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SERMON XXII.

1 PETER ii. 23.

Who, being reviled, reviled not again.

IF we run over the whole train and catalogue of duties that are incumbent upon a Christian, we shall find that they are fully comprised under these two heads; his active and his passive obedience. Concerning which, it may be doubted whether of the two, as to the worth and value of the thing itself, ought to have the preeminence. For though all duties expressly enjoined, are by virtue of such injunction equally necessary, yet it follows not that they are in themselves equally excellent. If we here measure the greatness of the virtue by the difficulty of its exercise, passive obedience will certainly gain the precedency: for that this is the most difficult appears undeniably from this reason, that there is much in human nature that inclines a man to action, so that without it there would be no enjoyment; but, on the contrary, there is no proneness or inclination in nature to suffer, but a great abhorrence and aversion from it. So that every instance of voluntary passive obedience must commence entirely upon a dereliction of our own will, and a compliance with a superior.

The Spirit of God in this portion of scripture reads 420 us a lecture of patience from the living command of Christ’s example; who, by enduring the wrath of his Father, and the affronts and contumelies of men, made it evident to the world, that he was able, not only to do, but also to suffer miracles. He that never provoked God’s justice, could yet submit himself to the stroke of his anger: and he that never dispensed any thing but blessings amongst men, could yet endure cursings and revilings from them.

Before I enter upon the words, it may be questioned, whether or no this particular instance of Christ’s patience may be a sufficient ground for our general imitation. For as in matters of argument we cannot from a particular infer an universal conclusion; so there seems to be the same reason in matters of action, that the particular example of one should not oblige the practice of all.

But to this it may be answered, that divines usually reduce all Christ’s actions to these three sorts.

1. His miraculous actions, such as issued from his divine nature. As, his raising the dead, stilling the sea and the winds with a word, and feeding thousands with a few loaves. In all these it is our duty to admire, not to imitate him; for by these he shews us not what we were to do after him, but only what we were to believe concerning him.

2. The second sort were his mediatorial actions; such as concerned his offices, to which he was advanced as mediator. As, his governing and disposing of all the world for the good of his church: his dispensing of the gifts and graces of the Spirit, which are acts of his kingly office: his satisfying for sin, 421and his continual intercession, which are acts of his priestly function. And lastly, his teaching of the saints outwardly by his word, and inwardly by his Spirit; which he did as the great prophet, sanctified, and sent into the world for that purpose. In all these, it is no more our duty to do as Christ did, than to be what Christ was.

3. The third and last sort were his moral actions, which he both did himself, and also commanded others to do. Such were his praying, his giving alms, and his gentle behaviour to all men: and to these we are all equally engaged. And the reason is, because Christ performed all these duties, under that relation in which we all stand obliged, as well as Christ.

He performed them as a man, as a rational creature subject to the law of his Creator; and so we are all. Now under this rank comes his patient endurance of the injurious behaviour of men. And in this respect every Christian should be not only a disciple to his doctrine, but a representative of his person: he should transcribe him in his practice, and make his life a comment and illustration upon his master s.

Having thus answered this query, let us now enter upon the words themselves; the scope and design of which is to recommend to us one excellent branch of the great evangelical virtue of patience: the entire exercise of which adequately lies in these two things.

First, In our behaviour towards God.

Secondly, In our converse with men.

And this is that which is now to be discoursed of: that composedness of mind, that temper of spirit, 422 that displays itself in a quiet, undisturbed endurance of scoffs, slanders, and all the lashes of contumelious tongues. For though the words speak negatively, yet this is a known rule in divinity, that there is no command that runs in the strain of negatives, but couches under it a positive duty.

Having thus shewn the design and purport of the words, I shall endeavour to give a full account of it, in the ensuing discussion of these three particulars.

I. I shall shew what is implied in the extent of this duty, of not reviling again.

II. I shall shew how the observation of this duty comes to be so exceeding difficult.

III. I shall shew by what means a man may work himself to such a composure and temper of spirit, as to be able to observe this so difficult a duty. Of each of which in their order. And,

I. For the first of these; what is implied in the duty here expressed to us by not reviling again. We must here observe, that as every outward, sinful action is but the consummation of a sin long before conceived in the thoughts, fashioned in the desires, and then ripened in the affections; from whence it comes to birth, by issuing forth in actual commission: so there is no way to secure the soul from the danger of the commission, but by dashing it in the places of its conception and antecedent preparation; and so to keep it from seeing the world, by stifling it in the womb.

Accordingly this command implies two things.

(1.) The not entertaining the impression of injuries with acrimony of thought and internal resentment.

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(2.) The not venting any such resentment in virulent, vindictive language.

Or briefly thus;

1. A suppressing of our inward disgusts.

2. A restraint of our outward expressions.

1. Concerning the first of which; no sooner does the foul tongue give us the alarm, hut straight all the powers of the mind are awakened, the concerns of reputation begin to rise, thoughts of defiance to take up arms, and the whole soul boils within itself, grows big with the injury, and would fain discharge and disburden itself in a full revenge.

This is the posture of the mind in this case; and it will quickly proclaim itself by a loquacity of countenance, and a significance of gesture: and though the tongue perhaps should forbear, yet a man will speak his mind with his very face; he will look satires, and rail with every glance of his eye.

If the mind be full and embittered, it will assuredly have its vent, and, like unsettled liquors, work over into froth and foulness. But admit that it refrains, yet still the man shall find a civil war within himself, a great scuffle and disturbance, his thoughts divided between contrary principles, the clashings of prudence and revenge.

But now all these must be composed; for God hears the language of the heart, the outcry and tumult of the affections, the slander of the thoughts, and the invectives of the desires. And that man that can entertain the anger that he dares not utter, and hug the distastes that he will not speak; so that, in that respect, his heart is never at his mouth: he may indeed have more prudence, but never the less malice; or his malice may be buried, but not dead.

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For suppose that his concealed wrath never flies out in words, yet the virulence and ugliness of the mind, the anarchy and confusion of the passions, is still the same. It is like thunder without a shower. The inward chafings and ravings of the heart make it a very unfit seat for reason or religion. Christ and religion are usually asleep in such a storm, and do not actually exert themselves in such a soul.

Wrath is wrath, and has all the deformities of that passion, whether it frets in a concealed disgust, or speaks out in open slander and calumny. As a body is altogether as unsound while it festers by an inward putrefaction, as when it casts abroad its rottenness by flux and suppuration.

2. There is required a restraint of the outward expressions. We must hush our discontents, put our mouths in the dust, and there bury our passion.

I confess, when anger and the tongue, that is, the two unruliest things in the world, and both so impatient of control, do meet and concur, the restraint must needs be difficult and arduous; yet the command of Christ is here indispensable, the precept high and exact. We must be all ear, to hear our own disgraces; and be as quietly attentive to an injurious slander, as to an homily of patience, or a lecture of perfection.

If a man vents his anger against his brother, even by those undervaluing terms of fool and rascal, Christ awards him the sentence of hell and judgment, Matt. v. 22. The tongue (as St. James says, chap. iii. 6) is set on fire of hell. And here we see, by a kind of vicissitude and return, it kindles hell itself for the calumniator.

Has anger therefore prevailed so far as to fire 425our thoughts? Let it not proceed further, to inflame our expressions. If it has been our unhappiness to be surprised with the beginnings, let us at least cut short the progress. It is an untamed beast, and needs a bridle, without a metaphor. It is loud and destructive, and, like a lion, first it roars, and then it devours. Certainly, therefore, it concerns us to stop our own mouths, and that to keep in our peace, our happiness, our reputation from flying out; and not, in gratification of a silly, angry humour, to word away our souls, or declaim ourselves into perdition.

But here, for our regulation both in the apprehension and practice of this duty, I shall subjoin this caution: namely, that a due expression of asperity against the enemies of God, the king, and the public peace, is not the reviling mentioned or intended in the text: the scene of which is properly private revenge; not a zealous espousal of the public injuries.

He that treats a rebel, and a murderer of his prince, in terms suitable to those actions, is not a reviler. But he that conceals or smooths a villain in the execrable practices of a public mischief, he is truly a reviler and a slanderer; for he reviles his conscience, and slanders his religion. It is a duty that every man owes to the public, to call vice and villainy by its own name; which name, if it be in famous, the cause is in him that deserves, not in him that bestows it.

For observe, that the great standard by which the text bids us measure ourselves in this duty, is Jesus Christ: who though in his own cause, in his own personal affronts, opened not his mouth, but passed over all with a meek and a silent sufferance; 426 yet with what fervour and sharpness did he interpose his rebukes in the public concerns of piety and religion!

When St. Peter himself went to cross him in the great business of the world’s redemption, his passion and crucifixion, in what language did Christ answer him? No appellation but that of Satan was thought fit for him.

With what severity of speech did he also treat those public enemies of piety, and patrons of hypocrisy, the scribes and pharisees! Whited walls, rotten sepulchres, generation of vipers, with other such like terms, were their constant titles: and may indeed serve indifferently for the scribes and pharisees of all ages; even those of ours also, did they not prevail above their progenitors in the several arts and more improved methods of hypocrisy.

By warrant therefore of the grand exemplar of meekness and patience, we are empowered to give great and public villains, and disturbers of society, names proper to their actions and merits. He that called Herod fox, does not command us to call a fox a sheep, nor a vulture a dove; nor to give rebels and murderers occasion to think themselves innocent, by never telling them that they are otherwise. To soothe and flatter such persons, would be just as if Cicero had spoke commendatories of Antony, or made panegyrics upon Catiline.

He that commends a vile person, upbraids the virtuous; whose virtue never receives so fair a character, as by an impartial representment of the ugly lineaments and appearances of vice. Nay, he that commends a villain, is not an approver only, but a party in his villainy. Besides, the fruitless frustraneous 427vanity of such an essay; for bring all the force of rhetoric in the world, yet vice can never be praised into virtue: a rotten thing cannot be painted sound. A false gloss is but a poor corrective of a bad text.

And what I say against a commendation, or smoothing of such unworthy persons, I may with the same reason affirm of a degenerous passing over and concealing their base actions: to bury them in silence, is to give them too honourable a funeral.

To what purpose is a ministry, if the ambassador of God must come with a tongue and conscience enslaved to the guilt and pleasure of an obnoxious auditory? when conscience must be reduced to that which fools call prudence, and even that prudence measured by a sordid compliance?

Must robbers and usurpers carry away the prey and booty, without so much as an hue and cry raised after them? It is a pitiful thing to imitate the lamb in nothing else, but in being dumb before those that have sheared us.

Let this therefore be fixed upon for the right stating of this duty; that it reaches not the sharp reprehensions of public persons, (as all lawful preachers are,) directed against public malefactors; but is properly a restraint of the expresses of a man’s private revenge. In which, we confess, a man ought to be wholly passive, to lie open to the wrong, and to turn both ears to the railer, as well as both cheeks to the smiter; answering him as David did Shimei, Let him rail on; give him scope, till he runs himself out of breath, and wearies himself into silence, and a better behaviour.

Having thus declared the extent and nature of 428 the duty enjoined in the words, and expressed in this negative term, of not reviling again; and with al annexed a caution for its due limitation; I come now to,

II. The second general thing proposed; which is to shew whence it is, that this duty comes to be so exceeding difficult.

It is so, I conceive, upon these grounds and causes.

1. From the peculiar, provoking quality of ill language. Upon observation, we shall find that most of the bitter hatreds and irreconcileable enmities that disturb the world, and sour the converse of mankind, have commenced merely upon the score of vilifying words.

And what the reason of it is, I know not; yet certain it is, that men are more easily brought to forgive injuries done, than injuries said against them. One undervaluing speech shall dash the service of many years, and be looked upon as a sufficient forfeit of all the hopes of a laborious and long attendance.

Have not most of the duels that were ever fought, been undertook upon the affront of provoking words? Have they had any trumpet to alarm them into the field, but that of a reviling tongue?

But we shall have a more lively discovery of the provocation of such virulent language, above real acts of injury, by comparing it with the contrary effects of smooth and fawning speeches. What a strange bewitchery is there in flattery! How, like a spiritual opium, does it intoxicate and abuse the understanding, even sometimes of men wise and judicious! So that they have knowingly, with their 429reason awake, and their senses about them, suffered themselves to be cheated and ruined by a sycophantical parasite, and even to be tickled to death, only for love of the pleasure of being tickled.

Nay, I have known men, grossly injured in their affairs, depart pleased, at least silent, only because they were injured in good language, ruined in caresses, and kissed while they were struck under the fifth rib. And therefore it has been observed, that the greatest usurpers and the falsest deceivers have still been fair spoken; in the strength, or at least in the gloss of which, they have usurped and deceived successfully.

And, according to the difference of men’s tempers this way, it is really true, that some judges shall with less offence pronounce sentence against a man, than some for him. To be condemned with words of softness and commiseration, is more pleasing than to be absolved with taunting gibes, insulting sarcasms, and imperious, domineering exprobrations.

The world is generally governed by words and shows: for men can swallow the same thing under one name, which they would abominate and detest under another. The name of king was to the old Romans odious and insufferable; but in Sylla and Julius Caesar they could endure the power and absoluteness of a king, disguised under the name of dictator.

Certainly therefore there is some peculiar energy, some charm in words, that they are able thus to overrule the very discourses of men’s reason, and the clearest discernments of sense.

And I hope that, both by the very nature of the thing, and the advantage of its contrary, I have discovered 430 a more than ordinary force, a strange power in these verbal assaults; a power that is operative beyond the seeming nature and proportions of the thing: that a mere word should cut keener than a razor, and strike deeper than a dart; that a man should immediately swell, upon the hearing of it, as if he were bit by an adder, or poisoned by an asp. And this may be one reason that renders the duty of not reviling again so difficult.

2. Another reason of its difficulty is, because nature has deeply planted in every man a strange tenderness of his good name, which, in the rank of worldly enjoyments, the wisest of men has placed before life itself. For indeed it is a more enlarged and diffused life, kept up by many more breaths than our own. It is the soul that keeps the body sweet, and a good name that keeps the soul. It is this that recommends us to converse, and preserves us from being noisome to society.

A good name is properly that reputation of virtue that every man may challenge as his right and due in the opinions of others, till he has made forfeit of it by the viciousness of his actions. But now every slander is an invasion upon that, and puts a virtuous person into the same condition of disrepute with the vicious, leaving him the severities and difficulties of being virtuous, without the reward of being thought so.

No wonder, therefore, if the mind of man rises with all its might against such as would make an inroad upon the prime enjoyment and most endeared part of its happiness. No wonder if it catches at all means to repel or retaliate so destructive an opposition, and so comes, at length, to the remorseless 431retribution of an eye for an eye, reviling for reviling; and to bear away the spoils of another’s reputation, to revenge, or at least to alleviate, the loss of its own.

A man’s reputation is his freehold, his birthright, and no man will endure to be tamely bereaved of it by the aspersion of a calumny, who has wit enough to resent, and power to revenge it. He that tears away a man’s good name, tears his flesh from his bones, and, by letting him live, gives him only a cruel opportunity of feeling his misery, of burying his better part, and surviving himself.

When a man is dead indeed, he is the portion of rottenness and worms, and whatsoever else will gnaw upon or insult over him; but while he is alive, it is but the privilege of his nature to defend himself. When he shall be laid in his grave, men may fling what dirt they will upon him; but while he is above ground, no marvel if, to keep himself clean, he throws it back again.

And with the more care and solicitousness may we allow him to manage his own preservation in this respect; forasmuch as a good name, though, while it continues whole and entire, it is bright and glistering, yet it has the other property of glass, to be also very brittle, and being once broke, to admit of no repair, no perfect sodering, and making up the breach.

And thus much for the grounds and reasons upon which I conclude it so hard and irksome a thing for a man, being slandered and reviled, not to revile again, and return the slander. Indeed, nothing under that amazing Christian duty of absolute self-denial, can work a man to an unconcerned behaviour 432 in this case, and to suffer so dear a portion of himself to be rent away from him, without repelling the violence, and revenging the hand that did it.

III. I come now to the third and last thing, which is, to shew by what means a man may work himself to such a composure and temper of spirit, as to be able to observe this great and excellent duty. And here, when we consider what obstructions are to be conquered and removed, we must acknowledge, that nothing under an omnipotent grace can subdue the heart to such a frame. But as the workings of God do not exclude the subordination of our endeavours, so something must be done on our part towards it: and the best course that reason can find out is to discipline and check our unruly passions by a frequent consideration of, and serious reflection upon, the disadvantages of the humour we contest against, and to discommend this of returning railing for railing, slander for slander, both to our practice and affection. I shall fasten only upon this one consideration, namely, that it is utterly useless to all rational intents and purposes: and this I shall make appear inductively, by recounting the several ends and in tents to which, with any colour of reason, it may be designed; and then, by shewing how utterly unfit it is to reach or effect any of them.

1 . The first reason that would induce a man, upon provocation, to do a violent action by way of return, should be, to remove the cause of that provocation. But the cause that usually provokes men to revile are words and speeches; that is, such things as are irrevocable. Such an one vilified me; but can I, by railing, make that which was spoke, not to 433have been spoke? Are words and talk to be reversed? Or can I make a slander to be forgot, by rubbing up the memory of those that heard it with a reply?

Nay, if we look further, and state the cause of our anger, not upon the slander itself, but upon the malicious temper that was the cause of it; this is so far from being removed, that it is heightened, blown up, and inflamed by such a return.

Possibly that malignity that first threw the slander, not being exasperated by the rebound of an other, would have vanished and expired in silence, perhaps in the ingenuities of repentance; and it is not impossible but that, to make amends, it might, by a kind of antiperistasis, have turned into friend ship: for injuries dissembled not unusually are exchanged for courtesies.

But the injury being once owned by a retribution, and advanced by defiance, like an opposed torrent it tumultuates, grows higher and higher, begins to fix, and so, by an improvement of the humour, that which at first was but a sudden motion, rises into a violent rage, and from thence passes into a settled revenge.

2. Another end, inducing a man to return reviling for reviling, may be, by this means to confute the calumny, and to discredit the truth of it. But this course is so far from having such an effect, that it is the only thing that gives it colour and credibility: all people being prone to judge, that an high resentment of a calumny proceeds from concernment, and that from guilt, which makes the sore place tender and untractable. Convitia, si irascaris, agnita videntur, says Tacitus.

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The way of refelling calumnies is very different; they are weakened with contempt, confuted with innocence. If the calumniator bespatters and belies me, I will endeavour to convince him by my life and manners, but not by being like himself. It was a noble conclusion that Gains Marius made against all the descants of men’s tongues whatsoever; no speech, he said, could hurt him: quippe vera, necesse est bene praedicet; fulsam vita moresque mei superant.

He that returns reviling for reviling does not confute the railer, but outdo him: and thus to second him, is to authorize and countenance the action: for either it is good, and then why do I revenge it? or it is unworthy and vile, and then why do I imitate it? That certainly is fit first to be done, that is fit after to be followed.

If it is a base thing to revile, do not I, by reviling again, repeat that baseness, and credit an ill copy by transcribing it? Or do I think to disgrace an ugly face by drawing its picture? Surely that will be but a poor expedient, since the picture is still worse than the original. And therefore, if it looks ill in my enemy, it cannot but be much more uncomely in my self, who had an argument to avoid and hate the ill, by first seeing the ugliness of it represented in an other.

And why should I degrade myself so much below my enemy, as to judge that fit and handsome in my self, which I first judged so indecent in him? and while I hate him, eagerly practise that thing for which I esteem him hateful?

3. But thirdly, a third end for which a man may pretend to give himself this liberty is, because in so doing he thinks he takes a full and proper revenge 435of him that first reviled him. But certainly there is no kind of revenge so poor and pitiful: for every dog can bark; and he that rails, makes another noise in deed, but not a better. What boy, what woman in the streets, cannot act as full and as shrewd a revenge as the valiantest soldier or the deepest politician in the world, if it lay only in the arts of contumely and reproachful language? When Goliah began to despise David, and to look upon him as a boy, then, and not before, he gives him a puerile, suitable defiance; that is, he reviles and scoffs at him.

Natural instinct has suggested to every creature to endeavour its own defence by the use of that part or faculty in which it has a peculiar strength and force. But surely a man’s strength does not lie in his treasures of ill words, in a voluble dexterity of throwing out scurrilous, abusive terms: no, he has a head to contrive, and valour to execute a nobler and more effectual revenge. But loudness and scurrility are the reproach, not the defence of men.

Nay, were I to argue against this intemperance of reviling, even to the revengeful person, I need no other arguments than what are deducible from the very topic of his own sin.

He that gives ill language does not prejudice his enemy, but forewarn him: he gives him fair admonition to double his guards, to increase his circumspection, and consequently to frustrate all assaults of his adversary. The cur that barks gives me opportunity to provide myself that he shall never bite me.

Revenge must not be heard, but felt, and never discovered, but in the execution; and therefore he 436 gave shrewd counsel to the revengeful, who said, a man should never act a revenge upon his enemy, unless he did it so thoroughly as to disable him from a retaliation.

Upon which ground, let it rather lie still, and wait its season; the longer it sleeps, the more strength it will gather against the time that it comes to rise and exert itself. But he that lets it fly out in angry words, and spreads his heart upon his lips, he is a trifler in this action; he betrays his design, and loses the opportunities of a well-ripened, satisfactory revenge; and so contracts only the guilt, but reaches not the supposed gallantry of the sin.

4. In the fourth and last place, peradventure a man thinks, by thus repaying slander for slander, to manifest a generous greatness of spirit in shewing himself impatient of an affront. But in this very thought there is a gross, though usual mistake; for the scene of greatness and generosity lies as much in patience as in action. Contempt naturally implies a man’s esteeming of himself greater than the person whom he contemns: he therefore that slights, that contemns an affront, is properly superior to it; and he conquers an injury, who conquers his resentments of it. Socrates being kicked by an ass, did not think it a revenge proper for Socrates to kick the ass again.

Contempt is a noble and an innocent revenge, and silence the fullest expression of it. Except only storms and tempests, the great things of the world are seldom loud. Tumult and noise usually rise from the conflict of contrary things in a narrow passage; and just so does the loudness of wrath and reviling 437argue a contracted breast; such an one as has not room enough to wield and manage its own actions with stillness and composure.

What a noise and a buzz does the pitiful little gnat make, and how sharply does it sting, while the eagle passes the air in silence, and never descends but to a noble and an equal prey! He therefore that thinks he shews any nobleness or height of mind by a scurrilous reply to a scurrilous provocation, measures himself by a false standard, and acts not the spirit of a man, but the spleen of a wasp.

And thus, I think, I have unravelled all the pleas that reason can make for a defensive reviling; and I am sure there is no sanctuary for it in religion. We read of none in scripture that used it in any manner, but are transmitted to us with a brand of a lasting infamy. Shimei, Rabshakeh, and one of the crucified thieves, are remarked to us for their railing. And the apostle Paul would have us shun the converse of such an one, as the fatal blasts of a pest, or a walking contagion; 1 Cor. v. 11, I have written to you not to keep company., if any one that is called a brother be an extortioner or a railer, with such an one no not to eat; but especially at the Lord’s table. This is his condition, this is his sentence: and certainly he who is thus excommunicated and excluded from the company of the saints in this world, is not like to be thought fit for the society of angels in the next.

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