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bad and selfish designs, it being a common engine by which evil persons strive to compass their ends: such are its principles and causes. II. It involves the following kinds of irregularity and depravity. 1. Injustice; a detractor caring not how he deals with his neighbor, and what wrong he does him: 2. uncharitableness; it being evident that the detractor does not love his neighbor, since charity believeth every thing, hopeth every thing to the advantage of its object: 3. impiety; for he that loves and reverences God, will acknowlege and approve his goodness, in bestowing excellent gifts and graces on his brethren; will be afraid to disavow or disgrace them, lest he rob God of the glory due to him : 4. it involves degenerate baseness, meanness of spirit, and want of good manners: 5. consequently detraction includes folly; for every unjust, uncharitable, impious, or base person is, as such, a fool; none of those qualities being consistent with wisdom. But the folly of this vice will farther appear, from the bad effects which it produces both to others and to him who uses it. III. The practice of it is a great discouragement and obstruction to the common practice of goodness; for many, when they see virtue thus disparaged, are deterred from pursuing it: this topic enlarged on : 2. hence detraction is very noxious and baneful to society; for all society is maintained in welfare by the encouragement of honesty and industry; the which, when disparagement is cast on them, will be in danger of languishing and decaying: 3. it works real damage and mischief to our neighbor, bereaving him of that good reputation which is the reward of virtue: 4. the detractor abuses those into whose ears he instils his poisonous suggestions, engaging them to participate in the injuries done to worth and virtue: 5. he produces great inconveniences and mischiefs to himself, raising up against himself animosity and general hatred: 6. he also yields occasion to others and a kind of right to return the same measure to him: 7. again the detractor, according to moral possibility, will assuredly be defeated in his aims: his detraction in the end will bring shame and trouble on himself. Such are the natural and obvious effects of this practice: one more consideration only is subjoined, and that suggested by the text. Speak not evil of one another, says the Apostle, brethren : this appellation therefore implies a strong argument to inforce the precept: for brethren are bound to love each other: this point enlarged on. Conclusion.
ONE half of our religion consisteth in charity toward our neighbor; and of that charity much the greater part seemeth exercised in speech; for as speaking doth take up the greatest part of our life, (our quick and active mind continually venting its thoughts, and discharging its passions thereby ; all our conversation and commerce passing through it, having a large influence on all our practice,) so speech commonly having our neighbor and his concernments for its objects, it is necessary that either most of our charity will be employed therein, or that by it we shall most offend against that great duty, together with its associates, justice and peace.
And all offences of this kind (which transgress charity, violate justice, or infringe peace) may perhaps be forbidden in this apostolical precept; for the word karaXaAeiv, according to its origination, and according to some use, doth signify all kind of obloquy, and so may comprise slander, harsh censure, reviling, scoffing, and the like kinds of speaking against our neighbor; but in stricter acceptation, and according to peculiar use, it denoteth that particular sort of obloquy, which is called detraction, or backbiting; so therefore we may be allowed to understand it here; and accordingly I now mean to describe it, and to dissuade from its practice.
There is between this and the other chief sorts of obloquy (slander, censuring and reviling) much affinity, yet there is some difference; for slander involveth an imputation of falsehood; reviling includeth bitter and foul language; but detraction may be couched in truth, and clothed in fair language; it is a poison often infused in sweet liquor, and ministered in a golden cup. It is of nearer kin to censuring, and accordingly St. James here coupleth it thereto : “he that detracteth from a brother, and he that censureth his brother, backbiteth the law, and censureth the law: yet may these two be distinguished; for censuring seemeth to be of more general purport, extending indifferently to all kinds of persons, qualities, and actions, which it unduly taxeth ; but detraction especially respecteth worthy persons, good qualities, and laudable actions, the reputation of which it aimeth to destroy, or to impair. This sort of ill practice, so rife in use, so base in its nature, so mischievous in its effects, it shall be my endeavor to describe, that we may know it; and to dissuade, that we may shun it. It is the fault (opposite to that part of charity and goodness, which is called ingenuity or candor) which, out of naughty disposition or design, striveth to disgrace worthy persons, or to disparage good actions, looking for blemishes and defects in them, using care and artifice to pervert or misrepresent things to that purpose. An honest and charitable mind disposeth us, when we see any man endued with good qualities, and pursuing a tenor of good practice, to esteem such a person, to commend him, to interpret what he doeth to the best, not to suspect any ill of him, or to seek any exception against him; it inclineth us, when we see any action materially good, to yield it simply due approbation and praise, without searching for, or surmising any defect in the cause or principle, whence it cometh, in the design or end to which it tendeth, in the way or manner of performing it. A good man would be sorry to have any good thing spoiled; as to find a crack in a fair building, a flaw in a fine jewel, a canker in a goodly flower, is grievous to any indifferent man; so would it be displeasing to him to observe defects
in a worthy person, or commendable action; he therefore will not easily entertain a suspicion of any such, he never will hunt for any. But, on the contrary, it is the property of a detractor, when he seeth a worthy person, whom he doth not affect, or whom he is concerned to wrong, to survey him throughly, and to sift all his actions, with intent to descry some failing, or any semblance of a fault, by which he may disparage him; when he vieweth any good action, he peereth into it, laboring to espy some pretence to derogate from the commendation apparently belonging to it. This in general is the nature of this fault. But we may get a fuller understanding of it, by considering more distinctly some particular acts wherein it is commonly exercised, or the several paths in which the detracting spirit treadeth; such are these following. 1. A detractor is wont to represent persons and actions under the most disadvantageous circumstances he can, setting out those which may cause them to appear odious or despicable, slipping over those which may commend or excuse them. There is no person so excellent, who is not by his circumstances forced to omit some things, which would become him to do, if he were able; to perform some things lamely, and otherwise than he would do, if he could reach it; no action so worthy, but may have some defect in matter, or manner, incapable of redress; and he that representeth such person or action, leaving out those excusing circumstances, doth tend to beget a bad or mean opinion of them, robbing them of their due value and commendation: thus to charge a man of not having done a good work, when he had not the power or opportunity to perform it, or is by cross accidents hindered from doing it according to his desire; to suggest the action was not done exactly, in the best season, in the rightest mode, in the most proper place, with expressions, looks, or gestures most convenient, these are tricks of a detractor; who when he cannot deny the metal to be good, and the stamp true, he clippeth it, and so would reject it from being current. 2. He is wont to misconstrue ambiguous words, or to misinterpret doubtful appearances of things: let a man speak never so well, or act never so fairly, yet a detractor will say his words