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PREACHED AT CHRIST-CHURCH, OXON,
BEFORE THE UNIVERSITY,
OCTOBER 14, 1688.
Lying lips are abomination to the Lord.
I AM very sensible, that by discoursing of lies and falsehood, which I have pitched upon for my present subject, I must needs fall into a very large common place; though yet, not by half so large and common as the practice: nothing in nature being so universally decried, and withal so universally practised, as falsehood. So that most of those things, that have the mightiest and most controlling influence upon the affairs and course of the world, are neither bet ter nor worse than downright lies. For what is common fame, which sounds from all quarters of the world, and resounds back to them again, but generally a loud, rattling, impudent, overbearing lie? What are most of the histories of the world, but lies? lies immortalized, and consigned over as a perpetual abuse and flam upon posterity? What are most of the promises of the world, but lies? of which we need no other proof, but our own experience. And what are most of the oaths in the 317world, but lies? and such as need rather a pardon for being took, than a dispensation from being kept? And lastly, what are all the religions of the world, except Judaism and Christianity, but lies? And even in Christianity itself, are there not those who teach, warrant, and defend lying? and scarce use the Bible for any other purpose, but to swear upon it, and to lie against it?
Thus a mighty, governing lie goes round the world, and has almost banished truth out of it; and so reigning triumphantly in its stead, is the true source of most of those confusions and dire calamities that infest and plague the universe. For look over them all, and you shall find, that the greatest annoyance and disturbance of mankind has been from one of these two things, force or fraud. Of which, as boisterous and violent a thing as force is, yet it rarely achieves any thing considerable, but under the conduct of fraud. Slight of hand has done that, which force of hand could never do.
But why do we speak of hands? It is the tongue that drives the world before it. The tongue, and the lying lip, which there is no fence against: for when that is the weapon, a man may strike where he cannot reach; and a word shall do execution, both further and deeper, than the mightiest blow. For the hand can hardly lift up itself high enough to strike, but it must be seen; so that it warns, while it threatens; but a false, insidious tongue may whisper a He so close and low, that though you have ears to hear, yet you shall not hear; and indeed we generally come to know it, not by hearing, but by feeling what it says.
A man, perhaps, casts his eye this way and that 318way, and looks round about him, to spy out his enemy, and to defend himself; but alas! the fatal mischief, that would trip up his heels, is all the while under them. It works invisibly, and beneath: and the shocks of an earthquake, we know, are much more dreadful, than the highest and loudest blusters of a storm. For there may be some shelter against the violence of the one, but no security against the hollowness of the other; which never opens its bosom, but for a killing embrace. The bowels of the earth in such cases, and the mercies of the false in all, being equally without compassion.
Upon the whole matter, it is hard to assign any one thing, but lying, which God and man so unanimously join in the hatred of; and it is as hard to tell, whether it does a greater dishonour to God, or mischief to man: it is certainly an abomination to both; and I hope to make it appear such in the following discourse. Though I must confess myself very unable to speak to the utmost latitude of this subject; and I thank God that I am so.
Now the words of the text are a plain, entire, categorical proposition; and therefore I shall not go about to darken them by any needless explication, but shall immediately cast the prosecution of them under these three following particulars. As,
I. I shall inquire into the nature of a lie, and the proper essential malignity of all falsehood.
II. I shall shew the pernicious effects of it. And,
III. and lastly, I shall lay before you the rewards and punishments that will certainly attend, or at least follow it.
Every one of which, I suppose, and much more all of them together, will afford arguments, more 319than sufficient, to prove, (though it were no part of holy scripture,) that lying lips are an abomination to the Lord.
And first, for the first of these.
I. What a lie is, and wherein the nature of it does consist. A lie is properly an outward signification of something contrary to, or, at least, beside the inward sense of the mind; so that when one thing is signified or expressed, and the same thing not meant or intended, that is properly a lie.
And forasmuch as God has endued man with a power or faculty to institute or appoint signs of his thoughts; and that, by virtue hereof, he can appoint, not only words, but also things, actions, and gestures to be signs of the inward thoughts and conceptions of his mind, it is evident, that he may as really lie and deceive by actions and gestures, as he can by words; forasmuch as, in the nature of them, they are as capable of being made signs; and consequently of being as much abused and misapplied, as the other: though, for distinction sake, a deceiving by words is commonly called a lie, and a deceiving by actions, gestures, or behaviour, is called simulation, or hypocrisy.
The nature of a lie, therefore, consists in this, that it is a false signification knowingly and voluntarily used; in which the sign expressing is no ways agreeing with the thought or conception of the mind pretended to be thereby expressed. For words signify not immediately and primely things themselves, but the conceptions of the mind concerning things; and therefore, if there be an agreement between our words and our thoughts, we do not speak falsely, though it sometimes so falls out, that 320our words agree not with the things themselves: upon which account, though in so speaking we of fend indeed against truth; yet we offend not properly by falsehood, which is a speaking against our thoughts; but by rashness, which is an affirming or denying, before we have sufficiently informed ourselves of the real and true estate of those things whereof we affirm or deny.
And thus having shewn what a lie is, and where in it does consist, the next consideration is, of the lawfulness or unlawfulness of it. And in this, we have but too sad and scandalous an instance, both of the corruption and weakness of man’s reason, and of the strange bias that it still receives from interest, that such a case as this, both with philosophers and divines, heathens and Christians, should be held disputable.
Plato accounted it lawful for statesmen and governors; and so did Cicero and Plutarch; and the Stoics, as some say, reckoned it amongst the arts and perfections of a wise man, to lie dexterously, in due time and place. And for some of the ancient doctors of the Christian church; such as Origen, Clemens Alexandrinus, Tertullian, Lactantius, and Chrysostom; and generally, all before St. Austin, several passages have fallen from them, that speak but too favourably of this ill thing. So that Paul Layman, a Romish casuist, says, that it is a truth but lately known, and received in the world, that a lie is absolutely sinful and unlawful; I suppose he means, that part of the world, where the scriptures are not read, and where men care not to know what they are not willing to practise.
But then, for the mitigation of what has proceeded 321from these great men, we must take in that known and celebrated division of a lie into those three several kinds of it. As,
1. The pernicious lie, uttered for the hurt or disadvantage of our neighbour.
2. The officious lie, uttered for our own or our neighbour’s advantage: and
3. And lastly, The ludicrous and jocose lie, uttered by way of jest, and only for mirth’s sake, in common converse. Now for the first of these, which is the pernicious lie; it was and is universally condemned by all; but the other two have found some patronage from the writings of those forementioned authors. The reason of which seems to be, that those persons did not estimate the lawfulness or unlawfulness of a lie, from the intrinsic nature of the thing itself, but either from those external effects that it produced, or from those ends to which it was directed; which accordingly as they proved either helpful or hurtful, innocent or offensive, so the lie was reputed either lawful or unlawful. And therefore, since a man was helped by an officious lie, and not hurt by a jocose, both of these came to be esteemed lawful, and in some cases laudable.
But the schoolmen and casuists having too much philosophy to go about to clear a lie from that intrinsic inordination and deviation from right reason inherent in the nature of it, and yet withal unwilling to rob the world, and themselves especially, of so sweet a morsel of liberty, held that a lie was indeed absolutely and universally sinful; but then they held also, that only the pernicious He was a mortal sin, and the other two were only venial. It can be no part of my business here to overthrow this distinction, 322and to shew the nullity of it: which has been solidly and sufficiently done by most of our polemic writers of the protestant church. But at present I shall only take this their concession, that every lie is sinful, and consequently unlawful; and if it be a sin, I shall suppose it already proved to my hands to be, what all sin essentially is and must be, mortal. So that thus far have we gone, and this point have we gained, that it is absolutely and universally unlawful to lie, or to falsify.
Let us now, in the next place, inquire from whence this unlawfulness springs, and upon what it is grounded: to which I answer; that upon the principles of natural reason, the unlawfulness of lying is grounded upon this, that a He is properly a sort or species of injustice, and a violation of the right of that person to whom the false speech is directed: for all speaking, or signification of one’s mind, implies, in the nature of it, an act or address of one man to another: it being evident, that no man, though he does speak false, can be said to lie to himself.
Now to shew what this right is, we must know, that in the beginnings and first establishments of speech, there was an implicit compact amongst men, founded upon common use and consent, that such and such words or voices, actions or gestures, should be means or signs, whereby they would express or convey their thoughts one to another; and that men should be obliged to use them for that purpose; forasmuch as, without such an obligation, those signs could not be effectual for such an end. From which compact there arising an obligation upon every one so to convey his meaning, there accrues 323also a right to every one, by the same signs to judge of the sense or meaning of the person so obliged to express himself: and consequently, if these signs are applied and used by him so as not to signify his meaning, the right of the person, to whom he was obliged so to have done, is hereby violated, and the man, by being deceived, and kept ignorant of his neighbour’s meaning, where he ought to have known it, is so far deprived of the benefit of any intercourse or converse with him.
From hence therefore we see, that the original reason of the unlawfulness of lying or deceiving, is, that it carries with it an act of injustice, and a violation of the right of him, to whom we were obliged to signify or impart our minds, if we spoke to him at all.
But then we must observe also, (which I noted at first,) that as it is in man’s power to institute, not only words, but also things, actions, or gestures, to be the means whereby he would signify and express his mind; so, on the other side, those voices, actions, or gestures, which men have not by any compact agreed to make the instruments of conveying their thoughts one to another, are not the proper instruments of deceiving, so as to denominate the person using them a liar or deceiver, though the person, to whom they are addressed, takes occasion from thence to form in his mind a false apprehension or belief of the thoughts of those, who use such voices, actions, or gestures towards him. I say, in this case, the person using these things cannot be said to deceive; since all deception is a misapplying of those signs, which, by compact or institution, were made 324the means of men’s signifying or conveying their thoughts; but here, a man only does those things, from which another takes occasion to deceive himself: which one consideration will solve most of those difficulties that are usually started on this subject.
But yet this I do and must grant, that though it be not against strict justice or truth for a man to do those things which he might otherwise lawfully do, albeit his neighbour does take occasion from thence to conceive in his mind a false belief, and so to deceive himself; yet Christian charity will, in many cases, restrain a man here too, and prohibit him to use his own right and liberty, where it may turn considerably to his neighbour’s prejudice. For here in is the excellency of charity seen, that the charitable man not only does no evil himself, but that, to the utmost of his power, he also hinders any evil from being done even by another.
And as we have shewn and proved that lying and deceiving stand condemned, upon the principles of natural justice, and the eternal law of right reason; so are the same much more condemned, and that with the sanction of the highest penalties, by the law of Christianity, which is eminently and transcendently called the truth, and the word of truth; and in nothing more surpasses all the doctrines and religions in the world, than in this, that it enjoins the clearest, the openest, and the sincerest dealing, both in words and actions; and is the rigidest exacter of truth in all our behaviour, of any other doc trine or institution whatsoever.
And thus much for the first general thing proposed, 325which was, to inquire into the nature of a lie, and the proper, essential malignity of all falsehood. I proceed now to the
Second, which is to shew the pernicious effects of it. Some of the chief and most remarkable of which are these that follow: as,
First of all, it was this that introduced sin into the world. For how came our first parents to sin, and to lose their primitive innocence? Why, they were deceived, and by the subtilty of the devil brought to believe a lie. And, indeed, deceit is of the very essence and nature of sin, there being no sinful action, but there is a lie wrapt up in the bowels of it. For sin prevails upon the soul by representing that as suitable and desirable, that really is not so. And no man is ever induced to sin, but by a persuasion, that he shall find some good and happiness in it, which he had not before. The wages that sin bargains with the sinner to serve it for, are life, pleasure, and profit; but the wages it pays him with, are death, torment, and destruction. He that would understand the falsehood and deceit of sin throughly, must compare its promises and its payments together.
And as the devil first brought sin into the world by a lie, (being equally the base original of both,) so he still propagates and promotes it by the same. The devil reigns over none but those whom he first deceives. Geographers and historians dividing the habitable world into thirty parts, give us this account of them: that but five of those thirty are Christian; and for the rest, six of them are Jew and Mahometan, and the remaining nineteen perfectly heathen: all which he holds and governs by 326possessing them with a lie, and bewitching them with a false religion: like the moon and the stars, he rules by night; and his kingdom, even in this world, is perfectly a kingdom of darkness. And therefore our Saviour, who came to dethrone the devil and to destroy sin, did it by being the light of the world, and by bearing witness to the truth. For so far as truth gets ground in the world, so far sin loses it. Christ saves the world, by undeceiving it; and sanctifies the will, by first enlightening the understanding.
2. A second effect of lying and falsehood is all that misery and calamity that befalls mankind. For the proof of which, we need go no further than the former consideration: for sorrow being the natural and direct effect of sin, that which first brought sin into the world must by necessary consequence bring in sorrow too. Shame and pain, poverty and sickness, yea, death and hell itself, are all of them but the trophies of those fatal conquests, got by that grand impostor, the devil, over the deluded sons of men. And hardly can any example be produced of a man in extreme misery, who was not one way or other first deceived into it. For have not the greatest slaughters of armies been effected by stratagem? And have not the fairest estates been destroyed by suretyship? In both of which there is a fallacy, and the man is overreached, before he is overthrown.
What betrayed and delivered the poor old prophet into the lion’s mouth, 1 Kings xiii. but the mouth of a false prophet, much the crueller and more remorseless of the two? How came John Huss and Jerome of Prague to be so cruelly and basely used by the council of Constance, those ecclesiastical commissioners 327of the court of Rome? Why, they promised those innocent men a safe conduct, who there upon took them at their word, and accordingly were burnt alive, for trusting a pack of perfidious wretches, who regarded their own word as little as they did God’s.2121 Of which last, see an instance in the 13th session of this council, in which it decrees, with a non-obstante to Christ’s express institution of the blessed eucharist in both kinds, that the contrary custom and practice of receiving it only in one kind ought to be accounted and observed as a law; and that, if the priest should administer it otherwise, he was to be excommunicated.
And how came so many bonfires to be made in Queen Mary’s days? Why, she had abused and deceived her people with lies, promising them the free exercise of their religion before she got into the throne; and when she was once in, she performed her promise to them at the stake. And I know no security we had from seeing the same again in our days, but one or two proclamations forbidding bon fires. Some sort of promises are edged tools, and it is dangerous laying hold on them.
But to pass from hence to fanatic treachery, that is, from one twin to the other; how came such multitudes of our own nation, at the beginning of that monstrous (but still surviving and successful) rebel lion, in the year 1641, to be spunged of their plate and money, their rings and jewels, for the carrying on of the schismatical, dissenting, king-killing cause? Why, next to their own love of being cheated, it was the public, or rather prostitute faith of a company of faithless miscreants that drew them in, and deceived them. And how came so many thousands to fight and die in the same rebellion? Why, they 328were deceived into it, by those spiritual trumpeters who followed them with continual alarms of damnation, if they did not venture life, fortune, and all, in that which wickedly and devilishly those impostors called, the cause of God. So that I myself have heard one say,2222 Colonel Axtell. (whose quarters have since hung about that city where he had been first deceived,) that he, with many more, went to that execrable war with such a controlling horror upon their spirits, from those sermons,2323 He particularly mentioned those of Brooks and Calamy. that they verily believed they should have been accursed by God for ever, if they had not acted their part in that dismal tragedy, and heartily done the devil’s work, being so effectually called and commanded to it in God’s name.
Infinite would it be to pursue all instances of this nature: but, consider those grand agents and lieu tenants of the devil, by whom he scourges and plagues the world under him, to wit, tyrants; and was there ever any tyrant since the creation, who was not also false and perfidious? Do not the bloody and the deceitful man still go hand in hand together, in the language of the scripture? Psalm lv. 23. Was ever any people more cruel, and withal more false, than the Carthaginians? And had not the hypocritical contrivers of the murder of that blessed martyr king Charles the first, their masks and vizards, as well as his executioners?
No man that designs to rob another of his estate or life, will be so impudent or ignorant, as in plain terms to tell him so. But if it be his estate that he drives at, he will dazzle his eyes, and bait him in with the luscious proposal of some gainful purchase, 329some rich match, or advantageous project; till the easy man is caught and hampered; and so, partly by lies, and partly by law-suits together, comes at length to be stripped of all, and brought to a piece of bread, when he can get it. Or if it be a man’s life, that the malice of his enemy seeks after, he will not presently clap his pistol to his breast, or his knife to his throat; but will rather take Absalom for his pattern, who invited his dear brother to a feast, hugged and embraced, courted and caressed him, till he had well dosed his weak head with wine, and his foolish heart with confidence and credulity; and then, in he brings him an old reckoning, and makes him pay it off with his blood. Or, perhaps, the cut throat may rather take his copy from the Parisian massacre; one of the horridest instances of barbarous inhumanity that ever the world saw, but ushered in with all the pretences of amity, and the festival treats of a reconciling marriage, a new and excellent way, no doubt, of proving matrimony a sacrament. But such butchers know what they have to do. They must sooth and allure, before they strike; and the ox must be fed, before he is brought to the slaughter; and the same course must be taken with some sort of asses too.
In a word, I verily believe, that no sad disaster ever yet befell any person or people, nor any villainy or flagitious action was ever yet committed, but upon a due inquiry into the causes of it, it will be found, that a He was first or last the principal engine to effect it: and that, whether pride, lust, or cruelty brought it forth, it was falsehood that begot it; this gave it being, whatsoever other vice might give it birth.330
3. As we have seen how much lying and falsehood disturbs; so, in the next place, we shall see also how it tends utterly to dissolve society. There is no doubt, but all the safety, happiness, and convenience that men enjoy in this life, is from the combination of particular persons into societies or corporations: the cause of which is compact; and the band that knits together and supports all compacts, is truth and faithfulness. So that the soul and spirit that animates and keeps up society, is mutual trust, and the foundation of trust is truth, either known, or at leas t supposed in the persons so trusted.
But now, where fraud and falsehood, like a plague or canker, comes once to invade society, the band, which held together the parts compounding it, presently breaks; and men are thereby put to a loss, where to league, and to fasten their dependences; and so are forced to scatter, and shift every one for himself. Upon which account, every notoriously false person ought to be looked upon and detested, as a public enemy, and to be pursued as a wolf or a mad dog, and a disturber of the common peace and welfare of mankind. There being no particular person whatsoever, but has his private interest concerned and endangered in the mischief that such a wretch does to the public.
For look into great families, and you shall find some one false, paltry talebearer, who, by carrying stories from one to another, shall inflame the minds and discompose the quiet of the whole family. And from families pass to towns or cities; and two or three pragmatical, intriguing, meddling fellows, (men of business some call them,) by the venom of their 331false tongues, shall set the whole neighbourhood together by the ears. Where men practise falsehood, and shew tricks with one another, there will be perpetual suspicions, evil surmisings, doubts, and jealousies, which, by souring the minds of men, are the bane and pest of society. For still society is built upon trust, and trust upon the confidence that men have of one another’s integrity.
And this is so evident, that without trusting, there could not only be no happiness, but indeed no living in this world. For in those very things that minister to the daily necessities of common life, how can any one be assured, that the very meat and drink that he is to take into his body, and the clothes he is to put on, are not poisoned, and made unwholesome for him, before ever they are brought to him. Nay, in some places, (with horror be it spoke,) how can a man be secure in taking the very sacrament itself? For there have been those who have found something in this spiritual food, that has proved very fatal to their bodies, and more than prepared them for another world. I say, how can any one warrant himself in the use of these things against such suspicions, but in the trust he has in the common honesty and truth of men in general, which ought and uses to keep them from such villainies? Nevertheless, know this certainly before hand he cannot, forasmuch as such things have been done, and consequently may be done again. And therefore, as for any infallible assurance to the contrary, he can have none; but, in the great concerns of life and health, every man must be forced to proceed upon trust, there being no knowing the intention of the cook or baker, any more than of the 332priest himself. And yet, if a man should forbear his food, or raiment, or most of his business in the world, till he had science and certainty of the safeness of what he was going about, he must starve, and die disputing; for there is neither eating, nor drinking, nor living by demonstration.
Now this shews the high malignity of fraud and falsehood, that, in the direct and natural course of it, tends to the destruction of common life, by destroying that trust and mutual confidence that men should have in one another; by which the common intercourse of the world must be carried on, and without which, men must first distrust, and then divide, separate, and stand upon their guard, with their hand against every one, and every one’s hand against them.
The felicity of societies and bodies politic consists in this, that all relations in them do regularly discharge their respective duties and offices. Such as are the relation between prince and subject, master and servant, a man and his friend, husband and wife, parent and child, buyer and seller, and the like. But now, where fraud and falsehood take place, there is not one of all these that is not perverted, and that does not, from an help of society, directly become an hinderance. For first, it turns all above us into tyranny and barbarity; and all of the same religion and level with us, into discord and confusion. It is this alone that poisons that sovereign and divine thing called friendship; so that when a man thinks that he leans upon a breast as loving and true to him as his own, he finds that he relies upon a broken reed, that not only basely fails, but also cruelly pierces the hand that rests 333upon it. It is from this, that when a man thinks he has a servant or dependent, an instrument of his affairs, and a defence of his person, he finds a traitor and a Judas, an enemy that eats his bread and lies under his roof; and perhaps readier to do him a mischief and a shrewd turn than an open and professed adversary. And lastly, from this deceit and falsehood it is, that when a man thinks himself matched to one, who, by the laws of God and nature, should be a comfort to him in all conditions, a consort of his cares, and a companion in all his concerns, instead thereof, he finds in his bosom a beast, a serpent, and a devil.
In a word: he that has to do with a liar, knows not where he is, nor what he does, nor with whom he deals. He walks upon bogs and whirlpools; wheresoever he treads he sinks, and converses with a bottomless pit, where it is impossible for him to fix, or to be at any certainty. In fine, he catches at an apple of Sodom, which, though it may entertain his eye with a florid, jolly white and red, yet, upon the touch, it shall fill his hand only with stench and foulness; fair in look and rotten at heart; as the gayest and most taking things and persons in the world generally are.
4. And lastly: deceit and falsehood do, of all other ill qualities, most peculiarly indispose the hearts of men to the impressions of religion. For these are sins perfectly spiritual, and so prepossess the proper seat and place of religion, which is the soul or spirit: and, when that is once filled and taken up with a lie, there will hardly be admission or room for truth. Christianity is known in scripture 334by no name so significantly, as by the simplicity of the gospel.
And if so, does it not look like the greatest paradox and prodigy in nature, for any one to pretend it lawful to equivocate, or lie for it? To face God and outface man, with the sacrament and a lie in one’s mouth together? Can a good intention, or rather a very wicked one, so miscalled, sanctify and transform perjury and hypocrisy into merit and perfection? Or can there be a greater blot cast upon any church or religion (whatsoever it be) than by such a practice? For will not the world be induced to look upon my religion as a lie, if I allow myself to lie for my religion?
The very life and soul of all religion is sincerity. And therefore the good ground, in which alone the immortal seed of the word sprang up to perfection, is said, in St. Luke viii. 15. to have been those that received it into an honest heart, that is, a plain, clear, and well meaning heart; an heart not doubled, nor cast into the various folds and windings of a dodging, shifting hypocrisy. For the truth is, the more spiritual and refined any sin is, the more hardly is the soul cured of it; because the more difficultly convinced. And in all our spiritual maladies, conviction must still begin the cure.
Such sins, indeed, as are acted by the body, do quickly shew and proclaim themselves; and it is no such hard matter to convince or run down a drunkard, or an unclean person, and to stop their mouths, and to answer any pretences that they can allege for their sin. But deceit is such a sin as a Pharisee may be guilty of, and yet stand fair for the reputation 335of zeal and strictness, and a more than ordinary exactness in religion. And though some have been apt to account none sinful, or vicious, but such as wallow in the mire and dirt of gross sensuality, yet, no doubt, deceit, falsehood, and hypocrisy, are more directly contrary to the very essence and design of religion, and carry in them more of the express image and superscription of the devil, than any bodily sins whatsoever. How did that false, fasting, imperious, self-admiring, or rather, self-adoring hypocrite, in St. Luke xviii. 11. crow and insult over the poor publican! God, I thank thee, says he, that I am not like other men; and God forbid, say I, that there should be many others like him, for a glistering outside and a noisome inside, for tithing mint and cummin, and for devouring widows’ houses; that is, for taking ten parts from his neighbour, and putting God off with one. After all which, had this man of merit and mortification been called to account for his ungodly swallow in gorging down the estates of helpless widows and orphans, it is odds, but he would have told you, that it was all for charitable uses, and to afford pensions for spies and proselytes. It being no ordinary piece of spiritual good husbandry, to be charitable at other men’s cost.
But such sons of Abraham, how highly soever they may have the luck to be thought of, are far from being Israelites indeed; for the character that our Saviour gives us of such, in the person of Nathanael, in John i. 47. is, that they are without guile. To be so, I confess, is generally reckoned (of late times especially) a poor, mean, sneaking thing, and the contrary, reputed wit and parts, and fitness for business, as the word is: though I doubt not, but it will 336be one day found, that only honesty and integrity can fit a man for the main business that he was sent into the world for; and that he certainly is the greatest wit, who is wise to salvation.
And thus much for the second general thing proposed, which was, to shew the pernicious effects of lying and falsehood. Come we now to the
Third and last, which is, to lay before you the rewards or punishments that will assuredly attend, or at least follow, this base practice.
I shall mention three: as,
1. An utter loss of all credit and belief with sober and discreet persons; and consequently, of all capacity of being useful in the prime and noblest concerns of life. For there cannot be imagined in nature a more forlorn, useless, and contemptible tool, or more unfit for any thing, than a discovered cheat. And let men rest assured of this, that there will be always some as able to discover and find out deceitful tricks, as others can be to contrive them. For God forbid, that all the wit and cunning of the world should still run on the deceiver’s side; and when such little shifts and shuffling arts come once to be ripped up and laid open, how poorly and wretchedly must that man needs sneak, who finds himself both guilty and baffled too! a knave with out luck is certainly the worst trade in the world. But truth makes the face of that person shine who speaks and owns it: while a lie is like a vizard, that may cover the face indeed, but can never become it; nor yet does it cover it so but that it leaves it open enough for shame. It brands a man with a lasting, indelible character of ignominy and reproach, and that indeed so foul and odious, that those usurping 337hectors, who pretend to honour without religion, think the charge of a lie a blot upon them not to be washed out, but by the blood of him that gives it.
For what place can that man fill in a common wealth, whom nobody will either believe or employ? And no man can be considerable in himself, who has not made himself useful to others: nor can any man be so, who is uncapable of a trust. He is neither fit for counsel or friendship, for service or command, to be in office or in honour, but, like salt that has lost its savour, fit only to rot and perish upon a dunghill.
For no man can rely upon such an one, either with safety to his affairs, or without a slur to his reputation,; since he that trusts a knave has no other recompence, but to be accounted a fool for his pains. And if he trusts himself into ruin and beggary, he falls unpitied, a sacrifice to his own folly and credulity; for he that suffers himself to be imposed upon by a known deceiver, goes partner in the cheat, and deceives himself. He is despised, and laughed at as a soft and easy person, and as unfit to be relied upon for his weakness, as the other can be for his falseness.
It is really a great misery not to know whom to trust, but a much greater to behave one’s self so as not to be trusted. But this is the liar’s lot; he is accounted a pest and a nuisance; a person marked out for infamy and scorn, and abandoned by all men of sense and worth, and such as will not abandon themselves.
2. The second reward or punishment that attends the lying and deceitful person, is the hatred of all 338those whom he either has or would have deceived. I do not say, that a Christian can lawfully hate any one; and yet I affirm, that some may very worthily deserve to be hated; and of all men living, who may or do, the deceiver certainly deserves it most. To which I shall add this one remark further; that though men’s persons ought not to be hated, yet without all peradventure their practices justly may, and particularly that detestable one which we are now speaking of.
For whosoever deceives a man, does not only do all that he can to ruin him, but, which is yet worse, to make him ruin himself; and by causing an error in the great guide of all his actions, his judgment, to cause an error in his choice too; the misguidance of which must naturally engage him in those courses that directly tend to his destruction. Loss of sight is the misery of life, and usually the forerunner of death; when the malefactor comes once to be muffled, and the fatal cloth drawn over his eyes, we know that he is not far from his execution.
And this is so true, that whosoever sees a man who would have beguiled and imposed upon him, by making him believe a lie, he may truly say of that person, That’s the man who would have ruined me, who would have stripped me of the dignity of my nature, and put out the eyes of my reason, to make himself sport with my calamity, my folly, and my dishonour. For so the Philistines used Sampson, and every man in this sad case has enough of Sampson to be his own executioner. Accordingly, if ever it comes to this, that a man can say of his confident, he would have deceived me, he has said enough to annihilate and abolish all pretences 339of friendship. And it is really an intolerable impudence, for any one to offer at the name of friend, after such an attempt. For can there be any thing of friendship in snares, hooks, and trepans? And therefore, whosoever breaks with his friend upon such terms, has enough to warrant him in so doing, both before God and man; and that without incur ring either the guilt of unfaithfulness before the one, or the blemish of inconstancy before the other. For this is not properly to break with a friend, but to discover an enemy, and timely to shake the viper off from one’s hand.
What says the most wise author of that excellent book of Ecclesiasticus, Ecclus. xxii. 21, 22.? Though thou drewest a sword at thy friend, yet despair not: for there may be a returning to favour. If thou hast opened thy mouth against thy friend, fear not; for there may be a reconciliation. That is, an hasty word or an indiscreet action does not presently dissolve the bond, or root out a well-settled habit, but that friendship may be still sound at heart; and so outgrow and wear off these little distempers. But what follows? Except for upbraiding, or disclosing of secrets, or a treacherous wound, (mark that:) for for these things, says he, every friend will depart. And surely it is high time for him to go, when such a devil drives him away. Passion, anger, and unkindness may give a wound that shall bleed and smart, but it is treachery only that makes it fester.
And the reason of the difference is manifest; for hasty words or blows may be only the effects of a sudden passion, during which a man is not perfectly himself: but no man goes about to deceive, or ensnare, 340or circumvent another in a passion; to lay trains, and set traps, and give secret blows in a present huff. No; this is always done with forecast and design with a steady aiming; and a long projecting malice, assisted with all the skill and art of an expert and well-managed hypocrisy; and, perhaps, not without the pharisaical feigned guise of some thing like self-denial and mortification; which are things, in which the whole man, and the whole devil too, are employed, and all the powers and faculties of the mind are exerted and made use of.
But for all these masks and vizards, nothing certainly can be thought of or imagined more base, inhuman, or diabolical, than for one to abuse the generous confidence and hearty freedom of his friend, and to undermine and ruin him in those very concerns, which nothing but too great a respect to, and too good an opinion of the traitor, made the poor man deposit in his hollow and fallacious breast. Such an one, perhaps, thinks to find some support and shelter in my friendship, and I take that opportunity to betray him to his mortal enemies. He comes to me for counsel, and I shew him a trick. He opens his bosom to me, and I stab him to the heart.
These are the practices of the world we live in; especially since the year sixty, the grand epoch of falsehood, as well as debauchery. But God, who is the great guarantee for the peace, order, and good behaviour of mankind, where laws cannot secure it, may, some time or other, think it the concern of his justice and providence too, to revenge the affronts put upon them, by such impudent defiers of both, as neither believe a God, nor ought to be believed by man.341
In the mean time, let such perfidious wretches know, that though they believe a devil no more than they do a God, yet in all this scene of refined treachery, they are really doing the devil’s journeywork, who was a liar and a murderer from the beginning, and therefore a liar, that he might be a murderer: and the truth is, such an one does all towards his brother’s ruin that the devil himself could do. For the devil can but tempt and deceive, and if he cannot destroy a man that way, his power is at an end.
But I cannot dismiss this head without one further note, as very material in the case now before us. Namely, that since this false, wily, doubling disposition of mind is so intolerably mischievous to society, God is sometimes pleased, in mere pity and compassion to men, to give them warning of it, by setting some odd mark upon such Cains. So that, if a man will be but so true to himself, as to observe such persons exactly, he shall generally spy such false lines, and such a sly, treacherous fleer upon their face, that he shall be sure to have a cast of their eye to warn him, before they give him a cast of their nature to betray him. And in such cases, a man may see more and better by another’s eye, than he can by his own.
Let this, therefore, be the second reward of the lying and deceitful person, that he is the object of a just hatred and abhorrence. For as the devil is both a liar himself and the father of liars; so I think, that the same cause, that has drawn the hatred of God and man upon the father, may justly entail it upon his offspring too; and it is pity that such an entail should ever be cut off. But,342
3. And lastly, The last and utmost reward, that shall infallibly reach the fraudulent and deceitful, (as it will all other obstinate and impenitent sinners,) is a final and eternal separation from God, who is truth itself, and with whom no shadow of falsehood can dwell. He that telleth lies, says David, in Psalm ci. 7. shall not tarry in my sight; and if not in the sight of a poor mortal man, (who could sometimes lie himself,) how much less in the presence of the infinite and all-knowing God! A wise and good prince, or governor, will not vouchsafe a liar the countenance of his eye, and much less the privilege of his ear. The Spirit of God seems to write this upon the very gates of heaven, and to state the condition of men’s entrance into glory chiefly upon their veracity. In Psalm xv. 1. Who shall ascend into thy holy hill? says the Psalmist. To which it is answered, in ver. 2. He that worketh righteousness, and that speaketh the truth from his heart.
And, on the other side, how emphatically is hell described in the two last chapters of the Revelation; by being the great receptacle and mansion-house of liars, whom we shall find there ranged with the vilest and most detestable of all sinners, appointed to have their portion in that horrid place, Rev. xxi. 8. The unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: and in Rev. xxii. 15. Without are dogs and sorcerers, &c. and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.
Now let those consider this, whose tongue and heart hold no correspondence: who look upon it as a piece of art and wisdom, and the masterpiece of 343conversation, to overreach and deceive, and make a prey of a credulous and well-meaning honesty. What do such persons think? Are dogs, whoremongers, and sorcerers, such desirable company to take up with for ever? Will the burning lake be found so tolerable? Or will there be any one to drop refreshment upon the false tongue, when it shall be tormented in those flames? Or do they think that God is a liar like themselves, and that no such things shall ever come to pass, but that all these fiery threatenings shall vanish into smoke, and this dreadful sentence blow off without execution? Few certainly can lie to their own hearts so far as to imagine this: but hell is, and must be granted to be, the deceiver’s portion, not only by the judgment of God, but of his own conscience too. And, comparing the malignity of his sin with the nature of the punishment allotted for him, all that can be said of a liar lodged in the very nethermost hell, is this; that if the vengeance of God could prepare any place or condition worse than hell for sinners, hell itself would be too good for him.
And now to sum up all in short; I have shewn what a lie is, and wherein the nature of falsehood does consist; that it is a thing absolutely and intrinsically evil; that it is an act of injustice, and a violation of our neighbour’s right.
And that the vileness of its nature is equalled by the malignity of its effects. It being this that first brought sin into the world, and is since the cause of all those miseries and calamities that disturb it; and further, that it tends utterly to dissolve and over throw society, which is the greatest temporal blessing and support of mankind: and, which is yet worst 344of all, that it has a strange and particular efficacy, above all other sins, to indispose the heart to religion.
And lastly, that it is as dreadful in its punishments, as it has been pernicious in its effects. Forasmuch as it deprives a man of all credit and belief, and consequently, of all capacity of being useful in any station or condition of life whatsoever; and next, that it draws upon him the just and universal hatred and abhorrence of all men here; and finally, subjects him to the wrath of God and eternal dam nation hereafter.
And now, if none of all these considerations can recommend and endear truth to the words and practices of men, and work upon their double hearts, so far as to convince and make them sensible of the baseness of the sin, and greatness of the guilt, that fraud and falsehood leaves upon the soul; let them lie and cheat on, till they receive a fuller and more effectual conviction of all these things, in that place of torment and confusion, prepared for the devil and his angels, and all his lying retinue, by the decree and sentence of that God, who, in his threatenings as well as in his promises, will be true to his word, and cannot lie.
To whom be rendered and ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and dominion, both now and for evermore. Amen.345
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