« ZurückWeiter »
duct? Farther, on how many circumstances does the degree of merit or criminality of a single action depend? We are not merely to inquire what an action is, and then say it is right or wrong
We must likewise examine the principle and motives from which it flowed, the difficulties and dangers to be encountered, the temptations to be resisted, and the rewards to be gained. These are circumstances often concealed from every eye but the eye of God, and a man's own conscience. But when they are not known, is it a stretch of good nature and indulgence, is it a hard restraint on the freedom of opinion, to forbear to condemn? Or rather do not the soundest and plainest principles of justice require us to forbear? The history of the world presents many affecting instances of the reproach, sufferings and misfortunes which the most virtuous characters have endured from that
propensity which the greatest part of mankind have to judge by appearances or events, while it has often remained for a future generation to discover and do justice to their integrity. To these, however, we need not recur. The recollection of every man will furnish him with a sufficient number of instances, in his own case at least, in which his conduct was misunderstood, and in which he will not refuse to own that men were rash in blaming him. Be not guilty of an injustice towards others to which you are so much exposed, and of which
you are so ready to complain. Even when the censures you pass on your neighbours happen to be just, yet when they are not warranted by your knowledge of his situation and conduct, your rashness is no less criminal. But if they are unjust, you are guilty of an injury which receives its greatest aggravation from that ignorance which in other cases may be an excuse for him who offends.
3. Hitherto I have chiefly considered the precept in the text as intended to prevent us from blaming those who may not be deserving of blame. · But it goes farther than this, and even where the most charitable indulgence cannot make us blind to the faults of another, it bids us judge them as becomes those who are themselves conscious of errours and imperfections. Nor is it in this case founded on principles less just. Even when you are guilty of a folly which you are not disposed to excuse, would you bear to be upbraided and condemned by him who had an equal share in
your folly, while his censures fell on you alone? And does it alter the case that
your faults are not the same with those you perceive in your neighbour? Heaven alone knows whose scale preponderates. You may treat with severity the faults of others, while you spare your own, but will this partiality extend beyond your own breasts? Will God or man judge you by other laws than those which bind all ? Under the most proper sense of those errours into which a man falls from the imperfections of human nature, he feels himself entitled to indulgence from those who are subject to similar failings. He alone deprives himself of this title who allows it not to another. If
have any delight in exposing offences, it may not be difficult to discover and to drag forth an offender ; but let him who is without sin among you throw the first stone.
After all, let us beware of applying this principle of charity to an improper use. While
you expect the charity of your brethren with regard to those deviations from
your duty which are past, into which you were led against your will, and which you are desirous for the future to avoid, you expect what religion requires them to grant. But if
you claim their indulgence to evil habits, which you
wish not to forsake, promising in return a similar indulgence to them, you abuse our Saviour's precept, and convert it into a toleration for sin, placing charity, that virtue which most distinguishes our religion, on this foundation, that he who leaves the greatest number behind him in the commission of wickedness ought to possess it in the most extensive degree. A truly good man will not be partial to a bad action because he himself has committed it, nor will he by claming such partiality from others lay himself under an obligation to approve what is wrong in them. The object of charity is to prevent us from making the imperfections of our brethren a reason for refusing to do them good; but it is not possible to do them a greater injury than to encourage them in sin.
4. Another consideration of great weight to enforce the precept in the text, is that stated by our Saviour:
Judge not, that ye be not judged, for with what judgment ye judge “ ye shall be judged.” And there cannot be a more just law either in the sight of God or man. With regard to man, the experience of the world has established it as a maxim, that, when one is rash in finding fault and, without sufficient knowledge of the character and actions he pretends to judge, is prone to suppose
evil where there is room for supposing good; when from doubtful appearances he always forms that opinion which is most unfavourable, whence are we to think that this propensity arises? The innocent, the sincere, and the upright are not apt to suspect. They often find their own conduct attended by imprudence or followed by ill consequences of which they were not aware; and neither from appearances nor consequences do they perceive just ground of thinking ill of those to whom the same thing may have happened. The secret of those who possess so much ingenuity in finding out the faults of others lies within their own breast. But experience has discovered it, and when we meet with such persons we transfer their suspicions and their ill-natured remarks on others to their own character. Who are most ready to take offence if it be not those who are most ready to give it? Who are they who prey on the reputation of their neighbour, but those who have lost their own? Who are the suspicious, but those who have secrets in their