Imatges de pÓgina

If you cannot help your neighbor, yet, at least, you can forbear to hurt him. If you cannot contribute to his relief in trouble, yet you can be silent; you need not dissuade other people from relieving him. If you cannot afford direct aid in the promotion of a good cause, yet you are under no necessity of opposing the cause, and diverting the honest intentions of better men.

With respect to this branch of duty, we ought to exercise particular caution, because it is always more in our power to do hurt, than to do good. It is easier to inflict a wound, than to heal it-easier to destroy property, than to replace it easier to injure a fair reputation than to repair it-easier to corrupt good manners, than to restore them.

Besides: The injuries which we do to a man are more sensibly felt, than our kindnesses. The diminution of his substance or reputation gives him more pain, than an equal addition to either of them would give him pleasure. We can more easily detract from his enjoyment, than we can increase it. The former may be done in a moment, by a single word or action; the latter is ordinarily a work of time, attention and diligence.

For this reason the Author of our nature has put into our constitution stronger restraints from injuring others, than excitements to help them. We sympathize with the distresses of our neighbors more feelingly, than with their felicities. Our compassion for a man, who has suddenly lost half his substance, even though he has enough left, is much more powful, than our joy would be at an equal addition to his substance, though even then it might not be too large. This natural compassion for human misery is designed, not only to prompt our endeavors for its relief, but also to restrain us from actions which would cause, or increase it.

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Hence to do evil is more criminal, than to omit doing good, because it is a more direct violation of the constitution of nature.

Solomon not only exhorts us, in the text, to da good; but cautions us, as in the following words, not to do evil: "Devise not evil against thy neighbor, seeing he dwelleth securely by thee. Strive not with a man, without cause, if he have done thee no harm. Envy not the oppressor, and choose none of his ways; for the froward is an abomination to the Lord, but his secret is with the righteous."

We will here mention some of those ways in which we are liable to hurt our neighbors, and which we must cautiously shun, if we intend to do them good.

1. It is possible, we may injure them in our thoughts, and do them evil by indulging a bad opin

ion of them.

You will say, "Whatever thoughts I have of my neighbor, if I keep them to myself, what hurt is done him?" Less, besure, than if you published them; but still some hurt is done him. He values the good opinion of others, and yours among the rest. And if you think evil of him without cause, you so far injure him, though you never should speak a word against him.

Besides: Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh." If you indulge evil thoughts of him, these thoughts will grow into hatred; and it is a wonder, if, in some companies and on some occasions, you do not let them out, and throw them into circulation. No man's reputation is safe, while it depends on the caution of one who hates him.

But though you should keep your thoughts to yourself, they will, at least, influence your own conduct toward him. You will not be so forward to help him in trouble, to defend him against slander,

to employ him in your service, or to trust him with your property, as if you thought justly of him.And the reserve with which you treat him, will influence the conduct of others toward him. Your evil thoughts, however secret you aim to keep them, will be more mischievous than you imagine.

The religion of Christ forbids jealousies, envyings and evil surmisings. It cautions us not to judge and set at nought our brethren, It requires us in lowliness of mind to esteem others better than ourselves. It enjoins that charity, which thinketh no evil, but hopeth all things.

The better we think of others, the more agreeable will be our feelings toward them, and the more easy the duties, which we owe them.

There are those, whose evil manners determine their character. But we ought always to think favorably where we can. In doubtful cases, our hearts should incline to the charitable side. Charity may go on presumption; censure must always have evidence. If charity errs, it is excuseable; if censure errs, it is criminal. We always have a right to think well of men without direct proof of their goodness: We have no right to think evil of them without positive evidence of their wickedness.

We should distinguish between particular actions and a general character. We may see in others some instances of conduct, which we disapprove, while we esteem their character at large. Their wrong actions may be but imprudences or mistakes, the effects of passion, temptation, or misinformation; not of vicious habit or perverse disposition. A course of criminal action indicates a corrupt heart, That we may think well of men, we must make it a rule to excuse where we can; to condemn only where we must,

This leads us to say,

2dly. Much hurt is done by slander.

If a man may suffer injury by our uncharitable opinion of him, much greater injury will he suffer by our proclaiming this uncharitable opinion. By a secret suspicion he is deprived of the favor of one; by open slander he is deprived of the favor of


A good character is what men value more than property. The love of esteem is a primary and natural passion. The love of property is a secondary passion, growing out of the former. In a state of uncultivated nature men pay little regard to property, farther than to supply their real wants; but they naturally love and seek distinction. In a state of civil society men seek property, beyond what their wants require, because this gives them distinction and raises their importance, Hence slander used in our language is a greater crime, and a more sensible wrong, than injustice practised in our dealings, because it tends more to deprive a man of that social esteem and confidence, which he values more than property. And it is often an injury in a double respect. You may take away a man's property by injustice without hurting his character. But if you destroy his reputation, you hurt him in the business of his profession, deprive him of the confidence of his neighbors, and thus injure him in his substance.

Many will take up, and spread around infamous reports of a neighbor, when they would abhor the thought of breaking open his house, or robbing him of his money; and yet the latter is a more tolerable evil, and a less heinous crime. He can better defend his property, than his name, and can more easily obtain redress in the loss of his substance, than in the loss of his reputation. If you destroy his substance, you injure him, and perhaps him only;

at the worst, the injury falls on but few. If you destroy his character, you injure all who are nearly connected with him in business, or affection; and if he is in a public station, you injure society.

We are not bound to think or speak well of all men. "Some men's sins are open beforehand going before unto judgment." And if they will take no care of their own reputation, they are not to expect, that we should treat it with much tenderness. He who forfeits his character, must blame himself for the loss. But if we rob a good man of his reputation, the guilt lies on us.

Public and notorious crimes may be subjects of our discourse in a way of lamentation, or of mutual warning. The evil, which we know of another, we may mention to a third person to prevent imposition. This is just—this is benevolent. But we are never to speak evil of another without evidence of the truth of what we say, nor without some reasonable cause for speaking what we know. We should never pay much regard to defamatory stories handed round by an enemy of the person defamed, or by one addicted to slandering his neighbors, or by one who loves to sow discord among brethren. If we suspect evil of a man, it is better to expostulate with him in private, than to make our suspicions public. We should be cautious how we speak and what we say of those, against whom we feel a strong prejudice or unfriendly passion-of those who belong to another sect or party, or who have supplanted us in a competition, or opposed us in a favorite design. If we have occasion to speak evil of such persons, let us not say too much, nor convey to others a worse opinion, than we ourselves entertain. Dark hints, and oblique insinuations are the worst kind of slander, because they leave the hearers to suspect any

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