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4thly, Avoid, as much as possible, the conversation of those people who are given to talk of publick persons and affairs, especially of those whose opinions in such matters are different from yours. I never once knew any disputes of this kind managed with tolerable temper ; but on both sides they only agree as much as possible to provoke the passions of each other: indeed with this disadvantage, that he who argueth on the side of power, may speak securely the utmost his malice can invent; while the other lieth every moment at the mercy of an informer; and the law, in these cases, will give no allowance at all for passion, inadvertency, or the highest provocation.
III. I come now, in the last place, to show you how far it is your duty, as good subjects and good neighbours, to bear faithful witness, when you are lawfully called to it by those in authority, or by the sincere advice of your own consciences.
In what I have hitherto said, you easily find, that I do not talk of bearing witness in general, which is and may be lawful upon a thousand accounts, in relation to property and other matters, and wherein there are many scandalous corruptions, almost peculiar to this country, which would require to be handled by themselves. But I have confined my discourse only to that branch of bearing false witness whereby the publick is injured, in the safety or honour of the prince, or those in authority under him.
In order therefore to be a faithful witness, it is first necessary that a man doth not undertake it from the least prospect of any private advantage to himself. The smallest mixture of that leaven will sour the whole lump. Interest will infallibly bias his judgment, al
though though he be ever so firmly resolved to say nothing but truth. He cannot serve God and Mammon: but as interest is the chief end, he will use the most effectual means to advance it. He will aggravate circumstances to make his testimony valuable; he will be sorry if the person he accuseth should be able to clear himself; in short, he is labouring a point which he thinks necessary to his own good; and it would be a disappointment to him, that his neighbour should prove
innocent. 2dly, Every good subject is obliged to bear witness against his neighbour, for any action or words, the telling of which would be of advantage to the publick, and the concealment dangerous, or of ill example. Of this nature are all plots and conspi- ' racies against the peace of a nation ; all disgraceful words against a prince, such as clearly discover a disloyal and rebellious heart. But, where our prince and country can possibly receive no damage or disgrace; where no scandal or ill example is given ; and our neighbour, it may be, provoked by us, happeneth privately to drop a rash or indiscreet word, which in strictness of law might bring him under trouble, perhaps to his utter undoing; there we are obliged, we ought to proceed no farther than warning and reproof.
In describing to you the several kinds of false witnesses, I have made it less necessary to dwell much longer upon this head : because a faithful witness, like every thing else, is known by his contrary : Therefore it would be only repetition of what I have already said, to tell you, that the strictest truth is required in a witness; that he should be wholly free from malice against the person he accuses; that he
should not aggravate the smallest circumstance against the criminal, nor conceal the smallest in his favour; and to crown all, though I have hinted it before, that the only cause or motive of his undertaking an office, so subject to censure, and so difficult to perform, should be the safety and service of his prince and country.
Under these conditions and limitations (but not otherwise) there is no manner of doubt, but a good man may lawfully and justly become a witness in behalf of the publick, and may perform that office (in its own nature not very desirable) with honour and integrity. For the command in the text is positive, as well as negative ; that is to say, as we are directed not to bear false witness against our neighbour, so we are to bear true. Next to the word of God, and the advice of teachers, every man's conscience, strictly examined, will be his best director in this weighty point; and to that I shall leave him.
It might perhaps be thought proper to have added something by way of advice to those who are unhappily engaged in this abominable trade and sin of bearing false witness; but I am far from believing or supposing any of that destructive tribe are now my hearers. I look upon them as a sort of people that seldom frequent these holy places, where they can hardly pick up any materials to serve their turn, unless they think it worth their while to misrepresent or pervert the words of the preacher : And whoever is that way disposed, I doubt, cannot be in a very good condition to edify and reform himself by what he heareth. God in his mercy preserve us from all the guilt of this grievous sin forbidden in my text, and from the snares of those who are guilty of it.
I shall conclude with one or two precepts given by Moses from God to the children of Israel, in the xxiii' of Exod. 1, 2.
“ Thou shalt not raise a false report: Put not thine “ hand with the wicked, to be an unrighteous witness.
“ Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil, “ neither shalt thou speak in a cause to decline after “ many, to wrest judgment."
Now to God the Father, &c.
I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to
THE holy Scripture is full of expressions to set forth the miserable condition of man during the whole progress of his life ; his weakness, pride, and vanity; his unmeasurable desires, and perpetual disappointments ; the prevalency of his passions, and the corruptions of his reason ; his deluding hopes, and his real, as well as imaginary fears; his natural and artificial wants; his cares and anxieties; the diseases of his body, and the diseases of his mind; the shortness of his life; his dread of a future state, with his carelessness to prepare for it: and the wise men of all ages have made the same reflections.
But all these are general calamities, from which none are excepted; and being without remedy, it is vain to bewail them. The great question, long debated in the world, is, whether the rich or the poor are the least miserable of the two ? It is certain that no rich man ever desired to be poor, and that most, VOL. X. H Н