XII. Further, the words of our Lord, when He forbade this practice, do suggest another consideration against it, deducible from the causes and sources of it; from whence it cometh, that men are so inclined or addicted thereto. "Let," saith He, "your communication be Yea, yea, Nay, nay; for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil." The roots of it, He assureth us, are evil, and therefore the fruit cannot be good: it is no grape which groweth from thorns, or fig from thistles. Consult experience, and observe whence it doth proceed.
Sometimes it ariseth from exorbitant heats of spirit, or transports of unbridled passion. When a man is keenly peevish, or fiercely angry, or eagerly contentious, then he blustereth, and dischargeth his choler in most tragical strains; then he would fright the objects of his displeasure by the most violent expressions thereof. This is sometime alleged in excuse of rash swearing: I was provoked, the swearer will say, I was in passion; but it is strange that a bad cause should justify a bad effect, that one crime should warrant another, that what would spoil a good action should excuse a bad one.
Sometimes it proceedeth from arrogant conceit, and a tyrannical humour; when a man fondly admireth his own opinion, and affecting to impose it on others, is thence moved to thwack it on with lusty asseverations.
Sometimes it issueth from wantonness and levity of mind, disposing a man to sport with anything, how serious, how grave, how sacred and venerable soever.
Sometimes its rise is from stupid inadvertency, or heady precipitancy; when the man doth not heed what he saith, or consider the nature and consequence of his words, but snatcheth any expression which cometh next, or which his roving fancy doth offer, for want of that caution of the psalmist, "I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue; I will keep my mouth with a bridle, while the wicked is before me."
Sometimes (alas! how often in this miserable age!) it doth spring from profane boldness; when men design to put affronts on religion, and to display their scorn and spite against conscience, affecting the reputation of stout blades, of gallant hectors, of resolute giants, who dare do anything, who are not afraid to defy Heaven, and brave God Almighty Himself.
Sometimes it is derived from apish imitation, or a humour to comply with a fashion current among vain and dissolute persons.
It always doth come from a great defect in conscience, of reverence to God, of love to goodness, of discretion and sober regard to the welfare of a man's soul.
From such evidently vicious and unworthy sources it proceedeth, and therefore must needs be very culpable. No good, no wise man can like actions drawn from such principles. Further—
XIII. This offence may be particularly aggravated by considering that it hath no strong temptation alluring to it, that it yieldeth no sensible advantage, that it most easily may be avoided or corrected.
"Every sin," saith St. Chrysostom, "hath not the same punishment; but those things which may easily be reformed do bring on us greater punishment:" and what can be more easy than to reform this fault? "Tell me," saith he, "what difficulty, what sweat, what art, what hazard, what more doth it require beside a little care" to abstain wholly from it? It is but willing, or resolving on it, and it is instantly done; for there is not any natural inclination disposing to it, any strong appetite to detain us under its power.
It gratifieth no sense, it yieldeth no profit, it procureth no honour; for the sound of it is not very melodious, and no man surely did ever get an estate by it, or was preferred to dignity for it. It rather to any good ear maketh a horrid and jarring noise; it rather with the best part of the world produceth displeasure, damage, and disgrace. What therefore, beside monstrous vanity and unaccountable perverseness, should hold men so devoted thereto?
Surely of all dealers in sin the swearer is palpably the silliest, and maketh the worst bargains for himself, for he sinneth gratis, and, like those in the prophet, "selleth his soul for nothing." An epicure hath some reason to allege, an extortioner is a man of wisdom, and acteth prudently in comparison to him; for they enjoy some pleasure, or acquire some gain here, in lieu of their salvation hereafter, but this fondling offendeth Heaven, and abandoneth happiness, he knoweth not why or for what. He hath not so much as the common plea of human infirmity to excuse him; he can hardly say that he was tempted thereto by any bait.
A fantastic humour possesseth him of spurning at piety and soberness; he inconsiderately followeth a herd of wild fops, he affecteth to play the ape. What more than this can he say for himself?
XIV. Finally, let us consider that as we ourselves, with all our members and powers, were chiefly designed and framed to glorify our Maker, the which to do is indeed the greatest perfection and noblest privilege of our nature, so our tongue and speaking faculty were given to us to declare our admiration and reverence of Him, to exhibit our due love and gratitude toward Him, to profess our trust and confidence in Him, to celebrate His praises, to avow His benefits, to address our supplications to Him, to maintain all kinds of devotional intercourse with Him, to propagate our knowledge, fear, love, and obedience to Him, in all such ways to promote His honour and service. This is the most proper, worthy, and due use of our tongue, for which it was created, to which it is dedicated, from whence it becometh, as it is so often styled, our glory, and the best member that we have; that whereby we excel all creatures here below, and whereby we are no less discriminated from them, than by our reason; that whereby we consort with the blessed angels above in the distinct utterance of praise and communication of glory to our Creator. Wherefore, applying this to any impious discourse with which to profane God's blessed name, with this to violate His holy commands, with this to unhallow His sacred ordinance, with this to offer dishonour and indignity to Him, is a most unnatural abuse, a horrid ingratitude toward Him.
It is that indeed whereby we render this noble organ incapable of any good use. For how, as the excellent father doth often urge, can we pray to God for mercies, or praise God for His benefits, or heartily confess our sins, or cheerfully partake of the holy mysteries, with a mouth defiled by impious oaths, with a heart guilty of so heinous disobedience.
Likewise, whereas a secondary very worthy use of our speech is to promote the good of our neighbour, and especially to edify him in piety, according to that wholesome precept of the Apostle, "Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may administer grace unto the hearers." The practice of swearing is an abuse very contrary to that good purpose, serving to corrupt our neighbour, and to instil into him a contempt of religion; or however grievously to scandalise him.
XV. I shall add but two words more. One is, that we would seriously consider that our Blessed Saviour, who loved us so dearly, who did and suffered so much for us, who redeemed us by His blood, who said unto us, "If ye love Me, keep My commandments," He thus positively hath enjoined, "But I say unto you, Swear not at all;" and how then can we find in our heart directly to thwart His word.
The other is, that we would lay to heart the reason whereby St. James doth enforce the point, and the sting in the close of our text, wherewith I conclude: "But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath; but let your yea be yea, and your nay nay, lest ye fall into condemnation," or, "lest ye fall under damnation." From the which infinite mischief, and from all sin that may cause it, God in mercy deliver us through our Blessed Redeemer Jesus, to whom for ever be all glory and praise.
OF EVIL-SPEAKING IN GENERAL.
"To speak evil of no man."—Titus iii. 2.
These words do imply a double duty; one incumbent on teachers, another on the people who are to be instructed by them.
The teacher's duty appeareth from reflecting on the words of the context, which govern these, and make them up an entire sentence: put them in mind, or, rub up their memory to do thus. It is St. Paul's injunction to Titus, a bishop and pastor of the Church, that he should admonish the people committed to his care and instruction, as of other great duties (of yielding obedience to magistrates, of behaving themselves peaceably, of practising meekness and equity towards all men, of being readily disposed to every good work), so particularly of this, [Greek], to revile or speak evil of no man.
Whence it is apparent that this is one of the principal duties that preachers are obliged to mind people of, and to press upon them. And if this were needful then, when charity, kindled by such instructions and examples, was so lively; when Christians, by their sufferings, were so inured to meekness and patience; even every one, for the honour of his religion, and the safety of his person, was concerned in all respects to demean himself innocently and inoffensively; then is it now especially requisite, when (such engagements and restraints being taken off, love being cooled, persecution being extinct, the tongue being set loose from all extraordinary curbs) the transgression of this duty is grown so prevalent and rife, that evil-speaking is almost as common as speaking, ordinary conversation extremely abounding therewith, that ministers should discharge their office in dehorting and dissuading from it.
Well indeed it were, if by their example of using mild and moderate discourse, of abstaining from virulent invectives, tauntings, and scoffings, good for little but to inflame anger, and infuse ill- will, they would lead men to good practice of this sort: for no examples can be so wholesome, or so mischievous to this purpose, as those which come down from the pulpit, the place of edification, backed with special authority and advantage.
However, it is to preachers a ground of assurance and matter of satisfaction, that in pressing this duty they shall perform their duty: their text being not so much of their own choosing, as given them by St. Paul; they can surely scarce find a better to discourse upon: it cannot be a matter of small moment or use, which this great master and guide so expressly directeth us to insist upon. And to the observance of his precept, so far as concerneth me, I shall immediately apply myself.
It is then the duty of all Christian people (to be taught and pressed on them) not to reproach, or speak evil of any man. The which duty, for your instruction, I shall first endeavour somewhat to explain, declaring its import and extent; then, for your further edification, I shall inculcate it, proposing several inducements persuasive to the observance of it.
I. For explication, we may first consider the object of it, no man; then the act itself, which is prohibited, to blaspheme, that is, to reproach, to revile, or (as we have it rendered) to speak evil.
No man. St. Paul questionless did especially mean hereby to hinder the Christians at that time from reproaching the Jews and the pagans among whom they lived, men in their lives very wicked and corrupt, men in opinion extremely dissenting from them, men who greatly did hate, and cruelly did persecute them; of whom therefore they had mighty provocations and temptations to speak ill; their judgment of the persons, and their resentment of injuries, making it difficult to abstain from doing so. Whence by a manifest analogy may be inferred that the object of duty is very large, indeed universal and unlimited: that we must forbear reproach not only against pious and virtuous persons, against persons of our own judgment or party, against those who never did harm or offend us, against our relations, our friends, our benefactors, in respect of whom there is no ground or temptation of evil-speaking; but even against the most unworthy and wicked persons, against those who most differ in opinion and practice from us, against those who never did oblige us, yea, those who have most disobliged us, even against our most bitter and spiteful enemies. There is no exception or excuse to be admitted from the quality, state, relation, or demeanour of men; the duty (according to the proper sense, or due qualifications and limits of the act) doth extend to all men: for, "Speak evil of no man."
As for the act, it may be inquired what the word [Greek] (to blaspheme) doth import. I answer, that it is to vent words concerning any person which do signify in us ill-opinion, or contempt, anger, hatred, enmity conceived in our minds towards him; which are apt in him to kindle wrath, and breed ill-blood towards us; which tend to beget in others that hear ill-conceit or ill-will towards him; which are much destructive of his reputation, prejudicial to his interests, productive of damage or mischief to him. It is otherwise in Scripture termed [Greek], to rail or revile, (to use bitter and ignominious language); [Greek], to speak contumeliously; [Greek], to bring railing accusation (or reproachful censure); [Greek], to use obloquy, or detraction; [Greek], to curse, that is, to speak words importing that we do wish ill to a person.
Such is the language we are prohibited to use. To which purpose we may observe that whereas, in our conversation and commerce with men, there do frequently often occur occasions to speak of men and to men words apparently disadvantageous to them, expressing our dissent in opinion from them, or a dislike in us of their proceedings, we may do this in different ways and terms; some of them gentle and moderate, signifying no ill mind or disaffection towards them; others harsh and sharp, arguing height of disdain, disgust, or despite, whereby we bid them defiance, and show that we mean to exasperate them. Thus, telling a man that we differ in judgment from him, or conceive him not to be in the right, and calling him a liar, a deceiver, a fool, saying that he doeth amiss, taketh a wrong course, transgresseth the rule, and calling him dishonest, unjust, wicked, to omit more odious and provoking names, unbecoming this place, and not deserving our notice, are several ways of expressing the same things whereof the latter, in relating passages concerning our neighbour, or in debating cases with him, is prohibited: for thus the words reproaching, reviling, railing, cursing, and the like do signify, and thus our Lord Himself doth explain them in His divine sermon, wherein he doth enact this law: "Whosoever," saith He, "shall say to his brother, Raca" (that is, vain man, or liar), "shall be in danger of the council; but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell-fire;" that is, he rendereth himself liable to a strict account, and to severe condemnation before God, who useth contemptuous and contumelious expressions towards his neighbour, in proportion to the malignity of such expressions.
The reason of things also doth help to explain those words, and to show why they are prohibited because those harsh terms are needless, mild words serving as well to express the same things: because they are commonly unjust, loading men with greater defect or blame than they can be proved to deserve, or their actions do import; for every man that speaketh falsehood is not therefore a liar, every man that erreth is not thence a fool, every man that doeth amiss is not consequently dishonest or wicked; the secret intentions and habitual dispositions of men not being always to be collected from their outward actions; because they are uncharitable, signifying that we entertain the worst opinions of men, and make the worst construction of their doings, and are disposed to show them no favour or kindness: because, also, they produce mischievous effects, such as spring from the worst passions raised by them.
This in gross is the meaning of the precept. But since there are some other precepts seeming to clash with this; since there are cases wherein we are allowed to use the harsher sort of terms, there are great examples in appearance thwarting this rule; therefore it may be requisite for determining the limits of our duty, and distinguishing it from transgression, that such exceptions or restrictions should be somewhat declared.
1. First, then, we may observe that it may be allowable to persons in anywise concerned in the prosecution or administration of justice, to speak words which in private intercourse would be reproachful. A witness may impeach of crimes hurtful to justice, or public tranquillity; a judge may challenge, may rebuke, may condemn an offender in proper terms (or forms of speech prescribed by law), although most disgraceful and distasteful to the guilty: for it belongeth to the majesty of public justice to be bold, blunt, severe; little regarding the concerns or passions of particular persons, in comparison to the public welfare.
A testimony, therefore, or sentence against a criminal, which materially is a reproach, and morally would be such in a private mouth, is not yet formally so according to the intent of this rule. For practices of this kind, which serve the exigencies of justice, are not to be interpreted as proceeding from anger, hatred, revenge, any bad passion or humour; but in way of needful discipline for God's service, and common benefit of men. It is not, indeed, so much the minister of justice, as God Himself, our absolute Lord; as the Sovereign, God's representative, acting in the public behalf; as the commonwealth itself, who by His mouth do rebuke the obnoxious person.
2. God's ministers in religious affairs, to whom the care of men's instruction and edification is committed, are enabled to inveigh against sin and vice, whoever consequentially may be touched thereby: yea, sometimes it is their duty with severity and sharpness to reprove particular persons, not only privately, but publicly, for their correction, and for the edification of others.
Thus St. Paul directeth Timothy: "Them that sin" (notoriously and scandalously, he meaneth), "rebuke before all, that others may fear:" that is, in a manner apt to make impression on the minds of the hearers, so as to scare them from like offences. And to Titus he writes, "Rebuke them sharply, that they may be found in the faith." And, "Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and show my people their transgressions, and the house of Jacob their sins," saith the Lord to the prophet. Such are the charges and commissions laid on and granted to His messengers.
Thus we may observe that God's prophets of old, St. John the Baptist, our Lord Himself, the holy apostles did in terms most vehement and biting reprove the age in which they lived, and some particular persons in them. The prophets are full of declamations and invectives against the general corruption of their times, and against the particular manners of some persons in them. "Ah, sinful nation; people laden with iniquity, a seed of evil-doers, children that are corrupters! They are all adulterers, an assembly of treacherous men; and they bend their tongues like their bow for lies. Thy princes are rebellious and companions of thieves; every one loveth gifts, and followeth after rewards: they judge not the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come before them. The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule by their means. As troops of robbers wait for a man, so the company of priests murder in the way by consent, and commit lewdness." Such is their style commonly. St. John the Baptist calleth the Scribes and Pharisees a "generation of vipers." Our Saviour speaketh of them in the same terms; calleth them an "evil and adulterous generation, serpents, and children of vipers. Hypocrites, painted sepulchres, obscure graves ([Greek]), blind guides; fools and blind, children of the devil." St. Paul likewise calleth the schismatical heretical teachers "dogs, false apostles, evil and deceitful workers, men of corrupt minds, reprobates and abominable." With the like colours do St. Peter, St. Jude, and other apostles paint them. Which sort of speeches are to be supposed to proceed, not from private passion or design, but out of holy zeal for God's honour, and from earnest charity towards men, for to work their amendment and common edification. They were uttered also by special wisdom and peculiar order; from God's authority, and in His name; so that, as God by them is said to preach, to entreat, to warn, and to exhort, so by them also He may be said to reprehend and reproach.
3. Even private persons in due season, with discretion and temper, may reprove others, whom they observe to commit sin, or follow bad courses, out of charitable design, and with hope to reclaim them. This was an office of charity imposed anciently even upon the Jews; much more doth it lie upon Christians, who are obliged more earnestly to tender the spiritual good of those who by the stricter and more holy bands of brotherhood are allied to them. "Thou shalt not hate thy brother; thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him," was a precept of the old law: and, [Greek], to admonish the disorderly, is an evangelical rule. Such persons we are enjoined to shun and decline; but first we must endeavour by sober advice and admonition to reclaim them; we must not thus reject them till they appear contumacious and incorrigible, refusing to hear us, or becoming deaf to reproof. This, although it necessarily doth include setting out their faults, and charging blame on them (answerable to their offences), is not the culpable reproach here meant, it being needful towards a wholesome effect, and proceeding from charitable intention.
4. Some vehemency, some smartness and sharpness of speech may sometimes be used in defence of truth, and impugning errors of bad consequence; especially when it concerneth the interest of truth, that the reputation and authority of its adversaries should somewhat be abased or abated. If by partial opinion or reverence towards them, however begotten in the minds of men, they strive to overbear or discountenance a good cause, their faults (so far as truth permitteth and need requireth) may be detected and displayed. For this cause particularly may we presume our Lord (otherwise so meek in His temper, and mild in His carriage towards all men) did characterise the Jewish scribes in such terms, that their authority, being then so prevalent with the people, might not prejudice the truth, and hinder the efficacy of His doctrine. This is part of that [Greek], that duty of contending earnestly for the faith, which is incumbent on us.
5. It may be excusable upon particular emergent occasions, with some heat of language to express dislike of notorious wickedness. As our Lord doth against the perverse incredulity and stupidity in the Pharisees, their profane misconstruction of His words and actions, their malicious opposing truth, and obstructing His endeavours in God's service. As St. Peter did to Simon Magus, telling him that he was in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity. As St. Paul to Elymas the sorcerer, when he withstood him, and desired to turn away the Deputy Sergius from the faith; "O," said he, stirred with a holy zeal and indignation, "thou full of all subtilty and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord?" The same spirit which enabled him to inflict a sore punishment on that wicked wretch, did prompt him to use that sharp language towards him; unquestionably deserved, and seasonably pronounced. As also when the high priest commanded him illegally and unjustly to be misused, that speech from a mind justly sensible of such outrage broke forth, "God shall smite thee, thou whited wall." So when St. Peter presumptuously would have dissuaded our Lord from compliance with God's will, in undergoing those crosses which were appointed to Him by God's decree, our Lord calleth him Satan; . . . . "[Greek], "Avaunt, Satan, thou art an offence unto Me; for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that are of men."
These sort of speeches, issuing from just and honest indignation, are sometimes excusable, oftentimes commendable; especially when they come from persons eminent in authority, of notable integrity, endued with special measures of Divine grace, of wisdom, of goodness; such as cannot be suspected of intemperate anger, of ill- nature, of ill-will, or of ill-design.
In such cases as are above mentioned, a sort of evil-speaking about our neighbour may be allowable or excusable. But, for fear of overdoing, great caution and temper is to be used; and we should never apply any such limitations as cloaks to palliate unjust or uncharitable dealing. Generally it is more advisable to suppress such eruptions of passion than to vent it; for seldom passion hath not inordinate motions joined with it, or tendeth to good ends. And, however, it will do well to reflect on those cases, and to remark some particulars about them.
First, we may observe that in all these cases all possible moderation, equity, and candour are to be used; so that no ill- speaking be practised beyond what is needful or convenient. Even in prosecution of offences, the bounds of truth, of equity, of humanity and clemency are not to be transgressed. A judge must not lay on the most criminal person more blame or contumely than the case will bear, or than serveth the designs of justice. However our neighbour doth incur the calamities of sin and of punishment, we must not be insolent or contemptuous towards him. So we may learn by that law of Moses, backed with a notable reason: "And it shall be, if the wicked man be worthy to be beaten, that the judge cause him to lie down, and to be beaten before his face, according to his fault by a certain number. Forty stripes he may give him, and not exceed; lest if he should exceed, and beat him above those stripes, then thy brother should seem vile unto thee." Whence appears that we should be careful of not vilifying an offender beyond measure. And how mildly governors should proceed in the administration of justice, the example of Joshua may teach us, who thus examineth Achan, the cause of so great mischief to the public: "My son, give, I pray thee, glory to the Lord God of Israel, and make confession unto Him; and tell me now what thou hast done, and hide it not from me." "My son;" what compellation could be more benign and kind? "I pray thee;" what language could be more courteous and gentle? "give glory to God, and make confession;" what words could be more inoffensively pertinent? And when he sentenced that great malefactor, the cause of so much mischief, this was all he said, "Why hast thou troubled us? the Lord will trouble thee;" words void of contumely or insulting, containing only a close intimation of the cause, and a simple declaration of the event he was to undergo.
Secondly, likewise ministers, in the taxing sin and sinners, are to proceed with great discretion and caution, with much gentleness and meekness; signifying a tender pity of their infirmities, charitable desires for their good, the best opinion of them, and the best hopes for them, that may consist with any reason; according to those apostolical rules: "Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted;" and, "We that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves:" and, more expressly, "A servant of the Lord must not fight, but be gentle toward all, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves." Thus did St. Peter temper his reproof of Simon Magus with this wholesome and comfortable advice: "Repent, therefore, from this thy wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee."
Thirdly, as for fraternal censure and reproof of faults (when it is just and expedient to use it), ordinarily the calmest and mildest way is the most proper, and most likely to obtain good success; it commonly doth in a more kindly manner convey the sense thereof into the heart, and therein more powerfully worketh remorse, than the fierce and harsh way. Clearly to show a man his fault, with the reason proving it such, so that he becometh thoroughly convinced of it, is sufficient to breed in him regret, and to shame him before his own mind: to do more (in way of aggravation, of insulting on him, of inveighing against him), as it doth often not well consist with humanity, so it is seldom consonant to discretion, if we do, as we ought, seek his health and amendment. Humanity requireth that when we undertake to reform our neighbour, we should take care not to deform him (not to discourage or displease him more than is necessary); when we would correct his manners, that we should also consider his modesty, and consult his reputation; "curam agentes," as Seneca speaketh, "non tantum salutis, sed et honestae cicatricis" (having care not only to heal the wound, but to leave a comely scar behind). "Be," adviseth St. Austin, "so displeased with iniquity, as to consider and consult humanity;" for, "Zeal void of humanity is not," saith St. Chrysostom, "zeal, but rather animosity; and reproof not mixed with good-will appeareth a kind of malignity." We should so rebuke those who, by frailty or folly incident to mankind, have fallen into misdemeanours, that they may perceive we do sincerely pity their ill case, and tender their good; that we mean not to upbraid their weakness or insult upon their misfortune; that we delight not to inflict on them more grief than is plainly needful and unavoidable; that we are conscious and sensible of our own obnoxiousness to the like slips or falls, and do consider that we also may be tempted, and being tempted, may be overborne. This they cannot perceive or be persuaded of, except we temper our speech with benignity and mildness. Such speech prudence also dictateth, as most useful and hopeful for producing the good ends honest reprehension doth aim at; it mollifieth and it melteth a stubborn heart, it subdueth and winneth a perverse will, it healeth distempered affections. Whereas roughly handling is apt to defeat or obstruct the cure: rubbing the sore doth tend to exasperate and inflame it. Harsh speech rendereth advice odious and unsavoury; driveth from it and depriveth it of efficacy; it turneth regret for a fault into displeasure and disdain against the reprover; it looks not like the dealing of a kind friend, but like the persecution of a spiteful enemy; it seemeth rather an ebullition of gall, or a defluxion from rancour, than an expression of good-will; the offender will take it for a needless and pitiless tormenting, or for a proud and tyrannical domineering over him. He that can bear a friendly touch, will not endure to be lashed with angry and reproachful words. In fine, all reproof ought to be seasoned with discretion, with candour, with moderation, and meekness.
Fourthly, likewise in defence of truth, and maintenance of a good cause, we may observe that commonly the fairest language is most proper and advantageous, and that reproachful or foul terms are most improper and prejudicial. A calm and meek way of discoursing doth much advantage a good cause, as arguing the patron thereof to have confidence in the cause itself, and to rely upon his strength: that he is in a temper fit to apprehend it himself, and to maintain it; that he propoundeth it as a friend, wishing the hearer for his own good to follow it, leaving him the liberty to judge, and choose for himself. But rude speech, and contemptuous reflections on persons, as they do signify nothing to the question, so they commonly bring much disadvantage and damage to the cause, creating mighty prejudices against it; they argue much impotency in the advocate, and consequently little strength in what he maintains; that he is little able to judge well, and altogether unapt to teach others; they intimate a diffidence in himself concerning his cause, and that, despairing to maintain it by reason, he seeks to uphold it by passion; that not being able to convince by fair means, he would bear down by noise and clamour: that not skilling to get his suit quietly, he would extort it by force, obtruding his conceits violently as an enemy, or imposing them arbitrarily as a tyrant. Thus doth he really disparage and slur his cause, however good and defensible in itself.
A modest and friendly style doth suit truth; it, like its author, doth usually reside (not in the rumbling wind, nor in the shaking earthquake, nor in the raging fire, but) in the small still voice; sounding in this, it is most audible, most penetrant, and most effectual; thus propounded, it is willingly hearkened to: for men have no aversion from hearing those who seem to love them, and wish them well. It is easily conceived, no prejudice or passion clouding the apprehensive faculties; it is readily embraced, no animosity withstanding or obstructing it. It is the sweetness of the lips, which, as the wise man telleth us, increaseth learning; disposing a man to hear lessons of good doctrine, rendering him capable to understand them, insinuating and impressing them upon the mind; the affections being thereby unlocked, the passage becomes open to the reason.
But it is plainly a preposterous method of instructing, of deciding controversies, of begetting peace, to vex and anger those concerned by ill language. Nothing surely doth more hinder the efficacy of discourse, and prevent conviction, than doth this course, upon many obvious accounts. It doth first put in a strong bar to attention: for no man willingly doth afford an ear to him whom he conceiveth disaffected towards him: which opinion harsh words infallibly will produce; no man can expect to hear truth from him whom he apprehendeth disordered in his own mind, whom he seeth rude in his proceedings, whom he taketh to be unjust in his dealing; as men certainly will take those to be, who presume to revile others for using their own judgment freely, and dissenting from them in opinion. Again, this course doth blind the hearer's mind, so that he cannot discern what he that pretends to instruct him doth mean, or how he doth assert his doctrine. Truth will not be discerned through the smoke of wrathful expressions; right being defaced by foul language will not appear, passion being excited will not suffer a man to perceive the sense or the force of an argument. The will also thereby is hardened and hindered from submitting to truth. In such a case, non persuadebis, etiamsi persuaseris; although you stop his mouth, you cannot subdue his heart; although he can no longer fight, yet he never will yield: animosity raised by such usage rendereth him invincibly obstinate in his conceits and courses. Briefly, from this proceeding men become unwilling to mark, unfit to apprehend, indisposed to embrace any good instruction or advice; it maketh them indocile and intractable, averse from better instruction, pertinacious in their opinions, and refractory in their ways.
"Every man," saith the wise man, "shall kiss his lips that giveth a right answer;" but no man surely will be ready to kiss those lips which are embittered with reproach, or defiled with dirty language.
It is said of Pericles, that with thundering and lightning he put Greece into confusion; such discourse may serve to confound things, it seldom tendeth to compose them. If reason will not pierce, rage will scarce avail to drive it in. Satirical virulency may vex men sorely, but it hardly ever soundly converts them. "Few become wiser or better by ill words." Children may be frightened into compliance by loud and severe reprimands; but men are to be allured by rational persuasion backed with courteous usage; they may be sweetly drawn, they cannot be violently driven to change their judgment and practice. Whence that advice of the apostle, "With meekness instruct those that oppose themselves," doth no less savour of wisdom than of goodness.
Fifthly, as for examples of extraordinary persons, which in some cases do seem to authorise the practice of evil-speaking, we may consider that, as they had especial commission enabling them to do some things beyond ordinary standing rules, wherein they are not to be imitated: as they had especial illumination and direction, which preserved them from swerving in particular cases from truth and equity; so the tenor of their life did evidence that it was the glory of God, the good of men, the necessity of the case, which moved them to it. And of them also we may observe, that on divers occasions (yea, generally, whenever only their private credit or interest was concerned), although grievously provoked, they did out of meekness, patience, and charity, wholly forbear reproachful speech. Our Saviour, who sometimes upon special reason in His discourses used such harsh words, yet when He was most spitefully accused, reproached, and persecuted, did not open His mouth, or return one angry word: "Being reviled, He did not," as St. Peter, proposing His example to us, telleth us, "revile again; suffering, He did not threaten." He used the softest language to Judas, to the soldiers, to Pilate and Herod, to the priests, etc. And the apostles, who sometimes inveigh so zealously against the opposers and perverters of truth, did in their private conversation and demeanour strictly observe their own rules, of abstinence from reproach: "Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it;" so doth St. Paul represent their practice. And in reason we should rather follow them in this their ordinary course, than in their extraordinary sallies of practice.
In fine, however in some cases and circumstances the matter may admit such exceptions, so that all language disgraceful to our neighbour is not ever culpable; yet the cases are so few and rare in comparison, the practice commonly so dangerous and ticklish, that worthily forbearing to reproach doth bear the style of a general rule; and particularly (for clearer direction) we are in the following cases obliged carefully to shun it; or in speaking about our neighbour we must observe these cautions.
1. We should never in severe terms inveigh against any man without reasonable warrant, or presuming upon a good call and commission thereto. As every man should not assume to himself the power of administering justice (of trying, sentencing, and punishing offenders), so must not every man take upon him to speak against those who seem to do ill; which is a sort of punishment, including the infliction of smart and damage upon the persons concerned. Every man hath indeed a commission, in due place and season, with discretion and moderation to admonish his neighbour offending; but otherwise to speak ill of him, no private man hath just right or authority, and therefore, in presuming to do it, he is disorderly and irregular, trespassing beyond his bounds, usurping an undue power to himself.
2. We should never speak ill of any man without apparent just cause. It must be just; we must not reproach men for things innocent or indifferent; for not concurring in disputable opinions with us, for not complying with our humour, for not serving our interest, for not doing anything to which they are not obliged, or for using their liberty in any case: it must be at least some considerable fault, which we can so much as tax. It must also be clear and certain, notorious and palpable; for to speak ill upon slender conjectures, or doubtful suspicions, is full of iniquity. "[Greek], "They rail at things which they know not," is part of those wicked men's character, whom St. Jude doth so severely reprehend. If, indeed, these conditions being wanting, we presume to reproach any man, we do therein no less than slander him; which to do is unlawful in any case, is in truth a most diabolical and detestable crime. To impose odious names and characters on any person, which he deserveth not, or without ground of truth, is to play the devil; and hell itself scarce will own a fouler practice.
3. We should not cast reproach upon any man without some necessary reason. In charity (that charity which "covereth all sins," which "covereth a multitude of sins") we are bound to connive at the defects, and to conceal the faults of our brethren; to extenuate and excuse them, when apparent, so far as we may in truth and equity. We must not therefore ever produce them to light, or prosecute them with severity, except very needful occasion urgeth—such as is the glory and service of God, the maintenance of truth, the vindication of innocence, the preservation of public justice and peace; the amendment of our neighbour himself, or securing others from contagion. Barring such reasons (really being, not affectedly pretended), we are bound not so much as to disclose, as to touch our neighbour's faults; much more, not to blaze them about, not to exaggerate them by vehement invectives.
4. We should never speak ill of any man beyond measure; be the cause never so just, the occasion never so necessary, we should yet nowise be immoderate therein, exceeding the bounds prescribed by truth, equity, and humanity. We should never speak worse of any man whatever than he certainly deserveth, according to the most favourable construction of his doings; never more than the cause absolutely requireth. We should rather be careful to fall short of what in rigorous truth might be said against him, than in the least to pass beyond it. The best cause had better seem to suffer a little by our reservedness in its defence, than any man be wronged by our aspersing him; for God, the patron of truth and right, is ever able to secure them without the succour of our unjust and uncharitable dealing. The contrary practice hath indeed within it a spice of slander, that is, of the worst iniquity.
5. We must never speak ill of any man out of bad principles, or for bad ends.
No sudden or rash anger should instigate us thereto. For, "Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil-speaking be put away from you, with all malice," is the apostolical precept; they are all associates and kindred, which are to be cast away together. Such anger itself is culpable, as a work of the flesh, and therefore to be suppressed; and all its brood therefore is also to be smothered; the daughter of such a mother cannot be legitimate. "The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God."
We must not speak ill out of inveterate hatred or ill-will. For this murderous, this viperous disposition should itself be rooted out of our hearts: whatever issueth from it cannot be otherwise than very bad; it must be a poisonous breath that exhaleth from that foul source.
We must not be provoked thereto by any revengeful disposition, or rancorous spleen, in regard to any injuries or discourtesies received. For, as we must not revenge ourselves, or render evil in any other way, so particularly not in this, which is commonly the special instance expressly prohibited. "Render not evil for evil," saith St. Peter, "nor railing for railing; but contrariwise bless," or speak well; and "Bless them," saith the Lord, "which curse you;" "Bless," saith St. Paul, "and curse not."
We must not also do it out of contempt; for we are not to slight our brethren in our hearts. No man really, considering what he is, whence he came, how he is related, what he is capable of, can be despicable. Extreme naughtiness is indeed contemptible; but the unhappy person that is engaged therein is rather to be pitied than despised. However, charity bindeth us to stifle contemptuous motions of heart, and not to vent them in vilifying expression. Particularly, it is a barbarous practice, out of contempt to reproach persons for natural imperfections, for meanness of condition, for unlucky disasters, for any involuntary defects; this being indeed to reproach mankind, unto which such things are incident; to reproach Providence, from the disposal whereof they do proceed. "Whoso mocketh the poor, despiseth his Maker," saith the wise man; and the same may be said of him that reproachfully mocketh him that is dull in parts, deformed in body, weak in health or strength, defective in any such way.
Likewise we must not speak ill out of envy; because others do excel us in any good quality, or exceed us in fortune. To harbour this base and ugly disposition in our minds is unworthy of a man (who should delight in all good springing up anywhere, and befalling any man, naturally allied unto him); it is most unworthy of a Christian, who should tender his brother's good as his own, and rejoice with those that rejoice. From thence to be drawn to cast reproach upon any man, is horrible and heinous wickedness.
Neither should we ever use reproach as a means of compassing any design we do affect or aim at; 'tis an unwarrantable engine of raising us to wealth, dignity, or repute. To grow by the diminution, to rise by the depression, to shine by the eclipse of others, to build a fortune upon the ruins of our neighbour's reputation, is that which no honourable mind can affect, no honest man will endeavour. Our own wit, courage, and industry, managed with God's assistance and blessing, are sufficient, and only lawful instruments of prosecuting honest enterprises; we need not, we must not instead of them employ our neighbour's disgrace; no worldly good is worth purchasing at such a rate, no project worth achieving by such foul ways.
Neither should we out of malignity, to cherish or gratify ill humour, use this practice. It is observable of some persons, that not out of any formed displeasure, grudge, or particular disaffection, nor out of any particular design, but merely out of a [Greek], an ill disposition, springing up from nature, or contracted by use, they are apt to carp at any action, and with sharp reproach to bite any man that comes in their way, thereby feeding and soothing that evil inclination. But as this inhuman and currish humour should be corrected, and extirpated from our hearts; so should the issues thereof at our mouths be stopped; the bespattering our neighbour's good name should never afford any satisfaction or delight unto us.
Nor out of wantonness should we speak ill, for our divertisement or sport. For our neighbour's reputation is too great and precious a thing to be played with, or offered up to sport; we are very foolish in so disvaluing it, very naughty in so misusing it. Our wits are very barren, our brains are ill furnished with store of knowledge, if we can find no other matter of conversation.
Nor out of negligence and inadvertency should we sputter out reproachful speech; shooting ill words at rovers, or not regarding who stands in our way. Among all temerities this is one of the most noxious, and therefore very culpable.
In fine, we should never speak concerning our neighbour from any other principle than charity, or to any other intent but what is charitable; such as tendeth to his good, or at least is consistent therewith. "Let all your things," saith St. Paul, "be done in charity;" and words are most of the THINGS we do concerning our neighbour, wherein we may express charity. In all our speeches, therefore, touching him, we should plainly show that we have a care of his reputation, that we tender his interest, that we even desire his content and repose. Even when reason and need do so require that we should disclose and reprehend his faults, we may, we should by the manner and scope of our speech signify thus much. Which rule, were it observed, if we should never speak ill otherwise than out of charity, surely most ill-speaking would be cut off; most, I fear, of our tattling about others, much of our gossiping would be marred.
Indeed, so far from bitter or sour our language should be, that it ought to be sweet and pleasant; so far from rough and harsh, that it should be courteous and obliging; so far from signifying wrath, ill- will, contempt, or animosity, that it should express tender affection, good esteem, sincere respect towards our brethren; and be apt to produce the like in them towards us. The sense of them should be grateful to the heart; the very sound and accent of them should be delightful to the ear. Every one should please his neighbour for his good to edification. Our words should always be [Greek], with grace, seasoned with salt; they should have the grace of courtesy, they should be seasoned with the salt of discretion, so as to be sweet and savoury to the hearers. Commonly ill language is a certain sign of inward enmity and ill-will. Good-will is wont to show itself in good terms; it clotheth even its grief handsomely, and its displeasure carrieth favour in its face; its rigour is civil and gentle, tempered with pity for the faults and errors which it disliketh, with the desire of their amendment and recovery whom it reprehendeth. It would inflict no more evil than is necessary; it would cure its neighbour's disease without exasperating his patience, troubling his modesty, or impairing his credit. As it always judgeth candidly, so it never condemneth extremely.
II. But so much for the explication of this precept, and the directive part of our discourse. I shall now briefly propound some inducements to the observance thereof.
1. Let us consider that nothing more than railing and reviling is opposite to the nature, and inconsistent with the tenor of our religion; which (as even a heathen did observe of it) nil nisi justum suadet, et lene, doth recommend nothing but what is very just and mild; which propoundeth the practices of charity, meekness, patience, peaceableness, moderation, equity, alacrity, or good humour, as its principal laws, and declareth them the chief fruits of the Divine spirit and grace; which chargeth us to curb and compose all our passions; more particularly to restrain and repress anger, animosity, envy, malice, and such-like dispositions, as the fruits of carnality and corrupt lust; which consequently drieth up all the sources or dammeth up the sluices of bad language. As it doth above all things oblige us to bear no ill-will in our hearts, so it chargeth us to vent none with our mouths.
2. It is therefore often expressly condemned and prohibited as evil. 'Tis the property of the wicked; a character of those who work iniquity, to "whet their tongues like a sword, and bend their bows to shoot their arrows, even bitter words."
3. No practice hath more severe punishments denounced to it than this. The railer (and it is indeed a very proper and fit punishment for him, he being exceedingly bad company) is to be banished out of all good society; thereto St. Paul adjudgeth him: "I have," saith he, "now written unto you, not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner, with such an one not to eat." Ye see what company the railer hath in the text, and with what a crew of people he is coupled; but no good company he is allowed elsewhere; every good Christian should avoid him as a blot, and a pest of conversation; and finally he is sure to be excluded from the blessed society above in heaven; for "neither thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners shall inherit the kingdom of God;" and "without" (without the heavenly city) "are dogs," saith St. John in his Revelation; that is, those chiefly who out of currish spite or malignity do frowardly bark at their neighbours, or cruelly bite them with reproachful language.
4. If we look upon such language in its own nature, what is it but a symptom of a foul, a weak, a disordered and a distempered mind? 'Tis the smoke of inward rage and malice: 'tis a stream that cannot issue from a sweet spring; 'tis a storm that cannot bluster out of a calm region. "The words of the pure are pleasant words," as the wise man saith.
5. This practice doth plainly signify low spirit, ill-breeding, and bad manners; and thence misbecometh any wise, any honest, any honourable person. It agreeth to children, who are unapt and unaccustomed to deal in matters considerable, to squabble; to women of meanest rank (apt, by nature, or custom, to be transported with passion) to scold. In our modern languages it is termed villainy, as being proper for rustic boors, or men of coarsest education and employment; who, having their minds debased by being conversant in meanest affairs, do vent their sorry passions, and bicker about their petty concernments, in such strains; who also, being not capable of a fair reputation, or sensible of disgrace to themselves, do little value the credit of others, or care for aspersing it. But such language is unworthy of those persons, and cannot easily be drawn from them, who are wont to exercise their thoughts about nobler matters, who are versed in affairs manageable only by calm deliberation and fair persuasion, not by impetuous and provocative rudeness; which do never work otherwise upon masculine souls than so as to procure disdain and resistance. Such persons, knowing the benefit of a good name, being wont to possess a good repute, prizing their own credit as a considerable good, will never be prone to bereave others of the like by opprobrious speech. A noble enemy will never speak of his enemy in bad terms.
We may further consider that all wise, all honest, all ingenuous persons have an aversion from ill-speaking, and cannot entertain it with any acceptance or complacence; that only ill-natured, unworthy, and naughty people are its willing auditors, or do abet it with applause. The good man, in Psalm xv., non accipit opprobrium, doth not take up, or accept, a reproach against his neighbour: "but a wicked doer," saith the wise man, "giveth heed to false lips, and a liar giveth ear to a naughty tongue." And what reasonable man will do that which is disgustful to the wise and good, is grateful only to the foolish and baser sort of men? I pretermit that using this sort of language doth incapacitate a man for benefiting his neighbour, and defeateth his endeavours for his edification, disparaging a good cause, prejudicing the defence of truth, obstructing the effects of good instruction and wholesome reproof; as we did before remark and declare. Further—
6. He that useth this kind of speech doth, as harm and trouble others, so create many great inconveniences and mischiefs to himself thereby. Nothing so inflameth the wrath of men, so provoketh their enmity, so breedeth lasting hatred and spite, as do contumelious words. They are often called swords and arrows; and as such they pierce deeply, and cause most grievous smart; which men feeling are enraged, and accordingly will strive to requite them in the like manner and in all other obvious ways of revenge. Hence strife, clamour, and tumult, care, suspicion, and fear, danger and trouble, sorrow and regret, do seize on the reviler; and he is sufficiently punished for this dealing. No man can otherwise live than in perpetual fear of reciprocal like usage from him whom he is conscious of having so abused. Whence, if not justice, or charity towards others, yet love and pity of ourselves should persuade us to forbear it as disquietful, incommodious, and mischievous to us.
We should indeed certainly enjoy much love, much concord, much quiet, we should live in great safety and security, we should be exempted from much care and fear, if we would restrain ourselves from abusing and offending our neighbour in this kind: being conscious of so just and innocent demeanour towards him, we should converse with him in a pleasant freedom and confidence, not suspecting any bad language or ill usage from him.
7. Hence with evidently good reason is he that useth such language called a fool: and he that abstaineth from it is commended as wise. "A fool's lips enter into contention, and his mouth calleth for strokes. A fool's mouth is his destruction, and his lips are the snare of his soul. He that refraineth his tongue is wise. In the tongue of the wise is health. He that keepeth his lips, keepeth his life: but he that openeth wide his mouth" (that is, in evil- speaking, gaping with clamour and vehemency) "shall have destruction. The words of a wise man's mouth are gracious: but the lips of a fool will swallow up himself. Death and life are in the power of the tongue; and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof;" that is, of the one or the other, answerably to the kind of speech they choose.
In fine, very remarkable is that advice, or resolution of the grand point concerning the best way of living happily, in the psalmist: "What man is he that desireth life, and loveth many days, that he may see good? Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile." Abstinence from ill-speaking he seemeth to propose as the first step towards the fruition of a durably happy life.
8. Lastly, we may consider that it is a grievous perverting of the design of speech, that excellent faculty, which so much distinguisheth us from, so highly advanceth us above other creatures, to use it to the defaming and disquieting of our neighbour. It was given us as an instrument of beneficial commerce and delectable conversation; that with it we might assist and advise, might cheer and comfort one another: we, therefore, in employing it to the disgrace, vexation, damage or prejudice in any kind of our neighbour, do foully abuse it; and so doing, render ourselves indeed worse than dumb beasts: for better far it were that we could say nothing, than that we should speak ill.
"Now the God of grace and peace . . . make us perfect in every good work to do His will, working in us that which is well-pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen."
THE FOLLY OF SLANDER.
"He that uttereth slander is a fool."—Prov. x. 18.
General declamations against vice and sin are indeed excellently useful, as rousing men to consider and look about them: but they do often want effect, because they only raise confused apprehensions of things, and indeterminate propensions to action; which usually, before men thoroughly perceive or resolve what they should practise, do decay and vanish. As he that cries out "Fire!" doth stir up people, and inspireth them with a kind of hovering tendency every way, yet no man thence to purpose moveth until he be distinctly informed where the mischief is; then do they, who apprehend themselves concerned, run hastily to oppose it: so, till we particularly discern where our offences lie (till we distinctly know the heinous nature and the mischievous consequences of them), we scarce will effectually apply ourselves to correct them. Whence it is requisite that men should be particularly acquainted with their sins, and by proper arguments be dissuaded from them.
In order whereto I have now selected one sin to describe, and dissuade from, being in nature as vile, and in practice as common, as any other whatever that hath prevailed among men. It is slander, a sin which in all times and places hath been epidemical and rife; but which especially doth seem to reign and rage in our age and country.
There are principles innate to men, which ever have, and ever will incline them to this offence. Eager appetites to secular and sensual goods; violent passions, urging the prosecution of what men affect; wrath and displeasure against those who stand in the way of compassing their desires; emulation and envy towards those who happen to succeed better, or to attain a greater share in such things; excessive self-love; unaccountable malignity and vanity, are in some degrees connatural to all men, and ever prompt them to this dealing, as appearing the most efficacious, compendious, and easy way of satisfying such appetites, of promoting such designs, of discharging such passions. Slander thence hath always been a principal engine whereby covetous, ambitious, envious, ill-natured, and vain persons have striven to supplant their competitors, and advance themselves; meaning thereby to procure, what they chiefly prize and like, wealth, or dignity, or reputation, favour and power in the court, respect and interest with the people.
But from especial causes our age peculiarly doth abound in this practice; for, besides the common dispositions inclining thereto, there are conceits newly coined, and greedily entertained by many, which seem purposely levelled at the disparagement of piety, charity, and justice, substituting interest in the room of conscience, authorising and commending for good and wise, all ways serving to private advantage. There are implacable dissensions, fierce animosities, and bitter zeals sprung up; there is an extreme curiosity, niceness, and delicacy of judgment: there is a mighty affectation of seeming wise and witty by any means; there is a great unsettlement of mind, and corruption of manners, generally diffused over people: from which sources it is no wonder that this flood hath so overflown, that no banks can restrain it, no fences are able to resist it; so that ordinary conversation is full of it, and no demeanour can be secure from it.
If we do mark what is done in many (might I not say, in most?) companies, what is it but one telling malicious stories of, or fastening odious characters upon another? What do men commonly please themselves in so much, as in carping and harshly censuring, in defaming and abusing their neighbours? Is it not the sport and divertisement of many, to cast dirt in the faces of all they meet with; to bespatter any man with foul imputations? Doth not in every corner a Momus lurk, from the venom of whose spiteful or petulant tongue no eminency of rank, dignity of place, or sacredness of office, no innocence or integrity of life, no wisdom or circumspection in behaviour, no good-nature or benignity in dealing and carriage, can protect any person? Do not men assume to themselves a liberty of telling romances, and framing characters concerning their neighbour, as freely as a poet doth about Hector or Turnus, Thersites or Draucus? Do they not usurp a power of playing with, or tossing about, of tearing in pieces their neighbour's good name, as if it were the veriest toy in the world? Do not many having a form of godliness (some of them, demurely, others confidently, both without any sense of, or remorse for what they do) backbite their brethren? Is it not grown so common a thing to asperse causelessly that no man wonders at it, that few dislike, that scarce any detest it? that most notorious calumniators are heard, not only with patience, but with pleasure; yea, are even held in vogue and reverence as men of a notable talent, and very serviceable to their party? so that slander seemeth to have lost its nature, and not to be now an odious sin, but a fashionable humour, a way of pleasing entertainment, a fine knack, or curious feat of policy; so that no man at least taketh himself or others to be accountable for what is said in this way? Is not, in fine, the case become such, that whoever hath in him any love of truth, any sense of justice or honesty, any spark of charity towards his brethren, shall hardly be able to satisfy himself in the conversations he meeteth; but will be tempted, with the holy prophet, to wish himself sequestered from society, and cast into solitude; repeating those words of his, "Oh, that I had in the wilderness a lodging-place of wayfaring men, that I might leave my people, and go from them: for they are . . . . an assembly of treacherous men, and they bend their tongues like their bow for lies"? This he wished in an age so resembling ours, that I fear the description with equal patness may suit both: "Take ye heed" (said he then, and may we not advise the like now?) "every one of his neighbour, and trust ye not in any brother: for every brother will utterly supplant, and every neighbour will walk with slanders. They will deceive every one his neighbour, and will not speak the truth; they have taught their tongue to speak lies, and weary themselves to commit iniquity."
Such being the state of things, obvious to experience, no discourse may seem more needful, or more useful, than that which serveth to correct or check this practice: which I shall endeavour to do (1) by describing the nature, (2) by declaring the folly of it: or showing it to be very true which the wise man here asserteth, "He that uttereth slander is a fool." Which particulars I hope so to prosecute, that any man shall be able easily to discern, and ready heartily to detest this practice.
I. For explication of its nature, we may describe slander to be the uttering false (or equivalent to false, morally false) speech against our neighbour, in prejudice to his fame, his safety, his welfare, or concernment in any kind, out of malignity, vanity, rashness, ill-nature, or bad design. That which is in Holy Scripture forbidden and reproved under several names and notions: of bearing false witness, false accusation, railing censure, sycophantry, tale-bearing, whispering, backbiting, supplanting, taking up reproach: which terms some of them do signify the nature, others denote the special kinds, others imply the manners, others suggest the ends of this practice. But it seemeth most fully intelligible by observing the several kinds and degrees thereof; as also by reflecting on the divers ways and manners of practising it.
The principal kinds thereof I observe to be these:
1. The grossest kind of slander is that which in the Decalogue is called, bearing false testimony against our neighbour; that is, flatly charging him with facts which he never committed, and is nowise guilty of. As in the case of Naboth, when men were suborned to say, "Naboth did blaspheme God and the king:" and as was David's case, when he thus complained, "False witnesses did rise up, they laid to my charge things that I knew not of." This kind in the highest way (that is, in judicial proceedings) is more rare; and of all men, they who are detected to practise it, are held most vile and infamous; as being plainly the most pernicious and perilous instruments of injustice, the most desperate enemies of all men's right and safety that can be. But also out of the court there are many knights-errant of the post, whose business it is to run about scattering false reports; sometimes loudly proclaiming them in open companies, sometimes closely whispering them in dark corners; thus infecting conversation with their poisonous breath: these no less notoriously are guilty of this kind, as bearing always the same malice, and sometimes breeding as ill effects.
2. Another kind is, affixing scandalous names, injurious epithets, and odious characters upon persons, which they deserve not. As when Corah and his accomplices did accuse Moses of being ambitious, unjust, and tyrannical: when the Pharisees called our Lord an impostor, a blasphemer, a sorcerer, a glutton and wine-bibber, an incendiary and perverter of the people, one that spake against Caesar, and forbade to give tribute: when the apostles were charged with being pestilent, turbulent, factious and seditious fellows. This sort being very common, and thence in ordinary repute not so bad, yet in just estimation may be judged, even worse than the former; as doing to our neighbour more heavy and more irreparable wrong. For it imposeth on him really more blame, and that such which he can hardly shake off: because the charge signifieth habit of evil, and includeth many acts; then, being general and indefinite, can scarce be disproved. He, for instance, that calleth a sober man drunkard, doth impute to him many acts of such intemperance (some really past, others probably future), and no particular time or place being specified, how can a man clear himself of that imputation, especially with those who are not thoroughly acquainted with his conversation? So he that calleth a man unjust, proud, perverse, hypocritical, doth load him with most grievous faults, which it is not possible that the most innocent person should discharge himself from.
3. Like to that kind is this: aspersing a man's actions with harsh censures and foul terms, importing that they proceed from ill principles, or tend to bad ends; so as it doth not or cannot appear. Thus when we say of him that is generously hospitable, that he is profuse; of him that is prudently frugal, that he is niggardly; of him that is cheerful and free in his conversation, that he is vain or loose; of him that is serious and resolute in a good way, that he is sullen or morose; of him that is conspicuous and brisk in virtuous practice, that it is ambition or ostentation which prompts him; of him that is close and bashful in the like good way, that it is sneaking stupidity, or want of spirit; of him that is reserved, that it is craft; of him that is open, that it is simplicity in him; when we ascribe a man's liberality and charity to vainglory, or popularity; his strictness of life, and constancy, in devotion, to superstition, or hypocrisy. When, I say, we pass such censures, or impose such characters on the laudable or innocent practice of our neighbours, we are indeed slanderers, imitating therein the great calumniator, who thus did slander even God Himself, imputing His prohibition of the fruit unto envy towards men; "God," said he, "doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil;" who thus did ascribe the steady piety of Job, not to a conscientious love and fear of God, but to policy and selfish design: "Doth Job fear God for nought?"
Whoever, indeed, pronounceth concerning his neighbour's intentions otherwise than as they are evidently expressed by words, or signified by overt actions, is a slanderer; because he pretendeth to know, and dareth to aver, that which he nowise possibly can tell whether it be true; because the heart is exempt from all jurisdiction here, is only subject to the government and trial of another world; because no man can judge concerning the truth of such accusations, because no man can exempt or defend himself from them: so that apparently such practice doth thwart all course of justice and equity.
4. Another kind is, perverting a man's words or actions disadvantageously by affected misconstruction. All words are ambiguous, and capable of different senses, some fair, some more foul; all actions have two handles, one that candour and charity will, another that disingenuity and spite may lay hold on; and in such cases to misapprehend is a calumnious procedure, arguing malignant disposition and mischievous design. Thus when two men did witness that our Lord affirmed, He "could demolish the temple, and rear it again in three days"—although He did indeed speak words to that purpose, meaning them in a figurative sense, discernible enough to those who would candidly have minded His drift and way of speaking—yet they who crudely alleged them against Him are called false witnesses. "At last," saith the Gospel, "came two false witnesses, and said, This fellow said, I am able to destroy the temple," etc. Thus also when some certified of St. Stephen, as having said that "Jesus of Nazareth should destroy that place, and change the customs that Moses delivered;" although probably he did speak words near to that purpose, yet are those men called false witnesses: "And," saith St. Luke, "they set up false witnesses, which said, This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words," etc. Which instances plainly do show, if we would avoid the guilt of slander, how careful we should be to interpret fairly and favourably the words and the actions of our neighbour.
5. Another sort of this practice is, partial and lame representation of men's discourse, or their practice; suppressing some part of the truth in them, or concealing some circumstances about them which might serve to explain, to excuse, or to extenuate them. In such a manner easily, without uttering any logical untruth, one may yet grievously calumniate. Thus suppose a man speaketh a thing upon supposition, or with exception, or in way of objection, or merely for disputation sake, in order to the discussion or clearing of truth; he that should report him asserting it absolutely, unlimitedly, positively and peremptorily, as his own settled judgment, would notoriously calumniate. If one should be inveigled by fraud, or driven by violence, or slip by chance into a bad place or bad company, he that should so represent the gross of that accident, as to breed an opinion of that person, that out of pure disposition and design he did put himself there, doth slanderously abuse that innocent person. The reporter in such cases must not think to defend himself by pretending that he spake nothing false; for such propositions, however true in logic, may justly be deemed lies in morality, being uttered with a malicious and deceitful (that is, with a calumnious) mind, being apt to impress false conceits and to produce hurtful effects concerning our neighbour. There are slanderous truths as well as slanderous falsehoods: when truth is uttered with a deceitful heart, and to a base end, it becomes a lie. "He that speaketh truth," saith the wise man, "showeth forth righteousness: but a false witness deceit." Deceiving is the proper work of slander: and truth abused to that end putteth on its nature, and will engage into like guilt.
6. Another kind of calumny is, by instilling sly suggestions; which although they do not downrightly assert falsehoods, yet they breed sinister opinions in the hearers; especially in those who, from weakness or credulity, from jealousy or prejudice, from negligence or inadvertency, are prone to entertain them. This is done many ways: by propounding wily suppositions, shrewd insinuations, crafty questions, and specious comparisons, intimating a possibility, or inferring some likelihood of, and thence inducing to believe the fact. "Doth not," saith this kind of slanderer, "his temper incline him to do thus? may not his interest have swayed him thereto? had he not fair opportunity and strong temptation to it? hath he not acted so in like cases? Judge you therefore whether he did it not." Thus the close slanderer argueth; and a weak or prejudiced person is thereby so caught, that he presently is ready thence to conclude the thing done. Again: "He doeth well," saith the sycophant, "it is true; but why, and to what end? Is it not, as most men do, out of ill design? may he not dissemble now? may he not recoil hereafter? have not others made as fair a show? yet we know what came of it." Thus do calumnious tongues pervert the judgments of men to think ill of the most innocent, and meanly of the worthiest actions. Even commendation itself is often used calumniously, with intent to breed dislike and ill-will towards a person commended in envious or jealous ears; or so as to give passage to dispraises, and render the accusations following more credible. 'Tis an artifice commonly observed to be much in use there, where the finest tricks of supplanting are practised, with greatest effect; so that pessimum inimicorum genus, laudantes; there is no more pestilent enemy than a malevolent praiser. All these kinds of dealing, as they issue from the principles of slander, and perform its work, so they deservedly bear the guilt thereof.
7. A like kind is that of oblique and covert reflections; when a man doth not directly or expressly charge his neighbour with faults, but yet so speaketh that he is understood, or reasonably presumed to do it. This is a very cunning and very mischievous way of slandering; for therein the skulking calumniator keepeth a reserve for himself, and cutteth off from the person concerned the means of defence. If he goeth to clear himself from the matter of such aspersions: "What need," saith this insidious speaker, "of that? must I needs mean you? did I name you? why do you then assume it to yourself? do you not prejudge yourself guilty? I did not, but your own conscience, it seemeth, doth accuse you. You are so jealous and suspicious, as persons overwise or guilty use to be." So meaneth this serpent out of the hedge securely and unavoidably to bite his neighbour, and is in that respect more base and more hurtful than the most flat and positive slanderer.
8. Another kind is that of magnifying and aggravating the faults of others; raising any small miscarriage into a heinous crime, any slender defect into an odious vice, and any common infirmity into a strange enormity; turning a small "mote in the eye" of our neighbour into a huge "beam," a little dimple in his face into a monstrous wen. This is plainly slander, at least in degree, and according to the surplusage whereby the censure doth exceed the fault. As he that, upon the score of a small debt, doth extort a great sum, is no less a thief, in regard to what amounts beyond his due, than if without any pretence he had violently or fraudulently seized on it: so he is a slanderer that, by heightening faults or imperfections, doth charge his neighbour with greater blame, or load him with more disgrace than he deserves. 'Tis not only slander to pick a hole where there is none, but to make that wider which is, so that it appeareth more ugly, and cannot so easily be mended. For charity is wont to extenuate faults, justice doth never exaggerate them. As no man is exempt from some defects, or can live free from some misdemeanours, so by this practice every man may be rendered very odious and infamous.
9. Another kind of slander is, imputing to our neighbour's practice, judgment, or profession, evil consequences (apt to render him odious, or despicable) which have no dependence on them, or connection with them. There do in every age occur disorders and mishaps, springing from various complications of causes, working some of them in a more open and discernible, others in a more secret and subtle way (especially from Divine judgment and providence checking or chastising sin): from such occurrences it is common to snatch occasion and matter of calumny. Those who are disposed this way, are ready peremptorily to charge them upon whomsoever they dislike or dissent from, although without any apparent cause, or upon most frivolous and senseless pretences; yea, often when reason showeth quite the contrary, and they who are so charged are in just esteem of all men the least obnoxious to such accusations. So usually the best friends of mankind, those who most heartily wish the peace and prosperity of the world and most earnestly to their power strive to promote them, have all the disturbances and disasters happening charged on them by those fiery vixens, who (in pursuance of their base designs, or gratification of their wild passions) really do themselve embroil things, and raise miserable combustions in the world. So it is that they who have the conscience to do mischief, will have the confidence also to disavow the blame and the iniquity, to lay the burden of it on those who are most innocent. Thus, whereas nothing more disposeth men to live orderly and peaceably, nothing more conduceth to the settlement and safety of the public, nothing so much draweth blessings down from heaven upon the commonwealth, as true religion; yet nothing hath been more ordinary than to attribute all the miscarriages and mischiefs that happened unto it; even those are laid at his door, which plainly do arise from the contempt or neglect of it; being the natural fruits or the just punishments of irreligion. King Ahab by forsaking God's commandments, and following wicked superstitions, had troubled Israel, drawing sore judgments and calamities thereon; yet had he the heart and the face to charge those events on the great assertor of piety, Elias: "Art thou he that troubleth Israel?" The Jews by provocation of Divine justice had set themselves in a fair way towards desolation and ruin; this event to come they had the presumption to lay upon the faith of our Lord's doctrine: "If," said they, "we let Him alone, all men will believe on Him, and the Romans shall come, and take away our place and nation:" whereas, in truth, a compliance with His directions and admonitions had been the only means to prevent those presaged mischiefs. And, si Tibris ascenderit in maenia, if any public calamity did appear, then Christianos ad leones, Christians must be charged and persecuted as the causes thereof. To them it was that Julian and other pagans did impute all the concussions, confusions, and devastations falling upon the Roman Empire. The sacking of Rome by the Goths they cast upon Christianity; for the vindication of it from which reproach St. Austin did write those renowned books de Civitate Dei. So liable are the best and most innocent sort of men to be calumniously accused in this manner.
Another practice (worthily bearing the guilt of slander) is, aiding and being accessory thereto, by anywise furthering, cherishing, abetting it. He that by crafty significations of ill-will doth prompt the slanderer to vent his poison; he that by a willing audience and attention doth readily suck it up, or who greedily swalloweth it down by credulous approbation and assent; he that pleasingly relisheth and smacketh at it, or expresseth a delightful complacence therein: as he is a partner in the fact, so he is a sharer in the guilt. There are not only slanderous throats, but slanderous ears also; not only wicked inventions, which engender and brood lies, but wicked assents, which hatch and foster them. Not only the spiteful mother that conceiveth such spurious brats, but the midwife that helpeth to bring them forth, the nurse that feedeth them, the guardian that traineth them up to maturity, and setteth them forth to live in the world; as they do really contribute to their subsistence, so deservedly they partake in the blame due to them, and must be responsible for the mischief they do. For indeed were it not for such free entertainers, such nourishers, such encouragers of them, slanderers commonly would die in the womb, or prove still-born, or presently entering into the cold air, would expire, or for want of nourishment soon would starve. It is such friends and patrons of them who are the causes that they are so rife; they it is who set ill-natured, base, and designing people upon devising, searching after, and picking up malicious and idle stories. Were it not for such customers, the trade of calumniating would fall. Many pursue it merely out of servility and flattery, to tickle the ears, to soothe the humour, to gratify the malignant disposition or ill-will of others; who upon the least discouragement would give over the practice. If therefore we would exempt ourselves from all guilt of slander, we must not only abstain from venting it, but forbear to regard or countenance it: for "he is," saith the wise man, "a wicked doer who giveth heed to false lips, and a liar who giveth ear to a naughty tongue." Yea, if we thoroughly would be clear from it, we must show an aversion from hearing it, an unwillingness to believe it, an indignation against it; so either stifling it in the birth, or condemning it to death, being uttered. This is the sure way to destroy it, and to prevent its mischief. If we would stop our ears, we should stop the slanderer's mouth; if we would resist the calumniator, he would fly from us; if we would reprove him, we should repel him. For, "as the north wind driveth away rain, so," the wise man telleth us, "doth an angry countenance a backbiting tongue."
These are the chief and most common kinds of slander; and there are several ways of practising them worthy our observing, that we may avoid them, namely these:—
1. The most notoriously heinous way is, forging and immediately venting ill stories. As it is said of Doeg, "Thy tongue deviseth mischief;" and of another like companion, "Thou givest thy mouth to evil, and thy tongue frameth deceit;" and as our Lord saith of the devil, "When he speaketh a lie, [Greek], he speaketh of his own; for he is a liar, and the father of it." This palpably is the supreme pitch of calumny, incapable of any qualifications or excuse: hell cannot go beyond this; the cursed fiend himself cannot worse employ his wit than in minting wrongful falsehoods.
2. Another way is, receiving from others, and venting such stories, which they who do it certainly know or may reasonably presume to be false; the becoming hucksters of counterfeit wares, or factors in this vile trade. There is no false coiner who hath not some accomplices and emissaries ready to take from his hand and put off his money; and such slanderers at second hand are scarce less guilty than the first authors. He that breweth lies may have more wit and skill, but the broacher showeth the like malice and wickedness. In this there is no great difference between the great devil, that frameth scandalous reports, and the little imps that run about and disperse them.
3. Another way is, when one without competent examination, due weighing, and just reason, doth admit and spread tales prejudicial to his neighbour's welfare; relying for his warrant, as to the truth of them, upon any slight or slender authority. This is a very common and current practice: men presume it lawful enough to say over whatever they hear; to report anything, if they can quote an author for it. "It is not," say they, "my invention; I tell it as I heard it: sit fides penes authorem; let him that informed me undergo the blame if it prove false." So do they conceive themselves excusable for being the instruments of injurious disgrace and damage to their neighbours. But they greatly mistake therein; for as this practice commonly doth arise from the same wicked principles, at least in some degree, and produceth altogether the like mischievous effects, as the wilful devising and conveying slander: so it no less thwarteth the rules of duty, the laws of equity; God hath prohibited it, and reason doth condemn it. "Thou shalt not," saith God in the Law, "go up and down as a tale-bearer among thy people:" as a talebearer (as Rachil, that is), as a merchant or trader in ill reports and stories concerning our neighbour, to his prejudice. Not only the framing of them, but the dealing in them beyond reason or necessity, is interdicted. And it is part of a good man's character in Psalm xv., Non accipit opprobrium, "He taketh not up a reproach against his neighbour;" that is, he doth not easily entertain it, much less doth he effectually propagate it: and in our text, "He," it is said, "that uttereth slander" (not only he that conceiveth it) "is a fool."
And in reason, before exact trial and cognisance, to meddle with the fame and interest of another, is evidently a practice full of iniquity, such as no man can allow in his own case, or brook being used towards himself without judging himself to be extremely abused by such reporters. In all reason and equity, yea, in all discretion, before we yield credence to any report concerning our neighbour, or venture to relate it, many things are carefully to be weighed and scanned. We should, concerning our author, consider whether he be not a particular enemy, or disaffected to him: whether he be not ill-humoured, or a delighter in telling bad stories; whether he be not dishonest, or unregardful of justice in his dealings and discourse; whether he be not vain, or careless of what he saith; whether he be not light or credulous, or apt to be imposed upon by any small appearance; whether, at least in the present case, he be not negligent, or too forward and rash in speaking. We should also, concerning the matter reported, mind whether it be possible or probable; whether suitable to the disposition of our neighbour, to his principles, to the constant tenor of his practice; whether the action imputed to him be not liable to misapprehension, or his words to misconstruction. All reason and equity do, I say, exact from us, diligently to consider such things, before we do either embrace ourselves or transmit unto others any story concerning our neighbour; lest unadvisedly we do him irreparable wrong and mischief. Briefly, we should take his case for our own, and consider whether we ourselves should be content that upon like grounds or testimonies any man should believe, or report, disgraceful things concerning us. If we fail to do thus, we do, vainly, or rashly, or maliciously, conspire with the slanderer to the wrong of our innocent neighbour; and that in the psalmist, by a parity of reason, may be transferred to us, "Thou hast consented unto the liar, and hast partaken with the" author of calumny.
4. Of kin to this way is the assenting to popular rumours, and thence affirming matters of obloquy to our neighbour. Every one by experience knows how easily false news do rise, and how nimbly they scatter themselves; how often they are raised from nothing, how soon they from small sparks grow into a great blaze, how easily from one thing they are transformed into another; especially news of this kind, which do suit and feed the bad humour of the vulgar. 'Tis obvious to any man how true that is of Tacitus, how void of consideration, of judgment, of equity, the busy and talking part of mankind is. Whoever therefore gives heed to flying tales, and thrusts himself into the herd of those who spread them, is either strangely injudicious, or very malignantly disposed. If he want not judgment, he cannot but know that when he complieth with popular fame, it is mere chance that he doth not slander, or rather it is odds that he shall do so; he consequently showeth himself to be indifferent whether he doeth it or no, or rather that he doth incline to do it; whence, not caring to be otherwise, or loving to be a slanderer, he in effect and just esteem is such; having at least a slanderous heart and inclination. He that puts it to the venture whether he lieth or no, doth eo ipso lie morally, as declaring no care or love of truth. "Thou shalt not," saith the Law, "follow a multitude to do evil;" and with like reason we should not follow the multitude in speaking evil of our neighbour.
5. Another slanderous course is, to build censures and reproaches upon slender conjectures, or uncertain suspicions (those [Greek], evil surmises, which St. Paul condemneth). Of these occasion can never be wanting to them who seek them, or are ready to embrace them; no innocence, no wisdom can anywise prevent them; and if they may be admitted as grounds of defamation, no man's good name can be secure. But he that upon such accounts dareth to asperse his neighbour is in moral computation no less a slanderer than if he did the like out of pure invention, or without any ground at all: for doubtful and false in this case differ little; to devise, and to divine, in matters of this nature, do import near the same. He that will judge or speak ill of others, ought to be well assured of what he thinks or says; he that asserteth that which he doth not know to be true, doth as well lie as he that affirmeth that which he knoweth to be false; for he deceiveth the hearers, begetting in them an opinion that he is assured of what he affirms; especially in dealing with the concernments of others, whose right and repute justice doth oblige us to beware of infringing, charity should dispose us to regard and tender as our own. It is not every possibility, every seeming, every faint show or glimmering appearance, which sufficeth to ground bad opinion or reproachful discourse concerning our brother: the matter should be clear, notorious and palpable, before we admit a disadvantageous conceit into our head, a distasteful resentment into our heart, a harsh word into our mouth about him. Men may fancy themselves sagacious and shrewd, persons of deep judgment and fine wit they may be taken for, when they can dive into others' hearts, and sound their intentions; when through thick mists or at remote distances they can descry faults in them; when they collect ill of them by long trains, and subtle fetches of discourse: but in truth they do thereby rather betray in themselves small love of truth, care of justice, or sense of charity, together with little wisdom and discretion: for truth is only seen in a clear light; justice requireth strict proof. Charity "thinketh no evil," and "believeth all things" for the best; wisdom is not forward to pronounce before full evidence. ("He," saith the wise man, "that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him.") In fine, they who proceed thus, as it is usual that they speak falsely, as it is casual that they ever speak truly, as they affect to speak ill, true or false; so worthily they are to be reckoned among slanderers.
6. Another like way of slandering is, impetuous or negligent sputtering out of words, without minding what truth or consequence there is in them, how they may touch or hurt our neighbour. To avoid this sin, we must not only be free from intending mischief, but wary of effecting it; not only careful of not wronging one distinct person, but of harming any promiscuously; not only abstinent from aiming directly, but provident not to hit casually any person with obloquy. For as he that dischargeth shot into a crowd, or so as not to look about regarding who may stand in the way, is no less guilty of doing mischief, and bound to make satisfaction to them he woundeth, than if he had aimed at some one person: so if we sling our bad words at random, which may light unluckily, and defame somebody, we become slanderers unawares, and before we think on it. This practice hath not ever all the malice of the worst slander, but it worketh often the effects thereof; and therefore doth incur its guilt, and its punishment; especially it being commonly derived from ill-temper, or from bad habit, which we are bound to watch over, to curb, and to correct. The tongue is a sharp and perilous weapon, which we are bound to keep up in the sheath, or never to draw forth but advisedly, and upon just occasion; it must ever be wielded with caution and care: to brandish it wantonly, to lay about with it blindly and furiously, to slash and smite therewith any that happeneth to come in our way, doth argue malice or madness.
7. It is an ordinary way of proceeding to calumniate, for men, reflecting upon some bad disposition in themselves (although resulting from their own particular temper, from their bad principles, or from their ill custom), to charge it presently upon others; presuming others to be like themselves: like the wicked person in the psalm, "Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself." This is to slander mankind first in the gross; then in retail, as occasion serveth, to asperse any man; this is the way of half-witted Machiavellians, and of desperate reprobates in wickedness, who having prostituted their consciences to vice, for their own defence and solace, would shroud themselves from blame under the shelter of common pravity and infirmity; accusing all men of that whereof they know themselves guilty. But surely there can be no greater iniquity than this, that one man should undergo blame for the ill conscience of another.
These seem to be the chief kinds of slander, and most common ways of practising it. In which description, the folly thereof doth, I suppose, so clearly shine, that no man can look thereon without loathing and despising it, as not only a very ugly, but a most foolish practice. No man surely can be wise who will suffer himself to be defiled therewith. But to render its folly more apparent, we shall display it; declaring it to be extremely foolish upon several accounts. But the doing of this, in regard to your patience, we shall forbear at present.
THE FOLLY OF SLANDER.
"He that uttereth slander is a fool."—Prov. x. 18.
I have formerly in this place, discoursing upon this text, explained the nature of the sin here condemned, with its several kinds and ways of practising.
II. I shall now proceed to declare the folly of it; and to make good by divers reasons the assertion of the wise man, that "He who uttereth slander is a fool."
1. Slandering is foolish, as sinful and wicked.
All sin is foolish upon many accounts; as proceeding from ignorance, error, inconsiderateness, vanity; as implying weak judgment, and irrational choice; as thwarting the dictates of reason, and best rules of wisdom; as producing very mischievous effects to ourselves, bereaving us of the chief goods, and exposing us to the worst evils. What can be more egregiously absurd than to dissent in our opinion and discord in our choice from infinite wisdom; to provoke by our actions sovereign justice, and immutable severity: to oppose almighty power, and offend immense goodness; to render ourselves unlike and contrary in our doings, our disposition, our state, to absolute perfection and felicity? What can be more desperately wild than to disoblige our best Friend, to forfeit His love and favour, to render Him our enemy, who is our Lord and our Judge, upon whose mere will and disposal all our subsistence, all our welfare does absolutely depend? What greater madness can be conceived than to deprive our minds of all true content here, and to separate our souls from eternal bliss hereafter; to gall our consciences now with sore remorse, and to engage ourselves for ever in remediless miseries? Such folly doth all sin include: whence in Scripture style worthily goodness and wisdom are terms equivalent; sin and folly do signify the same thing.
If thence this practice be proved extremely sinful, it will thence sufficiently be demonstrated no less foolish. And that it is extremely sinful may easily be shown. It is the character of the superlatively wicked man: "Thou givest thy mouth to evil, and thy tongue frameth deceit. Thou sittest and speakest against thy brother; thou slanderest thine own mother's son." It is, indeed, plainly the blackest and most hellish sin that can be; that which giveth the grand fiend his names, and most expresseth his nature. He is [Greek] (the slanderer); Satan, the spiteful adversary; the old snake or dragon, hissing out lies, and spitting forth venom of calumnious accusation; the accuser of the brethren, a murderous, envious, malicious calumniator; the father of lies; the grand defamer of God to man, of man to God, of one man to another. And highly wicked surely must that practice be, whereby we grow namesakes to him, conspire in proceeding with him, resemble his disposition and nature. It is a complication, a comprisal, a collection and sum of all wickedness; opposite to all the principal virtues (to veracity and sincerity, to charity and justice), transgressing all the great commandments, violating immediately and directly all the duties concerning our neighbour.