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Preached before the King and Queen, at Whitehall, Feb.
TIT. iii. 2.
ENERAL persuasives to repentance and a good life, and invectives against fin and wickedness at large, are certainly of good use to recom
mend religion and virtue, and to expose the deformity and danger of a vitious course. But it must be acknowledged, on the other hand, that these general difcourses do not so immediately tend to reform the lives of men; because they fall among the crowd, but do not touch the consciences of particular persons in fo sensible and awakening a manner, as when we treat of particular duties and sins, and endeavour to put men upon the practice of the one, and to reclaim them from the other, by proper arguments taken from the word of God, and from the nature of particular virtues and vices.
The general way is, as if a physician, instead of apply, ing particular remedies to the distemper of his patient, should entertain him with a long discourse of diseases in general, and of the pleasure and advantages of health ; and earnestly persuade him to be well, without taking his particular disease into consideration, and prescribing remedies for it.
But if we would effectually reform men, we must take to talk the great and common disorders of their lives, and represent their faults to them in such a manner, as may convince them of the evil and danger of them, and put them upon the endeavour of a cure.
And to this end I have pitched upon one of the common and reigning vices of the age, calumny and evilspeaking; by which men contract so much guilt to themselves, and create fo much trouble to others; and from VOL. III.
which, which, it is to be feared, few or none are wholly free: for who is he (faith the son of Sirach, Ecclus xix. 16.) that hath not offended with his tongue? In many things (faith St. James, chap. iii. 2.) we offend all: and if any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man.
But how few have attained to this perfection? And yet unless we do endeavour after it, and in some good measure attain it, all our pretence to religion is vain. So the fame Apostle tells us, chap. i. 26. If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain.
For the more distinct handling of this argument, I shall reduce
discourse to these five heads. 1. I shall consider the nature of this vice, and wherein it consists.
2. I shall consider the due extent of this prohibition, To speak evil of no man.
3. I shall shew the evil of this practice, both in the causes and effects of it.
4. I shall add some further considerations to dissuade men from it.
5. I shall give some rules and directions for the prevention and cure of it.
I. I shall consider what this fin or vice of evil-Speaking here forbidden by the Apostle is : undeva bazoenusiv, not to defame and Nander any man, not to hurt his reputation, as the etymology of the word doth import. So that this vice consists in saying things of others which tend to their disparagement and reproach, to the taking away or lessening of their reputation and good name : and this, whether the things said be true or not. If they be falfe, and we know it, then it is downright calumny; and if we do not know it, but take it upon
the report of others, it is however a slander; and so much the more injurious, because really groundless and undeserved.
If the thing be true, and we know it to be so, yet it is a defamation, and tends to the prejudice of our neighbour's reputation : and it is a fault to say the evil of others which is true, unless there be some good reason for it besides; because it is contrary to that charity and goodae's which Christianity requires, to divulge the faults of
others, others, though they be really guilty of them, without necessity, or some other very good reason for it.
Again, It is evil-speaking, and the vice condemned in the text, whether we be the first authors of an ill report, or relate it from others ; because the man that is evil Spoken of is equally defamed either way.
Again, Whether we speak evil of a man to his face, or behind his back. The former way indeed seems to be the more generous, but yet is a great fault, and that which we call reviling; the latter is more mean and base, and that which we properly call flander or backbiting.
And, lastly, whether it be done directly and in express terms, or more obscurely, and by way of oblique infinuation; whether by way of downright reproach, or with some crafty preface of commendation; for so it have the effect to defame, the manner of address does not much alter the case. The one may be more dextrous, but is not one jot less faulty : for many times the deepest wounds are given by these smoother and more artificial ways of Nander; as by asking questions : “ Have you
not heard so and so of such a man? I say no more ; " I only ask the question :” or by general intimations,
they are loth to say what they have heard of such a one, are very sorry for it, and do not at all believe
it,” if you will believe thein : and this many times without telling the thing, but leaving you in the dark to fufpect the worst.
These, and such like arts, though they may seem to be tenderer and gentler ways of using mens reputation ; yet in truth they are the most malicious and effeétual ine
thods of lander ; because they insinuate something that 'is much worse than is said, and yet are very apt to create in unwary men a strong belief of something that is very bad, though they know not what it is. So that it matters not in what fashion a slander is dressed up; if it tend to defame a man, and to diminish his reputation, it is the sin forbidden in the text..
II. We will consider the extent of this prohibition, To Speak evil of no man, and the due bounds and limitations of it. For it is not to be understood absolutely, to forbid us to say any thing concerning others that is bad. This in some cases may be necessary and our duty, and
in several cases very fit and reasonable. The question is, In what cases by the general rules of scripture and right reason we are warranted to say the evil of others that is true ?
In general, we are not to do this without great reason and neceflity; as for the prevention of some great evil, or the procuring of some considerable good to ourselves, or others. And this I take to be the meaning of that advice of the son of Sirach, Ecclus xix. 8. Whether it be to a friend or foe, talk not of other mens lives; and if thou canst without offence, reveal them not; that is, if without hurt to any body thou canst conceal them, divulge them not.
But because this may not be direction sufficient, I shall instance in some of the principal cases wherein men are warranted to speak evil of others, and yet in so doing do not offend against this prohibition in the text.
1. It is not only lawful,' but very commendable, and many times our duty to do this, in order to the probable amendment of the person of whom evil is spoken. In such a case we inay tell a man of his faults privately; or where it may not be fo fit for us to use that boldness and freedom, we may reveal his faults to one who is inore fit and proper to reprove him, and will probably make no other use of this discovery, but in order to his amendment. And this is so far from being a breach of charity, that it is one of the bcit testimonies of it. For perhaps the party may not be guilty of what hath been reported of him, and then it is a kindness to give him the opportunity of vindicating himself: or if he be guilty, perhaps being privately and prudently told of it, he may reform. In this case the son of Sirach adviseth to reveal mens faults, Ecclus xix. 13. 14. 15. Admonish a friend, (says he), it may be he hath not done it : and if he have done it, that he do it no more. Admonish thy friend, it in ay
be be hath not fuid it: and if he have, that he speak it not again. Admonish a friend: for many times it is a fander ; and believe not every iale.
But then we must take care that this be done out of kindness, and that nothing of our own passion be mingled with it; and that under pretence of reproving and reforming men, we do not reproach and revile them, and
tell them of their faults in such a manner, as if we did it to thew our authority, rather than our charity. It requires a great deal of address and gentle application, so to manage the business of reproof, as not to irritate and exasperate the person whom we reprove, instead of curing him.
2. This likewise is not only lawful, but our duty, when we are legally called to bear witness concerning the fault and crime of another. A good man would not be an accuser, unless the publick good, or the prevention of some great evil, should require it. And then the plain reason of the thing will sufficiently justify a voluntary accusation. Otherwise it hath always among well-mannered people been esteemed very odious for a man to be officious in this kind, and a forward informer concerning the misdemeanor of others. Magistrates may sometimes think it fit to give encouragement to such persons, and to set one bad man to catch another, because such men are fittest for such dirty work: but they can never inwardly approve them, nor will they ever make them their friends and confidents.
But when a man is called to give testimony in this kind, in obedience to the laws, and out of reverence to the oath taken in such cases, he is so far from deserving blame for so doing, that it would be an unpardonable fault in him to conceal the truth, or any part of it.
3. It is lawful to publish the faults of others, in our own necessary defence and vindication, when a man cannot conceal another's faults without betraying his own innocency. No charity requires a man to suffer himself to be defamed, to save the reputation of another man. Charity begins at home. And though a man had never so much goodness, he would first secure his own good name, and then be concerned for other mens. We are to love our neighbour as ourselves ; so that the love of ourfelves is the rule and measure of our love to our neighbour: and therefore first, otherwise it could not be the rule. And it would be very well for the world, if our charity would rise thus high; and no man would hurt another man's reputation, but where his own is in real danger. 4. This also is lawful for caution and warning to a