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The Nature and Evil of Lying.
Ephe. iv. 25. Wherefore putting away lying, fpeak every man truth with his neighbour ; for we are members one of another.
PERHAPS no virtue in the whole fyftem of morality has had greater encomiums bestowed upon it, than the speaking of truth; and none with ftri&ter juftice has been subjected to ignominy, difgrace and contempt, more than the oppofite vice. For lying, however much it may be practised in the world, is reckoned a very base and dishonorable fin, even by the most of finners themselves. Its odious and detestable evil feems to be impreffed upon the minds of men even by the light of nature. The deluded Mahometans, whatever indul gence they grant to other vices, hold this in the utmost ab. horrence. They often reproach the chriftians with it; and if any thing wearing the complexion of falfehood be attribu ted to them, they very pertly reply, "Do you think me a "chriftian?" What a fore reflection is this upon our holy
religion-But whatever may be the wicked, deceitful and abominable conduct of fome, who bear the christian name, it is an abfolute certainty that christianity every where reprobates this vice, and ftamps it with marks of the utmost bafe nefs and abhorrence. Many heathen nations have enacted laws, with the feverest punishments against this inftance of criminality. Many of their laws were formed to enjoin upon parents the importance of educating their children in speaking the truth. Truth comprehends in it a multitude of the cardinal virtues, such as juftice, honefty, fincerity, integrity, goodnefs, love of the happiness of society, &c. So lying involves in it a train of the contrary vices, injustice, dishonesty, meanness, dishonor, hatred of mankind, and almost every thing injurious to communities, and all focial intercourse.
Nothing ftrange then that the apoftle under the influence of divine infpiration, fhould warn chriftians against the latter, and zealously exhort them to the practice of the former, as he does in the words of our text. "Wherefore putting away lying, "speak every man the truth with his neighbour; for we are ❝ members one of another." The word neighbour here muft -be taken in the enlarged latitude explained by our Lord, extending to the whole family of mankind, every individual of every tribe, nation or language with whom we have any intercourse, communication or dealings. The words exprefly contain in them three things, an injunction to speak the truth, a command to avoid falsehood, and a reason enforcing the propriety of thus conducting ourselves in all our converfa tion with our fellow men. To this method your attention is invited in the enfuing difcourfe. Wherefore we fhall endeavour,
First, to enquire, what it is to speak the truth. «Speak "every man the truth with his neighbour."
Secondly, what lying is and the evil of it. "Put away "lying."
Thirdly, give fome reasons and directions against this fin of lying, and in favour of speaking the truth. "For we are "members one of another."
Firft, we fhall briefly enquire what it is to fpeak the truth; "Speak every man the truth with his neighbour."
Truth contains in its nature an intrinfic beauty, fomething excellent, amiable and praife worthy, independent of all laws and external rules, therefore ought to be admired, loved, and practifed for its own fake. On the other hand, a lye comprehends in its very nature moral turpitude and bafenefs, and therefore ought to be avoided for its odiousness, and abhorred for its own vilenefs. But it is not my purpose to treat either of this virtue or vice in an abstract or metaphysical way. This would not, in my apprehenfion tend much to the edification of a common chriftian affembly. Neither would it be proper for me to follow the writers of moral fyftems upon this fubject, and explain to you what they mean by logical and phy fical as diftinguifhed from moral truth. Phyfical truth is nothing but expreffing the reality of the existence of things as they ftand in our conceptions, or in the view of our judgments. Logical truth is the agreement of our words with the reality of things, whatever may be the intention of mind. A perfon may speak that which is true, when he does not intend it. His declaration is verified in fact. His words and the reality of the thing perfectly correfpond, yet thro' ignorance or wilfulaefs he had a purpose to deceive. But moral truth is that
which is recommended in our text and claims our confideration at this time.
Moral truth is the agreement of our words and minds, And when our expreffions are adapted to inform those with whom we speak, with a real intention of communicating to them the knowledge of things as they are in our own minds, without any defign to deceive, this is moral truth. The words, mind and intention of the heart, when they all correspond, the perfon can never be faid to lye; even, tho' in this, he may fpeak that which is not true. He may honefly commit a mistake, utter an error, and not be guilty of falfehood. It may be said fuch a person ought to have been better informed before he spoke ; this is readily granted, yet he delivers what he conceives and believes to be true, and has no defign of deception, therefore he does not lye. Perhaps, it may be a fin in him not to have his understanding better enlightened, but while his words agree to his mind and judgment, however mistaken or erroneous he may be, he has not committed the fin of lying. There are many who are filed heretics, who teach doctrines that are not true, yet they are never denomi nated liars. Thro' the imperfection of human nature, in our daily converfe with men, we are often retailing matters which are unfounded, but we believe them to be true and have no intention of deceit, therefore all that can be faid in thofe cafes, we were misinformed or mistaken. Truth is a declaration of things as they really exift as far as we know and understand, with a fincere purpose of heart to give juft information to those with whom we converfe. We often speak of matters we do not perfectly understand, and it is duty to do fo; but when we communicate the knowledge we have, that is all that is required of us in the maintaining of truth. When we fay, we think, believe, or judge a thing to be fuch, all we do in this cafe is delivering our own thoughts, opinions, or judgment, and whe
ther the matter be true or falfe, while we have no intention of deceit, we cannot be faid to lye.
Having thus attempted to defcribe the nature of truth, there are various inquiries arife upon the difcuffion of this fubject.
It will be here inquired, are we bound to speak the truth to all who afk us? To which it is answered, we are bound never to lye. But inftead of being bound to speak the truth to all who afk us, in many cafes, we are not under obligation to speak at all. And filence is often the best reproof for impertinent queftions. And when it is deemed expedient to make fome anfwer to querifts, it may be couched in fuch language confiftent with truth as will afford no certain information. David was guilty of no fin when he feigned himself mad before the enemies of his nation, but a wife ftratagem which it was his duty to employ in those circumftances. Thus our Lord made ufe of a pretence on a certain occafion. "They drew nigh "unto a village whither they went, and he made as tho' he "would have gone farther." This concealment of our Saviour's purpose, in pretending to go farther than he defigned, was not finful, but a lawful pretence, to try the friendship, affection and hofpitality of his difciples, and to awaken their im portunity for his tarrying with them. So phyficians may ufe various and innocent pretences with their patients to induce them to take medicine to heal their difeafes. Thus weakminded perfons and children may be induced to do things for their good, which otherwife they would not, by a kind of charitable guile, which can never be termed fin.
It will be further asked, are we obliged at all times to tell the whole truth?—At certain feasons, and when we are pro perly called thereto, this becomes an indifpenfable duty. But at times a concealment of the whole is fit and right.