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either as applicable to mankind in common, or to Christians in particular.
1. This argument is applicable to mankind in general. We are members one of another, as we partake of the same human nature, and in that respect are upon a level. We are members of society in common: entitled to the same rights, claims, and expectations, one from another, as men; and are mutually helpful and subservient, as the members of the body are to each other and the principal link that holds us together, is mutual confidence, founded upon the hope of common fidelity.
Now, lying makes void and useless the great instrument of society, the faculty of speech or writing. The power of speech was given us by our Creator, and the art of writing since found out, on purpose that we might be able so to convey our sense to others, that they may discern it, where we pretend to express it, just as if they were so far privy to what passed in our minds. By these means, joined with the power of reason, man is a creature fitted for much more agreeable society than the inferior creatures are. But as far as the inward sense of our minds, when we profess to give it, is not faithfully conveyed; so far these means of union and correspondence between man and man, must necessarily become the means of disuniting and estranging them one from another.
Truth hereupon becomes a branch of righteousness, what every man hath a right to claim and expect from every man ; as it is the proper and natural use of that instrument of society, which our common Maker has furnished us with for mutual good and service. And, therefore, "a righteous man hateth lying," Prov. xiii. 5.
In fact, it is what every man would expect and desire from another. The most common liar, the falsest witness, the most perfidious covenant-breaker, would have others speak the truth to him, and is ready to complain when they do not; and, therefore, by that obvious rule of equity, of doing as we would be done unto, every man has a right to expect and claim the same thing from us.
And unless truth be inviolably observed in every thing, the bonds of human society cannot fail to be weakened. man allow himself to throw off a regard to truth in one instance, when this is known, it is impossible that another
should be assured where he will stop; and, consequently, mutual confidence must be destroyed. It is a man's profession that he esteems truth sacred in itself, and, consequently, in all cases, that is the security for his credibility upon his word in any case. As long as we cannot charge him with any violation of it, we are obliged to credit him. But when he is convicted of falsehood; and especially if he declares that he thinks himself not bound to the observation of truth in some cases; as, that "faith is not to be kept with heretics;" or, that he should not scruple a lie for its own sake, unless upon account of some farther mischief attending it; then, I say, a man will justly be esteemed to diclaim the sacredness of truth in itself; and so his neighbour cannot believe him upon his bare word. It cannot be wondered at, that a known liar hardly meets with credit, even when he speaks truth: and so the least impeachment of a man's varacity justly weakens his credit, and others confidence in him.
Every man must be sensible what universal mischief this brings upon the world, and how it destroys the comfort and benefit of society. See a melancholy description of it in the corrupt state of Israel, Jer. ix. 4, 5. "Take ye heed every one of his neighbour, and trust ye not in any brother; for every brother will utterly supplant, and every neighbour will walk with slanders. And they will deceive every one his neighbour, and will not speak the truth; they have taught their tongue to speak lies, and weary themselves to commit iniquity."
The sight of abounding falsehood in the world, brought in the use of oaths; in hope, that by a direct appeal to God, and a solemn imprecation of his vengeance in case of perjury, men who are not restrained within the bounds of truth in common cases, might be awed into veracity upon important occasions, by an immediate appeal to the great God. This practice, in the present degenerate state of human nature, is plainly countenanced by God in scripture, and by the general consent of all civilized nations, "an oath for confirmation is an end of all strife," Heb. vi. 16.; as the last appeal which men can make, and, therefore, the highest test of their veracity. And if men can allow themselves to falsify, not only their word, but their oath, there is nothing by which they can be held, nor any security they can give to society, and, there
fore, must forfeit all the benefits of it, as such who are not capable members of it.
But we should consider ourselves as always under the eye of God, as well in what we say as in what we swear. If this were the general temper, there would be no occasion for the solemnity of oaths: and if men lose sight of this in common life, so as contentedly and customarily to prostitute truth, even where there is no direct appeal to God, their oath itself will hardly be sufficient to produce a full confidence in their veracity.
2. This argument may be particularly applicable to Christians: We are members one of another, in a more distinguishing sense, as we belong to the body of Christ. And this lays additional engagements upon all the visible members of that body, to put away lying, and to speak the truth one to the other.
In conformity to the common Father, to whom we belong, who is eminenly styled "a God of truth," Deut. xxxii. 4. "His words are true," 2 Sam. vii. 28. Psal. cxix. 160. They are not only agreeable to the true nature of things, but are suited to convey the divine mind plainly and without disguise to us. His promises are sure and certain, such as may firmly be relied upon. Falsehood is as impossible to him as any other imperfection: "God is not a man that he should lie," Numb. xxiii. 19. His promise and his oath are "two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie." And if this be a perfection so essential to the blessed God, in which he so much glories, and which we have so much reason to venerate in him; if we are born of him, we shall study imitation. Therefore, his children are described as "children that will not lie," Isa. lxiii. 8. Liars, we are told, belong to another father, John viii. 44. "Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do."-There is no truth in him. "When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own; for he is a liar, and the father of it." This character is fixed upon him, as he pronounced the first lie that we find upon record in the Bible, when he told our first parents, “Ye shall not surely die," Gen. iii. 4.
In conformity to our head the Lord Jesus, there should be a strict observation of truth among Christians. He came into the world to bear witness to it, John xviii. 37.
was and is" the faithful and true witness," revealing the mind of God with the greatest exactness, and having "no guile found in his mouth," in any part of his conversation.
In conformity to the Spirit that animates us, who is eminently described by this attribute, "the Spirit of truth," John xiv. 17. xv. 26.; whose revelations are contained in "the scriptures of truth," Dan. x. 21.; where" that which is written is upright, even words of truth." And, therefore, those who are taught by him should shew it by the strictest regard to that which is made his noted character in scripture. This is, therefore, particularly described to be his fruit, Eph. v. 9. "The fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, and righteousness, and truth." Which leads on to observe, that Christians are under strong engagements to veracity,
Because of the stress laid upon it in the rule by which all the members of Christ's body are to be governed. The observation of truth is prescribed there in the strongest and most unlimited terms, as has been shewn. It is recommended by the clearest expressions of God's approbation, Prov. xii. 22. "Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but they that deal truly are his delight;" and eternal death is expressly denounced as the portion of liars. They bring up the rear in the catalogue of those who "shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone," Rev. xxi. 8. Whosoever "maketh a lie, shall in no wise enter" into the heavenly Jerusalem, ver. 27.; and the same is said of "whosoever loveth and maketh a lie," chap. xxii. 15.
Inference 1. This is one remarkable evidence how much Christianity is calculated for the benefit of mankind and the good of society at present, as well as for our everlasting welfare; in that it so strictly enjoins and enforces the exactest regard to truth. No man can be insensible that this would contribute greatly to the happiness and comfort of life, if every man conversed with another without deceit and guile, so that there was no occasion for just jealousies and suspicions. The Christian religion written in the heart, will form a man to this.
2. We see from thence upon how good reason the Christian religion strictly forbids common swearing. So our Sa
viour himself does, Matt. v. 34-37. "I say unto you, Swear not all. But let your communication be yea, yea, nay, nay; for whatsoever is more than these, cometh of evil." The same precept for substance is repeated by the apostle James, chap. v. 12.
Not that we are to understand either Christ or the apostle as intending to represent an oath to be unlawful in all cases. However absolute the expressions may seem, "Swear not at all," we cannot suppose them to forbid us to bear solemn testimony, or to give solemn assurances of fidelity upon oath, when called to either by lawful authority, since these were, with God's countenance and by his appointment, used in the church of God from the first ages of the world; and the apostle, after the precept of our Saviour, countenances the use of "an oath for confirmation," and to "end strife," Heb. vi. 16. Nor are all appeals to God, performed with seriousness and upon important occasions, even without the call of the magistrate, to be supposed unlawful to a Christian. We have many instances of such appeals and oaths made by the apostle Paul, in his inspired writings, 2 Cor. i. 23. xi. 31. Gal. i. 20. Rom, i. 9.; who certainly knew, and would not transgress, the mind of Christ in this matter.
The meaning, then, of these passages, is to forbid all swearing in ordinary discourse and conversation; that we should satisfy ourselves with a bare affirmation or denial of a thing, and not be ready, at every turn, to appeal to God for the truth of what we say, unless we are lawfully called to it; nor use any of those methods of asseveration, which may be esteemed petty oaths, as by heaven, or the like; several of which both our Saviour and the apostle particularly mention, pointing to the practice of many of the Jews, who thought it lawful to swear by other things, as long as they used not the name of God. Instead of this, we are directed to go no farther in common converse, than bare asserting or disowning any thing.
And the reason is obvious, Christianity most strictly enjoins veracity upon all Christ's followers, that they should have such an exact regard to truth in all they say, that they may deserve to be believed upon their word. He who does not so behave as to deserve credit upon this foundation in common affairs, can hardly Le more regarded upon the light and negligent use