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(1.) Our own good name; which consists, not in our having the applause of the world, but in our deserving the just esteem thereof, and in our being loved and valued for our usefulness to mankind in general. And this esteem is not to be gained by commending ourselves, or doing any thing, but what we engage in with a good conscience, and the fear of God. And in order hereto, we must, take heed that we do not contract an intimacy with those, whose conversation is a reproach to the gospel, Prov. xxviii. 7. Also we must render good for evil, and not give occasion to those, who watch for our halting, to insult us as to any thing, besides unavoidable infirmities, 1 Pet. ii. 12. Phil. iv. 8.
This degree of honour in the world, we ought first to endeavour to gain, especially so far as it is necessary to our honouring God, and being useful to others. And then we must be careful to maintain our good name; forasmuch as the loss thereof, especially, in those who have made a public profession of religion, will reflect dishonour on the ways of God, from whence his enemies will take occasion to blaspheme, 2 Sam. xii. 14. But if all our endeavours to maintain our character and reputation are to no purpose; being, nevertheless, followed with reproach as well as hatred and malice, from an unjust and censorious world; let us look to it, that if we suffer reproach, it be wrongfully; not as evil doers, but for keeping a good conscience in the sight of God; which may be a means to make those that reproach us, ashamed, 1 Pet. iii. 16. Moreover, let us count the reproach of Christ, that is, for his sake, a glory, chap. iv. 14. Acts v. 41. Again, let us always value their good opinion most, who are Christ's best friends; and expect little else but ill treatment from his enemies; and then we shall be less disappointed, when we are exposed to it. And let us not decline any thing that is our duty, in which the honour of God, and the welfare of his people, is concerned, for fear of reproach; but in this case, leave our good name in Christ's hand; whose providence is concerned, for, and takes care of, the honour, as well as the wealth and outward estate of his people.
(2.) We are to endeavour to maintain the good name of others; and in order thereto, we must render to them those marks of respect and honour, which their character, and advancement in gifts, or grace, calls for; yet without being guilty of servile flattery or dissimulation. And if they are in danger of doing any thing that may forfeit their good name, we are carefully to reprove them, while we have a due regard to any good thing that is in them, towards the Lord their God; and, in maintaining their good name, we are to conceal their faults, when we may do it without betraying the interest of
Christ; and especially when the honour of God, and their good, is, by this means, better promoted, than by divulging them, 1 Pet. iv. 8. Prov. xvii. 9.
However, this is not without some exceptions; and therefore it may be observed, that we are not to conceal the crimes committed by others.
[1.] If private admonition for scandalous sins committed, prove ineffectual, and the discovering them to others may make the offender ashamed, and promote his reformation; then we are not to conceal his crimes, though the divulging them may lessen the esteem which others have of him, since it is better for him to be ashamed before men, than perish in his hypocrisy, Matt. xviii. 16, 17.
[2.] If the crime committed be such, that shame, and the loss of his good name, be a just punishment due to it, we are not to conceal it, thereby to stop the course of justice.
[3.] When the honour and good name of an innocent person cannot be maintained, unless by divulging the crimes of the guilty, he that, in this case, has forfeited his good name, ought to lose it, rather than he that has not.
We shall close this head by considering what reason we have to endeavour to maintain the good name of others. To take away our neighbour's good name, is to take away one of the most valuable privileges he is possessed of, the loss whereof may be inexpressibly detrimental to him. And sometimes it may affect his secular interest; so that hereby we may be said to take away his wealth and outward estate, and prevent his usefulness in that station of life in which providence has fixed him. Accordingly we are to express a due concern for the honour and reputation of others as well as ourselves. Thus concerning the duties required in this Commandment.
II. We proceed to consider the sins forbidden therein; which are contained in that general expression bearing false witness: This may either respect ourselves or others. A person may be said to bear false witness against himself; and that either in thinking too highly or meanly of himself; in the former respect we value ourselves, or our supposed attainments, either in gifts or graces, too much, in which we are, for the most part, mistaken, and pass a wrong judgment on them, and are ready to say, with the church at Laodicea, I am rich and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and know not that we are wetched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked, Rev. iii. 17. These, on the one hand, mistake the common gifts of the Spirit, for grace, and conclude themselves to be something, when they are nothing: And, on the other hand, many conclude, that they have no grace, and rank themselves among hypocrites and unbelievers, when their hearts are right
with God, and they have had large experience of the powerful influences of his Spirit, but are not sensible thereof. Thus Christ says to the church in Smyrna, I know thy poverty; but thou art rich, chap. ii. 9. In these respects persons may be said to bear false witness against themselves.
But that which is principally forbidden in this Commandment, is, a person's bearing false witness against his neighbour; and that when he either endeavours to deceive, or do him prejudice, as to his reputation in the world; the one is called lying, the other back-biting or slandering. As to the former of these, when we speak that which is contrary to what we know to be truth, with a design to deceive, this is what we call telling a lye; and when we act that which is contrary to truth, it may be deemed a practical lye; both of which are very great sins.
1. A person is guilty of lying, when he speaks that which is contrary to truth, with a design to deceive: This the old prophet at Bethel did, to the prophet of the Lord; upon which occasion it is said,, that he lyed unto him, 1 Kings xiii. 18. That this may be farther considered, let it be observed, that it is not barely a speaking what is contrary to truth; for that a person may do, and be guiltless; as,
[1.] When there is some circumstance that discovers him to speak ironically; and therefore he does not appear to have a design to deceive those, to whom he addresses his discourse. Thus when the prophet Micaiah said to Ahab, Go and prosper, for the Lord shall deliver it, viz. Ramoth-Gilead, into the hands of the kings, chap. xxii. 15. it is plain that he spake the language of the false prophets, and that Ahab understood him in this sense, or suspected that he spake ironically; and therefore says, How many times shall I adjure thee, that thou tell me nothing but that which is true? ver. 16. Upon which, the prophet tells him, without an irony, though in a metaphorical way, which Ahab easily understood; I saw all Israel scattered upon the hills, as sheep that have not a shepherd: And the Lord said, These have no master, let them return every man to his house in peace, ver. 17. which was an intimation, that, if he went up to Ramoth-Gilead, he should fall in battle: Upon which occasion Ahab says to Jehoshaphat, Did I not tell thee, that he would prophesy no good concerning me, but evil, ver. 18. by which it appears, that the prophet did not deceive him, notwithstanding the mode of speaking, which he at first made use of, without considering it as an irony, seemed to intimate as much.
[2.] A person may speak that which is contrary to truth, being imposed on himself, without any design to deceive another. This cannot, indeed, according to the description before given,
be properly called a lie: However, he may sin by asserting too positively, that which he thinks to be true from probable circumstances, or uncertain information; especially if what he reports, carries in it that which is matter of scandal, or censure. This was the case of Job's friends, who did not tell a lie against their own consciences: Nevertheless, they were too peremptory in charging him with hypocrisy, without sufficient ground; therefore God imputes folly to them, in that they had not spoken of him the thing which was right, Job xlii. 8.
Here it may be enquired, whether a person, who designs not to deceive, nor speaks contrary to the dictates of his own conscience; yet if he promises to do a thing, and does it not, is guilty of lying? To which it may be replied,
1st, That if a person promises to do a thing, which, at the same time he really designs, and afterwards uses all the endeavours he could, to fulfil his promise, and something unforeseen happens, in the course of providence, which prevents the execution thereof, he cannot, properly speaking, be said to be guilty of a lie; though we ought not to promise any thing but upon this supposition, that God enables us to perform it.
2dly, If a person intends to do a thing, and, accordingly, promises to do it, but afterwards sees some justifiable reason to alter his mind, he is not guilty of a lie; since all creatures are supposed to be mutable. Thus the angels told Lot, that they would abide in the street all night; but afterwards, upon his intreaty, they went into the house with him, Gen. xix. 2, 3. And our Saviour, when he walked with his disciples to Emmaus, made as though he would have gone farther: But they constrained him, saying, abide with us; and he went in to tarry with them, Luke xxiv. 28, 29. But, notwithstanding this if a person promises to do any thing that is of advantage to another, as the paying a just debt, &c. it is not a sufficient excuse, to clear him from the guilt of sin, if he pretends that he has altered his mind, supposing that it is in his power to fulfil it: For this is, indeed, a breach of the eighth Commandment, and in some respects, it will appear to him, to be a violation
That we may more particularly speak concerning the sin of lying which multitudes are chargeable with, let it be observed, that there are three sorts of lies,
1st, When a person speaks that which is contrary to truth, and the dictates of his own conscience, with a design to cover a fault or excuse himself or others: This we generally call an officious lie*.
2dly, When a person speaks that which is contrary to the
• Mendacium officiosum.
known truth, in a jesting way; and embellishes his discourse with his own fictions, designing hereby to impose on others : This they are guilty of, who invent false news, or tell stories for truth, which they know to be false. This is to lie in a jesting, ludicrous manner *.
3dly, There is a pernicious lie, viz. when a person raises and spreads a false report with a design to do injury to another; which is a complicated crime, and the worst sort of lying t.
Here there are two or three enquiries which it may not be improper to take notice of;
(1.) Whether the midwives were guilty of an officious lie, when they told Pharaoh, in Exod. i. 19. that the Hebrew women were delivered of their children ere they came in unto them; concerning whom it is said, in the following verse, that God dealt well with the midwives for this report, which carries in it the appearance of a lie.
Answ. To this it may be replied,
[1.] That they seem not to have been guilty of a lie; for it is not improbable, that God in mercy to the Hebrew women, and their children, might give them uncommon strength; so that they might be delivered without the midwives assistance = Or,
[2.] If this was not the case of all the Hebrew women, but only of some, or many of them, the midwives report contains only a concealing part of the truth, while they related in other respects, that which was matter of fact. Now a person is not guilty of telling a lie, who does not discover all that he knows. There is a vast difference between concealing a part of the truth, and telling that which is directly false. No one is obliged to tell all he knows, to one, who, he is sure, will make a bad use of it. This seems to be the case of the midwives; and therefore their action was justifiable, and commended by God, they being not guilty, properly speaking, of an officious lye. (2.) Another enquiry is, what judgment we must pass concerning the actions of Rahab, the harlot, who invented an officious lye, to save the spies from those who pursued them, in Josh. ii. 4, 5. it is said, she took the two men and hid them; and, at the same time, pretended, so those who were sent to enquire of her concerning them, that she wist not whence they were; but that they went out of the city about the time of the shutting of the gate; though whither they went she knew not. The main difficulty we have to account for, is what the apostle says, in which he seems to commend this action, in Heb. xi.
This is called mendacium jocasum † This is called mendacium pernitiosum