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Quest. vi. “What if it be one whose honour and credit countenanceth an ill cause, and his dishonour would disable him to do hurt?”
Answ. You may not belie the devil, nor wrong the worst man that is, though under pretence of doing good; God needeth not malice, nor calumnies, nor injustice to his glory: it is an ill cause that cannot be maintained without such means as these. And when the matter is true, you must have a call to speak it, and you must speak it justly, without unrighteous aggravations, or hiding the better part, which should make the case and person better understood. There is a time and due manner, in which that man's crimes and just dishonour may be published, whose false reputation injureth the truth. But yet I must say, that a great deal of villany and slander is committed upon this plausible pretence; and that there is scarce a more common cloak for the most inhuman lies and calumnies.
Quest. v11. ‘May I not lawfully make a true narration of such matters of fact, as are criminal and dishonourable to offenders? Else no man may write a true history to posterity of men's crimes.’
Answ. When you have a just call to do it, you may ; but not at your own pleasure. Historians may take much more liberty to speak the truth of the dead, than you may of the living: though no untruth must be spoken of either: yet the honour of princes and magistrates while they are alive is needful to their government, and therefore must be maintained, ofttimes by the concealment of their faults: and so proportionably the honour of other men is needful to a life of love, and peace, and just society; but when they are dead, they are not subjects capable of a right to any such honour as must be maintained by such silencing of the truth, to the injury of posterity: and posterity hath usually a right to historical truth, that good examples may draw them to imitation, and bad examples may warn them to take heed of sin. God will have the name of the wicked to rot; and the faults of a Noah, Lot, David, Solomon, Peter, &c. shall be recorded. Yet nothing unprofitable to posterity may be recorded of the dead, though it be true; nor the faults of men unnecessarily divulged; much less may the dead be slandered or abused.
Quest. vi.11. ‘What if it be one that hath been oft admonished in vain? May not the faults of such an one be mentioned behind his back?' Answ. I confess such an one (the case being proved, and he being notoriously impenitent) hath made a much greater forfeiture of his honour, than other men: and no man can save that man's honour who will cast it away himself. But yet it is not every one that committeth a sin after admonition, who is here to be understood; but such as are impenitent in some mortal or ruling sin: for some may sin oft in a small and controverted point, for want of ability to discern the truth; and some may live in daily infirmities (as the best men do), which they condemn themselves for, and desire to be delivered from. And even the most impenitent man's sins, must not be meddled with by every one at his pleasure, but only when you have just cause. Quest. 1x. “What if it be one whom I cannot speak to face to face 7” Answ. You must let him alone, till you have just cause to speak of him. Quest. x. “When hath a man a just cause and call to open another's faults o' Answ. Negatively : 1. Not to fill up the time with other idle chat, or table talk. 2. Not to second any man, how good soever, who backbiteth others; no, though he pretend to do it to make the sin more odious, or to exercise godly sorrow for other men's sin. 3. Not whenever interest, passion, faction, or company seemeth to require it. But, affirmatively, 1. When we may speak it to his face in love and privacy, in due manner and circumstances, as is most hopeful to conduce to his amendment. 2. When, after due admonition, we take two or three, and after that tell the church (in a case that requireth it). 3. When we have a sufficient cause to accuse him to the magistrate. 4. When the magistrate or the pastors of the church, reprove or punish him. 5. When it is necessary to the preservation of another: as if I see my friend in danger of marrying with a wicked person, or taking a false servant, or trading and bargaining with one that is like to overreach him, or going among cheaters, or going to hear or converse with a dangerous heretic or seducer; I must open the faults of those that they are in danger of, so far as their safety and my charity require. 6. When it is any treason or conspiracy against the king or commonwealth; where my concealment may be an injury to the king, or damage or danger to the kingdom. 7. When the person himself doth, by his selfjustification, force me to it. 8. When his reputation is so built upon the injury of others, and slanders of the just, that the justifying of him is the condemning of the innocent, we may then indirectly condemn him, by vindicating the just: as if it be in a case of contention between two, if we cannot justify the right without dishonour to the injurious, there is no remedy but he must bear his blame. 9. When a man's notorious wickedness hath set him up as a spectacle of warning and lamentation, so that his crimes cannot be hid, and he hath forfeited his reputation, we must give others warning by his fall. As an excommunicate person, or ma— lefactor at the gallows, &c. 10. When we have just occasion to make a bare narrative of some public matters of fact: as if the sentence of a judge, or punishment of offenders, &c. 11. When the crime is so heinous, as that all good persons are obliged to join to make it odious, as Phinehas was to execute judgment. As in cases of open rebellion, treason, blasphemy, atheism, idolatry, murders, perjury, cruelty : such as the French massacre, the Irish far greater massacre, the murdering of kings, the Powder-plot, the burning of London, &c. Crimes notorious, should not go about in the mouths or ears of men, but with just detestation. 12. When any person's false reputation is a seducement to men's souls, and made by himself or others the instruments of God's dishonour, and the injury of church or state, or others, though we may do no unjust thing to blast his reputation, we may tell the truth so far as justice, or . mercy, or piety requireth it. Quest. x 1. ‘What if I hear daubers applauding wicked men, and speaking well of them, and extenuating their crimes, and praising them for evil doing '' Answ. You must on all just occasions speak evil of sin; but when that is enough, you need not meddle with the sinner; no, not though other men applaud him, and you know it to be false : for you are not bound to contradict every falsehood which you hear. But if in any of the twelve fore
mentioned cases you have a call to do it (as for the preservation of the hearers from a snare thereby; as if men commend a traitor or a wicked man to draw another to like his way), in such cases you may contradict the false report. Quest. xii. “Are we bound to reprove every backbiter, in this age when honest people are grown to make little conscience of it, but think it their duty to divulge men's faults o' Answ. Most of all; that you may stop the stream of this common sin: ordinarily whenever we can do it without doing greater hurt, we should rebuke the tongue that reporteth evil of other men causelessly behind their backs: for our silence is their encouragement in sin.
Tit. 2. Directions against Backbiting, Slandering and Evil Speaking.
Direct. 1. ‘Maintain the life of brotherly love. Love your neighbour as yourself.”
Direct. 11. ‘Watch narrowly lest interest or passion should prevail upon you.” For where these prevail, the tongue is set on fire of hell, and will set on fire the course of nature". Selfishness and passion will not only prompt you to speak evil, but also to justify it, and think you do well; yea, and to be angry with those that will not hearken to you and believe you.
Direct. 111. “Especially involve not yourselves in any faction, religious or secular.” I do not mean that you should not imitate the best, and hold most intimate communion with them; but that you abhor unlawful divisions and sidings; and when error, or uncharitableness, or carnal interest hath broken the church into pieces where you live, and one is of Paul, and another of Apollos, and another of Cephas, one of this party, and another of that; take heed of espousing the interest of any party, as it stands cross to the interest of the whole. It would have been hardly credible, if sad experience had not proved it, how commonly and heinously almost every sect of Christians do sin in this point against each other! And how far the interest of their sect, which they account the interest of Christ, will prevail with multitudes even of zealous people, to belie, calumniate, backbite, and reproach those that are against their opinion and their party? Yea, how easily will they proceed beyond reproaches, to bloody persecutions. He that thinketh he doth God service by killing Christ or his disciples, will think that he doth him service by calling him a deceiver. and one that hath a devil, a blasphemer, and an enemy to Caesar, and calling his disciples pestilent fellows and movers of sedition among the people, and accounting them as the filth and offscouring of the world. That zeal which murdered and destroyed many hundred thousand of the Waldenses and Albigenses, and thirty thousand or forty thousand in one French massacre, and two hundred thousand in one Irish massacre, and which kindled the Maryam bonfires in England, made the powder-mine, and burnt the city of London, and keepeth up the Inquisition, I say. that zeal will certainly think it a service to the church, (that is, their sect,) to write the most odious lies and slanders of Luther, Zuinglius, Calvin, Beza, and any such excellent servants of the Lord. So full of horrid, impudent lies are the writings of (not one but) many sects against those that were their chief opposers, that I still admonish all posterity, to see good evidence for it, before they believe the hard sayings of any factious historian or divine, against those that are against his party. It is only men of eminent conscience, and candour, and veracity, and impartiality, who are to be believed in their bad report of others, except where notoriety or very good evidence doth command belief above their own authority and veracity. A siding factious zeal, which is hotter for any sect or party, than for the common Christianity and catholic church, is always a railing, a lying, and a slandering zeal, and is notably described, James iii., as “earthly, sensual, and devilish,” causing “envy, strife, and every evil work.” Direct. Iv. ‘ Observe well the commonness of this sin of backbiting, that it may make you the more afraid of falling into that which so few do escape.' I will not say, among high and low, rich and poor, court and country, how common is this sin: but among men professing the greatest zeal and strictness in religion, how few make conscience of it. Mark in all companies that you come into, how common it is to take liberty to say what they think of all men; yea, to
* James ii.