Richard Baxter: The Evil of Backbiting and Evil-Speaking
1. It is forbidden of God among the heinous, damning sins, and made the character of a notorious wicked person, and the avoiding of it is made the mark of such as are accepted of God and shall be saved: Rom. 1:29, 30, it is made the mark of a reprobate mind, and joined with murder, and hating God, viz. “full of envy, debate, deceit, malignity, whisperers, backbiters.” Psal. 15:1,3, “Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill? He that backbites not with his tongue, nor does evil to his neighbour, nor takes up a reproach against his neighbour.” And when Paul describes those whom he must sharply rebuke and censure, he describes the factious sort of Christians of our times. 2 Cor. 12:20, “For I fear lest when I come, I shall not find you such as I would, and that I shall be found unto you such as ye would not: lest there be debates, envyings, wraths, strifes, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults.” Eph. 4:31, “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil-speaking be put away from you, with all malice, and be kind one to another, and tenderhearted,”
2. It is a sin which gratifies Satan, and serves his malice against our neighbour. He is malicious against all, and speaking evil, and doing hurt, are the works which are suitable to his malignity! And should a Christian make his tongue the instrument of the accuser of the brethren, to do his work against each other?
3. It signifies want of Christian love. For love speaks not evil, nor reveals men’s faults without a cause, but covers infirmities; much less will it lie and slander others, and carry about uncertain reports against them. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you: and how essential love is to true Christianity, Christ himself has often told us.
4. It is a sin which directly serves to destroy the hearers’ love, and consequently to destroy their souls. If the backbiter understood himself, he would confess that it is his very end to cause you to hate (or abate your love to) him whom he speaks evil of. He that speaks good of a man, represents him amiably; for amiableness and goodness are all one. And he that speaks evil of a man represents him hatefully or unlovely; for hatefulness, unloveliness, and evil are all one. And as it is not the natural way of winning love, to entreat and beg it, and say, I pray you love this person, or that thing; but to open the goodness of the thing or person, which will command love: so is it not the natural way to stir up hatred, by entreating men to hate this man or that; but to tell how bad they are, which will stir up hatred in them that do believe it. Therefore to speak evil of another, is more than to say to the hearers, I pray you hate this man, or abate your love to him. And that the killing of love is the killing or destroying of men’s souls, the apostle John does frequently declare.
5. And it tends also to destroy the love, and consequently the soul of him that you speak evil of. For when it comes to his hearing, (as one way or other it may do,) the evil you have reported of him behind his back, it tends to make him hate you, and so to make him worse.
6. It is a great peace-breaker wherever it is practised. It tends to set people together by the ears. When it is told that such a one spoke evil of you in such a place, there are then heart-burnings, and rehearsals, and sidings, and such ensuing malice as the devil intended by this design.
7. They that speak evil of others behind their backs, it is ten to one will I speak falsehoods of them when they do not know it. Fame is too ordinarily a liar, and they shall be liars who will be its messengers. How do you know whether the thing that you report is true? Is it only because a credible person spoke it? But how did that person know it to be true? Might he not take it upon trust as well as you? And might he not take a credible person to lie that is not? And how commonly does faction, or interest, or passion, or credulity, make that person incredible in one thing, who is credible in others, where he has no such temptation! If you know it is not true, or have not sufficient evidence to prove it, you are guilty of lying and slandering interpretatively, though it should prove true; because it might have been a lie for all you knew.
8. It is gross injustice to talk of a man’s faults, before you have heard him speak for himself. I know it is usual with such to say, 0 we have heard it from those as we are certain will not lie. But he is a foolish and unrighteous judge, that will be peremptory upon hearing one party speak, and knows not how ordinary it is for a man when he speaks for himself, to blow away the most confident and plausible accusations, and make the case appear to be quite another thing. You know not what another man has to say till you have heard him.
9. Backbiting teaches others to backbite. Your example invites them to do the like: and sins which are common, are easily swallowed, and hardly repented of. men think that the commonness justifies or extenuates the fault.
10. It encourages ungodly men to the odious sin of backbiting and slan- dering the most religious, righteous person. It is ordinary with the devil’s family to make Christ’s faithful servants their table talk, and the objects of their reproach and scorn, and the song of drunkards? What abundance of lies go current among such malignant persons, against the most innocent, which would all be ashamed, if they had first admitted them to speak for themselves. And such slanders and lies are the devil’s common means to keep ungodly men from the love of godliness, and so from repentance and salvation. And backbiting professors of religion encourage men to this; for with what mea- sure they mete, it shall be measured to them again. And they that are them- selves evil spoken of, will think that thev are warranted to requite the backbiters with the like.
11. It is a sin which commonly excludes true, profitable reproof and exhortation. They that speak most behind men’s backs, do usually say least to the sinner’s face, in any way which tends to his salvation. They will not go lovingly to him in private, and set home his sin upon his conscience, and exhort him to repentance; but any thing shall serve as a sufficient excuse against this duty; that they may make the sin of backbiting serve instead of it: and all is out of carnal self-saving; they fear men will be offended if they speak to their faces, and therefore they will whisper against them behind their backs. 12. It is at the least, but idle talk and a misuse of your time: what the better are the hearers for hearing of other men’s misdoings? And you know that it doesn’t profit the person of whom you speak. A skillful, friendly admonition might do him good! But to neglect this, and talk of his faults unprofitably, behind his back, is but to aggravate the sin of your uncharitableness, as being not contented to refuse your help to a man in sin, but you must also injure him and do him hurt.
Rebuke backbiters, and do not encourage them by hearkening to their tales. Prov. 25:23, “The north wind drives away rain, so does an angry countenance a backbiting tongue.” It may be they think themselves religious persons, and will take it for an injury to be driven away with an angry countenance: but God himself, who loves his servants better than we, is more offended at their sin; and that which offends him, must offend us. We must not hurt their souls, and displease God, by drawing upon us the guilt of their sins, for fear of displeasing them. Tell them how God hates backbiting, and advise them if they know any hurt done by others, to go to them privately, and tell them of it in a way that tends to their repentance.
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