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which, it is to be feared, few or none are wholly free: for who is he (faith the son of Sirach, Ecclus xix. 16.) that hath not offended with bis tongue? In many things (faith St James, chap.iii. 2.) we offend all: and if any man offend not in word, the fame is a perfect inan.
But how few have attained to this perfection ? And yet unless we do endeavour after it, and in some good mea. lure attain it, all our pretence to religion is vain. So the fame Apostle tells us, chap.i. 26. If any man ainorg 102 ftcin to be religious, and bridleti nct bis tong!le, but de: ceiveth his own heart, this inan's rcligich is caii.
For the more distinét handling of this argument, I fhall reduce my discourse to these five heads.
I. I shall consider the nature of this vice, and wherein it consists.
2. I shall consider the due extent of this prchibition, 7o speak evil of 119 man.
3. I shall fhew the evil of this practice, both in the causes and effects of it.
4. I shall add some further confiderations to diffuade men from it.
5. I Thall give some rules and directions for the prevention and cure of it.
I. I shall consider what this sin or vice of evil speaking here forbidden by the Apostle is : pendivee Bracempsīv, not to defame and flander any man, not to hurt his reputztion, as the etymology of the word doth import. So that this vice consists in saying things of others which tend to their disparagement and reproach, to the taking away or lessening of their reputation and good name : and this, whether the things said be true or not. If they be.false, and we know it, then it is downright calumny; and if we do not know it, but take it upon the report of others, it is however a slander; and so much the more injurious, because really groundless and undeserved.
If the thing be true, and we know it to be so, yet it is a defamation, and tends to the prejudice of our neighbour's reputation : and it is a fault to say the evil of others which is true, unless there be some good reason for it besides ; because it is contrary to that charity and good. ness which Christianity requires, to divulge the faults of
others, though they be really guilty of them, without necessity, or some other very good reason for it.
Again, It is evil speaking, and the vice condemned in the text, whether we be the first authors of an ill report, or relate it from others; because the man that is evil spoken of is equally defamed cither way.
Again, Whether we speak evil of a man to his face, or behind his back. The former way indeed seems to be the more generous, but yet is a great fault, and that which we call reviling; the latter is more mean and base, and that which we properly call jlander or tack. biling
And, lafly, Whether it be done directly and in express terms, or more obscurely, and by way of oblique infinuation ; whether by way of downright reproach, or with foine crafty preface of commendation ; for so it have the effect to detame, the manner of aduress does not much alter the case. The one may be more destrous, but is not one jot less faulty : for many times the deepest wounds are given by thcie fmoother and more artificial ways of slander ; as by asking questions : “ Have you not heard so and so of such a man?
I fiiy no “ more ; I only ask the question :” or by general intimations, that " they are loth to say what they have “ heard of such a one, arc very sorry for it, and do not
at all believe it,” if you will believe them : and this many times without telling the thing, but leaving your in the dark to suspect the worst,
Thefe, and fuch like arts, though they may seem to be tenderer and gentler ways of using mens reputation ; yet in truth they are the most malicious and effcctualmethods of flander ; because they infinuite something that is much worse than is faid, and yet are very apt to create in unwary men a strong belief of something that is very bad, thougli they know not what it is. So that it matters not in what faihion a flander is dressed up; if it tend to defame a man, and to diminish his reputation, it is the fin forbidden in the text.
II. We will congder the extent of this prohibition, To speak evil of 110 man, and the due bounds and limitations of it. For it is not to be understood abfolutely, to forbid us to say any thing concerning others that is bad. This in some cases may be necessary and our duty, and
in several cascs very fit and reasonable. The question is, In what cases by the general rules of scripture and right reason we are warranted to say the evil of others that is true?
In general, we are not to do this without great reason and neceflity; as for the prevention of some great evil, or the procuring of some considerable good to ourselves, or others. And this I take to be the meaning of that advice of the son of Sirach, Ecclus xix. 8. lihether it be to a frierd cr foe, talk net of other mens lites; and if thou canst without cffence, reveal them not; that is, if without hurt to any body thou canst conceal thein, divulge them not.
But because this may not be direction sufficient, I shall instance in fome of the principal cases wherein men are warranted to speak evil of cihers, and yet in so doing do not offend against this prohibition in the text.
1. It is not only lawful, but very commendable, and many times our duty to do this, in order to the probable amendment of the person of whom evil is spoken. In such a case we may tell a man of his faults privately ; or where it may not be so fit for us to use that boidness and freedom, we may reveal his faults to one who is more fit and proper to reprove him, and will probably inake no other use of this discovery, but in order to his amendment. And this is so far from being a breach of charity, that it is one of the best testimonies of it. For perhaps the party may not be guilty of what hath been reported of him, and then it is a kindness to give him the opportunity of vindicating himself: or, if he be guilty, perhaps being privately and prudently told of it, he may reform. In this case the son of Sirach adviseth to reveal mens faults, Ecclus xix. 13. 14. 15. Admonisha a friend, (says he), it may be he hath not done it: and if be bave done it, that he do it no more. Admonish thy friend, it may be he hath not faid it: and if he have, that he speak it not again. Admonish a friend : for many times it is a sander; and believe not every tale.
But then we must take care that this be done out of kindness, and that nothing of our own passion be mingled with it ; and that under pretence of reproving and reforming men, we do not reproach and revile them, and
tell them of their faults in such a manner, as if we did it to Thew our authority, rather than our charity. It requires a great deal of address and gentle application, fo to manage the business of reproof, as not to irritate and exasperate the person whom we reprove, instead of curing him.
2. This likewise is not only lawful, but our duty, when we are legally called to bear witness concerning the fault and crime of another. A good man would not be an accuser, unless the public good, or the prevention of some great evil, should require it. And then the plain reason of the thing will sufficiently justify a vo. luntary accufation. Otherwise it hath always among well-mannered people been esteemed very odious for ? man to be oflicious in this kind, and a forward, informer concerning the misdemeanor of others. Magistrates may sometimes think it fit to give encouragement to such persons, and to set one bad man to catch another, because such men are fittest for such dirty work: but they can never inwardly approve them, nor will they ever make them their friends and confidents.
But when a man is called to give testimony in this kind, in obedience to the laws, and out of reverence to the oath taken in such cases, he is so far from deserving blame for so doing, that it would be an unpardonable fault in him to conceal the truth, or any part of it.
3. It is lawful to publish the faults of others, in our own necessary defence and vindication, when a man cannot conceal another's faults, without betraying his
wn innocency. No charity requires a man to fuffer himself to be defamed, to save the reputation of another man. Charity begins at home, And though a man had never lo much goodness, he would first secure his own good name, and then be concerned for other mens, We are 10 love our neighbour as ourselves : so that the love of ourselves is the rule and measure of our love to our neighbour : and therefore first, otherwise it could not be the rule. And it would be very well for the world, if our charity would rise thus high ; and no man would hurt another man's reputation, but where his own is in real danger, 4. This also is lawful for caution and warning to a
third person that is in danger to be infected by the com. pany or ill example of another; or may be greatly prejudiced by repofing too much confidence in him, having no knowledge or fulpicion of his bad qualities: but even in this case we ought to take great care, that the ill cha; racter we give of any man be spread no further than is necessary to the good end we designed in it.
Besides these more obvious and remarkable cases, this prohibition doth not I think hinder, but that in ordinary conversation men may mention that ill of others which is already made as public as it well can be ; or ihat one friend may not in freedoin speak to another of the miscarriage of a third person, where he is fecure no ill use will be made of it, and that it will go no further to his prejudice ; provided always, that we take no delight in hearing or speaking ill of others; and the less we do it, though without any malice or detign of harm, itill the better; because this fhews that we do not feed upon ill reports, and take pleasure in them.
These are all the usual cases in which it may be ne: cessary for us to speak evil of other men. And these are to evidently reasonable, that the prohibition in the text cannot with reason be extended to them. And if no man would allow himself to say any thing to the prejudice of another man's good name, but in these and the like cases, the tongues of men would be very innocent, and the world would be very quiet. I proceed, in the
III. Third place, To consider the evil of this practice, both in the causes, and the consequences of it.
1. We will consider the causes of it. And it commonly springs from one or more of these evil roots.
ist, One of the deepest and most common causes of evil-speaking, is ill-nature, and cruelty of difpofition; and, by a general mistake, ill-nature passeth for wit, as cunning doth for wisdom; though in iruth they are noihing a-kin to one another, but as far distant as vice and virtue.
And there is no greater evidence of the bad temper of mankind, than the general proneness of men to this vice : for (as our Saviour says) out of the abundance of the heart the incuih spevketh. And therefore men do commonly incline to the cenforious and uncharitable lide; which