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ON THE HABIT OF JUDGING UNRIGHTEOUSLY.
St. Matthew vii. 1.
Judge not, that ye be not judged.
OUR Saviour does not in these words interdict the magistrate from exercising the high duties of his office; for, guided by his personal wisdom, and supported by the use of his delegated authority,
Kings reign and princes decree righteousness.” Neither does he require us to be careless or inactive, when crime stands before us without any uncertainty as to the fact, without any excuse from the motives, or any palliation from the circumstances. Silence in such a case would not only be painful to ourselves, but injurious to society. It would eventually encourage wickedness, by that kind of endurance which is often the result of apathy, and carries with it the appearance, and the effects too, of latent approbation. But, while our blessed Master leaves public justice and private reproof to their real and proper duties, he does forbid that harsh judgment which men are prone to pass upon their
* August 1813.
brethren without due consideration or honest intention, and which sometimes is a greater instance of depravity in those who pronounce it, than can be found in him upon whom it is pronounced. He, on whom your censures are thrown, may have been surprised into guilt by the dazzling temptation of profit to be obtained without effort and without hazard, by the sudden sallies of anger, or by the momentary and violent impulse of concupiscence. But the spirit by which you are actuated makes you restless, and tends to make you criminal by day and by night, and through months and years—it is stirred up alike by real and imputed faults-it finds its prey alike in the ingenuity and the dulness, the learning and the ignorance, the excellences and the infirmities of mankind-it affords you no animal gratification, no worldly gain, nor any other advantage, than the infernal pleasure of inflicting pain without provocation and without remorse. Who then art thou that judgest another man's servant, when by his own master alone he should stand or fall? Why dost thou presume to condemn a fellow sinner, who art thyself to appear before this same awful tribunal at the last day, and who at this moment mayest, in the sight of God, be more inexcusable ?
There are few instances of precipitate and unfair construction upon human conduct more offensive, than those which Providence itself is supposed to confirm by some external calamity, or, as you call it, some terrible judgment. Do you then forget that our Saviour asked certain persons whether those Galilæans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the sacrifices, or whether the eighteen upon whom the Tower of Siloam fell, were sinners above all other sinners at Jerusalem? Their guilt was notorious—their sufferings were conspicuous. But what was the answer of Christ to the question just now stated? “I say unto you, nay." What was the caution subjoined to that answer? “Except ye repent, ye shall likewise perish.” Thus, in the text, what are you forbidden? To judge. What is the ground of that prohibition? That you be not yourselves judged, — that, having shewn no mercy to man, ye must expect none from God,that, having disregarded justice, or carried it to excess, you must look for a heavenly judge, who will be extreme to mark what is done amiss by yourselves. The prosperity or security granted to men often becomes an encouragement for them to defame their neighbours. When misfortune overtakes them, every accidental oversight, every involuntary omission, every momentary failing, is brought forward against them in fierce array. And do you forget, my brethren, that God sometimes permits his most faithful servants to be visited with temporal evils, that he may put their patience and humility to the trial, and bring them nearer to himself? Doubtless there are some sins which, with more or less probability, may be traced in their consequences, The heedless spendthrift, the inveterate drunkard, the daring and unprincipled robber, may respectively be overtaken by the entire loss of property, or the rapid decay of health, or the ignominious forfeiture
of life. But I am now speaking of less frequent or less unpardonable faults, and to magnify them is to ensure our own condemnation.
Even in the absence of a deliberate desire to do mischief, conversation is often debased by feigned or overstrained accounts of miscarriages, little known or little regarded till some busy spirit makes them visible to all the world. Who, indeed, among ourselves, has not had occasion to be disgusted or alarmed, when our own infirmities have been ungenerously proclaimed and spitefully exaggerated? When bad men, for their own bad purposes, have imputed to us offences which we never committed, or represented our real faults in the blackest colours ? But that nice sense of honour which, under the guidance of religion, would preserve us from doing ill to mankind, will also render us anxious to avoid the appearance of evil. It resists accusation and anticipates excuse—it teaches us to interpose where we can extenuate, and to be silent or candid where we cannot acquit. But are the destroyers of reputation aware that, while they are pouring forth their reproaches upon detected or acknowledged sins, the sinner himself may, by his sighs, his tears, his poignant sorrow, and active amendment, have made his peace with God? And, when reconciliation has been thus accomplished in Heaven, will they dare to wage relentless war upon earth? Do they reflect that a crafty rival, or a vindictive foe, may take advantage of opprobrious tales, and thus inflict upon a fellow-creature a much deeper wound than it was their own wish for him to suffer? Do they con
sider that they are measuring the wisdom of a fellow-creature by their own ignorance, his generosity by their own selfishness, and his just displeasure by their own revengeful tempers? If they are callous to the anguish of the individual himself, have they no tenderness for innocent families, no reserve of compassion for the hoary parent, the weeping wife, and the helpless offspring ? It were no breach of charity, then, to assume that such slanderers know not distinctly the value of that good name which Solomon pronounces better than riches or precious ointment. They in all probability never possessed this treasure—they never had the pleasing and salutary consciousness of deserving it. Considering it as a good unattainable to themselves, they resolve either rudely to pluck, or insidiously to filch it from others by whom it has been acquired. They are confirmed in their resolution by the alliance of envy with malice, and are more solicitous to injure a fair character, because they feel that it is merited. Hence, towards the talents which they possess not-towards the knowledge which they have acquired not-towards the veracity, equity, candour, and moderation, which they practise not, they will indulge the most odious excesses of hatred, malice, and all uncharitableness. They envy without the activity or diligence of emulation—tbey deride what they cannot understand. On their sleepless pillows they meditate schemes of mischief, and through each revolving day they display their capacity and their fondness for coarse buffoonery or brutal insolence. Talk to them of the religious