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SERMON V.

ON EVIL SPEAKING.

EPISTLE GENERAL OF St. James, iv. 11.

Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law; but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge."

We find, that among the religious precepts which are conveyed to us in the Scriptures of the New Testament, many of the social virtues are included as of paramount importance in the great work of salvation; and in the epistle, more especially, to which you have been just referred, several of these virtues are strongly pressed upon us by a caution to refrain from their opposite vices. We should always bear in mind, that in every important work, we must first learn to perform the less, before we can hope to accomplish the greater; and upon this maxim we shall find that we never can successfully practise the more imperative duties of Christianity, whilst we altogether pass over those which, although, singly characters among

viewed, they may appear inconsiderable, combine, nevertheless, the elements of every virtue, and in their aggregate, when blended with that spirit of devotion which looks up to the expiatory sacrifice of a Redeemer as the foundation of all our glorious prospects in eternity, form the most perfect

the sons of men. There are many failings which, among lax moralists, pass current as venial offences, or, at the worst, but as those effervescences of constitution, temper, or habit, upon which the heart having no deliberate influence, they cannot, according to their doctrine, be laid to the charge of a vicious inclination, or of corrupt motives. But, whatever subtleties the casuist may advance to gloss over the failings of human nature, this simple truth will overturn all his vain distinctions between actual and venial sins, that whatever we know to be wrong, it cannot be right to do, and to do what we are satisfied is not right, must be, under any circumstances, a sin. No casuistry, however specious, can alter the determinate characters of moral good and evil. The practice, then, against which we are cautioned in the text, is, speaking evil one of another; a practice, indeed, but too prevalent among us, and but commonly so lightly regarded as to be considered rather one of the allowable recreations of life, than a vice which involves consequences often fatal to the happiness of individuals and to the peace of society. It has been said by a wise man, “ many have fallen by the edge of the sword, but not so many as have fallen by the tongue.”

The consequences of slander, although they may appear to be remote and indifferent, are but too frequently instant and terrible. And, surely, upon the general consequences which follow from general actions, will depend their relative virtue or iniquity. If this proposition be true, and I know of no argument that can show it to be false, wantonly to speak evil of another must indicate no inconsiderable obliquity of mind, when the slightest reflection cannot but point out to us how lamentable have been the issues of this uncharitable practice in many instances of almost daily occurrence. How often have the hot and fiery resentments of those who have been unaccustomed to impose a restraint upon their tempers, whose ardent spirits would rather be familiar with dangers than run on the course of life smoothly and at ease—how often have such persons turned upon the slanderer their terrible vengeance, and wiped out the stains of injured honour in their defamer's blood ? How often do the whispers of calumny generate that fatal strife, which so frequently ends in sanctioned, or, at least, tolerated murder-sanctioned by the laws of polished life, although a direct violation of the express law of the land! These are, I might say, daily occurrences among us, and yet the voice of defa

mation ceases not to be heard. It is listened to with complacency, and its bold assertions are often much more readily credited than that defence which the injured object of its malice may set up against them. The human heart, probably from a consciousness of its own infirmities, is much more disposed, generally, to credit evil than good of another; and it is upon this weakness of our

; nature that the slanderer practises, to effect his disingenuous purposes. But we should never fail to bear in mind that we, who think ill of another, without being well assured that our judgments are just, are quite as culpable, taking the matter in a religious view, as he who speaks ill of another : the physical injury may, indeed, be less, but the moral injury will certainly be the same.

Little as we may think of evil speaking, generally, it is by no means a transient or inconsiderable evil, even under its most apparently inoffensive modifications. It certainly never does good; we may therefore justly suspect that it must always do mischief. For where do we find the works or devices of men to be so nicely adjusted that the balance shall incline neither to good nor evil ? Besides, the absence of evil is a positive good, while the absence of good is a positive evil.

“Where no wood is,” says Solomon, “ there the fire goeth out; so, where there is no tale-bearer, the strife ceaseth.” Whence this inference arises, that if no calumnies were encouraged among us, there would be no disunion, and, in that case, many of the heaviest miseries which we undergo in this world would be utterly unknown; since it is the strifes and disunions in human societies which originate some among the worst trials of this mortal state. Surely this consideration is alone of sufficient importance to induce a hatred of evilspeaking, even under circumstances where the parties, against whom our strictures may be directed, are of questionable virtue; since we can have no more right to wrong a wicked than a good man, which we certainly do by speaking evil of him. By traducing any one, from mere report or conjecture, we assert what we do not positively know to be true; and, even if it should happen to be true, only by hazard, we nevertheless do the party wrong,

inasmuch as what we have said of him might have been false, and to expose him to the chance of injury, is, in itself, an injury.

We are not to imagine, because a man may be depraved, be it in whatever degree, that we are thereby justified in calumniating him. Our detestation of his vices arms us with no judicial authority to condemn him. It is not for sinners to judge sinners. Where can be the moral equity in transgressors pronouncing sentence against the transgressing? I do not, of course, apply this argument to a condemnation of crimes cognizable by human laws, since here is a delegated authority to judge—an authority acknowledged by all civi

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