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ledge, enlighten them with his own wisdom, and finally, reward them with everlasting happiness.
S E. R M O N
JAMES IV. II.
Speak not evil one of another.
been universally acknowledged, that those things which have power to be most serviceable, have also the power of being most pernicious; a truth never perhaps more apparent, than in that illustrious privilege which so eminently distinguisheth man from the inferior part of the creation, the privilege of communicating our sentiments to each other, by that amazing faculty of speech which God hath graciously bestowed upon us. To make it serve meaner and for other purposes than those for which it was originally designed, will doubtless subject its ungrateful possessor to the divine difpleasure. It were better, as an eminent writer observes, to have been born deftitute of speech or reason, than to make use of those noble gifts of Providence to each others destruction. The tongue, says the Apostle St.
James, is a world of wickedness; it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature: therewith bless we God the Father, and therewith curse we men, which are made after the fimilitude of God. St. James, we may observe, reproaches men for their folly and ingratitude, and deems them, what they most certainly are, both impious and absurd, to adore their Maker one moment, and in the next abuse and vilify his creatures; to pretend respect and honour for the original, and at the same time shew so much hatred and contempt for the copy and resemblance of him. These things, says the Apostle, ought not to be; they ought not, and yet they are, and perhaps ever will be fo: whilst there are men in the world, there will be calumniators; and whilft virtue and merit sublist, there will be tongues to defame and leífen them.
Passions for the most part, like habits, modes, and customs, shift and vary with a variable world, but evil-speaking is a vice that will be always in fashion. Some diseases affect some bodies and ages only; some plants and trees thrive but in that foil which is peculiar to their natures; but this disease affects
every constitution, this weed sprouts up in every clime, and flourishes in every foil. It is indeed a vice which all men readily and univer. sally condemn, and yet which almost all men do as readily and as universally practise : crime, in short, which deferves the heartiest censure from all the lovers of truth, and the warmest resentment from all the friends of virtue, as it is destructive of the precepts, and
absolutely in opposition to the practice of our holy religion, and the divine Author of it; who came down to bring peace upon earth, and good-will towards men, that peace which the evil-speaker destroys, and that good-will which he is a stranger to, and which, as he is himself incapable of feeling, he is perpetually endeavouring to banish from the breasts of others.
Such is the hard lot of mankind, that the most valuable of our poffeffions is the most easily snatched from us, and with the greatest difficulty recovered: that beauty which fickness impairs, health may restore; and those riches which fortune deprives us of, she often repays with interest; whilst our reputation, if once loft, either by our folly, or through the malice and wickedness of others, is scarce ever to be regained. A good name, as the wise man fayeth, is like precious ointment, and one dead fly in it fpoileth the whole box. The poison of slander seldom finds an antidote, and the wounds of honour never close. Loss of character is ever attended with this peculiar miffortune, that it is not always even in the of him who stole, to restore it: the calumny may wander where the recantation cannot : the found may be gone forth into all parts, and the report unto the ends of the world: the arrow of the slanderer cannot be recalled, and falsehood
travel too fast, for truth ever to overtake her.
When we consider how much the welfare and prosperity of men depends on their good name; however little virtue in this degene.
rate age is either loved or rewarded ; yet notwithstanding, even the semblance of it is treated with honour and respect: when we confider, at the same time, how many there are amongst us whose integrity perhaps is all their wealth, whose credit and character is all their guard and support, we cannot wonder all should be fo tenacious of that which all are so nearly concerned in, and which it is so much their interest to preserve.
It is not to be imagined that men would ever tamely suffer their lives and properties to be endangered, and the well-being of fociety undermined, without the strongest re. sentment. Self-preservation, therefore, long since taught them, by salutary laws, to guard against the impiety of those who by false testimony should endeavour to defraud and in. jure their neighbour; and accordingly we find in all ages and nations, that species of evil. fijeaking which adds impiety to falsehood, and rises to the heinous guilt of perjury, hath ever been fubjected to its deserved punishment by the laws of the community. But as this is a branch of the vice under our consideration, which few, it is to be hoped, are abandoned enough to practise, I shall not at present dwell upon it, but proceed to the other species of it, perhaps equally destructive of the
and happiness of mankind, though, for reasons fufficiently obvious, they do not fall within the reach of human judicature.
And amongst these cruel destroyers of every thing that is good and virtuous, slander stands
foremost in the list: a bold and daring adversary, that attacks all without mercy and without distinction, and depends (not without too good foundation) on a credulous and idle world for that belief and support which it so often meets with. When indeed we call to mind how greedily every idle tale is devoured, and with how much pleasure those are heard who propagate false reports, we cannot fo much wonder at the number of voluntary labourers in the service of calumny; credit of this kind is easily gained amongst the weak and inconsiderate, the foolish, and the vicious, which form perhaps the greatest part of mankind.
Still more frequent and more fatal is the malignancy of this evil when the coward lies concealed, and cannot be called upon to fupport his assertions; the pestilence that walketh in darkness is more to be feared than the ar. row which flieth at noon-day.
There is not a truer observation than that those only are capable of praising virtue who do themselves practise it; whilft, on the other hand, the lowest and most abandoned of men can censure the faults, and deride the weaknesses of the most exalted beings. How often do the best and noblest characters fall a facri. fice to the lowest and most contemptible! how often hath a worthless and insignificant creature, without one good quality to recommend him, by artful insinuations and malicious falsehood, ruined the peace and undermined the happiness of a whole innocent and virtuous