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It should not be; but it is so, in one respect at least: there is one evil to which Christianity puts no stop; even real, vital, spiritual religion, as far as I have seen, puts no stop to it; with some few, very few, individual exceptions.
So much I have said in introduction, the better to excuse the earnest offence I have taken against what is commonly treated as a jest. To say I listened is surperfluous here: for whether you will hear or whether you will forbear, it is impossible to escape the sound-Slander, Evil speaking,—what shall I call it, for it has many names? From one end of society to the other, among the grave and the gay, the wise and the foolish, where shall you escape? You might as well live on the ocean's edge, and say you will not list the breaking of the waters. We must hear it, and we have heard it so long, that I fear we have lost all idea of guilt attached to it. And most of all, I fear that our children cannot escape the infection, but must grow up with the same habits of doing insensibly and without reflection, what their mothers and grandmothers have done before them. It is for their sakes, if not directly addressed to them, I have chosen the subject. The thistle may be eradicated when it first springs up; but let it root itself, let it get firm possession of the soil, and the task becomes difficult, if not impossible.
Evil speaking-I prefer that word to others, because it includes truth as well as falsehood-pervades every sort of society; the only variation is in the different sort of things people amuse themselves with saying of each other. In a frivolous, fashionable, polite circle, I observe it has regard to things external; to the persons, fortunes, pedigree, and connexions of its subjects. Somebody's grandfather was something that he should not have been, or, at
least, that he had rather not have been, if he could have helped it. Somebody has by no means so much fortune as they seem to have, and some are guilty of having lived more years than any body supposes. Those who sing cannot sing, and those who dance cannot dance, and somebody's nose is the wrong shape, and somebody's hair is the wrong colour, and one lady's diamonds are paste, and another lady's plate is borrowed. One is ostentatious because she talks too wisely; another is weak, because she talks too foolishly. It may be there is not much harm done; for no one charges the other with any wrong, precisely because they do not care whether she commits it or not: their estimate of evil makes their evil speaking idle rather than injurious.
In a society a little more rational, as if the rank weed flourished the better where the soil is better; it is the character, the conduct, the vital interests of life, that are invaded. Every fault exposed, every luckless word repeated; thoughts, motives, and feel. ings ascribed, where the plain act was all that could be known. This is bad enough; for it loosens the bonds of kindness between man and man; it excites prejudices and suspicions; wounds the feelings, and affects the earthly interests: but this is not the worst. There is a sort of society we usually call religious, or serious society: company, that is, from which the mention of God and our eternal interests is not excluded as unpolite discourse, nor shunned as a melancholy topic; where right and wrong are what God approves and disapproves; where, when earth is spoken of, Heaven is not forgotten, and when wrong is mentioned, sin before God is meant.
Is it possible the weed can flourish here? Alas! it is here it has its most bitter, its most cruel growth ; for the subjects of slander here are life and death,
eternal life and death eternal. The sinner whom God
spares and waits for, a fellow-sinner scoffs at and despises. The stain that Jesus washes with his tears, a fellow-sinner eagerly exposes: the penitent bosom that Heaven has comforted, has every wound made to bleed afresh by the taunts and the whispers of his fellows. They, whom for their Saviour's sake, the Father has declared he will not judge, on earth ; are more hardly judged than any, by those who stand alike condemned, and alike obtaining mercy. The errors and inconsistencies the Almighty bears with, men pronounce at once to be decisive. The axe which mercy has suspended yet another and another year, and Jesus in Heaven, perhaps, is even now entreating should be withheld another year to these, man would lay instantly to the root of the unfruitful tree. Do we say that no real Christian does so ? Real Christians-God forbid that I should think them otherwise !say it—and if their words be so adverse to their meaning, as I hope they are, is it not time they were better suited ?
We are not here speaking of what those who say it, know to be false; that is a crime that bears another name: and though, under one false colouring and another, it veils its blackness oftener than it should, no one under its right name, will venture to defend it. We have spoken of this elsewhere. Our subject is of that manner of evil speaking in which we believe what we say to be true. People are apt to think there is no harm in saying what we know to be true: but let them be aware that the things we know are very, very few : what we think, believe, conjecture, or hear, we can by no means be said to know. I may know that a person did such an act, or said such a word: in saying that he did 80, therefore, I cannot risk a falsehood: but if I add
one thing more ; if I ascribe a motive, a cause, an intention, a feeling, to that word or deed, I cannot know that what I say is truth; for these are things that can be certainly known but to God himself.
If I speak against another in their character and disposition, I may have very good grounds for my decision, and the best I can have; but it does not amount to knowledge. For instance, I hear a person say one thing to-day and the contrary to-morrow, and I presume myself justified in saying she is false and insincere. By no means; it may arise from an instability of character, a rapid transition of feeling, or uncertainty of judgment; which, though a great weakness, is not the vice with which I charged her. We know that the same disease will not show itself by the same symptoms, in different constitutions; neither do resembling symptoms always imply a similar disease. So the act that with us would be the result of one feeling, in another mind may be the result of a very different one. And, alas! we do not even know our own hearts; we are deceived in every movement, in every motive and affection of our bosoms. How. then can we persuade ourselves we know what is passing in another?
But suppose our evil speaking be truth-certain, indisputable truth. Are we justified ? Say, first, whether you have never done the thing you desire. to conceal; never said the thing you would blush to hear repeated; never thought the thought you would not for worlds that any one should read. If never, then go and tell the worst you know, say the worst you think, of all around you. There is One in heaven who knows: He hath said, “ With what measure ye mete it shall be measured to you again:" but never mind, zealous propagator of the truth, go
on to tear away the veil with which your neighbour tries to hide his faults: the time is not quite come, when, if some one veils not yours, the rocks and mountains will not serve you for a covering; and truth will be sufficient to prove you deserving of everlasting misery.
Yet this is not all. God is taking account of something mortals overlook. What was your motive
for that injurious truth you told this morning ? For that remark you made to another's prejudice, too true to be disputed? You will say you had no bad motive: but did you consider before you spoke, whether you
had or not? It will not do to run a risk in this. While you are keeping the register of others' faults with so much justice, there is One more just than you, who registers your thoughts, and every secret motive of your heart. Jealousy is sin : envy is sin: strife is sin: unkindness, retaliation, anger, hatred, variance; all are sins: nay, evil speaking itself is declared in holy writ to be so. Will you risk the accumulation of sin upon your soul, and swell the dark catalogue that is against you, for the mere sake of setting the characters of men in their proper light, and undeceiving every body as to their neighbours' actions?
That those who make light of sin in themselves, and sport of it in others, should do this, we need not so much wonder: but to return again to those who call themselves religious, distinctively from a careless and unbelieving world. You know, or pretend to know, the extent of nature's corruption : you bewail before Heaven your inability to conquer it: you may sometimes feel there is absolutely no good in you. How then can you venture to appoint yourselves the judges of your fellow-creatures, and take delight in exposing and talking of their faults ?