — "If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man."

(H. Melvill, M. A.)

I believe a man may speak of heaven who shall never behold its mansions, just as he may speak of India who will never sail towards its distant shores. It is one thing to decide that a man has justifying faith merely because his tongue may give utterance to matters connected with religion; and it is another to declare that where there is faith, it will call forth religious conversation, and excite a Divine aspiration.

(H. Melvill, M. A.)

I. For good or ill, the life of every one of us is an incessant influence.

II. Deduce from this fact some important lessons.

1. Our unconscious influence is spontaneous, and has no premeditation or calculation about it.

2. Our unconscious influence is a perpetual emanation from ourselves.

3. This unconscious influence is necessarily simple.

4. Our unconscious influence is the more powerful because it excites no suspicion.

III. In what sense and on what grounds are we accountable for this kind of influence?

1. It is conditioned by our character.

2. It is by this we act most on those who are nearest to us.

3. Our indirect influence is our truest. It best represents us.

4. By these unconscious exhibitions of character the world is constantly judging us. Learn

(1)The importance of each act in our life;

(2)The necessity of conversion.

(Clement Bailhache.)

I. What does our Lord call an idle word? Some understand unprofitable words; others false, reproachful, hurtful words; and this latter meaning may be preferred.

II. How can men be justified by their words, if they are good; and condemned by them, if evil?

III. The reasonableness of justifying or condemning men by their words. One reason is, that a great deal is in the power of the tongue. Another is, that as men's words are so are their hearts.

IV. Application:

1. No one may hence infer that he may be saved by a fair profession of religion without good works.

2. Here is a mark which may be of good use for determining our sincerity or insincerity.

3. The doctrine of the text teaches us to be careful of our words.

4. We may hence discern that the Lord Jesus was a most excellent person — "Never man spake like Him."

(N. Lardner.)

Think of the streams of holy speech which have been flowing through the world for ages, and of the life which they have conveyed to thirsty souls. Think of these streams as they are flowing to-day in tens of thousands of Christian congregations, and in innumerable Sabbath-schools. Compare their influence with that of the dark utterances of heathenism, and the disturbing teachings of unbelief. Think of the countless rills of Christian speech which are flowing to-day from the lips of those who love the Saviour, and who are endeavouring to make Him known in the home, in the sick-chamber, in the prison-house, and in their various intercourse with those around them. Compare their influence with that of the idle, thoughtless, impious, profane talk of the millions who are living without God; and then say whether Christianity may or may not be judged by its words!

(Clement Bailhache.)

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