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ficient, I shall instance in some of the principal cases, wherein men are warranted to speak evil of others, without offending against the text.
1. It is very commendable, and often our duty to do this, in order to amend the person of whom evil is spoken. In such a case, we may tell himn of his faults privately; or where it is improper to use that freedom, wę may reveal them to one that is more fit to reprove him, and will probably only use this discovery for his amendment; which is so far from being a breach of charity, that it is one of the best testimonies of it: perhaps he may not be guilty of what hath been reported of him; it is then a kindness to give him the opportunity of vindicating himself: if he be guilty, being prudently admonished, he may reform.
But then we must take care that nothing of our own passion be mingled with our reproof, and that, under pretence of reforming, we do not reproach and revile. It requires a great deal of address so to manage reproof, as not to provoke the person whom we reprove, instead of amending him.
2. It is 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; but
when he is called to give testimony in this kind, in obedience to the laws, and out of reverence to the oath taken in such cases, 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 vindication. When we cannot conceal another's faults without betraying our own innocence, no charity requires us to suffer ourselves to be defamed, to save the reputation of our neighbour. Charity begins at home; and though a man had ever so much goodness, he would first secure his own good name, and then be concerned for that of others,
4. This also is lawful for caution to a third person, who is in danger to be infected by the company, or ill example of another; or may be greatly prejudiced by reposing too much confidence in him, having no suspicion of his bad qualities; but here we ought to take care, that the ill character we give, be spread no further than is necessary to the good end we designed in it.
These are all the usual cases in which it may be necessary for us to speak evil of other
And these are so evidently reasonable, that the prohibition in the text cannot be extended to them.
III. We will consider the evil of this practice, both in the causes and consequences of it.
First, As to the causes : one of the most common is ill-nature; and, by a general mistake, ill-nature passeth for wit, as cunning doth for wisdom; though in truth they are as different as vice and virtue.
There is no greater evidence of the bad temper of mankind, than their proneness to evil speaking. For, as our Saviour says, out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh; and therefore we commonly incline to the uncharitable side. Most love rather to hear evil of others than good, and are secretly pleased with ill reports, though at the same time they hate those that spread them; rightly concluding that these very persons will do the same for them in other companies.
But we are more especially pleased, if the evil that we hear, concerns one of another party, and that differs from us in matters of religion. All parties seem to be agreed in this, that they do God great service in blasting the reputation of their adversaries: and though they all pretend to be Christians, and the disciples of him who taught nothing but kindness, meekness, and charity; yet it is strange to see how eager they are to defame one another in the most bitter manner. The good they hear of an adversary is cautiously received; but every man is a substantial author of an ill report.
I do not apply this to any sort of men; all are to blame. The good spoken of others we
easily forget, or seldom mention; but the evil lies uppermost in our memories, and is ready to be published upon all occasions : nay, what is still more ill-natured and unjust, many times, when we do not believe it ourselves, we tell it to others, and venture it to be believed according to the charity of those to whom it is told.
Another cause of the frequency of this vice is, that many are so bad themselves. For to think and speak ill of others is not only a bad thing, but a sign of a bad man. Our blessed Saviour, speaking of the evil of the last days, gives this as a reason for the great decay of charity ; because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall war cold. When men are bad, they are glad of any opportunity to censure others, and endeavour to bring things to a level; hoping it will be some justification of their own faults, if they can but make others appear equally guilty.
A third cause of evil speaking is malice and revenge. When we are blinded by our passions we do not consider what is true, but what is mischievous; we care not whether the evil we speak be true or not; nay, many are so base as to invent and raise false reports on purpose to blast the reputations of those by whom they think themselves injured. This is a diabolical temper; and therefore St. James tells us, that the slanderous tongue is set on fire
A fourth cause of this vice is envy. Men look with an evil eye upon the good that is in others, and do what they can to discredit their commendable qualities; thinking their own character lessened by them. They greedily entertain, and industriously publish, what may raise themselves upon the ruin of other men's reputation.
A fifth cause of evil speaking is impértinence and curiosity; an itch of talking of affairs which do not concern us. Some love to iningle themselves in all business, and are loath to seem ignorant of such important news as the faults and follies of men; and therefore with great care pick up ill stories to entertain the next company they meet; not perhaps out of any great malice, but for want of something better to talk of.
Lastly, Many do this out of wantonness, and for diversion; so little do they consider that a man's reputation is too great and tender a concern to be jested with; and that a slanderous tongue bites like a serpent, and wounds like a sword. What can be more barbarous, next to sporting with a man's life, than to play with his honour and good name, which to some is dearer than life? As a madman, saith Solomon, who casteth firebrands, arrows, and death; so is the man that defameth his neighbour, and saith, Am I not in sport?
Such and so bad are the causes of this vice. 1 proceed,