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Case, in Part at least, of most Reports : by misrepres senting their Circumstances in the World to their Prejudice; or speaking, without Foundation, to the Difadvantage of their Persons, Understandings, Accomplishments, Temper, or Conduct; whether charging them with Faults and Imperfections, which do not belong to them; or taking from them good Qualities and Recommendations, which do; or aggravating the former, or diminishing the latter: determining their Characters from a single bad Action or two; fixing ill Names on Things, which are really virtuous or innocent in them; imputing their laudable Behaviour to blameable or worthless Motives ; making no Allowance for the Depravity or Weakness of human Nature, Strength of Temptation, Want of Instruction, wicked Infinuations, vicious Examples. And in all these Ways, Persons may be injured, either by open public Affertions ; or more dan, gerously perhaps, by secret Whispers, which they have no Opportunity of contradicting. The Scandal may be accompanied with strong Expressions of hoping it is not true, or being very sorry for it; and warm Decla. rations of great good will to the Party, whom it concerns : all which may serve only to give it a more unsuspected Credit. Nay, it may be conveyed very
effectually in dark Hints, expressive Gestures or even affected Silence. And these, as they may be equally mischievous, are not less wicked, for being more cowardly and more artful, Methods of Defamation.
Further yet: Speaking or intimating Things to any Person's Disadvantage, though they be true, is feldom innocent. For it usually proceeds from bad Principles : Revenge, Envy, Malice, Pride, Cenforiousness; unfair Zeal for some private or Party Interest; or at best, from a Defire of appearing to know more than others, or mere impertinent Fondness of talking. Now these are wretched Motives for publishing what will be hurtful to one of our Brethren. Sometimes indeed bad Characters and bad Actions ought to be known: but much oftener not, or not to all the World, or not by our
Means. And we have Need to be very careful from what Inducements we act in such a Care. Sometimes again Things are known already; or foon will be known, let us be ever so silent about them : and then, to be sure, we are more at Liberty. But even then, to take a Pleasure in relating the Faults of others is by no Means right. And to reveal them, when they can be hid, unless a very considerable Reason require it, is extremely wrong.
Indeed we should be cautious, not only what Harm, but what Good we say of others. For speaking too highly of their Characters or Circumstances, or praising them in any Respect beyond Truth, is bearing false Witness about them, which may sometimes turn against them: and may often mislead those, to whom we exalt them thus; and produce grievously bad Consequences many
Kinds. But the other is much the more common, and usually the more hurtful, Extreme.
We all think it an Injury, in the tenderest Part, when bad Impressions are made on others concerning us; and therefore should conscientiously avoid doing the same Injury to others. Making them designedly, without Cause, is inexcusable Wickedness. And even where we intend no Harm, we may do a great deal.
Whatever hurts, in any Respect, the Reputation of Persons, always gives them great Pain, and often doth them great Prejudice, even in their most important Concerns. For indeed almost every Thing in this World depends on Character. And when once that hath suffered an Imputation ; for the most Part, neither the Perfons calumniated, be they ever so innocent, can recover it completely by their own Endeavours, nor the Persons who have wronged them, be they ever so desirous, restore it fully to its former State: though certainly they, who rob others of their good Name, or even without Design afperse it, are full as much bound to make Reftitution for that, as for any other Damage, which they cause. But were they not to hurt at all the Person against whom they speak, still they hurt themselves,
and lessen their Power of doing Good in the World; they often hurt their innocent Families by the Provocations which they give; they grieve their Friends; they set a mischievous Example in Society; and, if they profess any Religion, bring a dreadful Reproach upon it, by a Temper and Behaviour fo juftly hateful to Mankind.
It will easily be understood, that, next to the Raisers and Spreaders of ill Reports, they who encourage Perfons of that Kind, by hearkening to them with Pleasure, and by Readiness of Belief in what they fay, contradict the Intention of this Commandment. Indeed we ought, far from countenancing Scandal and Detraction, to express, in all proper Ways, our Disike of it: thew the Uncertainty, the Improbability, the Falsehood, if we can, of injurious Rumours; oppose the divulging even of Truths that are uncharitable; and set a Pattern of giving every one his just Praise.
It must now be observed further, that though undoubtedly those Falfehoods are the worst, which hurt others the most directly, yet Falsehoods in general are hurtful and wrong. And therefore Lying; all Use either of Words or Actions of known settled Import, with Purpose to deceive; is unlawful. And those of fences of this Kind, which may seem the most harmless, have yet commonly great Evil in them. Lying destroys the very End of Speech, and leads us into perpetual Mistakes, by the very Means which God intended Thould lead us into Truth. It puts an End to all the Pleasure, all the Benefit, all the Safety of Conversation. Nobody can know, on what or whom to depend. For if one Person may lie, why not another ? and at this Rate, no Justice can be done, no Wickedness be prevented er punished, no Business go forward. All these Mischiefs will equally follow, whether Untruths be told in a grof birefaced Manner, or disguised under Equivocatiors, bbles, and Evasions. The Sin therefore is as great in one Case as the other. And it is so 3
great in both, that no sufficient Excuses can ever be made for it in either, though several are often pleaded.
Many Persons imagine, that, when they have committed a Fault, it is very pardonable to conceal it under a Lie.
But some Faults ought not to be concealed at all; and none by this Method: which is committing two, instead of one; and the second not uncommonly worse than the first. An ingenuous Confession will be likely, in most cases, to procure an easy Pardon : but a Lie is a monstrous Aggravation of an Offence; and persisting in a Lie can very hardly be forgiven. But above all, if any Persons, to hide what they have done amiss themselves, are so vile as to throw the Blame or the Suspicion of it upon another; this is the Height of Wickedness. And therefore particularly all Children and Servants, who are chiefly tempted to excuse themselves by telling Falsehoods, ought to undergo any Thing, rather than be guilty of fuch a Sin. And on the other Hand, all Parents, Masters, and Mistreffes, ought to beware of punishing them too severely for their other Offences; left they drive them into a Habit of this terrible one.
Some again plead for making free with Truth, that they do it only in Jeft. But thefe Jests of theirs often occafion great Uneasiness and Disquiet; and sometimes other very serious bad Consequences. The Scripture therefore hath passed a severe Censure upon them. As a Madman, who calleth Fire-Brands, Arrows, and Death; so is the Man that deceiveth his Neighbour, and faith, Am I not in Sport d? To give another Perfon Vexation, or make him appear contemptible, chough in a slight Inftance, is by no Means innocent Sport. And befides, to speak Falsehood on any Occasion is a dangerous Introduction to speaking it on more, if not all, Occasions. For if so trilling a Motive as a Jest will prevail on us to violate Truth, how can we be expected to withstand more weighty Temptations?
• Prov. xxvi. 194
However, it may perhaps at least be thought, that lying, to prevent Mi chief and do Good, must be permitted. But the Scripture expressly forbids us to do Evil, that Good may come . And they, who allow them. felves in it, will ulually be discovered and lose their End: or, if not, will never know where to stop.
They will be enticed by Degrees to think every Thing good, that serves their Turn, let others think it ever so bad: those others again will think themselves authorized by such Examples to take the fame Liberties : and thus all' Trust and Probity will be lost among Men: a much greater Evil, than any Good, which Falsehood may do now and then, will ever compensate.
And if telling Lies, even from these plausible Inducements, be so bad; what must it be, when they proceed from less excusable ones, as Desire of promoting our own Interest, or that of our Party: and how completely detestable, when we are prompted to them by Malice, or undue Resentment, or any other totally wicked Principle !
Nor is the Practice less imprudent, than it is unlawful. Some indeed lye to raise their Characiers, as others do to gain their Points. But both act very absurdly, For they miss of their Purpose entirely, as soon as they are found out: and all Lyars are found out: imme, diately, for the most Part; but in a while without fail. And after that, every Body despises and hates them : even when they speak Truth, Nobody knows how to credit them: and so, by aiming wickedly at some little Advantage for the present, they put themselves foolishly under the greatest Disadvantage in the World ever after. The Lip of Truth Mall be established for ever : but a lying Tongue is but for a Moment f. Beware then of the leatt Beginning of a Practice that will be sure to end ill. For if you venture upon Falsehood at all, it will grow upon you, and entangle you; and bring you to Shame, to Punishment, to Ruin. And, besides what you will suffer
e Rom, iji. 8.
f Prov. xii, 19, 22.