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AGAINST RASH CENSURING AND JUDGING.
MATTHEW, CHAP. VII.-VERSE 1.
THESE words, being part of our Saviour's most divine sermon on the mount, contain a very short precept, but of vast use and consequence; the observance whereof would much conduce to the good of the world, and to the private quiet of each man : it interdicting a practice, which commonly produceth very mischievous and troublesome effects; a practice never rare among men, but now very rife; when, with the general causes, which ever did and ever will in some measure dispose men thereto, some special ones do concur, that powerfully incline to it.
There are innate to men an unjust pride, emboldening them to take on them beyond what belongeth to them, or doth become them; an excessive self-love, prompting them as to flatter themselves in their own conceit, so to undervalue others, and from vilifying their neighbors, to seek commendation to themselves; an envious malignity, which ever lusteth to be pampered with finding or making faults; many corrupt affections, springing from fleshly nature, which draw or drive men to this practice; so that in all ages it hath been very common, and never any profession hath been so much invaded, as that of the judge.
But divers peculiar causes have such an influence on our age, as more strongly to sway men thereto : there is a wonderful affectation to seem hugely wise and witty; and how can we seem such more than in putting on the garb and countenance of
judges; scanning and passing sentence on all persons and all things incident? There is an extreme niceness and delicacy of conceit, which maketh us apt to relish few things, and to distaste any thing; there are dissensions in opinion, and addictedness to parties, which do tempt us, and seem to authorise us in condemning all that differ from us; there is a deep corruption of mind and manners, which engageth men in their own defence to censure others, diverting the blame from home, and shrouding their own under the covert of other men's faults;* there are new principles of morality and policy become current with great vogue, which allow to do or say any thing subservient to our interests or designs; which also do represent all men so bad, that, admitting them true, nothing hardly can be said ill of any man beyond truth and justice.
Hence is the world become so extremely critical and censorious, that in many places the chief employment of men, and the main body of conversation is, if we mark it, taken up in judging ;+ every gossiping is, as it were, a court of justice; every seat becometh a tribunal; at every table standeth a bar, whereto all men are cited, whereat every man, as it happeneth, is arraigned and sentenced: no sublimity or sacredness of dignity, no integrity or innocence of life, no prudence or circumspection of demeanor can exempt any person from it: not one escapeth being taxed under some scandalous name, or odious character, one or other. Not only the outward actions and visible practices of men are judged; but their retired sentiments are brought under trial, their inward dispositions have a verdict passed on them, their final states are determined. Whole bodies of men are thus judged at once, and nothing it is in one breath to damn whole churches, at one push to throw down whole nations into the bottomless pit. All mankind in a lump is severely censured, as void of any real goodness or true virtue; so fatally depraved as not to be corrigible by any good discipline, not to be
* Expedit vobis neminem videri bonum; quasi aliena virtus exprobratio vestrorum delictorum sit.-Sen. de Vit. B. xix.
† Εἰς τὰ τῶν ἄλλων πολυπραγμονεῖν καὶ καταδικάζειν δαπανᾶται ἡμῖν ἅπας δ βίος· καὶ οὐδένα ἂν εὕροις ταχέως, οὐ βιωτικὸν ἄνδρα, οὐ μοναχὸν ταύτης ἐλεύ θερον τῆς ἁμαρτίας, καίτοιγε τοσαύτης ἀπειλῆς κειμένης αὐτῇ.—Chrys. ad den. t. vi. Orat. 42.
recoverable even by the grace of God: yea God himself is hardly spared, his providence coming under the bold obloquy of those, who, as the psalmist speaketh of some in his time, whose race doth yet survive, speak loftily, and set their mouth against the heavens.'
This being too apparently the present state of things, and obvious practice of men, it were desirable that, in order to their being reclaimed, men commonly did well understand the nature of this practice, with the heinous guilt, and consequently the deadly hazard they do incur thereby at this purpose my discourse shall aim, wherein I shall endeavor both to describe the nature of the practice forbidden in my text, and to declare the pravity, iniquity, and folly of it.
'Judge not.' As to the word, we may observe that it being in itself according to its primitive sense of a middle and indifferent signification, is yet frequently in the Scripture used in the worst sense: so as to import those acts or those effects of judgment, which pass to the disadvantage of the persons subjected thereto; for condemnation, and for infliction of punishment and this sense here surely the word doth principally respect, yet not so precisely as to exclude somewhat contained in the larger sense we are so prohibited the condemning and punishing our neighbor in his good name, that withal some acts antecedent or concomitant to those, are glanced at in the prohibition: undue application thereto, unjust proceeding therein are also signified unlawful; for the meaning of the word and the reason of the case may be so far extended.
But for the fuller and clearer understanding of the matter, we must observe that there are divers sorts of judging, or acts resembling judgment, which do not belong to this precept; which it is requisite to distinguish from this judging prohibited.
1. That exercising public judgment, or administering justice, is not here prohibited, I need not to insist, that is necessary; human society could not subsist, right could not be maintained, nor peace preserved without it; God thereby governeth the world, earthly judges being his instruments and substitutes; such judgment is not so much the act of men, as of God himself, by whose authority, in whose name, for whose service it is ministered. As Moses told the judges in his time, You shall
not be afraid of the face of man; for the judgment is God's.' And in numberless places of Scripture this judgment is allowed and authorised; it therefore is not touched here.
2. That trial and censure, although out of court, and without formal process, which any kind of superiors do exercise on their inferiors, committed to their inspection and care; such as of parents over children, masters over servants, pastors over their flock, any governors over their charge, their admonitions, reprehensions, and corrections are to be excepted hence, as being in themselves needful and warranted, yea enjoined by God.
3. Neither are fraternal correption or friendly reproof, proceeding out of charitable design, on clear ground, in fit season, within reasonable compass, concerned in this prohibition; this being a wholesome practice, and a duty incumbent on us : 'Thou shalt,' saith the law, not hate thy brother in thine heart; thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbor, and not suffer sin on him.'
4. All observing and reflecting on our neighbor's actions, all framing an opinion about them, and expressing our minds concerning them are not forbidden. For we are not bound perpetually to shut our eyes, or go about hood-winked; nor to stop our ears and make ourselves deaf; and how can we forbear to think according to plain evidence? how can we resist the impressions of sense on our minds? how can we contest notorious experience? how also, barring such apprehensions of obvious and apparent things, could we bear testimony concerning them? how could we signify our approbation or dislike of them? how could we for his amendment admonish or reprove our neighbor, as in some cases we are obliged to do?
5. We are not hence obliged to think so well of all men, as without competent knowlege always to rely on their pretences, or to intrust our interests in their hands; for common experience acquainteth us that we may be deceived in trusting men, prudence biddeth us in matters of importance not to confide in uncertainties; wherefore we shall not be culpable for being wary in such cases: this indeed is not a positive judgment, but only a waving to declare in favor, when sufficient ground of doing so doth not appear; it is only a reasonable suspecting the possibility of miscarriage in some persons, not a downright
asserting ill concerning any one man: wherefore to do it as it suiteth discretion, so it doth not thwart justice or charity; and cannot therefore be prohibited here.
6. We are also not hence obliged, in contradiction to plain sense, to judge well of men; accounting him for a saint, or a good man, whom we see living disorderly, or committing scandalous offences, plainly repugnant to the rules of piety, justice, or sobriety.
In fine, there are some special cases and circumstances wherein good men excusably may in severe terms declare their resentment of manifest wickedness, especially such as is prejudicial to God's honor and public good. Of this there are divers instances, which yet hardly can be reduced to common rules, or proposed for general example; the matter being ticklish, and men being apt to pervert any liberty or pretence of this kind, by indulging to their own bad humours and passions.
These sorts of allowable judgments being excepted, it is then private, affected, needless, groundless, rash, and harsh censuring the persons or actions of our brethren; such as doth resemble not the acting of a lawful superior, of a needful witness, of a faithful friend, but of a judge acting without competent right, on no good grounds, or in undue manner, which is here interdicted: the word 'judging' doth well imply the nature of this fault, the manner of our proceeding therein, the grounds of its unlawfulness; neither perhaps can we better understand our duty in this matter, than by expending what' are the properties and obligations of a judge, and comparing our practice thereto; for thence it may plainly appear how unqualified we are to bear this office, and how unduly we execute it.
1. No judge should intrude himself into the office, or assume a judicial power without competent authority; that is, by delegation from superior powers, or by voluntary reference of the parties concerned. This condition we fail in, whenever without warrant from God, or special reason exacting it from us, we do pry into, scan, and tax the actions of our neighbor. When, I say, we are pragmatically inquisitive into the purposes and proceedings of our superiors, of our equals, of those who