« AnteriorContinuar »
motive to every species of good conduct; and, when duly felt, is an Evangelical motive. Whatsoever things are honest, lovely, and of good report, St. Paul enjoins upon Christians as their duty. .4 bishop, also, the same Apostle teaches us, must have a good report of them, who are without the Church, as one indispensable qualification for his election to the Ministry of the Gospel. Those, who were without the Church, when this was written, were Jews and Heathem. Yet, even among these men, a bishop was required to sustain an unblemished reputation. Danger to character is, also, a prime restraint from all open wickedness, a restraint, felt by every decent man every day of his life. He, who is unconscious of it, has already become almost desperate. He, who discovers, that he disregards it, will be pronounced by his fellow-men abandoned. In accordance with these observations, the Scriptures have solemnly guarded personal reputation in various ways. They have taught the high value of a good name; declared the guilt, and odiousness, of slander and tale-bearing; prohibited, strongly, the practice of these crimes; and threatened the perpetrators with exemplary punishment. Municipal Law, also, has hedged the private character of every man with a strong enclosure; and denounced against every trespasser heavy penalties. From these considerations it is manifest, that the mischiefs, involved in the loss of reputation, are to individuals incomprehensibly great. Rarely does the thief, or the cheat, rob his fellow-men of great riches. The slanderer, therefore, accomplishes a greater injury, than either of these villains; for a good name is better than great riches. It is of no consequence whether his efforts succeed, or not. The thief is not the less a thief, because he drops his booty; nor the cheat the less a cheat, because he is detected in his fraud. If, then, the slanderer is not more despised, and abhorred, than either; it is because reputation is not esteemed according to its value. 2. The Public Evils of Slander are too numerous to permit, and too obvious to need, a discussion in this place. I have already remarked, that, when persons of consequence are attacked by calumny, the mischief is extensively spread.
The slandering of private individuals is capable, also, of extending far, and of harassing not a little, the peace of society. There is, in many places, a kind of indulgence, often given to that pestilential class of mankind, the retailers of private history. In villages, precluded by their size, or their situation, from being theatres of public news, a strong propensity is often discovered to listen to those, who employ their time in prying into the private concerns of their neighbours. Encouraged by this kind of approbation, as well as urged onward by restless curiosity, and an eager spirit of meddling, persons of this description multiply without number their suspicions, their innuendoes, their predictions of evil, and their tales of mischief. Speedily, jealousies are excited between neighbour and neighbour, between friend and friend. Speedily, the offices of good-will, and good neighbourhood, are withdrawn. Social visits are interdicted. Kindness, both in opinion and in conduct, ceases: and a village, in which peace and good order have long prevailed, is thrown into an uproar. The general conversation is made up of ridicule invective, and threatening; and a quiet life gives place to quarrels and litigations. Even in the House of God, the inhabitants find themselves scarcely able to unite with each other in the worship of their Maker.
But the spirit of Slander is not confined to villages, nor towns, nor cities. It often flies at higher objects; and boldly intrudes upon the Hall of Justice, the Senate-House, and the Chair of State. No life is too spotless; no character is too sacred; to be assaulted, and destroyed, by this evil genius of man. A single . calumny, especially in seasons of violent party, has set a nation in a flame; and for a season consumed its peace, and wasted its prosperity. The evils, suffered in this case, are numberless, and incomprehensible. One of the chief sources of the unprecedented crimes, and sufferings, attendant upon the French Revolution, was the slander of distinguished men, both in public and private life. Misrepresentation and obloquy have been more fatal enemies to the cause of Christianity, than the faggot and the rack.
IV. Among the Dissuasives from this sin I shall briefly suggest the following.
1. It is eminently odious in the sight of God. The great body of slanderers are liars; and are therefore chargeable with all the gross wickedness, attributed to men of this character, and exposed to all the awful threatenings, denounced against them, in the Scriptures. Whoso privily slandereth his neighbour, says David, under the guidance of the Spirit of Truth, directing his duty as the Ruler of Israel, him will I cut off. In that kingdom, therefore, this crime was made capital by a divine decision. The slanderer, also, and that, when he is not, as well as when he is, the inventor of a false calumny, is, in the 15th Psalm, excluded from the favourable presence of God. Lord, saith the Psalmist, Who shall abide in thy tabernacle, who shall dwell in thy holy hill 2 One answer to this inquiry is the following. He that backbiteth not with his tongue, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour. 2. Every person, guilty of this sin, exposes himself, also, to the hatred, and contempt of mankind. A slanderer is a common enemy. All considerate persons know, and feel, this truth; and guard themselves with watchful care against his attacks. So far as their circumstances will permit, they shun, and warn their children and friends to shun, his company. Not mere suspicion, but a well founded and deeply felt conviction, of his hostility to the common interests of men, meets him, wherever he goes. His presence creates only pain. His tongue is a blast upon human comfort; and his name is an additional spot upon the human character. No member of this audience, I presume, feels, that he is prepared to encounter an evil of this magnitude. It is a terrible consideration, that mankind are less afraid to offend their God, than to provoke the resentment of their fellow-men. Still, it furnishes some consolation, that the dread of public odium, and contempt, is a powerful hindrance of open iniquity, and a forcible restraint upon evil dispositions. If any individual, present, feels adventurous enough to hazard this evil, or is indifferent about it; let him recollect with what agitation he has sustained even slight attacks upon his character; how tremblingly apprehensive he has been, lest a few, or even one, of those around him should believe the calumny, and lest he should be regarded with
hatred, and contempt, on a speck of earth, and by a handful of mankind. If he could not sustain this shock; how unprepared must he be to meet the common assault of the human race! How must he shrink, and falter, and fall, when indignation burns against him in every breast; contempt flashes on him from every eye; and a sentence of final condemnation is pronounced on him by every tongue ! How will he bear to be shunned by all decent society; pointed at by the finger of prudence, as well as of scorn; and hissed, wherever he appears, not by vulgarity, illnature, and enmity, only, but by decency, delicacy, and common sense How will he bear to spend his days in a kind of solitude, in the midst of mankind; to be welcomed cordially to no man’s bosom; to be regarded as a public nuisance; to be suspected, and dreadcd; and to have his presence regarded as a burden, and his character as a brand, upon the human race! Especially, how will he bear all this, and feel at the same time, that in all this no injustice is done to him ; since he has merited it all by his own vile and infamous conduct
3. The immense Mischiefs, occasioned by Slander, ought to deter every man who has not, and to stop every man who has, entered upon this guilly career.
There are persons, to whom I should scarcely think of addressing this consideration. But to this audience it may surely be addressed with success. It cannot for a moment be admitted, even with decency, that those, who are before me, can be indifferent to the thought of doing such mischiefs to their fellowmen. Think what it will be to stab the character, to destroy the peace and the usefulness, even of one of your fellow-creatures. Remember, how tenderly you regard your own reputation; how deeply you have been pierced even by the darts of ridicule; how suddenly you have shrunk from the eye of scorn; and how you have trembled under a tale of slander, or a foul aspersion. Remember, that others have their feelings also. Remember, that reputation is to them as dear; calumny as unwelcome; contempt as oppressive; and disgrace as full of anguish; as to you. Then ask yourselves, whether you can consent to be the authors of these evils.
All this, however, is only the first stage of the mischiefs, which you will accomplish. Extend your views from individuals to families. How much happiness in these little, delightful circles is often destroyed by a single calumnious tale! How often are the hearts of parents broken, and the peace of their children destroyed, by false imputations of dishonesty to a son, or impurity to a daughter! How often is the domestic groupe clustered together with terror and anguish, by false charges upon the good name of a parent! Before, they were happy. Why are they not happy now 2 Because a fiend, in the shape, and with the tongue, of a man, has blasted all their enjoyments. But the mischiefs do not stop here. Families are set at variance with each other: friends are converted into enemies; and neighbours into strangers. Harmony, hospitality, and peace, sicken, and die, before the soul breath of slander. Every office of kindness is interrupted: and the spirit of Christianity itself amazed, perplexed, bewildered, looks around in vain, or almost in vain, to find proper objects of its beneficence, and means, and modes, of administering it with success. To the happiness of good neighbourhood, succeeds a train of grovelling, base, serpentine hostilities; depraving all who practise them, and distressing all against whom they are practised. Anxiety and dismay haunt every fire-side; and a funeral gloom settles upon every prospect, and broods over every hope. 4. The Slanderer ought to be deterred from his purpose by the incalculable mischiefs, which he will do to himself. It cannot be supposed, that, in such a course of hostilities against his fellow-men, the Slanderer will escape from the common resentment of those, whom he has injured. As he is an enemy to all men; all men become at length enemies to him. Such, as have smarted severely from his tongue, will usually take effectual care to make him smart in his turn. The vengeance. executed upon him, will often be exemplary. Sometimes he will be chastised. Sometimes he will be prosecuted. Sometimes he will be excluded from all decent society: and often. if not always, he will be openly insulted with indignities, which he knows not how to brook, and yet dares not resist. The consciousness of his guilt will make him a coward: while a painful conviction, that his sufferings are a mere and just retribution of