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PROVERBS XII. 22.
Lying lips are abomination to the Lord: but they,
that deal truly, are his delight. As the advantages, derived to mankind from the superior power, which we enjoy, of communicating our thoughts one to another, are very great; so the perversion of it to wrong uses is very pernicious. And no perversion of it can be so complete, as when we employ it, instead of informing others to deceive them. Now, of the more importance it is, that we should not be guilty of this crime, the more necessary it must be that we should know, wherein it consists, and how insufficient the pleas are, which in some circumstances have been made in its favour. Therefore I began to discourse on the subject of our obligation to truth by shewing,
I. What things are, and are not, breaches of it.
II. What breaches are unwarrantably by some persons thought justifiable.
And under this latter head, I first proved, that Scripture enjoins veracity, without authorizing any exceptions, and that indeed it is, in its own nature, a duty independently of consequences: then I confuted or counterbalanced the good effects ascribed to the violation of it in several particular cases : and lastly, intimated the general danger to which they who depart from it, expose themselves, and tempt others, of running on from one liberty to another, till at
length they venture to say, and afterwards to do, any thing, which they imagine will contribute to a good end: a practice productive of such dreadful eyils, that I must enlarge upon it somewhat further.
Things, which every one allows to be good, no one needs to be cheated into. And where opinions differ, neither God nor man hath given us a right to bring over others into our own by falsehood: and on what foundation then can we take such a step? I may think, perhaps, that this or that thing would be for the benefit of the world, or of such a part of it, or individual in it. But this no more empowers me to use fraud, than to use force, for accomplishing it. Another person may think, at the same time, a different or a contrary thing beneficial: and
have as high an esteem of his own judgment, as I have of mine. If then I may employ deceit to serve my purpose, why not he to serve his ? Now what can this end in, but the ruin of all integrity, and all confidence, amongst men ? And what good can there be in view, that bears any proportion to such a calamity.
But some argue: Our opposers will certainly use falsehoods for their bad ends: if therefore we do not use it for our good ones, they have a plain advantage over us; and we shall be undone, for want of turning their own weapons against them. Now if this were the case; it would only be the case of suffering for truth, which is suffering for God: and hereafter, at least, no one will be a loser by that. But indeed, at present, upon the whole, the contrary is the case. If your opposers have recourse to unfair arts, detect those arts in them, and abstain from them yourselves : and whatever difficulties you may be under, for a time, in the conclusion all will come out well. A
lying tongue is but for a moment: but the lip of truth shall be established for ever*. Uprightness, with only common prudence, will not fail to get the better at length: and the reason, why we experience it no oftener, is indeed that we try it so seldom. In the midst of our complaints, we do the very things, of which we complain. This is no combat of fair dealing against unfair, but of craft against craft: and perhaps our own artifices contribute more, than those of our adversaries, towards the loss of our
For the surest way of missing our aim is to sink in our credit. Therefore let the end, that we propose, be ever so good, it is neither right nor wise to use falsehoods for attaining it.
But, in fact, the ends proposed to be served by this method, fall usually very far short of being near so good, as they are pretended to be. Some blameable gratification, some worldly interest, some party point, the promotion of some bad or doubtful cause, is the thing which people, on such occasions, have at heart, however studiously they disguise their aims to others, and, if possible, to themselves. These are the
purposes, for which truth is to be depressed, imposture countenanced; some considered as too weak, others as too wicked, to be treated with common honesty. And thus every one, who can but think hardly enough of those, from whom he differs, sets himself at liberty to speak to them, or of them, as insincerely as ever he will. And if he may venture upon
false assertions; he will be apt to think, why not upon false oaths ?
false oaths ? And, if for the service of the public or his friends, why not for his own? How shocking a state of things would this introduce ! Hear the Prophets description of it: They bend their
# Prov. xii. 19.
tongues, like their bow, for lies; but they are not raliant for the truth upon the carth: for they proceed from evil to evil, and they know not me, saith the Lord. Take ye heed every one of his neighbour ; and trust ye not in any brother : for every brother will utterly supplant, and every neighbour will walk with slanders. And they will deceive every one his neighbour, and will not speak the truth: they have taught their tongue to speak lies, they weary themselves to commit iniquity. Thine habitation is in the midst of deceit: through deceit they refuse to know me, saith the Lord*.
Nay further yet, if persons may falsify and perjure, where shall they stop? It will be said, why not purloin, why not rob, why not murder, to serve a good purpose, that is, a convenient one, for others, or themselves ? Each liberty taken leads on, by a plain high road, to a greater : and observe, I intreat you, what a figure they make together in the word of God. By swearing, and lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery, they break out, and blood toucheth blood. Therefore shall the land mourn, and every one that dwelleth therein shall languisht.
But could we restrain the advocates for falsehood, and their disciples, to this offence only, and even to the seemingly more innocent sorts of it: yet real religion, real virtue, the real happiness of mankind, I believe have never on the whole been served by such arts : and seldom, if ever, hath it been designed that they should. Superstition indeed, and enthusiasm, have been greatly promoted by them: and infidelity not a little. For the lies framed in favour of religion have strangely discredited the truths urged in favour of it. And besides, as some have thought Jer. ix. 3-6.
+ Hos. iv. 2, 3.
it useful, and therefore allowable, to affirm whatever would conduce to the propagation of orthodox belief: others, on the same principle, have thought it as allowable to do the same thing for the propagation of unbelief. And, as the former have counted nothing too bad to be reported of those, whom they deemed the enemies of the faith : so the latter have thought scarce any thing, either too opprobrious to be said, or too improbable to be swallowed, in relation to the teachers and advocates of it. One side exclaims against religious, the other against irreligious, frauds; and so far as either are committed, both are in the right: but both lamentably overlook the obvious rule; that neither shall impute them unjustly, and neither be guilty of them at all. The mischiefs of the falsehoods invented to decry revelation are as plain, as, (what surely admits no doubt) its importance to the outward tranquillity, the inward peace, the present, the future welfare of men. And the sinfulness of falsehoods to support it, cannot be more strongly expressed, than in the words of Job: Hear now my reasonings, and hearken to the pleadings of my lips. Will ye speak wickedly for God, and talk deceitfully for him 2-Is it good, that Ile should search you out ? or as one man mocketh anos ther, do ye so mock him ?-Shall not his excellency make you afraid, and his dread fall upon you* ?
Thus far I have spoken concerning the lies, which to some have seemed lawful. And now I proceed to speak
III. Of such, as too many are apt to account excusable.
They own them to be in strictness faulty: but extenuate the fault in their imagination, till it comes
* Job xüï, 6, 7. 9. 11,