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nothing to do with them or their affairs, may please to think or talk about them. I say, they affect this; because, for the most part, it is mere affectation : and while they pretend not to be moved at all by what is reported of them, they plainly are moved by it greatly: not enough perhaps to conduct themselves with more discretion upon it, (and so much the worse for them;) but enough to be very uneasy and angry about it. Now what really disturbs them, it is a folly to put on the air of despising: and the only sensible method is, to take care and avoid it.
But they plead, that avoiding censure is impossible; people will say ill-natured things, and make spiteful constructions: some will always be raising stories, and others believing them: and why should one give one's self trouble to prevent what after all cannot be prevented ? Nor can it be denied, that the world is very
censorious : but it is by no means true, that they who keep on their guard, and they who do not, fare alike in it. Sometimes indeed very innocent and prudent persons may fall under very cruel imputations : but they rarely continue under them. And therefore, if it be not a rule without exception, it is one with but few exceptions, that whoever is much and generally and long evil spoken of, hath been faulty: very probably not in the degree, perhaps not in the manner, that is charged: but there hath been either an approach towards it, or a blameable appearance of it, or something or another that should not have been ; else so many would not have judged, or at least have persisted in judging, so unfavourably. Still their judgment may be a sinful one. But why should we tempt them to that sin? It is hurting both them and ourselves. Professing to despise the ill opinion of mankind, creates a shrewd suspicion, that we have deserved it. For if we have not; why do we lie so quiet under it? Why not explain our past conduct, if there be opportunity; or, however watch so carefully over our future behaviour, as by degrees to silence calumny? It is our duty, not only to be harmless, but useful in the world; and of what use can any person hope to be whom obloquy depreciates, and exposes to dislike? It is our duty, not only to be virtuous, but exemplary in virtue: and instead of that, we appear examples of wickedness, if we neglect aspersions thrown upon us, when we could wipe them off. And as every new example of it, real or seeming, adds new encouragement to it; the worst of sinners heinously aggravate their sins, by shewing that they are not ashamed of them; besides the imprudence of provoking private and public indignation or contempt.
But let the guilty manage as they will, surely the innocent must see, that their interest is, not to confound themselves with the former, and share in their reproach by disregarding reputation; but distinguish themselves by a constant, though unaffected, attention to it. Ill people may have their ends in desiring that you should appear like them: but your business is to appear different from them: otherwise you are so far virtuous to no purpose. And therefore, you forget yourself strangely, if you give up an advantage that is peculiar to you. A good name, of all things, is what a bad person cannot secure, and therefore you, that can, should on no account fail of doing it.
The judgment of others concerning us deserves respect: and to pay it none, is a shocking want of modesty. Besides, preservation of mutual esteem makes persons amiable to each other: and in that
way contributes largely to their common happiness. For it is hateful to think of living in the midst of bad characters only: and that single consideration should excite us powerfully to keep the face of things from having that look. But further, the sense of shame was given us by our Maker for a guard to our sense of duty. And as we want, on many occasions, every guard that we can have; we know not what evils may follow throwing aside this. Persons, who care not what they are thought, are in a very likely way not to care what they do. And, therefore, St. Paul hath most judiciously intermixed, as being intimately connected, regard to principle, and regard to character. Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest ; whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report ; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things*.
But were contempt of reputation ever so consistent with our innocence, it would be greatly contrary to our interest notwithstanding. A lost, or even doubtful fame, in some points, fixes an almost indelible mark upon persons, which deprives them of many advantages in life, and often delivers them over to scorn and wretchedness, for the rest of their days. Nay, even when nothing bad can be said of any one, yet, if but little good can, this alone will usually have an unhappy influence on his future situation; whereas an eminently fair character prepossesses every body in the favour of him who bears it: engages friendly treatment, begets trust and confidence, gives credit and weight. Such will always be sought after and employed, respected in their prosperity, assisted under distresses : in short this distinction is,
* Phil. iv, 8.
in effect, beyond all that can be named, honour, and power, and wealth.
But then further, it is pleasure too, which only one other, near akin to it, can exceed or equal. For next to the consciousness of being good and worthy, that of being esteemed so, especially by those, who are such themselves, is undoubtedly the joyfullest feeling in the heart of man, and diffuses the highest satisfaction through every intercourse of life. But very afflicting must their inward sensations be, who know, they are justly hated, suspected, or despised : and in the midst of society must wander about, unesteemed and friendless.
Another very material consideration is, that, though offenders often return completely to their duty, it is but seldom and imperfectly that they ever regain their characters, when once forfeited: whereas, by preserving them, they secure not only many and great present benefits, but the pleasing prospect, in which our Maker hath, with unspeakable goodness, formed us to delight, of leaving an honourable memory behind them for their family to inherit; and a valuable
a bequest it frequently proves: while hereditary infamy is the cruel portion, that others leave to their posterity and kindred. Have regard to thy name, saith the wise son of Sirach, for that shall continue above a thousand great treasures of gold. A happy life hath but a few days ; but a good name endureth for ever. On all accounts then it is our wisdom as well as our duty, to provide for honest things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of ment.
Still, it must be owned, there are occasions on which neglecting both parts of this rule may appear the shortest way to worldly prosperity. But these * Ecclus. xli. 12, 13.
+ 2 Cor. viii. 21.
appearances are often deceitful. And when they prove such, what hath the wretch, who ventures upon this course, done; he hath lost his honour, and lost his peace, and got nothing for them. But whatever he gets, he will find his bargain at last a very dear one. He will feel himself inwardly no longer the same man, that he was: he will see himself treated, by the better part of mankind at least with the coldness, which he knows to come short of his desert; the respect paid him by the rest will be of very uncertain duration; and while it lasts, he will perceive it by many a token to be mere outside. He will be afraid perpetually, that some turn of affairs may take away from him the advantages of his baseness, and leave him only the ignominy of it. Or, how well soever he may escape, or how little soever he
may value, the shame of this world; that of the next can neither be avoided nor contemned.
There can be no doubt then, but reputation deserves a very great regard. And therefore I proceed,
II. To warn you against shewing an over great regard to it.
Many seem to think, that a fair appearance is all they want: and accordingly take little care to support it by reality. But, without the latter, the former will quickly be seen through. And in the mean time, while few or none else knows them, their knowledge of themselves, and perpetual fears that others will find them out, must surely leave them very small pleasure in having, as the Scripture expresses it, a name that they live, and being in truth dead*.
Many more, if they are guilty of nothing which the world thinks enormous, imagine they are quite as good as they need to be: forgetting, that the Lord
* Rev. iii. 1.