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if we cannot, or will not scan every point and circumstance which may serve to acquit him, or to excuse and extenuate his guilt, why do we undertake to be his judges? why do we engage ourselves into the commission of so palpable injustice; yea, of so disgraceful folly? for 'he that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is,' saith the wise man, a folly and shame unto him.' This caution excludeth rash judgment, from which if men would abstain, there would be little censuring; for nothing is more ordinary than for men to do like those of whom St. Jude saith, "Ora our oïdaσi Bλaopnμovo,' they rail at what they know not;' they censure persons with whom they are not throughly acquainted, they condemn actions whereof they do not clearly ken the reasons; they little weigh the causes and circumstances which urge or force men to do things; they stand at great distance, and yet with great assurance and peremptoriness determine how things are, as if they did see through them, and knew them most exactly.
4. A judge should never pronounce final sentence, but ex allegatis et probatis, on good grounds, after certain proof, and on full conviction. Not any slight conjecture, or thin surmise; any idle report or weak pretence is sufficient to ground a condemnation on; the case should be irrefragably clear and sure before we determine on the worst side: Judge not,' saith our Lord, according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.' The Jews, seeing our Lord cure an infirm person on the sabbath day, presently on that semblance condemned him of violating the law; not considering either the sense of the law, or the nature of his performance; and this he termeth unrighteous judgment. Every accusation should be deemed null, until, both as to matter of fact, and in point of right, it be firmly proved true; it sufficeth not to presume it may be so; to say, it seemeth thus, doth not sound like the voice of a judge; otherwise seeing there never is wanting some color of accusation, every action being liable to some suspicion or sinister construction, no innocence could be secure, no person could escape condemnation; the reputation and interest of all men living would continually stand exposed to inevitable danger. It is a rule of equity and humanity, built on plain reason, that rather a nocent person should be permitted to escape,
than an innocent should be constrained to suffer for the impunity of the one is but an inconvenience, the suffering of the other is wrong: the punishment of the guilty yieldeth only a remote probable benefit; the affliction of the blameless involveth a near certain mischief: wherefore it is more prudent and more righteous to absolve a man of whose guilt there are probable arguments, than to condemn any man on bare suspicions. And remarkable it is how God in the law did prescribe the manner of trial and judgment, even in the highest case, and most nearly touching himself, that of idolatry; If,' saith the law, Deut. xvii. 4. 'it be told thee, and thou hast heard of it, and inquired diligently, and behold it be true, and the thing certain, that such an abomination is wrought in Israel; then shalt thou bring forth that man, or that woman, and shalt stone them.' See what great caution is prescribed, what pregnant evidence is required in such cases; it is not enough that it be reported, or come to our ear; diligent inquiry must be made, it must be found true, it must appear certain, before we may proceed to condemn or execute; it is indeed not fair judgment, but mere calumny to condemn a man before he doth, by sufficient proof, appear guilty.
If this rule were regarded, how many censures would be prevented! For do not men catch at any shadow of a fault? Are they not ready on the least presumption to condemn their neighbor? Doth not any, even the weakest and vainest testimony, any wandering hearsay, or vulgar rumor, serve to ground the most heavy sentences?
5. From hence is plainly consequent, that there are divers causes wholly exempted from our judgment, and which in no case we must pretend to meddle with; such as are the secret thoughts, affections, and purposes of men, not expressed by plain words, nor declared by overt acts; for a capacity of judging doth ever suppose a power of cognisance; and it being impossible for us to reach the knowlege of those things, we cannot therefore pretend to judge of them. As it is the property of God to search the hearts and try the reins, so it is his prerogative to judge concerning the secret motions in them; the which we attempting to do, no less vainly and foolishly than presumptuously and profanely, do encroach on.
This point also being regarded, would prevent innumerable rash judgments; for men commonly do no less dive into the thoughts, and reprehend the inward dispositions and designs of their neighbor, than they do his most apparent and avowed actions; it is almost as ordinary to blame men for the invisible workings of their mind, as for their most visible deportment in conversation.
6. Hence also it is not commonly allowable to judge concerning the state, either present or final, of our neighbor in regard to God; so as to take him for a wicked man, or to denounce reprobation on him for the state of men is not so much determined by single actions, as by a body of practice, or by a long course and tenor of life, compounded and complicated of actions in number and kind unconceivably various: it dependeth not only on external visible behavior, but on the practice of close retirements, and occult motions of soul; on the results of natural temper, on the influence of fortuitous circumstances; on many things indiscernible, inscrutable, and unaccountable to us; the which God alone can perceive and estimate throughly: God seeth not,' as he did himself tell Samuel, as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but God looketh on the heart: he searcheth our hearts, and understandeth our thoughts afar off: he compasseth our path, and is acquainted with all our ways: he weigheth our spirits; he knoweth our frame; he numbereth our steps;' he scanneth our designs, and poiseth all our circumstances exactly; he doth penetrate and consider many things transcending our reach, on which the true worth of persons and real merit of actions do depend: he therefore only can well judge of men's state. As a specious outside doth often cover inward hollowness and foulness, so under an unpromising appearance much solidity and sincerity of goodness may lodge; a dirty ground doth often contain good seeds within it: our judgment therefore in such cases is likely, at least in degree, to be fallacious and unjust; and therefore it is fit to supersede it, according to the advice and discourse of St. Paul; He that judgeth me is the Lord; therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come; who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the counsels of
the heart and then shall every man have praise (that is, a right estimate of his person and deeds) from God.'
If this were duly considered, many hard thoughts and many harsh words would be spared; men would not be so apt to damn those whom they have no skill to try.
7. Farther: a judge should not undertake to proceed against any man, without warning and citing him to appear, or without affording him competent liberty and opportunity to defend and justify himself. Judgment should not be administered clancularly, in dark corners, but in open court: not suspiciously, in a muttering or whispering way; but frankly, with a clear and audible voice: not on surprise, but with allowance of leisure and advice, that the party may be able to apprehend his case and manage his plea for his best defence: for it may justly be presumed, that as he is most concerned, so he is best acquainted with his own proceedings, and may allege reasons for them, which no man can so well perceive as himself; it is therefore fit that he should be heard before he is condemned, that he may not suffer wrong; at least that he may be convinced that he doth not, and that our proceeding may be cleared from misprision; that also the world may be satisfied of justice being done; and that likewise false accusers may be liable to due shame and chastisement. The manner of proceeding used by the Romans, and reported by Festus in St. Paul's case, was full of reason and equity: It is not,' said that governor, • the manner of the Romans to deliver any man to die, before that he, which is accused, have the accusers face to face, and have licence to answer for himself, concerning the crime laid against him.' Otherwise indeed any innocence may easily be oppressed irrecoverably, without any defence, and consequently without any means of evasion or redress. We should never yield both ears to the accuser, but reserve one for the accused. The end of justice, we may consider, is not to condemn, nor to work mischief to any one, but rather, so far as may be, to acquit and prevent evil to all; at least it aimeth to clear the truth, and state the case indifferently; wherefore it is just that all advantage that well can be, should be afforded to the obnoxious party for his justification and deliverance; at least that he be not denied equal advantage with his prosecutors;
humanity would allow him some favor; the most rigorous justice cannot refuse him leave to contest his cause on equal terms: wherefore it is fit that he should be acquainted with his case, that competent time and means should be afforded him to prepare for his defence, that his plea should receive, if not a favorable, yet a free audience: the contrary practice is indeed rather backbiting, whispering, supplanting, or sycophantry, than fair and lawful judging.
The observation of this rule would also cut off many censures; for seldom it is that our censurers do charge men to their faces, but rather take all possible care that what they say may never come to the ears of those whom they accuse; they fear nothing more than being confronted and detected; they decline the shame and the requital due to their sycophantic practice; which is a manifest argument of their foul dealing; and they no less in reality do thence condemn themselves than they would seem to condemn others.
8. Moreover, a judge is obliged to conform all his determi. nations to the settled rules of judgment, so as never to condemn any man for acting that which is enjoined, or approved, or permitted by them; he must not pronounce according to his private fancy, or particular affection, but according to the standing laws: which, as they are the only certain rules of moral action, the only grounds of obligation, the only standards of guilt and innocence; so in reason they should be the sole measures of judging: he that proceedeth otherwise is an arbitrary and a slippery judge; he incroacheth on the right and' liberty of those with whom he meddleth, pronouncing them guilty whom God and reason do proclaim blameless. This is that which St. Paul doth reprove in the 14th to the Romans, and otherwhere. The case was this: some were of opinion, that abstaining from some kinds of meat, and observing some festival times, were matters of duty required by God; others thought it free to eat any thing, and to use any times alike these, according to such their private opinions, did censure the practices of each other; one party condemned the other as transgressing duty, the other contemned them as weak in judgment: but the Apostle reproveth both as irregular in their behavior, in taxing one another for matters which on