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OF EVIL-SPEAKING IN GENERAL.
TITUS, CHAP. III.-VERSE 2.
-To speak evil of no man.
THESE words do imply a double duty; one incumbent on teachers, another on the people who are to be instructed by them.
The teacher's duty appeareth from reflecting on the words of the context, which govern these, and make them up an intire sentence; Put them in mind,' or, rub up their memory to do thus. It is St. Paul's injunction to Titus, a bishop and pastor of the church, that he should admonish the people committed to his care and instruction, as of other great duties, (of yielding obedience to magistrates, of behaving themselves peaceably, of practising meekness and equity toward all men, of being readily disposed to every good work,') so particularly of this, undéva Bλaopnμeiv, to revile,' or 'speak evil of
Whence it is apparent that this is one of the principal duties that preachers are obliged to mind people of, and to press on them. And if this were needful then, when charity, kindled by such instructions and examples, was so lively; when Christians, by their sufferings, were so inured to meekness and patience; even every one, for the honor of his religion, and the safety of his person, was concerned in all respects to demean himself innocently and inoffensively; then is it now especially requisite, when (such engagements and restraints being taken
off, love being cooled, persecution being extinct, the tongue being set loose from all extraordinary curbs) the transgression of this duty is grown so prevalent and rife, that evil-speaking is almost as common as speaking, ordinary conversation extremely abounding therewith, that ministers should discharge their office in dehorting and dissuading from it.
Well indeed it were, if by their example of using mild and moderate discourse, of abstaining from virulent invectives, tauntings, and scoffings, good for little but to inflame anger, and infuse ill-will, they would lead men to good practice of this sort: for no examples can be so wholesome, or so mischievous to this purpose, as those which come down from the pulpit, the place of edification, backed with special authority and advantage.
However, it is to preachers a ground of assurance, and matter of satisfaction, that in pressing this duty they shall perform their duty: their text being not so much of their own choosing, as given them by St. Paul; they can surely scarce find a better to discourse on it cannot be a matter of small moment or use, which this great master and guide so expressly directeth us to insist on. And to the observance of his precept, so far as concerneth me, I shall immediately apply myself.
It is then the duty of all Christian people, (to be taught, and pressed on them,) not to reproach,' or 'speak evil of any man.' The which duty, for your instruction, I shall first endeavor somewhat to explain, declaring its import and extent; then, for your farther edification, I shall inculcate it, proposing several inducements persuasive to the observance of it.
I. For explication, we may first consider the object of it, 'no man;' then the act itself, which is prohibited, 'to blaspheme,' that is, to reproach, to revile, or, as we have it rendered, to speak evil.'
'No man.' St. Paul questionless did especially mean hereby to hinder the Christians at that time from reproaching the Jews and the Pagans among whom they lived, men in their lives very wicked and corrupt, men in opinion extremely dissenting from them, men who greatly did hate, and cruelly did persecute them; of whom therefore they had mighty provocations
and temptations to speak ill; their judgment of the persons, and their resentment of injuries, making it difficult to abstain from doing so. Whence by a manifest analogy may be inferred, that the object of this duty is very large, indeed universal and unlimited that we must forbear reproach not only against pious and virtuous persons, against persons of our own judgment or party, against those who never did harm or offend us, against our relations, our friends, our benefactors; in respect of whom there is no ground or temptation of ill-speaking; but even against the most unworthy and wicked persons, against those who most discoast in opinion and practice from us, against those who never did oblige us, yea those who have most disobliged us, even against our most bitter and spiteful enemies. There is no acception or excuse to be admitted from the quality, state, relation, or demeanor of men; the duty (according to the proper sense, or due qualifications and limits of the act) doth extend to all men: for, speak evil of no man.'
As for the act, it may be inquired what the word βλασφημεῖν, 'to blaspheme,' doth import. I answer, that it is to vent words concerning any person which do signify in us ill opinion, or contempt, anger, hatred, enmity conceived in our minds toward him; which are apt in him to kindle wrath, and breed ill blood toward us; which tend to beget in others that hear ill conceit, or ill-will toward him; which are much destructive of his reputation, prejudicial to his interests, productive of damage or mischief to him. It is otherwise in Scripture termed Aoidopeiv, to rail' or 'revile,' (to use bitter and ignominious language;) ὑβρίζειν, ' to speak contumeliously ;' φέρειν βλάσφημον Kpio, to bring railing accusation,' (or reproachful censure ;) karaλadeйv, to use obloquy,' or 'obtrectation;' karapācbaι, 'to curse,' that is, to speak words importing that we do wish ill to a person.
Such is the language we are prohibited to use. To which purpose we may observe, that whereas in our conversation and commerce with men, there do frequently occur occasions to speak of men, and to men, words apparently disadvantageous to them expressing our dissent in opinion from them, or a dislike in us of their proceedings, we may do this in different
ways and terms; some of them gentle and moderate, signifying no ill mind or disaffection toward them: others harsh and sharp, arguing height of disdain, disgust, or despite, whereby we bid them defiance, and show that we mean to exasperate them. Thus, telling a man that we differ in judgment from him, or conceive him not to be in the right, and calling him a liar, a deceiver, a fool; saying that he doeth amiss, taketh a wrong course, transgresseth the rule, and calling him dishonest, unjust, wicked; (to omit more odious and provoking names, unbecoming this place, and not deserving our notice;) are several ways of expressing the same things: whereof the latter, in relating passages concerning our neighbor, or in debating cases with him, is prohibited for thus the words reproaching, reviling, railing, cursing, and the like, do signify; and thus our Lord himself doth explain them, in his divine sermon, wherein he doth enact this law; Whosoever,' saith he, shall say to his brother, Raca,' (that is, vain man, or liar,) shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire;' that is, he rendereth himself liable to a strict account, and to severe condemnation before God, who useth contemptuous and contumelious expressions toward his neighbor, in proportion to the malignity of such expressions.
The reason of things also doth help to explain those words, and to show why they are prohibited: because those harsh terms are needless; mild words serving as well to express the same things because they are commonly unjust, loading men with greater defect or blame than they can be proved to deserve, or their actions do import: (for every man that speaketh falsehood is not therefore a liar, every man that erreth is not thence a fool, every man that doeth amiss is not consequently dishonest or wicked; the secret intentions and the habitual dispositions of men not being always to be collected from their outward actions :) because they are uncharitable, signifying that we entertain the worst opinions of men, and make the worst construction of their doings, and are disposed to show them no favor or kindness: because also they produce mischievous effects, such as spring from the worst passions raised by them.
This in gross is the meaning of the precept. But since there are some other precepts seeming to clash with this; since there are cases wherein we are allowed to use the harsher sort of terms, there are great examples in appearance thwarting this rule; therefore it may be requisite for determining the limits of our duty, and distinguishing it from transgression, that such exceptions or restrictions should be somewhat declared.
1. First then, we may observe that it may be allowable to persons anywise concerned in the prosecution or administration of justice, to speak words which in private intercourse would be reproachful. A witness may impeach of crimes hurtful to justice, or public tranquillity; a judge may challenge, may rebuke, may condemn an offender in proper terms, (or forms of speech prescribed by law,) although most disgraceful and distasteful to the guilty: for it belongeth to the majesty of public justice to be bold, blunt, severe; little regarding the concerns or passions of particular persons, in comparison to the public welfare.
A testimony therefore or sentence against a criminal, which materially is a reproach, and morally would be such in a private mouth, is not yet formally so according to the intent of this rule. For practices of this kind, which serve the exigences of justice, are not to be interpreted as proceeding from anger, hatred, revenge, any bad passion or humor; but in way of needful discipline for God's service, and common benefit of men. It is not indeed so much the minister of justice, as God himself, our absolute Lord, as the Sovereign, God's representative, acting in the public behalf, as the commonwealth itself, who by his mouth do rebuke the obnoxious person.
2. God's ministers in religious affairs, to whom the care of men's instruction and edification is committed, are enabled to inveigh against sin and vice, whoever consequentially may be touched thereby; yea sometimes it is their duty with severity and sharpness to reprove particular persons, not only privately, but publicly, in order to their correction, and edification of others.
Thus St. Paul directeth Timothy; Them that sin (notoriously and scandalously he meaneth) rebuke before all, that