« PreviousContinue »
more mischief in society than this. Persons indulge themselves in this vice from different causes. In some it arises from a barrenness of mind; their knowledge scarcely extends beyond the scandals of the day, and they would have nothing to say in company, if they were not to talk of what they have seen and heard about their neighbours. In some it arises from a fondness of telling news, connected with a lively fancy, and a love of the marvellous, which prompts them to embellish their tale by making some additions, to what they really heard or saw. And in some it arises from an envious, censorious, or malicious disposition, which delights in injuring others. All who indulge in evil speaking from any of these causes, are ciminal, though they are the most criminal who are influenced by the last mentioned cause.
Evil speaking belongs to the sins forbidden by the ninth commandment. Under evil speaking are included a number of particulars, such as detraction, slander or calumny, back-biting, and tale-bearing or tattling. Detraction signifies the telling such things of another as may take from his reputation, or lessen his character. Slander or. calumny signifies charging a person falsely with something disgraceful, whether it be done in his presence or absence. Back-biting is a speaking to the injury of our neighbour behind his back, or when he is absent. And tale-bearing or tattling is a carrying those things we see and hear in one house or company to another, or a telling others what we have heard their neighbours say of
Speaking evil of others, when what we say, we know to. be false or in any degree false, being exaggerated beyond the truth, as is almost always the case with the true stories which go from hand to hand, is wrong. Such evil speaking is not only detraction but lying, and therefore is a complicated wickedness. Again it is wrong to speak to the injury of others, when we believe what we say is true, unless the fact be clearly ascertained. A man's character is very dear and of great importance to him, and we ought never to say any thing to the injury of his character, unless we are sure of its truth; for it may be false, and then we would be the instruments of blasting the reputation of the innocent. Have we heard it from others? they may be prejudiced, or they may be under
a mistake, or they may have intended to slander, or they may be too credulous, and may have taken up the report without sufficiently investigating whether it was founded in truth. Have we taken up the story from common fame, and do we relate it on this authority? It is certain that common fame is a very great liar. We have often known stories which have been industriously circulated, and firmly believed, prove to be unfounded, when they have been investigated. The history of judicial proceedings, furnish numerous instances in confirmation of the truth of this remark. And it has often been proved that accusations which tended to blast a man's character, were false, when evidence was exceedingly strong against him. For instance, evidence was exceedingly strong against Joseph, when he was accused by his mistress to Potiphar; for she had his garment in her possession as a proof of his guilt. Such instances teach us that we ought to proceed with extreme caution, in taking up, and circulating an evil report to the injury of our neighbour.Again, when we are convinced, that a person has been guilty of doing that which is wrong; when we have been eye or ear witness of his wickedness, or have such a clear evidence of it as leaves no room to doubt, still it is wrong to divulge what we know, except under certain circumstances. To tell it through malace or envy, with a design to injure our neighbour; or to divulge it merely to gratify a propensity to tattle and tell news, is wrong. But if while we pity our neighbour, and are sorry for his conduct, we divulge his failings for his good, or for the public good, or for our own defence or the defence of the innocent, our conduct is correct. It may sometimes be necessary for the reformation of the offender that his crimes be divulged; but in this case we ought first to use private means, to lead him to repentance and reformation, and not to expose him in public, until private means have failed. Sometimes the public good may require that a man's crimes should be divulged, that he may be brought to justice, that the public may be put on their guard against him, and that he may be prevented from doing more mischief. And sometimes the innocent, and even we ourselves may be charged with crimes which we know have been committed by another person-in such a ense it is correct, and our duty to discover the guilty, that
nocent may be cleared. But except in these cases, where the reformation of the offender, or the public good, or the clearing of the innocent require it, it is wrong to report even the truth to the hurt of our neighbour; and much more is it wrong, readily to take up an evil report of our neighbour, and spread it without any certainty whether it be true or false; and still worse is it to invent slanderous tales concerning others, and propagate them to the injury of their good name.
But alas! there are many in our world who act thus.There are many, who invent falsehoods respecting others, and with a malignant pleasure tell them to gratify a malicious, revengeful, or envious disposition. There are many who ascribe their neighbour's conduct to bad motives, and undertake to judge and condemn them. There are many who unwillingly receive a good report concerning their neighbour; but who eagerly receive, and readily believe, and with satisfaction spread, an evil report. There are many who say behind a neighbour's back what they would not dare to say to his face; and often too, preface what they say with making some observations in his praise, and then expressing their sorrow that he has acted thus, and thus, in a particular instance; when their preface and their feigned sorrow are only intended to render their slander the more palatable, and inflict the deeper wound on his reputation. There are many who thus stab their neigbour in secret, and he knows not whence the blow comes, or how to meet it and defend his injured character. The midnight assassin is but a shade more guilty than such an one; for he that murders my reputation, might almost as well take my life. And there are many who go from house to house and from company to company, and carry with large additions what they have heard dropped in an unguarded moment, without any intention of injuring another. If it were possible, our doors ought to be shut against such tattlers, and talebearers; and they ought to be excluded the social circle, that they may not disturb the peace of society.
The wickedness of evil speaking may be proved from several considerations.
1. It is directly opposed to that charity or love towards our neighbour, which is frequently enjoined in Scripture. We are commanded, " Thou shalt love thy neighbour as
thyself;" Mat. xix. 19. "All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you do ye even so to them;" Mat. vii. 12. Evil speaking is doubtless opposed to these precepts. Slanderers and back-biters, certainly, would not be willing that the same liberty should be taken with their. characters, as they take with those of others. And it would be a good rule, under which always to act, when prompted to talk to the injury of our neighbours, not to say any thing, but what we would be willing they should say of us with equal foundation. If this rule were universally adhered to, there would be but very little evil speaking in our world, and but few of those many evils which now arise in society from talking about others. Again, we are taught in the Scriptures that "love worketh no ill to his neighbour." Rom. xiii. 10. And that, that charity without which we are nothing, "suffereth long, and is kind, envieth not, thinketh no evil, rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth, believeth all things, hopeth all things;" 1 Cor. xiii. 4, 5, 6, 7. Of this charity or love to our neighbour, evil speaking is a breach. Futher, we are exhorted-" Put on therefore (as the elect of God holy and beloved) bowels of mercies, kindness, forbearing one another. And above all things, put on charity which is the bond of perfectness;" Čol. iii. 12, 13, 14. "And be ye kind one to another, tender hearted forgiving one another; Eph. iv.. 32. "And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us." Eph. v. 2. Most assuredly evil speaking is directly the opposite of the duties enjoined in these texts, and therefore must be wrong.
2. Evil speaking is forbidden not only by consequence drawn from required duties, but also expressly, and this too repeatedly, as in the following texts. In the law of Moses we read, "thou shalt not raise a false report; Ex. xxiii. 1. "Thou shalt not go up and down as a tale-bearer among thy people ;" Lev. xix. 16.
The Psalmist describing a good man, said, "He that back-biteth not with his tongue, nor doth evil to his neighbour, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour.' Ps. xv. 3. In another place he gave the following as a trait in the character of the wicked man, "Thou sittest and speakest against thy brother: thou slanderest thine own mother's son;" Ps. L. 20. Again, speaking in his character of civil ruler, he said, "Whoso privily slander
eth his neighbour, him will I cut off;" Ps. c. 5. And in another place he said, "let not an evil speaker be estab lished in the earth;" Ps. cxL. 11. Solomon said, "a wicked man walketh with a froward mouth. Frowardness is in his heart, he deviseth mischief continually, he soweth discord. These six things doth the Lord hate; yea, seven are an abomination unto him.". One of them is, "him. that soweth discord among brethren;" Prov. vi. 12. 14, 16, 19. "He that hideth hatred with lying lips, and he that uttereth a slander, is a fool;" Prov..x. 18. 66 A froward man soweth strife, and a whisperer separateth chief friends;" Prov. xvi. 28. Paul in that dreadful catalogue of the sins of the gentiles, whom God had given over to a reprobate mind, contained, Rom. i. 29, &c. included "whisperers, and back-biters." He exhorted the Ephesians," Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you;" Eph. iv. 31. And he exhorted Titus to remind his hearers, "To speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers;" Tit. iii. 2. And Peter exhorted, " laying aside all evil speakings;" 1 Pet. ii. 1.
These texts show that the sin of which we are treating is repeatedly forbidden in the word of God.
3. Another reason against evil speaking is, that it is assuming the prerogative of judging and condemning which does not belong to us; and this too contrary to all justice, without hearing the accused party. Evil speakers, oftentimes and generally decide that a man has done wrong without waiting to hear his defence; and having thus partially judged that he has done wrong, they proceed to pronounce him a bad man, and to condemn him to a loss of reputation, and to execute the sentence, by proclaiming to the world as true, the opinion they have formed of his character. This is contrary to the universally acknowledged principles of justice. A man may deserve to have property taken from him; but no individual has a right to take it away; he cannot be deprived of it, until the cause has been tried in a court of justice, and after having had an opportunity to defend himself, has had a decision given against him. And cannot a man's proper ty be justly wrested from him by individuals, nor by the public, without an opportunity of defending himself? And can individuals have a right to take a man's character