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till he has become thoroughly hardened and unpriscipled, that he is freed from the painful remonstrances of his own conscience ;—from a sense of the degrading condition into which, by the unanimous voice of mankind, he is consigned. If he has not yet proceeded thus far, and is not known and shunned as a liar, he is, at least, suffering from the fear of detection; and it is likely that he may conceive it necessary, in order to shield him from exposure, to tell many other falsehoods. The farther he advances, the more he finds himself involved in deceit ; the probability is, that he will continue in his course till his iniquity is brought to light, till he has lost all credit and reputation; and it is well if he does not still persevere in the path of destruction, and become one of those who shall hereafter arise to shame and everlasting contempt.
The next species of falsehood is slander; or that conduct by which it is unjustly attempted to lessen and ruin the reputation of others.
In the race of human life, it often happens that our passions and our apparent interests would lead us to detract from the moral and intellectual merits of a rival; and even when we are restrained by principle and conscience from the arts of defamation, there may be a secret satisfaction felt in seeing him lowered in public estimation. There is no situation in which we
are free from this temptation to injustice, because there is no situation in which the feelings of malice and envy may not operate; and in which we may not see others of our own rank and standing, far more successful and prosperous than we. There is,
, besides, in every one so much partiality to himself, which while it leads him to fix his view chiefly on his own personal merits, and to magnify them in his own estimation, prevents him from sufficiently acknowledging the worth and qualifications of others,
Of all this a good man will soon be satisfied, from his own experience; and he will endeavour to guard against this injustice by judging of the pretensions of a rival, or even of an enemy, as he would have done, had there been no interference between his claims and theirs. In other words, he will endeavour to do justice to their merits; and to bring himself to love and honour the goodness and genius which have eclipsed his own.
Nor will he retire in disgust from the race, because he has been outstripped by others; but will redouble his exertions in the service of mankind; re. collecting that if Providence has been more bountiful to others than to him, he has left open to all the theatre of virtue; whence the merits of individuals are determined, not by their actual attainments, but by the use and improvement which they make of those advantages which their situation has afforded them *.
When we are tempted to depreciate the worth and talents of others, we should recollect, that we not only do injustice to our fellow-creatures, but offer an affront to God; and that in allowing ourselves to feel a secret satisfaction in those events that may lower their reputation, or circumscribe their usefulness, we act in opposition to the principles of truth and benevolence. There is no individual with whose situation are not connected some duties and advantages; and when, in any case, we injuriously attempt to lessen his reputation, we are guilty of an act of baseness and injustice, of a nature far more aggravated than if we had purloined his property.
* Stewart's Outlines.
Who would not feel alarmed at the thought of in curring the criminality of narrowing the usefulness, and of diminishing the happiness, of a single individual, however slender his talents, or obscure his condition ? Are not our own failures in duty sufficiently numerous without implicating ourselves in the responsibilities of others ? Shall we degrade our common nature by peevishly detracting from the gifts and graces with which God has adorned and distinguished any of his creatures? Do we not consult our own happiness by cherishing that charity which suffereth long and is kind, which envieth not; which vaunteth not itself, which is not puffed up,-which thinketh no evil, which rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth?
If it be our duty to exercise candour, in forming an opinion of the character and abilities of others, it is surely meet that we should put the most favourable construction on their intentions, and allude with charitable feeling to their motives. These are so far removed from our observation, that we can only ascer. tain their nature from their effects; and even here we are so liable to mistake, that we are bound to speak of them under the impression that the heart is known
to God alone. We ought to do so, because it is probable, from many considerations, that the intentions, even in cases apparently doubtful, may be good, or, at least, not so bad as we might imagine. When we make a due allowance for a false conception of facts ; for prejudices formed through the influence of prevail. ing fashions; for habits insensibly contracted in early years, and which it is so difficult wholly to relinquish at a subsequent period of life; we shall find that the motives of others are not so blameworthy, at least, generally, as we are apt to suppose.
Admitting, however, that they are bad, and that they proceed from malice, it belongs to Him whose prerogative it is to judge the heart, to declare that they are so. We move out of our sphere, when we presume to meddle with the peculiar province of the Almighty: nor can we be guilty of injustice in this way to others, without diminishing the sum of our own enjoyment. There is not a more unequivocal mark of our being under the influence of improper feelings ourselves, than a disposition to attribute bad designs to others; and there certainly can be no state of mind less amiable in itself, or more unfavourable to tranquillity and happiness. It becomes us to guard against its indulgence, not only as it leads us to violate a duty which we owe to our neighbour, but as it debases our own feelings, and injures our own peace. “Why dost thou judge thy brother? Or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? We shall all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ. So, then, every one of us shall give an account of himself to God. Let us not therefore judge one another any more ; but
judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling-block or an occasion to fall, in his brother's way.”
We are chargeable with slander when we fabricate tales of falsehood to lessen, and, if possible, to de. stroy, the reputation of others, or when we take pleasure in rehearsing such tales, though we are not their authors. Those who put such tales into circulation may be much more blamable than the inventors, inasmuch as they lend them the weight of their character and influence. They are not the forgers ; but they are the persons who give the forgeries currency, and without whose instrumentality they would remain innoxious. Their motive is often malicious ; proceeding from a disposition to interfere in the concerns of others; or, from the wish to lower them beneath their accustomed level, that they themselves may rise in the same proportion. What conduct can be more base, more expressive of depravity of heart, or more ruinous to the peace of society ? They
, are accordingly ranked in Scripture with the most criminal of mankind. “ Thou shalt not go up and down as a tale-bearer among thy people ; neither shalt thou stand against the blood of thy neighbour*.” " Let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evil doer, or as a busybody in other men's matters t."
Nor is the criminality of the slanderer diminished by the circumstance, that the tale put into circulation is true.
His guilt may be just as great as if it were false ; his motive is not less base; and his conduct in its consequences may be more mischievous. Who
+ 1 Pet. iv, 15.
• Lev, xix. 16.