1 Peter 3:10-11
For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile:…
One of the attributes by which the Most High specially desires Himself to be known by His intelligent universe is absolute and unchanging veracity. Whatever He reveals to us He would have us receive as the pure and simple verity. Whatever He has promised, though heaven and earth should pass away, He will assuredly perform. In this attribute of inviolable truth God commands us to be imitators of Him. He wills us never to utter anything but the exact verity. In the commandment given to our race by Moses it is written, "Thou shalt not bear false witness." In the text, as in other places, He has promised His special favour to those that speak no guile. Our Lord Himself has declared that liars are the children of the devil; for he is a liar, and the father of lies. It is manifest that these teachings have not been without effect wherever the Bible has been openly and plainly spread before the people. Wherever the Word of God is freely circulated, and generally read, a barefaced and habitual liar is rarely to be met with among men who lay any claim to the respect of their fellow citizens. While, however, such cases are rare, I fear that indirect, and what are termed minor variations from strict veracity, are by no means uncommon. The law of absolute veracity would require that we should utter nothing but the perfect verity. We are, however, limited in comprehension, and imperfect in knowledge. To this our imperfection the law of God has respect, and it requires of us no more than our nature can perform. But some one may ask, Are we obliged to tell every one whom we meet all that we know and all that we are thinking about? Do we violate the law of veracity because we do not make a confidant of every companion, or reveal all our thoughts even to our most intimate friends? We may ask ourselves, and it would be well if we asked ourselves much oftener, whether it is or is not our duty to speak. If we decide, either from moral or prudential reasons, that it is our duty to be silent, it is clear that the law of veracity has no command to utter. If we, on the other hand, decide that it is our duty to speak, then the law pronounces its decision, and forbids us to speak anything but the truth. But the inquiry may arise, Are we always obliged, when we speak, to speak the whole truth? If we intend to convey the impression that what we say is the whole truth, when we know that it is only a part, we violate the law of veracity. If we have no such intention, but merely relate the fact as a fact, without any design to create any other impression, then we are innocent. The same law applies to promises. A promise is the expression of our intention to do something, with the design of creating in another the expectation that it will be done. Simply to express an intention is not to make a promise. If, in the course of ordinary conversation, I happen to mention my purpose to leave town tomorrow, this is not a promise, for I did not intend to create an expectation. If I not only say that I am going, but enter into an engagement with another to accompany him, this constitutes a promise. We are morally bound to fulfil the expectation which we have voluntarily created. If a moral obligation exists, it must be fulfilled. If a doubt remains, we must decide against ourselves, or leave the question to the decision of others. In no other manner can we retain our love of veracity unimpaired. By the habit of deciding doubtful cases in our own favour, selfishness gains the victory over our love of truth, and, before we are aware of it, we become reckless of our obligations and regardless of the sanctity of our word. And here, again, it may be asked — for questions on this subject seem to be almost innumerable — Are we bound to fulfil to the letter every promise which we make, even when it is without any condition? I would not say even so much as this. The very object for which the promise was made may have become unattainable, and of course the whole engagement falls to the ground. But if I break an engagement from idleness, or because I prefer at the moment to read some book which happens to interest me, I am guilty. It is of no avail to say my friend will excuse it: this may be, but it alters not the fact that I have trifled with my conscience, degraded my moral nature, and sinned against God. All this should plainly teach us several important lessons. In the first place, a promise should always, if possible, be definite, and distinctly understood by both parties. Again, if there be from a necessity a contingency, this contingency should be as accurately defined as the promise itself. And, lastly, when we are in doubt respecting the validity of any obligation — that is, when there is a conflict in our minds between the claims of veracity and those of interest and convenience — it is always safe to decide in favour of veracity. This may, it is true, cost us trouble, and sometimes apparently useless trouble, but it will confirm our virtue and teach us practical wisdom. Such, then, is the law of God, revealed to us in the Scriptures. But, let us ask, Is this law obeyed? Let us glance at a few of the occasions which give rise to the violation of the precept, and we shall see how easily men are seduced into disobedience to the law of God.
1. The inordinate love of wealth gives occasion to frequent violations of the plainest precepts of veracity. When large profits can be secured by falsehood, I am told that, in our large commercial centres, lying and even false swearing are matters of daily occurrence. The common adulteration of articles of traffic comes under the same condemnation. Men take every means to give to a worthless compound the appearance of a general product, and then solemnly declare it to be what they know it ,is not. Or we may come to facts which transpire every day, in every city and village in our land. The seller represents his goods as of the very best quality, and offers them to the buyer at a price which he declares to be scarcely above cost. The buyer, on the other hand, considers the quality inferior, the price unreasonable, and, at most, is willing to purchase only on a very long credit. The bargain is at length concluded, the goods are delivered, and the parties separate. All at once the language of these men is suddenly transformed. The seller is rejoicing that he has disposed of his merchandise at so handsome an advance, the buyer that he has received so good an article at so low a price.
2. Idle curiosity gives occasion to a large amount of false speaking. Many persons have an insatiable desire to know all the affairs of their neighbours, their likes and dislikes, their domestic arrangements, their opinions on all matters and of all persons, and thus to worm themselves into the most secret recesses of their confidence. This is commonly done from no malicious design — for such persons are commonly good natured — but from mere childish inquisitiveness. To accomplish our purpose, however, not a little management is necessary, and we are obliged to pretend to know already much of which we are entirely ignorant. This is the first departure from truth. We obtained our knowledge under the injunction of secrecy. But a secret which does not belong to us is not easily kept, for this intense desire to know is always accompanied by an equally intense desire to tell. We must reveal it to our intimate friends; and here is departure from truth the second. Or, again, we may meet with another person as inquisitive as ourselves, in whom we dare not confide, and whose prying curiosity we can elude in no other way than by falsehood or prevarication; here is departure the third. Thus the habit grows upon us.
3. Another frequent occasion for falsehood is found in the fear of speaking or acting at variance with received conventionalities. We express joy when we feel none. We counterfeit sadness when we suffer no sorrow. We use the expressions that are in vogue without any regard to the truthfulness of their application, but merely because we hear them used by others. Many a family has become habitual liars by the daily repetition of these conventional falsehoods. Children know that such language is false, and they must have more than usual virtue if they are not fatally corrupted. But some one will say, To do as you advise, and avoid the errors against which you have cautioned us, would require great care and intense watchfulness in all our conversation. We should be obliged to think before we speak, abandon many of the ordinary topics of discourse, and be content to improve men rather than amuse them. Be it so. In this we shall only follow the examples of better and wiser men. It was the prayer of David, "Set a watch, O Lord, over my mouth; keep the door of my lips." But you will say, To obey these precepts with strictness, to speak nothing but the simple verity, and utter only what God will approve, would render us very peculiar. The world lieth in wickedness, and how can a child of God live in it, and not be peculiar? Wicked men imitate the example of the father of lies; and can we be imitators of the God of truth without being peculiar? Was there ever a being on earth so peculiar as Jesus of Nazareth, the Author and Finisher of our faith? Unless the teachings of Christ exert their effect on our intercourse with our fellow men, what do we more than others? and how shall the world be the better or the wiser for our having lived in it? But, you will say, this is a lesson most difficult to be learned. It requires that we should be always on our guard, watching over ourselves with a vigilance such as we had never imagined. The gospel of Christ has provided for us all needful assistance. The cure must be performed in the inmost spirit, and the Spirit helpeth our infirmities.
Parallel VersesKJV: For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: