Thomas Watson
The Ten Commandments
File 17
(... continued from file 16)

2.9 The Ninth Commandment 
    'Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.' Exod 
20: 16. 
    THE tongue which at first was made to be an organ of God's 
praise, is now become an instrument of unrighteousness. This 
commandment binds the tongue to its good behaviour. God has set two 
natural fences to keep in the tongue, the teeth and lips; and this 
commandment is a third fence set about it, that it should not break 
forth into evil. It has a prohibitory and a mandatory part: the 
first is set down in plain words, the other is clearly implied. 
    I. The prohibitory part of the commandment, or, what it forbids 
in general. It forbids anything which may tend to the disparagement 
or prejudice of our neighbour. More particularly, two things are 
forbidden in this commandment. 
    [1] Slandering our neighbour. This is a sin against the ninth 
commandment. The scorpion carries his poison in his tail, the 
slanderer carries his poison in his tongue. Slandering 'is to report 
things of others unjustly.' They laid to my charge things that I 
knew not.' Psa 35: 11. It is usual to bring in a Christian beheaded 
of his good name. They raised for a slander of Paul, that he 
preached 'Men might do evil that good might come of it.' 'We be 
slanderously reported; and some affirm that we say, "Let us do evil, 
that good may come".' Rom 3: 8. Eminence is commonly blasted by 
slander. Holiness itself is no shield from slander. The lamb's 
innocence will not preserve it from the wolf. Christ, the most 
innocent upon earth, was reported to be a friend of sinners. John 
the Baptist was a man of a holy and austere life, and yet they said 
of him, 'He has a devil.' Matt 11: 18. The Scripture calls 
slandering, smiting with the tongue. 'Come, and let us smite him 
with the tongue.' Jer 18: 18. You may smite another and never touch 
him. Majora sunt linguae vulnera quam gladii [The tongue inflicts 
greater wounds than the sword]. Augustine. The wounds of the tongue 
no physician can heal; and to pretend friendship to a man, and 
slander him, is most odious. Jerome says: 'The Arian faction made a 
show of kindness; they kissed my hands, but slandered me, and sought 
my life.' As it is a sin against this commandment to raise a false 
report of another, so it is to receive a false report before we have 
examined it. 'Lord, who shall dwell in thy holy hill?' Psa 15: 1. 
Quis ad coelum? 'He that backbiteth not, nor taketh up a reproach 
against his neighbour;' ver. 3. We must not only not raise a false 
report, but not take it up. He that raises a slander, carries the 
devil in his tongue; and he that receives it, carries the devil in 
his car. [2] The second thing forbidden in this commandment is false 
witness. Here three sins are condemned: (1) Speaking. (2) 
Witnessing. (3) Swearing that which is false, contra proximum 
[against your neighbour]. 
    (1) Speaking that which is false. 'Lying lips are abomination 
to the Lord.' Prov 12: 22. To lie is to speak that which one knows 
to be an untruth. There is nothing more contrary to God than a lie. 
The Holy Ghost is called the 'Spirit of Truth.' I John 4: 6. Lying 
is a sin that does not go alone; it ushers in other sins. Absalom 
told his father a lie, when he said that he was going to pay his vow 
at Hebron, and this was a preface to his treason. 2 Sam 15: 7. Where 
there is a lie in the tongue, the devil is in the heart. 'Why has 
Satan filled thine heart to lie?' Acts 5: 3. Lying is a sin that 
unfits men for civil society. How can you converse or bargain with a 
man when you cannot trust a word he says? This sin highly provokes 
God. Ananias and Sapphire were struck dead for telling a lie. Acts 
5: 5. The furnace of hell is heated for liars. 'Without are 
sorcerers, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.' Rev 22: 15. O 
abhor this sin! Quicquid dixeris jura tum putes [Consider your every 
word an oath]. Jerome. When thou speakest, let thy word be as 
authentic as thy oath. Imitate God, who is the pattern of truth. 
Pythagoras being asked what made men like God, answered, cum vera 
loquuntur, 'when they speak the truth.' The character of a man that 
shall go to heaven, is that 'He speaketh the truth in his heart.' 
Psa 15: 2. 
    (2) That which is condemned in the commandment is, witnessing 
that which is false. 'Thou shalt not bear false witness.' There is a 
twofold bearing false witness: 1. There is bearing false witness for 
another. 2. Bearing false witness against another. 
    Bearing false witness for another; as when we give our 
testimony for a person who is criminal and guilty, and we justify 
him as if he were innocent. 'Which justify the wicked for reward.' 
Isa 5: 23. He that seeks to make a wicked man just, makes himself 
    It is bearing false witness against another, when we accuse him 
in open court falsely. This is to imitate the devil, who is the 
'accuser of the brethren.' Though the devil is no adulterer, yet he 
is a false witness. Solomon says, 'A man that beareth false witness 
against his neighbour, is a maul and a sword.' Prov 25: 18. In his 
face he is hardened like a hammer: he cannot blush, he cares not 
what lie he witnesses to; and he is a sword: his tongue is a sword 
to wound the person he witnesses against in his goods or life. 
'There came in two men, children of Belial, and witnessed against 
Naboth, saying, Naboth did blaspheme God and the king:' and their 
witness took away his life. I Kings 21: 13. The queen of Persia 
being sick, the magicians accused two godly virgins of having by 
charms procured the queen's sickness; whereupon she caused those 
virgins to be sawn asunder. A false witness perverts the place of 
judicature; he corrupts the judge by making him pronounce a wrong 
sentence, and causes the innocent to suffer. Vengeance will find out 
the false witness. 'A false witness shall not be unpunished.' Prov 
19: 5. 'If the witness be a false witness, and has testified falsely 
against his brother; then shall ye do unto him, as he had thought to 
have done unto his brother;' if, for instance, he had thought to 
have taken away his life, his own life shall go for it. Deut 19: 18, 
    (3) That which is condemned in the commandment is, swearing to 
what is false; as when men take a false oath, and by that take away 
the life of another. 'Love no false oath.' Zech 8: 17. 'What seest 
thou? I said, a flying roll,' chap. 5: 2. 'This is the curse that 
goes forth, and it shall enter, saith the Lord, into the house of 
him that sweareth falsely by my name; and it shall consume it, with 
the timber and stones thereof;' ver 3, 4. The Scythians made a law 
that when a man bound together a lie with an oath, he was to lose 
his head; because these sins took away all truth and faith from 
among men. The devil has taken great possession of those who dare 
swear to a lie. 
    Use one. For reproof. (1) The church of Rome is reproved, which 
dispenses with a lie, or a false oath, if it promotes the Catholic 
cause. It approves of an officious lie; and holds some sins to be 
lawful. It may as well hold some lies to be lawful. God has no need 
of our lie. It is not lawful to tell a lie, propter Dei gloriam [for 
the glory of God], if we were sure to bring glory to God by it, as 
Augustine speaks. 
    (2) They are reproved who make no conscience of slandering 
others. 'Thou fittest and slenderest thine own mother's son.' Psa 
50:20. 'Report, say they, and we will report.' Jer 20: 10. 'This 
city (i.e. Jerusalem) is a rebellious city, and hurtful to kings and 
provinces.' Ezra 4: 15. Paul was slandered as a mover of sedition, 
and the head of a faction. Acts 24: 5. The same word signifies both 
a slanderer and a devil. 1 Tim 3: 11. 'Not slanderers;' in the 
Greek, 'not devils.' Some think it is no great matter, to 
misrepresent and slander others; but it is to act the part of a 
devil. Clipping a man's credit, to make it weigh lighter, is worse 
than clipping coin. The slanderer wounds three at once: he wounds 
him that is slandered; he wounds him to whom he reports the slander, 
by causing uncharitable thoughts to arise up in his mind against the 
party slandered; and he wounds his own soul, by reporting of another 
what is false. This is a great sin; and I wish I could say it is not 
common. You may kill a man in his name as well as in his person. 
Some are loath to take away their neighbour's goods - conscience 
would fly in their face; but better take away their corn out of 
their field, their wares out of their shop, than take away their 
good name. This is a sin for which no reparation can be made; a blot 
in a man's name, being like a blot on white paper, which will never 
be got out. Surely God will visit for this sin. If idle words shall 
be accounted for, shall not unjust slanders? The Lord will make 
inquisition one day, as well for names as for blood. Oh therefore 
take heed of this sin! Was it not a sin under the law to defame a 
virgin? Deut 22: 19. And is it not a greater sin to defame a saint, 
who is a member of Christ? The heathen, by the light of nature, 
abhorred the sin of slandering. Diogenes used to say, 'Of all wild 
beasts, a slanderer is the worst.' Antonius made a law, that, if a 
person could not prove the crime he reported another to be guilty 
of, he should be put to death. 
    (3) They are reproved who are so wicked as to bear false 
witness against others. These are monsters in nature, unfit to live 
in a civil society. Eusebius relates of one Narcissus, a man famous 
for piety, who was accused by two false witnesses of unchastity. To 
prove their accusations, they endeavoured to confirm it with oaths 
and curses. One said, 'If I speak not true, I pray God I may perish 
by fire:' the other said, 'If I speak not true, I wish I may be 
deprived of my sight.' It pleased God that the first witness who 
forswore himself should be burned in the flames, his house being set 
on fire: the other being troubled in conscience, confessed his 
perjury, and continued to weep so long that he wept himself blind. 
Jezebel, who suborned two false witnesses against Naboth, was thrown 
down from a window and 'the dogs licked her blood.' 2 Kings 9: 33. 
Oh, tremble at this sin! A perjured person is the devil's excrement. 
He is cursed in his name, and seared in his conscience. Hell gapes 
for such a windfall. 
    Use two. For exhortation. (1) Let all take heed of breaking 
this commandment, by lying, slandering, and bearing false witness. 
To avoid these sins get the fear of God. Why does David say, 'The 
fear of the Lord is clean'? Psa 19: 9. Because it cleanses the heart 
from malice, and the tongue from slander. 'The fear of the Lord is 
clean:' it is to the soul as lightning to the air, which cleanses 
it. Get love to your neighbour. Lev 19: 18. If we love a friend, we 
shall not speak or attest anything to his prejudice. Men's minds are 
cankered with envy and hatred; hence come slandering and false 
witnessing. Love is a lovely grace; love 'thinketh no evil.' I Cor 
13: 5. It puts the best interpretation upon another's words. Love is 
a well-wisher, and it is rare to speak ill of him we wish well to. 
Love is that which cements Christians together; it is the healer of 
division, and the hinderer of slander. 
    (2) Let those whose lot it is to meet with slanderers and false 
accusers - [1] Labour to make a sanctified use of it. When Shimei 
railed on David, David made a sanctified use of it. 'The Lord has 
said unto him, Curse David.' 2 Sam 16: 10. So, if you are slandered, 
or falsely accused, make a good use of it. See if you have no sin 
unrepented of, for which God may suffer you to be calumniated and 
reproached. See if you have not at any time wronged others in their 
name, and said that of them which you cannot prove; then lay your 
hand on your mouth, and confess the Lord is righteous to let you 
fall under the scourge of the tongue. [2] If you are slandered, or 
falsely accused, but know your own innocence, be not too much 
troubled; let your rejoicing be the witness of your conscience. 
Murus aheneus esto nil conscire sibi [Let this be a bulwark, to know 
oneself guiltless]. A good conscience is a wall of brass, that will 
be able to stand against a false witness. As no flattery can heal a 
bad conscience, so no slander can hurt a good one. God will clear up 
the names of his people. 'He shall bring forth thy righteousness as 
the light.' Psa 37: 6. As he will wipe away tears from the eyes, so 
will he wipe off reproaches from the name. Believers shall come 
forth out of all their slanders and reproaches, as 'the wings of a 
dove, covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold.' 
    (3) Be very thankful to God, if he has preserved you from 
slander and false witness. Job calls it 'the scourge of the tongue;' 
chap 5: 21. As a rod scourges the back, so the slanderer's tongue 
scourges the name. It is a great mercy to be kept from the scourge 
of a tongue; a mercy that God stops malignant mouths from bearing 
false witness. What mischief might not a lying report or a false 
oath do! One destroys the name, the other the life. It is the Lord 
who muzzles the mouths of the wicked, and keeps those dogs, that 
snarl at us, from flying upon us. 'Thou shalt keep them secretly in 
a pavilion, from the strife of tongues.' Psa 31: 20. There is, I 
suppose, an allusion to kings, who being resolved to protect their 
favourites against the accusation of men, take them into their 
bed-chamber, or bosom, where none may touch them. So God has a 
pavilion, or secret hiding-place for his favourites, where he 
preserves their credit and reputation untouched; he keeps them from 
the 'strife of tongues.' We ought to acknowledge this to be a great 
mercy before God. 
    II. The mandatory part of the commandment implied is that we 
stand up for others and vindicate them when they are injured by 
lying lips. This is the sense of the commandment, not only that we 
should not slander falsely or accuse others; but that we should 
witness for them, and stand up in their defence, when we know them 
to be traduced. A man may wrong another as well by silence as by 
slander, when he knows him to be wrongfully accused, yet does not 
speak in his behalf. If others cast false aspersions on any, we 
should wipe them off. When the apostles were filled with the wine of 
the Spirit, and were charged with drunkenness, Peter openly 
maintained their innocence. 'These are not drunken, as ye suppose.' 
Acts 2: 15. Jonathan knowing David to be a worthy man, and all those 
things Saul said of him to be slanders, vindicated him. 'David has 
not sinned against thee; his works have been to thee-ward very good. 
Wherefore then wilt thou sin against innocent blood, to slay David 
without a cause?' I Sam 19: 4, 5. When the primitive Christians were 
falsely accused for incest, and killing their children, Tertullian 
wrote a famous apology in their vindication. This is to act the part 
both of a friend and of a Christian, to be an advocate for another, 
when he is wronged in his good name.

Watson, The Ten Commandments
(continued in file 18...)

file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-09: wat10-17.txt