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obvious meaning was this, " You depend on the lying predictions of your false prophets, who promise you success in this favorite expedition: It is vain for me to contradict them; for you will not believe me. Go, and try the issue: See whether God will prosper you
But though such figures are innocent, when they are introduced with propriety, yet care should be taken, that they are never used in such a time or manner, as to be the occasions of deception. In stating this matter, let it be again observed,
A man may, in some cases, be guilty of lying, though he speaks no more than what is strictly and literally true. If, for instance, he expresses the truth with an air of irony, so that the hearers will naturally suppose he means the contrary; or if he divulges a truth, which he was previously bound to conceal; or if he affirms that, which he really thinks to be false, though it should ultimately be verified in fact; in such cases he is manifestly chargeable with a criminal prevarication. Having stated the nature of lying, we proceed,
2. To mention some particular cases, in which men are guilty of it.
Now the grossest kind of lying is perjury, or speaking a known falsehood under the awful solemnity of an oath. This is a degree of wickedness, to which few will venture, until they have been accustomed to the lower kinds of profanity and falsehood. The crime is greater in proportion to the magnitude and importance of the case in which it is admitted. Perjury in itself is a horrible crime, as it is a contempt of God's power and justice, and a trampling on the sacredness of truth; but when it is so used as to endanger the property liberty, reputation, or life of a fellow citizen, its criminality is horribly augmented. It is then a shocking complication of falsehood, impiety, unrighteousness and cruelty.
Men violate truth, when they affix to words an arbitrary meaning, or make, in their own minds, certain secret reservations, with a design to disguise facts, and deceive the hearers. It is custom only that gives words and signs their currency. They have just so much value, as the authority of common usage has stamped upon them. And he who attempts to deceive another by departing from the usual signification of words, is just as guilty, as if he had used any other words with the same deceitful intention.
When we express doubtful matters in terms, and with an air of assurance, we may materially injure as well as grossly deceive our neighbor. We never ought to report for certain the things which we have received only from vulgar fame-from a strangerfrom men of doubtful veracity-from those, who, though otherwise of good character, yet, in that case, are known to be under a violent prejudice. Of matters thus circumstanced we should speak doubtfully, or state our authority, or, which is usually better than either, say nothing at all.
Men are guilty of wanton and malicious falsehood, when they repeat, with romantic additions, and fictitious embellishments, the stories which they have heard of a neighbor, that thus they may excite against him the severer ridicule, or cast on his character a darker stain, or turn to merriment his godly actions, or his innocent peculiarities. If no more than the gratification of a vein of humor is intended, the fiction is far less criminal. But even here there is guilt and danger; there is a departure from that simplicity, which ought to guide our conversation; and mischief may ensue, of which we are not aware; an innocent neighbor may be materially injured; and a habit acquired in smaller matters may lead to grosser violations of truth.
Men may utter a falsehood by the tone of their voice, while their words are literally true. Language is imperfect; we have not a distinct word for every
though; we express much by our emphasis and air. You think, perhaps, that you keep near enough to truth, if you repeat the words, which you heard from another; but you may as effectually belie him by a different manner of speaking, as by different sentences. There are those who make, as well as speak a lie.
Having mentioned some of the ways, in which men violate truth, we will,
3. Consider several distinct cases, in which we are bound to speak truth with our neighbor.
We must preserve truth in our common and familjar conversation. This is chiefly intended in the text. Precepts similar to this often occur in the sacred writings. "Lie not one to another, seeing ye have put off the old man with his deeds."-" Whatsoever things are true, think on these things."-" He who shall enter into God's holy hill, is one who speaketh the truth in his heart." When friends and neighbors sit in the social circle, the conversation will often turn upon matters which seem to be of little consequence; But whatever may be the subject, their speech should be with grace, seasoned with salt; their conversation should be with simplicity and sincerity: However indifferent the subject may be, a habit of trifling with truth cannot be indifferent. Things which appear small in themselves, may be great in their effects. Trivial misrepresentations, jocular falsehoods and fictitious news, may painfully disquiet honest minds, and incurably break the peace of neighborhoods.
We must speak truth in our commerce with one another. The Apostle says, "Let no man go beyond, or defraud his brother in any matter." The prophet mentions this as an evidence of the prodigious corruption of the Jewish nation, that "they bent their tongues, like their bows, for lies"--that "every brother would utterly supplant, and they would deceive every one his neighbor"-" that they had taught their tongues to speak lies, and wearied themselves to com
mit iniquity; and when one spake peaceably to his neighbor, he, in his heart, laid wait for him.” Somuch deception was practised among them, that the prophet says, "Take heed every man of his neighbor, and trust ye not in any brother." Falsehood in deal ing soon destroys mutual confidence; and when confidence is lost, society must disband.
In giving public testimony, we must be careful, as on the one hand, to say nothing but the truth, so, on the other, to conceal no part of the truth, which relates to the matter under examination. A partial and a false representation of facts may equally operate to the perversion of justice. And if, through our prevarication, wrong judgment proceeds, we are answerable for the
We must adhere to truth, when we speak of men's actions or characters. "Speak evil of no man," says the Apostle. This precept, however, must be understood with some limitation. We may have occasion to speak the evil, which we know of another, either in our own vindication, or for the security of our friends. But when no good end is to be obtained, the evil which we know, ought not to be disclosed. Private expostulation and admonition are all that duty demands. If occasion calls us to speak, we must say no more than truth will justify, and the occasion requires. We are not to speak evil of another, on doubtful evidence, or uncertain hearsay. It is one part of the description of a good man, that "he backbiteth not with his tongue, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbor." We should consider, that the ill report may come from his enemy, or from a prejudiced person-that there may be some mistake in the story, or some circumstance added or omitted, which gives the whole affair a false complexion. If we give a new spring to the rumor, we know not how far it will run, nor what a form it may assume, in passing from one to another. When ence it is gone from us, it immediately flies out of our
reach. It is not in our power to recal it back, to check its progress, or to correct its falsehoods.
It is a precept in the law of Moses, "Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people." Much mischief is done in neighborhoods by those of ficious tattlers, who carry from house to house intelligence of what one person has said of another. Inadvertant things are sometimes spoken, which had no ill design, and are not worthy of a repetition. If they are repeated, they usually assume an aspect, and acquire a magnitude, of which the person who first spoke them had no idea. Had they remained, as they fell from his lips, no harm would have been done, as none was intended. But now, changed by the talebearer, they have perhaps given an offence, which cannot be removed. The whisperer who revealeth secrets, and the talebearer who circulates domestic intelligence, often separates the nearest friends.
Once more: We must observe truth in our promises.
Truth obliges us, first, to promise nothing different from our intention, or exceeding our ability; and, then, to perform our promise according to the mutual intention and understanding of the parties. Providential adversity may, for the present, suspend, but does not absolutely cancel the obligation to perform our promise. With returning ability, the obligation revives. No promise can bind us to an action in itself unlawful. If we have brought ourselves into such an embarrassment, we are to extricate ourselves by repenting of our criminal rashness. But personal incon venience, or the prospect of advantage will not exempt us from our obligations. It is the character of the upright man, that, if he swears to his own hurt, he chang
II. What we proposed in the second place, was to shew, that a regard to truth is a necessary part of the