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our Saviour's feet, and said within himself; If this man were a prophet, he would have known what manner of woman this is that toucheth him, for she is a sinner, Luke vii. 37,-39. which respected not her present, but her former condition.
2dly, When they reproach them with levity of spirit, for the sins they are guilty of at present; as when the shameful actions of a drunken man are made the subject of laughter; which ought not to be thought of without regret or pity.
Object. To this it may be objected, that sin renders a person vile, and is really a reproach to him; and therefore it may be charged upon him as such; especially since it is said, concerning the righteous man; in his eyes a vile person is contemned, Psal. xv. 4.
Answ. We are far from asserting, that it is a sin to reprove sin, and shew the person who cominits it his vileness, and the reason he has to reproach and charge himself with it, and loath himself for it; therefore,
1st, The contempt that is to be cast on a vile person, does not consist in making him the subject of laughter, as though it was a light matter for him thus to dishonour God as he does; for this should occasion grief in all true believers, as the Psalmist says, I beheld the transgressors and was grieved; because they kept not thy word, Psal. cxix. 158. But,
2dly, When the Psalmist advises to contemn such an one, the meaning is, that we should not make him our intimate, or bosom-friend; or if he be in advanced circumstances, in the world, we are not to flatter him in his sin; whereby, especially when it is public, he forfeits that respect which would otherwise be due to him. In this sense we are to understand Mordecai's contempt of Haman, Esther iii. 2.
Here we may take occasion to distinguish, between reproving sin, and reproaching persons for it; the former of these is to be done with sorrow of heart, and compassion expressed to the sinner; as our Saviour reproved Jerusalem, and, at the same time, wept over it, Luke xix. 41, 42. But, on the other hand, reproach is attended with hatred of, and a secret pleasure taken in his sin and ruin, Again, reproof for sin ought to be with a design to reclaim the offender; whereas reproach tends only to expose, exasperate, and harden him in his sin. Moreover, reproof for sin ought to be given with the greatest seriousness and conviction of the evil and danger ensuing hereupon; whereas they who reproach persons, charge sin on them, as being induced hereunto by their own passions, without any concern for the dishonour which they bring to God and religion hereby, or desire of their repentance and reformation.
[3.] Sometimes that which is the highest ornament, and
greatest excellency of a Christian, is turned to his reproach; more particularly,
1st, Some have been reproached for extraordinary gifts, which God has been pleased to confer on them. Thus the spirit of prophecy was sometimes reckoned, by profane persons, the effect of distraction, 2 Kings ix. 11. And Joseph was reproached by his brethren, in a taunting way, with the character of a dreamer; because of the prophetic intimation which he had from God, in a dream, concerning the future estate of his family, Gen. xxxvii. 13. And when the apostles were favoured with the extraordinary gift of tongues, and preached to men of different nations, in their own language; Some were amazed, and others mocked them, and said, These men are full of new wine, Acts ii. 13.
2dly, Raised affections, and extraordinary instances of zeal for the glory of God, have been derided as though they were matter of reproach. Thus Michael reproached David, when he danced before the ark, 2 Sam. vi. 20. being induced hereunto by an holy zeal, and transport of joy on this occasion; though he was so far from reckoning it a reproach, that he counted that which she called vile, glorious.
3dly, Spiritual experiences of the grace of God, have, sometimes, been turned by those who are strangers to them to their reproach and termed no other than madness. Thus when the apostle Paul related the gracious dealings of God with him in his first conversion, Festus charged him with being beside himself, Acts xxvi. 24.
4thly, A person's being made use of by God, to overthrow the kingdom of Satan, has been charged against him, as though it were rebellion. Thus the Jews tell Pilate, when he sought to release Jesus, If thou let this man go, thou art not Cesar's friend, John xix. 12. and that reformation which the apostles were instrumental in making in the world, by preaching the gospel, is styled, turning the world upside down, Acts xvii. 6.
5thly, Humility of mind in owning our weakness, as not being able to comprehend some divine mysteries contained in the gospel, is reckoned matter of reproach by many, who call it implicit faith, and admitting of the greatest absurdities in matters of religion.
6thly, Giving glory to the Spirit, as the author of all grace and peace, and desiring to draw nigh to God in prayer, or engage in other holy duties, by his assistance, is reproached by some, as though it were enthusiasm, and they who desire or are favoured with this privilege, were pretenders to extraordinary revelation.
7thly, A being conscientious in abstaining from those sins which abound in a licentious age, or reproving and bearing
our testimony against those who are guilty of them, is reproached with the character of hypocrisy, preciseness, and being righteous overmuch.
8thly, Separating from communion with a false church, and renouncing those doctrines which tend to pervert the gospel of Christ, is called, by some, heresy. Thus the Papists brand the Protestants with the reproachful name of heretics; to whom we may answer, that this is rather our glory, and confess, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship we the God of our fathers, Acts xxiv. 14.
This sin is attended with many aggravations; for God reckons it as a contempt cast on himself, Luke x. 16. and it is a plain intimation, that they who are guilty of it, pretend not to be what they reproach and deride in others, who, if they be in the right way to heaven, these discover that they desire not to come hither. And, in their whole conduct, they act as though they were endeavouring to banish all religion out of the world, by methods of scorn and ridicule; which, if it should take effect, this earth would be but a small degree better than hell.
However, when we are thus reproached for the sake of God and religion, let us not render railing for railing; but look on those who revile us, as objects of pity, 1 Cor. iv. 12, 13. 1 Pet. ii. 23, who do more hurt to themselves than they can do to us, thereby. Moreover, let us reflect on our own sins, which provoke God to suffer this; and beg of him that he would turn this reproach to his own glory, and our good Thus David did, when he was unjustly and barbarously cursed and railed at by Shimei, 2 Sam. xvi. 10-12. We ought also to esteem religion the more, because of the opposition and contempt that it meets with from the enemies of God; which may, indeed, afford us some evidence of the truth and excellency thereof; as our Saviour says concerning his disciples, If ye were of the world, the world would love his own; but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you, John xv. 19.
Again, when we are reviled for the sake of Christ and religion, let us take encouragement from hence, that herein we have the same treatment that he, and all his saints, have met with, Heb. xii. 2, 3. chap. xi. 36. And let us also consider, that there are many promises annexed hereunto, Matt. v. 11, 12. 1 Pet. iv. 14. It is also an advantage to our character, as Christians; for hereby it appears, that we are not on their side, who are Christ's avowed enemies; and therefore we should reckon their reproach our glory, Heb. xi. 26, or, as the apostle says, Take pleasure in reproaches for Christ's sake, 2
Cor. xii. 10. or, as it is said elsewhere, Rejoice, that we are counted worthy to suffer shame for his name, Acts v. 41. Thus concerning our doing injury to our neighbour, by speaking against him before his face. We shall now consider,
2. The injury that is done to others by speaking against them behind their backs. This they are guilty of, who raise or invent false reports of their neighbours, or spread those which ought to be kept secret, with a design to take away their good name; these are called tale-bearers, back-biters, slanderers, who offer injuries to others, that are not in a capacity of defending themselves, Lev. xix. 16. These malicious reports are oftentimes, indeed, prefaced, with a pretence of great respect to the person whom they speak against. They seem very much surprised at, and sorry for what they are going to relate; and sometimes signify their hope, that it may not be true; and desire, that what they report may be concealed, while they make it their business themselves to divulge it. But this method will not secure their own reputation, while they are endeavouring to ruin that of another. This is done various ways;
(1.) By pretending that a person is guilty of a fault which he is innocent of. Thus our Saviour, and John the Baptist were charged with immoral practices, which there was not the least shadow or pretence for, Matt. xi. 18, 19.
(2.) By divulging a real fault which has been acknowleged and repented of, and therefore ought to be concealed, chap. xvii. 15. or when there is no pretence for making it public; but what arises from malice and hatred of the person.
(3.) By aggravating, or presenting faults worse than they are. Thus Absalom's sin in murdering Amnon, was very great; but he that brought tidings thereof to David, represented it worse than it was, when he said, that Absalom had slain all the king's sons, 2 Sam. xiii. 30.
(4.) By reporting the bad actions of men, and, at the same time, over-looking and extenuating their good ones, and so not doing them the justice of setting one in the balance against
(5.) By putting the worst and most injurious construction on actions that are really excellent. Thus, because our Saviour admitted Publicans and sinners into his presence, and did them good by his doctrine, the Jews reproached him as though he were a friend of publicans and sinners, Matt. xi. 19. taking the word friend in the worst sense, as signifying an approver of them.
(6.) By reporting things, to the prejudice of others, which are grounded on such slender evidence, that they themselves
hardly believe them, or, at least, would not, had they not a design to make use thereof, to defame them. Thus Sanballat, in his letter to Nehemiah, tells him, that he and the Jews 'thought to rebel; and built the wall of Jerusalem, that he 'might be their king,' Neh. vi. 6. which, it can hardly be supposed, that the enemy himself gave any credit to. Thus concerning the instances in which persons back-bite, or raise false reports on others.
And, to this we may add, that as they are guilty who raise them; so are they who listen to, and endeavour to propagate them. It is not, indeed, the bare hearing of a report, which, we cannot but think to be attended with malice and slander, that will render us guilty; for that we may not be able to avoid; but it is our encouraging him that raises or spreads it, which renders us guilty; and, particularly, we sin when we hear malicious reports.
[1.] If we conceal them from the party concerned therein, and so deny him the justice of answering what is said against him, in his own vindication.
[2.] When we do not reprove those who make a practice of slandering and back-biting others, in order to our bringing them to shame and repentance; and, most of all, when we contract an intimacy with those who are guilty of this sin, and are too easy in giving credit to what they say, though not supported by sufficient evidence; but, on the other hand, carrying in it the appearance of envy and resentment. Thus concerning the sins forbidden in this Commandment. We shall close this head by proposing some remedies against it. As,
1st, If the thing, reported to another's prejudice, be true, we ought to consider, that we are not without many faults ourselves; which we would be unwilling, if others knew them, should be divulged. And if it be doubtful, we, by reporting it, may give occasion to some, to believe it to be true, without sufficient evidence, whereby our neighbour will receive real prejudice from that, which, to us, is only matter of surmize and conjecture. But if, on the other hand, what is reported be apparently false, the sin is still the greater; and the highest injustice is hereby offered to the innocent, while we, at the same time, are guilty of a known and presumptuous sin, by inventing and propagating it.
2dly, Such a way of exposing men answers no good end; nor is it a means of reclaiming them.
3dly, Hereby we lay ourselves open to the censure of others, and by endeavouring to take away our neighbour's good name, endanger the loss of our own.