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For I may not put you in mind that by being brought thus to flee the Divine Righteousness, you come to a most experimental sight of the Divine Faithfulness in what has befallen you.

One that had been very defamed could say. Gen. 50.20 God meant it unto good.[1] If you get so much good by your defamations as to discern the righteousness of God in them and obtain, what is ill in you to be forgiven and amended, it is plain that God has meant it for good. You may go on with praises and wonders and say, Lord, In faithfulness thou has afflicted me.[2]

It will most certainly be so, if you now set yourselves to improve in piety by means of defamations which are the by the impious hurled at you. O Man of God, you may be awakened unto the doing of much good by being evil spoken of. We say very truly, Malice is a good informer tho’ it be a bad judge.[3] You may by malicious defamations be informed of those points in your conduct which may need a better guard upon them. You may by being reproached be advised of those things which out to be reformed.[4]

It contributed mightily to the advancement of temperance in the blessed Monica that one reproachfully called her a “wine-bibber”.[5] It would be wisely done of you under defamations to search and try your ways. Particularly whether, tho’ what you enemies have said of you be false, yet the eyes of Holy God have not seen in you some faults akin to that which has been charged upon you. If find it so, Oh! Mourn for it and turn to God.

This is the language of heaven, in the bad language of the evil tongue in the fire spit at you by a tongue set on fire by hell.[6] At least you may find this, that you should grow more eminent in those graces and in those duties which are most contrary to the charges of your enemies upon you. They, ‘tis true, abuse you and yet at the same time they exhort you, they excite you.

God by them calls upon you: My child, you are not yet come to a due eminency in those good things which are just contrary, most contrary to the ill things that are spoke of you. Oh! Be quickened unto an eminency in all goodness by the evil spoken of you.

A great man of Macedonia professed himself much obliged unto the chief men of Athens that by their abuses they taught him how to speak and how to live better than he should have done without such monitors.

Perhaps you may have enemies who being sensible that you have some friends who think well of you are so uneasy at it and so resolved upon rendering you unserviceable, that they will make venomous insinuations of your being a hypocrite; that your all your profession, all your appearance, all the flame of your zeal to do good is but hypocrisy. A wondrous venom! Yet you have heard of the patience of Job.[7] I am verily persuaded the end of the Lord [the purpose of the Lord} is to awaken you to a more thorough trial of your own sincerity; and unto a more hearty doing of those things which will be infallible demonstrations of your own sincerity.

I have read or heard of one who never arrived unto the joyful assurance of his own uprightness until an abusive neighbor had called him a hypocrite. The faithfulness of the Lord our Healer makes the sickly doses of doses of defamation (tho’ they may seem sometimes unto us pretty churlish ones and a little strong of the metal[8]) operate thus towards the healing of our distempers. Hereby our iniquity is pursed and all the fruit is to take away our sins. The tongue that is a sharp sword serves only as in the well-known story to open up and relieve an ulcer of dangerous corruption within us.

Workers of iniquity[9] may for a while prevail against you; must injustice and injury may be done [to] you in many defamations uttered by workers of iniquity. But if unrighteous men prevail in their unrighteous works and words against you ’tis that your transgressions may be more purged away. See this, and say, O Lord, Great is thy Faithfulness!

Footnotes:

[1] The quotation comes from the words of Joseph, who had been kidnapped by his brother and then sold as a slave. Joseph ended up in Egypt, where through a series of remarkable circumstances, became the second-in-command overseeing famine relief. In position, Joseph not only saved the Egyptian people from starvation, but he ended up rescuing his own family. After Joseph reveals himself to his family, he brings them to live with him. Following the death of their father, his brothers fear that Joseph will take revenge upon them:

Genesis 50:15–20 (ESV)

 15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” 16 So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: 17 ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.” ’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18 His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” 19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.

[2] Psalm 119:75 (AV)

75 I know, O LORD, that thy judgments are right,

and that thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me.

[3]  Malice notices all of the faults in an enemy. As Plutarch explains of the enemy:

As much as possibly he can, he enquires what we have done, and labors to dive into the most hidden counsels of our minds. Nay, our friends do often escape our notice, either when they die or are sick, because we are careless and neglect them; but we are apt to examine and pry curiously almost into the very dreams of our enemies.

Now our enemy (to gratify his ill-will towards us) doth acquaint himself with the infirmities both of our bodies and mind, with the debts we have contracted, and with all the differences that arise in our families, all which he knows as well, if not better, than ourselves. He sticks fast to our faults, and chiefly makes his invidious remarks upon them.

….So our enemies catch at our failings, and then they spread them abroad by uncharitable and ill-natured reports.

Plutarch, Plutarch’s Morals., ed. Goodwin, vol. 1, “How a man may receive profit and reward from his enemies” (Medford, MA: Little, Brown, and Company, 1874), 283–284. However, the enemy’s watchfulness does not prove the enemies wisdom. In fact the enemy is like to completely misjudge all things for the worse.

[4]

Hence we are taught this useful lesson for the direction and management of our conversations in the world, that we be circumspect and wary in every thing we speak or do, as if our enemy always stood at our elbow and overlooked every action. Hence we learn to lead blameless and inoffensive lives. This will beget in us vehement desires and earnest endeavors of restraining disorderly passions. This will fill our minds with good thoughts and meditations, and with strong resolutions to proceed in a virtuous and harmless course of life.

Plutarch, Plutarch’s Morals., ed. Goodwin, vol. 1 (Medford, MA: Little, Brown, and Company, 1874), 284.

[5] Monica was Augustine’s mother.

[6] James 3:6 (AV)

6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.

[7] James 5:11 (AV)

11 Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.

[8] Too strong for our taste.

[9] Job 31:3 (AV)

Is not destruction to the wicked? and a strange punishment to the workers of iniquity?