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from the same; the poor in this world may be “ rich towards God;"7 and the rich may “trea“sure up in store for themselves, a good founda“ tion against the time to come,” which will enable them to “lay hold on eternal life.”8
THE Ninth Commandment is connected with every one of the four which precede it. For, neither the duties of superiors and inferiors, nor those amongst equals, could be tolerably practised ; neither the lives of men, nor their happiness in the nearest relations of life, nor their possessions and properties, could ever be secure; if they were left exposed to those injuries of a licentious tongue, which are here prohibited. This Commandment, therefore, was intended, partly to strengthen the foregoing ones ; and partly, also, to make provision for every person's just character on its own account, as well as for the sake of consequences. For, independently of these, we have by nature, (and with reason) a great concern about our reputations. And, therefore, the precept, “ Thou “ shalt not bear false witness against thy neigh
bour,” is, in all views, of much importance.
The crime, at which these words principally, and most expressly point, is, giving false evidence in any cause or trial. And as, in such cases, evidence hath always been given upon oath, this Commandment, so far, is the same with the third ; only there, perjury is forbidden, as impiety
(7) Luke xii. 21.
(8) 1 Tim. vi. 19.
against God; here, as injurious to men. Now we are guilty of this sin, if, in bearing witness, we affirm that we know or believe any thing which we do not; or deny that we know or believe any thing which we do; or either affirm or deny more positively than we have good grounds for. Nay, if we only stifle, by our silence, any fact which is material, though we are not examined particularly about it, still, when we have sworn in general to speak the whole truth, we bear false witness, if we designedly avoid it; especially after being asked, if we are able to say any thing besides, relative to the point in question. For hiding a truth may as totally mislead those who are to judge, as telling an untruth. Indeed, if by any means whatever we disguise the real state of the case, instead of relating it in the fairest and plainest manner that we can, we evidently transgress the intent of this Commandment. And by doing it, the good name, the property, the livelihood, the life of an innocent person may be taken away; the advantages of society defeated, nay, perverted into mischiefs, and the very bonds of it dissolved. Therefore, the rule of the Mosaic law is : “If a false witness rise up against any man, " and testify against his brother that which is
wrong; then shall ye do unto him, as he hath thought to have done unto his brother, and thine eye shall not pity." With us, indeed, the punishment extends not so far. But, however mild such persons may find the penalties of human laws to be, or how artfully soever they may evade them, God hath declared : “A false witness shall " not go unpunished, and he that speaketh lies shall not escape."?
The Commandment saith only, that we shall not bear false witness “against” our neighbour;
(1) Deut: xix. 16-21.
(2) Prov. xix. 5.
but in effect it binds us equally not to bear false witness for him. For, in all trials of property, bearing witness for one party, is bearing witness against the other. And in all trials for crimes, false evidence, to the advantage of the person accused, is to the disadvantage and ruin of right and truth, of public safety and peace, by concealing and encouraging what ought to be detected and punished
It being thus criminal to bear false witness, it must be criminal, also, to draw persons into the commission of so great a sin, by gifts, or promises, or threatenings, or any other method. And, in its degree, it must be criminal to bring a false accusation, or false action against any one ; or to make any sort of demand, for which there is no reasonable ground.
Nay, further, however favourably persons are apt to think of the defendant's side, yet, to defend ourselves against justice, or even to delay it by unfair methods, is very wicked. For it ought to take place, and the sooner the better. Still, both the professors of the law, and others, may unquestionably say and do, for a doubtful, or a bad cause, whatever can be said with truth, or done with equity; for otherwise, it might be thought still worse than it is, and treated worse than it deserves. But if they do, in any cause, what in reason ought not to be done ; if they use or suggest, indirect methods of defeating the intent of law; if, by false colours and glosses, by terrifying or confounding witnesses, by calumniating or ridiculing the adverse party, they endeavour to make justice itself an instrument for patronizing injustice; this is “
; this is “turning judgment “ into gall," as the Scripture expresses it, “and " the fruit of righteousness into hemlock."3
(3) Amos: vi. 12.
But in a still higher degree it is so, if judges or jurymen are influenced, in giving their sentence, or verdict, by interest, relation, friendsbip, hatred, compassion, party ; by any thing but the nature of the case, as it fairly appears to them, For, designedly making a false determination, s com . pleting all the mischief, which bearing false ness only attempts. And, in a word, whoever any way promotes what is wrong, or obstructs what is right, partakes in the same sin; be it either of the parties, their evidences or agents ; be it the highest magistrate, or the lowest officer.
But persons may break this Commandment, not only in judicial proceedings ; but often full as grievously, in common discourse ; by raising, spreading, or countenancing false reports against others; or such as they have no sufficient cause to think true; which is the case, in part at least, of most reports; by misrepresenting their circumstances in the world to their prejudice; or speaking, without foundation, to the disadvantage of their persons, understandings, accomplishments, temper, or conduct; whether charging them with faults and imperfections which do not belong to them; or taking from them good qualities and recommendations which do; or aggravating the former, or diminishing the latter; determining their characters from a single bad action or two; fixing ill names on things, which are really virtuous or innocent in them ; imputing their laudable behaviour to blameable, or worthless motives; making no allowance for the depravity or weakness of human nature, strength of temptation, want of instruction, wicked insinuations, vicious examples. And in all these ways, persons may be injured, either by open public assertions ; or more dangerously, perhaps, by secret whispers, which they have no opportunity for contradicting. The scandal may be accompanied with strong expres. sions of hoping it is not true, or being very sorry for it; and warın declarations of great good will to the party whom it concerns; all which may serve only to give it a more unsuspected credit. Nay, it may be conveyed very effectually in dark hints, expressive gestures, or even affected silence. And these, as they may be equally mischievous, are not less wicked, for being more cowardly, and more artful methods of defamation.
Further yet: speaking or intimating things to any person's disadvantage, though they be true, is seldom innocent. For it usually proceeds from bad principles : revenge, envy, malice, pride, censoriousness ; unfair zeal for some private or party interest; or at best, from desire of
appearing to know more than others, or mere impertinent fondness of talking. Now, these are wretched motives for publishing what will be hurtful to one of our brethren. Sometimes, indeed, bad characters and bad actions ought to be known; but much oftener not, or not to all the world, or not by our means.
And we have need to be very careful from what inducements we act in such a
Sometimes again things are known already ; or soon will be known, let us be ever so silent about them; and then, to be sure, we are more at liberty. But even then, to take pleasure in re, lating the faults of others, is by no means right. And to reveal them, when they can be hid, unless a very considerable reason require it, is extremely wrong.
Indeed, we should be cautious, not only what harm, but what good, we say of others. For, speaking too highly of their characters or circumstances, or praising them, in any respect beyond truth, is “ bearing false witness" about them, which may sometimes turn against them; and may often mislead those to whom we exalt them thus; and produce grievous bad consequences of