We speak thousands of words each day, perhaps tens of thousands. What an opportunity for good (Ephesians 4:29; Proverbs 16:24). None of those words we speak are insignificant. We must and can use them to show our love of the truth.
One of the books that influenced the Larger Catechism was A Body of Divinity by James Ussher. There is a great deal in that commandment and the following updated extract helps us to establish some key truths in relation to it. In a helpful question and answer format he shows how and why we are to love truth with our words.
What is the main purpose God aims at in this Commandment?
The conservation of truth amongst men, and of our own and neighbour’s reputation and good name.
Why does God regard truth so much?
It is most dear to him; for He is the God of truth (Deuteronomy 32:4; Psalm 31:5) and truth itself (John 14:6). Christ came into the world, that He might bear witness to the truth (John 18:37). By speaking the truth God is glorified (Joshua 7:19).
What gave occasion to this commandment?
Our natural corruption which makes us prone to lying (Psalm 58:3; Romans 3:4). We no sooner speak than we lie and not only for advantage, without any cause but out of mere vanity.
Why are our words and speeches so much to be regarded, seeing they are but wind, as is commonly supposed?
Great care must be taken of our speech, seeing it is an excellent faculty peculiar to man, and as a special gift of God it must not be abused to God’s dishonour and our own destruction. Neither are words to be regarded slightly, seeing we must give account of every idle word, and by our words we shall be justified or condemned (Matthew 12:37). The wise man tells us, that death and life are in the power of the tongue (Proverbs 18:21) and that a wholesome tongue is a tree of life, whereas an evil tongue is an unruly evil, and full of deadly poison, (James 3:8) which if we do not subdue and rule, whatever profession we make of religion is all in vain (James 1:26).
What is truth or veracity?
It is a habit of speaking that which is true from our hearts (Psalm 15:2).
What is required in order to do this?
Two things. First, that our speech is in agreement with our minds. Secondly, that our minds are in agreement with the reality of the thing. For though we speak that which is true, yet if we think it false, we are liars, because our tongue is not in agreement with our minds. If that which we speak is false yet we think it is true, we do not speak truly, for though truth is in our hearts a lie is still in our mouths. Though we cannot be called liars, because we speak as we think, yet may we be said to tell a lie, because that which we say is false.
Is it sufficient just to know the truth and believe it?
No, we must also profess it with our mouths on all fitting occasions (Romans 10:9-10; Matthew 10:32-33).
How must the truth be professed?
Freely and simply.
How is it done freely?
When we profess it willingly and undauntedly, so far as the matter, place, and time require (Daniel 3:16-18; Acts 4:8, 10,13).
How is it done simply?
When as it is done without guile, dissimulation and evasion.
What is lying?
It is twofold: First, when we speak that which is false. Secondly, when as we speak that which is true, falsely, and with a mind to deceive.
What is it to speak that which is false?
When we do not speak the thing as it is, whether we think it is true or not.
What is it to speak falsely?
When we do not speak as we think, whether the thing is true or false.
What are the reasons which may dissuade from lying?
(a) Because God is true and the author of truth; and the Devil a liar and the father of lies; and as truth makes us like God, so lies make us like the Devil.
(b) Because it is strictly forbidden in the Scriptures (Leviticus 9:11; Exodus 23:7; Colossians 3:9; Ephesians 4:25).
(c) Because the liar sins grievously not only against his neighbour but also against God Himself (Leviticus 6:2).
(d) Because the Scriptures condemn lying as the spawn of the old serpent (John 8:44) and as a thing abominable and odious unto God (Proverbs 12:22 and 6:17).
(e) Because it perverts the use of speech, taketh away all credit and faith between man and man, and quite overthrows all human society, which cannot stand without contracts and commerce, nor they without truth.
(f) because God severely punishes lies (Proverbs 19:5, 9; Psalm 5:6; Acts 5:1-3 etc) both in this life (with infamy and disgrace, for it makes a man esteemed base and of no credit, so that the usual liar is not believed when he speaks truth). And in the life to come, for it excludes out of heaven (Revelation 22:15) and casts men into that lake which burns with fire and brimstone (Revelation 21:8).
But is it not sometimes lawful to conceal the truth?
Yes surely, when neither the glory of God, nor our own, or neighbour’s good requires the profession of it, but yet with this caution, that we do not speak any untruth to conceal it (1 Samuel 16:2,5).
What is opposed to simplicity in speaking the truth?
What is that in speech?
When we speak one thing and think another or speak with a heart and a heart, as Scripture puts it in the original (Psalm 12:2). This is called a deceitful tongue and mouth (Zephaniah 3:13) and a tongue that frames deceit (Psalm 50:19) as it is described (Psalm 52:22; Jeremiah 9:8, 9), which is to be avoided (Psalm 34:14) and Christ’s example imitated (1 Peter 2:22).
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