Thursday, October 25, 2012

"Honesty and the Ninth Commandment"

Honesty is such a lonely word.
Everyone is so untrue.
Honesty is hardly ever heard.
And mostly what I need from you.
___Billy Joel

Billy Joel is searching for some honesty. All he wants is someone to believe. Don't we all? Or do we sometimes just want someone to tell us what we want to hear? Are we all too eager to hear promises that only confirm again what we want to hear, whether it is true or not?  Billy Joel has heard the empty promise before, and wants none of it:

I can always find someone
to say they sympathize.
If I wear my heart out on my sleeve.
But I don't want some pretty face
to tell me pretty lies.

In the art of persuasion, how often do we misrepresent the truth in overt or subtle ways. This phenomenon seems to become pandemic during election seasons.

The ninth commandment reads simply, "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor." (Exodus 20:16 and Deuteronomy 5:20). Some concise lists of the 10 Commandments just say, "Do not lie." The Westminster Larger Catechism explains the deeper meaning and implications of this commandment in light of the "whole counsel of God" in the Bible.   

This is the text of the catechism's treatment of the ninth commandment. For ease of reading, I have not included references to the many scripture proof texts here. For study purposes, it would be good to obtain a copy of the Westminster Confession of Faith with Catechisms that has footnotes for all the scripture references. Some editions have the proof texts themselves printed out below the catechism questions.

Q. 143. Which is the ninth commandment?
A. The ninth commandment is, Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.

Q. 144. What are the duties required in the ninth commandment?
A. The duties required in the ninth commandment are, the preserving and promoting of truth between man and man, and the good name of our neighbour, as well as our own; __appearing and standing for the truth; and from the heart, sincerely, freely, clearly, and fully, speaking the truth, and only the truth, in matters of judgment and justice, and in all other things whatsoever; a charitable esteem of our neighbours; loving, desiring, and rejoicing in their good name; sorrowing for, and covering of their infirmities; freely acknowledging of their gifts and graces, defending their innocence; ___a ready receiving of a good report, and unwillingness to admit of an evil report, concerning them; __discouraging tale-bearers, flatterers, and slanderers; __love and care of our own good name, and defending it when need requires; ___keeping of lawful promises; __studying and practicing of whatsoever things are true, honest, lovely, and of good report.

Q. 145. What are the sins forbidden in the ninth commandment?
A. The sins forbidden in the ninth commandment are,

all prejudicing the truth, and the good name of our neighbours, as well as our own, especially in public judicature; ___giving false evidence, suborning false witnesses, wittingly appearing and pleading for an evil cause, outfacing and overbearing the truth; ___passing unjust sentence, calling evil good, and good evil;_ rewarding the wicked according to the work of the righteous, and the righteous according to the work of the wicked; ___forgery, concealing the truth, undue silence in a just cause, and holding our peace when iniquity calls for either a reproof from ourselves, or complaint to others; ___speaking the truth unseasonably, or maliciously to a wrong end, or perverting it to a wrong meaning, or in doubtful and equivocal expressions, to the prejudice of truth or justice; ___speaking untruth, lying, slandering, backbiting, detracting, tale bearing, whispering, scoffing, reviling, rash, harsh, and partial censuring; ___misconstruing intentions, words, and actions; ___flattering, vain-glorious boasting; ___thinking or speaking too highly or too meanly of ourselves or others; __denying the gifts and graces of God; __aggravating smaller faults; __hiding, excusing, or extenuating of sins, when called to a free confession; __unnecessary discovering of infirmities; __raising false rumors;: __receiving and countenancing evil reports, and stopping our ears against just defense; ___evil suspicion; envying or grieving at the deserved credit of any, endeavoring or desiring to impair it, rejoicing in their disgrace and infamy; scornful contempt, fond admiration; ___breach of lawful promises; ___neglecting such things as are of good report, and practicing, or not avoiding ourselves, or not hindering what we can in others, such things as procure an ill name.

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