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partial but true account, I can divert his inquiry, it will be no violation of truth. Jeremiah's conduct may be an instance, Jer. xxxviii. He had been thrown into a filthy dungeon by king Zedekiah, at the instigation of the princes of Judah; but, upon the intercession of Ebed-melech, was admitted to a private audience of the king, wherein the main subject of his discourse was, to acquaint the king with the mind of God = for his direction in his present circumstances. The king, at = parting, charges him to conceal this from the princes, and, if they should come to examine him about the matter, that he should say unto them, ver. 25, 26. "I presented my supplication before the king, that he would not cause me to return to Jonathan's house, to die there." And we are told, ver. 27. that "when the princes came to him, he told them according to all those words that the king had commanded him: I so they left off speaking with him, for the matter was not perceived." No doubt this was part of the conversation, and the king had commanded him to conceal the rest on pain of death; he was under no obligation to acquaint the princes with the rest; and he knew he should run the hazard of his life from them, if he informed them of the message which he had delivered from God to the king, because it was most disagreeable to their mind; and, therefore, he deceived them, by letting them know only part of the truth. In this he was no way worthy of blame.
But to affirm any falsehood, in order to deceive others, is never justifiable. It is not lawful to lie for God, or for the greatest advantage that can be proposed by it to our neighbours, or to ourselves. A mischievous lie, that is designed to the prejudice of any, is more heinous and aggravated upon other accounts, than an officious or a jocular lie: but lying, in any kind, is a violation of truth, which the best end proposed by it cannot justify; and that for this one reason, because we must "not do evil, that good may come," Rom. iii. 8. That lying is always evil, will appear when I come to the second head.
But I would be first a little more particular in explaining this exhortation, by shewing how it is to be observed eminently in three cases: in common conversation, in bearing testimony, and in making and performing offices.
1. Truth is to be observed in common conversation. Peo
ple have more special need, in some respects, to be admonished of their obligations inviolably to maintain truth here: for many are more ready to allow themselves to transgress in what they account trivial instances, than upon solemn occasions; and yet by such beginnings, way is made for the disregard of truth, in the most considerable matters, in process of time. As men often proceed gradually from customary breach of their word, to break their oaths too at length; so when once a strict regard to truth, upon common occasions, is lost, it seldom remains long unshaken in cases of greater importance. The scriptures, and, as we shall see presently, the reason of things also, oblige us to maintain truth inviolably and universally, without indulging ourselves in any sort of known falsehood. The prohibition of lying, both in Old and New Testament, is absolute: "Ye shall not lie one to another," Luke xix. 11. "Lie not one to another," Col. iii. 9. And so is the injunction of truth: "Speak every man truth to his neighbour," Zech. viii. 16. "Whatsoever things are true,— think on these things," Phil. iv. 8. Such declarations of the mind of God, leave us no licence to make free with truth on the slightest occasions.
How common soever, therefore, the practice may be, we should not think ourselves at liberty to make professions of kindness, where none at all is meant. Civility is one thing, and fit to be professed and practised to all; but profession of distinguishing respect and esteem is another thing; and when there is nothing inward to answer it, it is inconsistent with the candour and simplicity which should be found in a Christian. To give men commendations, which, at the same time, we think them not to deserve, or to flatter them upon excellencies we do not esteem them possessed of, if they should pass with us for words of course now, yet I doubt will not pass so easily in the judgment.
There are a set of people, who think to recommend themselves to those with whom they converse, by a surprising story of their own invention, or by pretending, with a boasting air, to things which they never did, or by magnifying matters beyond the bounds of probability; and think any thing of this kind no more than a harmless amusement, as long as they avoid making free with their neighbour's characSuch facetious lies may not be in a direct breach upon
charity; but they are a breach upon truth, and awaken men's regards for it: and, certainly, if such inventions happen to přoduce some mirth and entertainment for the present in company, yet they can give neither a man nor his friend pleasure in the reflection, when it is known that all this hath no foundation of truth.
2. Truth should be maintained in bearing testimony. Many, who make no account of violating truth in a theme of common conversation, where they apprehend none to be injured; yet cannot allow themselves to bear false witness, where they think their neighbour directly concerned, in his life, or property, or reputation, or other valuable interests. "A false witness that speaketh lies, and so soweth discord among brethren," may as yet be an opprobrious name to some who have not the universal regard to truth which they should have, because of the obvious mischief which accrues to society from a false witness. But I doubt some will incur this guilt in God's account, who reckon themselves clear of it.
A conscientious regard to truth will engage us to be very careful, that we spread nothing to the lessening or reproach of our neighbour, of which we have not good assurance; that we publish not a defamation upon hearsay, nor take up, without sufficient grounds, "a report against our neighbour." This is the settled character of a citizen of Zion, Psal. xv. 3. Reports which we divulge carry the authority of our names to support them, as far as that will go, farther than we bear our testimony against them. And if we hastily put an uncertain story we have hard out of our power, by making it public, we may prove the false witnesses of a scandal to many, who take it up upon our authority, without having either inclination or opportunity to examine the grounds we went
If we are called to give public testimony between man and man, a sincere respect to truth will engage to a careful recollection, before we give our testimony what we can say upon the matter. It will dispose to lay aside affection on one hand, and prejudice on the other, and impartially to relate the true state of things, as far as we can bear witness to them; nakedly to represent facts, as they have come within our notice.
Here we should think ourselves obliged, not only to speak
nothing but the truth, but to speak the whole truth, without concealment or disguise. Though we are not bound, in every case, to speak the whole truth, yet certainly, when a matter depends either in whole, or in part, upon our evidence, and we come in as witnesses, we are bound not only to avoid all direet falsehood, but also not to omit any thing we can discover, which may give light into the true merits of the cause. This ought to be sacred to an honest man, when he is only heard upon his word, as well as when he is sworn to "speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth." If a matter should be wrong taken by a partial representation, and so a wrong judgment passed in a cause; though we should have said nothing untrue as far as we went, yet we shall be justly accounted accessary to that wrong judgment, by concealing what we had farther to offer and thus partial evidence will have all the same evil effects that evidence directly false can have.
3. Truth must be exercised in our promises and engagements; and veracity requires two things in relation to them.
(1.) That we really intend to perform them, when they are made. In matters where we were at full liberty before, promises lay us under obligation, and give our neighbour a right; and, therefore, we should never allow ourselves to make them, unless there be an intention to make them good. A citizen of Zion is careful of that, Psal. xv. 2. "He speaketh the truth in his heart." He speaks according to the true meaning and design of his heart. To engage to do a thing, when at the time of the engagement we foresee that we cannot accomplish it, or have it not in our intention, is really to injure and impose upon our neighbour, and to wrong our own souls. We should not, therefore, be rash in making promises, but weigh beforehand, the lawfulness, the practicableness, the expedience of what we undertake for the same thing which Solomon says of vows to God, will hold true of promises to men, Eccl. v. 5. "Better it is that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow, and not pay."
(2.) That we are careful of performance, after they are made. This is as essential to veracity as the former.
Not but that there are some cases which may supersede our obligation. If we are unexpectedly disabled afterwards, by the
providence of God, God and conscience, and all reasonable men, will discharge us from the guilt of falsehood in not making our word good. We could only be supposed to promise, if we were able. Or if we should be convinced, that the matter of our promise is unlawful, we must repent of our rashness in making it, and not add sin to sin by executing it. Herod ought with repentance to have broken even his oath, rather than have done so cruel and injurious a thing in pursuit of it, as beheading John the Baptist, if really that were included in his oath: indeed, he might more justly have given that wicked woman, who solicited it, the half of his kingdom, according to the letter of his promise, than the Baptist's head. And if unforeseen, superior engagements require our attendance, at the time when a promise was to be performed, they must take place of it: as, suppose you have undertaken to do a particular service to a person at such a time, but afterwards you understand that a wife, or a child, or some in whom you have a near concern, are in danger of life without your immediate assistance; the promise is evidently superseded by higher engagements. No promise can be made in bar of all future contingencies, nor can release a man from that which the providence of God makes much more immediately his duty.
But veracity obliges to performance, when we lawfully may do it, when we are in a capacity, and not called off from it by much more evident duty. A lover of truth will not satisfy himself to have given his word, to be rid of present importunity, or to please his neighbour for the time, without any concern about the matter afterwards. Though the performance in the event should prove a considerable damage to himself, and a disadvantageous bargain, yet he will not be a covenantbreaker: "He sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not,' Psal. xv. 4. If he is not able at present to make good his engagements, yet he will bear them in mind, and make conscience of performing them in case of restoration to capacity, though he should be under no obligation to human laws to do so.
II. I proceed to consider the reasons which the apostle gives for the inviolable maintenance of truth: Because we are members one of another. Which may be understood