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sense to think well of the worthless, has too much charity to speak ill of them, when there is no necessity for it? And it is contrary to that love we owe to our neighbour, which should make us ready to cover and conceal all things that are defective in him, and which, if known, may tend to lefsen that good name and reputation he hath obtained. Where a man's vices only hurt himself, and terminate in his own perfon, there we have no right to publish them; because we can answer no good end thereby : but where they affect, or may affect others, it is our duty to warn as many as we think proper, a due regard being had to our own safety. Only let us take this caution along with us : before we endeavour to undeceive others, let us be sure we are not deceived ourselves, Let us therefore . · Incline always to the favourable fide, when things are doubtful. If you should be mistaken on the cn iritable fide, God will overlook your mistake, and accept youř charity. Endeavour to divert such discourse, and discouragé such fort Means to of conversation, by all prudent means; as to urge prevent it. what we can in our neighbour's vindication: but, if the matter is too evident to be denied, we may endeavour to diminish the guilt of it, by imputing it to ignorance or surprise, or to the strength of temptation, and by owning that the best people might have found difficulties in such dangerouscircumstances and temptations. And we must not Thew any pleasure or fatisfaction in what is related to our neighbour's prejudice, left we encourage the detractor, and become partakers with him in his fin. But nothing is more necessary, in order to master this reigning fin, than a firm resolution never to speak the least ill of any one ; for whoso. ever gives himself the liberty to publish the evil he knows of another, and talks with pleasure of such faults, though known by every body, may be likely to fall into real detractions. Becaule, where the power and corruption of nature is strong, it is difficult to stop; besides, by indulging small neglects we fortify our evil inclinations, and by degrees contract a habit of defamation, and exchange the amiable quality of sincerity for deceit and falfhood. I do not know what pleasure men of this stamp may take, in supposing
themselves themselves to stand clear of those vices, which they charge upon others. But this I dare venture to say, that the same meanness and littleness of soul, which makes them so inquisitive to know, fo glad to hear, and so industrious to spread any fault of others, would make them commit the very fame, provided they had the same temptations and complexion. For vice proceeds from nothing, but the meanness and baseness of a depraved soul. To this class of ill-natured persons those must be reduced, who love, as they exa press it, to speak their minds upon all occasions; privileged talkers, affronting those above them, insulting those beneath them, and displeasing every body. But if they will always speak freely what they think; they should first take care to think justly, as they ought, tenderly of others, humbly and soberly of themselves. the principal motives that should deter us from its commilfion. And as in another case it is said, were there Soverallets no receivers, there would be no thieves: so, did not towards men encourage tale-bearing and whispering, there this fin. would be no llanderers. And tho’we don't prompt them to this wickedness, yet, if we are ready to credit fanderous reports, we encourage the wicked person, whose intention finishes in the breach of his neighbour's character. And therefore as such a one's accusation is no just ground of belief in us, so we are guilty of injustice to our neighbour to believe the reported evil. But, if we not only believe, but scruple not to become a party in the sander by publishing the same thing, and it may be with some addition, as a story that has been told us, we also incur the guilt, and are liable to the punishment of the whisperer. Then, from the very nature and constitution of human society, there arises originally, in the reason of things, a strong argument why men ought to govern their words as well as their actions. For by the mutual intercourse of both human society is par
This shou"? be well considered also, by those who make no scrupleof bearing false witness against their neigh- Of bearing bour in a court of justice, or where-ever his perfon, false witproperty, or reputation may thereby be injured; ness. such a one is the unrighteous witness, that sells himself to work evil in the fight of the Lord; whose crime increaseth in proportion to the evil done thereby to his neighbour, and therefore was forbid by God himself: and the offender is adjudged to suffer the same punishment he would by false witness and perjury have brought upon his neighbour. So that, if we are called to give publick testimony between man and man, a sincere respect to truth will engage to a careful recollection, before we give our testimony upon the matter : it will dispose to lay aside affection on one hand, and prejudice on the other, and impartially to speak the whole truth, without disguise or concealment. For though we are not bound in every case to speak the whole truth; yet when a matter depends in whole, or in part, upon our evidence, we are bound not only to avoid all falfhood, but also not to omit any thing which may give light to the true merits of the cause; for such concealment has the nature of a lye, because partial evidences may have the same evil effects, as thoseevidences have, which are directly false. For we are not obliged to bear no witness at allagainst our neighbour; we are only to bear no false wit
ness. This rule extends to giving testimonials and characters of servants, or candidates for any employinent. To give them no character at all is to all intents and purposes the fame, as giving them a bad one: and to give them a good character upon the whole, when they do not deserve it, is to be easy and good-natured at the expence of truth and justice. And
Let not those, who make a scruple to bear false witness Of pubick where they think their neighbour directly concernflanders. ed in his life, property, reputation or otherwise, yet make a flight of violating truth incommon conversation, and too frequently aggravate their slanders with invidious railings and bitter reproaches, think that they shall escape the judgment of God : for this, no less than the preceding injury of bearing false witness, is threatened with the loss of heaven hereafter; as well as disqualifies them from the communion of Christ's church here upon earth. And tho'it be no ways aggravated, it would be well for those, who are guilty of such evil devices, to remember that, if we hastily put an uncertain story out of our power by making it publick, we may prove false witnesses of a scandal, to many who take it upon our authority, without having inclination or opportunity to examine the grounds on which we told it.
Besides this, we should guard against that too common Whisper- fin of whispering, or spreading any report to the ingo“ disadvantage of our neighbour, under a pretence of injoining secrecy; and this, God knows, is not in regard to our neighbour, but to prevent ourselves from being difcovered to be the authors thereof; and, by that means of working in the dark, the slander like a secret poison becomes incurable, before the injured person can discern it: and therefore may juftly be accounted one of the most incurable wounds of the tongue, undermining all society, and too frequently robbing families of their peace, and innocent persons of their good name : it separateth chief friends; and therefore the tongue, that is given to this wicked practice, may be properly said to be set on fire of hell.
SUNDAY XI. Part II. Thus I have given you the nature and extent of this fin; and thall now new you some of the steps towards it, and
Reasons apreserved; and by injurious speech, as well as by gainst this unjust actions, that general trust and confidence, vice. that mutual charity and good-will are destroyed, on which depend the welfare and happiness of mankind. The constitution of every human society bears some resemblance to the frame of the natural body: and as, in the natural body, all division, disagreement, and disunion of the members tend necessarily to the destruction and dissolution of the whole; so in proportion, in all communities and societies of men whatsoever, the contention and animosities, the disorders and distractions, arising from flander, calumny, detraction, uncharitableness, and other instances of licentious speech, are inevitably of very pernicious effect. And it is often of mischievous consequence to the person himself that indulgeth this folly. The wise authors of the book of Wisdom and Ecclefiafticus express themselves clearly on this head: Theear of jealousy heareth all things, and the noise of whifperings is not hid; therefore restrain your tonguefrom backbiting; for there is no word so secret that shall go for nought, and the mouth that belyeth Nayeth the soul. He that can
rule his tongue hall live without strife; and he that hateth babbling shall have less evil: rehearse not unto another that which is told unto thee; and thou shalt fare never the worse: whether it be to a friend or a foe, talk not of other men's Jives; and if thou canst without offence, reveal them not: for he heard and observed thee, and when time cometh he will hate thee; if thou hast heard a word, let it die with thee, and behold, it will not burst theě. The natural punishment therefore of a licentious and unbridled tongue is the inconveniencies it is very apt to bring, in the course of things, upon the persons themselves. This is the natural ill consequence of this practice, to the persons themselves who are guilty of it. But the sinfulness of it appears principally in the damage it does secretly to others. Slander and uncharitable defamation is a pestilence that walketh in darkness, and a secret stab, against which there is many times no porsibility of defence. Another and a more powerful motive to oblige men to restrain licentious speech is the consideration of the inconsistency of it with adue sense of religion. Therefore St. Paul reproyes with great severity such persons as wander about from house to house, being tatlers, and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not. And lastly, another reason against calumny and detraction is the confideration of ourselves being all of us subject to error. I speak not here of the ill character which is, and ought to be given of all open vice and manifest unrighteousness. But men, who have different notions and apprehensions of things, are very apt to cast reproach upon each other, not for their vices, but for their different understandings. And the same frailty, which in a man of the same sect or party shall be no blemish at all, shall in a person of a different party be the most unpardonable crime, But the greater and still more inexcusable degree of this partiality is, when men cast reproach and contempt upon others, for what is truly commendable; for doing what perhaps was their duty to do ; for being wiser, or more charitable, or more scrupulous and conscientious than themselves. Our Saviour forbids this censoriousness towards others, under the penalty of being more strictly judged ourselves : Judge not, that ye be not