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face, or in the ear of those who are concerned in them; but do utter them in a low voice, in dark corners, out of sight and hearing, where they conceit themselves at present safe from being called to an account. ‘Swords,’ saith the psalmist of such persons, “are in their lips: Who, say they, doth hear?' And, “Whoso privily slandereth his neighbor, him will I cut off,' saith David again, intimating the common manner of this practice. Calumny is like ‘the plague, that walketh in darkness.’ Hence appositely are the practisers thereof termed whisperers and backbiters: their heart suffers them not openly to avow, their conscience tells them they cannot fairly defend their practice. Again, Seventhly, the consequent of this practice is commonly shameful disgrace, with an obligation to retract, and render satisfaction; for seldom doth calumny pass long without being detected and confuted. “He that walketh uprightly walketh surely: but he that perverteth his ways shall be known:” and, • The lip of truth shall be established for ever; but a lying lip is but for a moment,” saith the great observer of things. And when the slanderer is disclosed, the slanderer is obliged to excuse, (that is, to palliate one lie with another, if he can do it,) or forced to recant, with much disgrace and extreme displeasure to himself: he is also many times constrained, with his loss and pain, to repair the mischief he hath done. Eighthly, to this in likelihood the concernments of men, and the powers which guard justice, will forcibly bring him: and certainly his conscience will bind him thereto; God will indispensably exact it from him. He can never have any sound quiet in his mind, he can never expect pardon from heaven, without acknowleging his fault, repairing the wrong he hath done, restoring that good name of which he dispossessed his neighbor: for in this no less than in other cases conscience cannot be satisfied, remission will not be granted, except due restitution be performed; and of all restitutions this surely is the most difficult, most laborious, and most troublesome. It is nowise so hard to restore goods stolen or extorted, as to recover a good opinion lost, to wipe off aspersions cast on a man's name, to cure a wounded reputation: the most earnest and diligent endeavor can hardly ever effect this, or spread the plaster so far as the sore hath reached. The slanderer therefore doth engage himself into great straits, incurring an obligation to repair an almost irreparable mischief. Ninthly, this practice doth also certainly revenge itself, imposing on its actor a perfect retaliation; ‘a tooth for a tooth;’ an irrecoverable infamy to himself for the infamy he causeth to others. Who will regard his fame, who will be concerned to excuse his faults, who so outrageously abuseth the reputation of others? He sufferethjustly, he is paid in his own coin, will any man think, who doth hear him reproached. Tenthly, in fine, the slanderer (if he doth not by serious and sore repentance retract his practice) doth banish himself from heaven and happiness, doth expose himself to endless miseries and sorrows. For if none that “maketh a lie shall enter into the heavenly city;’ if without those mansions of joy and bliss every one must eternally abide ‘that loveth or maketh a lie;’ if, wäot rois bevöéal, to all liars their portion is assigned ‘in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone;” then assuredly the capital liar, the slanderer, (who lieth most injuriously and mischievously,) shall be far excluded from felicity, and thrust down into the depth of that miserable place. If, as St. Paul saith, no railer, or evil-speaker, “shall inherit the kingdom of God: how far thence shall they be removed, who without any truth or justice do speak ill of and reproach their neighbor? If for every pyov flipia, idle or vain word we must render a strict account; how much more shall we be severely reckoned with for this sort of words, so empty of truth and void of equity; words that are not only negatively vain, or useless, but positively vain, as false, and spoken to bad purpose 2 If slander perhaps here may evade detection, or scape deserved punishment; yet infallibly hereafter, at the dreadful day, it shall be disclosed, irreversibly condemned, inevitably persecuted with condign reward of utter shame and sorrow. Is not he then, he who, out of malignity, or vanity, to serve any design, or sooth any humor in himself or others, doth by committing this sin involve himself into all these great evils, both here and hereafter, a most desperate and deplorable fool 7 Having thus described the nature of this sin, and declared the folly thereof, we need, I suppose, to say no more for dissuading it; especially to persons of a generous and honest mind, who cannot but scorn to debase and defile themselves by so mean and vile a practice; or to those who seriously do profess Christianity, that is, the religion which peculiarly above all others prescribeth constant truth, strictest justice, and highest charity. * I shall only add, that since our faculty of speech (wherein we do excel all other creatures) was given us, as in the first place to praise and glorify our Maker, so in the next to benefit and help our neighbor; as an instrument of mutual succor and delectation, of friendly commerce and pleasant converse together; for instructing and advising, comforting and cheering one another; it is an unnatural perverting, and an irrational abuse thereof, to employ it to the damage, disgrace, vexation, or wrong in any kind of our brother. Better indeed had we been as brutes without its use, than we are, if so worse than brutishly we abuse it. Finally, all these things being considered, we may, I think, reasonably conclude it most evidently true, that “he which uttereth slander is a fool.”
SUMMARY OF SERMON XIX.
JAMES, CHAP. Iv.—VERSE 11.
ONE half of our religion consists in charity towards our neighbor; and of that charity much the greater part seems exercised in speech. Meaning of the word karaXaXeiv: in stricter acceptation it denotes that particular sort of obloquy which is called detraction, or backbiting : and so we may be allowed to understand it here.
The nature of this fault described : its difference from slander:
and reviling is, that it may be couched in truth and clothed in fair language : it is the fault (opposite to ingenuousness or candor) which out of a haughty disposition or design strives to disgrace worthy persons, or to disparage good actions, looking for blemishes and defects in them, and using care to pervert or misrepresent things to that purpose: farther observations on this head : to get a fuller understanding of it, some particular acts, wherein it is commonly exercised, are more distinctly considered.
1. A detractor is wont to represent persons and actions under the most disadvantageous light he can : there is no person so excellent, who is not by circumstances forced to omit some things which it would become him to do, if he were able; to perform some things lamely, and otherwise than he would wish; no action so worthy, but it may have some defect in matter or manner, incapable of redress; and he that represents such person or action, leaving out all excusing circumstances, gives a mean opinion of them, robbing them of their due value and commendation.
2. He is wont to misconstrue ambiguous words, or to misinterpret doubtful appearances of things. 3. He is accustomed to misname the qualities of persons or things, assigning bad appellations or epithets to good or indifferent qualities, calling a sober man sour, a cheerful man vain, a reserved man crafty, a modest man sullen, &c. 4. He imperfectly characterises persons, so as studiously to veil or faintly to disclose their virtues and good qualities; bylt he carefully exposes, and fully aggravates any defects or failings in them. 5. He is wont not to commend or allow any thing absolutely and clearly, but always interposes some objection, to which he would have it seem liable. 6. He is ready to suggest ill causes and principles, latent in the heart, of practices apparently good, ascribing what is well done to a bad disposition or a bad purpose. 7. He derogates from good actions by pretending to correct them, or to show better that might have been done in their room : see John xii. 5. 8. A detractor not regarding the general course of a man's conversation, which is conspicuously and clearly good, will attack some part of it, where its goodness is less discernible, and more subject to contest or blame. 9. In fine, the detractor brings forward suggestions of every thing anywise plausible or possible, that can serve to diminish the worth of a person, or the value of an action, which he would discountenance: such is the nature and way of detraction. For dissuading men from its practice, the causes whence it proceeds are next considered. I. 1. It proceeds from ill-nature and bad humor: 2. from pride, ambition, and inordinate self-love: 3. from envy : 4. from malicious revenge and spite : 5. from a sense of weakness or want of courage: 6. from an evil conscience: 7. from