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sufficient for thee; for my strength is made perfect in weakAnd upon the foot of the blessed discoveries of the gospel, we look for his mercy unto eternal life," Jude 21.
Upon the whole, then,
1. If the gospel lay us under so various and so strong engagements to a merciful disposition, where shall the cruel and the savage appear? If a compassionate temper, ready to express itself in the kind and beneficent fruits of it, is made necessary to a well-grounded hope of God's favour, what must become of those who are perfectly insensible of the calamities of others, unmoved at their cries, and inexorable to their intreaties? of the spiteful and malicious of the injurious oppressor, that "sees the anguish of his brother's soul, when he beseeches, but will not hear ?" What must be the end of the bloody persecutor?
2. Let us, then, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, as his peculiar people and beloved children, studiously put on bowels of mercy. Shall others, who make no such pretence, be induced by goodness of nature, or by some ignobler motives, to shew mercy to the miserable in many amiable instances? And shall we, who profess Christianity, or to be called into the kingdom and fellowship of God's dear Son, come behind them? We who acknowledge ourselves to need so much mercy from God, who have already received such rich fruits of it, and have all our future expectations from the same source; we who are not encouraged to hope for divine mercy, without exercising it to our fellow-creatures; we who are called the followers of the merciful Jesus. Certainly many of the heathen world will rise up in judgment against those pretended Christians, who shut up the bowels of their compassion from their neighbour, and will condemn them.
VERACITY, OR TRUTH BETWEEN MAN AND
EPH. IV. 25.
Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour; for we are members one of another.
HE apostle, in some verses before the text, had represented the gross corruptions that prevailed in the Gentile world; and then his charitable hope of the Ephesians, to whom he wrote, that they had learned Christ so as to make them new men, quite another sort of people in the temper of their spirits, and the course of their conversation, and what they had once been themselves, and from what the body of the heathens still were.
Having expressed such a charitable persuasion concerning them, he proceeds to exhort them to behave accordingly; cautioning them against many sins, which abounded among those who had not yet received the knowledge of the truth; and exciting to several particular duties to which the new nature would prompt them. He begins with the exhortation in the text, to a strict regard for truth, or veracity.
This was a duty especially fit to be inculcated upon converts from Paganism; not only as lying, among other evil practices, was common and customary every where among them, but as some of their most celebrated masters of wisdom taught looser principles upon this head, than upon many other subjects of morality. They esteemed lying, in many cases, to be lawful
and justifiable; for which Dr. Whitby, upon the place, produces several passages out of their writings. It was, therefore, peculiarly suitable, that when the apostle puts the Ephesians in mind of the better instructions they had learned from "the truth as it is in Jesus," or from the Christian revelation, which eminently bears the character of a doctrine of truth, he should begin with pressing them to a stricter regard to truth, than they had either practised or been taught before their conversion. And so he does in the words read: Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neigh bour, for we are members one of another.
Upon this head it will be proper,
I.. To explain the precept here recommended to Christians, or the social duty which is prescribed by these words.
II. To consider the reason which the apostle gives for
And then to close with a practical application.
I. I would explain and state the social duty which is here recommended to Christians.
The apostle, for greater emphasis, had described the general change made in the spirits and lives of Christians by the gospel, both negatively and positively; by "putting off the old man, and putting on the new,' ver. 22-24. In like manner he does, for the same reason, in reference to this particular virtue. On the one hand, he calls the Ephesians to put away lying; and, on the other, to speak every man truth with his neighbour.
Truth, in scripture and in common use, hath several acceptations. Sometimes it signifies "the real nature of things in themselves" and that is the same, whether we think at all of it or not, however we judge about it; for our judgment cannot alter the nature of things. Sometimes it signifies the conformity of our apprehensions to the nature of things; that we conceive aright of them, and just as they really are: error and mistake stand opposed to truth in this sense. Every man, as far as he is concerned to think at all about things, should endeavour to judge as truly of them as he can, or agreeable to what they are in themselves. And when he speaks to
his neighbour, he should communicate truth to him, in opposition to error, as far as he is able. But a man may vent error and mistake without the guilt of lying.
Therefore, we must come to a third sense of truth, the "agreement of our words to our own sense and apprehension." And lying, properly speaking, stands opposed to truth only in this signification. A man may speak the truth to his neighbour in this moral sense, and in the sense of the text, even when he is involuntarily mistaken; and, on the other hand, he may be guilty of the sin of lying, when he speaks to his neighbour that which is a real truth in itself, as long as he does not think it so. A man may be guilty of other sins, which will be ruinous to him in the day of account, when he judges amiss or contrary to the truth of things, under sufficient means of better information. God may condemn him for his sloth and negligence, or for his corrupt prejudices in such a case. But he is not directly and properly charged with the sin of lying, except when he speaks contrary to his own present sense and judgment.
Speaking, or writing, which is but another way of speaking, are intended to be means of communicating our minds one to another. Lying is giving a false representation of our minds; speaking what we think to be false, to deceive others.
Both of these are to be taken in for explaining this vice; that the matter of what we say is false, or different from what we believe to be true; and that it be spoken with intention to deceive him to whom we speak.
There may be either separately, without incurring the guilt of lying. It is not a lie, for instance, to repeat a known falsehood in the way of narrative, but declares that he believes it to be false. Nor is it repugnant to veracity to use figurative expressions, which yet are not strictly true in the literal sense; as long as by common use, or the manner of speaking, the design of them is easy enough to be understood: as in the use hyperbole; or, when we exceed what is strictly true, either in magnifying or diminishing a thing, but every one at the same time may understand that it is intended for no more than a figure. So the evangelist says, John xxi. 25. "There are many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world it
self could not contain the books that should be written;" which none can understand to import any more than that the books which must be written upon such a subject would be endless. So the use of an ironical way of speaking, is not inconsistent with veracity; that is, when the strict literal sense of the words seems to signify one thing, but the circumstances of the case more plainly shew that the quite contrary is meant as in Elijah's contest with the false prophets of Baal, when they had offered their sacrifice, and called upon their false god from morning till noon, to send fire down to consume the sacrifice, Elijah did not think it unlawful or unbecoming to deride them and their god, that he might awaken them out of their stupidity, and shew their folly to all the people, by an irony, 1 Kings xviii. 27. "Cry aloud,” says he, "for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is on a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked.". Here was no violation of truth, in saying in the matter, and on the occasion that he said so, that Baal was a god. Every one that heard him, must understand him to mean the contrary in the strongest manner. In all figurative ways of speaking, it is necessary to their consistence with truth, that it be apparent they are intended for figures: and then, if they are apt to express our minds to the hearer, they are words of truth; but break in upon truth, if they are intended to mislead him.
Nor is an intention to deceive others always criminal, if no falsehood be spoken for that purpose. It is not unlawful to deceive an enemy in war by a stratagem, though it would be so to assert a falsehood to him. I may foresee that my silence, or forbearing to say all that I know of a matter, will lead my neighbour into a mistake, and yet may lawfully inform him of the truth; yea, in some cases, it may be my duty not to do it: as, where a greater good requires that he should be kept ignorant of it; or, sometimes, for the sake of his own good; suppose, for instance, it is known that a sick person will refuse a medicine very likely to be of service to him, if he were acquainted with what it was; certainly a physician, or a parent, or friend, may very lawfully endeavour to deceive him by any method consistent with truth: or, if a matter be intrusted with me as a secret, and another would fain discover it, who has no right to know it, if either by silence, or by a