Deuteronomy 5:20

We prefer the arrangement which regards the fifth commandment as the last of the first table - honor to parents being viewed as honor to God in his human representatives.

I. PARENTS STAND TO THEIR CHILDREN IN THE RELATION OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE DIVINE. They represent God as the source of their offspring's life; they have a share of God's authority, and ought to exercise it; but much more ought they to represent God to their children in his unwearied beneficence, his tender care, his exalted rectitude, his forgiving love. With what intelligence or comfort can a child be taught to think of a Father in heaven, if its earthly parent is wanting in dignity, kindness, truthfulness, or integrity? How many fathers are thus spoiling for their children their whole conceptions of God! And with what anxiety and care should earthly parents study to leave such an impression on their children's minds as will make the idea of God delightful and consolatory to them, while inspiring them towards him with proper feelings of reverence!

II. PARENTS ON THIS ACCOUNT ARE TO BE HONORED BY THEIR CHILDREN. They are to be regarded with affection, treated with respect and deference, promptly and cheerfully obeyed, and, where needful, liberally supported (Matthew 15:4-7; 1 Timothy 5:8). Even the failure of parents to do all their duty to their children does not exonerate the children from the obligation of treating them with respect. Young people need to be reminded that failure in this duty is peculiarly offensive to God. We are told that when Tiyo Soga visited this country, a particular thing which astonished him was the deficiency in respect for parents compared with the obedience which prevailed in the wilds of Kaffraria.

III. THE HONORING OF PARENTS HAS ATTACHED TO IT A PECULIAR PROMISE. Length of days and prosperity. The promise is primarily national, but it has fulfillments in individuals.

1. A special blessing rests on the man who shows his parents due respect. That has often been remarked.

2. There is also a natural connection between the virtue and the promise. Respect for parents is the root at once of reverence for God and of respect for the rights of others. Hence the place of the commandment in the Decalogue. It engenders self-respect, and forms the will to habits of obedience. It is favorable to the stability, good order, and general morals of society. It therefore conduces to health, longevity, and a diffusion of the comforts of life, furnishing alike the outward and the inward conditions necessary for success. - J.O.

Neither shalt thou bear false witness.
I will speak first of the negative part of this commandment; secondly, of the affirmative. Under the former are forbidden these two things: first, more largely all evil speaking that may be any ways hurtful to our neighbours; and then more particularly all evil speaking that tends to the hurt of our neighbours, with respect either to their lives or goods, or good name, especially the last, which is more eminently concerned in this commandment. First, more generally all the abuses of the tongue are here forbidden; all evil speaking that may any ways prove hurtful to others. Nay, those words and speeches which are unprofitable are forbid by this commandment, for these in some kind are hurtful to others. Thus far the tongue offends against the souls of our neighbours. Secondly, more particularly here is forbid that evil speaking which is hurtful to the bodies, estates, and good names of our brethren. Hitherto I have spoken of that injury which is done to our neighbours by words in our common converse; now I proceed to speak of the injury done by them in public courts of judicature. For bearing false witness is either judicial, when a man is called to speak the truth publicly; or extra judicial, between man and man in a more private manner. David complained that false witnesses did rise up, and laid to his charge things that he knew not (Psalm 35:11). The Jewish priests sought false witnesses against Jesus to put Him to death (Matthew 26:59). And at last came two false witnesses (ver. 60). And their particular accusation is set down in the next verse. We read that the Jews set up false witnesses against Stephen, who said, "This man ceases not to speak blasphemous words against this holy place and the law" (Acts 6:15). This is a great sin, and the rather because witnesses in judicial courts are under the obligation of an oath to deliver the truth, on which account they involve themselves in the guilt of perjury. Not only witnesses, but all that have business in public courts, and appertain to the law, are nearly concerned in this commandment. Thus I have treated of the several faults and miscarriages of the tongue that are comprised under this commandment. It remains now that I offer the reasons why we should regulate these disorders, and that I prescribe the method how this may be effected. Under the first, I will do these two things. First, in general show why we should redress the abuses of the tongue. Secondly, why more particularly that abuse of it which consists in lying and slandering. As to the former of these, the reasonableness of it will appear from these ensuing particulars. First, on the tongue hangs the greatest good. "What man is he that desireth life, and loveth many days, that he may see good? Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile (Psalm 34:12, 13). Secondly, because it is the source of so many and so great evils (James 3:6). Thirdly, we are to answer at the last day for our words as well as our actions (Matthew 12:36, 37). In the next place, more particularly I am to give the reasons why we should refrain from lying and slandering. I will speak distinctly of both. First, there are very great reasons why we should abstain from telling of lies; they are such as these:

1. We are to do it by virtue of the Divine precept, "Keep thee from a false matter" (Exodus 23:7). This is, be not. any ways accessory or assisting in promoting or that which is false, but abstain from it, and show thy dislike of it.

2. It is base and ignoble to tell a lie.

3. It is clearly against the use and ends of speech.

4. It is odious to God.

5. It is abominated by men.

6. It is the work of the devil.My next task is to show how and by what means we may restrain the abuses of the tongue. First, we must avoid too much speaking, and use ourselves to silence and reservedness. In the multitude of words there wants not sin (Proverbs 10:19). Therefore here we ought to restrain ourselves, and to utter things with deliberation. Secondly, we are to look to our hearts, and to keep them with all diligence; for the tongue follows the motion of the heart, and our words are the product of our inward disposition. Thirdly, to cure most of the maladies of the tongue, be careful that you be not busybodies in other men's matters. Fourthly, avoid excess in drink, and the company of those that are addicted to that vice. For such persons generally have no guard on their tongues. When the wine inflames the company, then this wildfire flies about. Fifthly, avoid passion, the drunkenness of the mind. None offend more with their tongues than the angry and choleric. Wherefore the remedy against the evil of the tongue prescribed by St. James is meekness (chap. 3, ver. James 3:13). Hitherto I have mentioned those abuses of the tongue which are directly forbid in this part of the Decalogue. Now I shall take notice of that which may be reduced to it, and that is unlawful censuring and judging of our neighbours. For I go upon that rule which I grounded on Christ's exposition of the commandments, namely, that the inward acts of the mind which have reference to the external acts of sin forbid in these commandments are also here forbid. Judging of our neighbours is a disposition of mind that prepares the way for bearing false witness against them, for making use of our tongues to their hurt. Wherefore it is remarkable that speaking evil of our brother, and judging our brother, are coupled together (James 4:11). This latter, then, is at least condemned in this commandment, it being an inward witnessing of the mind, and so is a false testimony borne against our brethren. Judging others is unlawful either in respect of the matter or the manner of this judging. As to the matter or objects. First, it is unlawful to judge peremptorily of our neighbours from their former actions, and what they themselves once were. Secondly, as we must not rashly judge of men from their actions before their conversion, so not altogether from those after it. For we are to remember that the best men are not free from their frailties and infirmities. Thirdly, judge not of the secret thoughts of men. This is a prerogative that God only can claim. Men's hearts are sometimes better than their lives, and therefore this should check us in our judging of them. Fourthly, judge not men for things indifferent. Not for any opinion or practice disagreeing from ours in matters of that nature. Fifthly, judge not from common accidents and events, such as worldly crosses, poverty, disgrace, sickness, and diseases. Judge not from these concerning the guilt of any person. As we have little reason to think our own state good, because it is prosperous, so we have as little to censure and condemn another's because it is calamitous. Sixthly, judge not of the future and eternal state of any, nor of the decrees of God concerning them. Thus far as to the matter or object of our judging. Next, as to the manner or principle and motive, it is unlawful in any case to judge and censure our neighbours on weak and insufficient grounds. As first, on surmises and conjectures. Secondly, all judging of others is unlawful that is grounded on bare reports and flying rumours. Common fame hath been a liar, and therefore she must not be trusted. Thirdly, that judging and censuring is very blamable that proceeds from prejudice and prepossession. And again, judging of others is unlawful when the person that exercises this severity is guilty of the same errors and miscarriages which he condemns in them (Romans 2:1). Hitherto of the negative part of this commandment; now for the affirmative. First, this commandment obliges us to use our tongues, to bear witness with them. It is not an indifferent thing whether we speak or not. For speech distinguishes us from dumb animals, and therefore we act contrary to our nature if we imitate those mute creatures and affect to be speechless. We know that reason and religion bid us employ that useful member which God hath furnished us with, and they acquaint us that it is a sin to do otherwise. Secondly, it is required by this commandment that we make use of our speech for good and useful purposes. Though we differ from brutes as to speech, yet if we speak without reason the difference is but little between them and us. For barely to speak is no excellency of itself. To form and pronounce certain words is not denied to parrots and some other birds. Wherefore there must be something else to commend the gift of speaking, and that is reason Thirdly, it is more particularly enjoined here that we speak truth, and thereby edify our brethren. The virtue opposite to lying is truth. The duty that is opposed to bearing false witness is bearing true witness. In two cases more especially we should be very careful of speaking what is true. First, in religious matters. Secondly, when we converse with children and young people. Thirdly, this commandment requires us to preserve and maintain, as much as in us lies, the good name of our neighbours. This doth not imply that we should take no notice of the faults that are in them, or that we should praise the bad, and commend those whom we know to be such, and so make no distinction between light and darkness, good and evil. But the duty is, that we seek not out for occasion to speak ill of others: that as we observe what is faulty in them, and reprove them for it, so we take notice of what is really commendable, and applaud it.

( J. Edwards, D. D..)

This is the ninth word of the law, and you will observe that all these words were not only spoken by God, but also derive their authority from the nature of God. The announcement "I am Jehovah" might be made before every one of them. If the question were asked, Why should we not lie? why ought we to tell the truth? the answer would be that lying is not only a moral injury to the man himself, and to society, but also contrary to the nature of God, who is true in Himself and in all His works. A man may injure his neighbour not only by crimes, but also by words, by a false testimony, by slander, by backbiting. And unless he be right in his relations to men, he cannot be right in his relations to God. The tree as it grows must receive nourishment and support from the earth in which it is planted, from the air that plays through its branches, from the dew and the rain that come down upon it; but it also receives help from the sun that is millions of miles away from it, and that sends his vivifying beams to the leaves and to the trunk and to the very roots. And man finds himself in this world sustaining divers relations; relations to the family, to society, to the state, and higher than all, and more important than all, to God. And so closely linked together are all these relations, that he cannot do wrong in his relations to men without doing wrong in his relations to God. You cannot strike the link that binds you to your fellow man without touching the link that binds you to God.

I. WHAT DOES IT FORBID? It forbids perjury, as the Third Commandment does; but there it is prohibited as a dishonour to God, and here it is prohibited as an injury to our neighbour. This word forbids all wilful and malicious damage to a neighbour's reputation. It forbids censoriousness, suspiciousness, the hasty and erroneous judgment of character. The man who has a beam in his own eye is, strange to say, quick to detect the mote in his brother's eye. There are many things to be considered in judging character. The man's natural temperament, his training, his education, his circumstances, these are to be considered. God takes them all into account, and there is many a poor fellow picking oakum in prison who is not so guilty in God's sight as some magistrates on the bench. This word of the law forbids all harmful conversation about others. It has been said that you need not mind your own business, as there are very many who will mind it for you. There are "busybodies" now, as in the apostle's time, who go from house to house to publish the last piece of scandal. A story grows like a snowball; swells like a cairn, when every passer-by is adding a stone to the heap. "The words of a tale bearer are as wounds; and they go down into the innermost parts." It is an easy thing to find fault; for there is nothing perfect among men. Every character is defective; every Christian work is defective; and just as I have torn to pieces many a sermon I have written, to begin again, so much of our Christian work might be torn to pieces, in order to begin again. It is so easy, therefore, to find fault. There is an old fable to this effect, that Jupiter loaded a man with two wallets — the one filled with his own vices, being slung at his back; the other, heavy with his neighbour's faults, being hung in front, so that he always saw the latter, and seldom or never saw the former.

II. CONSIDER SOME OF THE REASONS WHY WE SHOULD OBEY THIS LAW. I have already said that as it is given by the true God, the God of truth, this is the supreme and all-sufficient reason for us. But there are other considerations which are also important. For example, let us remember the value of a good name; it is "rather to be chosen than great riches." A good character is better than property, better than fame, better than life. Regard it as a sacred thing, and do not injure it. And let us, remember, also, our relations to our fellow men. "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour." A ruler asked Jesus, "Who is my neighbour?" and He replied in the parable of the Good Samaritan. The word "neighbour" means, I suppose, nigh-boor, the boor or countryman who is nigh. But Christ gave to the word a much deeper and broader significance. Help the weak, and you will be a neighbour to him; relieve the needy, and you will be a neighbour to him; bind up the wounds of the poor sufferer, and you will be a neighbour to him. Show that your religion means love, neighbourliness; and then not only your neighbour's life and property, but his good name also, will be sacred in your sight. Look upon your neighbour as your brother, inheriting the same nature, beset by the same infirmities, defiled by the same sin, exposed to the same suffering, at last finding a grave in the same earth.

(James Owen.)

This appears, perhaps, only to forbid a false oath in a court of justice to the prejudice of a fellow creature, but in reality it comprehends and prohibits every sort of injury which the tongue of one man can do to the character of another. The most atrocious of these is clearly that which seems to have been more particularly in the contemplation of the legislator, the solemn affirmation before a magistrate of what we know to be untrue to the injury of another. The next degree of guilt in the violation of this commandment is that of him who affirms in private life what he knows to be false with an intention of wounding the reputation of his neighbour. The injury done to the person defamed is often as grievous as what he would have received from a false testimony in a court of justice; his character, his livelihood perhaps, which frequently depends on that character, are the sacrifice. A third offender against this commandment is he who repeats to the detriment of another reports which he has picked up in conversation, not indeed knowing them to be false, but which he might reasonably presume to be so, or which at least he does not know to be true, nor indeed is he solicitous about the truth of them. He thinks he has a right to repeat them. Supposing that he had, is such a repetition generous? is it doing as he would wish others to do by him? But he is deceived in the matter of right; he can have none to affirm anything which may injure the character of another, of the truth of which he is not absolutely certain. Another kind of evil speaking by which this commandment is transgressed, and the reputation of our neighbour injured, is the fixing on him in general terms a bad character; calling him, for example, covetous, proud, foolish, or hypocritical, assigning to him any ill propensity in the gross, without mentioning any particular instances of it. Another mode of gratifying his passion, which the calumniator practises, is by miscalling good qualities, or attributing them, and the actions which arise from them, to bad or interested motives. Now, he who is guilty of this is eminently a slanderer, since he asserts a thing to my prejudice of the truth of which he must be doubtful; for how can any other person possibly know my heart? A fourth slanderer, and perhaps the most pernicious of all, vents his calumnies under the disguise of benevolence; and with an affectation of candour, pretending to vindicate those whom he has heard, or feigns that he has heard, attacked, overwhelms them with the deeper obloquy. I have still further to observe that there are scandalous ears as well as scandalous tongues, and that he who encourages such kind of conversation, by greedily and with pleasure listening to it, who, though he does not concur, shows plainly how much he delights in it; who, by artful questions and affected doubts, draws on the calumniator to launch out and to expatiate, is scarcely less guilty than the person whose vice he thus fosters, and manifests that lie approves. I shall now proceed to point out the chief motives by which men who are guilty of this odious vice are actuated, and in so doing evince its wickedness.

1. The destroyer of character is, I think, most commonly actuated by pride; it so happens that from the desire of distinction, which in a greater or less degree is felt by all men, we have established in our own mind a sort of competition for it with everyone around us we are desirous of surpassing, or at least of having the fame of surpassing, them in whatever excellences fall within our sphere.

2. A second root of scandal and detraction is envy. This is very similar in its nature to the species of pride above-mentioned, but yet it is not quite the same; it is even still more hateful.

3. A third origin of this vice is malice; we have received from our neighbour some real or imaginary injury, which has provoked our dislike of him; perhaps it is not in our power to avenge ourselves any other way, or not in our idea to an adequate degree, we therefore commence an attack on his character, vilify and abuse him on all occasions, disparaging his merits, and aggravating his failings whenever we have opportunity.

4. I will just mention one other ground of scandal, and that is vanity. If the esteem of his fellow creatures he of any value in his eyes, let him remember that he of all others stands the least chance of possessing it; the inventor of slander, the propagator of calumny, is the object of universal contempt and abhorrence.

(G. Haggitt, M. A.)

I. AS FAR AS WE CAN WE MUST PRESERVE A GOOD OPINION OF OUR NEIGHBOUR IN OUR HEARTS. And therefore these three things fall evidently under the censure of this commandment.

1. A censorious disposition.

2. Rash judging.

3. A willingness to hear of the fault of others. Which three are so connected together that there is no dividing them.

II. The other duty required by this commandment is, THAT ACCORDING TO OUR POWER WE DO MAINTAIN HIS CHARACTER IN THE WORLD. And so these three other things fall also under the censure of this commandment.

1. Going about to lessen the real attainments of our neighbour, which is detraction.

2. Laying a charge against him that does not belong to him, which is slander.

3. Discovering his real faults needlessly, which is evil speaking.

III. From this account YOU MAY SEE WHAT AN ENEMY YOUR TONGUE IS TO YOUR SOUL, and what a perverse nature there is within you to set on fire your tongue.

1. Above all things in the world pray for a new heart. The chief transgressions of this commandment are within; and you know also it is out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.

2. Enjoin this upon yourself, never to speak of the faults of others unless absolutely obliged to it.

(S. Walker, B. A.)


1. Our endeavouring to promote truth in all we say or do, and that, as to what either concerns ourselves or others. As to what concerns ourselves, we are to fence against everything that savours of deceit or hypocrisy, and in our whole conversation endeavour to be what we pretend to be.

2. This commandment obliges us to endeavour to promote our own and our neighbour's good name.(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 anything but what we engage in with a good conscience and the fear of God.(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.

II. 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. 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 backbiting or slandering.

III. To consider it as FORBIDDING OUR DOING THAT WHICH IS INJURIOUS TO OUR NEIGHBOUR'S GOOD NAME, EITHER BY WORDS OR ACTIONS; and this is done two ways — either before his face or behind his back.

1. Doing injury to another, by speaking against him before his face. It is true, we give him hereby the liberty of vindicating himself. Nevertheless, if the thing be false which is alleged against him, proceeding from malice and envy, it is a crime of a very heinous nature. Sometimes that which is the highest ornament and greatest excellency of a Christian is turned to his reproach. This sin is attended with many aggravations; for God reckons it as a contempt cast on Himself.

2. The injury that is done to others by speaking against them behind their backs. This they are guilty of who raise or invent false reports of their neighbours. This is done in various ways.(1) By pretending that a person is guilty of a fault which he is innocent of.(2) By divulging a real fault which has been acknowledged and repented of, and therefore ought to be concealed; or when there is no pretence for making it public, but what arises from malice and hatred of the person.(3) By aggravating or representing faults worse than they are.(4) By reporting the bad actions of men, and at the same time overlooking and extenuating their good ones, and so not doing them the justice of setting one in the balance against the other.(5) By putting the worst and most injurious construction on actions that are really excellent.(6) By reporting things to the prejudice of others, which are grounded on such slender evidence that they themselves hardly believe them, or at least would not, had they not a design to make use thereof, to defame them.

(Thomas Ridglet, D. D.)

We may frequently observe that men who would abhor the thought of violating the property of another by direct methods of oppression will nevertheless invade the characters of others with defamation, and destroy a reputation without remorse.


1. The highest degree of guilt forbidden by this law of God is false testimony in a literal sense, or deliberate and solemn perjury in a court of justice, by which the life of an innocent man is taken away, the rightful owner stripped of his possessions, or an oppressor supported in his usurpations.

2. He that attacks the reputation of another by calumny is doubtless, according to the malignity of the report, chargeable with the breach of this commandment. To invent a defamatory falsehood, to rack the invention for the sake of disguising it with circumstances of probability, and propagate it industriously till it becomes popular and takes root in the minds of men, is such a continued act of malice as nothing can palliate. Neither is the first author only of a calumny a false witness against his neighbour, but he likewise that disseminates and promotes it, since without his assistance it would perish as soon as it is produced, would evaporate in the air without effect, and hurt none but him that uttered it. It may happen, indeed, that a calumny may be supported by such testimony, and connected with such probabilities as may deceive the circumspect and just; and the reporter in such cases is by no means to be charged with bearing false witness; because to believe and disbelieve is not in our power; for there is a certain degree of evidence to which a man cannot but yield. He, therefore, who is deceived himself cannot be accused of deceiving others, and is only so far blamable as he contributed to the dishonour or prejudice of another by spreading his faults without any just occasion or lawful cause. There is another occasion made use of by which, if this fault should escape from censure, many others might enjoy the same advantage. It is urged by some that they do not adopt the tale till it is generally received, and only promote what they cannot hinder. But how must wickedness he controlled if its prevalence be a reason for compliance?

3. There is yet another way by which we may partake, in some measure, of the sin of bearing false witness. That he who does not hinder the commission of a crime involves himself in the guilt cannot be denied; and that his guilt is yet more flagrant if, instead of obstructing he encourages it, is equally evident. He therefore, that receives a calumny with applause, or listens to it with silent approbation, must be at least chargeable with conniving at wrong, which will be found no trivial accusation when we have considered —

II. THE ENORMITY OF THE SIN OF BEARING FALSE WITNESS. The malignity of an offence arises either from the motives that prompted it or the consequences produced by it. If we examine the sin of calumny by this rule we shall find both the motives and consequences of the worst kind.

1. The most usual incitement to defamation is envy, or impatience of the merit or success of others; a malice raised not by any injury received, but merely by the sight of that happiness which we cannot attain. This is a passion of all others the most hurtful and contemptible; it is pride complicated with laziness; pride which inclines us to wish ourselves upon the level with others, and laziness which hinders us from pursuing our inclinations with vigour and assiduity. Calumnies are sometimes the offspring of resentment. When a man is opposed in a design which he cannot justify, and defeated in the prosecution of schemes of tyranny, extortion, or oppression, he seldom fails to revenge his overthrow by blackening that integrity which effected it. No rage is more fierce than that of a villain disappointed of those advantages which he has pursued by a long train of wickedness, lie has forfeited the esteem of mankind, he has burdened his conscience and hazarded his future happiness to no purpose, and has now nothing to hope but the satisfaction of involving those who have broken his measures in misfortunes and disgrace. By wretches like these it is no wonder if the vilest arts of detraction are practised without scruple, since both their resentment and their interest direct them to depress those whose influence and authority will be employed against them. But what can be said of those who, without being impelled by any violence of passion, without having received any injury or provocation, and without any motives of interest, vilify the deserving and the worthless without distinction, and, merely to gratify the levity of temper and incontinence of tongue, throw out aspersions equally dangerous with those of virulence and enmity?

2. The consequences of this crime, whatever be the inducement to commit it, are equally pernicious. He that attacks the reputation of another invades the most valuable part of his property, and perhaps the only part which he can call his own. Calumny can take away what is out of the reach of tyranny and usurpation, and what may enable the sufferer to repair the injuries received from the hand of oppression. The persecutions of power may injure the fortune of a good man, but those of calumny must complete his ruin. Calumny differs from most other injuries in this dreadful circumstance. He who commits it never can repair it. A false report may spread where a recantation never reaches; and an accusation must certainly fly taster than a defence, while the greater part of mankind are base and wicked. The effects of a false report cannot be determined or circumscribed. It may check a hero in his attempts for the promotion of the happiness of his country, or a saint in his endeavours for the propagation of truth.

III. WHAT REFLECTIONS MAY BEST ENABLE ITS TO AVOID IT? The way to avoid effects is to avoid the causes. Whoever, therefore, would not be tempted to bear false witness must endeavour to suppress those passions which may incite him to it. Let the envious man consider that by detracting from the character of others he in reality adds nothing to his own; and the malicious man, that nothing is more inconsistent with every law of God and institution of men than implacability and revenge. If men would spend more time in examining their own lives, and inspecting their own characters, they would have less leisure and less inclination to remark with severity upon others. They would easily discover that it will not be to their advantage to exasperate their neighbour, and that a scandalous falsehood may be easily revenged by a reproachful truth.

(S. Johnson, LL. D.)

"Beyond our life, our spouse, our temporal possessions we have another treasure, i.e. honour and a good reputation, therefore God wills that we should not rob our neighbour of good name, forbearance, justice." — Luther. The world is false. "He who seeks faithfulness may kindle a light in clear day and yet scarcely find it." Honour is a precious possession — it is before gold. Thus God takes it under His protection and says, "Thou shalt not bear false witness," etc. To make the meaning clear we shall ask and answer three questions.


1. People generally think of bearing witness in a court of justice. In this view a judge may be a false witness when, like Pilate, he knowingly condemned the innocent, etc. The accused, like Achan. It is bearing false witness for one to conceal the truth, and to deny it, even when force is used. Even the smallest village may furnish examples of the truth that false witness bearing from hate, goodwill to others, or self-interest never brought blessing, but sooner or later brought the Divine judgment.

2. But false witnessing is not confined to the courts of justice — in the home and in the street and field it finds place — nor even when evident lying is practised. A false word from a false heart, and a true word from a false heart are both false witnessing. Liars are false witnesses, — how many a strife have they raised! The betrayer is a false witness. We are not to be silent concerning evil, however — to hide mischief "in order to preserve peace." This is to betray righteousness. But those who betray secrets which can be kept with good conscience; who pry into their neighbour's concerns in order with malicious glee to spread abroad any supposed weakness, etc.; those who under the guise of friendship creep into the confidence of men and betray them to the unfriendly — these are traitors whose evil report remaineth, e.g., Judas. They are false witnesses also who take up an evil reproach against their neighbour (Psalm 15:2); so, too, are backbiters. Against open liars men can defend themselves, but not against the sneaking backbiter, who ends with his hypocritical — "but I don't want it to be known more widely," etc. Words spoken in innocence are wrested so that they seem criminal, etc. "Honey is in their mouth, but gall in their heart." Every word from a false heart, be it blame or praise, etc., is false witness; and "a false witness shall not remain unpunished."


1. God has so ordered that lying in the long run never comes to good. Slander does not live long, and even at the worst, if there is no justice for you on earth, there is in heaven. We must ever seek to speak good of our neighbour. "There would be no thieves if there were no receivers," so there would be no slanderers if there were no listeners. "The slanderer has the devil in his tongue," said Luther; "and he who listens has him in his ear." Show to a slanderer a deaf ear, a reproachful look, a closed door, and if you cannot escape him, then you must not be silent. If he has the heart to slander your friend you must nave the heart to censure his lies," etc. "Honour and a good name are easily injured;" therefore so speak to the injurer of another's reputation until he blush with shame, and if the slanderer speaks truth, then seek if possible to put forward something praiseworthy in him who is slandered.

2. True, there are things that are evil, godless, etc., and they must be called by their right names, and hypocrites, wolves in sheep's clothing, must not be spared.

3. There are, however, sometimes actions and words which are difficult to class. And there are men who have two sides to their characters. Then we must remember, "love bears all, believes all things, hopes all things, etc.

4. If all were so to act, if each were a faithful Jonathan, or Ahimelech, or Gamaliel, then Doegs and Ahithophels and Judases would fail. But — the slanderer lurks in all our hearts — we don't need to seek Pharisees in Jerusalem only. Therefore —


1. The tongue is ruled by the heart. The mouth will give utterance to righteousness if the heart is righteous. "From a good root comes good fruit." Silence is an art which many do not learn during a long life. "Make a grave of thine ears, and close it up until duty compels thee to speak," says Luther.

2. If you will speak, then watch your words. "A word spoken is like an arrow shot from the bow" — who can outdistance it? who recall it? There are no harmless lies. Even what is stated from amiability (e.g., when an indolent or unfaithful servant is testified to as faithful, diligent, etc.), but which is not consonant with truth, is false witness-bearing.

3. Rash judgments of others often lead to false witnessing. "Don't do to others," etc. Readiness to believe what is said to another's harm is also a species of this transgression. When Luther stood before his accusers he almost fainted after much speaking, and Duke Erich sent him a refreshing draught in a silver cup, with the injunction to refresh himself. Anxious friends whispered that the Duke was his enemy, and that there might be poison in the draught. But Luther drank it and gave thanks, saying, "As Duke Erich has remembered me now, so may God remember him in the last hour."

4. Do not speak bitterly of one who was once your friend. Although he has failed you, do not become his enemy.

5. It may be a duty sometimes to say something hard of one in whose presence you stand in order to save an innocent or inexperienced person from danger. Then ask first: "Dare I say before this man's face what I would say of him behind his back?" and then do it clearly and unshrinkingly. Our Redeemer, a John, a Paul, are our examples.

6. Above all, covet the honour of having this said of you: "This man means what he says." Blessed is he whom the Searcher of hearts sees to be a Nathanael (John 1:47).

(K. H. Caspari.)

Cast into the mould of changeless instinct, the ant of today is not wiser than the ant in Solomon's time, which has not improved the architecture of those mansions into which at all times it has garnered its stores. The bee of this century is no more skilful than the famous bees of Hymettus, and has made no improvement in the form and beauty of its cells. The beaver of our times constructs his habitation on the same plan as of yore. But man is the exception to this changeless and otherwise universal law. The beggar may become a millionaire, the peasant a prince, the private soldier a commander of armies, the fool a philosopher, the sinner a saint. This desire and this capacity are everywhere recognised. Civil government offers to the best citizens its largest immunities and highest honours. In Jehovah's moral government full recognition is given to man's ability to rise to greatness. We are commanded to "covet the best gifts." The scholar may aspire to all knowledge, the man of business to all attainable wealth, the citizen to the highest stations in life, and all to the noblest achievements, to the widest influence, and to the most honourable distinctions. Such aspirations have been realised in the past, and may be in all time to come. The desire for this preeminence is an evil when it is gratified in defiance of God and of human rights. From such a heart God is excluded: the shrine is selfishness; the idol is self. When supreme this desire has given birth to a brood of the most devilish passions. Vanity begets hypocrisy; price, haughtiness; jealousy, hatred; envy, murder. Some men attain to greatness, but it is the greatness of infamy. When this desire is gratified by the sacrifice of principle to policy, of character for reputation, it is highly censurable. Two things are dear to mankind — character and reputation. If a man has a right to life, liberty, and property, he has also a right to his character, and every injury done thereto is an infringement of a natural right and a crime against society. Character is what a man is, in his present intellectual, social, and moral condition. Character is the wealth of the soul, the only wealth of which some are ever possessed. It is the most substantial possession for this life and the life to come. Gold cannot purchase it. It comes to the individual in compliance with the requisitions of law and by the assistance of those gracious influences which descend from heaven. Many a man is bad today, having degenerated from original innocence and a high state of purity, because he did not resist the assaults upon his personal character. Reputation may be lost and regained, but to restore character is the work of God. There may be a beautiful correlation between the public estimation of a citizen and what he is in all the depth and breadth of his being. Character and reputation should go hand in hand and present a proximity closer than the proposition and demonstration of a geometrician; but it is too often true that a citizen wrongfully estimated by the public is the favourite of heaven; while, on the other hand, he may be reprobated by heaven and yet held in high esteem by his fellow men. In a general sense, reputation is public opinion, and may be good or bad, true or false. If true and good it is the source of wealth, honour, and happiness. To succeed in any of the pursuits of life, the individual must be in repute both for capability and honour. The mechanic must be in repute for skill in his handicraft; known among his fellow craftsmen as one deft in any given form of mechanism. All can readily see the financial value of reputation. To blast that reputation is to rob a man, and the chief difference between a robber and a slanderer is that sometimes you can find the stolen property on the robber, but never on the slanderer. How much of human happiness there is in what we call reputation! It is the joy of most men to be held in esteem by their friends and neighbours, for fame men have sacrificed everything. All men sigh for recognition. It is born with our birth; it grows with our years. If these are acceptable facts, confirmed by our experience and observation and recognised by law, human and Divine, then what anathema is too terrible to pronounce upon him who deliberately ruins the fair fame of another, or what punishment is too great to decree against him? How despicable the man who, whether for wealth, position, or glory, seeks to rise upon the ruins of another, whose prospects he has blighted, whose peace he has ruined, whose fame he has tarnished! Were defamation to become a universal custom, what a blow it would be to the very foundations of society! What would become of families, of friendships, of communities, if every failing should be proclaimed upon the housetop? What are the compensations to men who gain preeminence by such despicable means? They may attain to glory. All this is bewitching; but let us behold the troubled life of him who has thus attained to honour. What disquietude of soul; what sensitiveness to every report; what anxiety is excited by every change of public sentiment; what servility of soul to the great, what hypocritical smiles to constituents, what self-degradation before mankind! Whether defamation is by tongue or pen, it is forbidden by the organic law that flashed its authority amid the thunders of Mount Sinai. All evil speaking may not be slander. It is proper, when the ends of justice are to be subserved, to bear testimony against crimes, for he who conceals a crime renders himself party to the offence. It is within reason to give publicity to the faults of others in self-defence, as when an innocent person is wrongfully accused and the guilty party is not suspected. At all times the innocent man has a right to vindicate himself. It is not evil speaking to caution the innocent against the wiles and wicked intentions of the bad. It is both justice and charity. Nor is violence done to law and justice when allusion is made to the evil acts of another, when such have been made known either by the offender himself or by the providence of God. Yet such allusions should be tempered with pity and discretion, and not made with hatred and pleasure. But this liberty of speech is carried to excess and abused when general conclusions are drawn from a single evil act. No one act is the fair exponent of any mail's character. A single illiberal act does not prove a man covetous, any more than one act of charity proves him to be beneficent. In the treatment of human actions what a world of difference there is between candour and calumny! When a man relieves a beggar in the streets candour would ascribe it to a generous emotion, but calumny to vanity of ostentation. When a man stops short in a career of prosperity and resigns himself to the mercy of his creditors, candour pleads the cruelty of misfortune, but calumny whispers of midnight excesses, habitual licentiousness, extravagant dissipations. Where candour hesitates, calumny assumes the tone of authority. When the former demands investigation and proof, the latter gives confident decisions. Candour suspends judgment for more light, calumny draws conclusions and thunders invectives. When candour is for checking the malicious report, calumny opens its brazen throat and gives to it publicity, calling upon the wings of the wind to spread it abroad. Candour demands hesitation at two points, when the merit of an action is disguised by the uncertainty of evidence and the ambiguity of its complexion when the accused has the right to the benefit of the doubt. And candour hesitates in assigning a motive for actions, for motives are hid by the veil of impenetrable secrecy. Candour never insinuates. "Charity thinketh no evil." Half-truths and false truths are slanders. A half-truth is one side of a question, and may be the bad side. Facts are false when out of their logical and historical connection. Facts should balance each other, and should be expressive of the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Some natures are too deep to be understood. Some natures are transparent, some translucent, some opaque. There are those so constituted that they cannot manifest themselves, and so go through the world misunderstood and misrepresented. Many a man is unknown beyond the circle of his family and immediate friends. Chief among the sources of slander is malice. A man succeeds in business, in art, in war, in professional life, and when his success is beyond question some detracting reason is assigned for his success. Nobler impulses would ascribe that success to genius. And what an abuse of the holy mission of language is the violation of this Divine law of fame! It is a law of our being that the words we utter excite in others corresponding emotions. Familiarity with wrong diminishes our abhorrence thereof. Speak an unkind word against a man, and it will open a fountain of hatred against you; speak kindly of an enemy, and his enmity is slain.

(J. P. Newman, D. D.)

I. THE SIMPLE INTENTION OF THE COMMANDMENT. It demands truth in the statement, directly or indirectly made, by man to man, concerning man. The intercourse of men with each other is to depend upon actual facts of character, conduct, and capability.


1. By false evidence given in courts of justice.

2. By the lie invented and distributed with malicious intention.

3. By repetition of some report without careful investigation.

4. By a hint, a suggestion, or an adroit question. Stigma has been cast upon many a fair reputation by such a question as, "Have you heard about Mr.—?" The answer being given in the negative, the questioner says, "Ah, well, the least said soonest mended." Nothing further can be drawn from him, but an unfavourable impression has been created, and the innuendo had all the deceiving effect of false witness.

5. By silence.

6. By the imputation of ulterior, selfish, or sordid motive. "Ah, yes; he knows what he is doing." "The gift was only a sprat to catch a mackerel." "He knows what side his bread is buttered on."

7. By flattery. To utter unwarranted praise, to give a testimonial of character, or to recommend a man simply out of friendship for him, while we know him to be unworthy of the testimony we bear, is to inflict injury upon the person to whom he is thus recommended.


1. This sin is terribly prevalent among individuals today. It would be a somewhat startling revelation if records could be taken of all the conversations at afternoon teas, Dorcas meetings, and all those institutions at which women do congregate. There is no doubt that men are also guilty of much wrong-doing in this way, but it seems a peculiarly, favourite form of iniquity among women.

2. Nations and societies, as well as individuals, may be guilty of the sin of false witness. It seems today the perpetual habit of certain sections of the Press to impute motives to foreign nations, and for politicians to heap contumely and abuse on their opponents. Half the unrest in Europe may be said to be due to false witness borne by one nation against another through the Press.

(G. Campbell Morgan.)

What is the remedy for all this evil? Is it not to cultivate sedulously within ourselves certain good and wholesome principles of thinking and speaking which will be our best safeguard against the sin of bearing false witness?

1. Let us maintain the precious habit of accuracy of speech. "Accuracy," said Davison, "is of the noble family of the truth." Let us guard ourselves at all times against exaggeration or diminution of the truth. When we speak, let us say the thing as it is.

2. Let us seek that generous and kindly spirit that believes good rather than evil of a neighbour. It is, happily, possible to reach the habit of kindly thought, of generous tolerance and charitable belief; and just as the atmosphere on the higher Alps is too pure for poisonous microbes to live in it, so this habit will generate in our heart and life an atmosphere in which all that is uncharitable and bitter and base and false will utterly perish.

3. Lot us remember the great principle, that the more we differ from a man or a politician or a church, the more anxiously and scrupulously should we seek to be fair and just in all our estimates and judgments of him.

4. Let us never forget that all men, howsoever much they may differ from us, are our neighbours, are our brothers, and in the light of this great brotherhood, this larger and nobler kinship, only realised perfectly in Christ, let us interpret this command.

(G. S. Barrett, D. D.)

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