A CHECK TO AN UNGOVERNED TONGUE: Part Three, The Outrageous Evil of Lying

Taken and adapted from, “THE MISCELLANEOUS WORKS OF THE REV. MATTHEW HENRY” Volume I
Published in 1833.

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Lying is another of the outrageous evils of an ungoverned tongue, and a very pernicious one.

It has been said of some, that though they do not swear yet they will lie; it is to be feared there are those, of whom it is too true; and let them bear their own burthen; but let not those, who would not for a world do either, suffer for the same; nor let swearers think it will in the least excuse their sin, that there are liars who are no swearers. It is certain they are both damning sins, and either of them persisted in will undoubtedly be the ruin of the sinner. But if we may guess at one sin by another, it is more probable, (as I hinted before,) that they who make no conscience of swearing will not stick at lying; and we may charitably hope, unless we know the contrary, that they who dread a profane oath, will be as much afraid of telling a willful lie.

Let me, therefore, in God’s name, seriously apply myself to those who (as the prophet speaks) have taught their tongue to speak lies, Jer. 9:5. For there is an art in it, whether they be such lies as seem to do good, or such as are directly intended to do hurt, or such as are idle, and intended neither for good nor hurt. If they are lies, they are sins against God. And all liars shall have their portion in the bottomless pit, if they repent not; and the nice distinction, with which they think to justify, or at least excuse, themselves, will prove, in the great day, but a refuge of lies, which the hail will sweep away, Isaiah 28:17.

A few words, one would think, may serve for the conviction and discovery of these sinners. Surely you need not be told what lying is; your own consciences will tell you, if they be not seared, or bribed, or forbidden to deal plainly with you.

In your bargains and contracts, if you say that either for selling the dearer, or buying the cheaper, which you know to be false, it is a lie. Yet how common is it, in the multitude of those words, for the seller to call the commodity good and cheap, and to aver that he gave so much for it, when he knows that it is neither so nor so! And the buyer in his bidding will call that worthless and dear which he has no reason to call so, and will say he can buy it cheaper elsewhere, when he does not know that he can. It is nothing, it is nothing, says the buyer; but when he is gone away, then he boasts of a good bargain, not considering that he was helped to it by a lie, Prov. 20: 14.

In your excuses which you make, either to superiors or equals, if you deny, extenuate, or conceal a fault, by representing a thing otherwise than it was, though you may gain your point, and not be so much as suspected of falsehood, yet the guilt is there, nevertheless. When you are charged with any neglect or injury, you are ready to say you did not know, or did not remember, that which you are conscious to yourselves you did know, and did remember; you plead that you thought or intended so and so, when really you did not think or intend any such thing. These are the common refuges of those who are culpable, because the profession of a man’s thoughts and purposes is not easily disproved. But though men cannot convict us of falsehood in those professions, he that searches the heart can. Men may be shammed with a frivolous excuse, but God is not mocked.

In your commendations of yourselves or others, if you give a better character than you know there is cause or ground for; if you boast of a false gift, and represent your abilities, possessions, and performances, to greater advantage than they deserve, and then the truth will bear witness, though these may pass for innocent hyperboles with those who take the same liberty themselves, yet your own consciences will tell you, if they be faithful, that hereby you add the sin of lying to the sin of pride, than which there are not two sins that God hates more.

In your censures, if you put false constructions upon the words and actions of your neighbors, making a great crime of that which was nothing, or next to nothing, unjustly aggravating faults, and making them worse than really they are, or representing that as certain, which is but suspected and doubtful, much more, if it should prove that you lay to men’s charge things that they know not, hereby you involve yourselves in a double guilt, falsehood and uncharitableness.

In your promises, if you engage that you will do so or so, pay such a debt, or finish such a piece of work within such a time, or do such a kindness for your friend, when either you do not at all intend it, or foresee you cannot perform it, or afterward take no care either to fulfil the promise when it is in the power of your hand, or if disabled to do that, in due time to recall it, hereby there is guilt contracted. Either the promise should not have been made, or it should have been kept.

In your common reports, and the stories you tell fur discourse sake, and the keeping up of conversation, if you report that as true and certain which you know to be otherwise, and do not make conscience of representing everything as near as possible lo the truth, and to your own sober thoughts, you became transgressors.

Sure there need not many words to persuade you to repent of this sin of lying, and carefully to watch against it for the future, and all appearances of it.

Consider how contrary it is to God; it is a breach of his law, it is a defacing of his image, for he is the God of truth; and it exposes us to his wrath, for lying lips are an abomination to the Lord. Consider how conformable it is to the devil, and how much it makes you to resemble him, for he is a liar, and the father of it. It is an injury to your brother, not only to the particular person, who, perhaps, is wronged by it, but to human society in general. And it will be the ruin of your own precious souls, if you persist in it. They who thus do the works of the devil, shall have their portion with the devil and his angels.

A lie is soon told, and perhaps as soon forgotten, and a light matter made of it; but the punishment of it will be everlasting, in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, out of which there is no redemption.