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Title: Sermons on Evil-Speaking
Author: Barrow, Isaac, 1630-1677
Language: English
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Introduction by Professor Henry Morley.

Against Foolish Talking and Jesting.

Against Rash and Vain Swearing.

Of Evil-speaking in General.

The Folly of Slander. Part 1.

The Folly of Slander. Part 2.


Isaac Barrow was born in London in 1630.  His father was draper to 
the king.  His mother died when he was four years old.  He was named 
Isaac after an uncle, who died in 1680, Bishop of St. Asaph.  Young 
Isaac Barrow was educated at the Charterhouse School, and at 
Felstead, before he went, in 1643, to Cambridge.  He entered first 
at Peterhouse, where his uncle Isaac was a Fellow, but at that time 
his uncle was ejected from his Fellowship for loyalty to the King's 
cause, and removed to Oxford; the nephew, who entered at Cambridge, 
therefore avoided Peterhouse, and went to Trinity College.  Young 
Barrow's father also was at Oxford, where he gave up all his worldly 
means in service of the King.

The young student at Cambridge did not conceal his royalist feeling, 
but obtained, nevertheless, a scholarship at Trinity, with some 
exemptions from the Puritan requirements of subscription.  He took 
his B.A. degree in 1648, and in 1649 was elected to a fellowship of 
Trinity, on the same day with his most intimate college friend John 
Ray, the botanist.  Ray held in the next year several college 
offices; was made in 1651 lecturer in Greek, and in 1653 lecturer in 
Mathematics.  Barrow proceeded to his M.A. in 1652, and was admitted 
to the same degree at Oxford in 1653.  In 1654, Dr. Dupont, who had 
been tutor to Barrow and Ray, and held the University Professorship 
of Greek, resigned, and used his interest, without success, to get 
Barrow appointed in his place.  Isaac Barrow was then a young man of 
four-and-twenty, with the courage of his opinions in politics and in 
church questions, which were not the opinions of those in power.

In 1655 Barrow left Cambridge, having sold his books to raise money 
for travel.  He went to Paris, where his father was with other 
royalists, and gave some help to his father.  Then he went on to 
Italy, made stay at Florence, and on a voyage from Leghorn to Smyrna 
stood to a gun in fight with a pirate ship from Algiers that was 
beaten off.  At college and upon his travels Barrow was helped by 
the liberality of public spirited men who thought him worth their 
aid.  He went on to Constantinople, where he studied the Greek 
Fathers of the Church; and he spent more than a year in Turkey.  He 
returned through Germany and Holland, reached England in the year 
before the Restoration, and then, at the age of twenty-nine, he 
entered holy orders, for which in all his studies he had been 

The Cambridge Greek Professorship, which had before been denied him, 
was obtained by Barrow immediately after the Restoration.  Soon 
afterwards he was chosen to be Professor of Geometry at Gresham 
College.  In 1663 he preached the sermon in Westminster Abbey at the 
consecration of his uncle, Isaac, as Bishop of St. Asaph.  In that 
year also he became, at Cambridge, the first Lucasian Professor of 
Mathematics, for which office he resigned his post at Gresham 

As Lucasian Professor of Mathematics, Isaac Barrow had among his 
pupils Isaac Newton.  Newton succeeded to the chair in 1669.  Barrow 
resigned because he feared that the duties of the mathematical chair 
drew his thoughts too much from the duties of the pulpit, towards 
the full performance of which he had desired all studies to be aids.  
He was then intent upon the writing of an "Exposition of the Creed, 
Decalogue, and Sacraments."  He held a prebend in Salisbury 
Cathedral, and a living in Wales, that yielded little for his 
support after the Professorship had been resigned.  But he was one 
of the King's chaplains, was made D.D. by the King in 1670, and in 
1672 he was appointed Master of Trinity by Charles II., who said, 
when he appointed Isaac Barrow, "that he gave the post to the best 
scholar in England."  Barrow was Vice-Chancellor of the University 
when he died in 1677, during a visit to London on the business of 
his college.

The sermons here given were first published in 1678, in a volume 
entitled "Several Sermons against Evil-speaking."  That volume 
contained ten sermons, of which the publisher said that "the two 
last, against pragmaticalness and meddling in the affairs of others, 
do not so properly belong to this subject."  The sermons here given 
follow continuously, beginning with the second in the series.  The 
text of the first sermon was "If any man offend not in word, he is a 
perfect man."  The texts to the last three were:  "Speak not evil 
one of another, brethren;" "Judge not;" and "That ye study to be 
quiet, and to do your own business."

There were also published in 1678, the year after Barrow's death, a 
sermon preached by him on the Good Friday before he died, a volume 
of "Twelve Sermons preached upon several Occasions," and the second 
edition of a sermon on the "Duty and Reward of Bounty to the Poor."  
Barrow's works were collected by Archbishop Tillotson, and 
published, in four folio volumes, in the years 1683-1687.  There 
were other editions in three folios in 1716, in 1722, and in 1741.  
Dr. Dibdin said of Barrow that he "had the clearest head with which 
mathematics ever endowed an individual, and one of the purest and 
most unsophisticated hearts that ever beat in the human breast."  In 
these sermons against Evil Speaking he distinguishes as clearly as 
Shakespeare does between the playfulness of kindly mirth that draws 
men nearer to each other and the words that make division.  No man 
was more free than Isaac Barrow from the spirit of unkindness.  The 
man speaks in these sermons.  Yet he could hold his own in wit with 
the light triflers of the court of Charles the Second.  It is of him 
that the familiar story is told of a playful match at mock courtesy 
with the Earl of Rochester, who meeting Dr. Barrow near the king's 
chamber bowed low, saying, "I am yours, doctor, to the knee 
strings."  Barrow (bowing lower), "I am yours, my lord, to the shoe-
tie."  Rochester:  "Yours, doctor, down to the ground."  Barrow:  
"Yours, my lord, to the centre of the earth."  Rochester (not to be 
out-done):  "Yours, doctor, to the lowest pit of hell."  Barrow:  
"There, my lord, I must leave you."

Barrow's mathematical power gave clearness to his sermons, which 
were full of sense and piety.  They were very carefully written, 
copied and recopied, and now rank with the most valued pieces of the 
literature of the pulpit.  He was deeply religious, although he had, 
besides learning, a lively wit, and never lost the pluck that taught 
him how to man a gun against a pirate.  He was "low of stature, 
lean, and of a pale complexion," so untidy that on one occasion his 
appearance in the pulpit is said to have caused half the 
congregation to go out of church.  He gave his whole mind and his 
whole soul to his work for God.  Mythical tales are told of the 
length of some of his sermons, at a time when an hour's sermon was 
not considered long.  Of one charity-sermon the story is that it 
lasted three hours and a half, and that Barrow was requested to 
print it--"with the other half which he had not had time to 
deliver."  But we may take this tale as one of the quips at which 
Barrow himself would have laughed very good-humouredly.
                                             H. M.



"Nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient."--
Ephes. v.4.

Moral and political aphorisms are seldom couched in such terms that 
they should be taken as they sound precisely, or according to the 
widest extent of signification; but do commonly need exposition, and 
admit exception:  otherwise frequently they would not only clash 
with reason and experience, but interfere, thwart, and supplant one 
another.  The best masters of such wisdom are wont to interdict 
things, apt by unseasonable or excessive use to be perverted, in 
general forms of speech, leaving the restrictions, which the case 
may require or bear, to be made by the hearer's or interpreter's 
discretion; whence many seemingly formal prohibitions are to be 
received only as sober cautions.  This observation may be 
particularly supposed applicable to this precept of St. Paul, which 
seemeth universally to forbid a practice commended (in some cases 
and degrees) by philosophers as virtuous, not disallowed by reason, 
commonly affected by men, often used by wise and good persons; from 
which consequently, if our religion did wholly debar us, it would 
seem chargeable with somewhat too uncouth austerity and sourness:  
from imputations of which kind as in its temper and frame it is 
really most free (it never quenching natural light or cancelling the 
dictates of sound reason, but confirming and improving them); so it 
carefully declineth them, enjoining us that "if there be any things" 
[Greek] ("lovely," or grateful to men), "any things" [Greek] ("of 
good report" and repute), "if there be any virtue and any praise" 
(anything in the common apprehensions of men held worthy and 
laudable), we should "mind those things," that is, should yield them 
a regard answerable to the esteem they carry among rational and 
sober persons.

Whence it may seem requisite so to interpret and determine St. 
Paul's meaning here concerning eutrapelia (that is, facetious 
speech, or raillery, by our translators rendered "jesting"), that he 
may consist with himself, and be reconciled to Aristotle, who 
placeth this practice in the rank of virtues; or that religion and 
reason may well accord in the case:  supposing that, if there be any 
kind of facetiousness innocent and reasonable, conformable to good 
manners (regulated by common sense, and consistent with the tenor of 
Christian duty, that is, not transgressing the bounds of piety, 
charity, and sobriety), St. Paul did not intend to discountenance or 
prohibit that kind.

For thus expounding and limiting his intent we have some warrant 
from himself, some fair intimations in the words here.  For first, 
what sort of facetious speech he aimeth at, he doth imply by the 
fellow he coupleth therewith; [Greek], saith he, [Greek] (foolish 
talking, or facetiousness):  such facetiousness therefore he 
toucheth as doth include folly, in the matter or manner thereof.  
Then he further determineth it, by adjoining a peculiar quality 
thereof, unprofitableness, or impertinency; [Greek] (which are not 
pertinent), or conducible to any good purpose:  whence may be 
collected that it is a frivolous and idle sort of facetiousness 
which he condemneth.

But, however, manifest it is that some kind thereof he doth 
earnestly forbid:  whence, in order to the guidance of our practice, 
it is needful to distinguish the kinds, severing that which is 
allowable from that which is unlawful; that so we may be satisfied 
in the case, and not on the one hand ignorantly transgress our duty, 
nor on the other trouble ourselves with scruples, others with 
censures, upon the use of warrantable liberty therein.

And such a resolution seemeth indeed especially needful in this our 
age (this pleasant and jocular age) which is so infinitely addicted 
to this sort of speaking, that it scarce doth affect or prize 
anything near so much; all reputation appearing now to veil and 
stoop to that of being a wit:  to be learned, to be wise, to be 
good, are nothing in comparison thereto; even to be noble and rich 
are inferior things, and afford no such glory.  Many at least (to 
purchase this glory, to be deemed considerable in this faculty, and 
enrolled among the wits) do not only make shipwreck of conscience, 
abandon virtue, and forfeit all pretences to wisdom; but neglect 
their estates, and prostitute their honour:  so to the private 
damage of many particular persons, and with no small prejudice to 
the public, are our times possessed and transported with this 
humour.  To repress the excess and extravagance whereof, nothing in 
way of discourse can serve better than a plain declaration when and 
how such a practice is allowable or tolerable; when it is wicked and 
vain, unworthy of a man endued with reason, and pretending to 
honesty or honour.

This I shall in some measure endeavour to perform.

But first it may be demanded what the thing we speak of is, or what 
this facetiousness doth import?  To which question I might reply as 
Democritus did to him that asked the definition of a man, "'Tis that 
which we all see and know":  any one better apprehends what it is by 
acquaintance than I can inform him by description.  It is indeed a 
thing so versatile and multiform, appearing in so many shapes, so 
many postures, so many garbs, so variously apprehended by several 
eyes and judgments, that it seemeth no less hard to settle a clear 
and certain notion thereof, than to make a portrait of Proteus, or 
to define the figure of the fleeting air.  Sometimes it lieth in pat 
allusion to a known story, or in seasonable application of a trivial 
saying, or in forging an apposite tale:  sometimes it playeth in 
words and phrases, taking advantage from the ambiguity of their 
sense, or the affinity of their sound:  sometimes it is wrapped in a 
dress of humorous expression; sometimes it lurketh under an odd 
similitude; sometimes it is lodged in a sly question, in a smart 
answer, in a quirkish reason, in a shrewd intimation, in cunningly 
diverting, or cleverly retorting an objection:  sometimes it is 
couched in a bold scheme of speech, in a tart irony, in a lusty 
hyperbole, in a startling metaphor, in a plausible reconciling of 
contradictions, or in acute nonsense:  sometimes a scenical 
representation of persons or things, a counterfeit speech, a mimical 
look or gesture passeth for it:  sometimes an affected simplicity, 
sometimes a presumptuous bluntness giveth it being; sometimes it 
riseth from a lucky hitting upon what is strange, sometimes from a 
crafty wresting obvious matter to the purpose:  often it consisteth 
in one knows not what, and springeth up one can hardly tell how.  
Its ways are unaccountable and inexplicable, being answerable to the 
numberless rovings of fancy and windings of language.  It is in 
short, a manner of speaking out of the simple and plain way (such as 
reason teacheth and proveth things by), which by a pretty surprising 
uncouthness in conceit or expression doth affect and amuse the 
fancy, stirring in it some wonder, and breeding some delight 
thereto.  It raiseth admiration, as signifying a nimble sagacity of 
apprehension, a special felicity of invention, a vivacity of spirit, 
and reach of wit more than vulgar:  it seeming to argue a rare 
quickness of parts, that one can fetch in remote conceits 
applicable; a notable skill, that he can dexterously accommodate 
them to the purpose before him; together with a lively briskness of 
humour, not apt to damp those sportful flashes of imagination.  
(Whence in Aristotle such persons are termed [Greek], dexterous men; 
and [Greek], men of facile or versatile manners, who can easily turn 
themselves to all things, or turn all things to themselves.) It also 
procureth delight, by gratifying curiosity with its rareness or 
semblance of difficulty (as monsters, not for their beauty, but 
their rarety; as juggling tricks, not for their use, but their 
abstruseness, are beheld with pleasure) by diverting the mind from 
its road of serious thoughts; by instilling gaiety and airiness of 
spirit; by provoking to such dispositions of spirit in way of 
emulation or complaisance; and by seasoning matters, otherwise 
distasteful or insipid, with an unusual, and thence grateful tang.

But saying no more concerning what it is, and leaving it to your 
imagination and experience to supply the defect of such explication, 
I shall address myself to show, first, when and how such a manner of 
speaking may be allowed; then, in what matters and ways it should be 

1.  Such facetiousness is not absolutely unreasonable or unlawful, 
which ministereth harmless divertisement, and delight to 
conversation (harmless, I say, that is, not entrenching upon piety, 
not infringing charity or justice, not disturbing peace).  For 
Christianity is not so tetrical, so harsh, so envious, as to bar us 
continually from innocent, much less from wholesome and useful 
pleasure, such as human life doth need or require.  And if jocular 
discourse may serve to good purposes of this kind; if it may be apt 
to raise our drooping spirits, to allay our irksome cares, to whet 
our blunted industry, to recreate our minds being tired and cloyed 
with graver occupations; if it may breed alacrity, or maintain good 
humour among us; if it may conduce to sweeten conversation and 
endear society; then is it not inconvenient, or unprofitable.  If 
for those ends we may use other recreations, employing on them our 
ears and eyes, our hands and feet, our other instruments of sense 
and motion, why may we not as well to them accommodate our organs of 
speech and interior sense?  Why should those games which excite our 
wits and fancies be less reasonable than those whereby our grosser 
parts and faculties are exercised?  Yea, why are not those more 
reasonable, since they are performed in a manly way, and have in 
them a smack of reason; feeling also they may be so managed, as not 
only to divert and please, but to improve and profit the mind, 
rousing and quickening it, yea sometimes enlightening and 
instructing it, by good sense conveyed in jocular expression?

It would surely be hard that we should be tied ever to knit the 
brow, and squeeze the brain (to be always sadly dumpish, or 
seriously pensive), that all divertisement of mirth and pleasantness 
should be shut out of conversation; and how can we better relieve 
our minds, or relax our thoughts, how can we be more ingenuously 
cheerful, in what more kindly way can we exhilarate ourselves and 
others, than by thus sacrificing to the Graces, as the ancients 
called it?  Are not some persons always, and all persons sometimes, 
incapable otherwise to divert themselves, than by such discourse?  
Shall we, I say, have no recreation? or must our recreations be ever 
clownish, or childish, consisting merely in rustical efforts, or in 
petty sleights of bodily strength and activity?  Were we, in fine, 
obliged ever to talk like philosophers, assigning dry reasons for 
everything, and dropping grave sentences upon all occasions, would 
it not much deaden human life, and make ordinary conversation 
exceedingly to languish?  Facetiousness therefore in such cases, and 
to such purposes, may be allowable.

2.  Facetiousness is allowable when it is the most proper instrument 
of exposing things apparently base and vile to due contempt.  It is 
many times expedient, that things really ridiculous should appear 
such, that they may be sufficiently loathed and shunned; and to 
render them such is the part of a facetious wit, and usually can 
only be compassed thereby.  When to impugn them with down-right 
reason, or to check them by serious discourse, would signify 
nothing, then representing them in a shape strangely ugly to the 
fancy, and thereby raising derision at them, may effectually 
discountenance them.  Thus did the prophet Elias expose the wicked 
superstition of those who worshipped Baal:  "Elias (saith the text) 
mocked them, and said, 'Cry aloud; for he is a god, either he is 
talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure 
he sleeps, and must be awaked.'"  By which one pregnant instance it 
appeareth that reasoning pleasantly-abusive in some cases may be 
useful.  The Holy Scripture doth not indeed use it frequently (it 
not suiting the Divine simplicity and stately gravity thereof to do 
so); yet its condescension thereto at any time sufficiently doth 
authorise a cautious use thereof.  When sarcastic twitches are 
needful to pierce the thick skins of men, to correct their lethargic 
stupidity, to rouse them out of their drowsy negligence, then may 
they well be applied when plain declarations will not enlighten 
people to discern the truth and weight of things, and blunt 
arguments will not penetrate to convince or persuade them to their 
duty, then doth reason freely resign its place to wit, allowing it 
to undertake its work of instruction and reproof.

3.  Facetious discourse particularly may be commodious for reproving 
some vices, and reclaiming some persons (as salt for cleansing and 
curing some sores).  It commonly procureth a more easy access to the 
ears of men, and worketh a stronger impression on their hearts, than 
other discourse could do.  Many who will not stand a direct reproof, 
and cannot abide to be plainly admonished of their fault, will yet 
endure to be pleasantly rubbed, and will patiently bear a jocund 
wipe; though they abominate all language purely bitter or sour, yet 
they can relish discourse having in it a pleasant tartness.  You 
must not chide them as their master, but you may gibe with them as 
their companion.  If you do that, they will take you for pragmatical 
and haughty; this they may interpret friendship and freedom.  Most 
men are of that temper; and particularly the genius of divers 
persons, whose opinions and practices we should strive to correct, 
doth require not a grave and severe, but a free and merry way of 
treating them.  For what can be more unsuitable and unpromising, 
than to seem serious with those who are not so themselves, or demure 
with the scornful?  If we design either to please or vex them into 
better manners, we must be as sportful in a manner, or as 
contemptuous as themselves.  If we mean to be heard by them, we must 
talk in their own fashion, with humour and jollity; if we will 
instruct them, we must withal somewhat divert them:  we must seem to 
play with them if we think to convey any sober thoughts into them.  
They scorn to be formally advised or taught; but they may perhaps be 
slily laughed and lured into a better mind.  If by such complaisance 
we can inveigle those dottrels to hearken to us, we may induce them 
to consider farther, and give reason some competent scope, some fair 
play with them.  Good reason may be apparelled in the garb of wit, 
and therein will securely pass whither in its native homeliness it 
could never arrive:  and being come thither, it with especial 
advantage may impress good advice, making an offender more clearly 
to see, and more deeply to feel his miscarriage; being represented 
to his fancy in a strain somewhat rare and remarkable, yet not so 
fierce and frightful.  The severity of reproof is tempered, and the 
reprover's anger disguised thereby.  The guilty person cannot but 
observe that he who thus reprehends him is not disturbed or out of 
humour, and that he rather pitieth than hateth him; which breedeth a 
veneration to him, and imparteth no small efficacy to his wholesome 
suggestions.  Such a reprehension, while it forceth a smile without, 
doth work remorse within; while it seemeth to tickle the ear, doth 
sting the heart.  In fine, many whose foreheads are brazed and 
hearts steeled against all blame, are yet not of proof against 
derision; divers, who never will be reasoned, may be rallied in 
better order:  in which cases raillery, as an instrument of so 
important good, as a servant of the best charity, may be allowed.

4.  Some errors likewise in this way may be most properly and most 
successfully confuted; such as deserve not, and hardly can bear a 
serious and solid confutation.  He that will contest things 
apparently decided by sense and experience, or who disavows clear 
principles of reason, approved by general consent and the common 
sense of men, what other hopeful way is there of proceeding with 
him, than pleasantly to explode his conceits?  To dispute seriously 
with him were trifling; to trifle with him is the proper course.  
Since he rejecteth the grounds of reasoning, 'tis vain to be in 
earnest; what then remains but to jest with him?  To deal seriously 
were to yield too much respect to such a baffler, and too much 
weight to his fancies; to raise the man too high in his courage and 
conceit; to make his pretences seem worthy the considering and 
canvassing.  Briefly, perverse obstinacy is more easily quelled, 
petulant impudence is sooner dashed, sophistical captiousness is 
more safely eluded, sceptical wantonness is more surely confounded 
in this than in the simple way of discourse.

5.  This way is also commonly the best way of defence against unjust 
reproach and obloquy.  To yield to a slanderous reviler a serious 
reply, or to make a formal plea against his charge, doth seem to 
imply that we much consider or deeply resent it; whereas by pleasant 
reflection on it we signify the matter only deserves contempt, and 
that we take ourselves unconcerned therein.  So easily without care 
or trouble may the brunts of malice be declined or repelled.

6.  This may be allowed in way of counterbalancing and in compliance 
to the fashion of others.  It would be a disadvantage unto truth and 
virtue if their defenders were barred from the use of this weapon, 
since it is that especially whereby the patrons of error and vice do 
maintain and propagate them.  They being destitute of good reason, 
do usually recommend their absurd and pestilent notions by a 
pleasantness of conceit and expression, bewitching the fancies of 
shallow hearers, and inveigling heedless persons to a liking of 
them; and if, for reclaiming such people, the folly of those 
seducers may in like manner be displayed as ridiculous and odious, 
why should that advantage be refused?  It is wit that wageth the war 
against reason, against virtue, against religion; wit alone it is 
that perverteth so many, and so greatly corrupteth the world.  It 
may, therefore, be needful, in our warfare for those dearest 
concerns, to sort the manner of our fighting with that of our 
adversaries, and with the same kind of arms to protect goodness, 
whereby they do assail it.  If wit may happily serve under the 
banner of truth and virtue, we may impress it for that service; and 
good it were to rescue so worthy a faculty from so vile abuse.  It 
is the right of reason and piety to command that and all other 
endowments; folly and impiety do only usurp them.  Just and fit 
therefore it is to wrest them out of so bad hands, to revoke them to 
their right use and duty.

It doth especially seem requisite to do it in this age, wherein 
plain reason is deemed a dull and heavy thing.  When the mental 
appetite of men is become like the corporal, and cannot relish any 
food without some piquant sauce, so that people will rather starve 
than live on solid fare; when substantial and sound discourse 
findeth small attention or acceptance; in such a time, he that can, 
may in complaisance, and for fashion's sake, vouchsafe to be 
facetious; an ingenious vein coupled with an honest mind may be a 
good talent; he shall employ wit commendably who by it can further 
the interests of goodness, alluring men first to listen, then 
inducing them to consent unto its wholesome dictates and precepts.

Since men are so irreclaimably disposed to mirth and laughter, it 
may be well to set them in the right pin, to divert their humour 
into the proper channel, that they may please themselves in deriding 
things which deserve it, ceasing to laugh at that which requireth 
reverence or horror.

It may also be expedient to put the world out of conceit that all 
sober and good men are a sort of such lumpish or sour people that 
they can utter nothing but flat and drowsy stuff, by showing them 
that such persons, when they see cause, in condescension, can be as 
brisk and smart as themselves; when they please, can speak 
pleasantly and wittily, as well as gravely and judiciously.  This 
way at least, in respect to the various palates of men, may for 
variety sake be sometimes attempted, when other means do fail; when 
many strict and subtle arguings, many zealous declamations, many 
wholesome serious discourses have been spent, without effecting the 
extirpation of bad principles, or conversion of those who abet them; 
this course may be tried, and some perhaps may be reclaimed thereby.

7.  Furthermore, the warrantableness of this practice in some cases 
may be inferred from a parity of reason, in this manner.  If it be 
lawful (as by the best authorities it plainly doth appear to be), in 
using rhetorical schemes, poetical strains, involutions of sense in 
allegories, fables, parables, and riddles, to discoast from the 
plain and simple way of speech, why may not facetiousness, issuing 
from the same principles, directed to the same ends, serving to like 
purposes, be likewise used blamelessly?  If those exorbitancies of 
speech may be accommodated to instill good doctrine into the head, 
to excite good passions in the heart, to illustrate and adorn the 
truth, in a delightful and taking way, and facetious discourse be 
sometimes notoriously conducible to the same ends, why, they being 
retained, should it be rejected, especially considering how 
difficult often it may be to distinguish those forms of discourse 
from this, or exactly to define the limits which sever rhetoric and 
raillery.  Some elegant figures and trophies of rhetoric (biting 
sarcasms, sly ironies, strong metaphors, lofty hyperboles, 
paronomasies, oxymorons, and the like, frequently used by the best 
speakers, and not seldom even by sacred writers) do lie very near 
upon the confines of jocularity, and are not easily differenced from 
those sallies of wit wherein the lepid way doth consist:  so that 
were this wholly culpable, it would be matter of scruple whether one 
hath committed a fault or no when he meant only to play the orator 
or the poet; and hard surely it would be to find a judge who could 
precisely set out the difference between a jest and a flourish.

8.  I shall only add, that of old even the sagest and gravest 
persons (persons of most rigid and severe virtue) did much affect 
this kind of discourse, and did apply it to noble purposes.  The 
great introducer of moral wisdom among the pagans did practise it so 
much (by it repressing the windy pride and fallacious vanity of 
sophisters in his time), that he thereby got the name of [Greek], 
the droll; and the rest of those who pursued his design do, by 
numberless stories and apophthegms recorded of them, appear well 
skilled and much delighted in this way.  Many great princes (as 
Augustus Caesar, for one, many of whose jests are extant in 
Macrobius), many grave statesmen (as Cicero particularly, who 
composed several books of jests), many famous captains (as Fabius, 
M. Cato the Censor, Scipio Africanus, Epaminondas, Themistocles, 
Phocion, and many others, whose witty sayings together with their 
martial exploits are reported by historians), have pleased 
themselves herein, and made it a condiment of their weighty 
businesses.  So that practising thus (within certain rule and 
compass), we cannot err without great patterns, and mighty patrons.

9.  In fine, since it cannot be shown that such a sportfulness of 
wit and fancy doth contain an intrinsic and inseparable turpitude; 
since it may be so cleanly, handsomely, and innocently used, as not 
to defile or discompose the mind of the speaker, nor to wrong or 
harm the hearer, nor to derogate from any worthy subject of 
discourse, nor to infringe decency, to disturb peace, to violate any 
of the grand duties incumbent on us (piety, charity, justice, 
sobriety), but rather sometimes may yield advantage in those 
respects; it cannot well absolutely and universally be condemned:  
and when not used upon improper matter, in an unfit manner, with 
excessive measure, at undue season, to evil purpose, it may be 
allowed.  It is bad objects, or bad adjuncts, which do spoil its 
indifference and innocence; it is the abuse thereof, to which (as 
all pleasant things are dangerous, and apt to degenerate into baits 
of intemperance and excess) it is very liable, that corrupteth it; 
and seemeth to be the ground why in so general terms it is 
prohibited by the Apostle.  Which prohibition to what cases, or what 
sorts of jesting it extendeth, we come now to declare.

II.  1.  All profane jesting, all speaking loosely and wantonly 
about holy things (things nearly related to God and religion), 
making such things the matters of sport and mockery, playing and 
trifling with them, is certainly prohibited, as an intolerably vain 
and wicked practice.  It is an infallible sign of a vain and light 
spirit, which considereth little, and cannot distinguish things, to 
talk slightly concerning persons of high dignity, to whom especial 
respect is due; or about matters of great importance, which deserve 
very serious consideration.  No man speaketh, or should speak, of 
his prince, that which he hath not weighed whether it will consist 
with that veneration which should be preserved inviolate to him.  
And is not the same, is not much greater care to be used in regard 
to the incomparably great and glorious Majesty of Heaven?  Yes, 
surely, as we should not without great awe think of Him; so we 
should not presume to mention His name, His word, His institutions, 
anything immediately belonging to Him, without profoundest reverence 
and dread.  It is the most enormous sauciness that can be imagined, 
to speak petulantly or pertly concerning Him; especially considering 
that whatever we do say about Him, we do utter it in His presence, 
and to His very face.  "For there is not," as the holy psalmist 
considered, "a word in my tongue, but lo, O Lord, thou knowest it 
altogether."  No man also hath the heart to droll, or thinks 
raillery convenient, in cases nearly touching his life, his health, 
his estate, or his fame:  and are the true life and health of our 
soul, are interests in God's favour and mercy, are everlasting glory 
and bliss affairs of less moment? are the treasures and joys of 
paradise, or the damages and torments in hell, more jesting matters?  
No, certainly no:  in all reason therefore it becometh us, and it 
infinitely concerneth us, whenever we think of these things, to be 
in best earnest, always to speak of them in most sober sadness.

The proper objects of common mirth and sportful divertisement are 
mean and petty matters; anything at least is by playing therewith 
made such:  great things are thereby diminished and debased; 
especially sacred things do grievously suffer thence, being with 
extreme indecency and indignity depressed beneath themselves, when 
they become the subjects of flashy wit, or the entertainments of 
frothy merriment:  to sacrifice their honour to our vain pleasure, 
being like the ridiculous fondness of that people which, as AElian 
reporteth, worshipping a fly, did offer up an ox thereto.  These 
things were by God instituted, and proposed to us for purposes quite 
different; to compose our hearts, and settle our fancies in a most 
serious frame; to breed inward satisfaction, and joy purely 
spiritual; to exercise our most solemn thoughts, and employ our 
gravest discourses:  all our speech therefore about them should be 
wholesome, apt to afford good instruction, or to excite good 
affections; "good," as St. Paul speaketh, "for the use of edifying, 
that it may minister grace unto the hearers."

If we must be facetious and merry, the field is wide and spacious; 
there are matters enough in the world besides these most august and 
dreadful things, to try our faculties and please our humour with; 
everywhere light and ludicrous things occur; it therefore doth argue 
a marvellous poverty of wit, and barrenness of invention (no less 
than a strange defect of goodness, and want of discretion), in those 
who can devise no other subjects to frolic upon besides these, of 
all most improper and perilous; who cannot seem ingenious under the 
charge of so highly trespassing upon decency, disclaiming wisdom, 
wounding the ears of others, and their own consciences.  Seem 
ingenious, I say; for seldom those persons really are such, or are 
capable to discover any wit in a wise and manly way.  'Tis not the 
excellency of their fancies, which in themselves are usually sorry 
and insipid enough, but the uncouthness of their presumption; not 
their extraordinary wit, but their prodigious rashness, which is to 
be admired.  They are gazed on, as the doers of bold tricks, who 
dare perform that which no sober man will attempt:  they do indeed 
rather deserve themselves to be laughed at, than their conceits.  
For what can be more ridiculous than we do make ourselves, when we 
thus fiddle and fool with our own souls; when, to make vain people 
merry, we incense God's earnest displeasure; when, to raise a fit of 
present laughter, we expose ourselves to endless wailing and woe; 
when, to be reckoned wits, we prove ourselves stark wild?  Surely to 
this case we may accommodate that of a truly great wit, King 
Solomon:  "I said of laughter, It is mad; and of mirth, What doeth 

2.  All injurious, abusive, scurrilous jesting, which causelessly or 
needlessly tendeth to the disgrace, damage, vexation, or prejudice 
in any kind of our neighbour (provoking his displeasure, grating on 
his modesty, stirring passion in him), is also prohibited.  When 
men, to raise an admiration of their wit, to please themselves, or 
gratify the humours of other men, do expose their neighbour to scorn 
and contempt, making ignominious reflections upon his person and his 
actions, taunting his real imperfections, or fastening imaginary 
ones upon him, they transgress their duty, and abuse their wits; 
'tis not urbanity, or genuine facetiousness, but uncivil rudeness or 
vile malignity.  To do thus, as it is the office of mean and base 
spirits (unfit for any worthy or weighty employments), so it is full 
of inhumanity, of iniquity, of indecency and folly.  For the 
weaknesses of men, of what kind soever (natural or moral, in quality 
or in act), considering whence they spring, and how much we are all 
subject to them, and do need excuse for them, do in equity challenge 
compassion to be had of them; not complacency to be taken in them, 
or mirth drawn from them; they, in respect to common humanity, 
should rather be studiously connived at, and concealed, or mildly 
excused, than wilfully laid open, and wantonly descanted upon; they 
rather are to be deplored secretly, than openly derided.

The reputation of men is too noble a sacrifice to be offered up to 
vainglory, fond pleasure, or ill-humour; it is a good far more dear 
and precious, than to be prostituted for idle sport and 
divertisement.  It becometh us not to trifle with that which in 
common estimation is of so great moment--to play rudely with a thing 
so very brittle, yet of so vast price; which being once broken or 
cracked, it is very hard and scarce possible to repair.  A small, 
transient pleasure, a tickling the ears, wagging the lungs, forming 
the face into a smile, a giggle, or a hum, are not to be purchased 
with the grievous distaste and smart, perhaps with the real damage 
and mischief of our neighbour, which attend upon contempt.  This is 
not jesting, surely, but bad earnest; 'tis wild mirth, which is the 
mother of grief to those whom we should tenderly love; 'tis 
unnatural sport, which breedeth displeasure in them whose delight it 
should promote, whose liking it should procure:  it crosseth the 
nature and design of this way of speaking, which is to cement and 
ingratiate society, to render conversation pleasant and sprightly, 
for mutual satisfaction and comfort.

True festivity is called salt, and such it should be, giving a smart 
but savoury relish to discourse; exciting an appetite, not 
irritating disgust; cleansing sometimes, but never creating a sore:  
and [Greek], (if it become thus insipid), or unsavoury, it is 
therefore good for nothing, but to be cast out, and trodden under 
foot of men.  Such jesting which doth not season wholesome or 
harmless discourse, but giveth a haut gout to putrid and poisonous 
stuff, gratifying distempered palates and corrupt stomachs, is 
indeed odious and despicable folly, to be cast out with loathing, to 
be trodden under foot with contempt.  If a man offends in this sort, 
to please himself, 'tis scurvy malignity; if to delight others, 'tis 
base servility and flattery:  upon the first score he is a buffoon 
to himself; upon the last, a fool to others.  And well in common 
speech are such practisers so termed, the grounds of that practice 
being so vain, and the effect so unhappy.  The heart of fools, saith 
the wise man, is in the house of mirth; meaning, it seems, 
especially such hurtfully wanton mirth:  for it is (as he further 
telleth us) the property of fools to delight in doing harm ("It is 
as sport to a fool to do mischief").  Is it not in earnest most 
palpable folly, for so mean ends to do so great harm; to disoblige 
men in sport; to lose friends and get enemies for a conceit; out of 
a light humour to provoke fierce wrath, and breed tough hatred; to 
engage one's self consequently very far in strife, danger, and 
trouble?  No way certainly is more apt to produce such effects than 
this; nothing more speedily inflameth, or more thoroughly engageth 
men, or sticketh longer in men's hearts and memories, than bitter 
taunts and scoffs:  whence this honey soon turns into gall; these 
jolly comedies do commonly terminate in woeful tragedies.

Especially this scurrilous and scoffing way is then most detestable 
when it not only exposeth the blemishes and infirmities of men, but 
abuseth piety and virtue themselves; flouting persons for their 
constancy in devotion, or their strict adherence to a conscientious 
practice of duty; aiming to effect that which Job complaineth of, 
"The just upright man is laughed to scorn;" resembling those whom 
the psalmist thus describeth, "Who whet their tongue like a sword, 
and bend their arrows, even bitter words, that they may shoot in 
secret at the perfect;" serving good men as Jeremy was served--"The 
word of the Lord," saith he, "was made a reproach unto me, and a 
derision daily."

This practice doth evidently in the highest degree tend to the 
disparagement and discouragement of goodness; aiming to expose it, 
and to render men ashamed thereof; and it manifestly proceedeth from 
a desperate corruption of mind, from a mind hardened and emboldened, 
sold and enslaved to wickedness:  whence they who deal therein are 
in Holy Scripture represented as egregious sinners, or persons 
superlatively wicked, under the name of scorners ([Greek], pests, or 
pestilent men, the Greek translators call them, properly enough in 
regard to the effects of their practice); concerning whom the wise 
man (signifying how God will meet with them in their own way) saith, 
"Surely the Lord scorneth the scorners."  '[Greek] (scoffers, or 
mockers), St. Peter termeth them, who walk according to their own 
lusts; who not being willing to practise, are ready to deride 
virtue; thereby striving to seduce others into their pernicious 

This offence also proportionably groweth more criminal as it 
presumeth to reach persons eminent in dignity or worth, unto whom 
special veneration is appropriate.  This adjoineth sauciness to 
scurrility, and advanceth the wrong thereof into a kind of 
sacrilege.  'Tis not only injustice, but profaneness, to abuse the 
gods.  Their station is a sanctuary from all irreverence and 
reproach; they are seated on high, that we may only look up to them 
with respect; their defects are not to be seen, or not to be touched 
by malicious or wanton wits, by spiteful or scornful tongues:  the 
diminution of their credit is a public mischief, and the State 
itself doth suffer in their becoming objects of scorn; not only 
themselves are vilified and degraded, but the great affairs they 
manage are obstructed, the justice they administer is disparaged 

In fine, no jesting is allowable which is not thoroughly innocent:  
it is an unworthy perverting of wit to employ it in biting and 
scratching; in working prejudice to any man's reputation or 
interest; in needlessly incensing any man's anger or sorrow; in 
raising animosities, dissensions, and feuds among any.

Whence it is somewhat strange that any men from so mean and silly a 
practice should expect commendation, or that any should afford 
regard thereto; the which it is so far from meriting, that indeed 
contempt and abhorrence are due to it.  Men do truly more render 
themselves despicable than others when, without just ground, or 
reasonable occasion, they do attack others in this way.  That such a 
practice doth ever find any encouragement or acceptance, whence can 
it proceed, but from the bad nature and small judgment of some 
persons?  For to any man who is endowed with any sense of goodness, 
and hath a competence of true wit, or a right knowledge of good 
manners (who knows. . . . inurbanum lepido seponere dicto), it 
cannot but be unsavoury and loathsome.  The repute it obtaineth is 
in all respects unjust.  So would it appear, not only were the cause 
to be decided in a court of morality, because it consists not with 
virtue and wisdom; but even before any competent judges of wit 
itself.  For he overthrows his own pretence, and cannot reasonably 
claim any interest in wit, who doth thus behave himself:  he 
prejudgeth himself to want wit, who cannot descry fit matter to 
divert himself or others:  he discovereth a great straitness and 
sterility of good invention, who cannot in all the wide field of 
things find better subjects of discourse; who knows not how to be 
ingenious within reasonable compass, but to pick up a sorry conceit 
is forced to make excursions beyond the bounds of honesty and 

Neither is it any argument of considerable ability in him that haps 
to please this way:  a slender faculty will serve the turn.  The 
sharpness of his speech cometh not from wit so much as from choler, 
which furnisheth the lowest inventions with a kind of pungent 
expression, and giveth an edge to every spiteful word:  so that any 
dull wretch doth seem to scold eloquently and ingeniously.  Commonly 
also satirical taunts do owe their seeming piquancy, not to the 
speaker or his words, but to the subject, and the hearers; the 
matter conspiring with the bad nature or the vanity of men who love 
to laugh at any rate, and to be pleased at the expense of other 
men's repute; conceiting themselves extolled by the depression of 
their neighbour, and hoping to gain by his loss.  Such customers 
they are that maintain the bitter wits, who otherwise would want 
trade, and might go a-begging.  For commonly they who seem to excel 
this way are miserably flat in other discourse, and most dully 
serious:  they have a particular unaptness to describe any good 
thing, or commend any worthy person; being destitute of right ideas, 
and proper terms answerable to such purposes:  their representations 
of that kind are absurd and unhandsome; their eulogies (to use their 
own way of speaking) are in effect satires, and they can hardly more 
abuse a man than by attempting to commend him; like those in the 
prophet, who were wise to do ill, but to do well had no knowledge.

3.  I pass by that it is very culpable to be facetious in obscene 
and smutty matters.  Such things are not to be discoursed on either 
in jest or in earnest; they must not, as St. Paul saith, be so much 
as named among Christians.  To meddle with them is not to disport, 
but to defile one's self and others.  There is indeed no more 
certain sign of a mind utterly debauched from piety and virtue than 
by affecting such talk.  But further--

4.  All unseasonable jesting is blamable.  As there are some proper 
seasons of relaxation, when we may desipere in loco; so there are 
some times, and circumstances of things, wherein it concerneth and 
becometh men to be serious in mind, grave in demeanour, and plain in 
discourse; when to sport in this way is to do indecently or 
uncivilly, to be impertinent or troublesome.

It comporteth not well with the presence of superiors, before whom 
it becometh us to be composed and modest, much less with the 
performance of sacred offices, which require an earnest attention, 
and most serious frame of mind.

In deliberations and debates about affairs of great importance, the 
simple manner of speaking to the point is the proper, easy, clear, 
and compendious way:  facetious speech there serves only to obstruct 
and entangle business, to lose time, and protract the result.  The 
shop and exchange will scarce endure jesting in their lower 
transactions:  the Senate, the Court of Justice, the Church do much 
more exclude it from their more weighty consultations.  Whenever it 
justleth out, or hindereth the despatch of other serious business, 
taking up the room or swallowing the time due to it, or indisposing 
the minds of the audience to attend it, then it is unseasonable and 
pestilent.  [Greek] (to play, that we may be seriously busy), is the 
good rule (of Anacharsis), implying the subordination of sport to 
business, as a condiment and furtherance, not an impediment or clog 
thereto.  He that for his sport neglects his business, deserves 
indeed to be reckoned among children; and children's fortune will 
attend him, to be pleased with toys, and to fail of substantial 

'Tis again improper (because indeed uncivil, and inhuman) to jest 
with persons that are in a sad or afflicted condition; as arguing 
want of due considering or due commiserating their case.  It appears 
a kind of insulting upon their misfortune, and is apt to foment 
their grief.  Even in our own case (upon any disastrous occurrence 
to ourselves), it would not be seemly to frolic it thus; it would 
signify want of due regard to the frowns of God, and the strokes of 
His hand; it would cross the wise man's advice, "In the day of 
prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider."

It is also not seasonable, or civil, to be jocund in this way with 
those who desire to be serious, and like not the humour.  Jocularity 
should not be forcibly obtruded, but by a kindly conspiracy (or 
tacit compact) slip into conversation; consent and complaisance give 
all the life thereto.  Its design is to sweeten and ease society; 
when to the contrary it breedeth offence or encumbrance, it is worse 
than vain and unprofitable.  From these instances we may collect 
when in other like cases it is unseasonable, and therefore culpable.  

5.  To affect, admire, or highly to value this way of speaking 
(either absolutely in itself, or in comparison to the serious and 
plain way of speech), and thence to be drawn into an immoderate use 
thereof, is blamable.  A man of ripe age and sound judgment, for 
refreshment to himself, or in complaisance to others, may sometimes 
condescend to play in this, or any other harmless way; but to be 
fond of it, to prosecute it with a careful or painful eagerness, to 
dote and dwell upon it, to reckon it a brave or a fine thing, a 
singular matter of commendation, a transcendent accomplishment, 
anywise preferable to rational endowments, or comparable to the 
moral excellencies of our mind (to solid knowledge, or sound wisdom, 
or true virtue and goodness), this is extremely childish, or 
brutish, and far below a man.  What can be more absurd than to make 
business of play, to be studious and laborious in toys, to make a 
profession or drive a trade of impertinency?  What more plain 
nonsense can there be, than to be earnest in jest, to be continual 
in divertisement, or constant in pastime; to make extravagance all 
our way, and sauce all our diet?  Is not this plainly the life of a 
child that is ever busy, yet never hath anything to do?  Or the life 
of that mimical brute which is always active in playing uncouth and 
unlucky tricks; which, could it speak, might surely pass well for a 
professed wit?

The proper work of man, the grand drift of human life, is to follow 
reason (that noble spark kindled from Heaven; that princely and 
powerful faculty, which is able to reach so lofty objects, and 
achieve so mighty works), not to soothe fancy, that brutish, shallow 
and giddy power, able to perform nothing worthy much regard.  We are 
not (even Cicero could tell us) born for play and jesting, but for 
severity, and the study of graver and greater affairs.  Yes, we were 
purposely designed, and fitly framed, to understand and contemplate, 
to affect and delight in, to undertake and pursue most noble and 
worthy things; to be employed in business considerably profitable to 
ourselves, and beneficial to others.  We do therefore strangely 
debase ourselves, when we do strongly bend our minds to, or set our 
affections upon, such toys.

Especially to do so is unworthy of a Christian; that is, of a person 
who is advanced to so high a rank, and so glorious relations; who 
hath so excellent objects of his mind and affections presented 
before him, and so excellent rewards for his care and pains proposed 
to him; who is engaged in affairs of so worthy nature, and so 
immense consequence:  for him to be zealous about quibbles, for him 
to be ravished with puny conceits and expressions, 'tis a wondrous 
oversight, and an enormous indecency.

He indeed that prefers any faculty to reason, disclaims the 
privilege of being a man, and understands not the worth of his own 
nature; he that prizes any quality beyond virtue and goodness, 
renounces the title of a Christian, and knows not how to value the 
dignity of his profession.  It is these two (reason and virtue) in 
conjunction which produce all that is considerably good and great in 
the world.  Fancy can do little; doth never anything well, except as 
directed and wielded by them.  Do pretty conceits or humorous talk 
carry on any business, or perform any work?  No; they are 
ineffectual and fruitless:  often they disturb, but they never 
despatch anything with good success.  It is simple reason (as dull 
and dry as it seemeth) which expediteth all the grand affairs, which 
accomplisheth all the mighty works that we see done in the world.  
In truth, therefore, as one diamond is worth numberless bits of 
glass; so one solid reason is worth innumerable fancies:  one grain 
of true science and sound wisdom in real worth and use doth outweigh 
loads (if any loads can be) of freakish wit.  To rate things 
otherwise doth argue great weakness of judgment, and fondness of 
mind.  So to conceit of this way signifieth a weak mind; and much to 
delight therein rendereth it so--nothing more debaseth the spirit of 
a man, or more rendereth it light and trifling.

Hence if we must be venting pleasant conceits, we should do it as if 
we did it not, carelessly and unconcernedly; not standing upon it, 
or valuing ourselves for it:  we should do it with measure and 
moderation; not giving up ourselves thereto, so as to mind it or 
delight in it more than in any other thing:  we should not be so 
intent upon it as to become remiss in affairs more proper or needful 
for us; so as to nauseate serious business, or disrelish the more 
worthy entertainments of our minds.  This is the great danger of it, 
which we daily see men to incur; they are so bewitched with a humour 
of being witty themselves, or of hearkening to the fancies of 
others, that it is this only which they can like or favour, which 
they can endure to think or talk of.  'Tis a great pity that men who 
would seem to have so much wit, should so little understand 
themselves.  But further--

6.  Vainglorious ostentation this way is very blamable.  All 
ambition, all vanity, all conceitedness, upon whatever ground they 
are founded, are absolutely unreasonable and silly; but yet those 
being grounded on some real ability, or some useful skill, are wise 
and manly in comparison to this, which standeth on a foundation so 
manifestly slight and weak.  The old philosophers by a severe father 
were called animalia gloriae (animals of glory), and by a satirical 
poet they were termed bladders of vanity; but they at least did 
catch at praise from praiseworthy knowledge; they were puffed up 
with a wind which blew some good to mankind; they sought glory from 
that which deserved glory if they had not sought it; it was a 
substantial and solid credit which they did affect, resulting from 
successful enterprises of strong reason, and stout industry:  but 
these animalculae gloriae, these flies, these insects of glory, 
these, not bladders, but bubbles of vanity, would be admired and 
praised for that which is nowise admirable or laudable; for the 
casual hits and emergencies of roving fancy; for stumbling on an odd 
conceit or phrase, which signifieth nothing, and is as superficial 
as the smile, as hollow as the noise it causeth.  Nothing certainly 
in nature is more ridiculous than a self-conceited wit, who deemeth 
himself somebody, and greatly pretendeth to commendation from so 
pitiful and worthless a thing as a knack of trifling.

7.  Lastly, it is our duty never so far to engage ourselves in this 
way as thereby to lose or to impair that habitual seriousness, 
modesty and sobriety of mind, that steady composedness, gravity and 
constancy of demeanour, which become Christians.  We should 
continually keep our minds intent upon our high calling, and grand 
interests; ever well tuned, and ready for the performance of holy 
devotions, and the practice of most serious duties with earnest 
attention and fervent affection.  Wherefore we should never suffer 
them to be dissolved into levity, or disordered into a wanton frame, 
indisposing us for religious thoughts and actions.  We ought always 
in our behaviour to maintain, not only [Greek] (a fitting decency), 
but also [Greek] (a stately gravity), a kind of venerable majesty, 
suitable to that high rank which we bear of God's friends and 
children; adorning our holy profession, and guarding us from all 
impressions of sinful vanity.  Wherefore we should not let ourselves 
be transported into any excessive pitch of lightness, inconsistent 
with or prejudicial to our Christian state and business.  Gravity 
and modesty are the senses of piety, which being once slighted, sin 
will easily attempt and encroach upon us.  So the old Spanish 
gentleman may be interpreted to have been wise who, when his son 
upon a voyage to the Indies took his leave of him, gave him this odd 
advice, "My son, in the first place keep thy gravity, in the next 
place fear God;" intimating that a man must first be serious, before 
he can be pious.

To conclude, as we need not be demure, so must we not be impudent; 
as we should not be sour, so ought we not to be fond; as we may be 
free, so we should not be vain; as we may well stoop to friendly 
complaisance, so we should take heed of falling into contemptible 
levity.  If without wronging others, or derogating from ourselves, 
we can be facetious, if we can use our wits in jesting innocently, 
and conveniently, we may sometimes do it:  but let us, in compliance 
with St. Paul's direction, beware of "foolish talking and jesting 
which are not convenient."

"Now the God of grace and peace . . . . make us perfect in every 
good work to do His will, working in us that which is well pleasing 
in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and 
ever.  Amen."


"But above all things, my brethren, swear not."
                               St. James v. 12.

Among other precepts of good life (directing the practice of virtue 
and abstinence from sin) St. James doth insert this about swearing, 
couched in expression denoting his great earnestness, and apt to 
excite our special attention.  Therein he doth not mean universally 
to interdict the use of oaths, for that in some cases is not only 
lawful, but very expedient, yea, needful, and required from us as a 
duty; but that swearing which our Lord had expressly prohibited to 
His disciples, and which thence, questionless, the brethren to whom 
St. James did write did well understand themselves obliged to 
forbear, having learned so in the first catechisms of Christian 
institution; that is, needless and heedless swearing in ordinary 
conversation, a practice then frequent in the world, both among Jews 
and Gentiles; the which also, to the shame of our age, is now so 
much in fashion, and with some men in vogue; the invoking God's 
name, appealing to His testimony, and provoking His judgment upon 
any slight occasion, in common talk, with vain incogitancy, or 
profane boldness.  From such practice the Holy Apostle exhorteth in 
terms importing his great concernedness, and implying the matter to 
be of highest importance; for, [Greek], saith he, "(Before all 
things), my brethren, do not swear;" as if he did apprehend this sin 
of all others to be one of the most heinous and pernicious.  Could 
he have said more? would he have said so much, if he had not 
conceived the matter to be of exceeding weight and consequence?  And 
that it is so, I mean now, by God's help, to show you, by proposing 
some considerations, whereby the heinous wickedness, together with 
the monstrous folly, of such rash and vain swearing will appear; the 
which being laid to heart will, I hope, effectually dissuade and 
deter from it.

I.  Let us consider the nature of an oath, and what we do when we 
adventure to swear.

It is (as it is phrased in the Decalogue, and elsewhere in Holy 
Scripture) an assuming the name of God, and applying it to our 
purpose; to countenance and confirm what we say.

It is an invocation of God as a most faithful Witness, concerning 
the truth of our words, or the sincerity of our meaning.

It is an appeal to God as a most upright Judge whether we do 
prevaricate in asserting what we do not believe true, or in 
promising what we are not firmly resolved to perform.

It is a formal engagement of God to be the Avenger of our 
trespassing in violation of truth or faith.

It is a binding our souls with a most strict and solemn obligation, 
to answer before God, and to undergo the issue of His judgment about 
what we affirm or undertake.

Such an oath is represented to us in Holy Scripture.

Whence we may collect, that swearing doth require great modesty and 
composedness of spirit, very serious consideration and solicitous 
care, that we be not rude and saucy with God, in taking up His name, 
and prostituting it to vile or mean uses; that we do not abuse or 
debase His authority, by citing it to aver falsehoods or 
impertinences; that we do not slight His venerable justice, by 
rashly provoking it against us; that we do not precipitately throw 
our souls into most dangerous snares and intricacies.

For let us reflect and consider:  What a presumption is it without 
due regard and reverence to lay hold on God's name; with unhallowed 
breath to vent and toss that great and glorious, that most holy, 
that reverend, that fearful and terrible name of the Lord our God, 
the great Creator, the mighty Sovereign, the dreadful Judge of all 
the world; that name which all heaven with profoundest submission 
doth adore, which the angelical powers, the brightest and purest 
Seraphim, without hiding their faces, and reverential horror, cannot 
utter or hear; the very thought whereof should strike awe through 
our hearts, the mention whereof would make any sober man to tremble?  
[Greek], "For how," saith St. Chrysostom, "is it not absurd that a 
servant should not dare to call his master by name, or bluntly and 
ordinarily to mention him, yet that we slightly and contemptuously 
should in our mouth toss about the Lord of angels?

"How is it not absurd, if we have a garment better than the rest, 
that we forbear to use it continually, but in the most slight and 
common way do wear the name of God?"

How grievous indecency is it, at every turn to summon our Maker, and 
call down Almighty God from heaven, to attend our leisure, to vouch 
our idle prattle, to second our giddy passions, to concern His 
truth, His justice, His power in our trivial affairs!

What a wildness is it, to dally with that judgment upon which the 
eternal doom of all creatures dependeth, at which the pillars of 
heaven are astonished, which hurled down legions of angels from the 
top of heaven and happiness into the bottomless dungeon:  the which, 
as grievous sinners, of all things we have most reason to dread; and 
about which no sober man can otherwise think than did that great 
king, the holy psalmist, who said, "My flesh trembleth for Thee, and 
I am afraid of Thy judgments!"

How prodigious a madness is it, without any constraint or needful 
cause, to incur so horrible a danger, to rush upon a curse; to defy 
that vengeance, the least touch of breath whereof can dash us to 
nothing, or thrust us down into extreme and endless woe?

Who can express the wretchedness of that folly, which so entangleth 
us with inextricable knots, and enchaineth our souls so rashly with 
desperate obligations?

Wherefore he that would but a little mind what he doeth when he 
dareth to swear, what it is to meddle with the adorable name, the 
venerable testimony, the formidable judgment, the terrible vengeance 
of the Divine Majesty, into what a case he putteth himself, how 
extreme hazard he runneth thereby, would assuredly have little heart 
to swear, without greatest reason, and most urgent need; hardly 
without trembling would he undertake the most necessary and solemn 
oath; much cause would he see [Greek], to adore, to fear an oath:  
which to do, the divine preacher maketh the character of a good man.  
"As," saith he, "is the good, so is the sinner; and he that 
sweareth, as he that feareth an oath."

In fine, even a heathen philosopher, considering the nature of an 
oath, did conclude the unlawfulness thereof in such cases.  For, 
"seeing," saith he, "an oath doth call God for witness, and 
proposeth Him for umpire and voucher of the things it saith; 
therefore to induce God so upon occasion of human affairs, or, which 
is all one, upon small and slight accounts, doth imply contempt of 
Him:  wherefore we ought wholly to shun swearing, except upon 
occasions of highest necessity."

II.  We may consider that swearing, agreeably to its nature, or 
natural aptitude and tendency, is represented in Holy Scripture as a 
special part of religious worship, or devotion towards God; in the 
due performance whereof we do avow Him for the true God and Governor 
of the world; we piously do acknowledge His principal attributes and 
special prerogatives; His omnipresence and omniscience, extending 
itself to our most inward thoughts, our secretest purposes, our 
closest retirements; His watchful providence over all our actions, 
affairs, and concerns; His faithful goodness, in favouring truth and 
protecting right; His exact justice, in patronising sincerity, and 
chastising perfidiousness; His being Supreme Lord over all persons, 
and Judge paramount in all causes; His readiness in our need, upon 
our humble imploration and reference, to undertake the arbitration 
of matters controverted, and the care of administering justice, for 
the maintenance of truth and right, of loyalty and fidelity, of 
order and peace among men.  Swearing does also intimate a pious 
truth and confidence in God, as Aristotle observeth.

Such things a serious oath doth imply, to such purposes swearing 
naturally serveth; and therefore to signify or effectuate them, 
Divine institution hath devoted it.

God in goodness to such ends hath pleased to lend us His great name; 
allowing us to cite Him for a witness, to have recourse to His bar, 
to engage His justice and power, whenever the case deserveth and 
requireth it, or when we cannot by other means well assure the 
sincerity of our meaning, or secure the constancy of our 

Yea, in such exigencies He doth exact this practice from us, as an 
instance of our religious confidence in Him, and as a service 
conducible to His glory.  For it is a precept in His law, of moral 
nature, and eternal obligation, "Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God; 
Him shalt thou serve, and to Him shalt thou cleave, and shalt swear 
by His name."  It is the character of a religious man to swear with 
due reverence and upright conscience.  For, "The king," saith the 
psalmist, "shall rejoice in God; every one that sweareth by Him 
shall glory:  but the mouth of them that speak lies shall be 
stopped."  It is a distinctive mark of God's people, according to 
that of the prophet Jeremy, "And it shall come to pass, if they will 
diligently learn the ways of my people, to swear by my name . . . 
then shall they be built in the midst of my people."  It is 
predicted concerning the evangelical times, "Unto Me every knee 
shall bow, every tongue shall swear:" and, "That he who blesseth 
himself in the earth, shall bless himself by the God of Truth; and 
he that sweareth in the earth, shall swear by the God of Truth."

As therefore all other acts of devotion, wherein immediate 
application is made to the Divine Majesty, should never be performed 
without most hearty intention, most serious consideration, most 
lowly reverence; so neither should this grand one, wherein God is so 
nearly touched, and His chief attributes so much concerned:  the 
which indeed doth involve both prayer and praise, doth require the 
most devotional acts of faith and fear.

We therefore should so perform it as not to incur that reproof:  
"This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me 
with their lips, but their heart is far from me."

When we seem most formally to avow God, to confess His omniscience, 
to confide in His justice, we should not really disregard Him, and 
in effect signify that we do not think He doth know what we say, or 
what we do.

If we do presume to offer this service, we should do it in the 
manner appointed by himself, according to the conditions prescribed 
in the prophet, "Thou shalt swear, the Lord liveth, in truth, in 
judgment, and in righteousness:" in truth, taking heed that our 
meaning be conformable to the sense of our words, and our words to 
the verity of things; in judgment, having with careful deliberation 
examined and weighed that which we assert or promise; in 
righteousness, being satisfied in conscience that we do not therein 
infringe any rule of piety toward God, of equity toward men, or 
sobriety and discretion in regard to ourselves.

The cause of our swearing must be needful, or very expedient; the 
design of it must be honest and useful to considerable purposes 
(tending to God's honour, our neighbour's benefit, our own welfare); 
the matter of it should be not only just and lawful, but worthy and 
weighty; the manner ought to be grave and solemn, our mind being 
framed to earnest attention, and endued with pious affections 
suitable to the occasion.

Otherwise, if we do venture to swear, without due advice and care, 
without much respect and awe, upon any slight or vain (not to say 
bad or unlawful) occasion, we then desecrate swearing, and are 
guilty of profaning a most sacred ordinance:  the doing so doth 
imply base hypocrisy, or lewd mockery, or abominable wantonness and 
folly; in bodily invading and vainly trifling with the most august 
duties of religion.  Such swearing therefore is very dishonourable 
and injurious to God, very prejudicial to religion, very repugnant 
to piety.

III.  We may consider that the swearing prohibited is very noxious 
to human society.

The great prop of society (which upholdeth the safety, peace, and 
welfare thereof, in observing laws, dispensing justice, discharging 
trusts, keeping contracts, and holding good correspondence mutually) 
is conscience, or a sense of duty toward God, obliging to perform 
that which is right and equal; quickened by hope of rewards and fear 
of punishments from Him:  secluding which principle, no worldly 
confederation is strong enough to hold men fast, or can further 
dispose many to do right, or observe faith, or hold peace, than 
appetite or interest, or humour (things very slippery and uncertain) 
do sway them.

That men should live honestly, quietly, and comfortably together, it 
is needful that they should live under a sense of God's will, and in 
awe of the divine power, hoping to please God, and fearing to offend 
Him, by their behaviour respectively.

That justice should be administered between men, it is necessary 
that testimonies of fact be alleged; and that witnesses should 
apprehend themselves greatly obliged to discover the truth, 
according to their conscience, in dark and doubtful cases.

That men should uprightly discharge offices serviceable to public 
good, it doth behove that they be firmly engaged to perform the 
trusts reposed in them.

That in affairs of very considerable importance men should deal with 
one another with satisfaction of mind, and mutual confidence, they 
must receive competent assurances concerning the integrity, 
fidelity, and constancy each of other.

That the safety of governors may be preserved, and the obedience due 
to them maintained secure from attempts to which they are liable (by 
the treachery, levity, perverseness, timorousness, ambition, all 
such lusts and ill humours of men), it is expedient that men should 
be tied with the strictest bands of allegiance.

That controversies emergent about the interests of men should be 
determined, and an end put to strife by peremptory and satisfactory 
means, is plainly necessary for common quiet.

Wherefore for the public interest and benefit of human society it is 
requisite that the highest obligations possible should be laid upon 
the consciences of men.

And such are those of oaths, engaging them to fidelity and constancy 
in all such cases, out of regard to Almighty God, as the infallible 
patron of truth and right, the unavoidable chastiser of 
perfidiousness and improbity.

To such purposes, therefore, oaths have ever been applied, as the 
most effectual instruments of working them; not only among the 
followers of true and perfect religion, but even among all those who 
had any glimmering notions concerning a Divine Power and Providence; 
who have deemed an oath the fastest tie of conscience, and held the 
violation of it for the most detestable impiety and iniquity.  So 
that what Cicero saith of the Romans, that "their ancestors had no 
band to constrain faith more strait than an oath," is true of all 
other nations, common reason not being able to devise any engagement 
more obliging than it is; it being in the nature of things [Greek], 
and [Greek], the utmost assurance, the last resort of human faith, 
the surest pledge that any man can yield of his trustiness.  Hence 
ever in transactions of highest moment this hath been used to bind 
the faith of men.

Hereby nations have been wont to ratify leagues of peace and amity 
between each other (which therefore the Greeks call [Greek]).

Hereby princes have obliged their subjects to loyalty:  and it hath 
ever been the strongest argument to press that duty, which the 
Preacher useth, "I counsel thee to keep the king's commandment, and 
that in regard of the oath of God."

Hereby generals have engaged their soldiers to stick close to them 
in bearing hardships and encountering dangers.

Hereby the nuptial league hath been confirmed; the solemnisation 
whereof in temples before God is in effect a most sacred oath.

Hereon the decision of the greatest causes concerning the lives, 
estates, and reputations of men have depended; so that, as the 
Apostle saith, "an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all 

Indeed, such hath the need hereof been ever apprehended, that we may 
observe, in cases of great importance, no other obligation hath been 
admitted for sufficient to bind the fidelity and constancy of the 
most credible persons; so that even the best men hardly could trust 
the best men without it.  For instance,

When Abimelech would assure to himself the friendship of Abraham, 
although he knew him to be a very pious and righteous person, whose 
word might be as well taken as any man's, yet, for entire 
satisfaction, he thus spake to him:  "God is with thee in all that 
thou doest:  Now therefore swear unto me here by God, that thou wilt 
not deal falsely with me."

Abraham, though he did much confide in the honesty of his servant 
Eliezer, having entrusted him with all his estate, yet in the affair 
concerning the marriage of his son he could not but thus oblige him:  
"Put," saith he, "I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh, and I will 
make thee swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and the God of the 
earth, that thou wilt not take a wife unto my son of the daughters 
of the Canaanites."

Laban had good experience of Jacob's fidelity; yet that would not 
satisfy, but, "The Lord," said he, "watch between me and thee, when 
we are absent one from another. If thou shalt afflict my daughters, 
or if thou shalt take other wives beside my daughters, no man is 
with us; see, God is witness between thee and me.  The God of 
Abraham, and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge 
betwixt us."

So did Jacob make Joseph swear that he would bury him in Canaan:  
and Joseph caused the children of Israel to swear that they would 
translate his bones.  So did Jonathan cause his beloved friend David 
to swear that he would show kindness to him and to his house for 
ever.  The prudence of which course the event showeth, the total 
excision of Jonathan's family being thereby prevented; for "the 
king," 'tis said, "spared Mephibosheth the son of Jonathan, because 
of the Lord's oath that was between them."

These instances declare that there is no security which men can 
yield comparable to that of an oath; the obligation whereof no man 
wilfully can infringe without renouncing the fear of God and any 
pretence to His favour.

Wherefore human society will be extremely wronged and damnified by 
the dissolving or slackening these most sacred bands of conscience; 
and consequently by their common and careless use, which soon will 
breed a contempt of them, and render them insignificant, either to 
bind the swearers, or to ground a trust on their oaths.

As by the rare and reverent use of oaths their dignity is upheld and 
their obligation kept fast, so by the frequent and negligent 
application of them, by the prostituting them to every mean and 
toyish purpose, their respect will be quite lost, their strength 
will be loosed, they will prove unserviceable to public use.

If oaths generally become cheap and vile, what will that of 
allegiance signify?  If men are wont to play with swearing anywhere, 
can we expect they should be serious and strict therein at the bar 
or in the church.  Will they regard God's testimony, or dread His 
judgment, in one place, or at one time, when everywhere upon any, 
upon no occasion they dare to confront and contemn them?  Who then 
will be the more trusted for swearing?  What satisfaction will any 
man have from it?  The rifeness of this practice, as it is the sign, 
so it will be the cause of a general diffidence among man.

Incredible therefore is the mischief which this vain practice will 
bring in to the public; depriving princes of their best security, 
exposing the estates of private men to uncertainty, shaking all the 
confidence men can have in the faith of one another.

For which detriments accruing from this abuse to the public every 
vain swearer is responsible; and he would do well to consider that 
he will never be able to make reparation for them.  And the public 
is much concerned that this enormity be retrenched.

IV.  Let us consider, that rash and vain swearing is very apt often 
to bring the practiser of it into that most horrible sin of perjury.  
For "false swearing," as the Hebrew wise man saith, "naturally 
springeth out of much swearing:" and, "he," saith St. Chrysostom, 
"that sweareth continually, both willingly and unwillingly, both 
ignorantly and knowingly, both in earnest and in sport, being often 
transported by anger and many other things, will frequently 
forswear.  It is confessed and manifest, that it is necessary for 
him that sweareth much to be perjurious."  [Greek], "For," saith he 
again, "it is impossible, it is impossible for a mouth addicted to 
swearing not frequently to forswear."  He that sweareth at random, 
as blind passion moveth, or wanton fancy prompteth, or the temper 
suggesteth, often will hit upon asserting that which is false, or 
promising that which is impossible:  that want of conscience and of 
consideration which do suffer him to violate God's law in swearing 
will betray him to the venting of lies, which backed with oaths 
become perjuries.  If sometime what he sweareth doth happen to be 
true and performable, it doth not free him of guilt; it being his 
fortune, rather than his care or conscience, which keepeth him from 

V.  Such swearing commonly will induce a man to bind himself by oath 
to unlawful practices; and consequently will entangle him in a 
woeful necessity either of breaking his oath, or of doing worse, and 
committing wickedness:  so that "swearing," as St. Chrysostom saith, 
"hath this misery attending it, that, both trangressed and observed, 
it plagueth those who are guilty of it."

Of this perplexity the Holy Scripture affordeth two notable 
instances:  the one of Saul, forced to break his rash oaths; the 
other of Herod, being engaged thereby to commit a most horrid 

Had Saul observed his oaths, what injury had he done, what mischief 
had he produced, in slaughtering his most worthy and most innocent 
son, the prop and glory of his family, the bulwark of his country, 
and the grand instrument of salvation to it; in forcing the people 
to violate their cross oath, and for prevention of one, causing many 
perjuries?  He was therefore fain to desist, and lie under the guilt 
of breaking his oaths.

And for Herod, the excellent father thus presseth the consideration 
of his case:  "Take," saith he, "I beseech you, the chopped off head 
of St. John, and his warm blood yet trickling down; each of you bear 
it home with you, and conceive that before your eyes you hear it 
uttering speech, and saying, Embrace the murderer of me, an oath.  
That which reproof did not, this an oath did do; that which the 
tyrant's wrath could not, this the necessity of keeping an oath did 
effect.  For when the tyrant was reprehended publicly in the 
audience of all men, he bravely did bear the rebuke; but when he had 
cast himself into the necessity of oaths, then did he cut off that 
blessed head."

VI.  Likewise the use of rash swearing will often engage a man in 
undertakings very inconvenient and detrimental to himself.  A man is 
bound to perform his vows to the Lord, whatever they be, whatever 
damage or trouble thence may accrue to him, if they be not unlawful.  
It is the law, that which is gone out of thy lips, thou shalt keep 
and perform.  It is the property of a good man, that he sweareth to 
his own hurt, and changeth not.  Wherefore 'tis the part of a sober 
man to be well advised what he doth swear or vow religiously, that 
he do not put himself into the inextricable strait of committing 
great sin, or undergoing great inconvenience; that he do not rush 
into that snare of which the wise man speaketh, "It is a snare to a 
man to devour that which is holy (or, to swallow a sacred 
obligation), and after vows to make inquiry," seeking how he may 
disengage himself the doing which is a folly offensive to God, as 
the Preacher telleth us.  "When," saith he, "thou vowest a vow unto 
God, defer not to pay it; for He hath no pleasure in fools:  pay 
that which thou hast vowed."  God will not admit our folly in vowing 
as a plea for non-performance; He will exact it from us both as a 
due debt, and as a proper punishment of our impious folly.

For instance, into what loss and mischief, what sorrow, what regret 
and repentance, did the unadvised vow of Jephthah throw him; the 
performance whereof, as St. Chrysostom remarketh, God did permit, 
and order to be commemorated with solemn lamentation, that all 
posterity might be admonished thereby, and deterred from such 
precipitant swearing.

VII.  Let us consider that swearing is a sin of all others 
peculiarly clamorous, and provocative of Divine judgment.  God is 
hardly so much concerned, or in a manner constrained, to punish any 
other sin as this.  He is bound in honour and interest to vindicate 
His name from the abuse, His authority from the contempt, His holy 
ordinance from the profanation, which it doth infer.  He is 
concerned to take care that His providence be not questioned, that 
the dread of His majesty be not voided, that all religion be not 
overthrown by the outrageous commission thereof with impunity.

It immediately toucheth His name, it expressly calleth upon Him to 
mind it, to judge it, to show himself in avenging it.  He may seem 
deaf, or unconcerned, if, being so called and provoked, He doth not 
declare Himself.

There is understood to be a kind of formal compact between Him and 
mankind, obliging Him to interpose, to take the matter into His 
cognisance, being specially addressed to Him.

The bold swearer doth importune Him to hear, doth rouse Him to mark, 
doth brave Him to judge and punish his wickedness.

Hence no wonder that "the flying roll," a quick and inevitable 
curse, doth surprise the swearer, and cut him off, as it is in the 
prophet.  No wonder that so many remarkable instances do occur in 
history of signal vengeance inflicted on persons notably guilty of 
this crime.  No wonder that a common practice thereof doth fetch 
down public judgments; and that, as the prophets of old did 
proclaim, "because of swearing the land mourneth."

VIII.  Further (passing over the special laws against it, the 
mischievous consequences of it, the sore punishments appointed to 
it), we may consider, that to common sense vain swearing is a very 
unreasonable and ill-favoured practice, greatly misbecoming any 
sober, worthy, or honest person; but especially most absurd and 
incongruous to a Christian.

For in ordinary conversation what needful or reasonable occasion can 
intervene of violating this command?  If there come under discourse 
a matter of reason, which is evidently true and certain, then what 
need can there be of an oath to affirm it, it sufficing to expose it 
to light, or to propose the evidences for it?  If an obscure or 
doubtful point come to be debated, it will not bear an oath; it will 
be a strange madness to dare, a great folly to hope the persuading 
it thereby.  What were more ridiculous than to swear the truth of a 
demonstrable theorem?  What more vain than so to assert a disputable 
problem:  oaths (like wagers) are in such cases no arguments, except 
silliness in the users of them.

If a matter of history be started, then if a man be taken for 
honest, his word will pass for attestation without further 
assurance; but if his veracity or probity be doubted, his oath will 
not be relied on, especially when he doth obtrude it.  For it was no 
less truly than acutely said by the old poet, [Greek], "The man doth 
not get credit from an oath, but an oath from the man."  And a 
greater author, "An oath," saith St. Chrysostom, "doth not make a 
man credible; but the testimony of his life, and the exactness of 
his conversation, and a good repute.  Many often have burst with 
swearing, and persuaded no man; others only nodding have deserved 
more belief than those who swore so mightily."  Wherefore oaths, as 
they are frivolous coming from a person of little worth or 
conscience, so they are superfluous in the mouth of an honest and 
worthy person; yea, as they do not increase the credit of the 
former, so they may impair that of the latter.

"A good man," as Socrates did say, "should apparently so demean 
himself, that his word may be deemed more credible than an oath;" 
the constant tenour of his practice vouching for it, and giving it 
such weight, that no asseveration can further corroborate it.

He should [Greek], "swear by his good deeds," and exhibit [Greek], 
"a life deserving belief," as Clemens Alex. saith:  so that no man 
should desire more from him than his bare assertion; but willingly 
should yield him the privilege which the Athenians granted to 
Xenocrates, that he should testify without swearing.

He should be like the Essenes, of whom Josephus saith, that 
everything spoken by them was more valid than an oath; whence they 
declined swearing.

He should so much confide in his own veracity and fidelity, and so 
much stand upon them, that he should not deign to offer any pledge 
for them, implying them to want confirmation.

"He should," as St. Jerome saith, "so love truth, that he should 
suppose himself to have sworn whatsoever he hath said;" and 
therefore should not be apt to heap another oath on his words.

Upon such accounts common reason directed even pagan wise men wholly 
to interdict swearing in ordinary conversation, or about petty 
matters, as an irrational and immoral practice, unworthy of sober 
and discreet persons.  "Forbear swearing about any matter," said 
Plato, cited by Clem. Alex.  "Avoid swearing, if you can, wholly," 
said Epictetus.  "For money swear by no god, though you swear 
truly," said Socrates.  And divers the like precepts occur in other 
heathens; the mention whereof may well serve to strike shame into 
many loose and vain people bearing the name of Christians.

Indeed, for a true and real Christian, this practice doth especially 
in a far higher degree misbecome him, upon considerations peculiar 
to his high calling and holy profession.

Plutarch telleth us that among the Romans the flamen of Jupiter was 
not permitted to swear, of which law among other reasons he assigned 
this:  "Because it is not handsome that he to whom divine and 
greatest things are entrusted should be distrusted about small 
matters."  The which reason may well be applied to excuse every 
Christian from it, who is a priest to the most High God, and hath 
the most celestial and important matters concredited to him; in 
comparison to which all other matters are very mean and 
inconsiderable.  The dignity of his rank should render his word 
verbum honoris, passable without any further engagement.  He hath 
opinions of things, he hath undertaken practices inconsistent with 
swearing.  For he that firmly doth believe that God is ever present 
with him, and auditor and witness of all his discourse; he that is 
persuaded that a severe judgment shall pass on him, wherein he must 
give an account for every idle word which slippeth from him, and 
wherein, among other offenders, assuredly liars will be condemned to 
the burning lake; he that in a great Sacrament (once most solemnly 
taken, and frequently renewed) hath engaged and sworn, together with 
all other divine commandments, to observe those which most expressly 
do charge him to be exactly just, faithful, and veracious in all his 
words and deeds; who therefore should be ready to say with David, "I 
have sworn, and am steadfastly purposed to keep thy righteous 
judgments," to him every word hath the force of an oath; every lie, 
every breach of promise, every violation of faith doth involve 
perjury:  for him to swear is false heraldry, an impertinent 
accumulation of one oath upon another; he of all men should disdain 
to allow that his words are not perfectly credible, that his promise 
is not secure, without being assured by an oath.

IX.  Indeed, the practice of swearing greatly disparageth him that 
useth it, and derogateth from his credit upon divers accounts.

It signifieth (if it signifieth anything) that he doth not confide 
in his own reputation, and judgeth his own bare word not to deserve 
credit:  for why, if he taketh his word to be good, doth he back it 
with asseverations? why, if he deemeth his own honesty to bear 
proof, doth he cite Heaven to warrant it?

"It is," saith St. Basil, "a very foul and silly thing for a man to 
accuse himself as unworthy of belief, and to proffer an oath for 

By so doing a man doth authorise others to distrust him; for it can 
be no wrong to distrust him who doth not pretend to be a credible 
person, or that his saying alone may safely be taken:  who, by 
suspecting that others are not satisfied with his simple assertion, 
implieth a reason known to himself for it.

It rendereth whatever he saith to be in reason suspicious, as 
discovering him void of conscience and discretion; for he that 
flatly against the rules of duty and reason will swear vainly, what 
can engage him to speak truly?  He that is so loose in so clear and 
so considerable a point of obedience to God, how can he be supposed 
staunch in regard to any other?  "It being," as Aristotle hath it, 
"the part of the same men to do ill things, and not to regard 
forswearing."  It will at least constrain any man to suspect all his 
discourse of vanity and unadvisedness, seeing he plainly hath no 
care to bridle his tongue from so gross an offence.

It is strange, therefore, that any man of honour or honesty should 
not scorn, by such a practice, to shake his own credit, or to 
detract from the validity of his word; which should stand firm on 
itself, and not want any attestation to support it.  It is a 
privilege of honourable persons that they are excused from swearing, 
and that their verbum honoris passeth in lieu of an oath:  is it not 
then strange, that when others dispense with them, they should not 
dispense with themselves, but voluntarily degrade themselves, and 
with sin forfeit so noble a privilege?

X.  To excuse these faults, the swearer will be forced to confess 
that his oaths are no more than waste and insignificant words, 
deprecating being taken for serious, or to be understood that he 
meaneth anything by them, but only that he useth them as expletive 
phrases, [Greek], to plump his speech, and fill up sentences.  But 
such pleas do no more than suggest other faults of swearing, and 
good arguments against it; its impertinence, its abuse of speech, 
its disgracing the practiser of it in point of judgment and 
capacity.  For so it is, oaths as they commonly pass are mere 
excrescences of speech, which do nothing but encumber and deform it; 
they so embellish discourse, as a wen or a scab do beautify a face, 
as a patch or a spot do adorn a garment.

To what purpose, I pray, is God's name hooked and haled into our 
idle talk? why should we so often mention Him, when we do not mean 
anything about Him? would it not, into every sentence to foist a dog 
or a horse, to intrude Turkish, or any barbarous gibberish, be 
altogether as proper and pertinent?

What do these superfluities signify, but that the venter of them 
doth little skill the use of speech, or the rule of conversation, 
but meaneth to sputter and prate anything without judgment or wit; 
that his invention is very barren, his fancy beggarly, craving the 
aid of any stuff to relieve it?  One would think a man of sense 
should grudge to lend his ear, or incline his attention to such 
motley ragged discourse; that without nauseating he scarce should 
endure to observe men lavishing time, and squandering their breath 
so frivolously.  'Tis an affront to good company to pester it with 
such talk.

XI.  But further, upon higher accounts this is a very uncivil and 
unmannerly practice.

Some vain persons take it for a genteel and graceful thing; a 
special accomplishment, a mark of fine breeding, a point of high 
gallantry; for who, forsooth, is the brave spark, the complete 
gentleman, the man of conversation and address, but he that hath the 
skill and confidence (O heavens! how mean a skill! how mad a 
confidence!) to lard every sentence with an oath or a curse, making 
bold at every turn to salute his Maker, or to summon Him in 
attestation of his tattle; not to say calling and challenging the 
Almighty to damn and destroy him?  Such a conceit, I say, too many 
have of swearing, because a custom thereof, together with divers 
other fond and base qualities, hath prevailed among some people, 
bearing the name and garb of gentlemen.

But in truth, there is no practice more crossing the genuine nature 
of genteelness, or misbecoming persons well born and well bred; who 
should excel the rude vulgar in goodness, in courtesy, in nobleness 
of heart, in unwillingness to offend, and readiness to oblige those 
with whom they converse, in steady composedness of mind and manners, 
in disdaining to say or do any unworthy, any unhandsome things.

For this practice is not only a gross rudeness toward the main body 
of men, who justly reverence the name of God, and detest such an 
abuse thereof; not only further an insolent defiance of the common 
profession, the religion, the law of our country, which disalloweth 
and condemneth it, but it is very odious and offensive to any 
particular society or company, at least, wherein there is any sober 
person, any who retaineth a sense of goodness, or is anywise 
concerned for God's honour:  for to any such person no language can 
be more disgustful; nothing can more grate his ears, or fret his 
heart, than to hear the sovereign object of his love and esteem so 
mocked and slighted; to see the law of his Prince so disloyally 
infringed, so contemptuously trampled on; to find his best Friend 
and Benefactor so outrageously abused.  To give him the lie were a 
compliment, to spit in his face were an obligation, in comparison to 
this usage.

Wherefore 'tis a wonder that any person of rank, any that hath in 
him a spark of ingenuity, or doth at all pretend to good manners, 
should find in his heart or deign to comply with so scurvy a 
fashion:  a fashion much more befitting the scum of the people than 
the flower of the gentry; yea, rather much below any man endued with 
a scrap of reason or a grain of goodness.  Would we bethink 
ourselves, modest, sober, and pertinent discourse would appear far 
more generous and masculine than such mad hectoring the Almighty, 
such boisterous insulting over the received laws and general notions 
of mankind, such ruffianly swaggering against sobriety and goodness.  
If gentlemen would regard the virtues of their ancestors, the 
founders of their quality--that gallant courage and solid wisdom, 
that noble courtesy, which advanced their families and severed them 
from the vulgar--this degenerate wantonness and forbidness of 
language would return to the dunghill, or rather, which God grant, 
be quite banished from the world, the vulgar following their 

XII.  Further, the words of our Lord, when He forbade this practice, 
do suggest another consideration against it, deducible from the 
causes and sources of it; from whence it cometh, that men are so 
inclined or addicted thereto.  "Let," saith He, "your communication 
be Yea, yea, Nay, nay; for whatsoever is more than these cometh of 
evil."  The roots of it, He assureth us, are evil, and therefore the 
fruit cannot be good:  it is no grape which groweth from thorns, or 
fig from thistles.  Consult experience, and observe whence it doth 

Sometimes it ariseth from exorbitant heats of spirit, or transports 
of unbridled passion.  When a man is keenly peevish, or fiercely 
angry, or eagerly contentious, then he blustereth, and dischargeth 
his choler in most tragical strains; then he would fright the 
objects of his displeasure by the most violent expressions thereof.  
This is sometime alleged in excuse of rash swearing:  I was 
provoked, the swearer will say, I was in passion; but it is strange 
that a bad cause should justify a bad effect, that one crime should 
warrant another, that what would spoil a good action should excuse a 
bad one.

Sometimes it proceedeth from arrogant conceit, and a tyrannical 
humour; when a man fondly admireth his own opinion, and affecting to 
impose it on others, is thence moved to thwack it on with lusty 

Sometimes it issueth from wantonness and levity of mind, disposing a 
man to sport with anything, how serious, how grave, how sacred and 
venerable soever.

Sometimes its rise is from stupid inadvertency, or heady 
precipitancy; when the man doth not heed what he saith, or consider 
the nature and consequence of his words, but snatcheth any 
expression which cometh next, or which his roving fancy doth offer, 
for want of that caution of the psalmist, "I said, I will take heed 
to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue; I will keep my mouth with 
a bridle, while the wicked is before me."

Sometimes (alas! how often in this miserable age!) it doth spring 
from profane boldness; when men design to put affronts on religion, 
and to display their scorn and spite against conscience, affecting 
the reputation of stout blades, of gallant hectors, of resolute 
giants, who dare do anything, who are not afraid to defy Heaven, and 
brave God Almighty Himself.

Sometimes it is derived from apish imitation, or a humour to comply 
with a fashion current among vain and dissolute persons.

It always doth come from a great defect in conscience, of reverence 
to God, of love to goodness, of discretion and sober regard to the 
welfare of a man's soul.

From such evidently vicious and unworthy sources it proceedeth, and 
therefore must needs be very culpable.  No good, no wise man can 
like actions drawn from such principles.  Further--

XIII.  This offence may be particularly aggravated by considering 
that it hath no strong temptation alluring to it, that it yieldeth 
no sensible advantage, that it most easily may be avoided or 

"Every sin," saith St. Chrysostom, "hath not the same punishment; 
but those things which may easily be reformed do bring on us greater 
punishment:" and what can be more easy than to reform this fault?  
"Tell me," saith he, "what difficulty, what sweat, what art, what 
hazard, what more doth it require beside a little care" to abstain 
wholly from it?  It is but willing, or resolving on it, and it is 
instantly done; for there is not any natural inclination disposing 
to it, any strong appetite to detain us under its power.

It gratifieth no sense, it yieldeth no profit, it procureth no 
honour; for the sound of it is not very melodious, and no man surely 
did ever get an estate by it, or was preferred to dignity for it.  
It rather to any good ear maketh a horrid and jarring noise; it 
rather with the best part of the world produceth displeasure, 
damage, and disgrace.  What therefore, beside monstrous vanity and 
unaccountable perverseness, should hold men so devoted thereto?

Surely of all dealers in sin the swearer is palpably the silliest, 
and maketh the worst bargains for himself, for he sinneth gratis, 
and, like those in the prophet, "selleth his soul for nothing."  An 
epicure hath some reason to allege, an extortioner is a man of 
wisdom, and acteth prudently in comparison to him; for they enjoy 
some pleasure, or acquire some gain here, in lieu of their salvation 
hereafter, but this fondling offendeth Heaven, and abandoneth 
happiness, he knoweth not why or for what.  He hath not so much as 
the common plea of human infirmity to excuse him; he can hardly say 
that he was tempted thereto by any bait.

A fantastic humour possesseth him of spurning at piety and 
soberness; he inconsiderately followeth a herd of wild fops, he 
affecteth to play the ape.  What more than this can he say for 

XIV.  Finally, let us consider that as we ourselves, with all our 
members and powers, were chiefly designed and framed to glorify our 
Maker, the which to do is indeed the greatest perfection and noblest 
privilege of our nature, so our tongue and speaking faculty were 
given to us to declare our admiration and reverence of Him, to 
exhibit our due love and gratitude toward Him, to profess our trust 
and confidence in Him, to celebrate His praises, to avow His 
benefits, to address our supplications to Him, to maintain all kinds 
of devotional intercourse with Him, to propagate our knowledge, 
fear, love, and obedience to Him, in all such ways to promote His 
honour and service.  This is the most proper, worthy, and due use of 
our tongue, for which it was created, to which it is dedicated, from 
whence it becometh, as it is so often styled, our glory, and the 
best member that we have; that whereby we excel all creatures here 
below, and whereby we are no less discriminated from them, than by 
our reason; that whereby we consort with the blessed angels above in 
the distinct utterance of praise and communication of glory to our 
Creator.  Wherefore, applying this to any impious discourse with 
which to profane God's blessed name, with this to violate His holy 
commands, with this to unhallow His sacred ordinance, with this to 
offer dishonour and indignity to Him, is a most unnatural abuse, a 
horrid ingratitude toward Him.

It is that indeed whereby we render this noble organ incapable of 
any good use.  For how, as the excellent father doth often urge, can 
we pray to God for mercies, or praise God for His benefits, or 
heartily confess our sins, or cheerfully partake of the holy 
mysteries, with a mouth defiled by impious oaths, with a heart 
guilty of so heinous disobedience.

Likewise, whereas a secondary very worthy use of our speech is to 
promote the good of our neighbour, and especially to edify him in 
piety, according to that wholesome precept of the Apostle, "Let no 
corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is 
good to the use of edifying, that it may administer grace unto the 
hearers."  The practice of swearing is an abuse very contrary to 
that good purpose, serving to corrupt our neighbour, and to instil 
into him a contempt of religion; or however grievously to scandalise 

XV.  I shall add but two words more.  One is, that we would 
seriously consider that our Blessed Saviour, who loved us so dearly, 
who did and suffered so much for us, who redeemed us by His blood, 
who said unto us, "If ye love Me, keep My commandments," He thus 
positively hath enjoined, "But I say unto you, Swear not at all;" 
and how then can we find in our heart directly to thwart His word.

The other is, that we would lay to heart the reason whereby St. 
James doth enforce the point, and the sting in the close of our 
text, wherewith I conclude:  "But above all things, my brethren, 
swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any 
other oath; but let your yea be yea, and your nay nay, lest ye fall 
into condemnation," or, "lest ye fall under damnation."  From the 
which infinite mischief, and from all sin that may cause it, God in 
mercy deliver us through our Blessed Redeemer Jesus, to whom for 
ever be all glory and praise.


"To speak evil of no man."--Titus iii. 2.

These words do imply a double duty; one incumbent on teachers, 
another on the people who are to be instructed by them.

The teacher's duty appeareth from reflecting on the words of the 
context, which govern these, and make them up an entire sentence:  
put them in mind, or, rub up their memory to do thus.  It is St. 
Paul's injunction to Titus, a bishop and pastor of the Church, that 
he should admonish the people committed to his care and instruction, 
as of other great duties (of yielding obedience to magistrates, of 
behaving themselves peaceably, of practising meekness and equity 
towards all men, of being readily disposed to every good work), so 
particularly of this, [Greek], to revile or speak evil of no man.

Whence it is apparent that this is one of the principal duties that 
preachers are obliged to mind people of, and to press upon them.  
And if this were needful then, when charity, kindled by such 
instructions and examples, was so lively; when Christians, by their 
sufferings, were so inured to meekness and patience; even every one, 
for the honour of his religion, and the safety of his person, was 
concerned in all respects to demean himself innocently and 
inoffensively; then is it now especially requisite, when (such 
engagements and restraints being taken off, love being cooled, 
persecution being extinct, the tongue being set loose from all 
extraordinary curbs) the transgression of this duty is grown so 
prevalent and rife, that evil-speaking is almost as common as 
speaking, ordinary conversation extremely abounding therewith, that 
ministers should discharge their office in dehorting and dissuading 
from it.

Well indeed it were, if by their example of using mild and moderate 
discourse, of abstaining from virulent invectives, tauntings, and 
scoffings, good for little but to inflame anger, and infuse ill-
will, they would lead men to good practice of this sort:  for no 
examples can be so wholesome, or so mischievous to this purpose, as 
those which come down from the pulpit, the place of edification, 
backed with special authority and advantage.

However, it is to preachers a ground of assurance and matter of 
satisfaction, that in pressing this duty they shall perform their 
duty:  their text being not so much of their own choosing, as given 
them by St. Paul; they can surely scarce find a better to discourse 
upon:  it cannot be a matter of small moment or use, which this 
great master and guide so expressly directeth us to insist upon.  
And to the observance of his precept, so far as concerneth me, I 
shall immediately apply myself.

It is then the duty of all Christian people (to be taught and 
pressed on them) not to reproach, or speak evil of any man.  The 
which duty, for your instruction, I shall first endeavour somewhat 
to explain, declaring its import and extent; then, for your further 
edification, I shall inculcate it, proposing several inducements 
persuasive to the observance of it.

I.  For explication, we may first consider the object of it, no man; 
then the act itself, which is prohibited, to blaspheme, that is, to 
reproach, to revile, or (as we have it rendered) to speak evil.

No man.  St. Paul questionless did especially mean hereby to hinder 
the Christians at that time from reproaching the Jews and the pagans 
among whom they lived, men in their lives very wicked and corrupt, 
men in opinion extremely dissenting from them, men who greatly did 
hate, and cruelly did persecute them; of whom therefore they had 
mighty provocations and temptations to speak ill; their judgment of 
the persons, and their resentment of injuries, making it difficult 
to abstain from doing so.  Whence by a manifest analogy may be 
inferred that the object of duty is very large, indeed universal and 
unlimited:  that we must forbear reproach not only against pious and 
virtuous persons, against persons of our own judgment or party, 
against those who never did harm or offend us, against our 
relations, our friends, our benefactors, in respect of whom there is 
no ground or temptation of evil-speaking; but even against the most 
unworthy and wicked persons, against those who most differ in 
opinion and practice from us, against those who never did oblige us, 
yea, those who have most disobliged us, even against our most bitter 
and spiteful enemies.  There is no exception or excuse to be 
admitted from the quality, state, relation, or demeanour of men; the 
duty (according to the proper sense, or due qualifications and 
limits of the act) doth extend to all men:  for, "Speak evil of no 

As for the act, it may be inquired what the word [Greek] (to 
blaspheme) doth import.  I answer, that it is to vent words 
concerning any person which do signify in us ill-opinion, or 
contempt, anger, hatred, enmity conceived in our minds towards him; 
which are apt in him to kindle wrath, and breed ill-blood towards 
us; which tend to beget in others that hear ill-conceit or ill-will 
towards him; which are much destructive of his reputation, 
prejudicial to his interests, productive of damage or mischief to 
him.  It is otherwise in Scripture termed [Greek], to rail or 
revile, (to use bitter and ignominious language); [Greek], to speak 
contumeliously; [Greek], to bring railing accusation (or reproachful 
censure); [Greek], to use obloquy, or detraction; [Greek], to curse, 
that is, to speak words importing that we do wish ill to a person.

Such is the language we are prohibited to use.  To which purpose we 
may observe that whereas, in our conversation and commerce with men, 
there do frequently often occur occasions to speak of men and to men 
words apparently disadvantageous to them, expressing our dissent in 
opinion from them, or a dislike in us of their proceedings, we may 
do this in different ways and terms; some of them gentle and 
moderate, signifying no ill mind or disaffection towards them; 
others harsh and sharp, arguing height of disdain, disgust, or 
despite, whereby we bid them defiance, and show that we mean to 
exasperate them.  Thus, telling a man that we differ in judgment 
from him, or conceive him not to be in the right, and calling him a 
liar, a deceiver, a fool, saying that he doeth amiss, taketh a wrong 
course, transgresseth the rule, and calling him dishonest, unjust, 
wicked, to omit more odious and provoking names, unbecoming this 
place, and not deserving our notice, are several ways of expressing 
the same things whereof the latter, in relating passages concerning 
our neighbour, or in debating cases with him, is prohibited:  for 
thus the words reproaching, reviling, railing, cursing, and the like 
do signify, and thus our Lord Himself doth explain them in His 
divine sermon, wherein he doth enact this law:  "Whosoever," saith 
He, "shall say to his brother, Raca" (that is, vain man, or liar), 
"shall be in danger of the council; but whosoever shall say, Thou 
fool, shall be in danger of hell-fire;" that is, he rendereth 
himself liable to a strict account, and to severe condemnation 
before God, who useth contemptuous and contumelious expressions 
towards his neighbour, in proportion to the malignity of such 

The reason of things also doth help to explain those words, and to 
show why they are prohibited because those harsh terms are needless, 
mild words serving as well to express the same things:  because they 
are commonly unjust, loading men with greater defect or blame than 
they can be proved to deserve, or their actions do import; for every 
man that speaketh falsehood is not therefore a liar, every man that 
erreth is not thence a fool, every man that doeth amiss is not 
consequently dishonest or wicked; the secret intentions and habitual 
dispositions of men not being always to be collected from their 
outward actions; because they are uncharitable, signifying that we 
entertain the worst opinions of men, and make the worst construction 
of their doings, and are disposed to show them no favour or 
kindness:  because, also, they produce mischievous effects, such as 
spring from the worst passions raised by them.

This in gross is the meaning of the precept.  But since there are 
some other precepts seeming to clash with this; since there are 
cases wherein we are allowed to use the harsher sort of terms, there 
are great examples in appearance thwarting this rule; therefore it 
may be requisite for determining the limits of our duty, and 
distinguishing it from transgression, that such exceptions or 
restrictions should be somewhat declared.

1.  First, then, we may observe that it may be allowable to persons 
in anywise concerned in the prosecution or administration of 
justice, to speak words which in private intercourse would be 
reproachful.  A witness may impeach of crimes hurtful to justice, or 
public tranquillity; a judge may challenge, may rebuke, may condemn 
an offender in proper terms (or forms of speech prescribed by law), 
although most disgraceful and distasteful to the guilty:  for it 
belongeth to the majesty of public justice to be bold, blunt, 
severe; little regarding the concerns or passions of particular 
persons, in comparison to the public welfare.

A testimony, therefore, or sentence against a criminal, which 
materially is a reproach, and morally would be such in a private 
mouth, is not yet formally so according to the intent of this rule.  
For practices of this kind, which serve the exigencies of justice, 
are not to be interpreted as proceeding from anger, hatred, revenge, 
any bad passion or humour; but in way of needful discipline for 
God's service, and common benefit of men.  It is not, indeed, so 
much the minister of justice, as God Himself, our absolute Lord; as 
the Sovereign, God's representative, acting in the public behalf; as 
the commonwealth itself, who by His mouth do rebuke the obnoxious 

2.  God's ministers in religious affairs, to whom the care of men's 
instruction and edification is committed, are enabled to inveigh 
against sin and vice, whoever consequentially may be touched 
thereby:  yea, sometimes it is their duty with severity and 
sharpness to reprove particular persons, not only privately, but 
publicly, for their correction, and for the edification of others.

Thus St. Paul directeth Timothy:  "Them that sin" (notoriously and 
scandalously, he meaneth), "rebuke before all, that others may 
fear:" that is, in a manner apt to make impression on the minds of 
the hearers, so as to scare them from like offences.  And to Titus 
he writes, "Rebuke them sharply, that they may be found in the 
faith."  And, "Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a 
trumpet, and show my people their transgressions, and the house of 
Jacob their sins," saith the Lord to the prophet.  Such are the 
charges and commissions laid on and granted to His messengers.

Thus we may observe that God's prophets of old, St. John the 
Baptist, our Lord Himself, the holy apostles did in terms most 
vehement and biting reprove the age in which they lived, and some 
particular persons in them.  The prophets are full of declamations 
and invectives against the general corruption of their times, and 
against the particular manners of some persons in them.  "Ah, sinful 
nation; people laden with iniquity, a seed of evil-doers, children 
that are corrupters!  They are all adulterers, an assembly of 
treacherous men; and they bend their tongues like their bow for 
lies.  Thy princes are rebellious and companions of thieves; every 
one loveth gifts, and followeth after rewards:  they judge not the 
fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come before them.  
The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule by their means.  
As troops of robbers wait for a man, so the company of priests 
murder in the way by consent, and commit lewdness."  Such is their 
style commonly.  St. John the Baptist calleth the Scribes and 
Pharisees a "generation of vipers."  Our Saviour speaketh of them in 
the same terms; calleth them an "evil and adulterous generation, 
serpents, and children of vipers.  Hypocrites, painted sepulchres, 
obscure graves ([Greek]), blind guides; fools and blind, children of 
the devil."  St. Paul likewise calleth the schismatical heretical 
teachers "dogs, false apostles, evil and deceitful workers, men of 
corrupt minds, reprobates and abominable."  With the like colours do 
St. Peter, St. Jude, and other apostles paint them.  Which sort of 
speeches are to be supposed to proceed, not from private passion or 
design, but out of holy zeal for God's honour, and from earnest 
charity towards men, for to work their amendment and common 
edification.  They were uttered also by special wisdom and peculiar 
order; from God's authority, and in His name; so that, as God by 
them is said to preach, to entreat, to warn, and to exhort, so by 
them also He may be said to reprehend and reproach.

3.  Even private persons in due season, with discretion and temper, 
may reprove others, whom they observe to commit sin, or follow bad 
courses, out of charitable design, and with hope to reclaim them.  
This was an office of charity imposed anciently even upon the Jews; 
much more doth it lie upon Christians, who are obliged more 
earnestly to tender the spiritual good of those who by the stricter 
and more holy bands of brotherhood are allied to them.  "Thou shalt 
not hate thy brother; thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, 
and not suffer sin upon him," was a precept of the old law:  and, 
[Greek], to admonish the disorderly, is an evangelical rule.  Such 
persons we are enjoined to shun and decline; but first we must 
endeavour by sober advice and admonition to reclaim them; we must 
not thus reject them till they appear contumacious and incorrigible, 
refusing to hear us, or becoming deaf to reproof.  This, although it 
necessarily doth include setting out their faults, and charging 
blame on them (answerable to their offences), is not the culpable 
reproach here meant, it being needful towards a wholesome effect, 
and proceeding from charitable intention.

4.  Some vehemency, some smartness and sharpness of speech may 
sometimes be used in defence of truth, and impugning errors of bad 
consequence; especially when it concerneth the interest of truth, 
that the reputation and authority of its adversaries should somewhat 
be abased or abated.  If by partial opinion or reverence towards 
them, however begotten in the minds of men, they strive to overbear 
or discountenance a good cause, their faults (so far as truth 
permitteth and need requireth) may be detected and displayed.  For 
this cause particularly may we presume our Lord (otherwise so meek 
in His temper, and mild in His carriage towards all men) did 
characterise the Jewish scribes in such terms, that their authority, 
being then so prevalent with the people, might not prejudice the 
truth, and hinder the efficacy of His doctrine.  This is part of 
that [Greek], that duty of contending earnestly for the faith, which 
is incumbent on us.

5.  It may be excusable upon particular emergent occasions, with 
some heat of language to express dislike of notorious wickedness.  
As our Lord doth against the perverse incredulity and stupidity in 
the Pharisees, their profane misconstruction of His words and 
actions, their malicious opposing truth, and obstructing His 
endeavours in God's service.  As St. Peter did to Simon Magus, 
telling him that he was in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond 
of iniquity.  As St. Paul to Elymas the sorcerer, when he withstood 
him, and desired to turn away the Deputy Sergius from the faith; 
"O," said he, stirred with a holy zeal and indignation, "thou full 
of all subtilty and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou 
enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right 
ways of the Lord?"  The same spirit which enabled him to inflict a 
sore punishment on that wicked wretch, did prompt him to use that 
sharp language towards him; unquestionably deserved, and seasonably 
pronounced.  As also when the high priest commanded him illegally 
and unjustly to be misused, that speech from a mind justly sensible 
of such outrage broke forth, "God shall smite thee, thou whited 
wall."  So when St. Peter presumptuously would have dissuaded our 
Lord from compliance with God's will, in undergoing those crosses 
which were appointed to Him by God's decree, our Lord calleth him 
Satan; . . . . "[Greek], "Avaunt, Satan, thou art an offence unto 
Me; for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that 
are of men."

These sort of speeches, issuing from just and honest indignation, 
are sometimes excusable, oftentimes commendable; especially when 
they come from persons eminent in authority, of notable integrity, 
endued with special measures of Divine grace, of wisdom, of 
goodness; such as cannot be suspected of intemperate anger, of ill-
nature, of ill-will, or of ill-design.

In such cases as are above mentioned, a sort of evil-speaking about 
our neighbour may be allowable or excusable.  But, for fear of 
overdoing, great caution and temper is to be used; and we should 
never apply any such limitations as cloaks to palliate unjust or 
uncharitable dealing.  Generally it is more advisable to suppress 
such eruptions of passion than to vent it; for seldom passion hath 
not inordinate motions joined with it, or tendeth to good ends.  
And, however, it will do well to reflect on those cases, and to 
remark some particulars about them.

First, we may observe that in all these cases all possible 
moderation, equity, and candour are to be used; so that no ill-
speaking be practised beyond what is needful or convenient.  Even in 
prosecution of offences, the bounds of truth, of equity, of humanity 
and clemency are not to be transgressed.  A judge must not lay on 
the most criminal person more blame or contumely than the case will 
bear, or than serveth the designs of justice.  However our neighbour 
doth incur the calamities of sin and of punishment, we must not be 
insolent or contemptuous towards him.  So we may learn by that law 
of Moses, backed with a notable reason:  "And it shall be, if the 
wicked man be worthy to be beaten, that the judge cause him to lie 
down, and to be beaten before his face, according to his fault by a 
certain number.  Forty stripes he may give him, and not exceed; lest 
if he should exceed, and beat him above those stripes, then thy 
brother should seem vile unto thee."  Whence appears that we should 
be careful of not vilifying an offender beyond measure.  And how 
mildly governors should proceed in the administration of justice, 
the example of Joshua may teach us, who thus examineth Achan, the 
cause of so great mischief to the public:  "My son, give, I pray 
thee, glory to the Lord God of Israel, and make confession unto Him; 
and tell me now what thou hast done, and hide it not from me."  "My 
son;" what compellation could be more benign and kind? "I pray 
thee;" what language could be more courteous and gentle? "give glory 
to God, and make confession;" what words could be more inoffensively 
pertinent?  And when he sentenced that great malefactor, the cause 
of so much mischief, this was all he said, "Why hast thou troubled 
us? the Lord will trouble thee;" words void of contumely or 
insulting, containing only a close intimation of the cause, and a 
simple declaration of the event he was to undergo.

Secondly, likewise ministers, in the taxing sin and sinners, are to 
proceed with great discretion and caution, with much gentleness and 
meekness; signifying a tender pity of their infirmities, charitable 
desires for their good, the best opinion of them, and the best hopes 
for them, that may consist with any reason; according to those 
apostolical rules:  "Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye 
which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; 
considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted;" and, "We that are 
strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please 
ourselves:" and, more expressly, "A servant of the Lord must not 
fight, but be gentle toward all, apt to teach, patient, in meekness 
instructing those that oppose themselves."  Thus did St. Peter 
temper his reproof of Simon Magus with this wholesome and 
comfortable advice:  "Repent, therefore, from this thy wickedness, 
and pray God if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven 

Thirdly, as for fraternal censure and reproof of faults (when it is 
just and expedient to use it), ordinarily the calmest and mildest 
way is the most proper, and most likely to obtain good success; it 
commonly doth in a more kindly manner convey the sense thereof into 
the heart, and therein more powerfully worketh remorse, than the 
fierce and harsh way.  Clearly to show a man his fault, with the 
reason proving it such, so that he becometh thoroughly convinced of 
it, is sufficient to breed in him regret, and to shame him before 
his own mind:  to do more (in way of aggravation, of insulting on 
him, of inveighing against him), as it doth often not well consist 
with humanity, so it is seldom consonant to discretion, if we do, as 
we ought, seek his health and amendment.  Humanity requireth that 
when we undertake to reform our neighbour, we should take care not 
to deform him (not to discourage or displease him more than is 
necessary); when we would correct his manners, that we should also 
consider his modesty, and consult his reputation; "curam agentes," 
as Seneca speaketh, "non tantum salutis, sed et honestae cicatricis" 
(having care not only to heal the wound, but to leave a comely scar 
behind).  "Be," adviseth St. Austin, "so displeased with iniquity, 
as to consider and consult humanity;" for, "Zeal void of humanity is 
not," saith St. Chrysostom, "zeal, but rather animosity; and reproof 
not mixed with good-will appeareth a kind of malignity."  We should 
so rebuke those who, by frailty or folly incident to mankind, have 
fallen into misdemeanours, that they may perceive we do sincerely 
pity their ill case, and tender their good; that we mean not to 
upbraid their weakness or insult upon their misfortune; that we 
delight not to inflict on them more grief than is plainly needful 
and unavoidable; that we are conscious and sensible of our own 
obnoxiousness to the like slips or falls, and do consider that we 
also may be tempted, and being tempted, may be overborne.  This they 
cannot perceive or be persuaded of, except we temper our speech with 
benignity and mildness.  Such speech prudence also dictateth, as 
most useful and hopeful for producing the good ends honest 
reprehension doth aim at; it mollifieth and it melteth a stubborn 
heart, it subdueth and winneth a perverse will, it healeth 
distempered affections.  Whereas roughly handling is apt to defeat 
or obstruct the cure:  rubbing the sore doth tend to exasperate and 
inflame it.  Harsh speech rendereth advice odious and unsavoury; 
driveth from it and depriveth it of efficacy; it turneth regret for 
a fault into displeasure and disdain against the reprover; it looks 
not like the dealing of a kind friend, but like the persecution of a 
spiteful enemy; it seemeth rather an ebullition of gall, or a 
defluxion from rancour, than an expression of good-will; the 
offender will take it for a needless and pitiless tormenting, or for 
a proud and tyrannical domineering over him.  He that can bear a 
friendly touch, will not endure to be lashed with angry and 
reproachful words.  In fine, all reproof ought to be seasoned with 
discretion, with candour, with moderation, and meekness.

Fourthly, likewise in defence of truth, and maintenance of a good 
cause, we may observe that commonly the fairest language is most 
proper and advantageous, and that reproachful or foul terms are most 
improper and prejudicial.  A calm and meek way of discoursing doth 
much advantage a good cause, as arguing the patron thereof to have 
confidence in the cause itself, and to rely upon his strength:  that 
he is in a temper fit to apprehend it himself, and to maintain it; 
that he propoundeth it as a friend, wishing the hearer for his own 
good to follow it, leaving him the liberty to judge, and choose for 
himself.  But rude speech, and contemptuous reflections on persons, 
as they do signify nothing to the question, so they commonly bring 
much disadvantage and damage to the cause, creating mighty 
prejudices against it; they argue much impotency in the advocate, 
and consequently little strength in what he maintains; that he is 
little able to judge well, and altogether unapt to teach others; 
they intimate a diffidence in himself concerning his cause, and 
that, despairing to maintain it by reason, he seeks to uphold it by 
passion; that not being able to convince by fair means, he would 
bear down by noise and clamour:  that not skilling to get his suit 
quietly, he would extort it by force, obtruding his conceits 
violently as an enemy, or imposing them arbitrarily as a tyrant.  
Thus doth he really disparage and slur his cause, however good and 
defensible in itself.

A modest and friendly style doth suit truth; it, like its author, 
doth usually reside (not in the rumbling wind, nor in the shaking 
earthquake, nor in the raging fire, but) in the small still voice; 
sounding in this, it is most audible, most penetrant, and most 
effectual; thus propounded, it is willingly hearkened to:  for men 
have no aversion from hearing those who seem to love them, and wish 
them well.  It is easily conceived, no prejudice or passion clouding 
the apprehensive faculties; it is readily embraced, no animosity 
withstanding or obstructing it.  It is the sweetness of the lips, 
which, as the wise man telleth us, increaseth learning; disposing a 
man to hear lessons of good doctrine, rendering him capable to 
understand them, insinuating and impressing them upon the mind; the 
affections being thereby unlocked, the passage becomes open to the 

But it is plainly a preposterous method of instructing, of deciding 
controversies, of begetting peace, to vex and anger those concerned 
by ill language.  Nothing surely doth more hinder the efficacy of 
discourse, and prevent conviction, than doth this course, upon many 
obvious accounts.  It doth first put in a strong bar to attention:  
for no man willingly doth afford an ear to him whom he conceiveth 
disaffected towards him:  which opinion harsh words infallibly will 
produce; no man can expect to hear truth from him whom he 
apprehendeth disordered in his own mind, whom he seeth rude in his 
proceedings, whom he taketh to be unjust in his dealing; as men 
certainly will take those to be, who presume to revile others for 
using their own judgment freely, and dissenting from them in 
opinion.  Again, this course doth blind the hearer's mind, so that 
he cannot discern what he that pretends to instruct him doth mean, 
or how he doth assert his doctrine.  Truth will not be discerned 
through the smoke of wrathful expressions; right being defaced by 
foul language will not appear, passion being excited will not suffer 
a man to perceive the sense or the force of an argument.  The will 
also thereby is hardened and hindered from submitting to truth.  In 
such a case, non persuadebis, etiamsi persuaseris; although you stop 
his mouth, you cannot subdue his heart; although he can no longer 
fight, yet he never will yield:  animosity raised by such usage 
rendereth him invincibly obstinate in his conceits and courses.  
Briefly, from this proceeding men become unwilling to mark, unfit to 
apprehend, indisposed to embrace any good instruction or advice; it 
maketh them indocile and intractable, averse from better 
instruction, pertinacious in their opinions, and refractory in their 

"Every man," saith the wise man, "shall kiss his lips that giveth a 
right answer;" but no man surely will be ready to kiss those lips 
which are embittered with reproach, or defiled with dirty language.

It is said of Pericles, that with thundering and lightning he put 
Greece into confusion; such discourse may serve to confound things, 
it seldom tendeth to compose them.  If reason will not pierce, rage 
will scarce avail to drive it in.  Satirical virulency may vex men 
sorely, but it hardly ever soundly converts them.  "Few become wiser 
or better by ill words."  Children may be frightened into compliance 
by loud and severe reprimands; but men are to be allured by rational 
persuasion backed with courteous usage; they may be sweetly drawn, 
they cannot be violently driven to change their judgment and 
practice.  Whence that advice of the apostle, "With meekness 
instruct those that oppose themselves," doth no less savour of 
wisdom than of goodness.

Fifthly, as for examples of extraordinary persons, which in some 
cases do seem to authorise the practice of evil-speaking, we may 
consider that, as they had especial commission enabling them to do 
some things beyond ordinary standing rules, wherein they are not to 
be imitated:  as they had especial illumination and direction, which 
preserved them from swerving in particular cases from truth and 
equity; so the tenor of their life did evidence that it was the 
glory of God, the good of men, the necessity of the case, which 
moved them to it.  And of them also we may observe, that on divers 
occasions (yea, generally, whenever only their private credit or 
interest was concerned), although grievously provoked, they did out 
of meekness, patience, and charity, wholly forbear reproachful 
speech.  Our Saviour, who sometimes upon special reason in His 
discourses used such harsh words, yet when He was most spitefully 
accused, reproached, and persecuted, did not open His mouth, or 
return one angry word:  "Being reviled, He did not," as St. Peter, 
proposing His example to us, telleth us, "revile again; suffering, 
He did not threaten."  He used the softest language to Judas, to the 
soldiers, to Pilate and Herod, to the priests, etc.  And the 
apostles, who sometimes inveigh so zealously against the opposers 
and perverters of truth, did in their private conversation and 
demeanour strictly observe their own rules, of abstinence from 
reproach:  "Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer 
it;" so doth St. Paul represent their practice.  And in reason we 
should rather follow them in this their ordinary course, than in 
their extraordinary sallies of practice.

In fine, however in some cases and circumstances the matter may 
admit such exceptions, so that all language disgraceful to our 
neighbour is not ever culpable; yet the cases are so few and rare in 
comparison, the practice commonly so dangerous and ticklish, that 
worthily forbearing to reproach doth bear the style of a general 
rule; and particularly (for clearer direction) we are in the 
following cases obliged carefully to shun it; or in speaking about 
our neighbour we must observe these cautions.

1.  We should never in severe terms inveigh against any man without 
reasonable warrant, or presuming upon a good call and commission 
thereto.  As every man should not assume to himself the power of 
administering justice (of trying, sentencing, and punishing 
offenders), so must not every man take upon him to speak against 
those who seem to do ill; which is a sort of punishment, including 
the infliction of smart and damage upon the persons concerned.  
Every man hath indeed a commission, in due place and season, with 
discretion and moderation to admonish his neighbour offending; but 
otherwise to speak ill of him, no private man hath just right or 
authority, and therefore, in presuming to do it, he is disorderly 
and irregular, trespassing beyond his bounds, usurping an undue 
power to himself.

2.  We should never speak ill of any man without apparent just 
cause.  It must be just; we must not reproach men for things 
innocent or indifferent; for not concurring in disputable opinions 
with us, for not complying with our humour, for not serving our 
interest, for not doing anything to which they are not obliged, or 
for using their liberty in any case:  it must be at least some 
considerable fault, which we can so much as tax.  It must also be 
clear and certain, notorious and palpable; for to speak ill upon 
slender conjectures, or doubtful suspicions, is full of iniquity.  
"[Greek], "They rail at things which they know not," is part of 
those wicked men's character, whom St. Jude doth so severely 
reprehend.  If, indeed, these conditions being wanting, we presume 
to reproach any man, we do therein no less than slander him; which 
to do is unlawful in any case, is in truth a most diabolical and 
detestable crime.  To impose odious names and characters on any 
person, which he deserveth not, or without ground of truth, is to 
play the devil; and hell itself scarce will own a fouler practice.

3.  We should not cast reproach upon any man without some necessary 
reason.  In charity (that charity which "covereth all sins," which 
"covereth a multitude of sins") we are bound to connive at the 
defects, and to conceal the faults of our brethren; to extenuate and 
excuse them, when apparent, so far as we may in truth and equity.  
We must not therefore ever produce them to light, or prosecute them 
with severity, except very needful occasion urgeth--such as is the 
glory and service of God, the maintenance of truth, the vindication 
of innocence, the preservation of public justice and peace; the 
amendment of our neighbour himself, or securing others from 
contagion.  Barring such reasons (really being, not affectedly 
pretended), we are bound not so much as to disclose, as to touch our 
neighbour's faults; much more, not to blaze them about, not to 
exaggerate them by vehement invectives.

4.  We should never speak ill of any man beyond measure; be the 
cause never so just, the occasion never so necessary, we should yet 
nowise be immoderate therein, exceeding the bounds prescribed by 
truth, equity, and humanity.  We should never speak worse of any man 
whatever than he certainly deserveth, according to the most 
favourable construction of his doings; never more than the cause 
absolutely requireth.  We should rather be careful to fall short of 
what in rigorous truth might be said against him, than in the least 
to pass beyond it.  The best cause had better seem to suffer a 
little by our reservedness in its defence, than any man be wronged 
by our aspersing him; for God, the patron of truth and right, is 
ever able to secure them without the succour of our unjust and 
uncharitable dealing.  The contrary practice hath indeed within it a 
spice of slander, that is, of the worst iniquity.

5.  We must never speak ill of any man out of bad principles, or for 
bad ends.

No sudden or rash anger should instigate us thereto.  For, "Let all 
bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil-speaking be 
put away from you, with all malice," is the apostolical precept; 
they are all associates and kindred, which are to be cast away 
together.  Such anger itself is culpable, as a work of the flesh, 
and therefore to be suppressed; and all its brood therefore is also 
to be smothered; the daughter of such a mother cannot be legitimate.  
"The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God."

We must not speak ill out of inveterate hatred or ill-will.  For 
this murderous, this viperous disposition should itself be rooted 
out of our hearts:  whatever issueth from it cannot be otherwise 
than very bad; it must be a poisonous breath that exhaleth from that 
foul source.

We must not be provoked thereto by any revengeful disposition, or 
rancorous spleen, in regard to any injuries or discourtesies 
received.  For, as we must not revenge ourselves, or render evil in 
any other way, so particularly not in this, which is commonly the 
special instance expressly prohibited.  "Render not evil for evil," 
saith St. Peter, "nor railing for railing; but contrariwise bless," 
or speak well; and "Bless them," saith the Lord, "which curse you;" 
"Bless," saith St. Paul, "and curse not."

We must not also do it out of contempt; for we are not to slight our 
brethren in our hearts.  No man really, considering what he is, 
whence he came, how he is related, what he is capable of, can be 
despicable.  Extreme naughtiness is indeed contemptible; but the 
unhappy person that is engaged therein is rather to be pitied than 
despised.  However, charity bindeth us to stifle contemptuous 
motions of heart, and not to vent them in vilifying expression.  
Particularly, it is a barbarous practice, out of contempt to 
reproach persons for natural imperfections, for meanness of 
condition, for unlucky disasters, for any involuntary defects; this 
being indeed to reproach mankind, unto which such things are 
incident; to reproach Providence, from the disposal whereof they do 
proceed.  "Whoso mocketh the poor, despiseth his Maker," saith the 
wise man; and the same may be said of him that reproachfully mocketh 
him that is dull in parts, deformed in body, weak in health or 
strength, defective in any such way.

Likewise we must not speak ill out of envy; because others do excel 
us in any good quality, or exceed us in fortune.  To harbour this 
base and ugly disposition in our minds is unworthy of a man (who 
should delight in all good springing up anywhere, and befalling any 
man, naturally allied unto him); it is most unworthy of a Christian, 
who should tender his brother's good as his own, and rejoice with 
those that rejoice.  From thence to be drawn to cast reproach upon 
any man, is horrible and heinous wickedness.

Neither should we ever use reproach as a means of compassing any 
design we do affect or aim at; 'tis an unwarrantable engine of 
raising us to wealth, dignity, or repute.  To grow by the 
diminution, to rise by the depression, to shine by the eclipse of 
others, to build a fortune upon the ruins of our neighbour's 
reputation, is that which no honourable mind can affect, no honest 
man will endeavour.  Our own wit, courage, and industry, managed 
with God's assistance and blessing, are sufficient, and only lawful 
instruments of prosecuting honest enterprises; we need not, we must 
not instead of them employ our neighbour's disgrace; no worldly good 
is worth purchasing at such a rate, no project worth achieving by 
such foul ways.

Neither should we out of malignity, to cherish or gratify ill 
humour, use this practice.  It is observable of some persons, that 
not out of any formed displeasure, grudge, or particular 
disaffection, nor out of any particular design, but merely out of a 
[Greek], an ill disposition, springing up from nature, or contracted 
by use, they are apt to carp at any action, and with sharp reproach 
to bite any man that comes in their way, thereby feeding and 
soothing that evil inclination.  But as this inhuman and currish 
humour should be corrected, and extirpated from our hearts; so 
should the issues thereof at our mouths be stopped; the bespattering 
our neighbour's good name should never afford any satisfaction or 
delight unto us.

Nor out of wantonness should we speak ill, for our divertisement or 
sport.  For our neighbour's reputation is too great and precious a 
thing to be played with, or offered up to sport; we are very foolish 
in so disvaluing it, very naughty in so misusing it.  Our wits are 
very barren, our brains are ill furnished with store of knowledge, 
if we can find no other matter of conversation.

Nor out of negligence and inadvertency should we sputter out 
reproachful speech; shooting ill words at rovers, or not regarding 
who stands in our way.  Among all temerities this is one of the most 
noxious, and therefore very culpable.

In fine, we should never speak concerning our neighbour from any 
other principle than charity, or to any other intent but what is 
charitable; such as tendeth to his good, or at least is consistent 
therewith.  "Let all your things," saith St. Paul, "be done in 
charity;" and words are most of the THINGS we do concerning our 
neighbour, wherein we may express charity.  In all our speeches, 
therefore, touching him, we should plainly show that we have a care 
of his reputation, that we tender his interest, that we even desire 
his content and repose.  Even when reason and need do so require 
that we should disclose and reprehend his faults, we may, we should 
by the manner and scope of our speech signify thus much.  Which 
rule, were it observed, if we should never speak ill otherwise than 
out of charity, surely most ill-speaking would be cut off; most, I 
fear, of our tattling about others, much of our gossiping would be 

Indeed, so far from bitter or sour our language should be, that it 
ought to be sweet and pleasant; so far from rough and harsh, that it 
should be courteous and obliging; so far from signifying wrath, ill-
will, contempt, or animosity, that it should express tender 
affection, good esteem, sincere respect towards our brethren; and be 
apt to produce the like in them towards us.  The sense of them 
should be grateful to the heart; the very sound and accent of them 
should be delightful to the ear.  Every one should please his 
neighbour for his good to edification.  Our words should always be 
[Greek], with grace, seasoned with salt; they should have the grace 
of courtesy, they should be seasoned with the salt of discretion, so 
as to be sweet and savoury to the hearers.  Commonly ill language is 
a certain sign of inward enmity and ill-will.  Good-will is wont to 
show itself in good terms; it clotheth even its grief handsomely, 
and its displeasure carrieth favour in its face; its rigour is civil 
and gentle, tempered with pity for the faults and errors which it 
disliketh, with the desire of their amendment and recovery whom it 
reprehendeth.  It would inflict no more evil than is necessary; it 
would cure its neighbour's disease without exasperating his 
patience, troubling his modesty, or impairing his credit.  As it 
always judgeth candidly, so it never condemneth extremely.

II.  But so much for the explication of this precept, and the 
directive part of our discourse.  I shall now briefly propound some 
inducements to the observance thereof.

1.  Let us consider that nothing more than railing and reviling is 
opposite to the nature, and inconsistent with the tenor of our 
religion; which (as even a heathen did observe of it) nil nisi 
justum suadet, et lene, doth recommend nothing but what is very just 
and mild; which propoundeth the practices of charity, meekness, 
patience, peaceableness, moderation, equity, alacrity, or good 
humour, as its principal laws, and declareth them the chief fruits 
of the Divine spirit and grace; which chargeth us to curb and 
compose all our passions; more particularly to restrain and repress 
anger, animosity, envy, malice, and such-like dispositions, as the 
fruits of carnality and corrupt lust; which consequently drieth up 
all the sources or dammeth up the sluices of bad language.  As it 
doth above all things oblige us to bear no ill-will in our hearts, 
so it chargeth us to vent none with our mouths.

2.  It is therefore often expressly condemned and prohibited as 
evil.  'Tis the property of the wicked; a character of those who 
work iniquity, to "whet their tongues like a sword, and bend their 
bows to shoot their arrows, even bitter words."

3.  No practice hath more severe punishments denounced to it than 
this.  The railer (and it is indeed a very proper and fit punishment 
for him, he being exceedingly bad company) is to be banished out of 
all good society; thereto St. Paul adjudgeth him:  "I have," saith 
he, "now written unto you, not to keep company, if any man that is 
called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a 
railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner, with such an one not to 
eat."  Ye see what company the railer hath in the text, and with 
what a crew of people he is coupled; but no good company he is 
allowed elsewhere; every good Christian should avoid him as a blot, 
and a pest of conversation; and finally he is sure to be excluded 
from the blessed society above in heaven; for "neither thieves, nor 
covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners shall 
inherit the kingdom of God;" and "without" (without the heavenly 
city) "are dogs," saith St. John in his Revelation; that is, those 
chiefly who out of currish spite or malignity do frowardly bark at 
their neighbours, or cruelly bite them with reproachful language.

4.  If we look upon such language in its own nature, what is it but 
a symptom of a foul, a weak, a disordered and a distempered mind?  
'Tis the smoke of inward rage and malice:  'tis a stream that cannot 
issue from a sweet spring; 'tis a storm that cannot bluster out of a 
calm region.  "The words of the pure are pleasant words," as the 
wise man saith.

5.  This practice doth plainly signify low spirit, ill-breeding, and 
bad manners; and thence misbecometh any wise, any honest, any 
honourable person.  It agreeth to children, who are unapt and 
unaccustomed to deal in matters considerable, to squabble; to women 
of meanest rank (apt, by nature, or custom, to be transported with 
passion) to scold.  In our modern languages it is termed villainy, 
as being proper for rustic boors, or men of coarsest education and 
employment; who, having their minds debased by being conversant in 
meanest affairs, do vent their sorry passions, and bicker about 
their petty concernments, in such strains; who also, being not 
capable of a fair reputation, or sensible of disgrace to themselves, 
do little value the credit of others, or care for aspersing it.  But 
such language is unworthy of those persons, and cannot easily be 
drawn from them, who are wont to exercise their thoughts about 
nobler matters, who are versed in affairs manageable only by calm 
deliberation and fair persuasion, not by impetuous and provocative 
rudeness; which do never work otherwise upon masculine souls than so 
as to procure disdain and resistance.  Such persons, knowing the 
benefit of a good name, being wont to possess a good repute, prizing 
their own credit as a considerable good, will never be prone to 
bereave others of the like by opprobrious speech.  A noble enemy 
will never speak of his enemy in bad terms.

We may further consider that all wise, all honest, all ingenuous 
persons have an aversion from ill-speaking, and cannot entertain it 
with any acceptance or complacence; that only ill-natured, unworthy, 
and naughty people are its willing auditors, or do abet it with 
applause.  The good man, in Psalm xv., non accipit opprobrium, doth 
not take up, or accept, a reproach against his neighbour:  "but a 
wicked doer," saith the wise man, "giveth heed to false lips, and a 
liar giveth ear to a naughty tongue."  And what reasonable man will 
do that which is disgustful to the wise and good, is grateful only 
to the foolish and baser sort of men?  I pretermit that using this 
sort of language doth incapacitate a man for benefiting his 
neighbour, and defeateth his endeavours for his edification, 
disparaging a good cause, prejudicing the defence of truth, 
obstructing the effects of good instruction and wholesome reproof; 
as we did before remark and declare.  Further--

6.  He that useth this kind of speech doth, as harm and trouble 
others, so create many great inconveniences and mischiefs to himself 
thereby.  Nothing so inflameth the wrath of men, so provoketh their 
enmity, so breedeth lasting hatred and spite, as do contumelious 
words.  They are often called swords and arrows; and as such they 
pierce deeply, and cause most grievous smart; which men feeling are 
enraged, and accordingly will strive to requite them in the like 
manner and in all other obvious ways of revenge.  Hence strife, 
clamour, and tumult, care, suspicion, and fear, danger and trouble, 
sorrow and regret, do seize on the reviler; and he is sufficiently 
punished for this dealing.  No man can otherwise live than in 
perpetual fear of reciprocal like usage from him whom he is 
conscious of having so abused.  Whence, if not justice, or charity 
towards others, yet love and pity of ourselves should persuade us to 
forbear it as disquietful, incommodious, and mischievous to us.

We should indeed certainly enjoy much love, much concord, much 
quiet, we should live in great safety and security, we should be 
exempted from much care and fear, if we would restrain ourselves 
from abusing and offending our neighbour in this kind:  being 
conscious of so just and innocent demeanour towards him, we should 
converse with him in a pleasant freedom and confidence, not 
suspecting any bad language or ill usage from him.

7.  Hence with evidently good reason is he that useth such language 
called a fool:  and he that abstaineth from it is commended as wise.  
"A fool's lips enter into contention, and his mouth calleth for 
strokes.  A fool's mouth is his destruction, and his lips are the 
snare of his soul.  He that refraineth his tongue is wise.  In the 
tongue of the wise is health.  He that keepeth his lips, keepeth his 
life:  but he that openeth wide his mouth" (that is, in evil-
speaking, gaping with clamour and vehemency) "shall have 
destruction.  The words of a wise man's mouth are gracious:  but the 
lips of a fool will swallow up himself.  Death and life are in the 
power of the tongue; and they that love it shall eat the fruit 
thereof;" that is, of the one or the other, answerably to the kind 
of speech they choose.

In fine, very remarkable is that advice, or resolution of the grand 
point concerning the best way of living happily, in the psalmist:  
"What man is he that desireth life, and loveth many days, that he 
may see good?  Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking 
guile."  Abstinence from ill-speaking he seemeth to propose as the 
first step towards the fruition of a durably happy life.

8.  Lastly, we may consider that it is a grievous perverting of the 
design of speech, that excellent faculty, which so much 
distinguisheth us from, so highly advanceth us above other 
creatures, to use it to the defaming and disquieting of our 
neighbour.  It was given us as an instrument of beneficial commerce 
and delectable conversation; that with it we might assist and 
advise, might cheer and comfort one another:  we, therefore, in 
employing it to the disgrace, vexation, damage or prejudice in any 
kind of our neighbour, do foully abuse it; and so doing, render 
ourselves indeed worse than dumb beasts:  for better far it were 
that we could say nothing, than that we should speak ill.

"Now the God of grace and peace .  . . make us perfect in every good 
work to do His will, working in us that which is well-pleasing in 
His sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever.  


Part 1.

"He that uttereth slander is a fool."--Prov. x. 18.

General declamations against vice and sin are indeed excellently 
useful, as rousing men to consider and look about them:  but they do 
often want effect, because they only raise confused apprehensions of 
things, and indeterminate propensions to action; which usually, 
before men thoroughly perceive or resolve what they should practise, 
do decay and vanish.  As he that cries out "Fire!" doth stir up 
people, and inspireth them with a kind of hovering tendency every 
way, yet no man thence to purpose moveth until he be distinctly 
informed where the mischief is; then do they, who apprehend 
themselves concerned, run hastily to oppose it:  so, till we 
particularly discern where our offences lie (till we distinctly know 
the heinous nature and the mischievous consequences of them), we 
scarce will effectually apply ourselves to correct them.  Whence it 
is requisite that men should be particularly acquainted with their 
sins, and by proper arguments be dissuaded from them.

In order whereto I have now selected one sin to describe, and 
dissuade from, being in nature as vile, and in practice as common, 
as any other whatever that hath prevailed among men.  It is slander, 
a sin which in all times and places hath been epidemical and rife; 
but which especially doth seem to reign and rage in our age and 

There are principles innate to men, which ever have, and ever will 
incline them to this offence.  Eager appetites to secular and 
sensual goods; violent passions, urging the prosecution of what men 
affect; wrath and displeasure against those who stand in the way of 
compassing their desires; emulation and envy towards those who 
happen to succeed better, or to attain a greater share in such 
things; excessive self-love; unaccountable malignity and vanity, are 
in some degrees connatural to all men, and ever prompt them to this 
dealing, as appearing the most efficacious, compendious, and easy 
way of satisfying such appetites, of promoting such designs, of 
discharging such passions.  Slander thence hath always been a 
principal engine whereby covetous, ambitious, envious, ill-natured, 
and vain persons have striven to supplant their competitors, and 
advance themselves; meaning thereby to procure, what they chiefly 
prize and like, wealth, or dignity, or reputation, favour and power 
in the court, respect and interest with the people.

But from especial causes our age peculiarly doth abound in this 
practice; for, besides the common dispositions inclining thereto, 
there are conceits newly coined, and greedily entertained by many, 
which seem purposely levelled at the disparagement of piety, 
charity, and justice, substituting interest in the room of 
conscience, authorising and commending for good and wise, all ways 
serving to private advantage.  There are implacable dissensions, 
fierce animosities, and bitter zeals sprung up; there is an extreme 
curiosity, niceness, and delicacy of judgment:  there is a mighty 
affectation of seeming wise and witty by any means; there is a great 
unsettlement of mind, and corruption of manners, generally diffused 
over people:  from which sources it is no wonder that this flood 
hath so overflown, that no banks can restrain it, no fences are able 
to resist it; so that ordinary conversation is full of it, and no 
demeanour can be secure from it.

If we do mark what is done in many (might I not say, in most?) 
companies, what is it but one telling malicious stories of, or 
fastening odious characters upon another?  What do men commonly 
please themselves in so much, as in carping and harshly censuring, 
in defaming and abusing their neighbours?  Is it not the sport and 
divertisement of many, to cast dirt in the faces of all they meet 
with; to bespatter any man with foul imputations?  Doth not in every 
corner a Momus lurk, from the venom of whose spiteful or petulant 
tongue no eminency of rank, dignity of place, or sacredness of 
office, no innocence or integrity of life, no wisdom or 
circumspection in behaviour, no good-nature or benignity in dealing 
and carriage, can protect any person?  Do not men assume to 
themselves a liberty of telling romances, and framing characters 
concerning their neighbour, as freely as a poet doth about Hector or 
Turnus, Thersites or Draucus?  Do they not usurp a power of playing 
with, or tossing about, of tearing in pieces their neighbour's good 
name, as if it were the veriest toy in the world?  Do not many 
having a form of godliness (some of them, demurely, others 
confidently, both without any sense of, or remorse for what they do) 
backbite their brethren?  Is it not grown so common a thing to 
asperse causelessly that no man wonders at it, that few dislike, 
that scarce any detest it? that most notorious calumniators are 
heard, not only with patience, but with pleasure; yea, are even held 
in vogue and reverence as men of a notable talent, and very 
serviceable to their party? so that slander seemeth to have lost its 
nature, and not to be now an odious sin, but a fashionable humour, a 
way of pleasing entertainment, a fine knack, or curious feat of 
policy; so that no man at least taketh himself or others to be 
accountable for what is said in this way?  Is not, in fine, the case 
become such, that whoever hath in him any love of truth, any sense 
of justice or honesty, any spark of charity towards his brethren, 
shall hardly be able to satisfy himself in the conversations he 
meeteth; but will be tempted, with the holy prophet, to wish himself 
sequestered from society, and cast into solitude; repeating those 
words of his, "Oh, that I had in the wilderness a lodging-place of 
wayfaring men, that I might leave my people, and go from them:  for 
they are . . . . an assembly of treacherous men, and they bend their 
tongues like their bow for lies"?  This he wished in an age so 
resembling ours, that I fear the description with equal patness may 
suit both:  "Take ye heed" (said he then, and may we not advise the 
like now?) "every one of his neighbour, and trust ye not in any 
brother:  for every brother will utterly supplant, and every 
neighbour will walk with slanders.  They will deceive every one his 
neighbour, and will not speak the truth; they have taught their 
tongue to speak lies, and weary themselves to commit iniquity."

Such being the state of things, obvious to experience, no discourse 
may seem more needful, or more useful, than that which serveth to 
correct or check this practice:  which I shall endeavour to do (1) 
by describing the nature, (2) by declaring the folly of it:  or 
showing it to be very true which the wise man here asserteth, "He 
that uttereth slander is a fool."  Which particulars I hope so to 
prosecute, that any man shall be able easily to discern, and ready 
heartily to detest this practice.

I.  For explication of its nature, we may describe slander to be the 
uttering false (or equivalent to false, morally false) speech 
against our neighbour, in prejudice to his fame, his safety, his 
welfare, or concernment in any kind, out of malignity, vanity, 
rashness, ill-nature, or bad design.  That which is in Holy 
Scripture forbidden and reproved under several names and notions:  
of bearing false witness, false accusation, railing censure, 
sycophantry, tale-bearing, whispering, backbiting, supplanting, 
taking up reproach:  which terms some of them do signify the nature, 
others denote the special kinds, others imply the manners, others 
suggest the ends of this practice.  But it seemeth most fully 
intelligible by observing the several kinds and degrees thereof; as 
also by reflecting on the divers ways and manners of practising it.

The principal kinds thereof I observe to be these:

1.  The grossest kind of slander is that which in the Decalogue is 
called, bearing false testimony against our neighbour; that is, 
flatly charging him with facts which he never committed, and is 
nowise guilty of.  As in the case of Naboth, when men were suborned 
to say, "Naboth did blaspheme God and the king:" and as was David's 
case, when he thus complained, "False witnesses did rise up, they 
laid to my charge things that I knew not of."  This kind in the 
highest way (that is, in judicial proceedings) is more rare; and of 
all men, they who are detected to practise it, are held most vile 
and infamous; as being plainly the most pernicious and perilous 
instruments of injustice, the most desperate enemies of all men's 
right and safety that can be.  But also out of the court there are 
many knights-errant of the post, whose business it is to run about 
scattering false reports; sometimes loudly proclaiming them in open 
companies, sometimes closely whispering them in dark corners; thus 
infecting conversation with their poisonous breath:  these no less 
notoriously are guilty of this kind, as bearing always the same 
malice, and sometimes breeding as ill effects.

2.  Another kind is, affixing scandalous names, injurious epithets, 
and odious characters upon persons, which they deserve not.  As when 
Corah and his accomplices did accuse Moses of being ambitious, 
unjust, and tyrannical:  when the Pharisees called our Lord an 
impostor, a blasphemer, a sorcerer, a glutton and wine-bibber, an 
incendiary and perverter of the people, one that spake against 
Caesar, and forbade to give tribute:  when the apostles were charged 
with being pestilent, turbulent, factious and seditious fellows.  
This sort being very common, and thence in ordinary repute not so 
bad, yet in just estimation may be judged, even worse than the 
former; as doing to our neighbour more heavy and more irreparable 
wrong.  For it imposeth on him really more blame, and that such 
which he can hardly shake off:  because the charge signifieth habit 
of evil, and includeth many acts; then, being general and 
indefinite, can scarce be disproved.  He, for instance, that calleth 
a sober man drunkard, doth impute to him many acts of such 
intemperance (some really past, others probably future), and no 
particular time or place being specified, how can a man clear 
himself of that imputation, especially with those who are not 
thoroughly acquainted with his conversation?  So he that calleth a 
man unjust, proud, perverse, hypocritical, doth load him with most 
grievous faults, which it is not possible that the most innocent 
person should discharge himself from.

3.  Like to that kind is this:  aspersing a man's actions with harsh 
censures and foul terms, importing that they proceed from ill 
principles, or tend to bad ends; so as it doth not or cannot appear.  
Thus when we say of him that is generously hospitable, that he is 
profuse; of him that is prudently frugal, that he is niggardly; of 
him that is cheerful and free in his conversation, that he is vain 
or loose; of him that is serious and resolute in a good way, that he 
is sullen or morose; of him that is conspicuous and brisk in 
virtuous practice, that it is ambition or ostentation which prompts 
him; of him that is close and bashful in the like good way, that it 
is sneaking stupidity, or want of spirit; of him that is reserved, 
that it is craft; of him that is open, that it is simplicity in him; 
when we ascribe a man's liberality and charity to vainglory, or 
popularity; his strictness of life, and constancy, in devotion, to 
superstition, or hypocrisy.  When, I say, we pass such censures, or 
impose such characters on the laudable or innocent practice of our 
neighbours, we are indeed slanderers, imitating therein the great 
calumniator, who thus did slander even God Himself, imputing His 
prohibition of the fruit unto envy towards men; "God," said he, 
"doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, your eyes shall be 
opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil;" who thus 
did ascribe the steady piety of Job, not to a conscientious love and 
fear of God, but to policy and selfish design:  "Doth Job fear God 
for nought?"

Whoever, indeed, pronounceth concerning his neighbour's intentions 
otherwise than as they are evidently expressed by words, or 
signified by overt actions, is a slanderer; because he pretendeth to 
know, and dareth to aver, that which he nowise possibly can tell 
whether it be true; because the heart is exempt from all 
jurisdiction here, is only subject to the government and trial of 
another world; because no man can judge concerning the truth of such 
accusations, because no man can exempt or defend himself from them:  
so that apparently such practice doth thwart all course of justice 
and equity.

4.  Another kind is, perverting a man's words or actions 
disadvantageously by affected misconstruction.  All words are 
ambiguous, and capable of different senses, some fair, some more 
foul; all actions have two handles, one that candour and charity 
will, another that disingenuity and spite may lay hold on; and in 
such cases to misapprehend is a calumnious procedure, arguing 
malignant disposition and mischievous design.  Thus when two men did 
witness that our Lord affirmed, He "could demolish the temple, and 
rear it again in three days"--although He did indeed speak words to 
that purpose, meaning them in a figurative sense, discernible enough 
to those who would candidly have minded His drift and way of 
speaking--yet they who crudely alleged them against Him are called 
false witnesses.  "At last," saith the Gospel, "came two false 
witnesses, and said, This fellow said, I am able to destroy the 
temple," etc.  Thus also when some certified of St. Stephen, as 
having said that "Jesus of Nazareth should destroy that place, and 
change the customs that Moses delivered;" although probably he did 
speak words near to that purpose, yet are those men called false 
witnesses:  "And," saith St. Luke, "they set up false witnesses, 
which said, This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words," etc.  
Which instances plainly do show, if we would avoid the guilt of 
slander, how careful we should be to interpret fairly and favourably 
the words and the actions of our neighbour.

5.  Another sort of this practice is, partial and lame 
representation of men's discourse, or their practice; suppressing 
some part of the truth in them, or concealing some circumstances 
about them which might serve to explain, to excuse, or to extenuate 
them.  In such a manner easily, without uttering any logical 
untruth, one may yet grievously calumniate.  Thus suppose a man 
speaketh a thing upon supposition, or with exception, or in way of 
objection, or merely for disputation sake, in order to the 
discussion or clearing of truth; he that should report him asserting 
it absolutely, unlimitedly, positively and peremptorily, as his own 
settled judgment, would notoriously calumniate.  If one should be 
inveigled by fraud, or driven by violence, or slip by chance into a 
bad place or bad company, he that should so represent the gross of 
that accident, as to breed an opinion of that person, that out of 
pure disposition and design he did put himself there, doth 
slanderously abuse that innocent person.  The reporter in such cases 
must not think to defend himself by pretending that he spake nothing 
false; for such propositions, however true in logic, may justly be 
deemed lies in morality, being uttered with a malicious and 
deceitful (that is, with a calumnious) mind, being apt to impress 
false conceits and to produce hurtful effects concerning our 
neighbour.  There are slanderous truths as well as slanderous 
falsehoods:  when truth is uttered with a deceitful heart, and to a 
base end, it becomes a lie.  "He that speaketh truth," saith the 
wise man, "showeth forth righteousness:  but a false witness 
deceit."  Deceiving is the proper work of slander:  and truth abused 
to that end putteth on its nature, and will engage into like guilt.

6.  Another kind of calumny is, by instilling sly suggestions; which 
although they do not downrightly assert falsehoods, yet they breed 
sinister opinions in the hearers; especially in those who, from 
weakness or credulity, from jealousy or prejudice, from negligence 
or inadvertency, are prone to entertain them.  This is done many 
ways:  by propounding wily suppositions, shrewd insinuations, crafty 
questions, and specious comparisons, intimating a possibility, or 
inferring some likelihood of, and thence inducing to believe the 
fact.  "Doth not," saith this kind of slanderer, "his temper incline 
him to do thus? may not his interest have swayed him thereto? had he 
not fair opportunity and strong temptation to it? hath he not acted 
so in like cases?  Judge you therefore whether he did it not."  Thus 
the close slanderer argueth; and a weak or prejudiced person is 
thereby so caught, that he presently is ready thence to conclude the 
thing done.  Again:  "He doeth well," saith the sycophant, "it is 
true; but why, and to what end?  Is it not, as most men do, out of 
ill design? may he not dissemble now? may he not recoil hereafter? 
have not others made as fair a show? yet we know what came of it."  
Thus do calumnious tongues pervert the judgments of men to think ill 
of the most innocent, and meanly of the worthiest actions.  Even 
commendation itself is often used calumniously, with intent to breed 
dislike and ill-will towards a person commended in envious or 
jealous ears; or so as to give passage to dispraises, and render the 
accusations following more credible.  'Tis an artifice commonly 
observed to be much in use there, where the finest tricks of 
supplanting are practised, with greatest effect; so that pessimum 
inimicorum genus, laudantes; there is no more pestilent enemy than a 
malevolent praiser.  All these kinds of dealing, as they issue from 
the principles of slander, and perform its work, so they deservedly 
bear the guilt thereof.

7.  A like kind is that of oblique and covert reflections; when a 
man doth not directly or expressly charge his neighbour with faults, 
but yet so speaketh that he is understood, or reasonably presumed to 
do it.  This is a very cunning and very mischievous way of 
slandering; for therein the skulking calumniator keepeth a reserve 
for himself, and cutteth off from the person concerned the means of 
defence.  If he goeth to clear himself from the matter of such 
aspersions:  "What need," saith this insidious speaker, "of that? 
must I needs mean you? did I name you? why do you then assume it to 
yourself? do you not prejudge yourself guilty?  I did not, but your 
own conscience, it seemeth, doth accuse you.  You are so jealous and 
suspicious, as persons overwise or guilty use to be."  So meaneth 
this serpent out of the hedge securely and unavoidably to bite his 
neighbour, and is in that respect more base and more hurtful than 
the most flat and positive slanderer.

8.  Another kind is that of magnifying and aggravating the faults of 
others; raising any small miscarriage into a heinous crime, any 
slender defect into an odious vice, and any common infirmity into a 
strange enormity; turning a small "mote in the eye" of our neighbour 
into a huge "beam," a little dimple in his face into a monstrous 
wen.  This is plainly slander, at least in degree, and according to 
the surplusage whereby the censure doth exceed the fault.  As he 
that, upon the score of a small debt, doth extort a great sum, is no 
less a thief, in regard to what amounts beyond his due, than if 
without any pretence he had violently or fraudulently seized on it:  
so he is a slanderer that, by heightening faults or imperfections, 
doth charge his neighbour with greater blame, or load him with more 
disgrace than he deserves.  'Tis not only slander to pick a hole 
where there is none, but to make that wider which is, so that it 
appeareth more ugly, and cannot so easily be mended.  For charity is 
wont to extenuate faults, justice doth never exaggerate them.  As no 
man is exempt from some defects, or can live free from some 
misdemeanours, so by this practice every man may be rendered very 
odious and infamous.

9.  Another kind of slander is, imputing to our neighbour's 
practice, judgment, or profession, evil consequences (apt to render 
him odious, or despicable) which have no dependence on them, or 
connection with them.  There do in every age occur disorders and 
mishaps, springing from various complications of causes, working 
some of them in a more open and discernible, others in a more secret 
and subtle way (especially from Divine judgment and providence 
checking or chastising sin):  from such occurrences it is common to 
snatch occasion and matter of calumny.  Those who are disposed this 
way, are ready peremptorily to charge them upon whomsoever they 
dislike or dissent from, although without any apparent cause, or 
upon most frivolous and senseless pretences; yea, often when reason 
showeth quite the contrary, and they who are so charged are in just 
esteem of all men the least obnoxious to such accusations.  So 
usually the best friends of mankind, those who most heartily wish 
the peace and prosperity of the world and most earnestly to their 
power strive to promote them, have all the disturbances and 
disasters happening charged on them by those fiery vixens, who (in 
pursuance of their base designs, or gratification of their wild 
passions) really do themselve embroil things, and raise miserable 
combustions in the world.  So it is that they who have the 
conscience to do mischief, will have the confidence also to disavow 
the blame and the iniquity, to lay the burden of it on those who are 
most innocent.  Thus, whereas nothing more disposeth men to live 
orderly and peaceably, nothing more conduceth to the settlement and 
safety of the public, nothing so much draweth blessings down from 
heaven upon the commonwealth, as true religion; yet nothing hath 
been more ordinary than to attribute all the miscarriages and 
mischiefs that happened unto it; even those are laid at his door, 
which plainly do arise from the contempt or neglect of it; being the 
natural fruits or the just punishments of irreligion.  King Ahab by 
forsaking God's commandments, and following wicked superstitions, 
had troubled Israel, drawing sore judgments and calamities thereon; 
yet had he the heart and the face to charge those events on the 
great assertor of piety, Elias:  "Art thou he that troubleth 
Israel?"  The Jews by provocation of Divine justice had set 
themselves in a fair way towards desolation and ruin; this event to 
come they had the presumption to lay upon the faith of our Lord's 
doctrine:  "If," said they, "we let Him alone, all men will believe 
on Him, and the Romans shall come, and take away our place and 
nation:" whereas, in truth, a compliance with His directions and 
admonitions had been the only means to prevent those presaged 
mischiefs.  And, si Tibris ascenderit in maenia, if any public 
calamity did appear, then Christianos ad leones, Christians must be 
charged and persecuted as the causes thereof.  To them it was that 
Julian and other pagans did impute all the concussions, confusions, 
and devastations falling upon the Roman Empire.  The sacking of Rome 
by the Goths they cast upon Christianity; for the vindication of it 
from which reproach St. Austin did write those renowned books de 
Civitate Dei.  So liable are the best and most innocent sort of men 
to be calumniously accused in this manner.

Another practice (worthily bearing the guilt of slander) is, aiding 
and being accessory thereto, by anywise furthering, cherishing, 
abetting it.  He that by crafty significations of ill-will doth 
prompt the slanderer to vent his poison; he that by a willing 
audience and attention doth readily suck it up, or who greedily 
swalloweth it down by credulous approbation and assent; he that 
pleasingly relisheth and smacketh at it, or expresseth a delightful 
complacence therein:  as he is a partner in the fact, so he is a 
sharer in the guilt.  There are not only slanderous throats, but 
slanderous ears also; not only wicked inventions, which engender and 
brood lies, but wicked assents, which hatch and foster them.  Not 
only the spiteful mother that conceiveth such spurious brats, but 
the midwife that helpeth to bring them forth, the nurse that feedeth 
them, the guardian that traineth them up to maturity, and setteth 
them forth to live in the world; as they do really contribute to 
their subsistence, so deservedly they partake in the blame due to 
them, and must be responsible for the mischief they do.  For indeed 
were it not for such free entertainers, such nourishers, such 
encouragers of them, slanderers commonly would die in the womb, or 
prove still-born, or presently entering into the cold air, would 
expire, or for want of nourishment soon would starve.  It is such 
friends and patrons of them who are the causes that they are so 
rife; they it is who set ill-natured, base, and designing people 
upon devising, searching after, and picking up malicious and idle 
stories.  Were it not for such customers, the trade of calumniating 
would fall.  Many pursue it merely out of servility and flattery, to 
tickle the ears, to soothe the humour, to gratify the malignant 
disposition or ill-will of others; who upon the least discouragement 
would give over the practice.  If therefore we would exempt 
ourselves from all guilt of slander, we must not only abstain from 
venting it, but forbear to regard or countenance it:  for "he is," 
saith the wise man, "a wicked doer who giveth heed to false lips, 
and a liar who giveth ear to a naughty tongue."  Yea, if we 
thoroughly would be clear from it, we must show an aversion from 
hearing it, an unwillingness to believe it, an indignation against 
it; so either stifling it in the birth, or condemning it to death, 
being uttered.  This is the sure way to destroy it, and to prevent 
its mischief.  If we would stop our ears, we should stop the 
slanderer's mouth; if we would resist the calumniator, he would fly 
from us; if we would reprove him, we should repel him.  For, "as the 
north wind driveth away rain, so," the wise man telleth us, "doth an 
angry countenance a backbiting tongue."

These are the chief and most common kinds of slander; and there are 
several ways of practising them worthy our observing, that we may 
avoid them, namely these:--

1.  The most notoriously heinous way is, forging and immediately 
venting ill stories.  As it is said of Doeg, "Thy tongue deviseth 
mischief;" and of another like companion, "Thou givest thy mouth to 
evil, and thy tongue frameth deceit;" and as our Lord saith of the 
devil, "When he speaketh a lie, [Greek], he speaketh of his own; for 
he is a liar, and the father of it."  This palpably is the supreme 
pitch of calumny, incapable of any qualifications or excuse:  hell 
cannot go beyond this; the cursed fiend himself cannot worse employ 
his wit than in minting wrongful falsehoods.

2.  Another way is, receiving from others, and venting such stories, 
which they who do it certainly know or may reasonably presume to be 
false; the becoming hucksters of counterfeit wares, or factors in 
this vile trade.  There is no false coiner who hath not some 
accomplices and emissaries ready to take from his hand and put off 
his money; and such slanderers at second hand are scarce less guilty 
than the first authors.  He that breweth lies may have more wit and 
skill, but the broacher showeth the like malice and wickedness.  In 
this there is no great difference between the great devil, that 
frameth scandalous reports, and the little imps that run about and 
disperse them.

3.  Another way is, when one without competent examination, due 
weighing, and just reason, doth admit and spread tales prejudicial 
to his neighbour's welfare; relying for his warrant, as to the truth 
of them, upon any slight or slender authority.  This is a very 
common and current practice:  men presume it lawful enough to say 
over whatever they hear; to report anything, if they can quote an 
author for it.  "It is not," say they, "my invention; I tell it as I 
heard it:  sit fides penes authorem; let him that informed me 
undergo the blame if it prove false."  So do they conceive 
themselves excusable for being the instruments of injurious disgrace 
and damage to their neighbours.  But they greatly mistake therein; 
for as this practice commonly doth arise from the same wicked 
principles, at least in some degree, and produceth altogether the 
like mischievous effects, as the wilful devising and conveying 
slander:  so it no less thwarteth the rules of duty, the laws of 
equity; God hath prohibited it, and reason doth condemn it.  "Thou 
shalt not," saith God in the Law, "go up and down as a tale-bearer 
among thy people:" as a talebearer (as Rachil, that is), as a 
merchant or trader in ill reports and stories concerning our 
neighbour, to his prejudice.  Not only the framing of them, but the 
dealing in them beyond reason or necessity, is interdicted.  And it 
is part of a good man's character in Psalm xv., Non accipit 
opprobrium, "He taketh not up a reproach against his neighbour;" 
that is, he doth not easily entertain it, much less doth he 
effectually propagate it:  and in our text, "He," it is said, "that 
uttereth slander" (not only he that conceiveth it) "is a fool."

And in reason, before exact trial and cognisance, to meddle with the 
fame and interest of another, is evidently a practice full of 
iniquity, such as no man can allow in his own case, or brook being 
used towards himself without judging himself to be extremely abused 
by such reporters.  In all reason and equity, yea, in all 
discretion, before we yield credence to any report concerning our 
neighbour, or venture to relate it, many things are carefully to be 
weighed and scanned.  We should, concerning our author, consider 
whether he be not a particular enemy, or disaffected to him:  
whether he be not ill-humoured, or a delighter in telling bad 
stories; whether he be not dishonest, or unregardful of justice in 
his dealings and discourse; whether he be not vain, or careless of 
what he saith; whether he be not light or credulous, or apt to be 
imposed upon by any small appearance; whether, at least in the 
present case, he be not negligent, or too forward and rash in 
speaking.  We should also, concerning the matter reported, mind 
whether it be possible or probable; whether suitable to the 
disposition of our neighbour, to his principles, to the constant 
tenor of his practice; whether the action imputed to him be not 
liable to misapprehension, or his words to misconstruction.  All 
reason and equity do, I say, exact from us, diligently to consider 
such things, before we do either embrace ourselves or transmit unto 
others any story concerning our neighbour; lest unadvisedly we do 
him irreparable wrong and mischief.  Briefly, we should take his 
case for our own, and consider whether we ourselves should be 
content that upon like grounds or testimonies any man should 
believe, or report, disgraceful things concerning us.  If we fail to 
do thus, we do, vainly, or rashly, or maliciously, conspire with the 
slanderer to the wrong of our innocent neighbour; and that in the 
psalmist, by a parity of reason, may be transferred to us, "Thou 
hast consented unto the liar, and hast partaken with the" author of 

4.  Of kin to this way is the assenting to popular rumours, and 
thence affirming matters of obloquy to our neighbour.  Every one by 
experience knows how easily false news do rise, and how nimbly they 
scatter themselves; how often they are raised from nothing, how soon 
they from small sparks grow into a great blaze, how easily from one 
thing they are transformed into another; especially news of this 
kind, which do suit and feed the bad humour of the vulgar.  'Tis 
obvious to any man how true that is of Tacitus, how void of 
consideration, of judgment, of equity, the busy and talking part of 
mankind is.  Whoever therefore gives heed to flying tales, and 
thrusts himself into the herd of those who spread them, is either 
strangely injudicious, or very malignantly disposed.  If he want not 
judgment, he cannot but know that when he complieth with popular 
fame, it is mere chance that he doth not slander, or rather it is 
odds that he shall do so; he consequently showeth himself to be 
indifferent whether he doeth it or no, or rather that he doth 
incline to do it; whence, not caring to be otherwise, or loving to 
be a slanderer, he in effect and just esteem is such; having at 
least a slanderous heart and inclination.  He that puts it to the 
venture whether he lieth or no, doth eo ipso lie morally, as 
declaring no care or love of truth.  "Thou shalt not," saith the 
Law, "follow a multitude to do evil;" and with like reason we should 
not follow the multitude in speaking evil of our neighbour.

5.  Another slanderous course is, to build censures and reproaches 
upon slender conjectures, or uncertain suspicions (those [Greek], 
evil surmises, which St. Paul condemneth).  Of these occasion can 
never be wanting to them who seek them, or are ready to embrace 
them; no innocence, no wisdom can anywise prevent them; and if they 
may be admitted as grounds of defamation, no man's good name can be 
secure.  But he that upon such accounts dareth to asperse his 
neighbour is in moral computation no less a slanderer than if he did 
the like out of pure invention, or without any ground at all:  for 
doubtful and false in this case differ little; to devise, and to 
divine, in matters of this nature, do import near the same.  He that 
will judge or speak ill of others, ought to be well assured of what 
he thinks or says; he that asserteth that which he doth not know to 
be true, doth as well lie as he that affirmeth that which he knoweth 
to be false; for he deceiveth the hearers, begetting in them an 
opinion that he is assured of what he affirms; especially in dealing 
with the concernments of others, whose right and repute justice doth 
oblige us to beware of infringing, charity should dispose us to 
regard and tender as our own.  It is not every possibility, every 
seeming, every faint show or glimmering appearance, which sufficeth 
to ground bad opinion or reproachful discourse concerning our 
brother:  the matter should be clear, notorious and palpable, before 
we admit a disadvantageous conceit into our head, a distasteful 
resentment into our heart, a harsh word into our mouth about him.  
Men may fancy themselves sagacious and shrewd, persons of deep 
judgment and fine wit they may be taken for, when they can dive into 
others' hearts, and sound their intentions; when through thick mists 
or at remote distances they can descry faults in them; when they 
collect ill of them by long trains, and subtle fetches of discourse:  
but in truth they do thereby rather betray in themselves small love 
of truth, care of justice, or sense of charity, together with little 
wisdom and discretion:  for truth is only seen in a clear light; 
justice requireth strict proof.  Charity "thinketh no evil," and 
"believeth all things" for the best; wisdom is not forward to 
pronounce before full evidence.  ("He," saith the wise man, "that 
answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto 
him.")  In fine, they who proceed thus, as it is usual that they 
speak falsely, as it is casual that they ever speak truly, as they 
affect to speak ill, true or false; so worthily they are to be 
reckoned among slanderers.

6.  Another like way of slandering is, impetuous or negligent 
sputtering out of words, without minding what truth or consequence 
there is in them, how they may touch or hurt our neighbour.  To 
avoid this sin, we must not only be free from intending mischief, 
but wary of effecting it; not only careful of not wronging one 
distinct person, but of harming any promiscuously; not only 
abstinent from aiming directly, but provident not to hit casually 
any person with obloquy.  For as he that dischargeth shot into a 
crowd, or so as not to look about regarding who may stand in the 
way, is no less guilty of doing mischief, and bound to make 
satisfaction to them he woundeth, than if he had aimed at some one 
person:  so if we sling our bad words at random, which may light 
unluckily, and defame somebody, we become slanderers unawares, and 
before we think on it.  This practice hath not ever all the malice 
of the worst slander, but it worketh often the effects thereof; and 
therefore doth incur its guilt, and its punishment; especially it 
being commonly derived from ill-temper, or from bad habit, which we 
are bound to watch over, to curb, and to correct.  The tongue is a 
sharp and perilous weapon, which we are bound to keep up in the 
sheath, or never to draw forth but advisedly, and upon just 
occasion; it must ever be wielded with caution and care:  to 
brandish it wantonly, to lay about with it blindly and furiously, to 
slash and smite therewith any that happeneth to come in our way, 
doth argue malice or madness.

7.  It is an ordinary way of proceeding to calumniate, for men, 
reflecting upon some bad disposition in themselves (although 
resulting from their own particular temper, from their bad 
principles, or from their ill custom), to charge it presently upon 
others; presuming others to be like themselves:  like the wicked 
person in the psalm, "Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an 
one as thyself."  This is to slander mankind first in the gross; 
then in retail, as occasion serveth, to asperse any man; this is the 
way of half-witted Machiavellians, and of desperate reprobates in 
wickedness, who having prostituted their consciences to vice, for 
their own defence and solace, would shroud themselves from blame 
under the shelter of common pravity and infirmity; accusing all men 
of that whereof they know themselves guilty.  But surely there can 
be no greater iniquity than this, that one man should undergo blame 
for the ill conscience of another.

These seem to be the chief kinds of slander, and most common ways of 
practising it.  In which description, the folly thereof doth, I 
suppose, so clearly shine, that no man can look thereon without 
loathing and despising it, as not only a very ugly, but a most 
foolish practice.  No man surely can be wise who will suffer himself 
to be defiled therewith.  But to render its folly more apparent, we 
shall display it; declaring it to be extremely foolish upon several 
accounts.  But the doing of this, in regard to your patience, we 
shall forbear at present.


Part 2.

"He that uttereth slander is a fool."--Prov. x. 18.

I have formerly in this place, discoursing upon this text, explained 
the nature of the sin here condemned, with its several kinds and 
ways of practising.

II.  I shall now proceed to declare the folly of it; and to make 
good by divers reasons the assertion of the wise man, that "He who 
uttereth slander is a fool."

1.  Slandering is foolish, as sinful and wicked.

All sin is foolish upon many accounts; as proceeding from ignorance, 
error, inconsiderateness, vanity; as implying weak judgment, and 
irrational choice; as thwarting the dictates of reason, and best 
rules of wisdom; as producing very mischievous effects to ourselves, 
bereaving us of the chief goods, and exposing us to the worst evils.  
What can be more egregiously absurd than to dissent in our opinion 
and discord in our choice from infinite wisdom; to provoke by our 
actions sovereign justice, and immutable severity:  to oppose 
almighty power, and offend immense goodness; to render ourselves 
unlike and contrary in our doings, our disposition, our state, to 
absolute perfection and felicity?  What can be more desperately wild 
than to disoblige our best Friend, to forfeit His love and favour, 
to render Him our enemy, who is our Lord and our Judge, upon whose 
mere will and disposal all our subsistence, all our welfare does 
absolutely depend?  What greater madness can be conceived than to 
deprive our minds of all true content here, and to separate our 
souls from eternal bliss hereafter; to gall our consciences now with 
sore remorse, and to engage ourselves for ever in remediless 
miseries?  Such folly doth all sin include:  whence in Scripture 
style worthily goodness and wisdom are terms equivalent; sin and 
folly do signify the same thing.

If thence this practice be proved extremely sinful, it will thence 
sufficiently be demonstrated no less foolish.  And that it is 
extremely sinful may easily be shown.  It is the character of the 
superlatively wicked man:  "Thou givest thy mouth to evil, and thy 
tongue frameth deceit.  Thou sittest and speakest against thy 
brother; thou slanderest thine own mother's son."  It is, indeed, 
plainly the blackest and most hellish sin that can be; that which 
giveth the grand fiend his names, and most expresseth his nature.  
He is [Greek] (the slanderer); Satan, the spiteful adversary; the 
old snake or dragon, hissing out lies, and spitting forth venom of 
calumnious accusation; the accuser of the brethren, a murderous, 
envious, malicious calumniator; the father of lies; the grand 
defamer of God to man, of man to God, of one man to another.  And 
highly wicked surely must that practice be, whereby we grow 
namesakes to him, conspire in proceeding with him, resemble his 
disposition and nature.  It is a complication, a comprisal, a 
collection and sum of all wickedness; opposite to all the principal 
virtues (to veracity and sincerity, to charity and justice), 
transgressing all the great commandments, violating immediately and 
directly all the duties concerning our neighbour.

To lie simply is a great fault, being a deviation from that good 
rule which prescribeth truth in all our words; rendering us unlike 
and disagreeable to God, who is the God of truth (who loveth truth, 
and practiseth it in all His doings, who abominateth all falsehood); 
including a treacherous breach of faith towards mankind; we being 
all, in order to the maintenance of society, by an implicit compact, 
obliged by speech to declare our mind, to inform truly, and not to 
impose upon our neighbour; arguing pusillanimous timorousness and 
impotency of mind, a distrust in God's help, and diffidence in all 
good means to compass our designs; begetting deception and error, a 
foul and ill-favoured brood:  lying, I say, is upon such accounts a 
sinful and blamable thing; and of all lies those certainly are the 
worst which proceed from malice or from vanity, or from both, and 
which work mischief, such as slanders are.

Again, to bear any hatred or ill-will, to exercise enmity towards 
any man, to design or procure any mischief to our neighbour, whom 
even Jews were commanded to love as themselves, whose good, by many 
laws, and upon divers scores, we are obliged to tender as our own, 
is a heinous fault; and of this apparently the slanderer is most 
guilty in the highest degree.  For evidently true it is which the 
wise man affirmeth, "A lying tongue hateth those that are afflicted 
with it;" there is no surer argument of extreme hatred; nothing but 
the height of ill-will can suggest this practice.  The slanderer is 
an enemy, as the most fierce and outrageous, so the most base and 
unworthy that can be; he fighteth with the most perilous and most 
unlawful weapon, in the most furious and foul way that can be.  His 
weapon is an envenomed arrow, full of deadly poison, which he 
shooteth suddenly, and feareth not:  a weapon which by no force can 
be resisted, by no art declined, whose impression is altogether 
inevitable and unsustainable.  It is a most insidious, most 
treacherous and cowardly way of fighting; wherein manifestly the 
weakest and basest spirits have extreme advantage, and may easily 
prevail against the bravest and worthiest; for no man of honour or 
honesty can in way of resistance or requital deign to use it, but 
must infallibly without repugnance be borne down thereby.  By it the 
vile practiser achieveth the greatest mischief that can be.  His 
words are, as the psalmist saith of Doeg, devouring words:  "Thou 
lovest all devouring words, O thou deceitful tongue:" and, "A man," 
saith the wise man, "that beareth false witness against his 
neighbour is a maul, and a sword, and a sharp arrow;" that is, he is 
a complicated instrument of all mischiefs; he smiteth and bruiseth 
like a maul, he cutteth and pierceth like a sword, he thus doth hurt 
near at hand; and at a distance he woundeth like a sharp arrow; it 
is hard anywhere to evade him, or to get out of his reach.  "Many," 
saith another wise man, the imitator of Solomon, "have fallen by the 
edge of the sword, but not so many as have fallen by the tongue.  
Well is he that is defended from it, and hath not passed through the 
venom thereof; who hath not drawn the yoke thereof, nor hath been 
bound in its bands.  For the yoke thereof is a yoke of iron, and the 
bands thereof are bands of brass.  The death thereof is an evil 
death, the grave were better than it."  Incurable are the wounds 
which the slanderer inflicteth, irreparable the damages which he 
causeth, indelible the marks which he leaveth.  "No balsam can heal 
the biting of a sycophant;" no thread can stitch up a good name torn 
by calumnious defamation; no soap is able to cleanse from the stains 
aspersed by a foul mouth.  Aliquid adhaerebit; somewhat always of 
suspicion and ill opinion will stick in the minds of those who have 
given ear to slander.  So extremely opposite is this practice unto 
the queen of virtues, Charity.  Its property indeed is to "believe 
all things," that is, all things for the best, and to the advantage 
of our neighbour; not so much as to suspect any evil of him without 
unavoidably manifest cause; how much more not to devise any 
falsehood against him!  It "covereth" all things, studiously 
conniving at real defects, and concealing assured miscarriages:  how 
much more not divulging imaginary or false scandals!  It disposeth 
to seek and further any the least good concerning him:  how much 
more will it hinder committing grievous outrage upon his dearest 
good name!

Again, all injustice is abominable; to do any sort of wrong is a 
heinous crime; that crime which of all most immediately tendeth to 
the dissolution of society, and disturbance of human life; which God 
therefore doth most loathe, and men have reason especially to 
detest.  And of this the slanderer is most deeply guilty.  "A 
witness of Belial scorneth judgment, and the mouth of the wicked 
devoureth iniquity," saith the wise man.  He is indeed, according to 
just estimation, guilty of all kinds whatever of injury, breaking 
all the second Table of Commands respecting our neighbour.  Most 
formally and directly he "beareth false witness against his 
neighbour:" he doth "covet his neighbour's goods;" for 'tis 
constantly out of such an irregular desire, for his own presumed 
advantage, to dispossess his neighbour of some good, and transfer it 
on himself, that the slanderer uttereth his tale:  he is ever a 
thief and robber of his good name, a deflowerer and defiler of his 
reputation, an assassin and murderer of his honour.  So doth he 
violate all the rules of justice, and perpetrateth all sorts of 
wrong against his neighbour.

He may, indeed, perhaps conceive it no great matter that he 
committeth; because he doth not act in so boisterous and bloody a 
way, but only by words, which are subtle, slim, and transient 
things:  upon his neighbour's credit only, which is no substantial 
or visible matter.  He draweth (thinks he), no blood, nor breaketh 
any bones, nor impresseth any remarkable scar; 'tis only the soft 
air he breaketh with his tongue, 'tis only a slight character that 
he stampeth on the fancy, 'tis only an imaginary stain that he 
daubeth his neighbour with; therefore he supposeth no great wrong 
done, and seemeth to himself innocent, or very excusable.  But these 
conceits arise from great inconsiderateness, or mistake:  nor can 
they excuse the slanderer from grievous injustice.  For in dealing 
with our neighbour, and meddling with his property, we are not to 
value things according to our fancy, but according to the price set 
on them by the owner; we must not reckon that a trifle, which he 
prizeth as a jewel.  Since, then, all men (especially men of honour 
and honesty) do, from a necessary instinct of nature, estimate their 
good name beyond any of their goods--yea, do commonly hold it more 
dear and precious than their very lives--we, by violently or 
fraudulently bereaving them of it, do them no less wrong than if we 
should rob or cozen them of their substance; yea, than if we should 
maim their body, or spill their blood, or even stop their breath.  
If they as grievously feel it, and resent it as deeply, as they do 
any other outrage, the injury is really as great, to them.  Even the 
slanderer's own judgment and conscience might tell him so much; for 
they who most slight another's fame, are usually very tender of 
their own, and can with no patience endure that others should touch 
it; which demonstrates the inconsiderateness of their judgment, and 
the iniquity of their practice.  It is an injustice not to be 
corrected or cured.  Thefts may be restored, wounds may be cured; 
but there is no restitution or cure of a lost good name:  it is 
therefore an irreparable injury.

Nor is the thing itself, in true judgment, contemptible; but in 
itself really very considerable.  "A good name," saith Solomon 
himself (no fool), "is rather to be chosen than great riches; and 
loving favour rather than silver and gold."  In its consequences it 
is much more so; the chief interests of a man, the success of his 
affairs, his ability to do good (for himself, his friends, his 
neighbour), his safety, the best comforts and conveniences of his 
life, sometimes his life itself, depending thereon; so that whoever 
doth snatch or filch it from him, doth not only according to his 
opinion, and in moral value, but in real effect commonly rob, 
sometimes murder, ever exceedingly wrong his neighbour.  It is often 
the sole reward of a man's virtue and all the fruit of his industry; 
so that by depriving him of that, he is robbed of all his estate, 
and left stark naked of all, excepting a good conscience, which is 
beyond the reach of the world, and which no malice or misfortune can 
divest him of.  Full then of iniquity, full of uncharitableness, 
full of all wickedness is this practice; and consequently full it is 
of folly.  No man, one would think, of any tolerable sense, should 
dare or deign to incur the guilt of a practice so vile and base, so 
indeed diabolical and detestable.  But further more particularly--

2.  The slanderer is plainly a fool, because he maketh wrong 
judgments and valuations of things, and accordingly driveth on silly 
bargains for himself, in result whereof he proveth a great loser.  
He means by his calumnious stories either to vent some passion 
boiling in him, or to compass some design which he affects, or to 
please some humour that he is possessed with:  but is any of these 
things worth purchasing at so dear a rate? can there be any valuable 
exchange for our honesty?  Is it not more advisable to suppress our 
passion, or to let it evaporate otherwise, than to discharge it in 
so foul a way?  Is it not better to let go a petty interest, than to 
further it by committing so notorious and heinous a sin; to let an 
ambitious project sink, than to buoy it up by such base means?  Is 
it not wisdom rather to smother or curb our humour, than by 
satisfying it thus to forfeit our innocence?  Can anything in the 
world be so considerable, that for its sake we should defile our 
souls by so foul a practice, making shipwreck of a good conscience, 
abandoning honour and honesty, incurring all the guilt and all the 
punishment due to so enormous a crime?  Is it not far more wisdom, 
contentedly to see our neighbour to enjoy credit and success, to 
flourish and thrive in the world, than by such base courses to sully 
his reputation, to rifle him of his goods, to supplant or cross him 
in his affairs?  We do really, when we think thus to depress him, 
and to climb up to wealth or credit by the ruins of his honour, but 
debase ourselves.  Whatever comes of it, whether he succeeds or is 
disappointed therein, assuredly he that useth such courses will 
himself be the greatest loser, and deepest sufferer.  'Tis true 
which the wise man saith, "The getting of treasures by a lying 
tongue, is a vanity tossed to and fro of them that seek death."  
And, "Woe unto them," saith the prophet, "that draw iniquity with 
cords of vanity;" that is, who by falsehood endeavour to compass 
unjust designs.

But it is not, perhaps he will pretend, to assuage a private 
passion, or to promote his particular concernment, that he makes so 
bold with his neighbour, or deals so harshly with him; but for the 
sake of orthodox doctrine, for advantage of the true Church, for the 
advancement of public good, he judgeth it expedient to asperse him.  
This indeed is the covert of innumerable slanders:  zeal for some 
opinion, or some party, beareth out men of sectarian and factious 
spirits in such practices; they may do, they may say anything for 
those fine ends.  What is a little truth, what is any man's 
reputation in comparison to the carrying on such brave designs?  But 
(to omit that men do usually prevaricate in these cases; that it is 
not commonly for love of truth, but of themselves; not so much for 
the benefit of their sect, but for their own interest, that they 
calumniate) this plea will nowise justify such practice.  For truth 
and sincerity, equity and candour, meekness and charity are 
inviolably to be observed, not only towards dissenters in opinion, 
but even towards declared enemies of truth itself; we are to bless 
them (that is, to speak well of them, and to wish well to them), not 
to curse them (that is, not to reproach them, or to wish them ill, 
much less to belie them).  Truth also, as it cannot ever need, so 
doth it always loathe and scorn the patronage and the succour of 
lies; it is able to support and protect itself by fair means; it 
will not be killed upon a pretence of saving it, or thrive by its 
own ruin.  Nor indeed can any party be so much strengthened and 
underpropped, as it will be weakened and undermined by such courses.  
No cause can stand firm upon a bottom so loose and slippery as 
falsehood is.  All the good a slanderer can do is, to disparage what 
he would maintain.  In truth, no heresy can be worse than that would 
be which should allow to play the devil in any case.  He that can 
dispense with himself to slander a Jew or a Turk, doth in so doing 
render himself worse than either of them by profession is:  for even 
they, and even pagans themselves, disallow the practice of 
inhumanity and iniquity.  All men by light of nature avow truth to 
be honourable, and faith to be indispensably observed.  He doth not 
understand what it is to be Christian, or careth not to practise 
according thereto, who can find in his heart in any case, upon any 
pretence, to calumniate.  In fine, to prostitute our conscience, or 
sacrifice our honesty, for any cause, to any interest whatever, can 
never be warrantable or wise.  Further--

3.  The slanderer is a fool, because he useth improper means and 
preposterous methods of effecting his purposes.  As there is no 
design worth the carrying on by ways of falsehood and iniquity, so 
is there scarce any, no good or lawful one at least, which may not 
more surely, more safely, more cleverly be achieved by means of 
truth and justice.  Is not always the straight way more short than 
the oblique and crooked? is not the plain way more easy than the 
rough and cragged? is not the fair way more pleasant and passable 
than the foul?  Is it not better to walk in paths that are open and 
allowed, than in those that are shut up and prohibited, than to 
clamber over walls, to break through fences, to trespass upon 
enclosures?  Surely yes:  "He that walketh uprightly, walketh 
surely."  Using strict veracity and integrity, candour and equity, 
is the best method of accomplishing good designs.  Our own industry, 
good use of the parts and faculties God hath given us, embracing 
fair opportunities, God's blessing and providence, are sufficient 
means to rely upon for procuring, in an honest way, whatever is 
convenient for us.  These are ways approved, and amiable to all men; 
they procure the best friends, and fewest enemies; they afford to 
the practises a cheerful courage, and good hope; they meet with less 
disappointment, and have no regret or shame attending them.  He that 
hath recourse to the other base means, and "maketh lies his refuge," 
as he renounceth all just and honest means, as he disclaimeth all 
hope in God's assistance, and forfeiteth all pretence to His 
blessing:  so he cannot reasonably expect good success, or be 
satisfied in any undertaking.  The supplanting way indeed seems the 
most curt and compendious way of bringing about dishonest or 
dishonourable designs:  but as good design is certainly dishonoured 
thereby, so is it apt thence to be defeated; it raises up enemies 
and obstacles, yielding advantages to whoever is disposed to cross 
us.  As in trade it is notorious that the best course to thrive is 
by dealing squarely and truly; any fraud or cozenage appearing there 
doth overthrow a man's credit, and drive away custom from him:  so 
in all other transactions, as he that dealeth justly and fairly will 
have his affairs proceed roundly, and shall find men ready to comply 
with him, so he that is observed to practise falsehood will be 
declined by some, opposed by others, disliked by all:  no man scarce 
willingly will have to do with him; he is commonly forced to stand 
out in business, as one that plays foul play.

4.  Lastly, the slanderer is a very fool, as bringing many great 
inconveniences, troubles, and mischiefs on himself.

First, "A fool's mouth," saith the wise man, "is his destruction, 
his lips are the snare of his soul:" and if any kind of speech is 
destructive and dangerous, then is this certainly most of all; for 
by no means can a man inflame so fierce anger, impress so stiff 
hatred, raise so deadly enmity against himself, and consequently so 
endanger his safety, ease and welfare, as by this practice.  Men can 
more easily endure, and sooner will forgive, any sort of abuse than 
this; they will rather pardon a robber of their goods, than a 
defamer of their good name.

Secondly, such an one indeed is not only odious to the person 
immediately concerned, but generally to all men that observe his 
practice; every man presently will be sensible how easily it may be 
his own case, how liable he may be to be thus abused, in a way 
against which there is no guard or defence.  The slanderer therefore 
is apprehended a common enemy, dangerous to all men; and thence 
rendereth all men averse from him, and ready to cross him.  Love and 
peace, tranquillity and security can only be maintained by innocent 
and true dealing:  so the psalmist hath well taught us:  "What man 
is he that desireth life, and loveth many days, that he may see 
good?  Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile."

Thirdly, all wise, all noble, all ingenuous and honest persons have 
an aversion from this practice, and cannot entertain it with any 
acceptance or complacence.  "A righteous man hateth lying," saith 
the wise man.  It is only ill-natured and ill-nurtured, unworthy and 
naughty people that are willing auditors or encouragers thereof.  "A 
wicked doer," saith the wise man again, "giveth heed to false lips; 
and a liar giveth ear to a naughty tongue."  All love of truth and 
regard to justice, and sense of humanity, all generosity and 
ingenuity, all charity and good-will to men, must be extinct in 
those who can with delight, or indeed with patience, lend an ear or 
give any countenance to a slanderer:  and is not he a very fool who 
chooseth to displease the best, only soothing the worst of men?

Fourthly, the slanderer indeed doth banish himself from all 
conversation and company, or intruding into it becomes very 
disgustful thereto; for he worthily is not only looked upon as an 
enemy to those whom he slandereth, but to those also upon whom he 
obtrudeth his calumnious discourse.  He not only wrongeth the former 
by the injury, but he mocketh the latter by the falsehood of his 
stories; implicitly charging his hearers with weakness and 
credulity, or with injustice and pravity.

Fifthly, he also derogateth wholly from his own credit in all 
matters of discourse.  For he that dareth thus to injure his 
neighbour, who can trust him in anything he speaks? what will not he 
say to please his vile humour, or further his base interest? what, 
thinks any man, will he scruple or boggle at, who hath the heart in 
thus doing wrong and mischief to imitate the devil?  Further--

Sixthly, this practice is perpetually haunted with most troublesome 
companions, inward regret and self-condemnation, fear and disquiet:  
the conscience of dealing so unworthily doth smite and rack him; he 
is ever in danger, and thence in fear to be discovered, and requited 
for it.  Of these passions the manner of his behaviour is a manifest 
indication:  for men do seldom vent their slanderous reports openly 
and loudly, to the face or in the ear of those who are concerned in 
them; but do utter them in a low voice, in dark corners, out of 
sight and hearing, where they conceit themselves at present safe 
from being called to an account.  "Swords," saith the psalmist of 
such persons, "are in their lips:  Who (say they) doth hear?"  And, 
"Whoso privily slandereth his neighbour, him will I cut off," saith 
David again, intimating the common manner of this practice.  Calumny 
is like "the plague, that walketh in darkness."  Hence appositely 
are the practisers thereof termed whisperers and backbiters:  their 
heart suffers them not openly to avow, their conscience tells them 
they cannot fairly defend their practice.  Again--

Seventhly, the consequence of this practice is commonly shameful 
disgrace, with an obligation to retract and render satisfaction:  
for seldom doth calumny pass long without being detected and 
confuted.  "He that walketh uprightly, walketh surely:  but he that 
perverteth his ways shall be known:" and, "The lip of truth shall be 
established for ever; but a lying lip is but for a moment," saith 
the great observer of things.  And when the slander is disclosed, 
the slanderer is obliged to excuse (that is, to palliate one lie 
with another, if he can do it), or forced to recant, with much 
disgrace and extreme displeasure to himself:  he is also many times 
constrained, with his loss and pain, to repair the mischief he hath 

Eighthly, to this in likelihood the concernments of men, and the 
powers which guard justice, will forcibly bring him; and certainly 
his conscience will bind him thereto; God will indispensably exact 
it from him.  He can never have any sound quiet in his mind, he can 
never expect pardon from Heaven, without acknowledging his fault, 
repairing the wrong he hath done, restoring that good name of which 
he dispossessed his neighbour:  for in this no less than in other 
cases conscience cannot be satisfied, remission will not be granted, 
except due restitution be performed; and of all restitutions this 
surely is the most difficult, most laborious, and most troublesome.  
'Tis nowise so hard to restore goods stolen or extorted, as to 
recover a good opinion lost, to wipe off aspersions cast on a man's 
name, to cure a wounded reputation:  the most earnest and diligent 
endeavour can hardly ever effect this, or spread the plaster so far 
as the sore hath reached.  The slanderer therefore doth engage 
himself into great straits, incurring an obligation to repair an 
almost irreparable mischief.

Ninthly, this practice doth also certainly revenge itself, imposing 
on its actor a perfect retaliation; "a tooth for a tooth;" an 
irrecoverable infamy to himself, for the infamy he causeth to 
others.  Who will regard his fame, who will be concerned to excuse 
his faults, who so outrageously abuseth the reputation of others?  
He suffereth justly, he is paid in his own coin, will any man think, 
who doth hear him reproached.

Tenthly, in fine, the slanderer, if he doth not, by serious and sore 
repentance retract his practice, doth banish himself from heaven and 
happiness, doth expose himself to endless miseries and sorrows.  
For, if none that "maketh a lie shall enter into the heavenly city;" 
if without those mansions of joy and bliss "every one" must 
eternally abide "that loveth or maketh a lie;" if [Greek], "to all 
liars their portion" is assigned "in the lake which burneth with 
fire and brimstone;" then assuredly the capital liar, the slanderer, 
who lieth most injuriously and mischievously, shall be far excluded 
from felicity, and thrust down into the depth of that miserable 
place.  If, as St. Paul saith, no "railer," or evil-speaker, "shall 
inherit the kingdom of God," how far thence shall they be removed 
who without any truth or justice do speak ill of and reproach their 
neighbour?  If for every [Greek], "idle," or vain, "word" we must 
"render a" strict "account," how much more shall we be severely 
reckoned with for this sort of words, so empty of truth and void of 
equity:  words that are not only negatively vain, or useless, but 
positively vain, as false and spoken to bad purpose?  If slander 
perhaps here may evade detection, or escape deserved punishment, yet 
infallibly hereafter, at the dreadful day, it shall be disclosed, 
irreversibly condemned, inevitably persecuted with condign reward of 
utter shame and sorrow.

Is not he then, he who, out of malignity, or vanity, to serve any 
design, or soothe any humour in himself or others, doth by 
committing this sin involve himself in all these great evils, both 
here and hereafter, a most desperate and deplorable fool?

Having thus described the nature of this sin, and declared the folly 
thereof, we need, I suppose, to say no more for dissuading it; 
especially to persons of a generous and honest mind, who cannot but 
scorn to debase and defile themselves by so mean and vile a 
practice; or to those who seriously do profess Christianity, that 
is, the religion which peculiarly above all others prescribeth 
constant truth, strictest justice, and highest charity.

I shall only add, that since our faculty of speech (wherein we do 
excel all other creatures) was given us, as in the first place to 
praise and glorify our Maker, so in the next to benefit and help our 
neighbour; as an instrument of mutual succour and delectation, of 
friendly commerce and pleasant converse together; for instructing 
and advising, comforting and cheering one another:  it is an 
unnatural perverting, and an irrational abuse thereof, to employ it 
to the damage, disgrace, vexation, or wrong in any kind of our 
brother.  Better indeed had we been as brutes without its use, than 
we are, if so worse than brutishly we abuse it.

Finally, all these things being considered, we may, I think, 
reasonably conclude it most evidently true that "He which uttereth 
slander is a fool."

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Sermons on Evil-Speaking" ***

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