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 done.
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."