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berties; to avoid all broachers, and preachers of newfangled doctrines in the church; to be strict observers of the laws, which cannot be justly taken from you without your own consent: in short,“ to obey God and the king, and meddle not with those who are given to change.”
Which that you may all do, &c.
ON FALSE WITNESS.*
EXODUS, xx. 16.
Thou shalt not bear false Witness against thy
In those great changes that are made in a country by the prevailing of one party over another; it is very convenient that the prince, and those who are in authority under him, should use all just and proper methods for preventing any mischief to the public from seditious men. And governors do well, when they encourage any good subject to discover (as his duty obligeth him) whatever plots or conspiracies may be any way dangerous to the state : neither are they to be blamed even when they receive informations from bad men, in order to find out the truth, when it concerns the public welfare. Every one, indeed, is naturally inclined to have an ill opinion of an informer; although it is not impossible but an honest man may be called by that name. For whoever knoweth any thing, the telling of which would prevent some great evil to his prince, his country, or his neighbour, is bound in conscience to reveal it. But the mischief is, that, when parties are violently inflamed, which seemeth unfortunately to be our case at present, there is never wanting a set of evil instruments, who, either out of mad zeal, private hatred, or filthy lucre, are always ready to offer their services to the prevailing side, and become accusers of their brethren, without any regard to truth or charity. Holy David numbers this among the chief of his sufferings; “ False witnesses are risen up against me, and such as breathe out cruelty.” Our Saviour and his apostles did likewise undergo the same distress, as we read both in the Gospels and the Acts.
* The Dean, in consequence of his political opinions, and the firmness with which he avowed them, was often exposed to danger and prosecution, by informers of various descriptions. He was, therefore, well qualified to place before his congregation the danger to public order and individual liberty, as well as to religion and morality, from the pestilent tribe, the Delatores of the Roman empire.
Now, because the sin of false witnessing is so horrible and dangerous in itself, and so odious to God and man; and because the bitterness of too many among us is risen to such a height, that it is not easy to know where it will stop, or how far some weak and wicked minds may be carried by a mistaken zeal, a malicious temper, or hope of reward, to break this great commandment deliver
* Psalm xxvii. 12.
ed in the text: therefore, in order to prevent this evil, and the consequences of it, at least among you who are my hearers, I shall,
I. First, Show you several ways by which a man may
be called a false witness against his neighbour.
c II. Secondly, I shall give you some rules for your
conduct and behaviour, in order to defend yourselves against the malice and cunning of
false accusers. III. And lastly, I shall conclude with showing
you, very briefly, how far it is your duty, as good subjects and good neighbours, to bear faithful witness, when you are lawfully called to it by those in authority, or by the sincere advice of your own consciences.
1. As to the first, there are several ways by which a man may be justly called a false witness against his neighbour.
First, According to the direct meaning of the word, when a man accuseth his neighbour without the least ground of truth. So we read, “ that Jezabel hired two sons of Belial to accuse Naboth for blaspheming God and the king, for which, although he was entirely innocent, he was stoned to death.” And in our age it is not easy to tell how many men have lost their lives, been ruined in their fortunes, and put to ignominious punishment, by the downright perjury of false witnesses ! the law itself in such cases being not able to protect the innocent. But this is so horrible. a crime, that it doth not need to be aggravated by words. A second way by which a man becometh a
false witness is, when he mixeth falsehood and truth together, or concealeth some circumstances, which, if they were told, would destroy the falsehvods he uttereth. So the two false witnesses who accused our Saviour before the chief priests, by a very little perverting of his words, would have made him guilty of a capital crime: for so it was among the Jews to prophesy any evil against the temple: This fellow said, “ I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days," whereas the words, as our Saviour spoke them, were to another end, and differently expressed: for when the Jews asked him to shew them a sign, he said; “ Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it
In such cases as these, an innocent man is half confounded, and looketh as if he were guilty, since he neither can deny his words, nor perhaps readily strip them from the malicious additions of a false witness.
Thirdly, A man is a false witness, when, in accusing his neighbour, he endeavours to aggravate by his gestures and tone of his voice, or when he chargeth a man with words which were only repeated or quoted from somebody else. As if any one should tell me that he heard another speak certain dangerous and seditious speeches, and I should immediately accuse him for speaking them himself; and so drop the only circumstance that made him innocent. This was the case of St. Stephen. The false witness said, “ This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against this holy place and the law.” Whereas St Stephen said no such words; but only repeated some prophecies of Jeremiah or Malachi, which threatened Jerusalem with destruction if it did not repent: however, by the fury of the people, this innocent