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(yea in all discretion,) before we yield credence to any report concerning our neighbor, or adventure 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 dissaffected to him; whether he be not ill-humored, 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 and credulous, or apt to be imposed on 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 neighbor, 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 neighbor; 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 on 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 neighbor; 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 rumors, and thence affirming matters of obloquy to our neighbor. 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 humor 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 doth 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 neighbor.
5. Another slanderous course is, to build censures and reproaches on slender conjectures, or uncertain suspicions, (those πóviαι Torηpaì, 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 on such accounts dareth to asperse his neighbor 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 bewray 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 neighbor. 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 fling 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 parlous weapon, which we are bound to keep up in the sheath, or never to draw forth but advisedly, and on just occa
sion; 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 happeth to come in our way, doth argue malice or madness.
7. It is an ordinary way of proceeding to calumniate, for men, reflecting on 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 on 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 Machiavelians, and of desperate reprobates in wickedness, who, having prostituted their consciences to vice, for their own defence and solace, would shrowd 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 on several accounts. But the doing this, in regard to your patience, we shall forbear at present.
* Remedium poenæ suæ arbitrantur, si nemo sit sanctus, si omnibus detrahatur, si turba sit pereuntium, &c.-Hier. ad Asellam, Ep. xcix.
SUMMARY OF SERMON XVIII.
PROVERBS, CHAP. X.-VERSE 18.
In the second place the folly of slander is declared.
1. Slander is foolish, as sinful and wicked. All sin is foolish on many accounts, as proceeding from ignorance, error, vanity, &c. What can be more egregiously absurd than to dissent in our opinion and choice from infinite wisdom, to disoblige our best friend, on whom our all depends? If then this practice be proved extremely sinful, it will thence be demonstrated no less foolish; and that it is extremely sinful may easily be shown. It is so described in holy Scripture; it is that which gives to the grand fiend his names, and which best expresses his nature. To lie simply is a great fault, highly disagreeable to the God of truth; and of all lies those are the worst which proceed from malice, or vanity, or both; and which work mischief, such as slander does. Again, to bear hatred or illwill, to exercise enmity towards any man, to design mischief against our neighbor, whose good, by many laws, and for many reasons, we are obliged to tender as our own, is a heinous fault; and of this the slanderer is apparently most guilty. All injustice is abominable: it is that crime which tends more immediately to the dissolution of society, and the disturbance of human life; which God therefore most loathes, and men have most reason to detest; but the slanderer violates all the rules of justice, and commits all sorts of wrong against his neighbor. He may perhaps conceive it no great matter if he does not act in a boisterous and bloody manner, but only by