Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work,…
I. THE NATURE OF THIS VICE. It 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 false, 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 ground less 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, it is contrary to that charity and goodness which Christianity requires, to divulge the faults of 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 slander, or backbiting. And lastly, whether it be done directly and in express terms, or more obscurely and by way of oblique insinuation; whether by way of downright reproach, or with some crafty preface of condemnation; for so it have the effect to defame, the manner of address does not much alter the case: the one may be more dexterous, but is not one jot less faulty.
II. THE EXTENT OF THIS PROHIBITION. In what cases, by the general rules of Scripture and right reason, are we warranted to say the evil of others that is true?
1. It is not only lawful, but very commendable, and often our duty, to do this in order to the probable amendment of the person of whom evil is spoken. 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 show our authority rather than our charity.
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.
3. It is lawful to publish the faults of others in our own necessary defence and vindication.
4. This also is lawful for caution and warning to a third person that is in danger to be infected by the company, or ill example of another; or may be greatly prejudiced by reposing too much confidence in him, having no knowledge or suspicion of his bad qualities: but even in this case we ought to take great care that the in character we give of any man be spread no farther than is necessary to the good end we designed in it.
III. THE EVIL OF THIS PRACTICE, both in the causes and the consequences of it.
1. We will consider the causes of it. And it commonly springs from one or more of these evil roots.
(1) One of the deepest and most common causes of evil speaking is ill nature and cruelty of disposition: and by a general mistake ill nature passeth for wit, as cunning doth for wisdom; though in truth they are nothing akin to one another, but as far distant as vice and virtue. And there is no greater evidence of the bad temper of mankind than the general proneness of men to this vice.
(2) Another cause of the commonness of this vice is, that many are so bad themselves in one kind or other. For to think and speak ill of others is not only a bad thing, but a sign of a bad man.
(3) Another source of this vice is malice and revenge. When men are in heat and passion they do not consider what is true, but what is spiteful and mischievous, and speak evil of others in revenge of some injury which they have received from them; and when they are blinded by their passions, they lay about them madly and at a venture, not much caring whether the evil they speak be true or not.
(4) Another cause of evil speaking is envy. Men look with an evil eye upon the good that is in others, and think that their reputation obscures them, and that their commendable qualities do stand in their light; and therefore they do what they can to cast a cloud over them, that the bright shining of their virtues may not scorch them.
(5) Another cause of evil speaking is impertinence and curiosity; an itch of talking and meddling in the affairs of other men, or any bad thing that is talked of in good company.
(6) Men often do this out of wantonness and for diversion. But what can be more barbarous, next to sporting with a man's life, than to play with his honour and reputation?
2. The ordinary, but very pernicious consequences and effects of it, both to others and to ourselves.
(1) To others; the parties I mean that are slandered. To them it is certainly a great injury, and commonly a high provocation, but always matter of no small grief and trouble to them.
(2) The consequences of this vice are as bad or worse to ourselves. Whoever is wont to speak evil of others gives a bad character of himself, even to those whom he desires to please, who, if they be wise enough, will conclude that he speaks of them to others, as he does of others to them. But there is an infinitely greater danger hanging over us from God. If we allow ourselves in this evil practice, all our religion is good for nothing.
IV. SOME FURTHER ARGUMENTS AND CONSIDERATIONS to take men off from this vice.
1. That the use of speech is a peculiar prerogative of man above other creatures, and bestowed upon him for some excellent end and purpose; that by this faculty we might communicate our thoughts more easily to one another, and consult together for our mutual comfort and benefit, not to enable us to be hurtful and injurious, but helpful and beneficial to one another.
2. Consider how cheap a kindness it is to speak well, at least not to speak ill of anybody. A good word is an easy obligation, but not to speak ill requites only our silence, which costs us nothing.
3. Consider that no quality doth ordinarily recommend one more to the favour and goodwill of men, than to be free from this vice.
4. Let every man lay his hand upon his heart, and consider how himself is apt to be affected with this usage.
5. When you are going to speak reproachfully of others, consider whether you do not lie open to just reproach in the same, or some other kind. Therefore give no occasion, no example of this barbarous usage of one another.
6. Consider that it is in many cases as great a charity to conceal the evil you hear and know of others, as if you relieved them in a great necessity. And we think him a hard-hearted man that will not bestow a small alms upon one in great want.
V. SOME RULES AND DIRECTIONS FOR THE PREVENTION AND CURE OF THIS GREAT EVIL.
1. Never say any evil of any man, but what you certainly know.
2. Before you speak evil of any man consider whether he hath not obliged you by some real kindness, and then it is a bad return to speak ill of him who hath done us good.
3. Let us accustom ourselves to pity the faults of men, and to be truly sorry for them, and then we shall take no pleasure in publishing them.
4. Whenever we hear any man evil spoken of, if we know any good of him let us say that.
5. That you may speak evil of any, do not delight to hear ill of them.
6. Let every man mind himself, and his own duty and concernment. Do but endeavour in good earnest to mend thyself, and it will be work enough for one man, and leave thee but little time to talk of others.
7. Lastly, let us set a watch before the door of our lips, and not speak but upon consideration; I do not mean to speak finely, but fitly. Especially when thou speakest of others, consider of whom and what thou art going to speak: use great caution and circumspection in this matter: look well about thee; on every side of the thing, and on every person in the company, before thy words slip from thee, which when they are once out of thy lips are forever out of thy power.
Parallel VersesKJV: Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work,