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random talkers, all light, unthinking, and, on that account, inaccurate people; all violent and passionate people; all vain people, who seek only to be admired for what they say; and especially all envious and jealous people, which those never fail to be, who are aspiring and ambitious, together with all partial, bigo:ted, and prejudiced people--every one of these, I fear, is apt to be every day a breaker of this Commandment; and so indeed are all, who have not yet learnt to exercise a tender conscience in what they say, and to set a guard upon their lips, even in their hours of relaxation; for let it be remembered, that there are many who may not intend unjustly to prejudice their neighbor's reputation, but who, nevertheless, by indulging prejudices and fancies, and by being too inaccu. rate in general, in respect to truth, are for ever cafting unfair blame on some character or other, and are contributing largely to encrease that quantity of false testimony which is circulating in the world.
There are some persons who attempt to avoid the fault of evil speaking, by running into an opposite extreme; they refuse to tell the faults which they really know, and which it is important to reveal; and they do this on the most felfish principle, namely, left they should bring themselves into trouble; their custom is to praise every body; and they think, that if they always Ipeak handsomely of others, then others will agree to speak handsomely of them. We must
beware, however, of imagining that these are the persons who pay obedience to this Commandment, and that their selfish policy, and misplaced commendations deserve any praise ; as well might the witness in a court of justice, who gives false evidence in favor of the person accused, take credit for his perjury, or the witness who refuses to give evidence at all, take credit for his filence, when the public interest requires that he should speak out. It is truth and candor, not flattery and false praise, nor universal silence, respecting the characters of men, which are required by this Command. ment.
There are also many, who, through their own ignorance of the nature of true goodness, are apt to praise the most irreligious characters; and who are ready to charge every religious person with that very prejudice and disposition to falfe testimony, which I have been condemning, be. cause he cannot join in the praise. But let flatterers of this class be told, that all those who are irreligious, are considered as wicked, in the word of God, and that (as Solomon has said) “ He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, even they both are an abomination to the Lord.”
But to return. The practice of tale-bearing is so common, and it leads to so much false ter timony against our neighbors, that I propose now to warn my readers, particularly on this head; and I will do it, by subjoining a few questions, which every one should be prepared to answer, before he ventures to repeat any tale to the prejudice of another.
First then, how did you hear the story? From an actual witness of the fact, or from one that heard it of another? If it came to you only through the second or third hand, pray fuspend a little of your belief, till you have heard the truth more exactly, from a more unquestionable authority.
Confíder next how far, even the eye or ear witness, who may have told it you, is worthy of credit ; whether, for instance, he is an enemy of the accused, or can have an interest in lowering his character ; whether he is credulous, or pas. fionate, or prejudiced; and whether his memory, in some particular, at least, may not have failed him.
Consider, also, whether allowing the whole which has been told you to be true, there may not have been something omitted, that ought to have been added, the addition of which, would make a great difference in the general impression.
Consider well, also, whether you yourself, in listening to your informer, have been quite free from prejudice, and have avoided every error. It is possible, that you may innocently have mistaken fome doubtful expression; for in every language there are ambiguous words, and what is faid by the speaker, rather loosely or figuratively, is sometimes understood by the hearer much too literally and strictly..
It may be well to examine also, whether, notwithstanding the authority on which it stands, there may not be some such contrarieties in dif ferent
parts of the story, as to render it quite impossible. But even if it should be highly improbable; if, for instance, it should contain a charge which is contradicted by the general character of the accused, a candid man will not be confident in his belief. Endeavor, therefore, in general, to know the character of the accused person before you spread a report to his disadvantage; and if he is reputed to be religious, be particularly suspicious of the tales against him, for the world is apt to revile men of this cast.
Enquire also, whether the person charged, has ever been charged to his face. Possibly, quite a new light might be thrown on the matter, if the accuser would but consent to meet the person accused, face to face. If you are purposing to repeat the story, it is a good general rule, to tell it first to the person supposed to be in fault.
And lastly, supposing the fact clear, ask yourself what is the use of telling.it. Be sure not to tell it from talkativeness, or from secret envy, or from party prejudice. Undoubtedly, there may be good reasons for speaking out, especially when the crime is very serious. The public should be warned against impofition; the cha. racter of men also ought, in a variety of cases,
to be made known, and if given at all, it ought, undoubtedly, to be fairly given. Be as tender, however, as you possibly can of your neighbor's reputation, and speak againit him with regret, not with readiness and satisfaction.. Say nothing in heat, for if you do, you will exaggerate. And do not let the story stand on your own cre. did, but choose rather to let it stand on thecredit of him who told it you, and be always willing, therefore, (if permitted) to give up your authority.
And now to close this subject, let it ever be remembered, that the love of our neighbor is the great thing which is necessary, in order to our fulfilling this Commandment. “Love, as was before remarked, is the fulfilling of the law; for this, thou shalt not bear false witness.” If men did but love their neighbors as themselves, they would then be jealous of their neighbor's reputation, just in the same manner as they now are of their own; and a thousand rules and instructions on this subject might be spared. We do not com. monly spread false reports against our own wife, or child, or fifter, or brother; and the realon is, that we love our own kindred. Let us then learn to love all men as brethren, and let this Commandment fend us to that gospel which so strongly inculcates good-will and charity towards our fellow.creatures,