« PreviousContinue »
what he is saying to be untrue, he is equal- SERM.
X. ly culpable. The injury done to the person defamed is often as grievous as what he would have received from a false testimony in a court of justice : his character, his livelihood perhaps, which frequently depends on that character, are the sacrifice; or if his circumstances should be such, as to prevent his suffering in this last particular, yet the wound to his feelings is often more insupportable than any misfortune to his person or property.
A third offender against the ninth commandment is he, who repeats to the detriment of another reports which he has picked up in conversation, not indeed knowing them to be false, but which he might reasonably presume to be so, or which at least he does not know to be true, nor indeed is he solicitous about the truth of them : he has heard them, he can give up his author, if it be necessary, and therefore
SER M. surely, he thinks, he has a right to repeat
X. mthem. Supposing that he had, is such a
repetition generous? is it doing as he would wish others to do by him ? Far from it! it is cruel; it is what in his own case he would resent as the most barbarous treatment.But he is deceived in the matter of right; he can have none to affirm any thing, which may injure the character of another, of the truth of which he is not absolutely certain : when he detracts from the reputation of a fellow-creature, it is not allowed for him to be mistaken; he must have seen with his own eyes, heard with his own ears, or received his information from a source equally infallible, before it be permitted him to speak evil of his brother; and even then there ought to be some very important cause which may in a manner extort from him, and authorize his censures; if there be not, to speak against another, however
truly, is still criminal, still directly contra- SERM. dictory to the precepts of the gospel.
Another kind of evil speaking, by which the ninth commandment is transgressed, and the reputation of our neighbour injured, is the fixing on him in general terms a bad character; calling him, for example, covetous, proud, foolish, or hypocritical, assigning to him any ill propensity in the gross, without mentioning any particular instances of it; this is very common, and though not so much condemned as falsely charging a person with any particular bad action; yet it is in effect perhaps more inju. rious to him : an unjust accusation of some one single crime, if it come to the knowledge of the person accused, he may possibly be able to refute, but when no particu. lar time or place is specified, but merely a general charge brought, how can he ever disprove that imputation, more particularly
SERM. with those to whom he is not thoroughly
Another mode of gratifying his passion, which the calumniator practises, is by mis. calling good qualities; or attributing them and the actions which arise from them, to bad or interested motives. If he is told of a generous charitable man, he will call him extravagant, will hint that he is running out his fortune, and ruining his family; or he will insinuate that his generosity arises merely from ostentation, and from the de. sire of procuring distinction : if he hears of another, who is eminent for his exact performance of his religious duties, he will suggest that he is perhaps hypocritical, that he has some private end to answer by it, and that it is not reverence to God, but hope of gaining the reputation of superior sanctity, and arriving thereby at some promotion, by which he is actuated : in the same manner he will misinterpret and tra
duce all other virtues, will likewise construe SERM.
X. into vices qualities and actions which are in themselves indifferent.
Now he, who is guilty of this, is eminently a slạnderer, since he asserts a thing to my prejudice, of the truth of which he must be doubtful : for how can any other person possibly know my heart ? how can he be acquainted with more of my principles, and the springs which actuate me, than what my words or outward actions declare ? if these uniformly or generally manifest me to be possessed of any particular good qua. lity, how can a fellow-creature presume that I am not possessed of it? my heart is known to my God alone ; and if all that appears of me to the eyes of men be praiseworthy, it is the height of injustice and slander to traduce me on mere surmise and suspicion ; and there is a peculiar cruelty in it, as surmises and suspicions of this kind I can never refute: if my heart must