The key word in the ninth commandment is “false.”
We may bear witness against the neighbor.
There are times when we sin when we refuse to witness against him. But we may never bear false witness against him. There are times when for the good of one neighbor we are required to witness against another neighbor. We then witness forthe one neighbor and against the other neighbor. To defend the one from being accused of what the other did, we must bear a true witness against the perpetrator of evil. However, here too we must be careful, and our tongues must avoid sinning against that neighbor against whom we must testify. That witness must be given to the right parties and in the right way. And the proper parties are those whom God has ordained for the punishment and correction of the evil doers. It may be the authorities in the State, and it may be those in the Church.
The heart must be right when we make such witness against the neighbor. It must not be hatred against him that moves us to testify to his evil. It must not be the desire for revenge. It must not be the mere advantage of the other neighbor-friend, or neighbor-relative. It must be an abhorrence of sin, a love for justice and the correction of the evil doer. By all means that must be the case in the Church when both neighbors are in the church. It is so easy to defend the one brother because you are closer to him and be ready to condemn the other brother because of some experience you had with him in the past. And then one is quite ready and carnally eager to bear this witness against. Sometimes we hypocritically say that we are doing this for his good and seeking his salvation and to turn him from sure ruin. But we had better be sure that God, Who reads our hearts, finds that love of the brother, against whom we are going to witness, in our hearts.
We live in an age when there is a superabundance of false witness in every department of life. Under oath in the court room by half truths false witness is given. But what about our whole field of advertising today? The witness is false, and it is against the neighbor in that it gets the neighbor’s money for an inferior article that is not worth the price required to purchase it. In spite of all the fancy slogans that business establishments—and that holds true for insurance companies as well and for banks and savings and loan associations—the natural man simply is not in business for the good of those to whom he sells. Any advertised improvement or advantage is for the filling of the coffers of the advertiser and not for the customer and consumer. And in the field of diplomacy and of politics we are at the point where you can believe practically nothing. Yes means no; and promises made in the heat of a campaign are so much nonsense and idle words. At this time of the year as well, the man who boasted so of his income now has SO little income that his tax return almost makes the examiners weep to see that a man with so little income has such big expenses!! Indeed, we can also bear false witness against a nation and government.
But the worst form of all deceit is practiced in the church. And an out-and-out atheist is to be preferred to the false-witness bearer in the pulpit. We said above that the key word in the ninth commandment is the word “false.” And false doctrine in the church is the vilest form of deceit that can be practiced upon man. It was Satan’s initial tool and it is his favorite weapon today. By means of it he had the victory in paradise; and by means of it he is succeeding in establishing the kingdom of the Antichrist. And false doctrine is a serious business. For it a witness not only against the member in the church, misleading him, giving him a false comfort, deceiving him and taking from him true joy and peace, but it is also false witness against God and His Christ!
Now to bear false witness against a man is one thing, and an evil thing forbidden by God’s law as an act of hatred against him. But to perform this act of hatred against God and His Christ is quite another thing and will not go unpunished. Woe unto that man who falsifies God’s Word; and woe unto that man who I offends any of God’s children with a false presentation of the God of our salvation and His Christ. It were better for that man that a millstone be hanged about his neck and that he be cast into the sea before he could do such an evil.
This is a serious matter and especially serious in this day and age in which we live. For in spite of all the outward show of piety and of belief in God today a true witness of God and of His Christ is hard to find, and will become still harder in the days that lie just ahead of us. The day will soon be here when those who bear a true witness of God will be branded as the false church; and the lie will rule the pulpit and write the church’s creed. Out of one side of the mouth churches will say that “All roads lead to Rome” and “We are all walking to God’s kingdom but on different roads.” And then out of the other side of the mouth they will expel from their midst those who differ with them doctrinally. In effect they will say, “You may not walk on our road with us to heaven, even though we believe that your road also leads to heaven.” They will deny your Christ and your God—”O, I could not believe in a God like that!”—and then still insist that you are going to arrive with them to live with their God (god), when all the mists are rolled away. They will advocate church mergers in every direction but in your direction. They will say that you are nice people, but they will fail to explain how nice people can have such awful ideas about God. They will claim that the natural man can do some good, but those who differ from them doctrinally can never do any good. They will corrupt the history and thus bear a false witness against you, and then they will strongly advocate an attitude of love towardseveryone else.
But can we bear a true witness to men? And can we bear a true witness of God in the midst of all the conflicting doctrines and creeds and theories and writings of men? Can we be sure that we ourselves are not misleading and whether we are rendering to God the glory due to His name? Can we be sure what is truth in the midst of so many claims and among so many conflicting and contradicting views?
Yes we can, even as God’s people in the Old Testament dispensation could tell. Among Israel all departures were characterized by worshipping an idol, a graven image, that had the features, the weaknesses and limitations of the creature. All those around Israel had gods that were like the creature. And these gods were either made by man himself out of gold and silver, wood or stone, or they were self-appointed gods as the sun, the moon and the stars. They all had one thing in common, and that is this that they all had their limitations. They were limited by each other or had a nature that gave limit to their size, location and power. This made it necessary so often for the heathen to have more than one god.
And in the New Testament dispensation all this is true of all false doctrines. They all have this in common that they whittle down the almighty, eternal and sovereign God to a creaturely size. They are mental rather than graven images. But they all ascribe some weakness somewhere to God. And then by virtue of that fact they bear false witness against Him! You may test your church’s doctrines by this to determine whether they speak the truth of the living God or not. If they ascribe any power to the creature apart from God, whether that be in the realm of creation or in the sphere of salvation, it is a false witness and false doctrine. If that doctrine takes any of God’s glory and ascribes it to the creature, it is a witness against Him and a false witness. For all that witness which is against God is false witness. You cannot say anything evil about God to anyone without lying about Him. He is the overflowing fountain of all good, the Giver of every good and perfect gift, The Light in Whom is no darkness at all. Say anything else about Him, and you are witnessing against Him and guilty of speaking false doctrine. Question that He is sovereign in anything and you question that He is God. Deny that He is almighty and that absolutely everything is constantly under His control and that all things were determined by Him from eternity, and you deny that He is God. Attribute to Him any limitations of any kind imposed upon Him by the creature, and you have destroyed Him in your mind as God. Make Him, in your thinking, wait for the creature at any time in any sphere or circumstance of life, and you lower him beneath the creature and present Him as no God.
This is a serious matter, and it is time for us to return to the truth that God is GOD. Let us confess this in all our doctrine, or we confess the lie. And if we deny Him to be God, we will find out that He is in a most. dreadful way. The atheist will go to school forever in hell and learn anew in all his agonies that there is a God. The God-is-dead people will at the moment of their own death find that He is very much alive and truly the living God. The false prophet who deceived the people with a perversion of the truth concerning God will see Him some day as He really is and cease his foolish spoutings about the god of his own imagination. And the child of God who knows Jehovah to be God, who bows in the dust before Him, confessing his own unworthiness, will know this God in all His almighty power to glorify, in all the infinite grace that saves and in the sovereign love that blesses in a realm of joy and unending glory.
But dare we deceive His people? And do we think that He will take this lightly? Rob a man of his gold, take from him all his earthly possessions and you have shown hatred towards him. But rob him of his faith in God, warp his thinking about the Almighty, change his opinion about the God of his salvation, and you have done him infinitely greater harm. Let the instructor be sure of his instruction. Let him speak only in the fear of God’s name. Let him be sure that “Thus saith the Lord” of all that which he declares unto God’s church. And let all beware, parents and school teachers as well, what they feed to the children of God’s covenant for truth. We cannot be too careful about what we say of God and how we present Him to these.
He who teaches stands in a tremendously responsible position. Whether he teach the little child with all its receptivity or the college student with his critical approach, the instructor must answer to this living God for the observations made and lessons taught. Better to teach the child that five and five are eleven than that God is not sovereign in ALL His works. Better teach him that water freezes at 100 degrees Fahrenheit than that God is changeable. Better to teach him Lincoln was the first president of the United States of America than to teach him that God can be frustrated by man, that Christ is not risen from the dead, was not conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin. Far worse is the deception that causes him to put his trust in a god of man’s making, for that god is not even as big and strong and wise as the man who made it.
When the Catechism says that the ninth commandment requires of me that I love the truth, it means also that I love the truth concerning God. In fact unless I love that truth, my correct statements in arithmetic, geography, science and history are worthless. The fear of the Lord is the principle of all wisdom; and unless I love the truth concerning God and teach it, I cannot and will not do anything else than to deceive in regard to the more important matters of God’s glory and man’s salvation. And what shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world AND LOSE HIS SOUL?
(Note: Next time, the Lord willing, we will continue our meditations upon the law of God which we began Volume XLII, Number 14, April 15, 1966, and treat the matter of the tenth commandment. J.A.H.)