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Facts disguised with false Colours, and clothed with wrong Circumstances; there are so many Comments too usually intermixed, of the Designs and Intentions, from which the Persons are said to have acted ; single Actions are so often represented as habitual and customary, and gross evil Intentions are so often fixed to innocent Actions, that it is one of the hardest Things in the World to admit Reports, without running the Hazard of making rath Judgments upon them. The Way to cure this is, First, Not to lend a pleafant Ear to those Tattlers or malicious Perfons, who love to tell ill Stories of their Neighbour, or to colour over innocent Stories with malicious Glosses. Then to suppose, what daily Experience confirms, that there may be some Error or Uncertainty in the Reports, at least, that they may be clothed with other Circumstances than the malicious Reporter represents; and therefore, that it is much safer to suspend our Judgment, till we have an opportunity of being better informed. Particularly, we ought not to receive with Averfion, what tends to undeceive us as to any bad Opinion we have taken up, or any rash Information we have admitted of our Neighbour ; but should be glad of the Means it afforded us to have a better Opinion of him than the former bad Character tended to imprint in our Minds. Charity inclines us to be more forward to believe what tends to the Clearing of our Neighbour's Reputation, than what tends to the Blackening of it; and especially if we can fall on no other Means to clear up our Neighbour's good Character, the best Way is in a friendly Way to impart all to himself, that we may hear
what he has to say in his own Justification. And this would lead me to
The Third Branch of the Antithesis, or contrary Duty to the Sin of rash Judgment; namely, The Performing the Friendly Office of a Monitor to our Neighbour himself, inftead of Exposing him to others : Which, together with the Prudence to be observed in Administring our Admonitions and Reproofs to Persons in such a Temper, and at such proper Times, as they are like to be the better, and not the worse for them, and we likewise fafe in so doing; are both such important and difficult Subjects, that I dare not attempt them now in the End of a Sermon. And therefore leaving them to be handled more at leifure at some other Opportunity, I shall conclude, after a short Application of what has been said to two sorts of Persons; namely, those that are guilty of rash Judgments, and those that are injured by them.
1. The First, are almost all sorts of People ; so much Care and Precaution being requisite, that perhaps there is no Duty in the whole Circle of Christian Morals, more difficult at all Times to put in Execution than this. St. James says, If any one offends not in Word, the fame is a perfect Man, Jam. iii. 2. And if it is so difficult to avoid rash Words, it is much more so, to avoid rash Judgments, which do much more suddenly present to the Thoughts, than Words do to the Tongue. But the Truth is, most commonly they go together, we have no sooner made fo much as a Conjecture in our own Minds to our Neighbour's Disadvantage, but we are in Pain till we communicate it to fome or other, for their
Approbation; and most commonly we communicate these things to such as we know are ready to join in with all our Sentiments, at least our most malicious ones. And, which is worse, we take it very ill, if they offer to differ from us in fuggesting any more charitable Opinion. But which is strangest of all, there are many Men and Women, who make Conscience of abstaining from other gross Vices, that yet make no scruple most unmercifully, in their common Discourse, to censure and condemn' others, especially if they are not of their own Kidney and Party. Nay, most of our both civil and religious Sects and Parties, think they do God and their Country good Service, by putting a bad Construction on the Words and Actions of those who differ from them, and by Exposing and Censuring them most únmercifully; and if it lies in their Power to carry their rash Judgments beyond Words, to more fubftantial Injuries, they think it no Sin to do it; and their very Minds and Opinions being corrupted, it is much harder to bring them to a Sense of this sort of Sins, or to a true Repentance for them, than for those that are reckoned much grosser Transgressions. All I have to say to such People is, to request them to consider, that this is a most essential Character of the Spirit of Christianity, to have charitable Thoughts, and to use charitable Words of others, and to nip in the Bud all the pernicious Fruits of that uncharitable Temper. Let us believe no Harm of our Neighbour, so as to injure him thereby, either upon uncertain Rumours of others, or as uncertain Conjectures of our own. At least, let us carry these Conjectures and Surmises no further
than to guard our selves against receiving Hurt from the Persons, supposing them to be such as the wicked Surmises suggest, without Defaming them to others, or doing them any other Prejudice, either in their good Name or Estate.
The other Persons to whom this Discourse is to be applied, are those who unjustly suffer by rash Judgments. And to them I have to offer, First, That they would consider, tho' they have not deserved these rash Judgments, whether they have not by their Imprudence given Occasion for them, by doing something which, if it is not evil, has at least the Appearance of Evil; and therefore, that they would order their Conversation so, that their Good may not be evil spoken of, Rom. xiv. 16. The other Thing is, that they would be induced both easily to pardon those rath Judgments in others, and abstain from them themselves. First, That they wouid pardon them in others; since so much Watchfulness, Care and Circumspection is requisite to avoid them; and in some they proceed from very innocent Causes, such as a Weakness of Judgment, a Lapse of Memory, an Excess of good Nature and Credulity; in others from an overcautiousness, which creates a Jealousie and Suspicion ; and that Men are often obliged to act upon their present Conjectures and probable Opinions, tho' they afterwards prove to have been wrong. But what to say for a Perfeverance in that Wrong, after they come to be sensible of it, I cannot tell. The least that a good Christian will then do is, not to perlift in an ill Thing, but to make speedy Reparation. Then, for such a Person who has been injured by raih Judgments, there is the
greatest Reason that he should abstain from them himself, as knowing by Experience, the pernicious Nature and Consequences of them. And therefore having a right Sense of what is due to others upon these Occasions, he of all Men cannot pretend Ignorance, and has nothing to do but to apply the golden Rule, of doing as be would be done by. This is what occurred to me upon the present Subject, and which, I hope, ye will improve in your After-Meditations, and practise in your Lives, to your Growth in Grace, and in the Knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. To Him, &c.