You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
This Commandment checks all propensities to lying, and commands truthfulness of speech to and about our neighbour. It is very difficult to over-estimate the value of truth or the importance of being truthful in character and speech. There is a reality to the things and the laws which surround us and are within us which we call truth. When our thoughts exactly correspond with this reality we have apprehended truth. When we conform ourselves to this we are true. If our thought does not exactly correspond with this reality we are in error, and error is a mischief to us. We disobey the laws, we abuse the things about us, we are like blind men striking against obstacles, falling into pits. The nature of things remains unchanged, the laws are immutable, but we are false to them. Truth is not merely to be known, it is to be transmitted into life. Man is to be so hearty in his allegiance to the truth he knows, that he lives it and speaks it. The man who knows the truth and disobeys it, is false in his nature. He may not deceive his neighbours as to himself. Every one may know he is a false man, but his whole life is bearing false witness as to the truth, and as to it may deceive many. The greater part of the truth we possess we have derived from others. There is an exchange of truth. Men who search in one realm give the truth they find to their fellows who are searching in other realms, and receive truth from them in return, and each generation leaves its rich legacy of inherited and acquired truth to the following, and thus the race advances in the knowledge of truth. Wide is the realm of truth, in earth and sky, in matter and spirit, in time and eternity. Man should not shut his fellow out from any portion of it. If any one bears false witness to any part of the wide realm of truth, it is always against his neighbour, depriving him wrongfully of that which is of the greatest importance to his well-being. Great is the difference between truth and falsehood. Infinity and eternity cannot measure it. Of God it is said; "He is light. He is the truth." Of the devil it is said: "There is no truth in him. He is a liar and the father of it." Hell is the home of universal falsehood and distrust. Each one there is alone in the midst of others, deceiving and being deceived, distrusting and being distrusted. Heaven is the home of universal truth and confidence. The more we follow truth, the nearer we advance to God. The truths in nature are His thoughts, written on the heavens in light, on the earth in beauty, on our souls in virtue. As we express truth we help others to advance to Him, by small steps or large, according to the importance of the truths we speak. The Commandment requires truth in ordinary conversation. Conjecture and partial information must be spoken of as such, not made to pass for complete knowledge. We must strive to know fully, that we may speak clearly. Vivid, sprightliness, and colour may be employed to interest in and set forth the truth, not to gain applause, and all exaggeration must be avoided. Our aim must not be selfish, to be considered as having had a wonderful experience, or as having fine descriptive powers, or as being well informed, but simply to convey truth to our neighbour. In all those cases in which we speak to our neighbour with intent to lead him to a desired line of conduct, our self-interest may be aroused against our loyalty to truth. Mental reservation, double meaning, significant silence, the end justifies the means, and all kindred evasions, may quiet a confused conscience, but will never do to plead before a truth-loving God. But, says the business man, must I reveal the defects in the property I am trying to sell? Must I reveal the fact I have skilfully acquired, that prices in the market will be much lower tomorrow? Certainly, you must, or you will both lie and steal in one act. We are to speak truth, again, not only to our neighbour, but about him. This Commandment guards a man's reputation — gives each man a right to have his reputation the exact expression of his character. We should guard against secret prejudice against our neighbour, or envy of him, and should cultivate such love for him that we will rejoice in his good qualities and in his good name, that we will sorrow over the faults in him we cannot help seeing, and throw over them the garment of Christian charity, rather than exulting to proclaim them to the world. This Commandment should govern not only our tongues, but our hearts and ears as well. It forbids an appetite for gossip, a desire to hear detraction, and a tendency to form unfavourable opinions of others. By holding our peace when we have it in our power to defend, by failing to mention the good when the evil is spoken of, by encouraging the telling of evil by eager listening, we assault the reputation of our neighbour by the assent of our silence. There is a modern statue of Truth, instinct with the fire of genius, which strongly incites an opposite spirit and action. A stately woman in pure white marble, with beautiful and firm face, wears on her head a helmet and carries a sword in her hand. At her feet lies a mask touched by the point of her sword. She has just smitten it from the face of Slander, and now she proudly draws her robe away from its polluting touch.
(F. S. Schenck.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.