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THE ninth commandment is connected with every one of the four which precede it. For neither the duties of superiors and inferiors, nor those amongst equals, could be tolerably practised; neither the lives of men, nor their happiness in the nearest relation of life, nor their possessions and properties, could ever be secure; if they were left exposed to those injuries of a licentious tongue, which are here prohibited. This commandment therefore was intended, partly to strengthen the foregoing ones; and partly also, to make prov for every person's just character on its own


unt, as well as for the sake of conseFor, independently on these, we have by nature (and with reason) a great concern about our reputations. And therefore the precept, Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour, is, in all views, of much importance.

The crime, at which these words principally and most expressly point, is giving false evidence in any cause or trial. And as, in such cases, evidence hath always been given upon oath; this commandment, so far, is the same with the third: only there, perjury is forbidden, as impiety against God; here, as injurious to men. Now we are guilty of this sin, if,

in bearing witness, we affirm that we know or believe any thing, which we do not; or deny that we know or believe any thing which we do; or either affirm or deny more positively, than we have good grounds. Nay, if we only stifle, by our silence, any fact, which is material, though we are not examined particularly about it; still when we have sworn in general to speak the whole truth, we bear false witness, if we designedly avoid it; especially after being asked, if we are able to say any thing besides, relative to the point in question. For hiding the truth may as totally mislead those who are to judge, as telling an untruth. Indeed, if by any means whatever we disguise the real state of the case, instead of relating it in the fairest and plainest manner that we can we evidently transgress the intent of this commandment. And by doing it, the good name, the property, the livelihood, the life of an innocent person, may be taken away; the advantages of society defeated, nay, perverted into mischiefs, and the very bonds of it dissolved. Therefore the rule of the Mosaic law is: If a false witness rise up against any man, and testify against his brother that which is wrong; then shall ye do unto him, as he had thought to have done unto his brother, and thine eye shall not pity*. With us, indeed, the punishment extends not so far. But however mild such persons may find the penalties of human laws to be, or how artfully soever they may evade them; God hath declared, A false witness shall not be unpunished: and he that speaketh lies shall not escape†.

The commandment saith only, that we shall not bear false witness against our neighbour: but in effect it binds us equally not to bear false witness for

* Deut. xix. 16-21.

+ Prov. xix. 5.

him. For in all trials of property, bearing witness for one party is bearing witness against the other. And in all trials for crimes, false evidence, to the advantage of the person accused, is to the disadvantage and ruin of right and truth, of public safety and peace; by concealing and encouraging what ought to be detected and punished.

It being thus criminal to bear false witness; it must be criminal also to draw persons into the commission of so great a sin, by gifts, or promises, or threatenings, or any other method. And, in its degree, it must be criminal to bring a false accusation, or false action, against any one; or to make any sort of demand, for which there is no reasonable ground.

Nay further, however favourably persons are apt to think of the defendant's side; yet to defend ourselves against justice, or even to delay it by unfair methods, is very wicked. For it ought to take place; and the sooner the better. Still, both the professors of the law, and others, may unquestionably say and do, for a doubtful or a bad cause, whatever can be said with truth, or done with equity: for otherwise it might be thought still worse than it is; and treated worse than it deserves. But if they do, in any cause, what in reason ought not to be done; if they use or suggest indirect methods of defeating the intent of the law; if by false colours and glosses, by terrifying or confounding witnesses, by calumniating or ridiculing the adverse party, they endeavour to make justice itself an instrument for patronizing injustice; this is turning judgement into gall, as the Scripture expresses it, and the fruit of righteousness into hemlock*.

Amos vi. 12.

But in a still higher degree is it so, if judges or jurymen are influenced, in giving their sentence or verdict, by interest, relation, friendship, hatred, compassion, party; by any thing, but the nature of the case, as it fairly appears to them. For designedly making a false determination, is completing all the mischief, which bearing false witness only attempts. And, in a word, whoever any way promotes what is wrong, or obstructs what is right, partakes in the same sin be it either of the parties, their evidences or agents; be it the highest magistrate, or the lowest officer.

But persons may break this commandment, not only in judicial proceedings; but often full as grievously, in common discourse: by raising, spreading, or countenancing false reports against others; or such, as they have no sufficient cause to think true; which is the case, in part at least, of most reports: by misrepresenting their circumstances in the world to their prejudice; or speaking without foundation, to the disadvantage of their persons, understandings, accomplishments, temper, or conduct; whether charging them with faults and imperfections, which do not belong to them; or taking from them good qualities and recommendations, which do; or aggravating the former, or diminishing the latter: determining their characters from a single bad action or two; fixing ill names on things, which are really virtuous or innocent in them; imputing their laudable behaviour to blameable or worthless motives; making no allowance for the depravity or weakness of human nature, strength of temptation, want of instruction, wicked insinuations, vicious examples. And in all these ways, persons may be injured, either by open public assertions; or more dangerously perhaps, by


secret whispers, which they have no opportunity of contradicting. The scandal may be accompanied with strong expressions of hoping it is not true, or being very sorry for it; and warn declarations of great good will to the party, whom it concerns: all which may serve only to give it a more unsuspected credit. Nay, it may be conveyed very effectually in dark hints, expressive gestures, or even affected silence. And these, as they may be equally mischievous, are not less wicked, for being more cowardly and more artful, methods of defamation.

Further yet: speaking or intimating things to any person's disadvantage, though they be true, is seldom innocent. For it usually proceeds from bad principles: revenge, envy, malice, pride, censoriousness; unfair zeal for some private or party interest; or at best, from a desire of appearing to know more than others, or mere impertinent fondness of talking. Now these are wretched motives for publishing what will be hurtful to one of our brethren. Sometimes indeed bad characters and bad actions ought to be known: but much oftener not, or not to all the world, or not by our means. And we have need to be very careful from what inducements we act in such a case. Sometimes again things are known already; or soon will be known, let us be ever so silent about them and then, to be sure, we are at more liberty. But even then, to take a pleasure in relating the faults of others is by no means right. And to reveal them, when they can be hid, unless a very considerable reason require it, is extremely wrong.

Indeed we should be cautious, not only what harm, but what good we say of others. For speaking too highly of their characters or circumstances, or praising them in any respect beyond truth, is

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