And with that power of imagination, though by itself it is a perfectly good power, given to us by God, I can nevertheless make representations in my own mind which are not in harmony with reality, with the reality of God, of the world, of Christ, of myself, and of the neighbor. And as soon as in our mind we make certain representations of that which is not reality, or of that which is directly contrary to reality and in conflict with it, and if I embrace those representations of my mind, cling to them, desire them and will them, and knowing that these representations are not reality but in conflict with it, and if then nevertheless I speak as if they were reality I am become a liar. The lie, therefore, is the perversion of a perfectly good power, the power of intellect and will, the power which God gave to a rational, moral creature, which by an act of his own will he subverted and corrupted.
Against this sin the ninth commandment is directed. The Catechism explains its positive as well as its negative aspect. The commandment directly forbids that we bear false witness against any man. And, as the Catechism explains, this implies that we do not corrupt or falsify or distort his words, that we be no backbiters or slanderers, that we do not judge or join in condemning any man rashly or unheard, so that we avoid all sorts of lies and deceit as the proper works of the devil, unless we would bring down upon us the heavy wrath of God. And positively, the Catechism explains that the ninth commandment demands that in judgment and in all other dealings I love the truth, speak it uprightly and confess it, and defend and promote as much as I am able the honor and good character of the neighbor.
The principle of the ninth commandment, therefore, is that God calls us to speak the truth in love, for His name’s sake, and to His glory, as well as for the love and well-being of the neighbor.
The opposite of this is the lie, or lying.
A lie is a willful misrepresentation of the truth. I emphasize that it is willful. Not every misrepresentation of the truth can be called a lie. We must remember that there are logical as well as moral misrepresentations of reality. The former are mistakes, or errors; the latter are lies. One can make a mistake in reasoning, so that the conclusion at which: he arrives is not the truth. And when his attention is called to his error, and he acknowledges it, he is not a liar. One can even make an error in such an exact science as mathematics. And also in that case the result is an untruth. But this is not what.is meant by a lie. It is a mere mental, logical, not a moral offense. The lie is an ethical evil. To lie means very definitely that in your mind you have a clear representation of reality, so that you know what is the truth, while at the same time you produced by your own invention and imagination that which was contrary to the truth, and that now deliberately, for some reason or other, you hate and reject that which you know is the truth, and just as deliberately cling to that misrepresentation which you know to be in conflict with the truth, and in your speech represent it as the truth. That is why we say that the lie is a willful misrepresentation of the truth.
Let us note that the Heidelberg Catechism calls lying the very works of the devil. We may ask: why does the Catechism do this? In a sense, of course, all sin may be called the work of the devil. Yet, in connection with the sins against the other commandments the Catechism does not emphasize this as it does in connection with the sin against the ninth commandment. The answer to this question is that according to Scripture, and according to his very name, the devil is a slanderer and liar. Thus then Lord says in John 8:44: “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.” Lying, therefore, is emphatically the sin of the devil. And the, principle of his sin is, according to Scripture, pride, self-exaltation. We know very little about the sin and the fall of Satan and his evil angels. But in the light of some passages of holy writ, it may safely be said that the principle of his sin was pride. Thus we read in I Timothy 3:6: “Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil.” Moreover, this is also plain from the very words by which he tempted our first parents in paradise to fall away from God. For in Gen. 3:4, 5 we read: “And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be a gods (or: as God), knowing good and evil.” That was the lie that already lived in the mind and heart of the devil himself. And that lie he now attempted to instill into the hearts of Adam and Eve. Hence, all sin is principally lying. And lying is principally motivated by pride and self-exaltation, first over against God, and then also over against the neighbor.
By listening to and embracing that first lie of the devil in paradise, we created a world of lies. If we read carefully what the Scriptures record about that first sin of Adam and Eve in paradise, we will discover that throughout it was based upon the principle of the lie. A lie was the first question which the devil put to Eve: “Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?” The idea of this question was, of course, to instill into the mind of Eve the lie, that if there were no harm in eating of every tree of the garden, it certainly could not be wrong to eat of this particular tree. And although Eve answered very emphatically that she and Adam might eat of every tree of the garden except that which stood in the midst of the garden, of which, according to her, God has said, “Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die,” the very emphasis of her words already reveals that principally she has surrendered to the lie of the devil. For the Lord had indeed said that they might not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, but He never had said that they might not touch it. Secondly, having prepared in the mind and heart of Eve a way for his lie, he at once approaches her with the principal lie, that God really does not seek the good of His creature, and that therefore, if only they depart from Him and from His ways, they will attain to the highest good, and be like God. That, as we said, is the principle of the lie of the devil. And that principle is pride. He contradicts God, and slanders Him, and at the same time exalts himself above Him by making himself equal with God. Notice that here the devil instills into the mind of the woman and kindles in her imagination what is a complete misrepresentation of reality. Reality was the word of God. That word of God was: “Ye shall not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Reality was too that in the obedience to God’s commandment lay the good of His rational, moral creature: only in that way could he live. Reality was that death and untold misery would be found in violating the word of God. Such was reality. And the devil presents to the woman an entirely different world, a world in which the word of God is the lie and in which not in obedience to the word of God, but exactly in disobedience and disregard of the commandment of the Lord, lay the life and salvation of the creature. Those two representations of reality, the one true and the other false, the one by the word of God and the other by the lie of the devil, Eve had before her mind. She certainly was able to distinguish them. The first sin was not a matter of mere confusion. She certainly knew that she would die in the way of the lie of the devil, and that she could live only by the word of God that proceeded out of His mouth. But all sin, and also the first sin, was a matter of, the will and of the heart. The temptation of the devil was calculated to take Eve’s heart away from the love of “the truth, with which she was created, and to have her choose the lie as desirable and preferable to the truth. And in this persuasion the devil evidently succeeded, for we read in Gen. 3:6: “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.” The tree, of course, was not good for food whatsoever: for man shall not live by bread alone, but by the word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. That it was pleasant and attractive to the eyes of Eve was not reality, but only true because the lust of the flesh had already taken hold of her heart. And that it was a tree that was desirable because it could make one wise was a lie, because the word of God had plainly informed her that in the way of eating of the tree she would die: and death is darkness and the folly of corruption.
Thus man became a sinner. And the sinner is a liar. And a liar is one that is filled with pride and exalts himself against the living God.
And as he is a liar, he necessarily is also a liar against the neighbor. As he does not love God, he cannot love the neighbor. And as he does not honor and love the name of God, so it is impossible for him to honor and love the neighbor’s name. Principally he is a liar over against the neighbor as well as over against God.
Now, we repeatedly asserted that the principle of the ninth commandment, the positive principle, is that we speak the truth in love. In emphasizing this positive principle we have particularly in mind the word of Scripture in Ephesians 4:15: “But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ.” And in connection with this verse we cite also verse 25: “Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbor: for we are members one of another.” And once more, we refer to verse 29 of the same chapter: “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.” This admonition is repeated several times in holy writ, as it is not necessary for us to point out at the present time.
Now in connection with Ephesians 4:15 there is a slight exegetical question, which, however, in connection with our use of the passage is of rather fundamental importance. The question, namely, is whether the phrase “in love” belongs to the preceding, “speaking the truth,” or to the words that follow. If the latter interpretation is followed, the text then should read: “But that, speaking the truth, in love we may grow up into him in all things.” We prefer, however, to choose the former interpretation, so that “in love” belongs to “speaking the truth.” This is the most natural interpretation of the words, and certainly produces a very good sense.
By the truth here is undoubtedly meant the fundamental truth of the gospel, which the Ephesians had been taught, and which all believers embrace. It is the truth concerning the revelation of God as the God of our salvation in Christ Jesus our Lord, and all that is implied in this gospel. Concerning this truth we may not be silent. It must be spoken. It must not only be preached by the church, but it must also be confessed by the members, before one another as well as before the whole world.
This must be done in love. Love is the principle of the whole law, and therefore also of the ninth commandment. And this love is always the love of God, a love which God principally has to Himself, and in Christ Jesus our Lord also to us: which He works in our hearts so that we know that He loves us, and which also becomes a power within us whereby we realize our part of the covenant of God, so that we love Him with all our heart and mind and soul and strength. In that principle of love we also have the bond of fellowship with one another, so that we love the brethren. And it is by the power of that principle of the love of God, by which also we love the brethren, that we must speak the truth.
It stands to reason that only when we speak the truth in love, the truth, that is, of the gospel of Jesus Christ our Lord, the truth that God reconciled us unto Himself, not imputing our trespasses unto us. the truth that God realized by His Spirit and word His sure promises unto us, so that we become new men in Christ Jesus our Lord, translated from darkness into light, that we also love and speak the truth in all things. From the principle of that fundamental truth follows that we obey the admonition which the apostle addresses to the church in Ephesus: “Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbor: for we are members one of another.” In the light of that truth and motivated by its principle, we can never lie against one another. For then we love the neighbor’s name as well as our own, and we will seek the honor and good reputation of that name with all that is within us.
This then is the principle of the ninth commandment. Always we must speak the truth to and concerning one another in love. It is well that we emphasize this phrase “in love.” It is indeed very well possible that one speaks the truth concerning his neighbor, or even to his neighbor, from ad entirely different motive than that of love. It is possible indeed to be entirely truthful, as far as the contents of our speech is concerned, to our brother, but with hatred and pride and vainglory in our hearts, for the purpose of hurting him and leading him to destruction. Such speech, however true it may be as far as the contents of it is concerned; is of the devil. And so it is possible also to speak the truth concerning the neighbor not m love, but in hatred, Andy to besmear his good reputation, and so make his position in the church, as well as in the world, impossible. In comparison with such speaking of the truth lying, although as such it must always be condemned and can never be justified, is nevertheless ethically preferable in certain cases. Of this we have several instances in Scripture. One of such cases is that of the Hebrew midwives in Egypt, Shiphrah and Puah. The king commanded them, when they functioned as midwives in the birth of the Hebrew children, that’ they should keep only the daughters alive, but kill the infant sons. The midwives disobeyed the command of the king because they feared God. And when the king called them to account for their disobedience of his word, they explained this disobedience by a lie, and said: “Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are lively, and are delivered ere the midwives come unto them.” Now this was, of course, a lie, quite contrary to the truth; and they were well aware of it. And the lie as such must be condemned. Perhaps it could be said that these Hebrew midwives lacked sufficient faith. They might have simply disobeyed the king without any refuge to the telling of an untruth. They might have had sufficient faith openly to refuse to obey the command of the king. Nevertheless, the motive of this lie was the fear of God and the love of God’s people, and the purpose was to save the people of Israel alive. And it is evident that in this case God looked at the motive in the deepest heart of the midwives. For we read: “Therefore God dealt well with the midwives: and the people multiplied, and waxed very mighty. And it came to pass, because the midwives feared God, that he made them houses.” Exodus 1:15-21.
Another illustration of the same nature is that of Rahab the harlot. This too is well-known. It was reported to the king of Jericho that the two spies sent by Joshua to search out the land of Canaan had entered the house of Rahab. And the king demanded that these two spies should be delivered up unto him. But Rahab hid the men on the roof of her house. And when the messengers of the king came to her to inquire about them, she said: “There came men unto me, but I wist not whence they were: And it came to pass about the time of shutting of the gate, when it was dark, that the men went out: whither the men went I wot not: pursue after them quickly; for ye shall overtake them.” Now this too was a lie; and as such it is undoubtedly to be condemned. Again, it may indeed be said that Rahab’s faith was not strong enough openly to defy the king and to commit the rest unto the Lord. Nevertheless, it is not the lack of faith, or the weakness of the faith of Rahab, but her faith, by which she circumvented the king’s commandment, and saved the people of God that had sought refuge in her house, which the Bible commends. For in Hebrews 11 we read: “By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace.”
We insist that lies like those of Shiprah and Push, the midwives of Egypt, and of Rahab the harlot are spiritually, ethically far to be preferred, also in the light of holy writ, above a speaking of the truth that is not motivated by the love of God and of the brethren, but rather by devilish hatred.
And therefore, the positive principle of the ninth commandment is that we always speak the truth, without compromising, without corruption, but then from the motive of the love of God and of the brethren, so that the word of the apostle Paul in Ephesians 4:29 is realized: “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.”