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1. Pragmatical judging is carefully to be avoided. We should not officially pass our condemning sentence upon any persons or things without just warrant or authority.
Thus to censure things out of our province, where we have no concern or call to pass any judgment at all, is a busy intermeddling. Many things may be proper for the cognizance and animadversion of the magistrate, with which private members of the community have nothing to do. Christ, by his own example, has taught us to consider, whether a thing be within our province, before we meddle with it. When a person said to him, "Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me," Jesus answered, "Man, who made me a judge, or a divider over you 7" Luke xii. 13, 14. * It is none of my province, whose kingdom is not of this world, to determine disputes about civil rights between you and your brother; but it belongs to the magistrate; and, therefore, I will have nothing to do with it.' Thus the apostle, 1 Cor. v. 12. "What have I to do," says he, "to judge them that are without?" It was his province so far to judge them who were within the pale of the Christian church, as to declare the mind of Christ for denying them Christian communion, who are notoriously scandalous; and, accordingly, he directs the Corinthian church to take care that this should be done. But for those who were without, and pretended not to Christian communion, the Christian church had nothing to do with them.
Another instance of pragmatical censure is, when men take upon them to judge of things above their reach; either from the defectiveness of their own capacity and furniture compared with others, or from the obscurity and nnsearchableness of the matter upon which they pretend to pass a judgment. Men discover only their own ignorance and ill-nature, when they go beyond their depth in censure; as if, suppose people of weak capacities, and who have had a very contracted education and acquaintance, should, at every turn, be arraigning the conduct of their rulers, while in truth they are by no means capable judges: if they knew the springs of action, or the many difficulties under which an administration may labour, it may be they might discern either wisdom or unavoidable necessity in the steps they blame. The same may be said of many other reflections and censures upon men and things, wherein very often the most clamorous fault-finders "speak evil of things which they understand not," and they betray their folly to wiser and more competent judges. There are other things in which no man can pass a certain judgment concerning another; such are, the secrets of the heart, the thoughts and intentions. And yet how ready are people to judge of these in the most censorious manner, as if they had a window into their neighbour's heart, though we must all acknowledge that the heart of man is unsearchable!
A farther instance, especially worthy of our notice upon this head, is, when men take upon them to censure others without the authority of their rule. He would be an ill judge, who judges not according to the law, but condemns men for things merely because he does not like them, though the law leaves them indifferent; or passes a heavier censure upon them than the law does. It would be equally unjust in us, and going out of our way, if we censure any as guilty of a crime, because they happen not to think and act as we do, while we have no warrant from the word of God to pronounce it a crime. We must not make sins and duties, which God has never made so; we ought not to do so to ourselves, by indulging unreasonable scruples; much less should we pretend to do it for other people. We must no more add to our rule, than diminish from it. A thing may appear doubtful to us, and then it will be proper that we should forbear it; but we must not pretend to condemn others, for any such liberties which we cannot prove that God has made unlawful, much less for not conforming to us in things which we confess that God hath left indifferent. The apostles had frequent occasion, in the beginning of Christianity, to caution the converted Jews against censuring: the Gentile converts, without warrant from the Christian rule. The Jewish converts woukl have had the Gentiles to observe the ceremonial law along with the Christian institution. The apostles shewed, that Christ had superseded this law, as indeed, the Gentiles were never obliged to observe it. Therefore, says St. Paul, Rom. xiv. 3. "Let not him which eateth not" the meats forbidden by the law of Moses, "judge him that eateth" them, as profane on that account, or not accepted of God; "for God hath received him." And ver. 13. "Let us not, therefore, Judge one another any more." To the same purpose, Col. ii. 16, 17. "Let no man judge
you in meat or in drink, or in respect of an holy day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath-days; which were a shadow of good things to come.” This prohibition is founded upon the declaration in ver. 14. that Christ had “blotted out the handwriting of these ordinances, and taken them away, nailing them to his cross;” therefore, let no man judge another for not observing them. The apostle James very emphatically represents. the great evil of such censures, James iv. 11, 12. “Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother,” that is, as we must plainly understand him, for such things as the law of Christ allows (he seems to have the same case in view, as Paul had in the places mentioned; he that condemns his brother for such things, “speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law,” he censures the law as imperfect for not having forbidden such things. “But if thou judgest the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge.” Thou actest not as one under law to Christ, but who settest up for a censor of his law. Now “there is one lawgiver,” that is Christ, “who is able to save and to destroy,” and so to confirm his laws with proper sanctions: “Who art thou, then, that judgest another P’’ This passage plainly represents the pragmaticalness and arrogance of censuring men for anything, where we have not the law of Christ going before us; for Christ, and not we, or any other man or men in the world, is the sole Lawgiver in matters of religion: but to censure men for any thing which he hath not thought fit to condemn, or beyond the censure he hath passed upon it, is to usurp his place of a Lawgiver, and to arraign his law as imperfect and insufficient. 2. Blind and rash judging is also to be guarded against. We should be very careful, that we condemn not men in the dark or precipitately, before we have clear and reasonable evidence of facts and their circumstances. We must not presume to raise suspicions into accusations, or to judge hardly of men merely upon hearsay and common fame, or to “take up a report against our neighbour.” A judgment ought not to be formed to men's disadvantage, without knowing what they have to say in their own defence: “He that answereth,” or determineth “a matter before he heareth it,” all that is necessary to give light into it, “it is folly and shame unto him,” Prov. xviii. 18. The law of Moses required that a
man should be heard in his own vindication, John.vii. 51. "Doth our law judge any man before it hear him, and know what he doeth?" So Festus mentions it in commendation of the Roman law, Acts xxv. 16. " It is not the manner of the liomans to deliver any man to die, before that he which is accused have the accuser's face to face, and have licence to answer for himself concerning the crime laid against him." And it is the law of Christ, "not to receive an accusation against an elder;" the reason of the thing will suggest the same as to others, that an accusation should not be regarded against any under two or three witnesses, 1 Tim. v. 19. Certainly justice requires, that such precautions should be taken before private reflections as well as public censures. Wherever we take upon us to be judges and censors, we should reckon ourselves obliged to obtain good assurance of the truth of facts; or else be wholly silent, and let the matter alone, as none of our business. What a vast number of censures would be stifled in the birth, if such measures were conscientiously observed!
Another thing deserves consideration upon this head. We shall be guilty of rash judging, if we condemn men without being apprised of the particular circumstances that led them to the actions in question. The same thing may be lawful, and even commendable, in some circumstances, which in others would be worthy of blame; or at least may deserve a milder censure, if it cannot be wholly vindicated: and we shall judge very rashly, if we make not allowances for the special differences of people's case, in judging of their actions. The Pharisees censured Christ's disciples for plucking the ears of corn on the sabbath-day, Matt. xii. as if it were a criminal violation of that sacred rest; not considering their hunger, and that such a slight refreshment fitted them for the service of the day, instead of breaking in upon it; and that God will have mercy rather than sacrifice, as our Saviour argues. The circumstances of men, in innumerable instances, quite alter the moral nature of actions, and in others make a vast difference in degrees of guilt. And he is an unjust and hasty judge, who censures at random, without taking these things into consideration.
3. Partial judging is also forbidden; when either the judgment we form, proceeds from pique or dislike of the person, ra
ther than abhorrence of evil; or when it is not equally extended to all who are equally concerned.
If we should censure others for a thing with which we are equally chargeable ourselves, though it be really faulty, yet the censure would come very ill from us. It is intolerable to reproach another with drunkenness, or cheating, or idleness or covetousness, if, at the same time, you are guilty of the same crimes, Rom. ii. 1. "Thou art inexcuseable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest; for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemneth thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same thing." Can you forbear blushing, while you reprove or reproach them upon such an account? And this, indeed, greatly aggravates any scandals given by magistrates or ministers, by parents or heads of families, or by any whose province or profession it peculiarly is to bear testimony against the sins of others. Upon this account, the apostle expostulates with the Jews, who valued themselves upon knowing much more than the Gentiles, and were ready to pass severe censures on them, Rom. ii. 21, &c. "Thou which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? Thou which preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal?"
If we censure smaller faults in others with more rigour than we do greater of our own, though they should not be just of the same kind, it is very unjust and unequal. If we are quick at observing, according to our Saviour's allusion, a mote in our brother's eye, but are insensible of a beam in our own; to such Christ addresses in this context, ver. 5. "Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye." It is odious both to God and man, to animadvert rigorously upon the blemishes of others, when our own character is sullied with blacker stains.
If we censure that strongly in an adversary, which passes for little or nothing in a friend; if that shall be represented as a heinous crime in a man we do not like, who follows not with us, or is not of our party, which can be easily overlooked in a favourite, or a man attached to us; this is judging with respect of persons; which is a very bad character of a judge.
4. Uncharitable judging is also to be guarded against; all I