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He hears the report with unfeigned pleasure, listens with the smile of approbation, the nod of assent; he does not turn to the subject of human depravity, to find ground and reason for discrediting the fact, nor does he search with inquisitive eye for some flaw in the evidence to impeach the veracity of the testimony; he does not cautiously hold his judgment in abeyance, as if afraid of believing too well of his neighbour; but, if the evidence amount to probability, he is ready to believe the account, and delights to find another and another instance of human excellence, by which he may be more reconciled and attached to the family of man, and by which he discovers that there is more goodness and happiness on earth than he knew of before.
The strongest proof and power of love, in this mode of its operation, is its disposition to believe all good reports of an enemy or a rival. Many persons can believe nothing good, but everything bad, of those whom they consider in this light. Let them have once conceived a prejudice or a dislike; let them only have been injured or offended, opposed or humbled, by any one ;-and from that moment their ears are closed against every word to his credit, and open to every tale that may tend to his disgrace. Prejudice has neither eyes nor ears for good; but is all eye and ear for evil. Its influence on the judgment is prodigious; its bewildering operation upon our convictions is really most surprizing and frightful. In many cases, it gives up evidence as bright, clear, and steady, as the meridian splendour of the sun, to follow that which is as dim and delusive as the feeble light of an
ignis fatuus. How tremblingly anxious should we be to keep the mind free from this misleading influence! How careful to obtain that candid, impartial, discriminating judgment, which can distinguish things that differ, and approve of things that are excellent, even in reference to persons that are in some respects opposed to us! This is candour; and a more important disposition of the kind we can scarcely imagine. Through that great law of our nature, which we call the association of ideas, we are too apt, when we have discovered one thing wrong in the character or conduct of another, to unite with it nothing but wrong, and that continually: we scarcely ever think of him, or repeat his name, but under the malign influence of this unhappy association. What we need is more of that power of abstraction of which we have already spoken, by which we can separate the occasional act from permanent character the bad qualities from the good ones, and still be left at liberty to believe what is good, notwithstanding what we know of the bad.
If, in accordance with the principles of revelation, the testimony of our senses, and the evidence of experience, we believe that there is none so perfect in the view of God as to be destitute of all flaws; we at the same time believe that, so far as mere general excellence goes, there are few so bad as to be destitute of all approvable traits. It is the business of candour, to examine, to report, to believe with impartiality, and candour; is one of the operations of love. This heavenly disposition forbids the prejudice which is generated by differences on the subject of religion, and enables its possessor
to discredit the evil, and to believe the favourable, testimony which is borne to those of other denominations and of other congregations. All excellence belongs not to our society or sect; all evil is not to be found in other societies or sects: yet how prepared are many persons to believe nothing good, or everything bad, of other sects or other societies. Away, away, with this detestable spirit! cast it out of the church of the living God! like the legion spirit which possessed the man who dwelt among the tombs, and made him a torment to himself, and a terror to others, this demon of prejudice has too long possessed, and torn, and infuriated, even the body of the Church. "Spirit of love! descend, and expel the infernal usurper. Cast out this spoiler of our beauty, this disturber of our peace, this opponent of our communion, this destroyer of our honour. Before thy powerful yet gentle sway, let prejudice retire, and prepare us to believe all things that are reported to us to the credit of others— be they of our party or not-whether they have offended us or not-and whether in past times they have done evil or good."
"Charity hopeth all things."
Hope has the same reference here, as the faith just considered; it relates not to what God has promised in his word to them that love him, but to the good which is reported to exist in our neighbours. In a report of a doubtful matter, where
the evidence is apparently against an individual, love will still hope that something may yet turn up to his advantage-that some light will yet be thrown on the darker features of the case, which will set the matter in a more favourable point of view; it will not give full credit to present appearances, however indicative they may seem to be of evil, but hope, even against hope, for the best.
If the action itself cannot be defended, then love will hope that the motive was not bad; that the intention in the mind of the actor was not so evil as the deed appeared to the eye of the spectator; that ignorance, not malice, was the cause of the transaction; and that the time will come when this will be apparent.
Love does not speedily abandon an offender in despondency-does not immediately give him up as incorrigible, nor soon cease to employ the means necessary for his reformation; but is willing to expect that he may yet repent and improve, however discouraging present appearances may be. Hope is the main spring of exertion; and as love means a desire for the well-being of others, it will not soon let go that hope, in the absence of which all its efforts must be paralyzed.
There are reasons which make it wise, as well as kind, to believe and hope all things for the best. Presumptive evidence, however strong, is often fallacious. Many circumstances in the case may look very suspicious; and yet the after-discovery of some little event may alter the aspect of the whole affair, and make the innocence of the accused far more apparent than even his guilt seemed before.
The various instances in which we have ourselves been deceived by appearances, and have been led by defective, though at the time convincing, evidence, should certainly teach us caution in listening to evil reports, and dispose us to believe and hope all things.
When we consider, also, how common is slander, detraction, and talebearing, we should not be hasty in forming an opinion; nor should we forget the anxiety which is often manifested by each party engaged in a contention to gain our alliance to their cause, by being first to report the matter, and to produce an impression favourable to themselves. Solomon has given us a proverb, the truth of which we have seen proved in a thousand instances, and which, notwithstanding, we are continually forgetting,-"He that is first in his own cause, seemeth to be just; but his neighbour cometh and searcheth him out." It is a proof of great weakness, so to give our ear to the first reporter, as to close it against the other party: and yet we are all prone to do this. A plausible tale produces an impression, which no subsequent opposing testimony, though attended with far clearer evidence of truth than the first statement, can effectually obliterate. We know that every case has two aspects-we have all been experimentally acquainted with the folly of deciding till we have heard both sides; and yet, in opposition to our reason and to our experience, we are apt to take up a prejudice upon ex-parte statements. Another circumstance, by which we are in danger of being misled in our opinion of our neighbour's conduct, is the mischievous propensity of many