(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 Beloved: 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 neighbors. 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 neighbor. 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. I 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. II 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 cause. 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. III We now go on to our third main point: the devilish character of the lie. 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 progress. 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 results? 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 song: 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 judgment. 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 hear." 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 IV 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...) ---------------------------------------------------- file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-02: krhc2-17.txt .