2. To clear this I shall first observe, that although every fault hath some penal effect which are coetaneous to the act, yet this of Infamy is not so: this is a more remote consequent; that which it immediately depends upon, is the publishing. A man may do things which to God and his own conscience render him abominable, and yet keep his reputation with men: but when this stifled crime breaks out, when his secret guilts are detected, then, and not till then, he becomes infamous: so that although his sin be the Material, yet it is the discovery that is the Formal cause of his infamy.
3. This being granted, it follows that he that divulges an unknown, concealed fault, stands accountable for all the consequences that flow from that divulging; but whether accountable as for guilt, must be determined by the particular circumstances of the cause. So that here we must admit of an exception: for though every discovery of another's fault be in the strict natural sense of the word a Detraction, yet it will not always be the sin of Detraction, because in some instances there may be some higher obligation intervene, and supersede that we own to the fame of our neighbor; and in those cases it may not only be lawful, but necessary to expose him.
4. Now all such cases I conceive may summarily be reduced to two heads, Justice and Charity. First as to Justice: that we know is a fundamental virtue, and he that shall violate that, to abound in another, is as absurd, as he that undermines the foundation to raise the walls. We are not to steal to give alms, and God himself has declared that he hates robbery for a burnt offering: so that no pretence either of Charity or Piety can absolve us from the duty we owe to Justice. Now it may often fall out, that by concealing one man's fault, I may be injurious to another, nay, to a whole community: and then I assume the guilt I conceal, and by the Laws both of God and Man am judged an accessory.
5. And as Justice to others enforces, so sometimes Justice to a man's self allows the publishing of a fault, when a considerable interest either of fame or fortune cannot otherwise be rescued. But to make loud outcries of injury, when they tend nothing to the redress of it, is a liberty rather assumed by rage and impatience, than authorized by Justice. Nay, often in that case the complainer is the most injurious Person; for he inflicts more than he suffers, and in lieu of some trivial right of his which is invaded, he assaults the other in a nearer interest, by wounding him in his good name: but if the cause be considerable and the manner regular, there lies no sure obligation upon any man to wrong himself, to indulge to another.
6. Neither does Charity retrench this liberty; for though it be an act of Charity to conceal another man's faults, yet sometimes it may be inconsistent with some more important Charity, which I owe to a third Person, or perhaps to a Multitude; as in those cases wherein public benefit is concerned. If this were not allowable, no History could lawfully be written, since if true, it cannot but recount the faults of many: no evidence could be brought in against a Malefactor: and indeed all discipline would be subverted, which would be so great a mischief, that Charity obliges to prevent it, what Defamation soever fall upon the guilty by it. For in such instances tis a true rule, that mercy to the evil proves cruelty to the innocent. And as in a competition of mischiefs, we are to choose the least, so of two goods the greatest, and the most extensive, is the most eligible.
7. Nay, even that Charity which reflects upon myself, may also sometimes supersede that to my neighbor, the rule obliging me to love him as, not better than, myself. I need not sure silently assent to my own unjust Defamation, for fear of proving another a false accuser; nor suffer myself to be made a beggar, to conceal another man's being a thief. Tis true, in a great inequality of interest, Charity (whose Character it is, Not to seek her own, 1 Cor.13.5.) will prompt me to prefer a greater concern of my neighbors, before a slight one of my own: but in equal circumstances I am sure at liberty to be kind first to myself. If I will recede even from that, I may; but that is then to be accounted among the Heroic flights of Charity, not her binding and indispensable Laws.
8. Having now set the boundaries to the excepted cases; as all instances within them will be legitimated, so all without them will be (by the known rule of exceptions) be precluded, and fall under that general duty we owe to our neighbor, of tendering his credit: an obligation so Universally infringed, that tis not imaginable the breach should always happen within the excepted cases. When tis remembered how unactive the principles of Justice and Charity are grown in the world, we must certainly impute such incessant effects, to some more vigorous causes: of which it may not be amiss to point out some of the most obvious, and leave every man to examine which of them he finds most operative in himself.
9. In the first place, I may reckon Pride, a humor which as it is always mounting, so it will make use of any footstool towards its rise. A man who affects an extraordinary splendor of reputation, is glad to find any foils to see him off; and therefore will let no fault nor folly of another's enjoy the shade, but brings it into the open light, that by that comparison, his own excellencies may appear the brighter. I dare appeal to the breast of any proud man, whether he do not upon such occasions, make some Pharisaical reflections on himself, whether he be not apt to say, I am not like other men, or as this Publican, Luke 18. though probably he leave out the God, I thank Thee. Now he that cherishes such resentments as these in himself, will doubtless be willing to propagate them to other men, and to that end render the blemishes of others as visible as he can. But this betrays a degenerous spirit, which from a consciousness that he wants solid worth, on which to bottom a reputation, is fain to found it on the ruins of other men's. The true Diamond sparkles even in the sunshine: tis but a glow-worm virtue that owes its luster to the darkness about it.
10. Another prompter to Detraction is Envy, which sometimes is particular, sometimes general. He that has a pique to another, would have him as hateful to all mankind as he is to him; and therefore, as he grieves and repines at anything that may advance his estimation, so he exults and triumphs when anything occurs which may depress it, and is usually very industrious to improve the opportunity, nay, has a strange sagacity in hunting it out. No vulture does more quickly scent a carcass, than an envious Person does, those dead flies which corrupt his neighbor's ointment, Eccles.10.1. the vapor whereof his hate, like a strong wind, scatters and disperses far and near. Nor needs he any great crime to practice on: every little infirmity or passion, looked on through his Optics, appears a mountainous guilt. He can improve the least speck or freckle to leprosy, which shall overspread the whole man: and a cloud no bigger than a man's hand, like that of Elisha, 1 King.18.44. may in an instant, with the help of prejudice, grow to the utter darkening of the brightest reputation, and fill the whole horizon with tempest and horror. Sometimes this Envy is general, not confined to any man's person, but diffused to the whole nature. Some tempers there are so malign, that they wish ill to all, and believe ill of all; like Timon the Athenian, who professed himself a universal man-hater. He whose guilty conscience reflects dismal images of himself, is willing to put the same ugly shape upon the whole nature, and to conclude that all men are the same, were they but closely inspected. And therefore, when he can see but the least glimmering of a fault in any, he takes it as a proof of his Hypothesis, and with an envious joy calls in as many spectators as he can. Tis certain there are some in whose ears nothing sounds so harsh as the commendation of another, as on the contrary nothing is so melodious as a Defamation. Plutarch gives an apt instance of this upon Aristides's banishment, whom when a mean Person had proposed to Ostracism, being asked what displeasure Aristides had done him, he replied, None, neither do I know him, but it grieves me to hear everybody call him a just man. I fear some of our keenest accusers nowadays may give the same answer. No man that is eminent for Piety (or indeed but moral virtue) but he shall have many insidious eyes upon him watching for his halting: and if any the least obliquity can be espied, he is used worse than the vilest malefactor: for such are tried but at one bar, and know the utmost of their doom, but these are arraigned at every Table, in every Tavern. And at such variety of Judicatures, there will be as great variety of sentences; only they commonly concur in this one, that he is an Hypocrite, and then what complacency, what triumph have they in such a discovery? There is not half so much Epicurism in any of their most studied luxuries, no spectacle affords them so much pleasure, as a bleeding fame thus lying at their mercy.
11. Another sort of Detractors there are, whose designs are not so black, but are equally mean and sordid, much too light to be put in balance with a neighbor's Credit. Of those some will pick up all the little stories they can get; to humor a Patron: an artifice well known by those trencher guests, who, like Rats, still haunt the best Provisions. These men do almost come up to a literal sense of what the Psalmist spoke in a figurative, Psa.14. and eat up people for bread, tear and worry men in their good names, that themselves may eat. It was a Curse denounced against Eli's offspring, that they should come and crouch for a morsel of bread.1 Sam.2.39. But such men court this as a preferment, and to bring themselves within reach of it, stick not to assume that vilest office of common Delators. There are others who when they have got the knowledge of another man's fault, think it an endearing thing to whisper it in the ear of some friend or confidant. But sure if they must needs sacrifice some secret to their friendship, they should take David's rule, and not offer that which cost them nothing. If they will express their confidence, let them acquaint them with their own private crimes. That indeed would show something of trust: but those experiments upon another man's cost, will hardly convince any considering person of their kindness.
12. There still remains a yet more trifling sort of Defamers, who have no deliberate design which they pursue in it, yet are as assiduous at the Trade as the deeper contrivers. Such are those who publish their neighbors' failings as they read Gazettes, only that they may be telling News: and Itch wherewith some people's tongues are strangely over-run, who can as well hold a glowing Coal in their mouths, as keep anything they think New; nay, will sometimes run themselves out of breath, for fear least anyone should serve them as Ahimaaz did the Cushite 2. Sam.18.23. and tell the tale before them. This is one of the most Childish vanities imaginable: and sure men must have Souls of a very low level that can think it a commensurate entertainment. Others there are who use Defamatory discourse, neither for the love of News, nor Defamation, but purely for the love of talk: whose speech like a flowing current bears away indiscriminately whatever lies in its way. And indeed, such incessant talkers are usually people not of depth enough to supply themselves out of their own store, and therefore can let no foreign accession pass by them, no more than a Mill which is always going, can afford any waters to run wait. I know we used to call this Talkativeness a Feminine vice; but to speak impartially, I think, though we have given them the enclosure of the Scandal, they have not of the fault, and he that shall appropriate Loquacity to Women, may perhaps sometimes need to light Diogenes's Candle to seek a man: for tis possible to go into Masculine company, where twill be as hard to edge in a word, as at a Female Gossiping. However, as to this particular of Defaming, both the Sexes seem to be at a vie: and I think he were a very Critical Judge, that could determine between them.
13. Now lest this later sort of Defamers should be apt to absolve themselves, as men of harmless intentions, I shall desire them to consider, that they are only more impertinent, not less injurious. For though it be granted, that the proud and envious are to make a distinct account for their Pride and envy; yet as far as related to the neighbor, they are equally mischievous. Anacreon that was choked with a grape-stone, died as surely as Julius Caesar with his three and twenty wounds; and a man's reputation may be as well fooled and prattled away, as maliciously betrayed. Nay, perhaps more easily; for where the speaker can least be suspected of design, the hearer is apter to give him Credit: this way of insinuating by familiar discourse, being like those poisons that are taken in at the pores, which are the most insensibly sucked in, and the most impossible to expel.
14. But we need not dispute which is worst, since tis certain all are bad, none of them (or any that hold proportion with them) being at all able to pretend their warrant either from Justice or Charity. And then what our Savior says in another case, will be applicable to this, He that is not for us is against us. Matt.12.30. He that in publishing his neighbor's faults, acts not upon the dictates of Justice or Charity, acts directly in contradiction to them: for where they do not upon some particular respects command, they do implicitly and generally forbid all such discoveries.
15. For first, if a fault divulged be of a light nature, the offender cannot thereby merit so much, as to be made a public discourse. Fame is a tender thing, and seldom is tossed and bandied without receiving some bruise, if not a crack: for reports we know, like snow balls, gather still the farther they roll, and when I have once handed it to another, how know I how he may improve it, and if he deliver it so advanced to a third, he may give his contribution also to it, and so in a successive transmitting, it may grow to such a monstrous bulk, as bears no proportion to its Original. He must be a great stranger to the world, that has not experimentally found the truth of this. How many persons have lain under great and heavy scandals, which have taken their first rise only from some inadvertence, or indiscretion? Of so quick a growth is Slander, that the least grain, like that of mustard seed, mentioned Mat.13.32. immediately shoots up into a tree. And when it is so, it can no more be reduced back into its first cause, than a tree can shrink into that little seed from whence it first sprang. No ruins are so irreparable as those of reputation: and therefore he that pulls out but one stone towards the breach, may do a greater mischief than perhaps he intends: and a greater injustice too; for by how much the more strictly Justice obliges to reparation in case of injuries done, so much the more severely does it prohibit the doing those injuries which are uncapable of being repaired. In the Levitical Law, he that knew his ox was apt to gore, and yet kept him not up, stood responsible for any mischief he happened to do, Exod.21.29. I think there is no considering man can be ignorant how apt even little trivial accusations are to tear and mangle one's fame: and yet if the lavish talker restrain them not, he certainly stands accountable to God, his Neighbor, and his own Conscience, for all the danger they procure.
16. But if the report concern some higher and enormous crime, tis true the delinquent may deserve the less pity, yet perhaps the reporter may not deserve the less blame: for often such a discovery serves but to enrage, not reclaim the offender, and precipitate him into farther degrees of ill. Modesty and fear of shame, is one of those natural restraints, which the wisdom of God has put upon mankind, and he that once stumbles, may yet by a check of that bridle recover again: but when by a public detection he is fallen under that infamy he feared, he will then be apt to discard all caution, and to think he owes himself the utmost pleasures of his vice, as the price of his reputation. Nay, perhaps he advances farther, and sets up for a reversed sort of Fame, by being eminently wicked: and he who before was but a Clandestine disciple, becomes a Doctor of impiety. And sure it were better to let a concealed crime remain in its wished obscurity, than by thus rousing it from its covert, bring it to stand at bay, and set itself in this open defiance; especially in this degenerous age, when vice has so many well willers, that, like a hoping party, eagerly run into any that will head them.
17. And this brings in a third consideration relating to the public, to which the divulging of private (especially if they be novel, unusual) crimes, does but an ill piece of service. Vice is contagious, and casts pestilential vapors: and as he that should bring out a plague-sick Person, to inform the world of his disease, would be thought not to have much befriended his neighborhood, so he that displays these vicious Ulcers, whilst he seeks to defame one, may perhaps infect many. We too experimentally find the force of ill examples. Men often take up sins, to which they have no natural propension, merely by way of conformity and imitation. But if the instance happen in a crime, which more suits the practice of the hearers, thought it cannot be said to seduce, yet it may encourage and confirm them; embolden them not only the more frequently to act, but even to avow those sins, wherein they find they stand not single, and by discovering a new accessory to their Party, invite them the more heartily and openly to espouse it.
18. These are such effects as surely do very ill correspond with that Justice and Charity we owe either to particular Persons, or to mankind in General. And indeed, no better can be expected, from a practice which so perfectly contradicts the grand rule both of Justice and Charity, The doing as we would be done to. That this does so, every man has a ready conviction within him, if he please but to consult his own heart. Alas, with what solicitude do we seek to hide our own guilts, what false dresses, what varnishes have we for them? There are not more arts of disguising our Corporal blemishes, than our Moral: and yet whilst we thus paint and parget our deformities, we cannot allow any the least imperfection of another's to remain undetected, but tear off the veil from their blushing frailties, and not only expose them, but proclaim them. And can there be a grosser, a more detestable partiality than this? God may sure in this instance (as in many others) expostulate with us as he did with Israel, Ezek.33. Are not your ways unequal? What Barbarism, what inhumanity is it, thus to treat those of the same common nature with ourselves, whom we cannot but know have the same concern to preserve a Reputation, and the same regret to lose it, which we have? And what shame it is, that that Evangelical precept, of doing as we would be done to, which met with so much reverence even from the Heathens, that Severus the Emperor preferred it to all the Maxims of Philosophers, should be thus condemned and violated by Christians, and that too upon such slight inconsiderable motives as usually prevail in this case of Defamation?
19. But we are not to consider this fault only in its root, as it is a defect of Justice and Charity, but in its product too, as it is a Seminary of more Injustice and Uncharitableness. Those disadvantageous reports we make of our neighbors, are almost seen to come round: for let no man persuade himself, that the hearers will keep his counsel any better than he does that of the defamed Person. The softest whisper of this kind, will find others to Echo it, till it reach the ears of the concerned Party, and perhaps with some enhancing circumstances, too. And when tis considered how unwilling men are to hear of their faults, though even in the mildest and most charitable way of admonition, tis not to be doubted a public Defamation will seem disobliging enough to provoke a return, which again begets a rejoinder, and so the quarrel is carried on with mutual recriminations, all malicious inquiries are made into each others manners, and those things which perhaps they did in closets, come to be proclaimed upon the house top: so the wild-fire runs round, till sometimes nothing but blood will quench it; or if it arrive not to that, yet it usually fixes in an irreconcilable feud. To this is often owing those distances we see among friends and relations; this breeds such strangeness, such animosities amongst neighbors, that you cannot go to one, but you shall be entertained with invectives against the other; nay, perhaps you shall lose both because you are willing to side with neither.
20. These are the usual consequences of the liberty of the Tongue; and what account can any man give to himself, either in Christianity or prudence, that has let in such a train of mischiefs, merely to gratify an impotent childish humor of telling a tale? Peace was the great Legacy Christ left to his followers, and ought to be guarded, though we expose for it our greatest temporal concerns, but cannot without despite to Him, as well as our brethren, be thus prostituted.
21. Yet if we consider it abstractedly, from these more solemn mischiefs which attend it, the mere levity and unworthiness of it sets it below an ingenuous Person. We generally think a tattler and busybody a title of no small reproach: yet truly I know not to whom it more justly belongs, than to those, who busy themselves first in learning, and then in publishing the faults of others: an employment which the Apostle thought a blot, even upon the weaker sex, and thinks the prevention of such importance, that he prescribes them to change their whole condition of life; to convert widow-hood (though a state which in other respects he much prefers, 1 Cor.7.8) into marriage, rather than expose themselves to the temptation, 1 Tim.5.13, 14. And if their impotence cannot afford excuse for it, what a debasement is it of men's nobler faculties to be thus entertained? The Historian gives it as an ill indication of Domitian's temper, that he employed himself in catching and tormenting Flies: and sure they fall not under a much better character, either for wisdom, or good nature, who thus snatch up all the little fluttering reports they can meet with, to the prejudice of their neighbors.
22. But besides this divulging the faults of others, there is another branch of Detraction naturally springing from this root, and this is the censuring and severe judging of them. We think not we have well played the Historians, when we have told the thing, unless we add also our remarks, and animadversions of it. And although tis, God knows, bad enough to make a naked relation, and trust it to the severity of the hearers; yet few can content themselves with that, but must give them a sample of rigor, and by the bitterness of their own censure, invite them to pass the like: a process contrary to all rules of Law or equity, for the plaintiff to assume the part of a Judge. And we may easily divine the fate of that man's fame that is so unduly tried.
23. Tis indeed sad to see how many private tribunals are everywhere set up, where we scan and judge our neighbor's actions, but scarce ever acquit any. We take up with the most incompetent witnesses, nay, often suborn our own surmises and jealousies, that we may be sure to cast the unhappy Criminal. How nicely and scrupulously do we examine every circumstance, (Would God we were but half as exact in our own penitential inquisitions) and torture it to make it confess something which appears not in the more general view of the fact, and which perhaps never was in the actor's intentions? In a word, we do like witches with their Magical Chemistry, extract all the venom, and take none of the allay. By this means we confound the degrees of sins, and sentence deliberate and indeliberate, a habit or an act all at one rate, that is commonly, at the utmost it can amount to, even it its worse exception: and sure this were a most culpable corruption in judgment, could we show our commission to judge our brethren.
24. But here we may every one of us interrogate ourselves in our Savior's words, Who made me a Judge? Luke.12.14. And if he disclaimed it, (who in respect of his Divinity had the Supreme right) and that too in a case wherein one (at least) of the Litigants had desired his interposition, what a boldness is it in us to assume it, where no such appeal is made to us, but on the contrary the Party disowns our Authority? Nay, (which is infinitely more) tis superseded by our great Law-giver, in that express prohibition, Matt.7.1. Judge not, and that backed with a severe penalty, that ye be not judged? As God hath appropriated vengeance to himself, so has He Judicature also; and tis an invasion of His peculiar, for any (but His Delegates the lawful Magistrates) to pretend to either. And indeed, in all private Judgments so much depends upon the intention of the Offender, that unless we could possess ourselves of God's Omniscience, twill be as irrational as impious to assume His Authority. Until we know men's hearts, we are at the best but imperfect Judges of their actions. At our rate of judging, St. Paul surely passed for a most malicious Persecutor, whereas God saw he did ignorantly in unbelief, and upon that intuition had mercy on him, 1 Tim.1.13. Tis therefore good counsel which the Apostle gives, 1 Cor.4.5. Judge nothing before the time until the Lord come. For though tis said the Saints shall judge the world, 1 Cor.6.3. yet it must be at the great Assize, and he that will needs intrude himself into the office before the time, will be in danger to be rather Passive than Active in the Judicatory. I do not here advise to such a stupid charity as shall make no distinction of Actions. I know there is a woe pronounced as well to those who call evil good, as good evil. Surely when we see an open notorious sin committed, we may express a detestation of the Crime, though not of the Actor; nay, it may sometimes be a necessary Charity, both to the Offender, and to the innocent Spectators, as an Amulet to keep them from the Contagion of the Example. But still, even in these cases, our Sentence must not exceed the evidence, we must judge only according to the visible undoubted circumstances, and not aggravate the crime upon the presumptions and conjectures; if we do, how right soever our guesses may be, our judgment is not, but we are as St. James speaks, Judges of evil thoughts. Chap.2.4.
25. Indeed, this rash judging is not only very unjust both to God and man, but it is an act of the greatest pride. When we set our selves in the Tribunal, we always look down with contempt on those at the bar. And certainly there is nothing does so gratify, so regale a haughty humor, as this piece of usurped Sovereignty over our brethren: but the more it does so, the greater necessity there is to abstain from it. Pride is a hardy kind of vice, that will live upon the barest pasture: you cannot starve it with the most industrious mortifications: how little need is there then of pampering and heightening it, which we cannot more effectually do, than by this censorious humor? for by that we are so perpetually employed abroad, that we have no leisure to look homeward, and see our own defects. We are like the inhabitants of Ai, Josh.8. so eager upon the pursuit of others, that we leave ourselves exposed to the ambushes of Satan, who will be sure still to encourage us in our chase, draw us still farther and farther from ourselves, and cares not how zealous we are in fighting against the crimes of others, so he can but keep that zeal from recoiling upon our own.
26. Lastly, this judging others is one of the highest violations of Charity. The Apostle gives it as one of the properties of that grace, that it thinks no evil (i.e.) is not apt to make severe constructions, but sets everything in the fairest light, puts the most candid interpretations that the matter will bear. And truly this is of great importance to the reputation of our neighbors. The world we know is in many instances extremely governed by opinion, but in this tis all in all; it has not only an influence upon it, but is that very thing: reputation being nothing but a fair opinion and estimation among others. Now this opinion is not always swayed by due motives: sometimes little accidents, and often fancy, and most often prepossession governs in it. So that many times he that puts the first ill Character, fixes the stamp which afterwards goes current in the world. The generality of people take up prejudices (as they do religions) upon trust, and of those that are more curious in inquiring into the grounds, there are not many who vary on the more charitable hand, or bring the common sentence to review, with intent to moderate but enhance it. Men are apt to think it some disparagement to their acuteness and invention, if they cannot say something as sharp upon the subject as hath been said before; and so tis the business of many to lay on more load, but of few to take off: and therefore he that passes the first condemnatory sentence, is like the incendiary in a popular tumult, who is chargeable with all those disorders to which he gave the first rise, though that free not his Abettors from their share of the guilt.
27. And as this is very uncharitable in respect of the injury offered, so also it is in reflection on the grand rule of Charity. Can we pretend to love our neighbors as ourselves, and yet shall our love to him have the quite contrary effects to that we bear ourselves? Can self-love lessen our beam into a mote, and yet can our love to him magnify his mote into a beam? No, certainly true Charity is more sincere, does not turn to us the reverse end of the perspective, to represent our own faults at a distance, and in the most diminutive size, and yet shuffle the other to us when we are view his. No, these are Tricks of Legerdemain we learn in another School, even in whose style is the accuser of the brethren. We know how frequently God protests against false weights and false measures. And sure tis not only in the shop or market that he abhors them, they are no less abominable in conversation than in traffic. To buy by one measure and sell by another, is not more unequal, than it is to have these differing standards for our own and our neighbor's faults, that our own shall weigh, in the Prophet Jeremiah's Phrase, lighter than vanity, yea nothing, and yet his (though really the lighter) shall prove Zechariah's talent of lead. This is such a partiality, as consists not with common honesty, and can therefore never be reconciled with Christian Charity: and how demurely soever such men may pretend to sanctity, that interrogation of God's presses hard upon them, Shall I count them pure with the wicked balances, and with the bag of deceitful weights? Mich.6.11. Such bitter invectives against other men's faults, and indulgence or palliation of their own, shows their zeal lies in their spleen, and that they consider no so much what is done, as who does it: and to such the sentence of the Apostle is very applicable, Rom.2.1. Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest, for wherein thou judgest another thou condemnest thyself, for thou that judgest dost the same thing. But admit a man have not the very same guilts he censures in another, yet tis sure every man has some, and of what sort soever they be, he desires not they should be rigorously scanned, and therefore by the rule of Charity, yea, and justice too, ought no to do that which he would not suffer. If he can find extenuations for his own crimes, he is in all reason to presume others may have so for theirs: the common frailty of our nature, as it is apt alike to betray us to faults, so it gives as equal share in the excuse; and therefore, what I would have pass for the effect of impotency or inadvertence in myself, I can with no tolerable ingenuity give a worse name to in him.
28. We have now viewed both these branches of Detraction, seen both the sin and mischiefs of them, we may now join them together in a concluding observation, which is that they are as imprudent as they are unchristian. It has been received among the maxims of civil life, not unnecessarily to exasperate anybody; to which agrees the advice of an ancient Philosopher, Speak not evil of they neighbor, if thou dost thou shalt hear that which will not fail to trouble thee. There is no Person so inconsiderable, but may at some time or other do a displeasure: but in this of Defaming men need no harnessing, no preparation, every man has his weapons ready for a return: so that none can shoot these arrows, but they must expect they will revert with a rebounded force: not only to the violation of Christian Unity (as I have before observed) but to the Aggressors great secular detriment, both in fame, and oftentimes interest also. Revenge is sharp-sighted, and overlooks no opportunity of a retaliation, and that commonly not bounded as the Levitical ones were, An eye for any eye, a tooth for a tooth, Exod.21.24. no, nor by the larger proportions of their restitutions fourfold, Exod.22.1. but extended to the utmost power of the inflicter. The examples are innumerable of men who have thus laid themselves open in their greatest concerns, and have let loose the hands as well as Tongues of others against them, merely because they would put no restraint upon their own, which is so great an indiscretion, that to them we may well apply that of Solomon, A fool's mouth is his destruction, and his lips are the snare of his soul. Prov.18.7.
29. And now, who can sufficiently wonder that a practice that so thwarts our interest of both worlds, should come universally to prevail among us? Yet that it does so, I may appeal to the consciences of most, and to the observation of all. What so common Topic of discourse is there, as this of backbiting our neighbors? Come into company of all Ages, all Ranks, all Professions, this is the constant entertainment. And I doubt he that at night shall duly recollect the occurrences of the day, shall very rarely be able to say he has spent it without hearing or speaking (perhaps both) somewhat of this kind. Nay, even those who restrain themselves other liberties are often apt to indulge to this: many who are so just to their neighbor's property, that as Abraham once said, Gen.14.23. they would not take from him, even from a thread to a shoe latchet, are yet so inconsiderate of his Fame, as to find themselves discourse at the expense of that, though infinitely a greater injury than the robbing of his Coffer: which shews what false measures we are apt to take of things, and evinces that many of those, who have not only in a general abjured the world in their baptism, but do in many instances seem to themselves (as well as others) to have gained a Superiority over it, do yet in this undiscernibly yield it the greatest ensign of Sovereignty, by permitting it to set the Standards and estimate of things, and taking its customary Prescriptions for Laws. For what besides this unhappy servility to custom, can possibly reconcile men that own Christianity, to a practice so widely distant from it? Tis true those that profess themselves men of this world, who design only their portion in this life, may take it up as sometimes conducing (at least seemingly) to their end: but for those who propose higher hopes to themselves, and know that Charity is one of the main props to those hopes, how foolishly do they undermine themselves, when they thus act against their principles, and that upon no other Authority, but that of popular usage? I know men are apt to excuse themselves upon their indignation against vice, and think that their zeal must as well acquit them for this violation of the Second Table, as it once did Moses for the breaking both, Ex.32.19. But to such I may answer in Christ's words, Luke 9.55. Ye know not what manner of spirit you are of. Meekness and Charity are the Evangelical graces, which will most recommend and assimilate us to Him, who was meek and lowly in heart. But after all this pretext of Zeal, I fear it is but a cheat we put on ourselves, the Elder brother's raiment only to disguise the Supplanter. Gen.27. Let men truly ransack their own breasts, and I doubt the best will find there is something of vanity which lies at the bottom, if it be not the positive sort mentioned before, of designing to illustrate myself by others' blemishes, yet at least the negative, that I am unwilling to incur the contempt incident to those who scruple at small sins. Besides, I observe perhaps, that tis the common entertainment of the world to Defame their neighbors, and if I strike not in upon the Theme, I shall have nothing to render me acceptable company; perhaps I shall be reproached as morose or dull, and my silence shall be construed to proceed not from the abundance of my Charity, but the defect of my Wit.
30. But sure they that can thus argue, do hereby give a more demonstrative proof of that defect. He whose wit is so precarious that it must depend only upon the folly or vice of another, had best give over all pretence to it. He that has nothing of his own growth to set before his guests, had better make no invitations, than break down his neighbor's enclosure, and feast them upon his plunder. Besides, how pitiful an attestation of wit is it, to be able to make a disgraceful relation of another? No scolding women but may set up such Trophies: and they that can value a man upon such an account, may prefer the Scarabes, who feed upon dung, and are remarked by no other property, before the Bee that sucks the flowers and returns honey.
31. But in the next place, admit this restraint should certainly expose one to that reproach; methinks this should be no news to those who know the condition of Christianity is to take up the Cross: and sure it cannot weigh lighter than in this instance. What am I the worse if a vain Talkative Person think me too reserved? Of if he whose frolic levity is his disease, call me dull because I vapor not out all my spirits into froth? Socrates, when informed of some derogatory Speeches one had used of him behind his back, made only this facetious reply, Let him beat me too when I am absent. And he that gets not such an indifference to all the idle censures of men, will be disturbed in all his civil transactions, as well as his Christian; it being scarce possible to do any thing, but there will be descants made on it. And if a man will regard those winds, he must, as Solomon says, never sow, Eccles.11.4. He must suspend even the necessary actions of common life, if he will not venture them to the being misjudged by others.
32. But there is a yet farther consideration in this matter: for he that upon such a despicable motive will violate his duty in one particular, lets Satan get a main point of him, and can with no good Logic deny to do it in others. Detraction is not the only sin in fashion: Profaneness, and Obscenity, and all sorts of Luxury are so too, and threaten no less reproach to those who scruple at them. Upon the same grounds, therefore, that he discards his Charity to his neighbor, he may also his Piety, his Modesty, his Temperance, and almost all other virtues. And to speak the truth, there is not a more fertile womb of sin, than this dread of ill men's reproach. Other corruptions must be gratified with cost and industry, but in this the Devil hath no farther trouble than to laugh men out of their souls. So prolific a vice therefore had need be weeded out of men's hearts: for if it be allowed the least corner, if it be indulged to in this one instance, twill quickly spread itself farther.
33. Yet after all, this fear of reproach is a mere fallacy, started to disguise a more real cause of fear: for the greater danger of reproach does indeed lie on that other side. Common estimation puts an ill Character upon pragmatic, meddling people. For though the inquisitiveness and curiosity of the hearer may sometimes render such discourses grateful enough to him, yet it leaves in him no good impressions of the speaker. This is well observed by the son of Sirach, Ecclus.19.8, 9. Whether it be to friend or foe, talk not of other men's lives; and if thou canst without offense, reveal them not, for he heard and observed thee, and when time cometh he will hate thee. In a word, all considering Persons will be on their guard in such company, as foreseeing that they will talk no less freely of them, than they do of others before them. Nor can the commonness of the guilt obviate the censure, there being nothing more frequent than for men to accuse their own faults in other Persons. Vice is like a dark Lantern, which turns its bright side only to him that bears it, but looks black and dismal in another's hand: and in this particular none has so much reason to fear a Defamer, as those who are themselves such: for (besides the common prudential motive) their own consciousness gives them an inward alarm, and makes them look for a retribution in the same kind. Thus, upon the whole matter we see, there is no real temptation, even to our vanity, to comply with this uncharitable custom, we being sure to lose more repute by it than we can propose to ourselves to gain. The being esteemed an ill man will not be balanced by being thought pleasant, ingenuous company, were one sure to be so. But tis odds that will not be acquired by it neither, for the most assiduous tale-bearers and bitterest revilers are often half-witted people: there being nothing more frequently observable, than such men's aptness to speak evil of things they understand not, Jude.1.2.
34. O Let not then those that have repudiated the more inviting sins, shew themselves pilfered and bewitched by this, but instead of submitting to the ill example of others, set a good one to them, & endeavor to bring this unchristian custom out of fashion. I am sure if they do not, they will be more deeply chargeable than others: for the more command they have over their other corruptions, the more do they witness against themselves. Their remissness and willing subjection to this, besides their example when ill, is more ensnaring than other men's, and is apt to insinuate easy thought of the sin. Men are apt to think themselves safe while they follow one of noted piety, and the authority of his Person often leads them blindfold into his failings. Thus when Peter dissembled, St. Paul tells us that the other Jews, and even Barnabas also was carried away with his dissimulation. Gal.2.13. And I doubt not in this particular many are encouraged by the liberty they see even good men take. So that such have a more accumulative guilt, for they do not only commit, but patronize the fault: the consideration whereof has kept me, I confess, longer upon this head than is proportionable to the brevity of the rest; but I think no longer than agrees to the importance of the subject.
35. And now, since we have considered the malignity of this sin of Detraction, and yet withal find that tis a sin, which, as the Apostle speaks, doth easily beset us, tis but a natural Corollary that we enforce our vigilance against it. And where the importance and difficulty are both so great, twill be a little necessary to consider what are the likeliest means, the most appropriate Antidote against this so dangerous, and yet so Epidemic a disease.
36. And here the common rule of Physic is to be adverted too, viz. to examine the causes, that the remedies may be adapted to them. I shall therefore in the first place desire every man seriously to study his own constitution of mind, and observe what are his particular temptations to this sin of Detraction, whether any of those I have before mentioned, as Pride, Envy, Levity, &c. or any other which lies deeper, and is only discernible to his own inspection. Let him, I say, make the scrutiny, and then accordingly apply himself to correct the sin in its first principle. For as when there is an eruption of Humor in any part, tis not cured merely by outward application, but by such alterative Medicines as purify the blood; so this Leprosy of the Tongue will still spread farther, if it be not checked in its Spring and source, by the mortifying of those corrupt inclinations, which feed and heighten it.
37. This is an inquisition I must leave to every man's own Conscience, which alone can testify by what impulses he acts. Yet as the Rabbis were wont to say, that in every Signal Judgment which befell the Jews, there was some grain of the golden-calf; so I think I may venture to say, that in all Detraction, there is some mixture of Pride: and therefore I suppose, a Caution against that, will be so generally seasonable, that it may well lead the Van of all other advices in this matter. And here tis very observable, that God who has made of one blood all Nations of the earth. Acts 17. has so equally distributed all the most valuable privileges of Human nature, as if He designed to preclude all insulting of one man over another. Neither has He only thus insinuated it by his Providence, but has enforced it by his commands. In the Levitical Law we find what a particular care He takes to moderate the rigor of Judicial correction, upon this very account, lest thy Brother be despised in thine eyes. Deut.25.3. So unreasonable did He think it, that the crime or misery of one, should be the exultation of another. And St. Paul brands it as a great guilt of the Corinthians that they upon the occasion of the incestuous Person were puffed up, when they should have mourned.1 Cor.5.2. When we see a dead Corpse, we are not apt to insult over it, or brag of our own health and vigor; but it rather damps us, and makes us reflect, that it may (we know not how soon) be our own condition. And certainly the spectacles of Spiritual mortality should have the same operation. We have the same principles of Corruption with our lapsed Brethren, and have nothing but God's grace, to secure us from the same effects, and by these insulting reflections forfeit that too; for He gives grace only to the humble. Jam.4.6. St. Paul's advice, therefore, is very apposite to this case, Gal.6.1. Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, restore such a one in the spirit of Meekness, considering thyself, least thou also be tempted. In a word, the falls of others ought to excite our pity towards them, our caution as to ourselves and our thankfulness to God, if he hath hitherto preserved us from the like, For who made thee to differ from another? 1 Cor.4.7. But if we spread our Sails, and triumph over these wrecks, we expose ourselves to worse. Other sins like Rocks may split us, yet the lading may be preserved; but Pride like a Gulf swallows us up; our very virtues when so leavened, becoming weights and plummets to sink us to our deepest ruin. The counsel, therefore, of the Apostle is very pertinent to this matter. Rom.11.20. Be not high minded, but fear.
38. But God knows we can insult over others when we are not only under a possibility, but are actually involved in the same guilt; and then what are all our accusations and bitter censures of others, but indictments and condemnatory sentences against ourselves? And we may justly expect God should take us at our word, and reply upon us as the Prophet did upon David, Thou art the man.2 Sam.12.7. For though our officious vehemence against another's crime, may blind the eyes of men, yet God is not so mocked: as therefore when a thief or murderer is detected, it gives an alarm to the whole confederacy; so when we find our own guilts pursued in other men's Persons, tis not a time for us to join in the prosecution, but rather by humble and penitent reflections on ourselves to provide for our own safety. When therefore, we find ourselves (upon any misdemeanor of our brother) ready to mount the tribunal, and pronounce our sentence, let us first consider how competent we are for the office, calling to mind the decision Christ once made in the like case, He that is without sin let him first cast a stone, John 8.7. And if we did this, many perhaps of our fiercest impeachers, would think fit to retire and leave the delinquent (as they themselves finally desire to be) to the merciful indulgence of a Savior. In short, would we but look into our own hearts, we should find so much work for our inquisitions and censure, that we should not be at leisure to ramble abroad for it. And therefore, as Lycurgus once said to one, who importuned him to establish a popular parity in the state, Do thou, says he, begin it first in thine own family; so I shall advise those that will be judging, to practice first at home. And if they will confine themselves to that, till there be nothing left to correct, I doubt not their neighbor will be well enough secured against their Detractions.
39. Another preservation against that sin is the frequent contemplation of the last and great judgment. This is indeed a Catholicon against all: but we find it particularly applied by St. Paul to this of judging and despising our Brethren. Why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? We shall all stand before the Judgement Seat of Christ. Rom.14.10. That is the great day of Revelation and retribution, and we are not to anticipate it by our private inquests or sentences: we have business enough to provide our own accounts against that day. And as it were a spiteful folly for the Malefactors that were going together to the bar, to spend their time in exaggerating each other's crimes: so surely it is for us, who are all going toward the dreadful tribunal, to be drawing up Charges against one another. And who knows but we may then meet with the fate of Daniel's accusers, see him we censured acquit, and ourselves doomed. The penitence of the criminal may have numbered him among the Saints, when our unretracted uncharitableness may send us to unquenchable Flames. I conclude this consideration with the words of St. James, There is one Lawgiver who is able to save and to destroy, who are thou that judgest another? Jam.4.12.
40. A Third expedient may be, to try to make a revulsion of the humor, to draw it into another channel. If we must needs be talking of other people's faults, let it not be to Defame, but to amend them, by converting our Detraction and backbiting into Admonition and fraternal correction. This is a way to extract medicine out of the viper, to consecrate even this so unhallowed a part of our temper, and to turn the ungrateful meddling of a busybody, into the most obliging office of a friend. And indeed, had we the zeal for virtue, which we pretend when we inveigh against vice, we should surely lay it out this way, for this only gives a possibility of reforming the offender. But alas, we order the matter so, as if we feared to lose the occasion of Clamor, and will tell all the world but him that it most concerns. Indeed, tis a deplorable thing to see how universally this necessary Christian duty is neglected; and to that neglect we may in a great degree impute that strange overflowing of Detraction among us. We know the receiving anything into our Charge, insensibly begets a love and tenderness to it (a nurse upon this account comes often to vie kindness with the mother:) and would we but take one another thus into our care, and by friendly vigilance thus watch over each other's souls, tis scarce imaginable what an endearment it would create: such certainly as would infallibly supplant all our unkind reportings, and severe descants upon our brethren; since those can never take place, but when there is at least an indifference, if not an enmity.
41. The next cure I shall propose for Detraction, is to subtract its nourishment, by suppressing all Curiosity and inquisitiveness concerning others. Were all Supplies thus cut off, it would at last be subdued. The King of Ethiopia in a vie of Wit with the King of Egypt, proposed it as a Problem to him, to drink up the Sea, to which he replied by requiring him first to stop the access of Rivers to it: and he that would drain this other Ocean, must take the same course, dam up the avenues of those Springs which feed it. He that is always upon the scent, hunting out some discovery of others, will be very apt to invite his neighbors to the quarry; and therefore twill be necessary for him, to restrain himself from that range: not like jealous States, to keep Spies and pensioners abroad to bring him intelligence, but rather discourage all such officious pick-thanks: for the fuller he is of such informations, the more is his pain if he keep them in, and his guilt if he publish them. Could men be persuaded to affect a wholesome ignorance in these matters, it would conduce both to their ease and innocence: for tis this Itch of the ear which breaks out at the Tongue: and were not Curiosity the Purveyor, Detraction would soon be starved into a tameness.
42. But the most infallible recipe of all, is the frequent recollecting, and serious applying of the grand rule, of doing as we would be done to; for as Detraction is the violation of that, so the observation of that must certainly supplant Detraction. Let us therefore, when we find the humor fermenting within us, and ready to break out in Declamations against our brethren, Let us, I say, check it with this short question, Would I myself be thus used? This voice from within, will be like that from heaven to St. Paul, which stopped him in the height of his carrier, Acts 9.4. And this voice, every man may hear, that will not stop his ears, nor gag his conscience, it being but the Echo of that native Justice and equity which is planted in our hearts: and when we have our remedy so near us, and will not use it, God may well expostulate with us, as he did with the Jews, Why will ye die, O house of Israel? Ezek.33.11.
These are some of those many recipes which may be prescribed against this spreading disease. But indeed, there is not so much need to multiply remedies, as to persuade men to apply them. We are in love with our Malady, and as loath to be cured of the Luxury of the Tongue, as St. Augustine was of his other Sensuality, against which he prayed with a Caveat, that he might not be too soon heard. But tis ill dallying, where our Souls are concerned: for alas, tis they that are wounded by those darts, which we throw at others. We take our aim, perhaps at our Neighbors, but indeed hit ourselves: herein verifying in the highest Sense that Axiom of the Wise-man, He that diggeth a pit, shall fall into it, and he that rolleth a stone, it shall return upon him. Prov.26.27. If therefore, we have no tenderness, no relentings, to our Brethren, yet let us have some to ourselves, so much compassion, nay, so much respect to our precious immortal Souls, as not to set them at so despicable a price, to put them in balance with the satisfying of a petulant, peevish vanity. Surely the shewing ourselves ill natured (which is all the gain Detraction amounts to) is not so enamouring a design, that we should sacrifice to it our highest interest. Tis too much to spend our breath in such a pursuit, O let not our souls also exhale in the vapor; but let us rather pour them out in prayers for our brethren, than in accusations of them: for though both the one and the other will return into our own bosoms, yet God knows to far differing purposes, even, as differing as those wherein we utter them. The Charity of the one, like kindly exhalations will descend in showers of blessings, but the rigor and asperity of the other, in a severe doom upon ourselves: for the Apostle will tell us, He shall have Judgement without mercy, that shewed no mercy, James 2.13.