Consider first,[/b] that by this commandment is not only forbidden all false testimony given in open court, or before a magistrate, against any one, which is usually accompanied with another greater crime, viz., that of perjury or false swearing, if not with that of robbery or murder also, when false witness is the occasion of the loss of any one's goods or life - but also all manner of private slanders and lies, and all other ways of injuring one's neighbour by words, either in his character and good name, by backbiting and detraction, or in his honour, by reproaches and affronts, or by taking away the peace of his mind by scoffs and derision, or by robbing him of his friends, by whispering and tale-bearing, or by promoting misunderstanding and quarrels between him and his neighbours: an evil so odious in the sight of God, that the wise man assures us, Prov. vi. 16, that his soul detest it. All these crimes are condemned by this commandment, and by the eternal and natural law written in the heart of man - all of them are directly opposite both to charity and to justice, and to the great rule of life, not to do by others what we would not have them to do by us. They all bring with them a strict obligation, even under pain of damnation, (if the injuries have been considerable,) of making restitution or satisfaction, and yet how seldom is this put in practice? Ah, how common are these injustices of the tongue, and how dreadful are the consequences of them both in time and eternity!
Consider 2ndly, more in particular the heinousness of the sin of detraction, which is so common in the world, and which makes up so great a part of this conversation of worldlings. And yet at every blow, says St. Francis de Sales, it gives three mortal wounds, first to the soul of the detractor, then to the reputation of the person detracted and thirdly, to the consciences of the hearers, by drawing as many of them into sin as are delighted with hearing the detraction, and much more if they encourage it, and contribute to propagate it, by publishing it to others. The detractor himself is like a thief or a robber who takes away his neighbour's character or good name; yes, he is so much worse than a thief or a robber, as a person's character or good name is more valuable to him than his worldly substance, which he is in danger of losing, when he loses his character. Now, in matters of theft or robbery, 'tis commonly said the receiver is as bad as the thief, so in matters of detraction, he that hears the detractor, whilst he is robbing his neighbour of his reputation, is like the receiver, and partakes in the guilt of the robbery. And are Christians aware of this? Do they examine their conscience upon this head? And yet their souls are here at stake. O how few detractors or tale-bearers would there be if men were once made sensible that their unjust and uncharitable discourses were disagreeable to their hearers!
Consider 3rdly, that the sin of detraction may be committed, and consequently the obligation of repairing one's neighbour's good name may be incurred, not only by publishing downright slanders and lies against his reputation, but also by charging him upon hearsay, or upon one's own suspicious or rash judgments with things, if not false, at least doubtful and uncertain, or by magnifying the guilt, and imputing to malice what might be no more than frailty or surprise, or by censuring his intentions in his good works, or even by publishing, without necessity, his real crimes or defects in such circumstances, when his character is hereby grievously hurt. Because in all these cases, one does not only sin against charity, which obliges us to love our neighbours as ourselves, but also against justice, by violating the right our neighbour has, that his good name should be preserved as long as he has not forfeited it by any public crime. O Christians, do but guide yourselves by that golden rule of doing as you would be done by, and you will avoid these sins which send so many souls to hell.
Conclude to examine yourselves well upon the subject of the sins against this commandment, that you may not be imposed upon by the too common practice of those who live and die, with little or no remorse, under the guilt of the daily breach of this divine law. O remember that custom and example will be no excuse for you, if you walk along with the crowd in the broad road that leads to destruction.