The Law of God, as Contained in the Ten
Commandments, Explained and Enforced
By William S. Plumer, 1864
The Ninth Commandment
"You shall not give false testimony
against your neighbor." Exodus 20:16
The tongue is, at the same time, the best part of man,
and his worst part: with good government, none is more useful; and without
good government, none is more mischievous. —Anacharsis.
A wound from a tongue is worse than a wound from the
There is nothing so delightful as the hearing or speaking
of truth. —Plato.
Truth is the foundation of all knowledge and the cement
of all societies. —Casaubon.
Let us remember that not our actions only, but the fruits
of our lips are to be brought into the solemn account, which we must give to
the great Judge of all the earth; and that the day is coming when all our
idle and unprofitable talk which has proceeded from the evil treasury of a
depraved heart, will undergo a strict examination..... And if foolish and
wicked speeches are to be accounted for in the day of judgment, let us set a
watch on the door of our lips to prevent them, and labor daily to use our
tongue so that it may indeed be, as it is in Scripture called, our glory.
Tale-bearing is as bad an office as a man can put himself
into, to be the publisher of every man's faults, divulging what was secret,
aggravating crimes, and making the worst of everything that was amiss, with
a design to blast and ruin men's reputation, and to sow discord among
neighbors. The word used for a tale-bearer signifies a pedler, the
interlopers of trade; for tale-bearers pick up ill-natured stories at one
house, and utter them at another, and commonly barter slander by way of
exchange. —Matthew Henry.
When we are not able wholly to separate from the wicked,
we should double our watchfulness, and especially impose a strict restraint
upon our tongues, lest we should be betrayed into boasting, reviling,
slandering, flattering, or trifling conversation; remembering that they will
criticize every expression, and turn it, if they can, to our disadvantage,
and to the discredit of religion. Sometimes it may be necessary to keep
silence even from good words, when they are likely to excite profane
contempt or rage; yet in general we run into an extreme when we are backward
to engage in edifying discourse." —Thomas Scott.
Perhaps on no one point of morals has so much been
written or spoken as on the use of the tongue. Ancients and moderns,
heathens and Christians, have alike said many excellent things. The pen is
subject to the same laws as the tongue. It is an artificial tongue, speaking
to those at a distance in time or place. What a man may not speak, he should
not write. Indeed, writing evil things often does more harm than speaking
them. We may sin not only by the words used, but also by the tones
with which they are spoken, and by looks and gestures. The
language of pantomime is universal, vigorous, and easily perverted. "A
worthless person, a wicked man, who goes around speaking dishonestly, who
winks his eyes, signals with his feet, and gestures with his fingers."
Proverbs 6:12, 13.
In many ways we may sin with our tongues. Laurentius
enumerates as many sins of the tongue as there are letters in the alphabet.
In his Christian Directory, Richard Baxter gives a list of thirty sins of
speech, beginning with blasphemy. In expounding the third and ninth
commandments, the Westminster Assembly makes the number still larger. There
is, therefore, no lack of matter on such a theme.
Some speak too fast. Merely rapid articulation is
not here intended. But statements made without reflection, though not
designed to mislead, are a great evil. "There is more hope for a fool than
for someone who speaks without thinking." Proverbs 29:20. The intellect of
such is in a state unfriendly to accuracy of knowledge or statement. He
seldom improves in mind or manners. He jumps at conclusions, and wishes
others to do the same.
Others speak too often. When awake and in company
they are seldom silent. In the absence of things weighty, wise or true;
trifles, folly, or falsehood serve their turn. It is a mark of intolerable
self-conceit to be continually offering unsolicited opinions. Even the
oracles of the heathen were sometimes silent, though paid for speaking.
Others say too much. Not content with stating what
is called for, they proceed to tiresome and sinful lengths. They are neither
"swift to hear," nor "slow to speak."
Others speak too soon. They do not inquire, listen
and consider, but are ready to deliver their views at all times, and often
in dashing style. "A wise man regards time and judgment," but they disregard
both. "The one who gives an answer before he listens— this is foolishness
and disgrace for him." Proverbs 18:13. As "there is a time to speak," so
"there is a time to keep silence." Eccles. 3:7. One of these times is when
you have nothing pertinent to say. Another is, when others are speaking. Did
any family ever come to much good, where the young were not taught to be
silent when the old were speaking, or where all the children were allowed to
speak at once? Another such time is when we first visit a friend overwhelmed
with affliction. Some sympathies are best expressed by silence. Thus, Job's
friends "sat down with him upon the ground seven days and seven nights, and
none spoke a word unto him; for they saw that his grief was very great." Job
When others are greatly heated by passion, it is usually
best to be silent. A very godly man wrote down this rule, "I will never talk
to an angry man." In general, men probably speak too much. The Scriptures
warn us on this point. "A fool's voice is known by multitude of words."
Eccles. 5:3. "A fool also is full of words." Eccles. 10:14. "When there are
many words, sin is unavoidable, but the one who controls his lips is wise."
Talkativeness is not always innocent. Even good and
wise men censure it. One of our proverbs is, "The fool's tongue is long
enough to cut his own throat." Babblers were never held in high esteem among
a virtuous people. "Surely the serpent will bite without enchantment; and a
babbler is no better." Eccles. 10:11. This odious character is often more or
less acquired by those who suppose themselves unsuspected of it. Of many a
man it is said, "He is not worth minding, he is always talking." This is a
sign that all is not right. One may plead that he is a licensed character,
and that he was always allowed to say just what he pleased. But it may be
asked, Who signed and gave the license? Can it be produced? It never came
from God, and godly men would not dare to sanction what God condemns. If any
man has such license, he forged it.
By excessive talking professors of religion make sad the
hearts of their brethren, and all men are less esteemed for it. The judgment
of mankind is with Solomon, that "a fool utters all his mind; but a wise man
keeps himself under control." Proverbs 29:11; and that "even a fool, when he
holds his peace, is counted wise; and he who shuts his lips is esteemed a
man of understanding." Proverbs 17:2. Someone has well said: "He is not a
fool that has unwise thoughts, but he who utters them." Quarles: "A word
unspoken is, like the sword in the scabbard—yours. If vented, your sword is
in another's hand. If you desire to be thought wise, be so wise as to hold
It is much to be lamented that some can never be cured of
the folly of much speaking. To them silence is torture. Like one of the
ancients they might say, "If I hold my tongue, I shall give up the Spirit."
Job 13:19. They know little of the peace and quiet of one who follows them
not. "Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue, keeps his soul from troubles."
Proverbs 21:23. The troubles brought on by an unbridled tongue in this life
are but a prelude to far worse in the next.
Excessive talking is frequently attended by loud
speaking. The former betrays self-conceit; the latter impudence. One feature
of as bad a character as is sketched in Scripture is that "she is loud."
Proverbs 7:11. "The woman named Folly is loud and brash. She is ignorant and
doesn't even know it." Proverbs 9:13. It was a bright ornament of the
character of the divine Redeemer that he was gentle and quiet, and did "not
cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street." Isaiah
42:2. He was not a clamorous person, but meek and lowly.
Is not the following a realistic sketch? When
others were speaking, he was restless, and if ruled to entire silence, he
was miserable. Ordinarily he seemed to have some amiable traits, but when
others had the good sense to listen to his wit or wisdom, he was in a
specially good temper. The more you attended to him, the louder and more
emphatic he was. On nearly all subjects he knew something; on many, he knew
much; on some, he was an oracle in his own esteem. Our hero wished to
pass for a benevolent man. He was great at a public meeting. He commonly
said something, and was full of promises in aid of the cause. To fulfill
them was far from him. His children caught his spirit, though in his
presence they were sometimes forced to keep silence. But when they had a
chance, they lost no time, Even on his death-bed the same propensity was
sometimes manifest, and he left the world without seeming to know that he
bore the character of a babbler.
One of his townsmen was little like him. He was a man of
few words. When he did speak he was heard with marked respect. If others
were impatient, it was because he was slow to utter his mind. His maxim,
was, "The fewer words, the less sin." He thought much and weighed his words
well. Far removed from sourness, he was given to self-communion. His prayers
were brief, but fervent and comprehensive. His words were well ordered. He
was not hasty to utter anything, especially before God. His sincerity was
apparent. His word was as good as his bond or his oath. He was rarely
required to explain or retract any of his statements; but if he had been
mistaken, he frankly said so. His children, though sprightly and joyous,
were neither pert nor impudent. They honored his gray hairs. In him "the
effect of righteousness was quietness and assurance forever." Isaiah 32:17.
His end was peace. Survivors generally mentioned his name with honor. His
family never blushed to own him as their former guide and head.
Would it not be wise for every man to say with a servant
of God of the seventeenth century, "I am resolved, by the grace of God,
never to speak much—lest I often speak too much; and not to speak at
all—rather than to no purpose."
Our words should also be pure and chaste. How many
narratives, anecdotes, songs, riddles, and questions are indelicate, and
therefore unchristian? How many hints, allusions, innuendos, insinuations,
and surmises are of this description? Nearly everything in the form of
double entendre falls under the same condemnation. Whatever pollutes the
mind is wicked, and never should be repeated. This class of evils is vastly
sustained by the theater, by works of wit and fiction, and by many popular
ballads. Tradition also shows both fidelity and industry in transmitting
impure sayings from age to age. Those who thus sin sometimes excuse their
conduct by saying that "unto the pure all things are pure," but they seem to
forget that "unto those who are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but
even their mind and conscience is defiled." Tit. 1:15. This latter class
constitutes no small portion of mankind. The sow washes more frequently than
the sheep, and yet is not clean. The nature of the flock is to avoid the
mire. Shun those who are foul-mouthed. Never smile at their impurity. Never
imitate them. "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but
only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that
it may benefit those who listen." Eph. 4:29. "But now you must rid
yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and
filthy language from your lips." Col. 3:8. "Do not be deceived: Bad company
corrupts good morals." 1 Corinthians 15:33. Many who greatly offend against
these laws of speech, would be both surprised and displeased if their sin
was charged upon them.
Another grievous sin of the tongue is flattery,
which consists in undue or unseasonable praise. Few things are more
ensnaring. Riches, talents, family, office, person, attainments, deeds of
distinction, and even vices furnish occasions for it. Husbands flatter their
wives, and wives their husbands; parents their children, and children their
parents; ministers their people, and people their ministers, and all under
the pretense of manifesting esteem. The poor flatter the rich, and
demagogues the people. Yet all commendation is not flattery; but that which
exceeds the truth is always sinful, and untimely praise, even when true,
disgusts wise men and puffs up the minds of the simple. It was a good
purpose of Beveridge, "I am resolved, by the grace of God, to speak of
other men's sins only before their faces, and of their virtues only behind
their backs." The only exception to this rule is that of necessity.
Properly observed, it would banish a large part of social misery.
Flattery is always an unkindness. "A man who flatters his
neighbor, spreads a net for his feet." Proverbs 29:5. Those are good words
of Elihu, "I will show partiality to no one, nor will I flatter any man; for
if I were skilled in flattery, my Maker would soon take me away." Job
32:21-22. Paul says, "Never once did we try to win you with flattery." 1
Thess. 2:5. Courtly manners may require such words, but the truth, even
bluntly spoken, is more pleasing to God. Almost all flatterers have some
wicked design in view. "Wisdom will save you from the immoral woman,
from the flattery of the adulterous woman." Proverbs 2:16.
Nor is the sin or danger of flattery diminished when it
is directed to ourselves. Indeed this is sometimes the worst of all.
Plutarch said, "Every man is his own greatest flatterer." The undue
commendation of others would harm us but little, if we were honest with our
own hearts. "Nor is it honorable to seek one's own honor." Proverbs 25:27.
"Let another man praise you and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your
own lips." Proverbs 27:2. The only thing that can justify speaking in our
own praise is the necessary defense of ourselves or our offices. John 8:49.
2 Cor. 12:11-18. But let no man put upon himself a lower estimate than the
truth requires. Exodus 4:10-14; Romans 12:3. This is a great evil under the
sun. Kings have their courtiers, and few are sunk so low as not at times to
have their sycophants. Yet if a man is really displeased with flattery, it
will seldom be offered. To be pleased with it is to become a candidate for
shame, perhaps for ruin.
Every human being is entitled to some respect. Even the
guilty felon on his way to execution should not be mocked or rudely gazed
at. Every well-meaning person is entitled to such treatment as will express
approbation of his good character. But fawning servility is due to no
mortal. "The Lord shall cut off all flattering lips." Psalm 12:3.
Among some "to be agreeable" is their goal. This
sin is one of the most degrading to him who practices it, and tempting to
him who is flattered. It greatly hinders the proper giving and receiving of
reproof. One who was famous in his day said, "I will do my best to cross any
man in his sins; if I have not thanks of him, yet I shall of my own
conscience." Flatterers are quite sure to be backbiters. This is neither
conjecture, nor the mere fruit of observation. The Bible so teaches. "He who
goes about as a tale-bearer, reveals secrets; therefore meddle not with him
who flatters with his lips." Proverbs 20:19.
A defeated flatterer becomes a malicious
slanderer. His principles are bad. He who will lie in your favor will
upon a turn lie against you. He who will unduly praise, will unduly censure.
Flattery and slander are branches of the same trade, and are carried on by
the same people. Those called in the Bible, "whisperers," belong to the same
class. They go about their work by stealth. They often enjoin secrecy on
their dupes. To them an evil report is music. They are often very cunning in
avoiding responsibility before men, but God knows the filthiness of their
hearts. Their career is sometimes long, but generally ends in open shame.
They have sometimes poisoned the minds of many with their falsehoods. They
often speak well of a man to his friends, but evil of him to his enemies.
"He who utters a slander, is a fool." Proverbs 10:18. A heathen once said,
"the most dangerous of wild beasts is a slanderer; of tame ones, a
Men sometimes pretend to know some great evil of another,
but will not tell what it is. They know that the human imagination, appealed
to mysteriously, can soon outrun any common scale of enormity, and so they
set it to work. That such conduct is base, cruel, and indefensible, few will
deny. Yet how many practice it! And if, instead of going abroad with such or
other charges against their neighbors, men would go directly to them, how
much evil would be prevented. "If you argue your case with a neighbor, do
not betray another man's confidence, or he who hears it may shame you and
you will never lose your bad reputation." Proverbs 25:9, 10. The law of love
to man may be violated in speech without uttering a word that is not true.
To say as much of any particular person is often slanderous in its effect,
and may tear a good name to pieces.
Tale-bearing and news-carrying are species of slander,
and are very mischievous. In this more than in most ways, one man may
produce deep and extensive distress. Like the incendiary, who has fired a
city and fled to an eminence to ravish his eyes with the progress of the
ruin he has wrought, the talebearer loves to embroil families and
communities, and then, if possible, escape unnoticed and unhurt. Often he is
found out in time to receive the frowns of the virtuous, but commonly not
until he has engendered strife. Paul says such people were found in his day,
"At the same time, they also learn to be idle, going from house to house;
they are not only idle, but are also gossips and busybodies, saying things
they shouldn’t say." 1 Tim. 5:13. Hopkins says that Paul here gives "a true
description of giddy flies in our times, that are always roving from house
to house, and skipping about, now to this man's ear, and by and by to that,
and buzzing reports of what ill they have heard or observed of others."
In the law of Moses is this statute, "You shall not go up
and down as a tale-bearer among your people." Lev. 19:16. "A gossip betrays
a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret." Proverbs 11:13. Every
man, family, and group have secrets, which it does not concern others to
know. If by accident, or in confidence, they come to your knowledge, reveal
them not. To be a spy upon your neighbor is a base occupation, and he to
whom confidence is not sacred, is truly debased.
None but the imprudent are in the habit of telling their
secrets. "If you would teach secrecy to others, begin with yourself. How can
you expect another to keep a secret when you yourself cannot?" It was a wise
determination of a godly man of the last generation, "In general, I will
deal in secrets as little as possible." Much social misery is owing to
tale-bearing. "Where no wood is, the fire goes out; so where there is no
tale-bearer, the strife ceases." Proverbs 26:20. The dreadful effects of
this vile practice are clearly stated in Scripture. "The words of a
talebearer are as wounds; and they go down into the innermost parts of the
belly." Proverbs 18:8. Among the seven abominations which the Lord hates,
four of them are, "a lying tongue, feet that be swift in running to
mischief, a false witness that speaks lies, and he who sows discord among
brethren." Proverbs 6:17-19. Compare Proverbs 11:9.
Lying in some form is a common attendant on tale-bearing.
Useless strife always follows it. It argues a sordid mind, and a meddlesome
disposition. "A passerby who meddles in a quarrel that's not his, is like
one who grabs a dog by the ears." Proverbs 26:17. To others he gives
trouble, while he has a large share himself. Very few men openly declare
themselves candidates for contempt, but tale-bearers gain it without direct
seeking. If such people met with no encouragement, they would cease their
evil work. If none will dance, they will not pipe. Pity it is, that they are
not made ashamed of their evil course. He who listens to them is partaker
of their sins. A godly man "takes not up a reproach against his
neighbor." Proverbs 15:3. Tale-hearing is twin sister to tale-bearing.
"Where the carcass is, there the vultures will be gathered together." And
where evil report is rifest, there foul birds will gather, which prey upon
How court-houses are crowded by this sort of people, when
matters of a scandalous nature are to be investigated! Their dolorous notes
of regret do not even conceal their hypocrisy. Like sepulchers, their
memories are full of dead men's bones and all corruption. If none would hear
evil reports, none would be made. "The north-wind drives away rain; so does
an angry countenance a backbiting tongue." Proverbs 25:23. Compare Jer.
20:10; Neh. 6:6. "It is not the lie that passes through the mind, but the
lie that sticks in and settles in the mind, which does the hurt."
Hall says, "There would not be so many open mouths to
detract and slander—if there were not so many open ears to entertain them.
If I cannot stop other men's mouths from speaking evil, I will either open
my mouth to reprove it, or else I will stop my ears from hearing it; and let
him see in my face that he has no room in my heart."
"A good name is better than precious ointment." Eccles.
7:1. Yes, "a good name is rather to be chosen than great riches." Proverbs
22:1. Character is all the estate many have. To any man it is of great
value. Hopkins: "Indeed a good name is so excellent a blessing that there is
but one thing to be preferred before it, and that is a good conscience."
Everywhere and always human happiness much depends upon it. Compared with
it, other possessions are paltry: "Who steals my purse, steals trash. But he
who filches from me my good name, makes me poor indeed." Who is the gainer
by tattling or slander? He who utters either is greatly polluted. He who
listens to either is an "eater of calumnies," as the Syriac calls Satan. He
of whom either is uttered, does not thereby lose a good conscience, but he
sometimes loses his temper, which is the source of much of his enjoyment;
and sometimes he loses his good name, which is the best legacy he can leave
Both tattling and slander are commonly malignant, and
always evil. Nor is any one safe from these robbers. No lock and key, no
armed sentinel, no life of usefulness, no solid worth can secure a good name
from their attacks. "No might, nor greatness, can escape censure;
back-wounding calumny strikes the purest virtue. What king is so strong—that
he can tie up the gall in the slanderous tongue?" Well does the word of God
describe such: "Their throat is an open sepulcher; with their tongues they
have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips." Romans 3:13.
"There are those who speak like the piercings of a sword." Proverbs 12:18.
One asked a Spartan if his sword was sharp. He replied, "Sharper than
The good of all ages have testified against these sins.
One said, "The most abandoned and sordid minds have the least abhorrence of
calumny. He who is but moderately wicked, dares not venture upon it. He who
has the least particle of integrity in his nature disdains it." Another
said, "The malice of evil tongues cast upon a godly man is only like a
mouthful of smoke blown upon a diamond, which, though it clouds its beauty
for the present, yet it is easily rubbed off, and the gem restored with
little trouble to its owner."
Were this the proper place, it might be well to consider
at length how we should behave under such wrongs. One said, "The sparks of
calumny will be presently extinct of themselves unless you blow them." In
some cases this is true, but in all cases imitate Christ, and commit
yourself to Him who judges righteously.
Detraction is a species of slander. It consists in
taking away something from the character of another. It denies not all his
merits, but it puts in many abatements, exceptions, and insinuations. It is
a common sin with rivals, sectaries, and partisans. Sallust explains to us
the motives of such; "By casting down others, they hope to rise to
honor." But to prove that one man is base will not prove another noble
or virtuous. One of the basest ways of sinning with the tongue, is so to
attack the character of one, who can make no fair defense. Some will give no
names, others will avoid all particulars, but yet both will so describe
things as to give cruel thrusts. If called to an account, they basely enough
put you to the proof of their having said anything against you, and show the
cunning of a fox in eluding a pursuit which is becoming hot.
The great difficulty in all evil speaking is that so soon
as a man utters it, his pride and self-love force him to make it good.
Unless compelled, he seldom retracts. To injure a man is the surest way to
hate him, and to wish to have ground of justification in such a case is
quite natural. Passion, once enlisted, is blind and obstinate. Most of the
hard and cruel things said, would, but for this cause, be taken back.
Detraction is seldom followed by retraction.
A fondness for the unusual and marvelous is one of the
sins of every age, and shows itself in speech. To make a mountain out of a
mole-hill, and to abound in the amazing may make fools gape, but will
cause wise men to fear. When such men speak soberly, they fail of gaining
credit. Some of the most painful scenes witnessed in social fellowship arise
from the love of amazing stories. Asseverations, and even oaths, do
not secure belief in them. He who duly fears God, will take care neither to
invent, retail, nor even listen to them.
It is to be regretted that superlatives are so
commonly in use. How many speak of others as the the cleverest, the wisest,
or the kindest people they ever knew! How often do we hear such expressions
as these: "This is the hottest, or the coldest, or the darkest day I ever
saw!" Perhaps these very people have said the same things oftentimes, and do
not really mean what they say. They may not so much wish to deceive—so
much as to be impressive. True, all hyperbole is not unlawful. John
21:25. But this habitual use of it is out of place, weakens respect for our
sobriety of mind, if not for our love of truth, and utterly fails of any
Exaggeration is said to run in some families. In
giving solemn testimony there is often no little lying of this kind.
Jonathan Edwards wisely "resolved, in speech, never to speak anything but
the pure and simple truth."
The spirit which leads men to the amazing, often
guides them to boasting. As formerly, so now, "most men will proclaim
his own goodness." Proverbs 20:6. So they boast of their exploits, property,
influence, talents, charity, family, friends, and correspondents. Those
"whose glory is in their shame," go further, and proudly tell of things
which should crimson their cheeks. They seem to have one pleasure in
committing a sin—and two in speaking of it! Men sometimes unwittingly let
others know that they are knaves—"The buyer haggles over the price, saying,
"It's worthless," then brags about getting a bargain!" Proverbs 20:14.
Perhaps there are commonly too many words used in buying and selling. Many
assert their large possession of qualities, of which they have little or
none. And "whoever boasts himself of a false gift, is like clouds and wind
without rain." Proverbs 25:14. Such a man is sometimes said to be windy, and
he is a mere puff. "All such boasting is evil." James 4:16. "Boasters" do
not bear a high character for truth in other respects, and Paul enrolls them
among backbiters, haters of God, inventors of evil things, blasphemers, and
such like wicked characters. Romans 1:30, and 2 Tim. 3:2.
It is very important that we should avoid the extremes of
excessive confidence or doubtfulness in our statements. Some men
conjecture, think, suppose, presume, guess—but are not sure but that
things are or were thus and so. On the other hand some know, aver,
declare most positively, are ready to make oath about trifles and things
in their nature doubtful. The first class is certain of nothing; the latter,
is certain of everything. The one by seeming doubtful of plain facts well
known to them, would hang an innocent man; the other would bring about the
same result by speaking so confidently of things doubtful as to destroy
their own credibility in other things. The rule is—obtain correct views,
if you can, and express them modestly, but clearly; but if there is room
for doubt, do not be so positive. If you know a thing, say so; if you know
it not, say so.
There is much sin committed respecting promises.
Some promises are wicked, and should be neither made nor kept. If
made, they are to be repented of. Some are rash, yet not wicked; such
are to be kept. Rashness is always a folly and commonly a sin, and so should
be mourned over. But "he who swears to his own hurt and changes not," is the
man that shall never be moved. Psalm 15:4, 5. But even in lawful and prudent
promises, what slackness of fulfillment! How few men keep all their
engagements! How little punctuality and promptness do we see! If a
man would be confided in by none, let him promise much—and perform little.
There is no surer mark of general corruption than lack of fidelity. "When
the Son of man comes, shall he find faith on the earth?"
For remarks on blasphemy, perjury and profane swearing,
see my comments on the third commandment.
Following the usual course of theologians, Thomas Boston
says, "Lies are of four sorts:
1. Jesting lies, that is, when a person speaks
that which is contrary to the known truth, in a jesting or ludicrous way;
and embellishes his discourse with his own fictions, designing thereby to
impose on others. See Hos. 7:3.
2. Officious lies, that is, when one speaks that
which is contrary to the truth, and the dictates of his conscience, to do
good to himself or others thereby. Job 13:7; Romans 3:8.
3. Pernicious lies, that is, when a person raises
and spreads a false report, with a design to do mischief to another.
4. Rash lies, that is, when a person utters that
which is false through surprise, inadvertency, and customary looseness of
speech." 2 Sam. 13:30.
Perhaps of all the sins that men commit, none is more
difficult to be cured than lying. Hateful as it is, it adheres to men with
great tenacity. Montaigne: "After a tongue has once got the knack of
lying—it becomes almost impossible it is almost to reclaim it." This is
felt in churches formed in heathen countries at this day. The same
difficulty was experienced by Paul and Titus, at least in reference to the
churches in Crete. Paul says, "Even one of their own prophets has said,
'Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.' This testimony is
true. Therefore, rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the
faith." Titus 1:12, 13.
It is not necessary to be able to classify every kind of
lying. The essence of the sin consists in an intention to deceive. If
anything is spoken, it should be the truth. Of every species of this sin the
old saying is true: "A liar should have a good memory." Montaigne expresses
it thus: "He who has not a good memory should never take upon him the trade
Tillotson's illustration of this idea has been often
quoted: "Truth and reality have all the advantages of appearance and many
more. Why does any man pretend, or seem to be that which he is not,
but because he thinks it good to have such a quality as he pretends to? for
to counterfeit and pretend is to put on the appearance of some real
excellency. Now, the best way in the world for a man to seem to be anything,
is really to be what he would seem to be. Besides, it is many times as
troublesome to make good the pretense of a good quality, as to have it. And
if a man have it not, it is ten to one but he is discovered to lack it, and
then all his pains and labor to seem to have it are lost. There is something
unnatural in painting, which a skillful eye will easily discern from
"It is hard to pretend and act a part, for a long time;
for where truth is not at the bottom, nature will always be endeavoring to
return, and will leak out and betray herself one time or other. Therefore,
if any man think it convenient to seem good, let him be so
indeed, and then his goodness will appear to everybody's satisfaction; so
that, upon all accounts, sincerity is true wisdom. Particularly as to
the affairs of this world, integrity has many advantages over all the
fine and artificial ways of dissimulation and deceit; it is much the plainer
and easier, much the safer and more secure way of dealing in the world; it
has less of trouble and difficulty, of entanglement and perplexity, of
danger and hazard in it; it is the shortest and nearest way to our end,
carrying us there in a straight line, and will hold out and last longest.
The arts of deceit and cunning do continually grow weaker, and less
effectual and serviceable to those who use them; whereas integrity gains
strength by use; and the more and longer any man practices it, the greater
service it does him, by confirming his reputation, and encouraging those
with whom he has to do, to repose the greatest trust and confidence in him,
which is an unspeakable advantage in the business and affairs of life. Truth
is always consistent with itself, and needs nothing to help it out; it is
always near at hand, and sits upon our lips, and is ready to drop out before
we are aware; whereas a lie is troublesome, and sets a man's invention upon
the rack, and one trick needs a great many more to make it good."
The reason why lying is so hard to be cured is that it is
seated in sin itself. Men go astray from the womb, speaking lies. How few
there are, even in boyhood, who possess the entire confidence of their
play-mates in matters of veracity. Once in a while, such a case is observed
and always attracts attention.
'Thomas' was never known to tell a lie. He would
sometimes do wrong, but when asked about it, his chin would curl up, and his
lip quiver—and out would come the truth. When he was eight or ten years old,
bad boys, who wished to do any mischief, would not ask him to go with them;
often they would not let him go with them; for they said, "he will be sure
to tell all about it, if he is asked." In this way he kept out of much sin
and sorrow too. Yet when the boys were playing ball and a dispute arose, it
was pleasing to see how they would all agree to leave the decision to
Thomas. Everybody knew that he would tell the truth. If any boy was not
willing to take the word of Thomas, it was thought that he must wish to
cheat. When Thomas was quite a young man, he was called into court to give
his evidence under oath, and he told a modest plain story. One of the
lawyers told the jury that the young man behaved very well, but he was so
young that they ought not to give much weight to what he said. But the judge
told the jury that there was no better witness, old or young, than Thomas.
So he was honored there before all the people. Thomas lived to be an old
man, and was much respected. He was always a man of truth. When he died
there were many sad faces. Perhaps very few have known more than one or two
people, whose character for veracity was like that of Thomas.
This sin of lying is exceedingly daring. "A liar is brave
towards God, and a coward towards man." "A lie has no legs," and so cannot
stand. Blessed is the man "who speaks the truth in his heart," Psalm 15:2.
Compare Proverbs 12:19. Downright lying, without an object, is perhaps not
very common, though some such cases do appear. But equivocation,
prevarication, twisting men's words, disparagement of others, undue praise
of others, untrue commendation of ourselves, denying our own gifts,
exaggerating the faults of others, and making "a man an offender for a
word"—are kinds of falsehood, always having some guilt in them. In short,
whatever is contrary to frankness, fairness, and sincerity—should be
It is to the great reproach of human nature that there
should so often seem to be manifest pleasure in falsehood. "All liars shall
have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone." Rev. 21:8.
Compare Rev. 22:15.
Not a little injustice is done, not a little sin is
committed by a class of men, who denominate themselves critics. Some
time ago a minister quoted the words "we be all dead men." A vain and
conceited young man, walking home, said that he was astonished at the
minister's ignorance of grammar, and so occupied the attention of others,
and flattered his own vanity—by his silly criticism. A large body of this
class of men may properly be denominated professional fault-finders.
Stowell: "There is more surmising, insinuating, censuring
of what is dishonorable, inconsistent, or iniquitous—than expressed
approbation of what is pure and just." Such have no patience with the
principle laid down by Bunyan in the Preface to "Grace Abounding." Speaking
of that work he says: "He who likes it—let him receive it; and he who does
not—let him produce something better." A certain class of critics have no
heart and no talent to produce a better work; and yet they delight in
showing how poor is the production of another, who is far their superior.
It cannot be denied that under the name of criticism,
the very worst feelings and basest passions of the heart often give vent to
themselves. More than one critic, in "attempting to commit murder—has
committed suicide." A man is as accountable for his temper as a critic, as
in any other respect. One of the worst misapplications of criticism is to
preaching; it seems to destroy nearly all prospect of doing good to those
who indulge it. One such critic may infect a whole church with his hateful
spirit. Such critics can hardly be profited—they are self-constituted
judges; they are hardly hearers of the word—much less are they commonly
doers of it; they do not go to the house of God in a mood to be profited. If
such would see divine light—they must first put out their own candle.
It is a great fault in some that they relish discourses
entirely beyond their comprehension. With many to be plain, and base—is the
same thing. The loss to one of such a critical temper, is great—he loses
both enjoyment and edification; he feeds on wind. If he knows himself he
must feel sad at his own leanness of soul. Nor can he be much profited until
there is a change in him. Happy will he be, if that change be speedy and
Passing judgment before hearing evidence or argument, is
a common sin. "All are not thieves—whom the dogs bark at." Many an innocent
man is clamorously and falsely accused. To come out against the innocent or
for the guilty, is a great sin. "He who justifies the wicked, and he who
condemns the just, even they both are abomination to the Lord." Proverbs
17:15. A tumult or an uproar for or against a man—is no proof of truth. Nor
are we innocent in justifying ourselves, when we should condemn ourselves.
Luke 16:15. Confessions of sin in prayer, if not true, are very shocking to
pious ears, and must be offensive to God.
Making merry with the miseries of others is a great sin
of the tongue and heart. "Those who rejoice at the misfortune of others will
be punished." Proverbs 17:5. We should be sorry both at the sorrows
and sins of even our worst foe. "Don't gloat when your enemy falls,
and don’t let your heart rejoice when he stumbles, or the Lord will see, be
displeased, and turn His wrath away from him." Proverbs 24:17, 18. None but
men of fiendish dispositions allow the violation of this law.
Railing, reviling, and scornful words are also condemned
in Scripture. "Be compassionate and humble, not paying back evil for evil or
insult for insult but, on the contrary, giving a blessing." 1 Pet. 3:9. If
another reviles you, set him an example of patience and forgiveness. Paul
puts "railers" among "fornicators, covetous, idolaters, drunkards, and
extortioners." 1 Cor. 5:11. "When they hurled their insults at Him, he did
not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted
himself to him who judges justly." 1 Pet. 2:23; Gal. 4:29. Of the early
Christians Paul says, "being reviled—we bless." In reading Heb. 11:33-39,
John Blair Smith once said, of all the things mentioned in this catalogue of
trials, perhaps the hardest to be borne were these "cruel mockings."
Hopkins: "As Nero for his barbarous sport wrapped up the Christians in
animal skins and then set dogs to molest them; so these railers disguise the
brethren in false shapes, and then fall upon them and beat them."
Our Savior condemned the use of the scornful titles
Raca and You fool; surely then we are not at liberty to call men
Liars; "for a liar loses all credit and reputation among men."
Whoever has a right sense of honor would prefer death, rather than a life in
good society, where he was justly esteemed a liar. I Cor. 4:12. Our rulers
in church and in state are to be spoken of respectfully. We read of some who
"are not afraid to speak evil of dignities. Whereas angels, which are
greater in power and might, bring not railing accusation against them before
the Lord." 2 Pet. 2:10, 11. Let those who indulge in scornful language
consider well the import of Matt. 5:22. "A soft tongue breaks the bone."
Proverbs 25:15. "A soft answer turns away wrath but grievous words stir up
anger." Proverbs 15:1.
Quarreling is one of the lowest vices, and "recrimination
is the last resort of guilt." The late Ebenezer Porter entered it among his
solemn purposes, "When I am angry I will never speak, until I have taken at
least as much time for reflection as Athenodorus prescribed to Caesar." This
was, "Always repeat the twenty-four letters of the alphabet before you give
way to the impulse of anger."
Scolding is a kind of threatening without the power,
or at least without the intention, of punishing. It is finding fault in a
surly manner. It is one of the most unamiable of domestic vices. It banishes
peace, spoils the temper, and makes many a house the miniature of hell. Many
"hard speeches" are uttered in this way. The effect on children is so
discouraging that they often become desperate, thinking it is of no use to
try to please.
Any unnecessary exposure and repetition of the faults of
others, is a sin. Proverbs 17:9. It was a resolution of one of the greatest
men of his day, "Never to say anything at all against anybody, but when it
is perfectly agreeable to the highest degree of Christian honor, and love to
mankind, agreeable to the lowest humility, and sense of my own faults and
failings, and agreeable to the golden rule. And when I have said anything
against anyone, to examine it strictly by the test of this resolution."
"Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse
joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving." Eph. 5:4. "Every
idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the
day of judgment." Matt. 12:36. "Idle words" are words without effect, and
are "frothy, unsavory stuff, tending to no purpose, nor good at all."
When Latimer, in his examination, heard the pen of the
notary who was writing behind a curtain, he was careful what he said,
because he knew it might be brought against him at his trial. All our words
will meet us at the tribunal of Christ. The question is often asked, What
rules should guide us in the use of humor, wit, satire, irony, sarcasm, and
ridicule? The following seem to cover all cases:
1. It is certain that all use of these things is not
unlawful. The examples of Elijah, David, and Isaiah prove this. 1 Kings
18:27; Psalm 115:4-8; and Isaiah 44:9-17.
2. Yet they are dangerous talents. They are edgetools,
and sometimes cut terribly. "Wit is folly unless a wise man has the keeping
of it." It is, therefore, better to err in making a spare use of them,
rather than a free use of them. To make a trade of any of them is
3. They should never be employed to effect malignant or
mischievous purposes, nor to put down truth, nor to defeat justice, nor to
uphold wickedness. They should never be wielded against the serious
misfortunes or afflictions of men, nor against the good name of any, nor on
4. They should not be used unseasonably. To some minds
they are always unpleasant. Unfitly employed, they ruin friendships. "He is
not a wise man who will lose his friend for his wit; but he is less a wise
man who will lose his friend for another man's wit." Discretion is better
than a witty remark; and friendship is more valuable than fun.
5. In this, as in all things, "love is the fulfilling of
the law." Whatever is not benevolent is not wise or right.
6. Their chief use should be to enliven the mind, to
promote cheerfulness, to expose absurdities, to lash popular vices, to
reprove self-conceit, and to show the enemies of God's word that these
things are not solid tests of truth and righteousness.
7. "The wisdom of man lies not in satirizing the vices
and follies of others—but in correcting his own!" A deep sense of our true
characters will commonly prevent us from too much severity against others,
and from allowing our pleasantries to sink into buffoonery.
The Scriptures also condemn undue and untimely
conversation on worldly affairs; all ill-natured, censorious remarks, though
they be but surmises; all fiery, bitter wars of words. They also forbid all
murmurings and complainings against God; all seductive tempting speeches;
all defense and propagation of false doctrine; and all scoffing at sacred
But there may be sinful silence as well as
sinful speaking. A dumb devil is an evil possession. Ambrose
says, "As we must render an account of every idle word, so must we likewise
of our idle silence." Another says, "Strange is the disorder that sin has
brought into the world; as in the tongue, which is often going when it
should be quiet, and often quiet when it should speak. Our tongues are our
glory; but they are often found enrapt up in a dark cloud of silence, when
they should be shining forth."
Our tongues should be used in acknowledging,
adoring, praising, thanking, blessing, extolling, justifying, and
supplicating God. We should honor him with our tongues in prayer, in sacred
songs, in solemn vows, in humble confessions of sin, in solemn oaths
judicially administered, and in professing true religion. On all these
points the Bible is full and clear. We should also use our vocal powers in
giving honor to whom it is due; in charitable expressions concerning others;
in readily acknowledging their good qualities; in hearty and timely
expressions of sorrow for the sins and infirmities of others; in giving
proper warning to the erring; in pleading the cause of the poor and needy;
in advocating truth; in speaking truth; in speaking the whole truth when
properly called to do it; and in confessing our sins and errors known to
men, or committed against them.
SELF is a poor theme of conversation, yet indifference to
one's character is no fruit of piety. If unjustly accused we may, like Job,
David, Jeremiah, Paul and Christ, defend ourselves, John 8:49; 2 Cor.
12:11-18. But no wise man says much of himself unless compelled, and then
with modesty and a sacred regard to truth. According to our station, it is
also our duty to give reproof, admonition, rebuke, and advice, Proverbs
17:10; Psalm 141:5. True, every man is not to be reproved. "Whoever corrects
a mocker invites insult; whoever rebukes a wicked man incurs abuse. Do not
rebuke a mocker or he will hate you; rebuke a wise man and he will love
you." Proverbs 9:7, 8. Silence is often the best reproof, and the
only wisdom. "I will watch my ways and keep my tongue from sin; I will put a
muzzle on my mouth as long as the wicked are in my presence." Psalm 39:1.
The most essential quality in a reprover is
meekness; next to this are love and humility. Even "sin may be sinfully
reproved." Advice is often the best charity; yet "to advise much is a sign
that we need advice." In giving advice, do not try to please—but to do real
good. An adviser fills a very responsible post. "The greatest trust between
man and man is the trust of giving counsel." Beware of the vanity of
affecting to know things beyond your reach. Admonition and rebuke must not
be untimely, unjust, severe, or bitter. "To him that is afflicted pity
should be showed from his friend," Job 6:14. "Timely advice is as lovely as
golden apples in a silver basket." Proverbs 25:11. And can anything be more
important than that our speech be such as to please God? "By your words you
shall be justified, and by your words you shall be condemned," Matt. 12:37.
"O deceptive tongue, what will God do to you? How will he increase your
punishment? You will be pierced with sharp arrows and burned with glowing
coals" Psalm 120:3, 4.
"Gentle words bring life and health; a deceitful tongue
crushes the spirit." Proverbs 15:4. "Death and life are in the power of the
tongue." Proverbs 18:21. "Worry weighs a person down; an encouraging word
cheers a person up." Proverbs 12:25. "A man finds joy in giving an apt
reply-- and how good is a timely word!" Proverbs 15:23. "A wise correction
to a receptive ear, is like a gold ring or an ornament of gold." Proverbs
25:12. One of the heathen said, "Tongues cut deeper than swords, because
they reach even to the soul." A religion which leaves the tongue
uncontrolled is mere pretence. "If anyone considers himself religious and
yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his
religion is worthless." James 1:26.
After such representations, where is anything to be added
to convince men that here is a most weighty matter? If men will not be moved
by arguments drawn from human happiness and human misery on earth, from the
solemn scenes of the last day, from the miseries of future punishment, and
the rewards of a life of piety—their case is beyond the reach of human
skill. Thus we get some just views of the number and heinousness of our
sins, and of the necessity of divine grace both to pardon and to reform us.
Left to ourselves we are undone and helpless. "We all stumble in many ways.
If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to
keep his whole body in check. When we put bits into the mouths of horses to
make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an
example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are
steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise the
tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what
a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a
world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person,
sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by
hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are
being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It
is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our
Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's
likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this
should not be." James 3:2-10.
He, who thinks he needs not amazing mercy to blot out the
sins of his tongue, is indeed blind! And he, who thinks he shall easily
cease to sin by word, knows nothing of the strength of an evil nature,
confirmed by evil habits. If we have nothing else to repent of, surely our
lips may well abase us. If we have nothing else to confess and bewail,
surely each of us has reason to say with Isaiah, "I am undone, for I am a
man of unclean lips!" If in nothing else we are called to make restitution,
have we wronged no one in words? If we can reform nothing else, can we not
amend our habits of speech?
Yet, as Leighton says, the conquest of these evils of the
tongue "must be done in the heart; otherwise it will be but a charlatan
cure, a false imagined conquest." The weights and wheels are in the heart,
and the clock strikes according to their motion. A deceitful heart makes a
deceitful tongue and lips. The heart is the factory, where deceits
and slanders, and other evil speakings are forged; and the tongue is
only the outer shop where they are vended, and the lips the door of
it; so that such wares as are made within, such and no other can be set out.
From evil thoughts—come evil speakings; from a profane
heart—come profane words; and from a malicious heart—come bitter or
calumnious words; and from a deceitful heart—come deceitful words, well
varnished, but lined with rottenness! And so in general, from the abundance
of the heart the mouth speaks, as our Savior teaches. "What goes into a
man's mouth does not make him unclean, but what comes out of his
mouth, that is what makes him unclean."
That which the heart is full of—runs over at the tongue.
If the heart is full of God—the tongue will delight to speak of him. If the
heart is full of heavenly things within—they will sweetly breathe forth
something of their fragrance by the mouth. If the heart is full of nothing
but earth—all that man's discourse will have an earthly smell. If the
heart is full of nothing but wind, vanity, and folly—the speech will be
airy, and vain, and purposeless. The mouth of the righteous speaks wisdom;
the law of his God is in his heart." Psalm 37:30, 31.
Nor is it possible for us to effect a thorough change
without diligence, watchfulness, and prayer. An unguarded mouth will pour
forth folly and wickedness. Therefore after all David's resolutions and
efforts he comes to God in earnest prayer, and cries, "Set a watch, O Lord,
before my mouth; keep the door of my lips!" Psalm 141:3. If you go on
sinning with your lips, you either will repent or not. If you shall repent,
you will have more anguish than all the vile pleasure of sin is worth. If
you never shall truly repent, how sad your state forever!
Are we not all guilty enough already? Are not our
iniquities fearfully multiplied? They are more than the hair of our head. We
cannot answer for one of a thousand of our offences. Even now our only hope
is in the infinite mercy of God. How sweet are the words of Scripture to
those who rightly feel their sinfulness! "If any man sins, we have an
advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." "The blood of Jesus
Christ, his Son, cleanses us from all sin." Wonderful, wonderful are the
compassions of the Lord. Oh that we may no longer abuse them, but by them be
won to God, to love, to holiness in thought, word, and deed!
Would it not, therefore, be right for you to make
these solemn resolutions?
1. I will steadily keep in view my latter end, and
remember that soon I must stand before my Judge. I would not live a day or
an hour in forgetfulness of the truth—that all my thoughts, words and deeds
are to undergo the scrutiny of Him—who is so holy as to hate all sin,
and so great as to know all things, and so just as never to
clear the guilty.
2. I will endeavor often to ask myself—How would Jesus
Christ speak were he in my circumstances? He has left me an example that I
should follow his steps. His life is the law of God put in practice. If I
walk in his steps, I shall not err.
3. I will rely more and more on the grace of the Lord
Jesus Christ to preserve me from sins of the tongue. I have too much relied
on my own strength and my own virtue—and so I have failed. O Lord, undertake
4. I will constantly strive to have a deep sense of the
importance of making a right use of my tongue. I will endeavor to avoid
levity of mind—and so escape levity of speech and behavior.
By God's grace I will be serious.
5. I will often call myself to an account for my words
during the day, and when I have" erred, I will not spare myself from these
severe, yet beneficial answers, which my sins deserve. I will not justify,
excuse or extenuate the sins of my lips.
6. I will labor to have my mind stored with godly
information and reflections, that I may not be tempted to deal in gossip,
and scandal, and idle news; and that my words may be instructive to those
with whom I mingle.
7. I will endeavor to be more impressed with a sense of
the amazing grace and mercy of God to me a sinner, in bidding me hope for
his favor, notwithstanding all my offences. Thus I shall have alacrity and
joy in resisting evil and seeking holiness.
8. I will labor to have a proper view, not only of the
vileness, mischief, and troubles of a loose tongue—but also of its great
sinfulness in the sight of God. As an unbridled tongue is a wickedness, I
would avoid it, even if it brought me no temporal evil.
9. Above all things, I will seek to be thoroughly renewed
by the power of the Holy Spirit. If he will make his abode with me, I shall
be able to resist all sin, and overcome all evil habits. To change my nature
is beyond my power—but not beyond the power of the Sanctifier. My power
is but another name for my feebleness. God's energy is
irresistible. "Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door
of my lips." Psalm 141:3.