What is required to the conserving of our neighbours good name?
First, an internal disposition, care, and study of preserving it: which we shall shew by these fruits. First, when we are glad of it, and rejoyce in it; (Rom. 1:8; Col. 1:3, 4.) and are grieved when as it is blacked and blemished.
What other fruits are there of it?
They respect either our hearing, judgment, or reports.
Our hearing; First, when as we shut our ears to wisperers and slanderers, for their detractions and slanders cannot hurt our neighbours good name, if we will not hear and believe them. Prov. 25:23. And this is a note of a Citizen of heaven. Psal. 15:3.
Secondly, when as we willingly and chearfully hear the praises of our neighbours: which is a sign of an honest heart, that is free from self love and envy.
What is required in the judgment?
A candid and ingenuous disposition to preserve our neighbours same, and in all things doubtful to judge the best of his words and deeds.
James Usher, A Body of Divinity: Or, the Sum and Substance of Christian Religion, Eighth Edition. (London: R. J.; Jonathan Robinson; A. and J. Churchill; J. Taylor; J. Wyatt, 1702), 341.
Day by day their malice is fed with a spring, with a malicious heart. A malicious heart and a slanderous tongue alway go well together. The devil, that was the first grand slanderer, hath communion with a malicious heart, and he foments malice, and cherisheth that malicious, poisonful disposition; and a malicious disposition never wants malicious words. As one saith of anger and fury, it ministereth weapons (c), so we may say of malice and hatred, it ministereth words alway.
Richard Sibbes, The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes, “The Sword of the Wicked,” ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart, vol. 1 (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; W. Robertson, 1862), 111.
Take heed, therefore, we entertain not rash conceits of others upon the entertainment they find abroad in the world, or among those that have a standing in the church, for so we shall condemn Christ himself. How was he judged of the priests, scribes, and pharisees in his times? And this hath been the lot of the church in all ages. The true members thereof were called heretics and schismatics. The veil was taken off. It is the poisonful pride of man’s heart that, when it cannot raise itself by its own worth, it will endeavour to raise itself by the ruin of others’ credit through lying slanders. The devil was first a slanderer and liar, and then a murderer, John 8:44. He cannot murder without he slander first. The credit of the church must first be taken away, and then she is wounded. Otherwise, as it is a usual proverb, Those that kill a dog make the world believe that he was mad first; so they always first traduced the church to the world, and then persecuted her. Truth hath always a scratched face. Falsehood many times goes under better habits than its own, which God suffers, to exercise our skill and wisdom, that we might not depend upon the rash judgment of others, but might consider what grounds they have; not what men do, or whom they oppose, but from what cause, whether from a spirit of envy, idleness, jealousy, and pride, or from good grounds. Else, if Christ himself were on earth again, we should condemn him, as now men do the generation of the just, whom they smite and wound, and take away their veil from them.
Richard Sibbes, The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart, vol. 2 (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet And Co.; W. Robertson, 1862), 120–121.
For of all grief that God’s people suffer in the world, there is none greater than reproach, disgrace, and contumely. Movemur contumeliis plus quam injuriis, we are more moved with reproaches than injuries. Injuries come from several causes, but disgrace from abundance of slighting. No man but thinks himself worthy of respect from some or other. Now, slanders come from abundance of malice, or else abundance of contempt; and therefore nothing sticks so much as reproaches, specially by reason of opinion and fancy, that raiseth them over high.
Richard Sibbes, The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart, vol. 2 (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet And Co.; W. Robertson, 1862), 492.
As Doeg the Edomite first accused, and then, by the command of Saul, slew Abimelech the high priest, and all his family, destroying the whole city of the priests called Nob, as you may see 1 Sam. 22:9. David, when he professeth the uprightness of his government, would allow no such in his court, but would severely punish them: Ps. 101:5, ‘Whoso privily slandereth his neighbour, him will I cut off.’ These ways of whispering and detraction, by which men are wont to gain confidence, favour, and employment from princes, should not only miss of their aims with him, but be severely punished when he met with them.
Thomas Manton, The Complete Works of Thomas Manton, vol. 2 (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1871), 279–280.
Defamation. Infamy is the forerunner of more trouble, and the showers of slander are but presages of grievous storms of persecution. The devil is first a liar and then a murderer, John 8:44. When the children of God are represented as criminal, they are more easily destroyed. It was a fashion in the primitive persecutions to invest Christians with a bear’s skin, and then to bait them as bears. And it is a usual practice of Satan and his instruments to blast the repute of religious persons, to clothe them with the livery of reproach, and then prosecute them as offenders: Ps. 5:9, ‘Their throat is an open sepulchre.’ The slanders of the wicked are preparatives to death, as the sepulchre when opened is prepared to receive the dead carcase. Men first slander and then molest. The devil is afraid to meddle with unstained innocency. A good report is a great security against open violence.
Thomas Manton, The Complete Works of Thomas Manton, vol. 7 (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1872), 385.
To slander and accuse is the devil’s property; we should be more tender in divulging the infirmities of the saints; it is the devil’s work. Christ, when he prayeth for his enemies, he mollifieth their crime, and softeneth it with a gentle interpretation: Luke 23:34, ‘Father, forgive them; they know not what they do.’ Christ excuseth, Satan accuseth.
Thomas Manton, The Complete Works of Thomas Manton, vol. 10 (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1872), 217.
Self-love makes men envious and slanderous. When men would shine alone, and would have all the world else to serve for their foils, to set them off, therefore they blast their gifts with censure, aggravate their failings, and load them with prejudice, that upon the ruins of their good name, they might erect a fabric of praise to themselves. Self-lovers are always bitter censurers; they are so indulgent to their own faults, that they must spend their zeal abroad.
Thomas Manton, The Complete Works of Thomas Manton, vol. 15 (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1873), 263.
Do no wrong to their names; next to their persons this is to be valued. A slanderer is worse than a thief; the one is publicly odious, but the other robs us of our better treasure: Prov. 22:1, ‘A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches,’ and more conducible to our usefulness for God than wealth. A wrong done to the estate is sooner repaired than a wrong done to the name of others, for a reproach divulged is hardly recalled; when the wound is cured, yet the scar remains; and therefore this is a very great evil to do wrong to their names; especially when you reproach the godly, and do wrong to them, because their discredit lights upon religion. God is much concerned in the credit and honour of his servants. You hinder their service, and lay them open to the rage of the world. A blemished instrument is of little use. Num. 12:8, saith God, ‘Were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?’ To speak against persons eminent and useful for God in their age is to render them suspected to the world; and who would drink of a suspected fountain? You hinder their use and serviceableness. And the wrong is greater when one christian blemisheth another, for one scholar to speak against another, and one lawyer against another; so for one christian to speak against another, it aggravates the injury. Therefore, when there is cause to speak against a man, it should be with grief.
Thomas Manton, The Complete Works of Thomas Manton, vol. 16 (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1874), 145.
Quest. How many ways may we be unmerciful to the names of others?
Ans. Divers ways: 1. By misreporting them, a sin forbidden, Exod. 23:1. ‘Thou shalt not raise a false report.’ Eminency is commonly blasted by slander, Psal. 64:3. ‘Their tongues are as arrows shot out.’ The tongue of a slanderer shoots out words to wound the fame of another, and make it bleed to death: The saints of God in all ages have met with unmerciful men, who have fathered things upon them that they have not been guilty of. Surius the jesuit reported of Luther, that he learned his divinity of the devil, and that he died drunk; but Melancthon, who wrote his life, affirms that he died in a most pious, holy manner, and made a most excellent prayer before his death: It was David’s complaint, Psal. 35:11. ‘They laid to my charge things which I knew not.’ The Greek word for devil signifies slanderer, 1 Tim. 3:11. ‘Not slanderers;’ in the Greek it is, not devils. Some think it is no great matter to defame and traduce another; but know this is to act the part of a devil. O how many unmerciful men are there, who indeed go for Christians, but play the devil in venting their lies and calumnies! wicked men in scripture are called dogs, Psal. 22:16. Slanderers are not like those dogs which licked Lazarus’s sores to heal them; but like the dogs which did eat Jezebel, they rend and tear the precious names of men. Valentinian the emperor did decree, that he who was openly convicted of this crime of slander, should die for it: And pope Gregory did decree, that such a person should be excommunicated, and not have the communion given him; I think it was a just decree.
2. We are unmerciful to the names of others when we receive a slander, and then report what we hear, Lev. 19:16. ‘Thou shalt not go up and down as a tale-bearer among thy people.’ A good man ‘doth not evil to his neighbour, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour,’ Psal. 15:3. We must not only not raise a false report, but not take it up. To divulge a report before we speak with the party and know the truth of it, is unmercifulness, and cannot acquit itself of sin. The same word in the Hebrew, to raise a slander, signifies to receive it, Exod. 23:1. The receiver is even as bad as the thief; it is well if none of us have, in this sense, received stolen goods; when others have stolen away the good names of their brethren, have not we received the stolen goods? there would not be so many to broach false rumours, but that they see this liquor pleaseth other men’s taste.
Thomas Watson, “Discourses upon Christ’s Sermon on the Mount,” in Discourses on Important and Interesting Subjects, Being the Select Works of the Rev. Thomas Watson, vol. 2 (Edinburgh; Glasgow: Blackie, Fullarton, & Co.; A. Fullarton & Co., 1829), 199–200.
Some injure others in their good name, by reproaching them, or speaking evil of them behind their backs. Abundance is done in this way. No injury is so common as this. The iniquity which is committed by men in all our taverns3 by what they say of one another behind their backs is beyond account. Some injure others by making or spreading false reports of others, and so slandering them. And others, although what they say is not a direct falsehood, yet a great misrepresentation of things, represent things in their neighbors in the worst colors, and strain their faults, and set them forth beyond what they are, and speak of them in a very unfair manner.
Jonathan Edwards, Ethical Writings, ed. Paul Ramsey and John E. Smith, vol. 8, The Works of Jonathan Edwards (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 1989), 187.
We must not take up a rash prejudice, or entertain a sinister apprehension of any, upon slight grounds. Do not represent any man, his words or actions, at a disadvantage. Make the best of every thing. A man’s good name is like a looking-glass; nothing is sooner cracked, and every breath can sully it. Handle every man’s reputation with the same tenderness thou wouldest have every man use towards thine. Do not slander or defame any man, or rejoice to hear other men’s miscarriages ripped open. Do not account it an entertainment to censure and backbite all the world.
James Nichols, Puritan Sermons, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Richard Owen Roberts, Publishers, 1981), 203.
Observe that good old rule, of doing to others as you would be done to.—You would have others to bear with you; and why will not you bear with others? You would have the best sense put upon your words, actions, and carriages; and why will not you put the best sense on their words, actions, and carriages? You would not be imposed on, censured, reproached, backbitten, slandered; no more should you impose upon others, or censure them, or reproach or backbite or slander them.
James Nichols, Puritan Sermons, vol. 4 (Wheaton, IL: Richard Owen Roberts, Publishers, 1981), 251.
We must not injure another in his name. “A good name is a precious balsam;” it is a great cruelty to murder a man in his name. We injure others in their name when we calumniate and slander them. ’Twas David’s complaint, Ps. 35:11., “They laid to my charge things that I knew not.” The primitive Christians were traduced for incest, and killing their children, as Tertullian, Dicimur infanticidii, incestus rei. This is to behead others in their good name; this is an irreparable injury; no physician can heal the wounds of the tongue.
Thomas Watson, The Select Works of the Rev. Thomas Watson, Comprising His Celebrated Body of Divinity, in a Series of Lectures on the Shorter Catechism, and Various Sermons and Treatises (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1855), 307.
1st. Slandering our neighbour. This is a sin against the ninth commandment. The scorpion carries his poison in his tail; the slanderer carries his poison in his tongue. Slandering is to report things of others unjustly. Ps. 35:11., “They laid things to my charge which I knew not.” It is usual to bring in a Christian beheaded of his good name; they raised a slander of Paul, that he should preach, men might do evil, that good might come of it, Rom. 3:8., “We be slanderously reported; and as some affirm that we say, let us do evil, that good may come.” Eminency is commonly blasted by slander. Holiness itself is no shield from slander. The lamb’s innocency will not preserve it from the wolf. Christ was the most innocent upon earth, yet was reported to be a friend of sinners; John Baptist was a man of a holy austere life, yet they said of him, “he hath a devil,” Mat. 11:18. The scripture calls slandering, smiting with the tongue, Jer. 18:18., “Come, and let us smite him with the tongue.” You may smite another and never touch him. Majora sunt linguæ vulnera quam gladii, AUG. The wounds of the tongue no physician can heal; and to pretend friendship to a man, yet slander him, is most odious. St. Hierom speaks thus: “The Arian faction made a show of kindness; they kissed my hands, but slandered me, and sought my life.” And, as it is a sin against this commandment, to raise a false report of another, so it is a sin to receive a false report before we have examined it, Ps. 15:1., “Lord, who shall dwell in thy holy hill?” Quis ad cœlum? v. 3., “He that backbiteth not, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour.” We must not only not raise a false report, but not take it up. He that raiseth a slander, carries the devil in his tongue; and he that receives it, carries the devil in his ear.
Thomas Watson, The Select Works of the Rev. Thomas Watson, Comprising His Celebrated Body of Divinity, in a Series of Lectures on the Shorter Catechism, and Various Sermons and Treatises (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1855), 329.