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Sermons on Evil-Speaking by Isaac Barrow

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blaspheme) doth import. I answer, that it is to vent words
concerning any person which do signify in us ill-opinion, or
contempt, anger, hatred, enmity conceived in our minds towards him;
which are apt in him to kindle wrath, and breed ill-blood towards
us; which tend to beget in others that hear ill-conceit or ill-will
towards him; which are much destructive of his reputation,
prejudicial to his interests, productive of damage or mischief to
him. It is otherwise in Scripture termed [Greek], to rail or
revile, (to use bitter and ignominious language); [Greek], to speak
contumeliously; [Greek], to bring railing accusation (or reproachful
censure); [Greek], to use obloquy, or detraction; [Greek], to curse,
that is, to speak words importing that we do wish ill to a person.

Such is the language we are prohibited to use. To which purpose we
may observe that whereas, in our conversation and commerce with men,
there do frequently often occur occasions to speak of men and to men
words apparently disadvantageous to them, expressing our dissent in
opinion from them, or a dislike in us of their proceedings, we may
do this in different ways and terms; some of them gentle and
moderate, signifying no ill mind or disaffection towards them;
others harsh and sharp, arguing height of disdain, disgust, or
despite, whereby we bid them defiance, and show that we mean to
exasperate them. Thus, telling a man that we differ in judgment
from him, or conceive him not to be in the right, and calling him a
liar, a deceiver, a fool, saying that he doeth amiss, taketh a wrong
course, transgresseth the rule, and calling him dishonest, unjust,
wicked, to omit more odious and provoking names, unbecoming this
place, and not deserving our notice, are several ways of expressing
the same things whereof the latter, in relating passages concerning
our neighbour, or in debating cases with him, is prohibited: for
thus the words reproaching, reviling, railing, cursing, and the like
do signify, and thus our Lord Himself doth explain them in His
divine sermon, wherein he doth enact this law: "Whosoever," saith
He, "shall say to his brother, Raca" (that is, vain man, or liar),
"shall be in danger of the council; but whosoever shall say, Thou
fool, shall be in danger of hell-fire;" that is, he rendereth
himself liable to a strict account, and to severe condemnation
before God, who useth contemptuous and contumelious expressions
towards his neighbour, in proportion to the malignity of such

The reason of things also doth help to explain those words, and to
show why they are prohibited because those harsh terms are needless,
mild words serving as well to express the same things: because they
are commonly unjust, loading men with greater defect or blame than
they can be proved to deserve, or their actions do import; for every
man that speaketh falsehood is not therefore a liar, every man that
erreth is not thence a fool, every man that doeth amiss is not
consequently dishonest or wicked; the secret intentions and habitual
dispositions of men not being always to be collected from their
outward actions; because they are uncharitable, signifying that we
entertain the worst opinions of men, and make the worst construction
of their doings, and are disposed to show them no favour or
kindness: because, also, they produce mischievous effects, such as
spring from the worst passions raised by them.

This in gross is the meaning of the precept. But since there are
some other precepts seeming to clash with this; since there are
cases wherein we are allowed to use the harsher sort of terms, there
are great examples in appearance thwarting this rule; therefore it
may be requisite for determining the limits of our duty, and
distinguishing it from transgression, that such exceptions or
restrictions should be somewhat declared.

1. First, then, we may observe that it may be allowable to persons
in anywise concerned in the prosecution or administration of
justice, to speak words which in private intercourse would be
reproachful. A witness may impeach of crimes hurtful to justice, or
public tranquillity; a judge may challenge, may rebuke, may condemn
an offender in proper terms (or forms of speech prescribed by law),
although most disgraceful and distasteful to the guilty: for it
belongeth to the majesty of public justice to be bold, blunt,
severe; little regarding the concerns or passions of particular
persons, in comparison to the public welfare.

A testimony, therefore, or sentence against a criminal, which
materially is a reproach, and morally would be such in a private
mouth, is not yet formally so according to the intent of this rule.
For practices of this kind, which serve the exigencies of justice,
are not to be interpreted as proceeding from anger, hatred, revenge,
any bad passion or humour; but in way of needful discipline for
God's service, and common benefit of men. It is not, indeed, so
much the minister of justice, as God Himself, our absolute Lord; as
the Sovereign, God's representative, acting in the public behalf; as
the commonwealth itself, who by His mouth do rebuke the obnoxious

2. God's ministers in religious affairs, to whom the care of men's
instruction and edification is committed, are enabled to inveigh
against sin and vice, whoever consequentially may be touched
thereby: yea, sometimes it is their duty with severity and
sharpness to reprove particular persons, not only privately, but
publicly, for their correction, and for the edification of others.

Thus St. Paul directeth Timothy: "Them that sin" (notoriously and
scandalously, he meaneth), "rebuke before all, that others may
fear:" that is, in a manner apt to make impression on the minds of
the hearers, so as to scare them from like offences. And to Titus
he writes, "Rebuke them sharply, that they may be found in the
faith." And, "Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a
trumpet, and show my people their transgressions, and the house of
Jacob their sins," saith the Lord to the prophet. Such are the
charges and commissions laid on and granted to His messengers.

Thus we may observe that God's prophets of old, St. John the
Baptist, our Lord Himself, the holy apostles did in terms most
vehement and biting reprove the age in which they lived, and some
particular persons in them. The prophets are full of declamations
and invectives against the general corruption of their times, and
against the particular manners of some persons in them. "Ah, sinful
nation; people laden with iniquity, a seed of evil-doers, children
that are corrupters! They are all adulterers, an assembly of
treacherous men; and they bend their tongues like their bow for
lies. Thy princes are rebellious and companions of thieves; every
one loveth gifts, and followeth after rewards: they judge not the
fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come before them.
The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule by their means.
As troops of robbers wait for a man, so the company of priests
murder in the way by consent, and commit lewdness." Such is their
style commonly. St. John the Baptist calleth the Scribes and
Pharisees a "generation of vipers." Our Saviour speaketh of them in
the same terms; calleth them an "evil and adulterous generation,
serpents, and children of vipers. Hypocrites, painted sepulchres,
obscure graves ([Greek]), blind guides; fools and blind, children of
the devil." St. Paul likewise calleth the schismatical heretical
teachers "dogs, false apostles, evil and deceitful workers, men of
corrupt minds, reprobates and abominable." With the like colours do
St. Peter, St. Jude, and other apostles paint them. Which sort of
speeches are to be supposed to proceed, not from private passion or
design, but out of holy zeal for God's honour, and from earnest
charity towards men, for to work their amendment and common
edification. They were uttered also by special wisdom and peculiar
order; from God's authority, and in His name; so that, as God by
them is said to preach, to entreat, to warn, and to exhort, so by
them also He may be said to reprehend and reproach.

3. Even private persons in due season, with discretion and temper,
may reprove others, whom they observe to commit sin, or follow bad
courses, out of charitable design, and with hope to reclaim them.
This was an office of charity imposed anciently even upon the Jews;
much more doth it lie upon Christians, who are obliged more
earnestly to tender the spiritual good of those who by the stricter
and more holy bands of brotherhood are allied to them. "Thou shalt
not hate thy brother; thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour,
and not suffer sin upon him," was a precept of the old law: and,
[Greek], to admonish the disorderly, is an evangelical rule. Such
persons we are enjoined to shun and decline; but first we must
endeavour by sober advice and admonition to reclaim them; we must
not thus reject them till they appear contumacious and incorrigible,
refusing to hear us, or becoming deaf to reproof. This, although it
necessarily doth include setting out their faults, and charging
blame on them (answerable to their offences), is not the culpable
reproach here meant, it being needful towards a wholesome effect,
and proceeding from charitable intention.

4. Some vehemency, some smartness and sharpness of speech may
sometimes be used in defence of truth, and impugning errors of bad
consequence; especially when it concerneth the interest of truth,
that the reputation and authority of its adversaries should somewhat
be abased or abated. If by partial opinion or reverence towards
them, however begotten in the minds of men, they strive to overbear
or discountenance a good cause, their faults (so far as truth
permitteth and need requireth) may be detected and displayed. For
this cause particularly may we presume our Lord (otherwise so meek
in His temper, and mild in His carriage towards all men) did
characterise the Jewish scribes in such terms, that their authority,
being then so prevalent with the people, might not prejudice the
truth, and hinder the efficacy of His doctrine. This is part of
that [Greek], that duty of contending earnestly for the faith, which
is incumbent on us.

5. It may be excusable upon particular emergent occasions, with
some heat of language to express dislike of notorious wickedness.
As our Lord doth against the perverse incredulity and stupidity in
the Pharisees, their profane misconstruction of His words and
actions, their malicious opposing truth, and obstructing His
endeavours in God's service. As St. Peter did to Simon Magus,
telling him that he was in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond
of iniquity. As St. Paul to Elymas the sorcerer, when he withstood
him, and desired to turn away the Deputy Sergius from the faith;
"O," said he, stirred with a holy zeal and indignation, "thou full
of all subtilty and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou
enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right
ways of the Lord?" The same spirit which enabled him to inflict a
sore punishment on that wicked wretch, did prompt him to use that
sharp language towards him; unquestionably deserved, and seasonably
pronounced. As also when the high priest commanded him illegally
and unjustly to be misused, that speech from a mind justly sensible
of such outrage broke forth, "God shall smite thee, thou whited
wall." So when St. Peter presumptuously would have dissuaded our
Lord from compliance with God's will, in undergoing those crosses
which were appointed to Him by God's decree, our Lord calleth him
Satan; . . . . "[Greek], "Avaunt, Satan, thou art an offence unto
Me; for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that
are of men."

These sort of speeches, issuing from just and honest indignation,
are sometimes excusable, oftentimes commendable; especially when
they come from persons eminent in authority, of notable integrity,
endued with special measures of Divine grace, of wisdom, of
goodness; such as cannot be suspected of intemperate anger, of ill-
nature, of ill-will, or of ill-design.

In such cases as are above mentioned, a sort of evil-speaking about
our neighbour may be allowable or excusable. But, for fear of
overdoing, great caution and temper is to be used; and we should
never apply any such limitations as cloaks to palliate unjust or
uncharitable dealing. Generally it is more advisable to suppress
such eruptions of passion than to vent it; for seldom passion hath
not inordinate motions joined with it, or tendeth to good ends.
And, however, it will do well to reflect on those cases, and to
remark some particulars about them.

First, we may observe that in all these cases all possible
moderation, equity, and candour are to be used; so that no ill-
speaking be practised beyond what is needful or convenient. Even in
prosecution of offences, the bounds of truth, of equity, of humanity
and clemency are not to be transgressed. A judge must not lay on
the most criminal person more blame or contumely than the case will
bear, or than serveth the designs of justice. However our neighbour
doth incur the calamities of sin and of punishment, we must not be
insolent or contemptuous towards him. So we may learn by that law
of Moses, backed with a notable reason: "And it shall be, if the
wicked man be worthy to be beaten, that the judge cause him to lie
down, and to be beaten before his face, according to his fault by a
certain number. Forty stripes he may give him, and not exceed; lest
if he should exceed, and beat him above those stripes, then thy
brother should seem vile unto thee." Whence appears that we should
be careful of not vilifying an offender beyond measure. And how
mildly governors should proceed in the administration of justice,
the example of Joshua may teach us, who thus examineth Achan, the
cause of so great mischief to the public: "My son, give, I pray
thee, glory to the Lord God of Israel, and make confession unto Him;
and tell me now what thou hast done, and hide it not from me." "My
son;" what compellation could be more benign and kind? "I pray
thee;" what language could be more courteous and gentle? "give glory
to God, and make confession;" what words could be more inoffensively
pertinent? And when he sentenced that great malefactor, the cause
of so much mischief, this was all he said, "Why hast thou troubled
us? the Lord will trouble thee;" words void of contumely or
insulting, containing only a close intimation of the cause, and a
simple declaration of the event he was to undergo.

Secondly, likewise ministers, in the taxing sin and sinners, are to
proceed with great discretion and caution, with much gentleness and
meekness; signifying a tender pity of their infirmities, charitable
desires for their good, the best opinion of them, and the best hopes
for them, that may consist with any reason; according to those
apostolical rules: "Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye
which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness;
considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted;" and, "We that are
strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please
ourselves:" and, more expressly, "A servant of the Lord must not
fight, but be gentle toward all, apt to teach, patient, in meekness
instructing those that oppose themselves." Thus did St. Peter
temper his reproof of Simon Magus with this wholesome and
comfortable advice: "Repent, therefore, from this thy wickedness,
and pray God if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven

Thirdly, as for fraternal censure and reproof of faults (when it is
just and expedient to use it), ordinarily the calmest and mildest
way is the most proper, and most likely to obtain good success; it
commonly doth in a more kindly manner convey the sense thereof into
the heart, and therein more powerfully worketh remorse, than the
fierce and harsh way. Clearly to show a man his fault, with the
reason proving it such, so that he becometh thoroughly convinced of
it, is sufficient to breed in him regret, and to shame him before
his own mind: to do more (in way of aggravation, of insulting on
him, of inveighing against him), as it doth often not well consist
with humanity, so it is seldom consonant to discretion, if we do, as
we ought, seek his health and amendment. Humanity requireth that
when we undertake to reform our neighbour, we should take care not
to deform him (not to discourage or displease him more than is
necessary); when we would correct his manners, that we should also
consider his modesty, and consult his reputation; "curam agentes,"
as Seneca speaketh, "non tantum salutis, sed et honestae cicatricis"
(having care not only to heal the wound, but to leave a comely scar
behind). "Be," adviseth St. Austin, "so displeased with iniquity,
as to consider and consult humanity;" for, "Zeal void of humanity is
not," saith St. Chrysostom, "zeal, but rather animosity; and reproof
not mixed with good-will appeareth a kind of malignity." We should
so rebuke those who, by frailty or folly incident to mankind, have
fallen into misdemeanours, that they may perceive we do sincerely
pity their ill case, and tender their good; that we mean not to
upbraid their weakness or insult upon their misfortune; that we
delight not to inflict on them more grief than is plainly needful
and unavoidable; that we are conscious and sensible of our own
obnoxiousness to the like slips or falls, and do consider that we
also may be tempted, and being tempted, may be overborne. This they
cannot perceive or be persuaded of, except we temper our speech with
benignity and mildness. Such speech prudence also dictateth, as
most useful and hopeful for producing the good ends honest
reprehension doth aim at; it mollifieth and it melteth a stubborn
heart, it subdueth and winneth a perverse will, it healeth
distempered affections. Whereas roughly handling is apt to defeat
or obstruct the cure: rubbing the sore doth tend to exasperate and
inflame it. Harsh speech rendereth advice odious and unsavoury;
driveth from it and depriveth it of efficacy; it turneth regret for
a fault into displeasure and disdain against the reprover; it looks
not like the dealing of a kind friend, but like the persecution of a
spiteful enemy; it seemeth rather an ebullition of gall, or a
defluxion from rancour, than an expression of good-will; the
offender will take it for a needless and pitiless tormenting, or for
a proud and tyrannical domineering over him. He that can bear a
friendly touch, will not endure to be lashed with angry and
reproachful words. In fine, all reproof ought to be seasoned with
discretion, with candour, with moderation, and meekness.

Fourthly, likewise in defence of truth, and maintenance of a good
cause, we may observe that commonly the fairest language is most
proper and advantageous, and that reproachful or foul terms are most
improper and prejudicial. A calm and meek way of discoursing doth
much advantage a good cause, as arguing the patron thereof to have
confidence in the cause itself, and to rely upon his strength: that
he is in a temper fit to apprehend it himself, and to maintain it;
that he propoundeth it as a friend, wishing the hearer for his own
good to follow it, leaving him the liberty to judge, and choose for
himself. But rude speech, and contemptuous reflections on persons,
as they do signify nothing to the question, so they commonly bring
much disadvantage and damage to the cause, creating mighty
prejudices against it; they argue much impotency in the advocate,
and consequently little strength in what he maintains; that he is
little able to judge well, and altogether unapt to teach others;
they intimate a diffidence in himself concerning his cause, and
that, despairing to maintain it by reason, he seeks to uphold it by
passion; that not being able to convince by fair means, he would
bear down by noise and clamour: that not skilling to get his suit
quietly, he would extort it by force, obtruding his conceits
violently as an enemy, or imposing them arbitrarily as a tyrant.
Thus doth he really disparage and slur his cause, however good and
defensible in itself.

A modest and friendly style doth suit truth; it, like its author,
doth usually reside (not in the rumbling wind, nor in the shaking
earthquake, nor in the raging fire, but) in the small still voice;
sounding in this, it is most audible, most penetrant, and most
effectual; thus propounded, it is willingly hearkened to: for men
have no aversion from hearing those who seem to love them, and wish
them well. It is easily conceived, no prejudice or passion clouding
the apprehensive faculties; it is readily embraced, no animosity
withstanding or obstructing it. It is the sweetness of the lips,
which, as the wise man telleth us, increaseth learning; disposing a
man to hear lessons of good doctrine, rendering him capable to
understand them, insinuating and impressing them upon the mind; the
affections being thereby unlocked, the passage becomes open to the

But it is plainly a preposterous method of instructing, of deciding
controversies, of begetting peace, to vex and anger those concerned
by ill language. Nothing surely doth more hinder the efficacy of
discourse, and prevent conviction, than doth this course, upon many
obvious accounts. It doth first put in a strong bar to attention:
for no man willingly doth afford an ear to him whom he conceiveth
disaffected towards him: which opinion harsh words infallibly will
produce; no man can expect to hear truth from him whom he
apprehendeth disordered in his own mind, whom he seeth rude in his
proceedings, whom he taketh to be unjust in his dealing; as men
certainly will take those to be, who presume to revile others for
using their own judgment freely, and dissenting from them in
opinion. Again, this course doth blind the hearer's mind, so that
he cannot discern what he that pretends to instruct him doth mean,
or how he doth assert his doctrine. Truth will not be discerned
through the smoke of wrathful expressions; right being defaced by
foul language will not appear, passion being excited will not suffer
a man to perceive the sense or the force of an argument. The will
also thereby is hardened and hindered from submitting to truth. In
such a case, non persuadebis, etiamsi persuaseris; although you stop
his mouth, you cannot subdue his heart; although he can no longer
fight, yet he never will yield: animosity raised by such usage
rendereth him invincibly obstinate in his conceits and courses.
Briefly, from this proceeding men become unwilling to mark, unfit to
apprehend, indisposed to embrace any good instruction or advice; it
maketh them indocile and intractable, averse from better
instruction, pertinacious in their opinions, and refractory in their

"Every man," saith the wise man, "shall kiss his lips that giveth a
right answer;" but no man surely will be ready to kiss those lips
which are embittered with reproach, or defiled with dirty language.

It is said of Pericles, that with thundering and lightning he put
Greece into confusion; such discourse may serve to confound things,
it seldom tendeth to compose them. If reason will not pierce, rage
will scarce avail to drive it in. Satirical virulency may vex men
sorely, but it hardly ever soundly converts them. "Few become wiser
or better by ill words." Children may be frightened into compliance
by loud and severe reprimands; but men are to be allured by rational
persuasion backed with courteous usage; they may be sweetly drawn,
they cannot be violently driven to change their judgment and
practice. Whence that advice of the apostle, "With meekness
instruct those that oppose themselves," doth no less savour of
wisdom than of goodness.

Fifthly, as for examples of extraordinary persons, which in some
cases do seem to authorise the practice of evil-speaking, we may
consider that, as they had especial commission enabling them to do
some things beyond ordinary standing rules, wherein they are not to
be imitated: as they had especial illumination and direction, which
preserved them from swerving in particular cases from truth and
equity; so the tenor of their life did evidence that it was the
glory of God, the good of men, the necessity of the case, which
moved them to it. And of them also we may observe, that on divers
occasions (yea, generally, whenever only their private credit or
interest was concerned), although grievously provoked, they did out
of meekness, patience, and charity, wholly forbear reproachful
speech. Our Saviour, who sometimes upon special reason in His
discourses used such harsh words, yet when He was most spitefully
accused, reproached, and persecuted, did not open His mouth, or
return one angry word: "Being reviled, He did not," as St. Peter,
proposing His example to us, telleth us, "revile again; suffering,
He did not threaten." He used the softest language to Judas, to the
soldiers, to Pilate and Herod, to the priests, etc. And the
apostles, who sometimes inveigh so zealously against the opposers
and perverters of truth, did in their private conversation and
demeanour strictly observe their own rules, of abstinence from
reproach: "Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer
it;" so doth St. Paul represent their practice. And in reason we
should rather follow them in this their ordinary course, than in
their extraordinary sallies of practice.

In fine, however in some cases and circumstances the matter may
admit such exceptions, so that all language disgraceful to our
neighbour is not ever culpable; yet the cases are so few and rare in
comparison, the practice commonly so dangerous and ticklish, that
worthily forbearing to reproach doth bear the style of a general
rule; and particularly (for clearer direction) we are in the
following cases obliged carefully to shun it; or in speaking about
our neighbour we must observe these cautions.

1. We should never in severe terms inveigh against any man without
reasonable warrant, or presuming upon a good call and commission
thereto. As every man should not assume to himself the power of
administering justice (of trying, sentencing, and punishing
offenders), so must not every man take upon him to speak against
those who seem to do ill; which is a sort of punishment, including
the infliction of smart and damage upon the persons concerned.
Every man hath indeed a commission, in due place and season, with
discretion and moderation to admonish his neighbour offending; but
otherwise to speak ill of him, no private man hath just right or
authority, and therefore, in presuming to do it, he is disorderly
and irregular, trespassing beyond his bounds, usurping an undue
power to himself.

2. We should never speak ill of any man without apparent just
cause. It must be just; we must not reproach men for things
innocent or indifferent; for not concurring in disputable opinions
with us, for not complying with our humour, for not serving our
interest, for not doing anything to which they are not obliged, or
for using their liberty in any case: it must be at least some
considerable fault, which we can so much as tax. It must also be
clear and certain, notorious and palpable; for to speak ill upon
slender conjectures, or doubtful suspicions, is full of iniquity.
"[Greek], "They rail at things which they know not," is part of
those wicked men's character, whom St. Jude doth so severely
reprehend. If, indeed, these conditions being wanting, we presume
to reproach any man, we do therein no less than slander him; which
to do is unlawful in any case, is in truth a most diabolical and
detestable crime. To impose odious names and characters on any
person, which he deserveth not, or without ground of truth, is to
play the devil; and hell itself scarce will own a fouler practice.

3. We should not cast reproach upon any man without some necessary
reason. In charity (that charity which "covereth all sins," which
"covereth a multitude of sins") we are bound to connive at the
defects, and to conceal the faults of our brethren; to extenuate and
excuse them, when apparent, so far as we may in truth and equity.
We must not therefore ever produce them to light, or prosecute them
with severity, except very needful occasion urgeth--such as is the
glory and service of God, the maintenance of truth, the vindication
of innocence, the preservation of public justice and peace; the
amendment of our neighbour himself, or securing others from
contagion. Barring such reasons (really being, not affectedly
pretended), we are bound not so much as to disclose, as to touch our
neighbour's faults; much more, not to blaze them about, not to
exaggerate them by vehement invectives.

4. We should never speak ill of any man beyond measure; be the
cause never so just, the occasion never so necessary, we should yet
nowise be immoderate therein, exceeding the bounds prescribed by
truth, equity, and humanity. We should never speak worse of any man
whatever than he certainly deserveth, according to the most
favourable construction of his doings; never more than the cause
absolutely requireth. We should rather be careful to fall short of
what in rigorous truth might be said against him, than in the least
to pass beyond it. The best cause had better seem to suffer a
little by our reservedness in its defence, than any man be wronged
by our aspersing him; for God, the patron of truth and right, is
ever able to secure them without the succour of our unjust and
uncharitable dealing. The contrary practice hath indeed within it a
spice of slander, that is, of the worst iniquity.

5. We must never speak ill of any man out of bad principles, or for
bad ends.

No sudden or rash anger should instigate us thereto. For, "Let all
bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil-speaking be
put away from you, with all malice," is the apostolical precept;
they are all associates and kindred, which are to be cast away
together. Such anger itself is culpable, as a work of the flesh,
and therefore to be suppressed; and all its brood therefore is also
to be smothered; the daughter of such a mother cannot be legitimate.
"The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God."

We must not speak ill out of inveterate hatred or ill-will. For
this murderous, this viperous disposition should itself be rooted
out of our hearts: whatever issueth from it cannot be otherwise
than very bad; it must be a poisonous breath that exhaleth from that
foul source.

We must not be provoked thereto by any revengeful disposition, or
rancorous spleen, in regard to any injuries or discourtesies
received. For, as we must not revenge ourselves, or render evil in
any other way, so particularly not in this, which is commonly the
special instance expressly prohibited. "Render not evil for evil,"
saith St. Peter, "nor railing for railing; but contrariwise bless,"
or speak well; and "Bless them," saith the Lord, "which curse you;"
"Bless," saith St. Paul, "and curse not."

We must not also do it out of contempt; for we are not to slight our
brethren in our hearts. No man really, considering what he is,
whence he came, how he is related, what he is capable of, can be
despicable. Extreme naughtiness is indeed contemptible; but the
unhappy person that is engaged therein is rather to be pitied than
despised. However, charity bindeth us to stifle contemptuous
motions of heart, and not to vent them in vilifying expression.
Particularly, it is a barbarous practice, out of contempt to
reproach persons for natural imperfections, for meanness of
condition, for unlucky disasters, for any involuntary defects; this
being indeed to reproach mankind, unto which such things are
incident; to reproach Providence, from the disposal whereof they do
proceed. "Whoso mocketh the poor, despiseth his Maker," saith the
wise man; and the same may be said of him that reproachfully mocketh
him that is dull in parts, deformed in body, weak in health or
strength, defective in any such way.

Likewise we must not speak ill out of envy; because others do excel
us in any good quality, or exceed us in fortune. To harbour this
base and ugly disposition in our minds is unworthy of a man (who
should delight in all good springing up anywhere, and befalling any
man, naturally allied unto him); it is most unworthy of a Christian,
who should tender his brother's good as his own, and rejoice with
those that rejoice. From thence to be drawn to cast reproach upon
any man, is horrible and heinous wickedness.

Neither should we ever use reproach as a means of compassing any
design we do affect or aim at; 'tis an unwarrantable engine of
raising us to wealth, dignity, or repute. To grow by the
diminution, to rise by the depression, to shine by the eclipse of
others, to build a fortune upon the ruins of our neighbour's
reputation, is that which no honourable mind can affect, no honest
man will endeavour. Our own wit, courage, and industry, managed
with God's assistance and blessing, are sufficient, and only lawful
instruments of prosecuting honest enterprises; we need not, we must
not instead of them employ our neighbour's disgrace; no worldly good
is worth purchasing at such a rate, no project worth achieving by
such foul ways.

Neither should we out of malignity, to cherish or gratify ill
humour, use this practice. It is observable of some persons, that
not out of any formed displeasure, grudge, or particular
disaffection, nor out of any particular design, but merely out of a
[Greek], an ill disposition, springing up from nature, or contracted
by use, they are apt to carp at any action, and with sharp reproach
to bite any man that comes in their way, thereby feeding and
soothing that evil inclination. But as this inhuman and currish
humour should be corrected, and extirpated from our hearts; so
should the issues thereof at our mouths be stopped; the bespattering
our neighbour's good name should never afford any satisfaction or
delight unto us.

Nor out of wantonness should we speak ill, for our divertisement or
sport. For our neighbour's reputation is too great and precious a
thing to be played with, or offered up to sport; we are very foolish
in so disvaluing it, very naughty in so misusing it. Our wits are
very barren, our brains are ill furnished with store of knowledge,
if we can find no other matter of conversation.

Nor out of negligence and inadvertency should we sputter out
reproachful speech; shooting ill words at rovers, or not regarding
who stands in our way. Among all temerities this is one of the most
noxious, and therefore very culpable.

In fine, we should never speak concerning our neighbour from any
other principle than charity, or to any other intent but what is
charitable; such as tendeth to his good, or at least is consistent
therewith. "Let all your things," saith St. Paul, "be done in
charity;" and words are most of the THINGS we do concerning our
neighbour, wherein we may express charity. In all our speeches,
therefore, touching him, we should plainly show that we have a care
of his reputation, that we tender his interest, that we even desire
his content and repose. Even when reason and need do so require
that we should disclose and reprehend his faults, we may, we should
by the manner and scope of our speech signify thus much. Which
rule, were it observed, if we should never speak ill otherwise than
out of charity, surely most ill-speaking would be cut off; most, I
fear, of our tattling about others, much of our gossiping would be

Indeed, so far from bitter or sour our language should be, that it
ought to be sweet and pleasant; so far from rough and harsh, that it
should be courteous and obliging; so far from signifying wrath, ill-
will, contempt, or animosity, that it should express tender
affection, good esteem, sincere respect towards our brethren; and be
apt to produce the like in them towards us. The sense of them
should be grateful to the heart; the very sound and accent of them
should be delightful to the ear. Every one should please his
neighbour for his good to edification. Our words should always be
[Greek], with grace, seasoned with salt; they should have the grace
of courtesy, they should be seasoned with the salt of discretion, so
as to be sweet and savoury to the hearers. Commonly ill language is
a certain sign of inward enmity and ill-will. Good-will is wont to
show itself in good terms; it clotheth even its grief handsomely,
and its displeasure carrieth favour in its face; its rigour is civil
and gentle, tempered with pity for the faults and errors which it
disliketh, with the desire of their amendment and recovery whom it
reprehendeth. It would inflict no more evil than is necessary; it
would cure its neighbour's disease without exasperating his
patience, troubling his modesty, or impairing his credit. As it
always judgeth candidly, so it never condemneth extremely.

II. But so much for the explication of this precept, and the
directive part of our discourse. I shall now briefly propound some
inducements to the observance thereof.

1. Let us consider that nothing more than railing and reviling is
opposite to the nature, and inconsistent with the tenor of our
religion; which (as even a heathen did observe of it) nil nisi
justum suadet, et lene, doth recommend nothing but what is very just
and mild; which propoundeth the practices of charity, meekness,
patience, peaceableness, moderation, equity, alacrity, or good
humour, as its principal laws, and declareth them the chief fruits
of the Divine spirit and grace; which chargeth us to curb and
compose all our passions; more particularly to restrain and repress
anger, animosity, envy, malice, and such-like dispositions, as the
fruits of carnality and corrupt lust; which consequently drieth up
all the sources or dammeth up the sluices of bad language. As it
doth above all things oblige us to bear no ill-will in our hearts,
so it chargeth us to vent none with our mouths.

2. It is therefore often expressly condemned and prohibited as
evil. 'Tis the property of the wicked; a character of those who
work iniquity, to "whet their tongues like a sword, and bend their
bows to shoot their arrows, even bitter words."

3. No practice hath more severe punishments denounced to it than
this. The railer (and it is indeed a very proper and fit punishment
for him, he being exceedingly bad company) is to be banished out of
all good society; thereto St. Paul adjudgeth him: "I have," saith
he, "now written unto you, not to keep company, if any man that is
called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a
railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner, with such an one not to
eat." Ye see what company the railer hath in the text, and with
what a crew of people he is coupled; but no good company he is
allowed elsewhere; every good Christian should avoid him as a blot,
and a pest of conversation; and finally he is sure to be excluded
from the blessed society above in heaven; for "neither thieves, nor
covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners shall
inherit the kingdom of God;" and "without" (without the heavenly
city) "are dogs," saith St. John in his Revelation; that is, those
chiefly who out of currish spite or malignity do frowardly bark at
their neighbours, or cruelly bite them with reproachful language.

4. If we look upon such language in its own nature, what is it but
a symptom of a foul, a weak, a disordered and a distempered mind?
'Tis the smoke of inward rage and malice: 'tis a stream that cannot
issue from a sweet spring; 'tis a storm that cannot bluster out of a
calm region. "The words of the pure are pleasant words," as the
wise man saith.

5. This practice doth plainly signify low spirit, ill-breeding, and
bad manners; and thence misbecometh any wise, any honest, any
honourable person. It agreeth to children, who are unapt and
unaccustomed to deal in matters considerable, to squabble; to women
of meanest rank (apt, by nature, or custom, to be transported with
passion) to scold. In our modern languages it is termed villainy,
as being proper for rustic boors, or men of coarsest education and
employment; who, having their minds debased by being conversant in
meanest affairs, do vent their sorry passions, and bicker about
their petty concernments, in such strains; who also, being not
capable of a fair reputation, or sensible of disgrace to themselves,
do little value the credit of others, or care for aspersing it. But
such language is unworthy of those persons, and cannot easily be
drawn from them, who are wont to exercise their thoughts about
nobler matters, who are versed in affairs manageable only by calm
deliberation and fair persuasion, not by impetuous and provocative
rudeness; which do never work otherwise upon masculine souls than so
as to procure disdain and resistance. Such persons, knowing the
benefit of a good name, being wont to possess a good repute, prizing
their own credit as a considerable good, will never be prone to
bereave others of the like by opprobrious speech. A noble enemy
will never speak of his enemy in bad terms.

We may further consider that all wise, all honest, all ingenuous
persons have an aversion from ill-speaking, and cannot entertain it
with any acceptance or complacence; that only ill-natured, unworthy,
and naughty people are its willing auditors, or do abet it with
applause. The good man, in Psalm xv., non accipit opprobrium, doth
not take up, or accept, a reproach against his neighbour: "but a
wicked doer," saith the wise man, "giveth heed to false lips, and a
liar giveth ear to a naughty tongue." And what reasonable man will
do that which is disgustful to the wise and good, is grateful only
to the foolish and baser sort of men? I pretermit that using this
sort of language doth incapacitate a man for benefiting his
neighbour, and defeateth his endeavours for his edification,
disparaging a good cause, prejudicing the defence of truth,
obstructing the effects of good instruction and wholesome reproof;
as we did before remark and declare. Further--

6. He that useth this kind of speech doth, as harm and trouble
others, so create many great inconveniences and mischiefs to himself
thereby. Nothing so inflameth the wrath of men, so provoketh their
enmity, so breedeth lasting hatred and spite, as do contumelious
words. They are often called swords and arrows; and as such they
pierce deeply, and cause most grievous smart; which men feeling are
enraged, and accordingly will strive to requite them in the like
manner and in all other obvious ways of revenge. Hence strife,
clamour, and tumult, care, suspicion, and fear, danger and trouble,
sorrow and regret, do seize on the reviler; and he is sufficiently
punished for this dealing. No man can otherwise live than in
perpetual fear of reciprocal like usage from him whom he is
conscious of having so abused. Whence, if not justice, or charity
towards others, yet love and pity of ourselves should persuade us to
forbear it as disquietful, incommodious, and mischievous to us.

We should indeed certainly enjoy much love, much concord, much
quiet, we should live in great safety and security, we should be
exempted from much care and fear, if we would restrain ourselves
from abusing and offending our neighbour in this kind: being
conscious of so just and innocent demeanour towards him, we should
converse with him in a pleasant freedom and confidence, not
suspecting any bad language or ill usage from him.

7. Hence with evidently good reason is he that useth such language
called a fool: and he that abstaineth from it is commended as wise.
"A fool's lips enter into contention, and his mouth calleth for
strokes. A fool's mouth is his destruction, and his lips are the
snare of his soul. He that refraineth his tongue is wise. In the
tongue of the wise is health. He that keepeth his lips, keepeth his
life: but he that openeth wide his mouth" (that is, in evil-
speaking, gaping with clamour and vehemency) "shall have
destruction. The words of a wise man's mouth are gracious: but the
lips of a fool will swallow up himself. Death and life are in the
power of the tongue; and they that love it shall eat the fruit
thereof;" that is, of the one or the other, answerably to the kind
of speech they choose.

In fine, very remarkable is that advice, or resolution of the grand
point concerning the best way of living happily, in the psalmist:
"What man is he that desireth life, and loveth many days, that he
may see good? Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking
guile." Abstinence from ill-speaking he seemeth to propose as the
first step towards the fruition of a durably happy life.

8. Lastly, we may consider that it is a grievous perverting of the
design of speech, that excellent faculty, which so much
distinguisheth us from, so highly advanceth us above other
creatures, to use it to the defaming and disquieting of our
neighbour. It was given us as an instrument of beneficial commerce
and delectable conversation; that with it we might assist and
advise, might cheer and comfort one another: we, therefore, in
employing it to the disgrace, vexation, damage or prejudice in any
kind of our neighbour, do foully abuse it; and so doing, render
ourselves indeed worse than dumb beasts: for better far it were
that we could say nothing, than that we should speak ill.

"Now the God of grace and peace . . . make us perfect in every good
work to do His will, working in us that which is well-pleasing in
His sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever.


Part 1.

"He that uttereth slander is a fool."--Prov. x. 18.

General declamations against vice and sin are indeed excellently
useful, as rousing men to consider and look about them: but they do
often want effect, because they only raise confused apprehensions of
things, and indeterminate propensions to action; which usually,
before men thoroughly perceive or resolve what they should practise,
do decay and vanish. As he that cries out "Fire!" doth stir up
people, and inspireth them with a kind of hovering tendency every
way, yet no man thence to purpose moveth until he be distinctly
informed where the mischief is; then do they, who apprehend
themselves concerned, run hastily to oppose it: so, till we
particularly discern where our offences lie (till we distinctly know
the heinous nature and the mischievous consequences of them), we
scarce will effectually apply ourselves to correct them. Whence it
is requisite that men should be particularly acquainted with their
sins, and by proper arguments be dissuaded from them.

In order whereto I have now selected one sin to describe, and
dissuade from, being in nature as vile, and in practice as common,
as any other whatever that hath prevailed among men. It is slander,
a sin which in all times and places hath been epidemical and rife;
but which especially doth seem to reign and rage in our age and

There are principles innate to men, which ever have, and ever will
incline them to this offence. Eager appetites to secular and
sensual goods; violent passions, urging the prosecution of what men
affect; wrath and displeasure against those who stand in the way of
compassing their desires; emulation and envy towards those who
happen to succeed better, or to attain a greater share in such
things; excessive self-love; unaccountable malignity and vanity, are
in some degrees connatural to all men, and ever prompt them to this
dealing, as appearing the most efficacious, compendious, and easy
way of satisfying such appetites, of promoting such designs, of
discharging such passions. Slander thence hath always been a
principal engine whereby covetous, ambitious, envious, ill-natured,
and vain persons have striven to supplant their competitors, and
advance themselves; meaning thereby to procure, what they chiefly
prize and like, wealth, or dignity, or reputation, favour and power
in the court, respect and interest with the people.

But from especial causes our age peculiarly doth abound in this
practice; for, besides the common dispositions inclining thereto,
there are conceits newly coined, and greedily entertained by many,
which seem purposely levelled at the disparagement of piety,
charity, and justice, substituting interest in the room of
conscience, authorising and commending for good and wise, all ways
serving to private advantage. There are implacable dissensions,
fierce animosities, and bitter zeals sprung up; there is an extreme
curiosity, niceness, and delicacy of judgment: there is a mighty
affectation of seeming wise and witty by any means; there is a great
unsettlement of mind, and corruption of manners, generally diffused
over people: from which sources it is no wonder that this flood
hath so overflown, that no banks can restrain it, no fences are able
to resist it; so that ordinary conversation is full of it, and no
demeanour can be secure from it.

If we do mark what is done in many (might I not say, in most?)
companies, what is it but one telling malicious stories of, or
fastening odious characters upon another? What do men commonly
please themselves in so much, as in carping and harshly censuring,
in defaming and abusing their neighbours? Is it not the sport and
divertisement of many, to cast dirt in the faces of all they meet
with; to bespatter any man with foul imputations? Doth not in every
corner a Momus lurk, from the venom of whose spiteful or petulant
tongue no eminency of rank, dignity of place, or sacredness of
office, no innocence or integrity of life, no wisdom or
circumspection in behaviour, no good-nature or benignity in dealing
and carriage, can protect any person? Do not men assume to
themselves a liberty of telling romances, and framing characters
concerning their neighbour, as freely as a poet doth about Hector or
Turnus, Thersites or Draucus? Do they not usurp a power of playing
with, or tossing about, of tearing in pieces their neighbour's good
name, as if it were the veriest toy in the world? Do not many
having a form of godliness (some of them, demurely, others
confidently, both without any sense of, or remorse for what they do)
backbite their brethren? Is it not grown so common a thing to
asperse causelessly that no man wonders at it, that few dislike,
that scarce any detest it? that most notorious calumniators are
heard, not only with patience, but with pleasure; yea, are even held
in vogue and reverence as men of a notable talent, and very
serviceable to their party? so that slander seemeth to have lost its
nature, and not to be now an odious sin, but a fashionable humour, a
way of pleasing entertainment, a fine knack, or curious feat of
policy; so that no man at least taketh himself or others to be
accountable for what is said in this way? Is not, in fine, the case
become such, that whoever hath in him any love of truth, any sense
of justice or honesty, any spark of charity towards his brethren,
shall hardly be able to satisfy himself in the conversations he
meeteth; but will be tempted, with the holy prophet, to wish himself
sequestered from society, and cast into solitude; repeating those
words of his, "Oh, that I had in the wilderness a lodging-place of
wayfaring men, that I might leave my people, and go from them: for
they are . . . . an assembly of treacherous men, and they bend their
tongues like their bow for lies"? This he wished in an age so
resembling ours, that I fear the description with equal patness may
suit both: "Take ye heed" (said he then, and may we not advise the
like now?) "every one of his neighbour, and trust ye not in any
brother: for every brother will utterly supplant, and every
neighbour will walk with slanders. They will deceive every one his
neighbour, and will not speak the truth; they have taught their
tongue to speak lies, and weary themselves to commit iniquity."

Such being the state of things, obvious to experience, no discourse
may seem more needful, or more useful, than that which serveth to
correct or check this practice: which I shall endeavour to do (1)
by describing the nature, (2) by declaring the folly of it: or
showing it to be very true which the wise man here asserteth, "He
that uttereth slander is a fool." Which particulars I hope so to
prosecute, that any man shall be able easily to discern, and ready
heartily to detest this practice.

I. For explication of its nature, we may describe slander to be the
uttering false (or equivalent to false, morally false) speech
against our neighbour, in prejudice to his fame, his safety, his
welfare, or concernment in any kind, out of malignity, vanity,
rashness, ill-nature, or bad design. That which is in Holy
Scripture forbidden and reproved under several names and notions:
of bearing false witness, false accusation, railing censure,
sycophantry, tale-bearing, whispering, backbiting, supplanting,
taking up reproach: which terms some of them do signify the nature,
others denote the special kinds, others imply the manners, others
suggest the ends of this practice. But it seemeth most fully
intelligible by observing the several kinds and degrees thereof; as
also by reflecting on the divers ways and manners of practising it.

The principal kinds thereof I observe to be these:

1. The grossest kind of slander is that which in the Decalogue is
called, bearing false testimony against our neighbour; that is,
flatly charging him with facts which he never committed, and is
nowise guilty of. As in the case of Naboth, when men were suborned
to say, "Naboth did blaspheme God and the king:" and as was David's
case, when he thus complained, "False witnesses did rise up, they
laid to my charge things that I knew not of." This kind in the
highest way (that is, in judicial proceedings) is more rare; and of
all men, they who are detected to practise it, are held most vile
and infamous; as being plainly the most pernicious and perilous
instruments of injustice, the most desperate enemies of all men's
right and safety that can be. But also out of the court there are
many knights-errant of the post, whose business it is to run about
scattering false reports; sometimes loudly proclaiming them in open
companies, sometimes closely whispering them in dark corners; thus
infecting conversation with their poisonous breath: these no less
notoriously are guilty of this kind, as bearing always the same
malice, and sometimes breeding as ill effects.

2. Another kind is, affixing scandalous names, injurious epithets,
and odious characters upon persons, which they deserve not. As when
Corah and his accomplices did accuse Moses of being ambitious,
unjust, and tyrannical: when the Pharisees called our Lord an
impostor, a blasphemer, a sorcerer, a glutton and wine-bibber, an
incendiary and perverter of the people, one that spake against
Caesar, and forbade to give tribute: when the apostles were charged
with being pestilent, turbulent, factious and seditious fellows.
This sort being very common, and thence in ordinary repute not so
bad, yet in just estimation may be judged, even worse than the
former; as doing to our neighbour more heavy and more irreparable
wrong. For it imposeth on him really more blame, and that such
which he can hardly shake off: because the charge signifieth habit
of evil, and includeth many acts; then, being general and
indefinite, can scarce be disproved. He, for instance, that calleth
a sober man drunkard, doth impute to him many acts of such
intemperance (some really past, others probably future), and no
particular time or place being specified, how can a man clear
himself of that imputation, especially with those who are not
thoroughly acquainted with his conversation? So he that calleth a
man unjust, proud, perverse, hypocritical, doth load him with most
grievous faults, which it is not possible that the most innocent
person should discharge himself from.

3. Like to that kind is this: aspersing a man's actions with harsh
censures and foul terms, importing that they proceed from ill
principles, or tend to bad ends; so as it doth not or cannot appear.
Thus when we say of him that is generously hospitable, that he is
profuse; of him that is prudently frugal, that he is niggardly; of
him that is cheerful and free in his conversation, that he is vain
or loose; of him that is serious and resolute in a good way, that he
is sullen or morose; of him that is conspicuous and brisk in
virtuous practice, that it is ambition or ostentation which prompts
him; of him that is close and bashful in the like good way, that it
is sneaking stupidity, or want of spirit; of him that is reserved,
that it is craft; of him that is open, that it is simplicity in him;
when we ascribe a man's liberality and charity to vainglory, or
popularity; his strictness of life, and constancy, in devotion, to
superstition, or hypocrisy. When, I say, we pass such censures, or
impose such characters on the laudable or innocent practice of our
neighbours, we are indeed slanderers, imitating therein the great
calumniator, who thus did slander even God Himself, imputing His
prohibition of the fruit unto envy towards men; "God," said he,
"doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, your eyes shall be
opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil;" who thus
did ascribe the steady piety of Job, not to a conscientious love and
fear of God, but to policy and selfish design: "Doth Job fear God
for nought?"

Whoever, indeed, pronounceth concerning his neighbour's intentions
otherwise than as they are evidently expressed by words, or
signified by overt actions, is a slanderer; because he pretendeth to
know, and dareth to aver, that which he nowise possibly can tell
whether it be true; because the heart is exempt from all
jurisdiction here, is only subject to the government and trial of
another world; because no man can judge concerning the truth of such
accusations, because no man can exempt or defend himself from them:
so that apparently such practice doth thwart all course of justice
and equity.

4. Another kind is, perverting a man's words or actions
disadvantageously by affected misconstruction. All words are
ambiguous, and capable of different senses, some fair, some more
foul; all actions have two handles, one that candour and charity
will, another that disingenuity and spite may lay hold on; and in
such cases to misapprehend is a calumnious procedure, arguing
malignant disposition and mischievous design. Thus when two men did
witness that our Lord affirmed, He "could demolish the temple, and
rear it again in three days"--although He did indeed speak words to
that purpose, meaning them in a figurative sense, discernible enough
to those who would candidly have minded His drift and way of
speaking--yet they who crudely alleged them against Him are called
false witnesses. "At last," saith the Gospel, "came two false
witnesses, and said, This fellow said, I am able to destroy the
temple," etc. Thus also when some certified of St. Stephen, as
having said that "Jesus of Nazareth should destroy that place, and
change the customs that Moses delivered;" although probably he did
speak words near to that purpose, yet are those men called false
witnesses: "And," saith St. Luke, "they set up false witnesses,
which said, This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words," etc.
Which instances plainly do show, if we would avoid the guilt of
slander, how careful we should be to interpret fairly and favourably
the words and the actions of our neighbour.

5. Another sort of this practice is, partial and lame
representation of men's discourse, or their practice; suppressing
some part of the truth in them, or concealing some circumstances
about them which might serve to explain, to excuse, or to extenuate
them. In such a manner easily, without uttering any logical
untruth, one may yet grievously calumniate. Thus suppose a man
speaketh a thing upon supposition, or with exception, or in way of
objection, or merely for disputation sake, in order to the
discussion or clearing of truth; he that should report him asserting
it absolutely, unlimitedly, positively and peremptorily, as his own
settled judgment, would notoriously calumniate. If one should be
inveigled by fraud, or driven by violence, or slip by chance into a
bad place or bad company, he that should so represent the gross of
that accident, as to breed an opinion of that person, that out of
pure disposition and design he did put himself there, doth
slanderously abuse that innocent person. The reporter in such cases
must not think to defend himself by pretending that he spake nothing
false; for such propositions, however true in logic, may justly be
deemed lies in morality, being uttered with a malicious and
deceitful (that is, with a calumnious) mind, being apt to impress
false conceits and to produce hurtful effects concerning our
neighbour. There are slanderous truths as well as slanderous
falsehoods: when truth is uttered with a deceitful heart, and to a
base end, it becomes a lie. "He that speaketh truth," saith the
wise man, "showeth forth righteousness: but a false witness
deceit." Deceiving is the proper work of slander: and truth abused
to that end putteth on its nature, and will engage into like guilt.

6. Another kind of calumny is, by instilling sly suggestions; which
although they do not downrightly assert falsehoods, yet they breed
sinister opinions in the hearers; especially in those who, from
weakness or credulity, from jealousy or prejudice, from negligence
or inadvertency, are prone to entertain them. This is done many
ways: by propounding wily suppositions, shrewd insinuations, crafty
questions, and specious comparisons, intimating a possibility, or
inferring some likelihood of, and thence inducing to believe the
fact. "Doth not," saith this kind of slanderer, "his temper incline
him to do thus? may not his interest have swayed him thereto? had he
not fair opportunity and strong temptation to it? hath he not acted
so in like cases? Judge you therefore whether he did it not." Thus
the close slanderer argueth; and a weak or prejudiced person is
thereby so caught, that he presently is ready thence to conclude the
thing done. Again: "He doeth well," saith the sycophant, "it is
true; but why, and to what end? Is it not, as most men do, out of
ill design? may he not dissemble now? may he not recoil hereafter?
have not others made as fair a show? yet we know what came of it."
Thus do calumnious tongues pervert the judgments of men to think ill
of the most innocent, and meanly of the worthiest actions. Even
commendation itself is often used calumniously, with intent to breed
dislike and ill-will towards a person commended in envious or
jealous ears; or so as to give passage to dispraises, and render the
accusations following more credible. 'Tis an artifice commonly
observed to be much in use there, where the finest tricks of
supplanting are practised, with greatest effect; so that pessimum
inimicorum genus, laudantes; there is no more pestilent enemy than a
malevolent praiser. All these kinds of dealing, as they issue from
the principles of slander, and perform its work, so they deservedly
bear the guilt thereof.

7. A like kind is that of oblique and covert reflections; when a
man doth not directly or expressly charge his neighbour with faults,
but yet so speaketh that he is understood, or reasonably presumed to
do it. This is a very cunning and very mischievous way of
slandering; for therein the skulking calumniator keepeth a reserve
for himself, and cutteth off from the person concerned the means of
defence. If he goeth to clear himself from the matter of such
aspersions: "What need," saith this insidious speaker, "of that?
must I needs mean you? did I name you? why do you then assume it to
yourself? do you not prejudge yourself guilty? I did not, but your
own conscience, it seemeth, doth accuse you. You are so jealous and
suspicious, as persons overwise or guilty use to be." So meaneth
this serpent out of the hedge securely and unavoidably to bite his
neighbour, and is in that respect more base and more hurtful than
the most flat and positive slanderer.

8. Another kind is that of magnifying and aggravating the faults of
others; raising any small miscarriage into a heinous crime, any
slender defect into an odious vice, and any common infirmity into a
strange enormity; turning a small "mote in the eye" of our neighbour
into a huge "beam," a little dimple in his face into a monstrous
wen. This is plainly slander, at least in degree, and according to
the surplusage whereby the censure doth exceed the fault. As he
that, upon the score of a small debt, doth extort a great sum, is no
less a thief, in regard to what amounts beyond his due, than if
without any pretence he had violently or fraudulently seized on it:
so he is a slanderer that, by heightening faults or imperfections,
doth charge his neighbour with greater blame, or load him with more
disgrace than he deserves. 'Tis not only slander to pick a hole
where there is none, but to make that wider which is, so that it
appeareth more ugly, and cannot so easily be mended. For charity is
wont to extenuate faults, justice doth never exaggerate them. As no
man is exempt from some defects, or can live free from some
misdemeanours, so by this practice every man may be rendered very
odious and infamous.

9. Another kind of slander is, imputing to our neighbour's
practice, judgment, or profession, evil consequences (apt to render
him odious, or despicable) which have no dependence on them, or
connection with them. There do in every age occur disorders and
mishaps, springing from various complications of causes, working
some of them in a more open and discernible, others in a more secret
and subtle way (especially from Divine judgment and providence
checking or chastising sin): from such occurrences it is common to
snatch occasion and matter of calumny. Those who are disposed this
way, are ready peremptorily to charge them upon whomsoever they
dislike or dissent from, although without any apparent cause, or
upon most frivolous and senseless pretences; yea, often when reason
showeth quite the contrary, and they who are so charged are in just
esteem of all men the least obnoxious to such accusations. So
usually the best friends of mankind, those who most heartily wish
the peace and prosperity of the world and most earnestly to their
power strive to promote them, have all the disturbances and
disasters happening charged on them by those fiery vixens, who (in
pursuance of their base designs, or gratification of their wild
passions) really do themselve embroil things, and raise miserable
combustions in the world. So it is that they who have the
conscience to do mischief, will have the confidence also to disavow
the blame and the iniquity, to lay the burden of it on those who are
most innocent. Thus, whereas nothing more disposeth men to live
orderly and peaceably, nothing more conduceth to the settlement and
safety of the public, nothing so much draweth blessings down from
heaven upon the commonwealth, as true religion; yet nothing hath
been more ordinary than to attribute all the miscarriages and
mischiefs that happened unto it; even those are laid at his door,
which plainly do arise from the contempt or neglect of it; being the
natural fruits or the just punishments of irreligion. King Ahab by
forsaking God's commandments, and following wicked superstitions,
had troubled Israel, drawing sore judgments and calamities thereon;
yet had he the heart and the face to charge those events on the
great assertor of piety, Elias: "Art thou he that troubleth
Israel?" The Jews by provocation of Divine justice had set
themselves in a fair way towards desolation and ruin; this event to
come they had the presumption to lay upon the faith of our Lord's
doctrine: "If," said they, "we let Him alone, all men will believe
on Him, and the Romans shall come, and take away our place and
nation:" whereas, in truth, a compliance with His directions and
admonitions had been the only means to prevent those presaged
mischiefs. And, si Tibris ascenderit in maenia, if any public
calamity did appear, then Christianos ad leones, Christians must be
charged and persecuted as the causes thereof. To them it was that
Julian and other pagans did impute all the concussions, confusions,
and devastations falling upon the Roman Empire. The sacking of Rome
by the Goths they cast upon Christianity; for the vindication of it
from which reproach St. Austin did write those renowned books de
Civitate Dei. So liable are the best and most innocent sort of men
to be calumniously accused in this manner.

Another practice (worthily bearing the guilt of slander) is, aiding
and being accessory thereto, by anywise furthering, cherishing,
abetting it. He that by crafty significations of ill-will doth
prompt the slanderer to vent his poison; he that by a willing
audience and attention doth readily suck it up, or who greedily
swalloweth it down by credulous approbation and assent; he that
pleasingly relisheth and smacketh at it, or expresseth a delightful
complacence therein: as he is a partner in the fact, so he is a
sharer in the guilt. There are not only slanderous throats, but
slanderous ears also; not only wicked inventions, which engender and
brood lies, but wicked assents, which hatch and foster them. Not
only the spiteful mother that conceiveth such spurious brats, but
the midwife that helpeth to bring them forth, the nurse that feedeth
them, the guardian that traineth them up to maturity, and setteth
them forth to live in the world; as they do really contribute to
their subsistence, so deservedly they partake in the blame due to
them, and must be responsible for the mischief they do. For indeed
were it not for such free entertainers, such nourishers, such
encouragers of them, slanderers commonly would die in the womb, or
prove still-born, or presently entering into the cold air, would
expire, or for want of nourishment soon would starve. It is such
friends and patrons of them who are the causes that they are so
rife; they it is who set ill-natured, base, and designing people
upon devising, searching after, and picking up malicious and idle
stories. Were it not for such customers, the trade of calumniating
would fall. Many pursue it merely out of servility and flattery, to
tickle the ears, to soothe the humour, to gratify the malignant
disposition or ill-will of others; who upon the least discouragement
would give over the practice. If therefore we would exempt
ourselves from all guilt of slander, we must not only abstain from
venting it, but forbear to regard or countenance it: for "he is,"
saith the wise man, "a wicked doer who giveth heed to false lips,
and a liar who giveth ear to a naughty tongue." Yea, if we
thoroughly would be clear from it, we must show an aversion from
hearing it, an unwillingness to believe it, an indignation against
it; so either stifling it in the birth, or condemning it to death,
being uttered. This is the sure way to destroy it, and to prevent
its mischief. If we would stop our ears, we should stop the
slanderer's mouth; if we would resist the calumniator, he would fly
from us; if we would reprove him, we should repel him. For, "as the
north wind driveth away rain, so," the wise man telleth us, "doth an
angry countenance a backbiting tongue."

These are the chief and most common kinds of slander; and there are
several ways of practising them worthy our observing, that we may
avoid them, namely these:--

1. The most notoriously heinous way is, forging and immediately
venting ill stories. As it is said of Doeg, "Thy tongue deviseth
mischief;" and of another like companion, "Thou givest thy mouth to
evil, and thy tongue frameth deceit;" and as our Lord saith of the
devil, "When he speaketh a lie, [Greek], he speaketh of his own; for
he is a liar, and the father of it." This palpably is the supreme
pitch of calumny, incapable of any qualifications or excuse: hell
cannot go beyond this; the cursed fiend himself cannot worse employ
his wit than in minting wrongful falsehoods.

2. Another way is, receiving from others, and venting such stories,
which they who do it certainly know or may reasonably presume to be
false; the becoming hucksters of counterfeit wares, or factors in
this vile trade. There is no false coiner who hath not some
accomplices and emissaries ready to take from his hand and put off
his money; and such slanderers at second hand are scarce less guilty
than the first authors. He that breweth lies may have more wit and
skill, but the broacher showeth the like malice and wickedness. In
this there is no great difference between the great devil, that
frameth scandalous reports, and the little imps that run about and
disperse them.

3. Another way is, when one without competent examination, due
weighing, and just reason, doth admit and spread tales prejudicial
to his neighbour's welfare; relying for his warrant, as to the truth
of them, upon any slight or slender authority. This is a very
common and current practice: men presume it lawful enough to say
over whatever they hear; to report anything, if they can quote an
author for it. "It is not," say they, "my invention; I tell it as I
heard it: sit fides penes authorem; let him that informed me
undergo the blame if it prove false." So do they conceive
themselves excusable for being the instruments of injurious disgrace
and damage to their neighbours. But they greatly mistake therein;
for as this practice commonly doth arise from the same wicked
principles, at least in some degree, and produceth altogether the
like mischievous effects, as the wilful devising and conveying
slander: so it no less thwarteth the rules of duty, the laws of
equity; God hath prohibited it, and reason doth condemn it. "Thou
shalt not," saith God in the Law, "go up and down as a tale-bearer
among thy people:" as a talebearer (as Rachil, that is), as a
merchant or trader in ill reports and stories concerning our
neighbour, to his prejudice. Not only the framing of them, but the
dealing in them beyond reason or necessity, is interdicted. And it
is part of a good man's character in Psalm xv., Non accipit
opprobrium, "He taketh not up a reproach against his neighbour;"
that is, he doth not easily entertain it, much less doth he
effectually propagate it: and in our text, "He," it is said, "that
uttereth slander" (not only he that conceiveth it) "is a fool."

And in reason, before exact trial and cognisance, to meddle with the
fame and interest of another, is evidently a practice full of
iniquity, such as no man can allow in his own case, or brook being
used towards himself without judging himself to be extremely abused
by such reporters. In all reason and equity, yea, in all
discretion, before we yield credence to any report concerning our
neighbour, or venture 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 disaffected to him:
whether he be not ill-humoured, 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 or credulous, or apt to be
imposed upon 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 neighbour, 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 neighbour; 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 upon 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 neighbour; 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

4. Of kin to this way is the assenting to popular rumours, and
thence affirming matters of obloquy to our neighbour. 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 humour 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 doeth 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 neighbour.

5. Another slanderous course is, to build censures and reproaches
upon slender conjectures, or uncertain suspicions (those [Greek],
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 upon such accounts dareth to asperse his
neighbour 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 betray 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 neighbour. 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 sling 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 perilous weapon, which we are bound to keep up in the
sheath, or never to draw forth but advisedly, and upon just
occasion; 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 happeneth to come in our way,
doth argue malice or madness.

7. It is an ordinary way of proceeding to calumniate, for men,
reflecting upon 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 upon
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 Machiavellians, and of desperate reprobates in
wickedness, who having prostituted their consciences to vice, for
their own defence and solace, would shroud 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 upon several
accounts. But the doing of this, in regard to your patience, we
shall forbear at present.


Part 2.

"He that uttereth slander is a fool."--Prov. x. 18.

I have formerly in this place, discoursing upon this text, explained
the nature of the sin here condemned, with its several kinds and
ways of practising.

II. I shall now proceed to declare the folly of it; and to make
good by divers reasons the assertion of the wise man, that "He who
uttereth slander is a fool."

1. Slandering is foolish, as sinful and wicked.

All sin is foolish upon many accounts; as proceeding from ignorance,
error, inconsiderateness, vanity; as implying weak judgment, and
irrational choice; as thwarting the dictates of reason, and best
rules of wisdom; as producing very mischievous effects to ourselves,
bereaving us of the chief goods, and exposing us to the worst evils.
What can be more egregiously absurd than to dissent in our opinion
and discord in our choice from infinite wisdom; to provoke by our
actions sovereign justice, and immutable severity: to oppose
almighty power, and offend immense goodness; to render ourselves
unlike and contrary in our doings, our disposition, our state, to
absolute perfection and felicity? What can be more desperately wild
than to disoblige our best Friend, to forfeit His love and favour,
to render Him our enemy, who is our Lord and our Judge, upon whose
mere will and disposal all our subsistence, all our welfare does
absolutely depend? What greater madness can be conceived than to
deprive our minds of all true content here, and to separate our
souls from eternal bliss hereafter; to gall our consciences now with
sore remorse, and to engage ourselves for ever in remediless
miseries? Such folly doth all sin include: whence in Scripture
style worthily goodness and wisdom are terms equivalent; sin and
folly do signify the same thing.

If thence this practice be proved extremely sinful, it will thence
sufficiently be demonstrated no less foolish. And that it is
extremely sinful may easily be shown. It is the character of the
superlatively wicked man: "Thou givest thy mouth to evil, and thy
tongue frameth deceit. Thou sittest and speakest against thy
brother; thou slanderest thine own mother's son." It is, indeed,
plainly the blackest and most hellish sin that can be; that which
giveth the grand fiend his names, and most expresseth his nature.
He is [Greek] (the slanderer); Satan, the spiteful adversary; the
old snake or dragon, hissing out lies, and spitting forth venom of
calumnious accusation; the accuser of the brethren, a murderous,
envious, malicious calumniator; the father of lies; the grand
defamer of God to man, of man to God, of one man to another. And
highly wicked surely must that practice be, whereby we grow
namesakes to him, conspire in proceeding with him, resemble his
disposition and nature. It is a complication, a comprisal, a
collection and sum of all wickedness; opposite to all the principal
virtues (to veracity and sincerity, to charity and justice),
transgressing all the great commandments, violating immediately and
directly all the duties concerning our neighbour.

To lie simply is a great fault, being a deviation from that good
rule which prescribeth truth in all our words; rendering us unlike
and disagreeable to God, who is the God of truth (who loveth truth,
and practiseth it in all His doings, who abominateth all falsehood);
including a treacherous breach of faith towards mankind; we being
all, in order to the maintenance of society, by an implicit compact,
obliged by speech to declare our mind, to inform truly, and not to
impose upon our neighbour; arguing pusillanimous timorousness and
impotency of mind, a distrust in God's help, and diffidence in all
good means to compass our designs; begetting deception and error, a
foul and ill-favoured brood: lying, I say, is upon such accounts a
sinful and blamable thing; and of all lies those certainly are the
worst which proceed from malice or from vanity, or from both, and
which work mischief, such as slanders are.

Again, to bear any hatred or ill-will, to exercise enmity towards
any man, to design or procure any mischief to our neighbour, whom
even Jews were commanded to love as themselves, whose good, by many
laws, and upon divers scores, we are obliged to tender as our own,
is a heinous fault; and of this apparently the slanderer is most
guilty in the highest degree. For evidently true it is which the
wise man affirmeth, "A lying tongue hateth those that are afflicted
with it;" there is no surer argument of extreme hatred; nothing but
the height of ill-will can suggest this practice. The slanderer is
an enemy, as the most fierce and outrageous, so the most base and
unworthy that can be; he fighteth with the most perilous and most
unlawful weapon, in the most furious and foul way that can be. His
weapon is an envenomed arrow, full of deadly poison, which he
shooteth suddenly, and feareth not: a weapon which by no force can
be resisted, by no art declined, whose impression is altogether
inevitable and unsustainable. It is a most insidious, most
treacherous and cowardly way of fighting; wherein manifestly the
weakest and basest spirits have extreme advantage, and may easily
prevail against the bravest and worthiest; for no man of honour or
honesty can in way of resistance or requital deign to use it, but
must infallibly without repugnance be borne down thereby. By it the
vile practiser achieveth the greatest mischief that can be. His
words are, as the psalmist saith of Doeg, devouring words: "Thou
lovest all devouring words, O thou deceitful tongue:" and, "A man,"
saith the wise man, "that beareth false witness against his
neighbour is a maul, and a sword, and a sharp arrow;" that is, he is
a complicated instrument of all mischiefs; he smiteth and bruiseth
like a maul, he cutteth and pierceth like a sword, he thus doth hurt
near at hand; and at a distance he woundeth like a sharp arrow; it
is hard anywhere to evade him, or to get out of his reach. "Many,"
saith another wise man, the imitator of Solomon, "have fallen by the
edge of the sword, but not so many as have fallen by the tongue.
Well is he that is defended from it, and hath not passed through the
venom thereof; who hath not drawn the yoke thereof, nor hath been
bound in its bands. For the yoke thereof is a yoke of iron, and the
bands thereof are bands of brass. The death thereof is an evil
death, the grave were better than it." Incurable are the wounds
which the slanderer inflicteth, irreparable the damages which he
causeth, indelible the marks which he leaveth. "No balsam can heal
the biting of a sycophant;" no thread can stitch up a good name torn
by calumnious defamation; no soap is able to cleanse from the stains
aspersed by a foul mouth. Aliquid adhaerebit; somewhat always of
suspicion and ill opinion will stick in the minds of those who have
given ear to slander. So extremely opposite is this practice unto
the queen of virtues, Charity. Its property indeed is to "believe
all things," that is, all things for the best, and to the advantage
of our neighbour; not so much as to suspect any evil of him without
unavoidably manifest cause; how much more not to devise any
falsehood against him! It "covereth" all things, studiously
conniving at real defects, and concealing assured miscarriages: how
much more not divulging imaginary or false scandals! It disposeth
to seek and further any the least good concerning him: how much
more will it hinder committing grievous outrage upon his dearest
good name!

Again, all injustice is abominable; to do any sort of wrong is a
heinous crime; that crime which of all most immediately tendeth to
the dissolution of society, and disturbance of human life; which God
therefore doth most loathe, and men have reason especially to
detest. And of this the slanderer is most deeply guilty. "A
witness of Belial scorneth judgment, and the mouth of the wicked
devoureth iniquity," saith the wise man. He is indeed, according to
just estimation, guilty of all kinds whatever of injury, breaking
all the second Table of Commands respecting our neighbour. Most
formally and directly he "beareth false witness against his
neighbour:" he doth "covet his neighbour's goods;" for 'tis
constantly out of such an irregular desire, for his own presumed
advantage, to dispossess his neighbour of some good, and transfer it
on himself, that the slanderer uttereth his tale: he is ever a
thief and robber of his good name, a deflowerer and defiler of his
reputation, an assassin and murderer of his honour. So doth he
violate all the rules of justice, and perpetrateth all sorts of
wrong against his neighbour.

He may, indeed, perhaps conceive it no great matter that he
committeth; because he doth not act in so boisterous and bloody a
way, but only by words, which are subtle, slim, and transient
things: upon his neighbour's credit only, which is no substantial
or visible matter. He draweth (thinks he), no blood, nor breaketh
any bones, nor impresseth any remarkable scar; 'tis only the soft
air he breaketh with his tongue, 'tis only a slight character that
he stampeth on the fancy, 'tis only an imaginary stain that he
daubeth his neighbour with; therefore he supposeth no great wrong
done, and seemeth to himself innocent, or very excusable. But these
conceits arise from great inconsiderateness, or mistake: nor can
they excuse the slanderer from grievous injustice. For in dealing
with our neighbour, and meddling with his property, we are not to
value things according to our fancy, but according to the price set
on them by the owner; we must not reckon that a trifle, which he
prizeth as a jewel. Since, then, all men (especially men of honour
and honesty) do, from a necessary instinct of nature, estimate their
good name beyond any of their goods--yea, do commonly hold it more
dear and precious than their very lives--we, by violently or
fraudulently bereaving them of it, do them no less wrong than if we
should rob or cozen them of their substance; yea, than if we should
maim their body, or spill their blood, or even stop their breath.
If they as grievously feel it, and resent it as deeply, as they do
any other outrage, the injury is really as great, to them. Even the
slanderer's own judgment and conscience might tell him so much; for
they who most slight another's fame, are usually very tender of
their own, and can with no patience endure that others should touch
it; which demonstrates the inconsiderateness of their judgment, and
the iniquity of their practice. It is an injustice not to be
corrected or cured. Thefts may be restored, wounds may be cured;
but there is no restitution or cure of a lost good name: it is
therefore an irreparable injury.

Nor is the thing itself, in true judgment, contemptible; but in
itself really very considerable. "A good name," saith Solomon
himself (no fool), "is rather to be chosen than great riches; and
loving favour rather than silver and gold." In its consequences it
is much more so; the chief interests of a man, the success of his
affairs, his ability to do good (for himself, his friends, his
neighbour), his safety, the best comforts and conveniences of his
life, sometimes his life itself, depending thereon; so that whoever
doth snatch or filch it from him, doth not only according to his
opinion, and in moral value, but in real effect commonly rob,
sometimes murder, ever exceedingly wrong his neighbour. It is often
the sole reward of a man's virtue and all the fruit of his industry;
so that by depriving him of that, he is robbed of all his estate,
and left stark naked of all, excepting a good conscience, which is
beyond the reach of the world, and which no malice or misfortune can
divest him of. Full then of iniquity, full of uncharitableness,
full of all wickedness is this practice; and consequently full it is
of folly. No man, one would think, of any tolerable sense, should
dare or deign to incur the guilt of a practice so vile and base, so
indeed diabolical and detestable. But further more particularly--

2. The slanderer is plainly a fool, because he maketh wrong
judgments and valuations of things, and accordingly driveth on silly
bargains for himself, in result whereof he proveth a great loser.
He means by his calumnious stories either to vent some passion
boiling in him, or to compass some design which he affects, or to
please some humour that he is possessed with: but is any of these
things worth purchasing at so dear a rate? can there be any valuable
exchange for our honesty? Is it not more advisable to suppress our
passion, or to let it evaporate otherwise, than to discharge it in
so foul a way? Is it not better to let go a petty interest, than to
further it by committing so notorious and heinous a sin; to let an
ambitious project sink, than to buoy it up by such base means? Is
it not wisdom rather to smother or curb our humour, than by
satisfying it thus to forfeit our innocence? Can anything in the
world be so considerable, that for its sake we should defile our
souls by so foul a practice, making shipwreck of a good conscience,
abandoning honour and honesty, incurring all the guilt and all the
punishment due to so enormous a crime? Is it not far more wisdom,
contentedly to see our neighbour to enjoy credit and success, to
flourish and thrive in the world, than by such base courses to sully
his reputation, to rifle him of his goods, to supplant or cross him
in his affairs? We do really, when we think thus to depress him,
and to climb up to wealth or credit by the ruins of his honour, but
debase ourselves. Whatever comes of it, whether he succeeds or is
disappointed therein, assuredly he that useth such courses will
himself be the greatest loser, and deepest sufferer. 'Tis true
which the wise man saith, "The getting of treasures by a lying
tongue, is a vanity tossed to and fro of them that seek death."
And, "Woe unto them," saith the prophet, "that draw iniquity with
cords of vanity;" that is, who by falsehood endeavour to compass
unjust designs.

But it is not, perhaps he will pretend, to assuage a private
passion, or to promote his particular concernment, that he makes so
bold with his neighbour, or deals so harshly with him; but for the
sake of orthodox doctrine, for advantage of the true Church, for the
advancement of public good, he judgeth it expedient to asperse him.
This indeed is the covert of innumerable slanders: zeal for some
opinion, or some party, beareth out men of sectarian and factious
spirits in such practices; they may do, they may say anything for
those fine ends. What is a little truth, what is any man's
reputation in comparison to the carrying on such brave designs? But
(to omit that men do usually prevaricate in these cases; that it is
not commonly for love of truth, but of themselves; not so much for
the benefit of their sect, but for their own interest, that they
calumniate) this plea will nowise justify such practice. For truth
and sincerity, equity and candour, meekness and charity are
inviolably to be observed, not only towards dissenters in opinion,
but even towards declared enemies of truth itself; we are to bless
them (that is, to speak well of them, and to wish well to them), not
to curse them (that is, not to reproach them, or to wish them ill,
much less to belie them). Truth also, as it cannot ever need, so
doth it always loathe and scorn the patronage and the succour of
lies; it is able to support and protect itself by fair means; it
will not be killed upon a pretence of saving it, or thrive by its
own ruin. Nor indeed can any party be so much strengthened and
underpropped, as it will be weakened and undermined by such courses.
No cause can stand firm upon a bottom so loose and slippery as
falsehood is. All the good a slanderer can do is, to disparage what
he would maintain. In truth, no heresy can be worse than that would
be which should allow to play the devil in any case. He that can
dispense with himself to slander a Jew or a Turk, doth in so doing
render himself worse than either of them by profession is: for even
they, and even pagans themselves, disallow the practice of
inhumanity and iniquity. All men by light of nature avow truth to
be honourable, and faith to be indispensably observed. He doth not
understand what it is to be Christian, or careth not to practise
according thereto, who can find in his heart in any case, upon any
pretence, to calumniate. In fine, to prostitute our conscience, or
sacrifice our honesty, for any cause, to any interest whatever, can
never be warrantable or wise. Further--

3. The slanderer is a fool, because he useth improper means and
preposterous methods of effecting his purposes. As there is no
design worth the carrying on by ways of falsehood and iniquity, so
is there scarce any, no good or lawful one at least, which may not
more surely, more safely, more cleverly be achieved by means of
truth and justice. Is not always the straight way more short than
the oblique and crooked? is not the plain way more easy than the
rough and cragged? is not the fair way more pleasant and passable
than the foul? Is it not better to walk in paths that are open and
allowed, than in those that are shut up and prohibited, than to
clamber over walls, to break through fences, to trespass upon
enclosures? Surely yes: "He that walketh uprightly, walketh
surely." Using strict veracity and integrity, candour and equity,
is the best method of accomplishing good designs. Our own industry,
good use of the parts and faculties God hath given us, embracing
fair opportunities, God's blessing and providence, are sufficient
means to rely upon for procuring, in an honest way, whatever is
convenient for us. These are ways approved, and amiable to all men;
they procure the best friends, and fewest enemies; they afford to
the practises a cheerful courage, and good hope; they meet with less
disappointment, and have no regret or shame attending them. He that
hath recourse to the other base means, and "maketh lies his refuge,"
as he renounceth all just and honest means, as he disclaimeth all
hope in God's assistance, and forfeiteth all pretence to His
blessing: so he cannot reasonably expect good success, or be
satisfied in any undertaking. The supplanting way indeed seems the
most curt and compendious way of bringing about dishonest or
dishonourable designs: but as good design is certainly dishonoured
thereby, so is it apt thence to be defeated; it raises up enemies
and obstacles, yielding advantages to whoever is disposed to cross
us. As in trade it is notorious that the best course to thrive is
by dealing squarely and truly; any fraud or cozenage appearing there
doth overthrow a man's credit, and drive away custom from him: so
in all other transactions, as he that dealeth justly and fairly will
have his affairs proceed roundly, and shall find men ready to comply
with him, so he that is observed to practise falsehood will be
declined by some, opposed by others, disliked by all: no man scarce
willingly will have to do with him; he is commonly forced to stand
out in business, as one that plays foul play.

4. Lastly, the slanderer is a very fool, as bringing many great
inconveniences, troubles, and mischiefs on himself.

First, "A fool's mouth," saith the wise man, "is his destruction,
his lips are the snare of his soul:" and if any kind of speech is
destructive and dangerous, then is this certainly most of all; for
by no means can a man inflame so fierce anger, impress so stiff
hatred, raise so deadly enmity against himself, and consequently so
endanger his safety, ease and welfare, as by this practice. Men can
more easily endure, and sooner will forgive, any sort of abuse than
this; they will rather pardon a robber of their goods, than a
defamer of their good name.

Secondly, such an one indeed is not only odious to the person
immediately concerned, but generally to all men that observe his
practice; every man presently will be sensible how easily it may be
his own case, how liable he may be to be thus abused, in a way
against which there is no guard or defence. The slanderer therefore
is apprehended a common enemy, dangerous to all men; and thence
rendereth all men averse from him, and ready to cross him. Love and
peace, tranquillity and security can only be maintained by innocent
and true dealing: so the psalmist hath well taught us: "What man
is he that desireth life, and loveth many days, that he may see
good? Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile."

Thirdly, all wise, all noble, all ingenuous and honest persons have
an aversion from this practice, and cannot entertain it with any
acceptance or complacence. "A righteous man hateth lying," saith
the wise man. It is only ill-natured and ill-nurtured, unworthy and
naughty people that are willing auditors or encouragers thereof. "A
wicked doer," saith the wise man again, "giveth heed to false lips;
and a liar giveth ear to a naughty tongue." All love of truth and
regard to justice, and sense of humanity, all generosity and
ingenuity, all charity and good-will to men, must be extinct in
those who can with delight, or indeed with patience, lend an ear or
give any countenance to a slanderer: and is not he a very fool who
chooseth to displease the best, only soothing the worst of men?

Fourthly, the slanderer indeed doth banish himself from all
conversation and company, or intruding into it becomes very
disgustful thereto; for he worthily is not only looked upon as an
enemy to those whom he slandereth, but to those also upon whom he
obtrudeth his calumnious discourse. He not only wrongeth the former
by the injury, but he mocketh the latter by the falsehood of his
stories; implicitly charging his hearers with weakness and
credulity, or with injustice and pravity.

Fifthly, he also derogateth wholly from his own credit in all
matters of discourse. For he that dareth thus to injure his
neighbour, who can trust him in anything he speaks? what will not he
say to please his vile humour, or further his base interest? what,
thinks any man, will he scruple or boggle at, who hath the heart in
thus doing wrong and mischief to imitate the devil? Further--

Sixthly, this practice is perpetually haunted with most troublesome
companions, inward regret and self-condemnation, fear and disquiet:
the conscience of dealing so unworthily doth smite and rack him; he
is ever in danger, and thence in fear to be discovered, and requited
for it. Of these passions the manner of his behaviour is a manifest
indication: for men do seldom vent their slanderous reports openly
and loudly, to the face or in the ear of those who are concerned in
them; but do utter them in a low voice, in dark corners, out of
sight and hearing, where they conceit themselves at present safe
from being called to an account. "Swords," saith the psalmist of
such persons, "are in their lips: Who (say they) doth hear?" And,
"Whoso privily slandereth his neighbour, him will I cut off," saith
David again, intimating the common manner of this practice. Calumny
is like "the plague, that walketh in darkness." Hence appositely
are the practisers thereof termed whisperers and backbiters: their
heart suffers them not openly to avow, their conscience tells them
they cannot fairly defend their practice. Again--

Seventhly, the consequence of this practice is commonly shameful
disgrace, with an obligation to retract and render satisfaction:
for seldom doth calumny pass long without being detected and
confuted. "He that walketh uprightly, walketh surely: but he that
perverteth his ways shall be known:" and, "The lip of truth shall be
established for ever; but a lying lip is but for a moment," saith
the great observer of things. And when the slander is disclosed,
the slanderer is obliged to excuse (that is, to palliate one lie
with another, if he can do it), or forced to recant, with much
disgrace and extreme displeasure to himself: he is also many times
constrained, with his loss and pain, to repair the mischief he hath

Eighthly, to this in likelihood the concernments of men, and the
powers which guard justice, will forcibly bring him; and certainly
his conscience will bind him thereto; God will indispensably exact
it from him. He can never have any sound quiet in his mind, he can
never expect pardon from Heaven, without acknowledging his fault,
repairing the wrong he hath done, restoring that good name of which
he dispossessed his neighbour: for in this no less than in other
cases conscience cannot be satisfied, remission will not be granted,
except due restitution be performed; and of all restitutions this
surely is the most difficult, most laborious, and most troublesome.
'Tis nowise so hard to restore goods stolen or extorted, as to
recover a good opinion lost, to wipe off aspersions cast on a man's
name, to cure a wounded reputation: the most earnest and diligent
endeavour can hardly ever effect this, or spread the plaster so far
as the sore hath reached. The slanderer therefore doth engage
himself into great straits, incurring an obligation to repair an
almost irreparable mischief.

Ninthly, this practice doth also certainly revenge itself, imposing
on its actor a perfect retaliation; "a tooth for a tooth;" an
irrecoverable infamy to himself, for the infamy he causeth to
others. Who will regard his fame, who will be concerned to excuse
his faults, who so outrageously abuseth the reputation of others?
He suffereth justly, he is paid in his own coin, will any man think,
who doth hear him reproached.

Tenthly, in fine, the slanderer, if he doth not, by serious and sore
repentance retract his practice, doth banish himself from heaven and
happiness, doth expose himself to endless miseries and sorrows.
For, if none that "maketh a lie shall enter into the heavenly city;"
if without those mansions of joy and bliss "every one" must
eternally abide "that loveth or maketh a lie;" if [Greek], "to all
liars their portion" is assigned "in the lake which burneth with
fire and brimstone;" then assuredly the capital liar, the slanderer,
who lieth most injuriously and mischievously, shall be far excluded
from felicity, and thrust down into the depth of that miserable
place. If, as St. Paul saith, no "railer," or evil-speaker, "shall
inherit the kingdom of God," how far thence shall they be removed
who without any truth or justice do speak ill of and reproach their
neighbour? If for every [Greek], "idle," or vain, "word" we must
"render a" strict "account," how much more shall we be severely
reckoned with for this sort of words, so empty of truth and void of
equity: words that are not only negatively vain, or useless, but
positively vain, as false and spoken to bad purpose? If slander
perhaps here may evade detection, or escape deserved punishment, yet
infallibly hereafter, at the dreadful day, it shall be disclosed,
irreversibly condemned, inevitably persecuted with condign reward of
utter shame and sorrow.

Is not he then, he who, out of malignity, or vanity, to serve any
design, or soothe any humour in himself or others, doth by
committing this sin involve himself in all these great evils, both
here and hereafter, a most desperate and deplorable fool?

Having thus described the nature of this sin, and declared the folly
thereof, we need, I suppose, to say no more for dissuading it;
especially to persons of a generous and honest mind, who cannot but
scorn to debase and defile themselves by so mean and vile a
practice; or to those who seriously do profess Christianity, that
is, the religion which peculiarly above all others prescribeth
constant truth, strictest justice, and highest charity.

I shall only add, that since our faculty of speech (wherein we do
excel all other creatures) was given us, as in the first place to
praise and glorify our Maker, so in the next to benefit and help our
neighbour; as an instrument of mutual succour and delectation, of
friendly commerce and pleasant converse together; for instructing
and advising, comforting and cheering one another: it is an
unnatural perverting, and an irrational abuse thereof, to employ it
to the damage, disgrace, vexation, or wrong in any kind of our
brother. Better indeed had we been as brutes without its use, than
we are, if so worse than brutishly we abuse it.

Finally, all these things being considered, we may, I think,
reasonably conclude it most evidently true that "He which uttereth
slander is a fool."

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