Lord willing, I’m planning to preach Matthew 5:7 this Sunday morning. And here’s my preliminary thought, borrowing the words from Thomas Watson on “how many ways may we be unmerciful to the names of others?”
- By misreporting them (i.e., gossips, slander), a sin forbidden. ‘Thou shalt not raise a false report’ (Exodus 23:1). The tongue of a slanderer shoots out words to wound the fame of another and make it bleed to death. Some think that it is no great matter to defame and traduce another, but know, this is to act the part of a devil. O how many unmerciful men are there, who indeed pass for Christians, but play the devil in venting their lies and calumnies! Wicked men in Scripture are called ‘dogs’ (Psalm 22:16). Slanderers are not like those dogs which licked Lazarus’ sores to heal them, but like the dogs which ate Jezebel. They rend and tear the precious names of men. Valentinian the Emperor decreed that he who was openly convicted of this crime of slander should die for it. And Pope Gregory decreed that such a person should be excommunicate, and not have the communion given him.
- We are unmerciful to the names of others when we receive a slander, and then report what we hear. ‘Thou shalt not go up and down as a tale-bearer among thy people’ (Leviticus 19:16). A good man is one that ‘doeth not evil to his neighbour, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour’ (Psalm 15:3). We must not only not raise a false report, but not take it up. To divulge a report before we speak with the party and know the truth of it is unmercifulness and cannot acquit itself of sin. The receiver is even as bad as the thief. When others have stolen away the good names of their brethren, have not we received these stolen goods? There would not be so many to broach false rumours, but that they see this liquor pleases other men’s taste.
- We deal unmercifully with the names of others when we diminish from their just worth and dignity; when we make more of their infirmities and less of their virtues. ‘Speak not evil one of another’ (James 4:11).
- We are unmerciful to the names of others when we know them to be calumniated yet do not vindicate them. A man may sometimes as well wrong another by silence as slander. He who is merciful to his brother is an advocate to plead in his behalf when he is injuriously traduced. When the apostles, who were filled with the wine of the Spirit, were charged with drunkenness, Peter vindicated them openly (Acts 2:15). A merciful man will take the dead fly out of the box of ointment.
- They are in an high degree unmerciful to the names of others who ‘bear fase witness against’ them (Psalm 27:12). ‘Put not thy hand with the wicked to be a false witness’ (Exodus 23:1). ‘Putting the hand’ is taking an oath falsely, as when a man puts his hand upon the book and swears to a lie. So Tostatus expounds it. This ‘false-witness’ is a two-edged sword. The party forsworn wounds another’s name and his own soul. A false witness is compared to a maul or hammer (Proverbs 25:18). It is true in this sense, because he is hardened in impudency – he blushes at nothing – and in unmercifulness. There is no softness in a maul or hammer, nor is there any relenting or bowels to be found in a false withess. In all these ways men are unmerciful to the names of others [Thomas Watson, The Beatitudes (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth, 2000), 148-50].
Those words were first published in 1660, which has been one of the “rarest” of Watson’s work. So, who says the Puritans don’t speak to us today?