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purpose of mischief. They invert the proper order of things; and instead of imputing a good motive till a bad one is proved, impute a bad one till a good one is made apparent; and so extremely sceptical are they on the subject of moral evidence, that what comes with the force of demonstration to the rest of mankind, in the way of establishing the propriety of an action, scarcely amounts, in their view, to probability. Those who suspect every body, are generally to be suspected themselves. Their knowledge of human nature has been obtained at home, and their fears in reference to their neighbours are the reflected images of their own disposition But without going to this length, we are all too apt to impute evil to others.
1. We are too forward to suspect the piety of our neighbours, and to ascribe, if not direct hypocrisy, yet ignorance, or presumption, as the ground of their profession. Upon some very questionable, or imperfect evidence-upon some casual expression, or some doubtful action-we pronounce an individual to be a self-deceiver or a hypocrite. There is far too much proneness to this in the religious world; too much haste in exscinding each other from the body of Christ; too much precipitancy in cutting each other off from the immunities of the Christian church. To decide infallibly upon character, is not only the prerogative of the Deity, but requires his attributes. There may be some grains of wheat hid among the chaff, which we may be at a loss to discover. We must be careful how we set up our views or our experience, as the test of character, so as to condemn all who do not come up to our standard. It
is a fearful thing to unchristianize any one, and it should be done only upon the clearest evidence of his being in an unconverted state. Without being accused of lax or latitudinarian views, I may observe, that we should make great allowance for the force of education, for peculiar habits acquired in circumstances different from our own, and for a phraseology learnt among those whose views are but imperfect. To impute to a professor of religion the sin of hypocrisy, or mere formality, and to deny the reality of his religion altogether, is too serious a thing for such short-sighted creatures as we are, except in cases which are absolutely indisputable.
2. We are too prone to impute bad motives in reference to particular actions. Sometimes, where the action is good, we ascribe it to some sinister or selfish inducement operating in the mind of him by whom it is performed. This is not unfrequently done where we have no contention with the individual, and the imputation is merely the effect of envy; but it is more frequently done in cases where we have personal dislike. When the action is of a doubtful nature, how apt are we to lose sight of all the evidence which may be advanced in favour of its being done from a good motive, and with far less probability decide that the motive is bad. If we are the object of the action, we too commonly conclude instantly, and almost against evidence, that a bad motive dictated it. Although the circumstance is at worst equivocal, and admits of a two-fold interpretation, we promptly determine that an insult or an injury was intended, when every one but ourselves clearly discerns that no such design can be
fairly imputed. A person passes us in the street without speaking, and we immediately believe that it was an act of intentional insult-forgetting that it is probable he did not see us, or was so immersed in thought as not to recognize us. A general remark is made in conversation, which we suppose, with no other evidence than its applicability to us, was intended to expose us before the company, when, perhaps, the individual who made it had no more reference to us than to a man on the other side of the globe. A thousand cases might be mentioned, and in which, of two motives that may be imputed, we choose the evil one. If a person has previously injured us, we are peculiarly propense to this unchristian practice of thinking evil of him. We can scarcely allow ourselves to believe that he can do anything relating to us, but from an improper inducement; we suspect all his words and all his actions: nor is the propensity less strong in those cases where we have been the aggressors; we then set down everything done by the injured person to the influence of revenge.
The evil of such a disposition is manifest. It is explicitly and frequently prohibited in God's Word. This is the censoriousness forbidden by our Lord, where he says, "Judge not, that ye be not judged;" and which is condemned by Paul, where he says, "Judge nothing before the time until the Lord come, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts." James commands us "Not to speak evil one of another; for he that speaketh evil of his brother, judgeth his brother." "Evil surmisings" are
placed by the Apostle among the sins which oppose the words of our Lord Jesus Christ.
It is an invasion of the prerogative of Deity, who alone can search the heart, and read the motives of the breast. It is injurious to the character of our brethren, and disturbs the peace of society. Half of the broils which arise in the world, and of the schisms which spring up in the church, may be traced to this wicked propensity of " thinking evil;" for if men think evil, it is an easy step to speak evil, and then to do evil: so that the origin of many quarrels will be found in the false impressions of a suspicious mind-the misapprehension of a censorious judgment. It is a disposition which our own observation and experience are quite sufficient, if we would be guided by them, to correct. How often, how very often, have we found ourselves mistaken in this matter! How frequently has subsequent evidence shown us our error in imputing a bad motive to an action, which, at the time, to say the worst of it, was only of a doubtful character! We have dis'covered that, to have originated in accident, which we once thought to have been the result of design; and have found that, to have proceeded from ignorance, which we had hastily set down to malice. How many times have we blushed and grieved over our precipitancy, and yet, in opposition to our experience and to our resolutions, we still go on to think evil.
But love thinketh no evil:" this divine virtue delights to speak well and think well of others: she talks of their good actions, and says little or nothing, except when necessity compels her, of their bad
ones. She holds her judgment in abeyance as to motives, till they are perfectly apparent. She does not look round for evidence to prove an evil design, but hopes that what is doubtful will, by farther light, appear to be correct; she imputes not evil, so long as good is probable; she leans to the side of candour rather than to that of severity; she makes every allowance that truth will permit; looks at all the circumstances which can be pleaded in mitigation; suffers not her opinions to be formed till she has had opportunity to escape from the mist of passion, and to cool from the wrath of contention. Love desires the happiness of others; and how can she be in haste to think evil of them?
If it be asked, Do all good men act thus? I again reply, They act thus just in proportion as they are under the influence of Christian charity. The Apostle does not say that every man who is possessed of charity does so, but that charity itself thinketh no evil; and therefore implies that every good man will act thus in the same degree in which he submits to the influence of this virtue. Divine grace! hasten thy universal reign on earth, and put an end to those evil surmisings by which the comfort of mankind and the fellowship of the saints are so much disturbed!