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Of Lying Defamation.

Detraction being (as we have already said) the lessening and impairing a man in his repute, we may resolve, that whatever conduces to that end, is properly a Detraction. I shall begin with that which is most eminent, the spreading of Defamatory reports. These may be of two kinds, either false, or true: which though they seem to be of very different complexions, yet may spring from the same stock, and drive at the same design. Let us first consider of the false.

2. And this admits of various circumstances. Sometimes a man invents a perfect falsity of another; sometimes he that does not invent, yet reports it, though he know it to be false; and a third sort there are, who having not certain knowledge whether it be false or no, do yet divulge it as an absolute certainty, or at least with such artificial insinuations, as may bias the hearer on that hand. The former of these crimes is so high, so disingenuous a nature, that though many are vile enough to commit it, none are so impudent as to avow it. Even in this age of insulting vice, when almost all other wickedness appears barefaced, this is feign to keep on the vizard. No man will own himself a false accuser: for if modesty do not restrain him, yet his very malice will; since to confess would be to defeat his design. Indeed, it is of all other sins the most Diabolical, it being a conjunction of two of Satan’s most essential properties, Malice and Lying. We know tis his peculiar title to be the Accuser of the brethren: and when we transcribe his copy, we also assume his nature, entitle ourselves to a descent from him, Ye are of your Father the Devil. John. 8. 44. We are by it rendered a sort of Incubus brats, the infamous progenies of the Lying spirit. It is indeed a sin of so gross, so formidable a bulk, that there needs no help of Optics to render it discernable, and therefore, I need not further expatiate on it.

3. The next degree is not much short of it; what it wants is rather of invention than malice: for he that will so adopt another’s lie, shows he would willingly have been its proper Father. It does indeed differ no more than the maker of adulterate wares, does from the vendor of them: and certainly there cannot be a more ignominious trade, than the being Hucksters to such vile Merchandize. Neither is the sin less that the baseness: we find the Lover of a lie ranked in an equal form of guilt with the Maker, Rev. 21. And surely he must be presumed to love it, that can descend to be the broker to it, help it to pass current in the world.

4. The third sort of Detractors look a little more demurely, and with the woman in Proverbs, Chap. 30. Wipe their mouths, and say they have done no wickedness. The do not certainly know the falsity of what they report, and their ignorance must serve them as an Amulet against the guilt both of deceit and malice: but I fear it will do neither. For first, perhaps, they are affectedly ignorant: they are so willing it should be true, that they have not attempted to examine it. But Secondly, it does not suffice that I do not know the falsity; for to make me a true speaker, tis necessary I know the truth of what I affirm. Nay, if the thing were never so true, yet if I knew it not to be so, its truth will not secure me from being a liar: and therefore, whoever endeavors to have that received for a certainty, which himself knows not to be so, offends against truth. The utmost that can consist with sincerity, is to represent it to others as doubtful as it appears to him: yet even that how consonant soever to truth, is not to Charity. Even doubtful accusations leave a stain behind them, and often prove indelible injuries to the party accused: how much more than do the more positive and confident aspersions we have hitherto spoken of? Let me add only this concerning this later sort, that they are greater advancers of Defamatory designs, than the very first contrivers. For those, upon a consciousness of their falseness, are obliged to proceed cautiously, to pick out the credulous and least discerning persons, on whom to impose their fictions, and dare not produce them in all companies for fear of detection: but these in confidence that the untruth (if it be one) lies not at their door, speak it without any restraint in all places, at all times, and what the others are fain to whisper, they proclaim, like our new Engine, which pretends to convey a whisper many miles off. So that as in the case of Stealing, tis proverbially said, that if there were no receivers there would be no thieves; so in this Slander, if there were fewer spreaders, there would be fewer forgers of Libels: the manufacture would be discouraged, if it had not these retailers to put off the wares.

5. Now to apply these practices to our rule of duty, there will need no very close inspection to discern the obliquity. The most superficial glance will evidence these several degrees of Slanderers to do what they would not be willing to suffer. Who among them can be content to be falsely aspersed? Nay, so far are they from that, that let but the shadow of their own calumny reflect on themselves, let any but truly tell them that they have falsely accused others, they grow raving and impatient, like a dog at a looking glass fiercely combating that image which himself creates: and how smoothly soever the original lie slides from them, the Echo of it grates their ears. And indeed tis observable, that those who make the greatest havoc of other men’s reputation, are the most nicely tender of their own; which sets this sin of calumny in a most Diametrical opposition to the Evangelical precept of Loving our neighbors as ourselves.

6. Thus, much is discernable even in the surface of the crime: but if we look deeper and examine the motives, we shall find the foundation well agrees to the superstructure, they being usually one of these two, Malice or Interest. And indeed, the thing is so disingenuous, so contrary to the dictates of Humanity as well as Divinity, that I must in reverence to our common nature, presume it must be some very forcible impellent, that can drive a man so far from himself. The Devil here plays the Artist: and as the fatalest poisons to man are (they say) drawn from human bodies, so here he extracts the venom of our Irascible and Concupiscible part, and in it dips those arrows, which we thus shoot to one another.

7. Tis needles to harangue severally upon each. The world too experimentally knows the force of both. Malice is that whirlwind, which has shook States and Families, no less than private Persons; a passion so impetuous and precipitate, that it often equally involves the Agent and the Patient: a malicious man being of like violence with those who flung in the three Children, Dan. 3. consumed by those flames into which he cast others. As for Interest, tis that universal Monarch to which all other Empires are Tributaries, to which men sacrifice not only their Consciences and Innocence, but (what is usually much dearer) their Sensualities and Vices. Those whom all the Divine (either) threats or promises, cannot persuade to mortify, and but restrain one Lust, at Mammon’s beck will disclaim many, and force their inclinations to comply with their interest.

8. And whilst this sin of Calumny has two such potent Abettors, we are not to wonder at its growth: as long as men are malicious and designing, they will be traducing; those Cyclopses will be perpetually forging Thunderbolts, against which no innocence or virtue can be proof. And alas, we daily find too great effect of their industry. But though these are the forgers of the more solemn deliberate calumnies, yet this sportive age hath produced another sort, there being men that defame others by way of divertissement, invent little stories that they may find themselves exercise, and the Town talk. This, if it must pass for sport, is such as Solomon describes, Prov. 26. 18, 19. As a mad man that casteth firebrands, arrows and death, so is he that deceiveth his neighbor, and saith, am I not in sport? He that shoots an arrow in jest, may kill a man in earnest; and he that gives himself liberty to play with his neighbor’s fame, may soon play it away. Most men have such an aptness to entertain sinister opinions of others, that they greedily draw in any suggestion of that kind; and one may as easily persuade the thirsty earth to refund the water she has sucked into her veins, as them to deposit a prejudice they have once taken up. Therefore, such experiments upon fame, are as dangerous as that which Alexander is said to have made of the force of Naptha upon his Page, from which he scarce escaped with life. These jocular slanders are often as mischievous as those of deeper design, and have from the slightness of the temptation an enhancement of guilt. For sure, he that can put such an interest of his neighbor’s in balance with a little fit of laughter, sets it at a lower price than he that hopes to enrich or advance himself by it: and thought it pass among some for a specimen of Wit, yet it really lifts them among Solomon’s fools who make a mock at sin, Prov. 14. 9. In the meantime, since slander is a plant that can grow in all soils, since the frolic humor, as well as the morose, betrays to the guilt, who can hope to escape this Scourge of the Tongue, as the Wise man calls it, which communicates with all, Ecclus. 26. 6. Persons of all ranks do mutually asperse, and are aspersed: so that he who would not have his credulity abused, has scarce a securer way, than (like the Astrologer, who made his Almanac give a tolerable account of the weather by a direct inversion of the common prognosticators,) to let his belief run quite counter to reports. Yea, so Epidemic is this disease grown, that even religion (at least those parties and factions which assume that name) has got a taint of it; each sect or opinion seeking to represent its Antagonist as odious as it can. And whilst they contend for speculative truth, they by mutual calumnies forfeit the practice: a thing that justly excites the grief of good men, to see that those who all pretend to the same Christianity, should only be unanimous in the violating that Truth and Charity it prescribes.

9. And if these be the weapons of our spiritual warfare, what may we think of the carnal? How are our secular animosities pursued, when our Speculations are thus managed? How easily do we run down the reputation of any who stand in the way, either of our spleen or avarice? When Joseph’s resolute purity had changed the scene of his Mistress’s passion, she does as readily shift that of guilt too, and fixes her crime upon him, Gen. 39. 14. So when Zeba had a mind to undermine Mephibosheth in his estate, he first practices upon his fame in a false accusation, 2 Sam. 16. 3. And alas, how familiarly do we now see both these scenes reacted? Those who will not take vice into their bosoms, shall yet have it bespatter their faces: they who will not run to the same excess of riot, must expect to be evil spoken of, 1 Pet. 4. 4. Nay, not only pious men, but piety itself partakes of the same fate, falls under the two edged slander both of deceit and folly. And if men cannot be permitted quietly to enjoy their piety, much less will they those things whereof the world hath more gust, I mean secular advantages. There are still crimes to be discovered in the possessors of honors or Estates, and they wonderfully excite the zeal of those who would supplant them. What artifices are there to make them appear unworthy of what they have, that others more unworthy may succeed them? Nor are these storms only in the upper regions, in the higher ranks of men; but if we pass through all degrees, we shall find the difference is rather in the value of the things, than in the means of pursuing them. He that pretends to the meanest office, does as studiously disparage his competitor, as he that is rivaled for a kingdom. Nay, even he that has but a merry humor to gratify, makes no scruple to do it with the loss of another man’s reputation.

10. Thus we do accommodate every petty temporal interest at the cost of our eternal: and as an unskillful Fencer, whilst he is pursuing his thrust, exposes his body; so whilst we thus actuate our own malice, we abandon ourselves to Satan’s, receive mortal wounds from him, only that we may give a few light scratches to one another. For, as I have before said, there is nothing does more secure his title to us, than this vice of Calumny, it bearing his proper impress and figure. And we may fear Christ will one day make the same Judgment of Persons as he did of coin, and award them to him whose Image and Superscription they bear. Matt. 22. 20.

11. And now, how great a madness is it to make such costly oblations to so vile an Idol? This is indeed the worshipping our own Imaginations, preferring a malicious fiction before a real felicity: and is but faintly resembled by him, who is said to have chosen to part with his Bishopric, rather than burn his Romance. Alas, are there not gross corporal sins enough to ruin us, but must we have aereal ones too, damn ourselves with Chimeras, and by these forgeries of our brains, dream ourselves to destruction?

12. Let all those who thus unhappily employ their inventive faculty, timely consider, how unthriving a trade tis finally like to prove, that all their false accusations of others will rebound in true ones upon themselves. It does often so in this world, where many times the most clandestine contrivances of this kind meet with detection: or if they should happen to keep on the disguise here, yet twill infallibly be torn off at the great day of manifestation, when before God, Angels, and Men, they will be rendered infinitely more vile, than twas possible for them here to make others.

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