(Kersten, The Heidelberg Catechism in 52 Sermons, Vol.2, Part 17)

Bearing False Witness Forbidden

Lord's Day 43

Psalter No. 64: 2, 3
Reading: Rev. 12
Psalter No. 24: 1-3
Psalter No. 70: 2, 3
Psalter No. 335: 1-3


    A question of the greatest significance is asked by David in Psalm
15, "Lord, who shall abide in Thy tabernacle, and who shall dwell in
Thy holy hill?"
    In a literal sense, it was the priests and Levites who stood before
the face of the Lord and daily went in and out of the holy place of
Jehovah. When David considered the great privileges they enjoyed there,
he called them "blessed", as in Psalm 65, where he says: "Blessed is
the man whom Thou choosest, and causes to approach unto Thee, that he
may dwell in Thy courts."
    It is as though David's heart was filled with holy jealousy because
there in the Lord's courts is felt a blessed nearness to God, and in
His pavilion the soul finds a hiding place in the day of evil.
    It is evident from these sayings that the privileges enjoyed in
God's pavilion are solely spiritual. Therefore the answer to the
question in Ps. 15 is so remarkable: "He that walketh uprightly and
speaketh truth in his heart."
    All ceremonial privileges fall short of this. Merely to belong to
the generation of Aaron externally in name did not bestow these
privileges. Many priests were despisers of God's holy Name. It was not
the offerings and sacrifices on the altars of the Lord, that could
provide their souls with the goodness of God's house and the fulness of
His Palace, for the sacrifices of the wicked are an abomination in the
sight of the Lord. Does not the Lord Himself complain: "I am full of
the burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts?" Only he that
walketh uprightly and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth
from his heart. (Ps. 15:2) He that has clean hands, and a pure heart;
who has not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully, He
shall receive a blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God
of his salvation, (Ps. 24:4, 5) even though he does not belong to the
outward, privileged generation of Aaron. These were the ones who by a
true faith looked through the shadows of the Old Testament on Him who
was portrayed thereby, and by grace were made partakers of the
purifying power of the offered Blood of that Passover of which the
Apostle boasts: "For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us."
They were the ones who were made upright toward God and toward their
    Does not James tell us that faith without works is dead? Is faith
not at work through love? Love to God is contained in the first table
of the Law; love to our neighbor in the second table, which is like
unto the first. He who says, "I love God," but hates his neighbor, is a
liar. Liars, as Rev. 21 tells us, shall have their portion in the lake
which burns with fire and brimstone.
    Thus the Lord has bequeathed to His church, as a rule of faith, the
commandment to act uprightly and to speak the truth, so that through
these fruits her faith may be known. For the Lord says in the ninth
commandment: "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor."
    It is our task to expound this commandment according to the
explanation given of the ninth commandment in the forty-third Lord's
Day of our Heidelberg Catechism.
    Lord's Day 43
Q. 112. What is required in the ninth commandment?

A. That I bear false witness against no man, nor falsify any man's
    words; that I be no backbiter, nor slanderer; that I do not judge,
    nor join in condemning any man rashly, or unheard; but that I
    avoid all sorts of lies and deceit, as the proper works of the
    devil, unless I would bring down upon me the heavy wrath of God;
    likewise, that in judgment and all other dealings I love the
    truth, speak it uprightly and confess it; also that I defend and
    promote, as much as I am able, the honour and good character of my
    This commandment forbids us to bear false witness
      I. in social life
     II. in the administration of justice
    III. because of its devilish character
     IV. that the truth may be exalted.
    The Catechism distinguishes between bearing false witness in social
life and doing so in judgment, saying in matters of judgment we are to
embrace the truth and avoid the lie. In matters pertaining to social
life the full scope of this commandment is in force: Thou shalt not
bear false witness against thy neighbor, whoever he may be. We are all
each other's neighbors. We may not bear false witness against anyone in
such a way that his name, honour, and good character are injured,
rather than promoted.
    Think, for instance of the way in which David's brothers belittled
him when he came into the camp where Goliath defied the armies of
Israel. David's brothers bore false witness against him, because they
placed him in an evil light.
    Remember Doeg, the Edomite, who betrayed David to Saul, when David
had taken the shewbread and the sword of Goliath out of the temple.
Although he did not speak lies, Doeg bore false witness against the
Lord's anointed. By this act, Doeg, as the eternal enemy of Israel,
injured his neighbor's honour and good reputation, thereby revealing
his fixed intention to destroy the people of God. Were not all the
priests killed at Nob? Here then are a few scriptural examples to serve
as a guide for all of our dealings. God demands that we always speak
the truth, not only in word, but also in deed.
    Furthermore, we may not misquote another's words. This is to say
that we may not quote the words of another in a different light,
thereby giving them another meaning. Think of the example given us of
the false witness against the Lord Jesus when they misquoted His words:
"He said, Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up."
However, the Lord alluded to his body which was to be destroyed and to
be raised again in three days. The false witnesses construed these
words to mean that He wanted to destroy Jehovah's sanctuary, which for
the Jews was no less than desecration.
    Furthermore, this commandment forbids backbiting and slander. There
is a difference made between backbiting and slander. A slanderer
spreads lies about his neighbor intentionally, whereas the backbiter
does not necessarily have this intention. He speaks behind one's back
while the person is not present nor able to defend himself. This sin is
frequently committed during so-called pleasant evenings. People come
together as they say, pleasantly to chat and gossip, especially about
each other. What is the result? With the people of God, if they are
present, freedom to speak about the work of God is taken away.
    Backbiting brings separation between God's people. Nevertheless,
many take a delight in this offensive evil, not realizing how guilty
they make themselves, transgressing this commandment. Here are the
little foxes that spoil the vineyard of the Lord. Although in
backbiting one does not make himself guilty of lying and slandering
directly, it is the work of the devil. Such deliberate lying and
deception is found in Potifar's wife when she falsely accused Joseph to
her husband, making him believe that Joseph intended to assault her
with force.
    We see this evil also in Ziba, Mephibosheth's servant, who spoke
evil of his lord, when David was returning from the exile following
Absalom's rebellion.
    Further, the instructor warns us against judging anyone with little
or no proof. How often this happens! Think about Eli, who saw the
praying Hannah in the temple and accused her of drunkenness, as her
lips only moved. Eli passed a judgment and Hannah stood condemned.
Scripture gives us another example in Job's friends. They condemned
him, saying: There is something wrong in Job's conduct. Must there not
be a reason for the deep way in which the Lord leads him? Surely Job
hides a serious sin. In their conversations they urge Job to confess
his guilt. If only he would make confession of his guilt, they would be
satisfied. However, Job maintained his integrity which he had a right
to do. What then was Job's error? He misapplied the justice of his case
or his integrity for his personal justification before God. Personal
righteousness we can never have. Even the most favoured of God's
children can never stand before the Lord, except in Him, Who sits at
the right hand of God.
    Job did possess integrity, however. That is to say there was no
particular cause in Job for which God brought him into such misery,
although his friends thought there was. The Lord did this solely to
glorify Himself in Job, notwithstanding all of satan's revilings. Job's
friends had judged him too rashly. Therefore he had to intercede for
them later on.
    We mention one more instance: think of the anointing of Jesus by
Mary in the house of Simon. The verdict was: This ointment might have
been sold for much and given to the poor. Even the disciples repeated
Judas' words, although he was a thief. With all this, Mary was
condemned though not heard, contrary to the ninth commandment which
forbids such rash judgment. However Christ knew Mary's heart and He
justified her. Use caution, therefore, extreme caution in regard to
financial affairs, lest you be caught in this snare. It comes upon you
sooner than you expect.
    There are abundant examples in God's testimony to make clear to us
that the Catechism speaks here in conformity to the Word of God, when
the instructor calls lies and deceit the proper works of the devil
which are hated by God. Even Bible-saints fell into this evil. Abraham
pretended Sarai was his sister. Jacob called upon the name of the Lord
when deceiving his father. The midwives in Egypt were guilty of
transgressing this commandment when they deceived Pharaoh. Think also
of Rahab the harlot who lied to the messengers of Jericho's King, when
she told them that the spies had already escaped to the mountains. Such
lying may never be tolerated because God can never approve of sin, not
even in His children; but He does make reconciliation for the evil of
His people and they need that reconciliation daily. Let us in daily
life deal honestly and uprightly with each other so that justice and
righteousness may prevail among us, and that we may keep ourselves from
saying or doing anything that may injure our neighbor's name. This
applies not only to our close relatives or distant relatives, but also
to our fellow creatures, wherever we may meet them. It applies
therefore, to church life also. Let us tell each other face to face
what we otherwise say behind their backs.
    This is true also in the administration of justice which brings me
to my second main point. When we speak of judgment we must direct our
attention first of all to the Judge.
    When the Lord Jesus was condemned by the Sanhedrin, Nicodemus said,
"Does our Law judge any man before it hear him, and know what he does?"
Nicodemus pointed out quite correctly, that a verdict should not be
pronounced rashly. Pilate also perverted justice when he sought the
favour of the people, and delivered Jesus to be crucified, despite the
declaration that he found "no guilt in this Man."
    Read the Acts of the Apostles and the entire history of the church
of God. Go through the history of the ages and you will discover this
fact, that they who feared the Lord, were condemned. The followers are
not greater than their leader; the disciples are not greater than their
Lord. They have always been condemned and judges have made themselves
guilty of the commandment, which demands that justice and truth be
upheld. It is a sad thing when truth is fallen in the streets as we see
so terribly in these days.
    In the second place we must take notice of the lawyer. Lawyers who
defend evil cases are not honorable. Tertullian was such a lawyer. This
he showed in his speech against Paul. These are the lawyers who argue
the case so cunningly that their client is unjustly acquitted. No
lawyer is called to obscure the truth, but to seek righteousness and
justice, so the judge may render a just verdict.
    In the third place this commandment applies to the accused. If he
knows he is guilty, he may not plead innocent. Think in this case of
Cain who said, "Am I my brother's keeper?" David complains in Psalm 32
that his bones waxed old through his roaring all the day long, when he
kept silent about his sins before the Lord. He did not walk uprightly
before the Lord, and hid his sins. Remember Herman, who brought in an
accusation against the Jews for the purpose of destroying them without
    This commandment, in the fourth place, applies also to the
witnesses. False witnesses were sought against Naboth and were found.
They were men of Belial, whose false testimony became the cause of
Naboth's death and of the loss of his property. Think of the Lord
Jesus. False witnesses were also sought against Him, but their
testimonies did not agree. One said this and another said that. Christ
was declared guilty, however, in order that He might carry away the
debt of His people.
    What we are taught here is that we must not bear false witness
against anyone, neither in social life or in the administration of
justice. The Lord sees, hears, and hates this.
    We now go on to our third main point: the devilish character of the
    When the Catechism describes lying and deception as the proper
works of the devil, let me emphasize that this expression is not too
strong. The Lord Jesus Himself said in John 8:44 when the devil
speaketh a lie, "he speaketh of his own, for he is a liar and the
father of it." The devil is the father of lies. It was satan's downfall
that he did not abide in the truth. Everything satan says is a lie. He
deceived the first man with lies when he said: "Thou shalt not surely
die, but be as gods." With this lie, he was the immediate cause of
man's fall, even though man fell voluntarily and willfully.
    The work of satan is revealed herein that he is the lie itself. He
is the accuser of God's people, as we read to you from Revelation 12.
He accuses God's people day and night, trying to make them appear as
guilty ones before God's judgment seat. Think of some further examples
of this in the Bible.
    I have already mentioned the story of Job. There was a day when the
children of God came to present themselves before the Lord. Satan also
came in their midst to give an account of his actions on earth. This
was the worst that could have happened to Satan. He was summoned into
the presence of God to give an account of himself. In a deceptive way
he claims that he is lord and master on earth. But the Lord says: "Have
you considered that I have my people on earth?" Then follows that false
accusation, or the speaking of a lie, when the devil replies: "Does Job
fear God for nought?" Job is pious because he enjoys prosperity. Take
it away from him and it will become apparent that the true fear of God
is not found in Job. Thereupon the Lord permits Job to be tried. He is
plagued and assaulted most fiercely. However, Job emerges from it.
    Do you see the work of satan? He accuses God's children. Read this
in Zechariah 3 where Joshua, the High priest, stands in filthy garments
before God. Immediately satan is present to accuse him, and stands at
Joshua's right hand to resist him. In effect, the devil was making an
attack on the whole church of God as represented in the High priest.
Satan was determined to condemn the entire church in one moment with an
appeal to God's justice. However, the Lord rejects this accusation,
saying, "The Lord rebuke thee, O satan, even the Lord that has chosen
Jerusalem, rebuke thee." God silences the accusation and satan is cast
out of heaven. He will no longer lay anything to the charge of God's
elect, because a Man-child was born who made an eternal reconciliation.
    For this reason our Catechism states that lying and deception are
the proper works of satan. Satan cannot do otherwise; it is his nature.
It is the nature of the fallen angels. It is well to consider for a
moment what it means to imitate the devil and to do his work, the
results of which are so fearful, such as: quarreling, prolonged
separation, depriving our neighbor of his livelihood or hindering his
    In our congregations there are examples of consuming envy and
jealousy among members, even among parents and children. The one
begrudges the other his bread, and tries to attain his devilish
purposes by finding fault with him. Can such devilish work have worse
    Lying and deception also have a bearing on the true teaching of the
Word of God. False doctrine is a perversion of the truth of God which
again, is the proper work of the devil. Luther sang about this in his
        For still our ancient foe
        Does seek to work us woe;
        His craft and power are great,
        And armed with cruel hate,
        On earth is not his equal.
It is satan's armor. How dreadful it is in spite of the blood of the
martyrs, they who speak lies have invaded the land gradually and are
increasing rapidly, thereby undermining the stability of the church.
How necessary it is, especially in our days, that the church be built
upon the firm foundation of the prophets and the apostles, of which
Jesus Christ himself is the chief corner stone. It is the proper work
of the devil always to dispute the work of God. For that reason, God's
wrath rests upon him, but also upon those who walk in his steps.
Surely, God will not deal wickedly, neither will the Almighty pervert
    God has shown that He hates lying. Would you like a striking
example? Think of the deceit of Ananias and Sappira who pretended to be
god fearing people, but kept back part of the price of their property,
thinking to deceive God. Both of them, however, were carried out dead.
    There is also the example of Gehazi who spoke lies to Naaman, the
Syrian, but was punished with leprosy.
    The wrath of God will rest eternally on the deceiver, but in this
life already on his conscience. When Joseph's brothers met Joseph,
their consciences began to speak. They thought that this governor of
Egypt could not understand their language, and they said among
themselves, "We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we
saw the anguish of his soul when he besought us, and we would not
    A man can suppress his conscience for a long time, but it will be
the more terrible for him when his conscience at last begins to speak.
It has happened at times that the anguish of the soul became so great,
without any relief, that people fell into the claws of satan.
    God says with great emphasis: Thou shalt not bear false witness
against thy neighbor because it is the proper work of the devil, and
God's wrath rests upon it. What does this commandment require of us? It
requires that we bear witness to the truth. This is my fourth main
thought namely, that
this commandment forbids us to bear false witness, that the truth may
be exalted. The instructor tells us that we must love the truth, speak
it uprightly and confess it. God created man in a state of rectitude.
He loved God and walked in close communion with the God of truth. What
was actually the deep fall of man? That he believed the father of lies.
Our fathers said that unbelief was the first sin. We believed the
father of lies and made God a liar. Now our life by nature is nothing
but believing the lie and forsaking the truth of God.
    This is the very root of our corrupt nature and it is described in
this manner, so that we may seek the truth as it is in Christ Jesus.
God glorified His eternal truth when He glorified Him, Whom He had
given as a substitute for His people. He was condemned in order that
they might be acquitted in God's judgment, and that the truth might
have dominion in their hearts, and its fruit be visible in their lives.
    In regeneration, love for the truth is implanted in the soul.
Nevertheless, many weaknesses remain in the lives of God's children.
Think only of the demand which is made in this Lord's Day, of
testifying to the truth and defending the name of their Lord and King.
They are to be upright and true, not only toward the Lord, but also
toward their neighbor. They must not tread crooked paths, but
acknowledge the truth, both in the court of justice and in matters
pertaining to the pure doctrine of the Gospel. How deeply should this
be impressed upon the hearts of God's people! Why are there so many
among us who have so little insight into the truth? Because it is not
clearly understood. They take little or no pains to search the truth.
These constitute the lukewarm christendom of our days.
    On the other hand I have known some among God's people who had
their delight in searching the truth, and who exercised themselves
continually in it. What was the result? According to their diligence
they were enabled to exercise faith. Continual searching of the truth
is therefore very useful in edifying one another by sound knowledge in
Christ only, Who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Is not the only
comfort in life and death for God's church to be found in Him? This
comfort is for God's children when they have to endure many insults,
and their honour and good character are not promoted, but defamed. They
are a despised people in the world. They are hated and cast out, for
the world is not worthy of them. In this life they are bowed down under
slander and reproach.
    What a comfort it is for the church, however, that Christ bore the
reproach of His people. Our reproaches fell upon Him. He was accused
falsely and shamefully put to death. Should not our souls rejoice in
the God of our salvation and find enjoyment in the truth of the Lord of
Lords? Let us sing it from Psalter No. 70: 2 and 4.
    2.  Thy mercy and Thy grace
         I love to contemplate
         Thy paths of truth my footsteps trace
         And wicked men I hate.
    4.  O Lord, Thy house I love,
         Where glory dwells within;
         O keep my heart secure above
         All fellowship with sin.
    This commandment has now been explained as it comprehends our whole
life. Like the others, this command is included under the subject of
gratitude, because the Lord gives this commandment as a rule of life in
administering His grace. Man can never satisfy the demands of the law,
even though God's command remains undiminished in force, and God
demands that all men obey His commandments perfectly, whether or not
they are converted. In other words this commandment affects all of us,
both great and small. Let us not think that the lie is a trifling
thing. Let us not think that perverting the truth is a small thing. Do
not remain silent when one accuses another without cause, but let us be
bound together with ties of truth. It is especially necessary in church
life to be united against the outside world, in order that we may stand
shoulder to shoulder in the battle, which will soon become very
difficult for the truth's sake.
    In our times we hear so much about reconstruction, even of the
church. I am very much in favour of it, but for that purpose one thing
is absolutely necessary: The truth and nothing but the truth must
triumph within us. Surely, then the gates of hell will not prevail
against the church of God. God's church can easily endure the heaviest
torments of satan if it remains standing on that immovable foundation
of God's eternal Word. But all the changes are precisely aimed at
undermining that foundation. I repeat: it is needful for us to spend
much time with the old writers and continually search the truth which
was delivered to us by our godly forefathers. The purpose of the new
trend is to remove the old writers from us. They are eager to offer
something else, something supposedly more modern and better, something
more attractive! In this way the eyes of the people are blinded.
    Dear congregation: Set your heart upon the pure doctrine. You must
come to a settled state of mind and say: this is the truth, nothing
else will do! This agrees with the Word of God.
    To you of the rising generation, search those old writers, who give
you that which was obtained in the struggle for the truth. With their
message let us stand side by side. Let us not degrade one another by
spreading false rumors. Let us never speak about each other to the
outside world, but rather defend one another. Love covers all things.
Let us banish jealousy and the devilish work of backbiting from our
hearts. Nothing can be more ruinous to a congregation. In my ministry I
have seen and experienced what damage backbiting and slander can bring
upon a congregation. One has this to say and another something else,
but where does it bring us? In my congregation I have always tried to
suppress this evil with all my power in order that unity might be
preserved. If any have a grievance against another, let him tell the
person face to face. If you do not dare to do this, there is something
wrong within you. Do not associate with those who always talk about
others but never about themselves. God demands that we promote the
honour and reputation of our neighbor. Are we not all each other's
equal as fellow-travelers to eternity? Does it ever come to your mind,
that God who is the Truth will maintain the truth, and that the truth
will condemn you because of your lies and slander? Have you ever given
any thought to what we became in our covenant head Adam, and been
convinced that each of us forsook the truth and embraced the lie? Is
there not sufficient reason for each one of us to be concerned about
himself? Is there any reason for us to give expression in daily life to
our confederacy with the devil? Ought we to reveal openly that the
devil is our father as though it were an honour? Yet the Lord says in
His Word: the truth shall make you free.
    May there be awakened in our souls an urgent desire to be delivered
from slavery to the prince of darkness, through the truth of God in the
power of the Holy Spirit, and may God glorify Himself in us to our
eternal salvation. This has become possible for us, only through Him
who was condemned as a slanderer and as a blasphemer, in order that He
might truly liberate His people. In this way the truth of God is
fulfilled in the hearts of his children.
    May the Lord work this in our hearts while we live in the midst of
a world that lies in wickedness, so that we may seek the one thing
needful, namely, to be born again.
    If at any time you must appear in court, be faithful and honest in
your declarations. Let your conscience be void of offense before God
and man; it will give you much comfort in life. Whatever accusations
may be made against you, they will not disturb you, since your
consciences are pure. "A man offends often in words; if not, he is a
perfect man," says James. But do not take advantage of this fact to
slander God's people. The Lord sees it and will punish it, since he
hates those works of darkness.
    You see in our days what happens to a nation when justice is made
flexible. If a country is to survive it must be ruled according to the
commandment of God. Alas, the Lord's commandments are trampled upon by
the people as well as by the government. Therefore we fear that the
wrath of the Lord will be poured out over our country.
    People of God, walk justly and uprightly and deal honestly with the
Lord. He it is who knows the hearts and tries the reins. In what other
way will you ever find free access to the Lord and have peace in your
hearts? "When I kept silence," says David, "and tried to hide my sins,
my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long." The Lord
glorifies His grace in the hearts of sinners, to make them free in a
right way through the truth.
    May the Lord exercise His dear people much in these things, in
order that they may be upright before the Lord, both as to their state
and condition. As a result of this, let them keep this commandment in
regard to their neighbors. God's people must never talk behind each
other's back. This is done oftentimes by saying: "I heard so and so say
it" or worse, "I don't recall who told me, but it is undoubtedly true."
God's people ought to conduct themselves prudently in the exercises of
sanctification and in the keeping of God's commandments. God hates sin
and his people also.
    Ye saints of the Lord, although it is painful for the flesh to bear
the slander and contempt of men, it is not a strange thing that is
happening to you. Even God's people can oppress each other at times.
However, there is One who knows all things and will surely defend His
own who are oppressed. He alone can fill their souls with peace. Let us
encourage and comfort one another with this, that the Lord Jesus went
before us in these ways. He is our compassionate High priest. Let us
not be too dejected on our pathway through this life or give up in
discouragement. All things, also these, must work together for good.
Let us then freely commit everything to His care and entrust our
concerns with Him. At His own time He will judge the cause of His
people. Sometimes He does it already in this life, but someday He will
do it when He comes to judge the world in righteousness. Although
sorrows are inflicted upon God's church in this life, and God's
children are condemned to death, the Lord has prepared a crown for them
which cannot be taken away by men.
    May the Lord bind us together in true love and unity, which is the
communion of saints and a fruit of our fellowship with Christ, so that
the world may testify: "Behold how they love one another." Let us
defend one another without fear, even though it be in opposition to the
slander of the whole world. Then we shall have peace in our hearts and
find a free access to God.
    May the God of truth be our vanguard and rear guard and constantly
surround us with His grace, that sin may never reign over us, but that
His grace and power may be glorified in our lives. Then will His name
be acknowledged and praised by His people, and His truth, as it is
anchored in His infallible Word, will be spread by His people to the
glory of God and for our salvation. Amen. 

Kersten, Heidelberg Catechism in 52 Sermons, Vol.2
(continued in part 18...)

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