Images de page
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors]

A DISCOURSE on SPEECH,

and the ABUSES of it.

MATT. xii. 37:

By thy Words thou shalt be justified, and by

tby Words. thou halt be condemned.

HIS Passage Thews in general, that Men

are accountable to God for their Words, T as well as for their Works; or that there

are certain Rules of Speaking, as well as acting, in which the Morality of a

Christian is concerned. It is my Design, with as much Brevity as I can, to point out the distinct Boundaries of right and wrong in this case, and the Grounds from whence the Distinction arises.

The End of Speech cannot be mistaken. It is the Inftrument whereby we communicate our Thoughts and Conceptions one to another ; without which there,

can be no Intercourse between Man and Man, nor - therefore any Society. If the Interests of Men were

independent, the Communication of their Thoughts to one another would be an useless Thing; for what is it to me what the Emperor of China, or the Great Mogul think of? But if I am concerned with any Man in Trade and Commerce; if I would give Advice, or take it; if I would command where I have Authority, or obey where I am in Subjection; if in

any

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

any Cafe I would please or profit others, or be pleased or profited by others, (and in these Things confifts the whole Business of civil Life) in these Cases it it neceffa. ry, char Men Nould understand one another's Minds, or nothing can be done.

This thews the Obligation that every Man is under, that his Words be true; that is, that they truly express the Sentiments of his Mind; otherwise we do not follow the natural End and Use of Speech: For an untrue Representation of a Man's Thoughts is not a Represen. tation of his Thoughts, but of something else. To tell a Lie is like putting off false or counterfeit Coin. А Brass Shilling bears the King's Image and Superscription, as a Lie bears the Image of a Man's Mind; but neither of them are the Thing they are understood to be. In both Cases there is a Fraud committed, and every Fraud is an Invasion of natural Right.

To explain this more distinctly, it is necessary to be observed, that Words have no Virtue to fignify our Thoughts or Conceptions, otherwise than by fome Sense affixed to them by mutual Agreement; and whenever this Agreement is common, it makes a common Language. This thews that the whole moral Turpitude of a Lie refts precisely in this, that it is a Breach of Contract; for mutual Consent is a mutual Compact; and mutual Consent apart, it is plain, that there will be in Words neither 'Truth nor Fallhood. Now if Contract makes Truth in Words, 2 Lie can be no otherwise a Lie, than as it is a Breach of Contract; nor let it therefore be esteemed a small Offence, for the observing Contracts is the first Law of Society.

There is in every Affirmation or Negation a twofold Contract: One is, that he who uses known, or common Words, will (unless it is aforehand otherwise fettled by private Agreement) use them in their known, or common Acceptation; and if common Use hach af. fixed more Meanings to any Word than one, the Law of Truth requires, that the Speaker uses it in that Seose, in which he is conscious the Hearer will most naturally. underland him; for when a Man (peaks, he pretends

a

jo

a

a

a

[ocr errors]

to speak for bis Information with whom he converses, and is by him always fo understood. But if a Quefa tion, for Inftance, is asked in one Sense, and the An. swer is given in another, the Person is not informed, but deceived. This is what we call Equivocation, and it hath in it the whole Effeace and Formality of a Lie.

The other Contract in every Affirmation or Nega. tion, is, that he who speaks will declare his real Sentiments; for he pretends to do fo. No Man speaks but with an Intention to be believed; therefore he must be understood as profeffing that he will declare his Mind; for if he were to profess otherwise, nobody would, or could believe him. The Declaration of a Man's Mind is the Declaration either of his Judgment, or of his Knowledge, which in all Cases should be carefully distinguished. If a Man fays I believe, or I think a Thing is so or fo, he may fpeak Truth, tho' the Thing be otherwise; but if (in a Matter in which it may be prefumed that he is a competent Judge) he fays abfo. lutely it is so, whilft he doubts, or even tho' he should believe it to be fo, bar does not know it, it is a Lie ; for he pretends to speak not his Opinion or Belief, but his Knowledge.

It is farther to be observed, that to make our Words true, they must fully come up to the Expectation of the Hearer, i. e. to what we know he expects, and what by our Discourse we are understood as taking upon ourfelves to discover. As in Matters of Judgment; when a Witness is examined, what is expected from him, is, that he declares what he knows that will help towards clearing up the point in Question; and it is upon the Presumption of his Intention to do this, that the Judge receives his Evidence: Therefore, tho' all that he says be true, yet, if he knowingly conceals, any material: Thing or Circumstance, he is a falfe Witness. That which is concealed makes that which is truly declared to become a Lie.

We fee now what a Lie is, and that every Lie, as. {uch, is morally bad; for it is a Breach of Contract.

A

[ocr errors]

a

a

A Contra& fupposes the Essentials of a Contract, and this is always the Case, when Men transact together upon equal Terms. An unlawful Force may be applied to make Men speak against their Wills, as it may be applied to make them promise a Som of Money against their Wills; but these Cases have so little to do in com. mon Life, that they are not worth considering.

In Cases where telling a Lie is prejudicial to our Neighbour, no one doubts of its being an Offence: But when a Lie hurts nobody, (much more when it serves to some useful Purpose) there are those who think it to be no Crime. But if a Lie is bad in itself, (as has been shewn) Consequences can never make it either good, or absolutely indifferent. Place the Immorality of a Lie in any Thing but the Violation of Truth, and you will never know where to fix. If a Man accustoms himself to tell Lies to make Sport, it is hard to believe him ; for who knows when he means to be serious ? And if there are Cases where telling a Lie is so near a. kin to nothing, that it may be suffered to pass for no. thing, this will not prove it to be right, but excufable only. If a Stick be a little bent, it may as well serve the Purposes of a Stick, as if it was strait to a Mathe. matical Exactness: But wrong is wrong, and will be e. ternally fo:

Things in themselves bad, are generally capable of Aggravation by Circumftances, and this is no where more evident than in the Sin of Lying. There are three Points of principal Concern, in which Truth ought most religiously to be observed. As,

1. In Matters which concern the Credit; or Reputation of another, which is sometimes his ALL. A Man', that is not born to an Estate, for Instance, but muft: live by his Trade or Profeffion; what has he to trust to but the good Opinion of the World? To vi. lify him therefore in these Points, tends to the depriv. ing him of his Bread; and is, many times, a much worse Injury than ftopping him upon the Highway, and taking his Purse.

But how little foever Men may have need of others, they always defise to be well

thought

a

[ocr errors]

1

thought of by others, and with Reason; for a good Name makes us Friends, and Friendship is the great Sweetner of human Life. A Man without Character, if he has Justice done him, is worse than a Brute, and is feldom better treated; but there is this material Dif. ference in their Cases, the one has Sense to feel the Contempt, the other not.

What should make us more cautious not to offend in this Way is, that when a Man's Character is once hort, the Mischief seldom admits of a thorough Remedy. All that one can do to put a Stop to an ill Re. port, is to unsay what hath been said ; but what will this avail, when the Report is spread far and wide ? Bad Words fly apace, whilft good ones move flowly, and lag behind : Such is the ill Nature of the World ! Thousands may have heard the Scandal, who will know nothing of the Retractation, or if they should know it would not believe it. Prepossession is a great Matter with most, and with many the first Impreßions are the laft too.

As to those Mischiels which may follow from an evil Report, with respect to a Man's outward Circumstances, fomething may be done by Way of Reparation; but the Infelicity is ftill the same, that if we defign never so hopefly to make full Amends, we can never have the Satisfaction of being fare that we have done it. If any one steals from me, or cheats me of so much Mo. ney, he knows what he takes from me, and how much he is become my Debtor; but he that robs me of my good Name, can never make a certain Eftimate how much he owes me ; for who can tell with whom I may have suffered, in whose Power it is, it was, or it might have been, to do me good ; or what Advantages I may bave lost, which I might have had if I had been better thought of? When one Man fues. another for Defa. mation, and recovers Damages, the Law is fatisfied, but the Debt may not be satisfied. Juries can judge only by probable Circumftances, and award so much as (the Nature of the Scandal, and the Situation of the injured Person considered) appears to them to be a reafonable

« PrécédentContinuer »