From Posthumous Works
[No date is attached either to this sermon or to that which immediately succeeds it. The state however of the manuscripts, and the style of the penmanship, (which from the marked changes it undergoes at different successive stages is almost of itself a sufficient guide,) as well as certain internal evidences, carry with them the conviction that these two sermons were among the very earliest of Dr. Chalmers pulpit preparations.]
JAMES IV. 2. "Speak not evil one of another, brethren.
He that speaketh evil of his brother, and jndgeth his brother, speaketh evil of
the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thon art not a doer of
the law, but a judge".
"It is not calumny to speak evil of another when the evidence of his guilt is undeniable, and when it is necessary to defend the young against the dangers of his example. It is not calumny to deal out to vice its infamy and its correction - to hold it up to the terror and the execration of the neighbourhood - to lay open the secret recesses of hypocrisy - or to unmask the dissimulations of injustice. If this is to be denounced as calumny, vice will reign triumphant in the world, public opinion will lose its energy, deceit and profligacy will have nothing to fear from the resentment of indignation; they will lift an unabashed countenance in the face of day, and lord it in insolent security. Some are for carrying the victory of candour to a disgusting and an affected extremity. I hate that candour that would control the risings of a generous indignation, where guilt is open and unquestionable; that candour which can ape Christian charity, while it looks with patience on the oppressions or triumphs of injustice; that candour which can maintain a regulated composure of aspect, though it sees virtue in disgrace, and vice enthroned in the honours of preferment; that well-bred accommodation which can smile equally on all, and sit in contentment amid the general decay of worth and principle. a man as this passes for a lover of peace, an excellent member of society, who never thinks of disturbing our repose by his own offensive and turbulent invectives - who never obtrudes offensive peculiarities of temper or of opinion - who never acts the firebrand of mischief, but suffers us to proceed in quietness.
But to complete the picture, this good-natured accomodating man has sometimes an interest to mind, which requires him, on the other hand, to yield to the reigning corruppress the credit and pretensions of ritual. Let us observe the plan which this enemy to evil-speaking and to everything that is violent and intemperate, let us observe the plan he pursues to time it to purposes. This pattern of Christian temper will find it necessary to throw out his insinuations, but then he will do it with decency; he will betray no rash or unguarded violence; trample on no established ceremonial; he will speak "eas and smile complacency on the victim of his resentment; he will honour him with the attentions of politeness, share with him the hour of mirth and conviviality.
Some feelings of malignity may rankle in his bosom - but then he does offend by the ostentation of them. Some secret mischief may be brooding in his intentions, but then he does not alarm by his menaces. Whatever is calculated to agitate or terrify he kindly withdraws from his observation, and delights him by manners and civility, though he find it convenient at times to make free with his character - propagate in secret the tale of infamy; set all his his low rabble of emissaries on the work of misrepresention - and awaken the contempt or hostility of a deluded public. Yet such is the false estimate of calumny, which pervades these scenes of interest and competition - where the artifices of mere policy have perverted every sentiment of justice, and crushed every genuine and unaffected feeling of the heart - where the indignation of a mind at glaring and acknowledged guilt, is ascribed to the working of a foul-mouthed malignity - while not a man appears to lift the voice of remonstrance against the character of him who, under the semblances of a smooth exterior, will spread his deceitful insinuations and work the ruin and disgrace of the upright. The guilt of calumny lies in the three following circumstances:
First, in the imperfection of that evidence upon which the calumny is founded.
Second, in the injury it does to the unhappy victim.
Third, in its prejudicial effects upon the general interests of virtue.
First, then, as to the imperfection of the evidence. There are some actions which carry villany on the very face of them, and which can meet with no quarter even from the meekness of charity - such as the foulness of a murder, the infamy of artful and deliberate seduction, the desertion of a parent who is left by the ingratitude of his children to the solitude and helplessness of age, the brazen effrontery of falsehood, which can rejoice in the success of its artifices, and laugh at the unsuspecting simplicity of the virtuous. There are other actions where the merit is ambiguous or uncertain, and this is the favourite field for the exercise of calumny. When a man relieves a beggar in the street, it may be the impulse of generous emotion, but Calumny will tell you that it is the vanity of ostentation.
When a man stops short in the career of prosperity, and resigns himself to the mercy of his creditors, it may be the cruelty of misfortune, but Calumny will tell you of his concealed treasure, of his fictitious entries, of his sly and artful evasions. When a man gives himself to mirth and to company, it may be the innocent act of a convivial and benevolent heart, but Calumny will tell you of his midnight excess, of his habitual licentiousness, of his extravagant dissipation. When we hear in the house the music of family devotion, it may be in the spirit of old and respectable piety, but calumny will tell you of the rigour of puritanical solemnity, or the disgusting mask of the hypocrite.
When a man is prosecuting the claims of justice, it may be with all the purity of upright and honourable intentions, but calumny will tell you that it is the gripe of avarice or the insolence of oppression. Where candour would hesitate, calumny assumes the tone of authority. Where candour would demand proof and investigation, calumny gives her confident decisions. Where candour is for waiting in silence and suspending her judgments, calumny draws her precipitate inference, and indulges in all the temerity of invective. Where candour is for checking the progress of a malicious report as unwarranted by evidence, calumny renews all her efforts and gives fresh activity to the circulation. Where the merit of an action is disguised uncertainty of its evidence, or the ambiguity of itscomplexion, candour always gives her decision on the side of mercy, but it is the delight of calumny to give it a dark malignant colouring, and to send it round to reprobation. You must all have observed the succssive additions that are given to the tale of scandal as it through a neighbourhood. They sometimes proceed from malice, but oftener I believe from an idle gossiping proceeding from the love of being listened to with astonishment - the want not of heart and tenderness, but from the want of cautious and reflecting prudence - from the hurry and advertence of the moment when acquaintances meet and the happy hour is given to thoughtlessness and to gaiety.
Let it remembered, however, that thoughtlessness is criminal when employed in giving currency to falsehood - when it tends mislead society on a matter of such sacred importance as the character of one of its members - when it consigns the upright to shame and to infamy - when it sets up the hasty cry of execraration in cases where the evidence is uncertain, and candour tells us to forbear.
The action whioh calumny condemns in its unhappy victim should be attributed to him with hesitation, because in each step of its progress the story is apt to gain an addition from the mistakes of the inconsiderate, or from the fabrications of a deliberate malignity. The motive from which the action is said to have originated should if possible be assigned with still greater hesitation, because it lies in the heart - it hides in a vail of impenetrable secrecy - it is unseen by every eye save Omniscience - it is written on no record save the book of judgment - it remains untold till that awful day when the universe shall hear it - when the worlds shall assemble round our Redeemer's throne, and listen to the revelations of justice. There is no subject that demands more time and more investigation than a question of character; yet how seldom do men think of suspending their judgment - how rash and how presumptuous in their decisions - how prone to malicious interpretation in cases that are ambiguous - how fond of indulging in the eloquence of invective, and how elated with the malignant I pleasure of throwing ridicule on the absent, and sending the tale of detraction through the country.
It is a peculiarity which you must all have observed, that where the case is positively uncertain the general propensity is to give it on the side of condemnation - to attach to it the most malignant construction of which it is susceptible - to dress it up in the colours of in famy, and to give all the confidence of truth to what are at best but the fancies of a suspicious temper. It is in this way that the world is ever doing the grossest injustice to individuals - that the innocent are at times repelled by the scowl of suspicion - that virtue labours under the contempt of a deluded people - that the man whose heart rises in all the warmth of affection can often meet with no eye of kindness to cheer him, no friend to enlighten the solitude of his bosom. There is a worth that escapes the eye of an unthinking world - a deed of exalted charity that they never hear of - a tear of secret affection that shrinks from notice, and courts the indulgence of retirement - a life spent in unseen acts of beneficence which are only recorded in the book of heaven. To all this the world is a stranger; it sees not the heart; it forms its estimate upon the appearances of a delusive exterior; it overlooks the intention, and in the temerity of its heedless decisions, will lacerate and deform the best of characters. The world is the slave of manners. It will love you if you can put on the smiling countenance of affection; it will give you credit for a social and benevolent heart if you can lead your company to and maintain the frank and open air of an undissembled mirth.
But how many of the first of our race are incapable of manner - are oppressed by the embarrassments of modesty - shrink from the observation of the world - give themselves the silence of an awkward timidity, and under the of a cold and unpromising exterior, are received in every company with the frowns of antipathy and disgust. The character of such a man is not known beyond the little circle and of his family - of those poor whom his bounty sustains, and those cottages which his charity enlightens. He lives to obscurity and dies in forgetfulness; no epitaph to blazen his virtues - bo pomp of heraldry to embalm his remembrance. his death is never heard of among the tidings of the narket-place. His only memorial is the memorial of simple and un-noticed virtue - the tears of his children, and the rreget of his humble neighbourhood.
Let the sense of. our ignorance restrain a disposition to rash and unthinking calumny. The action is often transformed by the errors of inadvertence, or the artifices of a wilful misrepresentation.
The motive is as often disguised from the secret and unknown circumstances on which it is founded. To tell the motive we must fathom the mysteries of the heart which sits in invisible retirement, and eludes the penetration of mortals. In deciding upon a partial view of circumstances we run the risk of a total misconception; the addition of a single fact will often suffice to reverse the judgment we had formed, and to convince us that that action is laudable which, of our unthinking ignorance, we had before pronounced to be criminal
When a man shuts himself up in retirement and abstains from the expenses of hospitality, calumny will denounce him as an avaricious and unsocial character; but calumny should stop its mouth when it hears that all the savings ofthis this frugality are given to support the infirmity of an aged parent. When a man gives up the laborious exercises of his employment, and becomes an humble dependent on the charity of others, calumny will instantly ascribe it to the love of ease and of indolence; but calumny should soften its decision when it hears that his strength is wasted by the secret and unnoticed visitations of disease. When a man keeps back from the celebration of a sacrament, calumny will talk of his impious contempt for ordinances; but calumny should assume a milder tone when it hears that under the death of a beloved child he has withdrawn himself to the grief of solitude, and labours under all the agitations of a dark and disordered melancholy. When a man turns away from solicitations of charity, calumny may say that it is the gripe of avarice; but calumny should reserve its sentence when it hears that he is on the eve of falling in the tide of bankruptcy, and that he will surrender the wreck of his fortune to satisfy time higher claims of justice and of his creditors.
Ignorant then as we are of motives and of circumstances, we should learn to be cautious and hesitating on a question of character, to check every slanderous and malignant propensity, to feel how much is due to truth and justice, and if not able to hush, to abhor the tale of infamy. Let us at least withdraw our countenance from its propagation, and blush to prostitute our testimony to the unsupported assertions of a petty and contemptible scandal What can be said of those who sit in close convention and plot the massacre of a virtuous reputation, who delight to survey human nature in its most odious and degrading attitudes, who look with an exulting eye over the deformed exhibitions of vice and folly, who seem to feast on the melancholy picture of another's guilt, whose ears are only opened to the tale of detraction, and whose mouths are only opened to traduce and to vilify? If anything can add to our indignation it is the midnight and impenetrable secrecy under which these proceedings are conducted, the artful insinuations they practise against him whom they have singled out as the victim of their calumny, the cowardly advantages that they take of his absence, the smile of affection and civility which they can force into their countenance, while their heart is brooding over the most dark and malignant purposes.
Let it be remembered that we may be guilty of calumny without speaking evil. This is the most odious and disgusting of calumny; not an open and intrepid assertion, but a cowardly insinuation, a hint, a sneaking indirect artifice, an expression of regret, a distant allusion to set malignity to time of conjecture, and to awaken the suspicion of your company. This is calumny in fact, though not in form. It is to be accompanied with all the mischief of calumny. It sufficient foundation for a tale to circulate through the country; an impression to run through all the workshops of scandal in the neighbourhood, a groundwork from which a diseased fancy will conjure up its images of guilt and of profligacy, a report which however trifling in its commencement, will rise through successive additions to a ruinous and malignant falsehood. Let the tale of detraction be listened to with distrust. much is to be deducted; all the errors that gradually creep into misrepresentations from the inaccuracy of the careless; or the knowing and deliberate fabrications of the malignant; all the errors that proceed from our ignorance of other circumstances by which the merit of the action may be most essentially affected; and above all, the errors that proceed from ignorance of the heart, and of its secret and unfathomable mysteries.
Such is the openness of the public ear to the tale of detraction that calumny is too often successful even in her most base and unprincipled efforts. No virtue however exalted can escape her foul and pestilential attacks; she can array the loveliness of innocence in the garb of infamy, and turn the scowl every eye against the most pure and upright and gentle of characters. This is an awful combination of wickedness, the combination of malignity and falsehood - a combination against all that is sacred in truth, and all that is endearing in domestic tranquillity - a combination against the happiness of families and the peace of society - a combination against the reign of virtue in the wor1d, and against the best comforts which cheer and alleviate the lot of humanity.
This leads me to the second head of discourse - The sufferings which calumny inflicts upon its unhappy victim. All are born to feel the salutary control of public opinion. It is a most powerful engine for the preservation of virtue. Men will compass sea and land to gain the applause of their countrymen. Enough for them the reward of honourable distinction. It is the voice of glory to which they listen, and the voice is omnipotent. It is to the inspiration of her voice that we owe all that is exalted in patriotism, in war, in philosophy. For her the statesman will bravely maintain his integrity, and to be the man of the people he will renounce the favour of princes and the gains of a petty ambition. For her the commander will meet death with a fearless countenance, and eye with intrepid composure the scenes of blood and of violence into which he is entering. For her the student sits by the light of the midnight taper, and in the animating anticipations of future eminence can renounce without a sigh the charms of indolence and of gaiety.
Even to the home-bred walks of life and of business the voice of glory is not a stranger. You will meet with ambition in the lowest cottages of the country. Its aim is humble, but it is only the obscurity of circumstances which restrains it. In kind and in character it is the same with that ambition which figures to the eye of the world on a more exalted theatre - the same unwearied and persevering constancy in the prosecution of its object, the same jealousy of reputation, the same insatiable appetite for applause, the same triumphant elevation in the moment of success, the same misery under the sufferings of disappointment. To see man it is not necessary to traverse all countries, or to witness all the varieties of religion and government. It is not necessary to step beyond the limits of the little town town or hamlet in which Providence has placed you. You will meet with all the elements of human character in the rustic abodes of simplicity and nature. You will there meet with that ambition which if placed in a higher sphere would scatter disorder among the nations, and strive to control the destiny of empires. You will meet with that cruelty which, if at the head of a victorious army, would carry outrage and violence iimto the habitations of the innocent, and kindle in malignant joy at the barbarity of war. You will, meet with that avarice which, if elevated to the management of a province, would fill the country with taxation, and flourish on the distress and poverty of millions. You will also meet with the more virtuous and honourable propensities of the mind, with that goodness which in a higher sphere would have risen to an exalted patriotism, with that contempt for the disgraceful.which would have lifted its voice against the measures of a corrupt and degenerate policy, with that firmness which would have withstood the frown of power and the fury of popular commotion.
But to return from this digression. What in the higher stations of society is called respect for the public opinion, is in humbler and more contracted spheres called respect for the neighbourhood. Respect for the opinion of others is a constant and irresistable principle in the human constitution. To distain it is to boast of an affected independence; it is an effusion of vanity; it is an idle pretence to a stoical and romantic elevation of character. Not a man, I will venture to say, but feels his dependence on public opinion. Even armed with the consciousness of integrity he feels himself compelled to pay homage at its shrine. You will seldom, I may say you will never, meet with an example of independence solitary and unsupported - an independence founded exclusively upon the consciousness of virtue and the silent reflecion of a desolate and unbefriended bosom - an independence that can brave the scowl of every eye and the desertion of all acquaintances.
A man of firm and independent energy at times will appear who can stand before the eye of the world in the manly and intrepid attitude of defiance; but I contend that this energy is supported from without. It is supported by testimony of some selected person on whose esteem he places his pride and his enjoyment; it is supported by the anticipation of that day when the eyes of the public shall be opened, and their curses converted into admiration and gratitude; it is supported, in fact, by that very respect for public opinion which he now professes to disown, and of which his proceedings would speak him to be totally divested. But take him from the last remnants of his friends, take from him his last refuge against the malignity of an unthinking world, give him no eye of welcome to which he may retire from the persecutions of injustice, let every countenance bear hatred against him, and let there be no voice of kindness to alleviate the gloom of his solitude, he will fall even though encompassed with the armour of virtue; the accumulated weight of infamy will be unsupportable to him; he will pine away in the anguish of desertion, and welcome the silence of the grave as his only retreat from the horrors of this world's cruelty.
Let the severity of the world's opinion then be reserved as the punishment and the correction of vice. But calumny directs this severity against the virtuous. Calumny dooms the upright to contempt and infamy. Calumny tramples on all distinctions of character, and makes any man a victim to her malicious artifices. To take away a good name is to take away the dearest privilege of integrity. It is to take away the last consolation of the unfortunate. It is to take away that generous pride which glows even in the poor man's bosom, and supports the vigour of his purposes. Ask him who has gone through life, and felt its vicissitudes, who has outlived the wreck of his circumstances, and is forced in the evening of his days to descend to the humble tenement of poverty - he will tell you that he has not lost all while his character remains to him - that he still inherits the best gift which providence can bestow - the sympathy of an affectionate neighbourhood. Dreary is the winter of his age, but it has the homage of a sincere esteem to soothe and to enlighten it. Sad is the fall of his family; but why should they feel themselves degraded? - none can impeach their honesty or attach dishonour to their name. To the eye of sentiment, a man like this appears more respectable than even in his better days of opulence and comfort. We venerate the grey hairs of the unfortunate - of him who bears up with cheerfulness against the hardships which heaven has inflicted - of him who retires in silence and gives the remainder of his years to peaceful obscurity, who spends the evening of his life in humble and uncomplaining patience, whom experience has taught wisdom, and wisdom has taught the exalted lessons of contentment and piety. To pursue the unfortunate with calumny is to give the last aggravation to their sufferings.
It is to make them poor indeed. It is to add to the pangs of that heart that is already wrung with the cruelty of misfortune. It is removing the only support that is left to them hi this dark and uncertain world. It is to bestrew with thorns that weary journey which it has pleased heaven to make otherwise so painful There are some minds of peculiar sensibility which cannot withstand the scowl of prejudice and disdain, to whom dislike is painful, and whose every joy withers away at the glance of coldness. How severe to such is the rude touch of calumny! How cruel to withdraw the smiles of affection from him whose every purpose is conceived in the spirit of benevolence, to sting by coarse imputations the delicacy of his bosom, to distress by an unkind look that heart which breathes all the soul honesty.
To a man of kind intentions the frown of hatred is insupportable. He knows that he does not deserve it, and he feels its injustice. Heaven can witness his integrity, and it is hard that the world should be to him a widerness, or that the tranquillity of his life should be outraged by the effects of a malignant calumny. I do not say that world in its unkind treatment of virtue is actuated by a actuated by a spirit of wanton cruelty: I impute it to rash and unthinking ignorance; I regard it as a dupe to the malicious artifices of who have an interest in misleading the public opinion, in tarnishing the honours of an upright and respectable character. When the world is undeceived, it is ever ready to do justice to those whom it has injured by its opinion - to sympathise with them in their unmerited sufferings - to assert the cause of disgraced and persecuted virtue, and to raise the voice of a generous indignation against the arts of an unfeeling calumny. But how often does it happen that the world is never undeceived ; that prejudice has shut its ears against the representations of the candid; that the remonstrances of the injured are never listened to; that they are given to the wind; that they are never heard till he reach the grave's peaceful retreat, unbosom his sorrows to that heavenly witness who has seen all his griefs and all his errors? The public mind of every free country is generous, and ready to award to the deserving its tribute of admiration and gratitude. But though the public mind be generous, it is the. slave of prejudice and misconception. It takes its tone from the reigning system of policy and of opinion. In the hands of the artful, it can be fashioned into an instrument of injustice, persecution, and revenge.
The history of our own country furnishes innumerable examples of men consigned to infamy and to desertion for having uttered a sentiment offensive to the reigning politics of the day - for having given way to time warmth of an honest enthusiasm - for rising in all the ardour of an exalted patriotism - for lifting up their voice and their testimony against time measures of a corrupt and domineering influence. I do not say that when the public combine against the fame or the interest of such a character they do it in the spirit of malignity. They are deceived. They are the dupes of imposture. A false alarm is made to occupy the public ear. The ardour of patriotism is stigmatized as the turbulence of rebellion. We at times hear of men lying under a cloud. Trace the ignominy of these men to its foundation, and you will often find that it originates in a political artifice - in a cry set up by an interested combination of enemies - in the unprincipled hostility of the powerful against an obnoxious individual - in the virulent and rancorous malignity of a domineering party.
Examples of this kind are not confined to the great theatre of political contention. You will meet with it in every petty district of the country - in our towns where ancient integrity is disgraced, and a putrid electioneering morality deals calumny against the virtuous; in our corporations where monopoly reigns triumphant, and envy and interest combine to crush the independence of an aspiring character; and in all those numerous departments of life and of business where the eagerness of competition stirs up every wicked passion of the heart, and throws it loose from the restraints of principle. The mischief of calumny is not confined to the object against which it is directed. It invades the peace of his family; its cruelty descends to the youngest of his children who can blush at a father's disgrace, or whose little bosom can fire indignant at the aspersion of a father's integrity. A parent's reputation is a sacred inheritance. It reflects lustre on all his connexions. His children lift their heads in triumph amid the ills of poverty and misfortune. They carry him to the grave, but the remembrance of his example remains with them - it proves the guardian of their integrity; corruption in vain offers her allurements, principle within them that proves at once their pride and their protection - it is the image of that departed father whom they study to emulate and to admire.
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