[b]Directions against Backbiting, Slandering, and Evil Speaking.[/b]
Direct. I. Maintain the life of brotherly love. Love your neighbour as yourself.
Direct. II. Watch narrowly lest interest or passion should prevail upon you. For where these prevail, the tongue is set on fire of hell, and will set on fire the course of nature, James 2. Selfishness and passion will not only prompt you to speak evil, but also to justify it, and think you do well; yea, and to be angry with those that will not hearken to you and believe you.
Direct. III. Especially involve not yourselves in any faction, religious or secular. I do not mean that you should not imitate the best, and hold most intimate communion with them; but that you abhor unlawful divisions and sidings; and when error, or uncharitableness, or carnal interest hath broken the church into pieces where you live, and one is of Paul, and another of Apollos, and another of Cephas, one of this party, and another of that, take heed of espousing the interest of any party, as it stands cross to the interest of the whole. It would have been hardly credible, if sad experience had not proved it, how commonly and heinously almost every sect of Christians do sin in this point against each other and how far the interest of their sect, which they account the interest of Christ, will prevail with multitudes even of zealous people, to belie, speak evil, backbite, and reproach those that are against their opinion and their party! Yea, how easily will they proceed beyond reproaches, to bloody persecutions!
He that thinketh he doth God service by killing Christ or his disciples, will think that he doth him service by calling him a deceiver, and one that hath a devil, a blasphemer, and an enemy to Caesar, and calling his disciples pestilent fellows and movers of sedition among the people, and accounting them as the filth and offscouring of the world. That zeal which murdered and destroyed many hundred thousand of the Waldenses and Albigenses, and thirty thousand or forty thousand in one French massacre, and two hundred thousand in one Irish massacre, [See note above.] and which kindled the Marian bonfires in England, made the powder mine, and burnt the city of London, and keepeth up the Inquisition, I say, that zeal will certainly think it a service to the church, (that is, their sect,) to write the most odious lies and slanders of Luther, Zuinglius, Calvin, Beza, and any such excellent servants of the Lord. So full of horrid, impudent lies are the writings of (not one but) many sects against those that were their chief opposers, that I still admonish all posterity, to see good evidence for it, before they believe the hard sayings of any factious historian or divine, against those that are against his party. It is only men of eminent conscience, and candor, and veracity, and impartiality, who are to be believed in their bad report of others, except where notoriety or very good evidence doth command belief above their own authority and veracity. A siding factious zeal, which is hotter for any sect or party, than for the common Christianity and catholic church, is always a railing, a lying, and a slandering zeal, and is notably described, James 3, as "earthly, sensual, and devilish," causing "envy, strife, and confusion, and every evil work."
Direct. IV. Observe well the commonness of this sin of backbiting, that it may make you the more afraid of falling into that which so few do escape. I will not say, among high and low, rich and poor, court and country, how common is this sin; but among men professing the greatest zeal and strictness in religion, how few make conscience of it! Mark in all companies that you come into, how common it is to take liberty to say what they think of all men; yea, to report what they hear, though they dare not say that they believe it! And how commonly the relating of other men's faults, and telling what this man or that man is, or did, or said, is part of the chat to waste the hour in! And if it be but true, they think they sin not: nay, nor if they did but hear that it is true. For my part I must profess, that my conscience having brought me to a custom of rebuking such backbiters, I am ordinarily censured for it, either as one that loveth contradiction, or one that dependeth sin and wickedness, by taking part with wicked men; all because I would stop the course of this common vice of evil speaking and backbiting where men have no call. And I must thankfully profess, that among all other sins in the world, the sins of selfishness, pride, and back-biting, I have been most brought to hate and fear, by the observation of the commonness of them, even in persons seeming godly: nothing hath fixed an apprehension of their odiousness so deeply in me, nor engaged my heart against them above all other sins so much, as this lamentable experience of their prevalence in the world, among the more religious, and not only in the profane.
Direct. V. Take not the honesty of the person as a sufficient cause to hear or believe a bad report of others. It is lamentable to hear how far men, otherwise honest, do too often here offend. Suspect evil speakers, and be not over-credulous of them. Charity thinketh not evil, nor easily and hastily believeth it. Liars are more used to evil speaking, than men of truth and credit are. It is no wrong to the best, that you believe him not when he backbiteth without good evidence.
Direct. VI. Rebuke backbiters, and encourage them not by hearkening to their tales. Prov. 25:23, "The north wind driveth away rain, so doth an angry countenance a backbiting tongue." It may be they think themselves religious persons, and will take it for an injury to be driven away with an angry countenance: but God himself, who loveth his servants better than we, is more offended at their sin; and that which offendeth him, must offend us. We must not hurt their souls, and displease God, by drawing upon us the guilt of their sins, for fear of displeasing them. Tell them how God doth hate backbiting, and advise them if they know any hurt by others, to go to them privately, and tell them of it in a way that tendeth to their repentance.
Direct. VII. Make mention often of the good which is in others; (except it be unseasonable, and will seem to be a promoting of their sin): God's gifts in every man deserve commendations; and we have allowance to mention men's virtues oftener than to mention their vices. Indeed when a bad man is praised in order to the disparagement of the good, or to honour some wicked cause or action against truth and godliness, we must not concur in such malicious praises; but otherwise we must commend that which is truly commendable in all. And this custom will have a double benefit against backbiting: it will use your own tongues to a contrary course, and it will rebuke the evil tongues of others, and be an example to them of more charitable language.
Direct. VIII. Understand yourselves, and speak often to others, of the sinfulness of evil-speaking and backbiting. Show them the scriptures which condemn it, and the intrinsical malignity which is in it: as here followeth.
Direct. IX. Make conscience of just reproof and exhorting sinners to their faces. Go tell them of it privately and lovingly, and it will have better effects, and bring you more comfort, and cure the sin of backbiting.
[b]The Evil of Backbiting and Evil-speaking.[/b]
1. It is forbidden of God among the heinous, damning sins, and made the character of a notorious wicked person, and the avoiding of it is made the mark of such as are accepted of God and shall be saved: Rom. 1:29,30, it is made the mark of a reprobate mind, and joined with murder, and hating God, viz. "full of envy, debate, deceit, malignity, whisperers, backbiters." Psalm. 15:2, 3, "Lord, who in thy tabernacle? Who shall dwell in thy holy hill? He that backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his neighbour, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour." And when Paul describeth those whom he must sharply rebuke and censure, he just describeth the factious sort of Christians of our times. 2 Cor. 12:20, "For I fear lest when I come, I shall not find you such as I would, and that I shall be found unto you such as ye would not: lest there be debates, envyings, wraths, strifes, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults." Eph. 4:31, "Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil-speaking be put away from you, with all malice, and be in one to another, and tender hearted."
2.It is a sin which gratifieth Satan, and serveth his malice against our neighbour. He is malicious against all, and speaking evil, and doing hurt, are the works which are suitable to his malignity! And should a Christian make his tongue the instrument of the accuser of the brethren, to do his work against each other?
3.It signifieth lack of Christian love. For love speaketh not evil, nor openeth men's faults without a cause, but covereth infirmities; much less will it lie and slander others, and carry about uncertain reports against them. It is not to do as you would be alone by: and how essential love is to true Christianity, Christ himself bath often told us.
4.It is a sin which directly serveth to destroy the hearers' love, and consequently to destroy their souls. If the backbiter understood himself, he would confess that it is his very end to cause you to hate (or abate your love to) him whom he speaketh evil of. He that speaketh good of a man, representeth him amiable; for amiableness and goodness are all one. And he that speaketh evil of a man representeth him hateful or unlovely; for hatefulness, unloveliness, and evil are all one. And as it is not the natural way of winning love, to entreat and beg it, and say, I pray you love this person, or that thing; but to open the goodness of the thing or person, which will command love: so is it not the natural way to stir up hatred, by entreating men to hate this man or that; but to tell how bad they are, which will command hatred in them that do believe it. Therefore to speak evil of another, is more than to say to the hearers, I pray you hate this man, or abate your love to him. And that the killing of love is the killing or destroying of men's souls, the apostle John doth frequently declare.
5 And it tendeth also to destroy the love, and consequently the soul of him that you speak evil of. For when it cometh to his hearing, (as one way or other it may do) what evil you have reported of him behind his back, it tendeth to make him hate you, and so to make him worse.
6. It is a great contention-maker and peace-breaker wherever it is practiced. It tendeth to set people together by the ears. When it is told that such a one spake evil of you in such a place, there are then heart-burnings, and rehearsals, and sidings, and such ensuing malice as the devil intended by this design.
7. They who often speak evil of others behind their backs, it is ten to one will speak falsehoods of them when they do not know it. Fame is too ordinarily a liar, and they shall be liars who will be its messengers. How know you whether the thing that you report is true? Is it only because a credible person spake it? But how did that person know it to be true? Might he not take it upon trust as well as you? And might he not take a person to be credible that is not? And how commonly doth faction, or interest, or passion, or credulity, mike that person incredible in one tiling, who is credible in others, where he hath no such temptation. If you know it not to be true, or have not sufficient evidence to prove it, you are guilty of lying and slandering interpretatively, though it should prove true; because it might have been a lie for aught you knew.
8. It is gross injustice to talk of a man's faults, before you have heard him speak for himself. I know it is usual with such to say, O we have heard it from such as we are certain will not lie. But he is a foolish and unrighteous judge will be peremptory upon hearing one party only speak, and knoweth not how ordinary it is for a man when speaketh for himself; to blow away the most confident and plausible accusations, and make the case appear to be quite another thing. You know not what another man hath to say till you have heard him.
9. Backbiting teacheth others to backbite. Your example inviteth them to do the like: and sins which are common, are easily swallowed, and hardly repented of: men think that the commonness justifieth or extenuateth the fault.
10. It encourageth ungodly men to the odious sin of backbiting and slandering the most religious, righteous person. It is ordinary with the devil's family to make Christ's faithfullest servants their table talk, and the objects of their reproach and scorn, and the song of drunkards? What abundance of lies go current among such malignant persons, against the most innocent, which would all be ashamed, if they had first admitted them to speak for themselves. And such slanders and lies are the devil's common means to keep ungodly men from the love of godliness, and so from repentance and salvation. And backbiting professors of religion encourage men to this; for with what measure they mete, it shall be measured to them again. And they that are themselves evil spoken of, will think that they are warranted to requite the backbiters with the like.
11. It is a sin which commonly excludeth true, profitable reproof and exhortation. They that speak most behind men's backs, do usually say least to the sinner's face, in any way which tendeth to his salvation. They will not go lovingly to him in private, and set home his sin upon his conscience, and exhort him to repentance; but any thing shall serve as a sufficient excuse against this duty; that they may make the sin of backbiting serve instead of it: and all is out of carnal self-saving; they fear men will be offended if they speak to their faces, and therefore they will whisper against them behind their backs.
12. It is at the least, but idle talk and a misspending of your time: what the better are the healers for hearing of other men's misdoings? And you know that it no whit profiteth the person of whom you speak. A skillful, friendly admonition might do him good! But to neglect this, and talk of his faults unprofitably, behind his back, is but to aggravate the sin of your uncharitableness, as being not contented to refuse your help to a man in sin, but you must also injure him and do him hurt.