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(Spreading and believing rumors)

Paul Melton

On Friday evening, in March of 1833, John Smith reached the neighborhood of Forks of Dix River. 

“We did not expect to see you, Brother Smith,” said one of the friends, “for we heard, a few days ago, that you had been prosecuted in Mount Sterling for stealing forty hogs, and had been put in jail.”

Smith smiled at the story, and remarked that he thought it was a little unfair that his sectarian friends should insist on making him bear the sins of all the rascally Smiths in the country. But others, on the next day, assured him that his enemies were busy in spreading the scandal abroad, to his injury, and on Sunday Smith spoke these words:

“Friends and brethren,” said he, “it has been asserted by some highly respectable, and, of course, very reliable, gentlemen that I am now in the Mount Sterling jail for stealing forty shoats…Now, whatever may be true about the hogs, of one thing you may rest assured: I am not in jail today. . .I am glad to find that my sectarian friends have become so morally nice as to condemn the stealing of a few hogs; we may now hope that they will quit worse crimes. Whatever may be thought of stealing, I solemnly affirm that, bad as it is, it is not so mean a thing, nor so injurious to society, as the wanton slander of an honest reputation!” “If a decent community ought to frown upon a thief that steals a few paltry hogs, perhaps to feed his hungry family, with what contempt should they spurn the wretch that defames, by falsehood, a preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ— a father, too, of innocent children, who can leave them no other legacy than a pure and reputable life! Truly, ‘He that steals my purse, steals trash; but he that filches from me my good name, robs me of that which not enriches him, And makes me poor indeed’” (from The Life of Elder John Smith by John Augustus Williams).

Defamation of character, slander and libel have been tools that Satan has used against the Lord’s prophets and preachers throughout the centuries. Slander is the principal attribute of Satan.  The word “devil” means slanderer, calumniator, false accuser, one who makes charges that destroy.  The apostle Paul prophesied that when perilous times came, men would be “false accusers” which is the plural form of the word translated devil throughout the New Testament (2 Timothy 3:3). Interestingly, those called slanderers in this verse have “a form of godliness, but deny the power thereof” (2 Tim.3:5). They are children of their father the devil. When he speaks, there is no mercy or love in his words.  He intends to harm the body of Christ and those who compose it.  Hatred toward the truth inhabits the hearts of the wicked, and they ready to defame all that is true and right.  In contrast, in Christ, God commands us, “let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor” (Eph.4:25). We refuse to pass along hearsay or words that cannot be substantiated adequately.  Each of us should let the word of James ring in our ears, “Do not speak evil of one another, brethren” (James 4:11).

Jesus foretold of his disciples, that people would “say all manner of evil against you falsely” (Matthew 5:11). As Paul describes “whisperers, backbiters” in Romans 1:29,30, the next descriptor in the list is “haters of God.” Such men of a debased mind who hate the truth slander with whispers, backbiting and even open slander heralds of the truth.  Many of the Jews hated our Lord’s teaching to the point that they spoke out, “He has a demon and is mad. Why do you listen to Him?” (John 10:20).  Is it any wonder that faithful preachers who stand firm for the truth are often targets of criticism and false accusation?

Every member of the household of faith must reject these “tasty trifles” or delicious defamatory morsels when we hear them (Pr.18:8). The Lord warns, “Whoever secretly slanders his neighbor, Him I will destroy” (Psalm 101:5).  Again, “A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who speaks lies will not escape” (Pr.19:5).

Love must rule our hearts and actions. Love “believes all things” and “hopes all things” (1 Co.13:7). It is ready to believe the best of every person when a person’s character suffers from obloquy and detraction. If a transgression has actually taken place, love hopes for and anticipates repentance.  May love guide us, and may we never pilfer a person’s highly cherished possession, his or her good name (Prov.22:1; Ecc.7:1).

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The Ancient Faith website is a thematic collection of scholarly yet simple Bible essays and sermons, many of which were composed by Restoration preachers such as J.W. McGarvey, Moses Lard, Benjamin Franklin, and Alexander Campbell. These courageous men of faith through hours of Bible investigation studied themselves out of denominationalism, asking for “the old paths” (Jer. 6:16) and seeking to return to “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). We hope you will join with these men in their fervent plea to restore “the ancient order,” “the ancient gospel” or, as it was sometimes called, “the ancient faith.”