Guest Writer Sabine Baring-Gould
“The Publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven, but smote on his breast, saying, God, be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13).
I have spoken to you on former occasions pretty strongly on the evil of backbiting, slandering, and casting of blame without sufficient cause. I am not going to address this day those who speak evil, but those of whom evil is spoken.
The Publican in the parable stood far from the Pharisee, who had no good word for him, even in his prayer, and he took a great deal of blame to heart, and prayed to God for mercy on him for his shortcomings. No doubt the Publican was well aware in what estimation he was held by the people, and how utterly he was despised by the Pharisee.
The Publican was the tax-gatherer, and as the tax-gatherers in those days were often hard men, and exacted more than was due to the State, that they might pocket the difference, the general opinion was that they were all of them dishonest men, and men without hearts. This was not true, we know, of this Publican, nor of Zacchaeus, nor of Levi, who are commended in the Gospel.
Perhaps this Publican who was praying, saw the Pharisee cast a contemptuous glance at him, perhaps he even heard the words of his prayer, but if so, he made no attempt at justifying himself. His prayer was not, “God, I am not what other men say of me, unjust, hard-hearted, peculating, exacting: on the contrary, I am strictly honest in my dealings, and I am very forbearing and tender-hearted, and I do not press for payment when no money is to be got.” No! nothing of the sort! all he says is—“God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”
I would have those who are blamed by others, instead of manifesting great eagerness to excuse themselves, and clamoring against those who speak against them, look into their own hearts and lives, and see if there be not something blameworthy there.
King Philip of Macedon was informed by some of his courtiers that one of his officers, Nicanor by name, was always speaking evil of him, that wherever Nicanor was, there he did nothing but grumble against the king, and disparage and blame him. What was to be done? Should he be arrested and thrown into prison.
“No!” said King Philip, “Before punishing Nicanor, I must look and see whether I have not given occasion for this abuse of me.”
Then the king thought things over, and it occurred to him for the first time that he had not rewarded Nicanor for some signal services he had rendered him. By some oversight no notice had been taken of Nicanor, though he had risked his life for the king. Then Philip sent for him, and gave him a good appointment, which brought him in a handsome income, and was one of great honour.
Some while after, Philip said to his courtiers, “How does Nicanor speak of me now?” They answered that he was never weary of praising the king. Then Philip said, “Do you not see? It lies in ourselves whether we are well or evil spoken of.”
It is seldom indeed that you will escape blame, that evil of some sort will not be spoken about you. When that is the case, remember what Philip said, “I must look and see whether I have not given occasion.”
Go to your own heart, examine your own life, and see whether, after all, there be not something there which is wrong or unwise, and which may be altered, so as to cut off occasion from evil speakers. As the proverb says, “There is no smoke without a fire,” and it is not often that blame is cast without there being some cause for it. It may be attributed unjustly, but it is sometimes just, though excessive.
Everything casts a shadow, and if you see a shadow you may be sure there is some body to cast it, though the shape and size of the shadow may be wholly unlike and out of proportion to the object which throws it. A tree casts a shadow, a house casts a shadow, a needle casts a shadow, even a hair—where the shadow is, there is some substance to fling it; where great blame is cast, there is some occasion for it. You may have stood on a rock, and seen your shadow thrown all down a valley and up the side of an opposite hill, an enormous figure, and a ridiculous caricature of yourself. So the blame cast on you is often excessive and altogether unreasonable and monstrous. Nevertheless it would never be cast at all unless there were some little fault to cast it.
Stick up a pin on a table when the sun is low, and it will throw a shadow from one end of the table to the other, four feet long, and the pin is only an inch in height. So is it with faults: little faults throw long shadows, cause great talk, but there would be no talk at all if the little faults were not there.
What then is it that you should do?
“Examine yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5) whenever you are blamed, and do your utmost to correct what is amiss in you.
“Blessed are you,” said our Lord, “when men shall revile you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely” (Matthew 5:11). Why? Why when falsely? Because it will make you all the more watchful that you give no offense, that you avoid even the “appearance of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22).
“Blessed are you when men revile you, and say all manner of evil against you,” for then you will “examine yourselves,” and if you see there is any ground whatever for what they say, you will amend your ways
“Blessed are you when they speak evil against you falsely,” for then, though their blame be exaggerated and lying, yet it will make you infinitely more particular to live a blameless life, and to have “a conscience void of offense toward God and men” (Acts 24:16).
If you do not use for your self-correction any blame you may undergo, then you may be sure that more and more will attach to you. You may surmount one calumny, but others will follow at its heels.
In Revelation we hear that an angel cried, “One woe is past; and behold there come two woes more hereafter” (9:12). So will it be with you, if the first woe does not profit you to make you better. If the plague of stinging, tormenting insects had made Pharaoh better, and amend his ways, the other plagues would not have fallen upon him. Thus, when you are tormented by evil tongues and spiteful words, if you do not strive your utmost to live better lives, and undo any wrong you may have committed, though the first woe may be past: behold, there will come two more woes hereafter.
“In everything you are enriched by Him … that you may be blameless in that day”
(1 Corinthians 1:5, 8).
Copyright © 2014 Alexandra Lee
Photo Credit: Godrevy Light, St Ives, Cornwall, England
*Adapted from Sabine Baring-Gould [1834-1924], The Village Pulpit, Volume II. Trinity to Advent / A Complete Course of 66 Short Sermons, or Full Sermon Outlines for Each Sunday, and Some Chief Holy Days of the Christian Year (London: Skeffington & Son, 1886), sermon 48. Quotes, scriptural locations, photos, links, emendations added.