« PreviousContinue »
Secondly, To consider its pernicious effects; both to others and to ourselves.
To those who are slandered it is certainly a great injury, commonly a high provocation, but always matter of no small grief.
It is certainly a great injury, and if the evil which we say of them be not true, it is an injury beyond reparation. It is an injury that descends to a man's children and posterity; because the good or ill name of the father is derived down to them, and many times the best thing he has to leave them, is the reputation of his unblemished virtue. And do we make no conscience to rob his innocent children of the best part of this small patrimony, and of all the kindness that would have been done them for their father's sake, if his reputation had not been so undeservedly stained? Can we jest with so serious a matter? with an injury so very hard to be repented of as it ought; because, in such a case, no repentance will be acceptable without restitution, if it be in our power. And perhaps it will undo us in this world to make it; as, not to make it, will be our rúin in the other. Even
suppose the matter of the slander true, yet no man's reputation is considerably stained, though never so deservedly, without great hurt to him; and it is odds but the charge, by passing through several hands, is aggravated beyond truth, every one being apt to add something to it.
Besides the injury, it is commonly a high provocation ; the consequence of which may be dangerous and desperate quarrels. This reason the wise son of Sirach gives why we should defame no man: Whether it be, says he, to a friend or a foe, talk not of other men's lives; for he hath heard and observed thee; that is, one way or other it will probably come to his knowledge, and when the time cometh, he will show his hatred; will take the first opportunity to revenge it.
At best, it is always matter of grief to the person that is defamed ; and Christianity, which is the best natured institution in the world, forbids us to do those things whereby we may grieve one another.
To ourselves, the consequences of this vice are as bad or worse. He that is wont to speak evil of others, gives a bad character of himself, even to those whom he desires to please ; who, if they be wise enough, will conclude that he speaks of them to others, as he does of others to them. What our Saviour says in this case is well worth our consideration, that with what measure we mete to others, it shall be measured to us again; and that, many times, heaped up and running over.
For there is hardly any thing wherein mankind use more strict jus. tice and equality, than in rendering evil for evil and 'railing for railing. Nay, revenge often goes further than words. A reproach ful Speech hath frequently cost the slanderer his
life, or occasioned his murdering another; perhaps with the loss of his own soul: and I wonder that among Christians this matter is not more laid to heart.
And though neither of these mischiefs should happen to us, yet this may be inconvenient many other ways. For who knows, in the chance of things, and the mutability of human affairs, whose kindness he may stand in need of before he dies? So that did a man only consult his own safety and quiet, he ought to refrain from evil speaking. What man is he, saith the Psalmist, that desireth life, and loveth many days, that he may see good : keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking falsehood. Psalm xxxiv, 12, 13.
But there is an infinitely greater danger hanging over us from God. If we allow ourselves in this evil practice, all our religion is vain. So St. James expressly tells us, If any man among you seemeth to be religious, und bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, that man's religion is vuin. St. Paul puts slanderers amongst those that shall not inherit the kingdom of God. i Cor. vi. 10. And our blessed Saviour bath told us, that by our words we shall be justified, and by our words we shall be condemned. To which I will add the counsel given us by the wise man, refrain your tongue from backbiting, for there is no word so secret that shall go for nought, and the mouth
that slandereth slayeth the soul. Wisdom of Solomon i. 11. I proceed in the
IVth place, to add some further arguments to take men off from this vice: As,
1. That speech is bestowed upon us not to enable us to be hurtful and injurious, but helpful and beneficial to one another. So that we pervert the use of speech, when we abuse this faculty to the injury and reproach of any.
2. Consider, How cheap a kindness it is to speak well, at least not to speak ill of others. A good word is an easy obligation, but not to speak ill requires only our silence. Some instances of charity are chargeable; but were a man ever so covetous, he might afford another his good word; at least he might refrain from speaking ill of him; especially if it be considered how dear many have paid for a reproachful word.
3. Consider, That no quality ordinarily recommends one more to the favour of men, than to be free from this vice. Such a man's friendship every one desires; and next to piety and righteousness, nothing is thought a greater commendation, than that he was never, or very rarely, heard to speak ill of any.
4. Let every man lay his hand upon his heart, and consider how himself is apt to be affected with this usage. Speak thy conscience, man, and say whether, as bad as thou art, thou wouldst not be glad to have thy
faults concealed, and not to be hardly spoken of, by those whom thou didst never offend by word or deed? But with what face dost thou expect this from others, to whom thy carriage hath been so contrary? Nothing surely is more equal and reasonable than that known rule, what thou wouldst have no man do to thee, that do thou to no man.
5. Lastly, When you are going to censure others, consider whether you do not lie open to just reproach in the same, or some other kind. Therefore give no occasion, no example of this barbarous usage of one another.
There are very few so free either from infirmities or greater faults, as not to be subject to reproach upon one account or other ; even the wisest and most virtuous have some little vanity, or affectation, which lays them open to the raillery of a mimical and malicious wit; therefore we should often turn our thoughts upon ourselves, and remember our Saviour's rule, he that is without sin, let him cast the first stone.
V. I shall give some directions for the prevention and cure of this great evil.
1. Never say any evil of another, but what you certainly know. Whenever you positively accuse a man of any crime, though it be in private and among friends, speak as if you were upon your oath, because God sees and hears you. This, not only charity, but justice and regard to truth demand of us. He that