Cornelius Hanko is an emeritus minister in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
Ques. 112. What is required in the ninth commandment?
Ans. That I bear false witness against no man, nor falsify any man’s words; that I be no backbiter, nor slanderer; that I do not judge, nor join in condemning any man rashly, or unheard; but that I avoid all sorts of lies and deceit, as the proper works of the devil, unless I would bring down upon me the heavy wrath of God; likewise, that in judgment and in all other dealings I love the truth, speak it uprightly and confess it; also that I defend and promote, as much as I am able, the honor and good character of my neighbor.
Heid. Catechism, Lord’s Day 43.
I love Thee, Lord, for Thou hast first loved me!
It is Thy love spread abroad in my heart whereby I love Thee, and also love Thy saints, the household of faith, Thy people in Christ!
There is a strong bond of unity that unites me with all those who profess a like faith, and who walk according to Thy Word.
For Thy Word is the light upon my pathway. Thy law is my sure Guide, leading me to Thy dwelling place in the heavens.
Therefore in thankfulness to Thee I may, I can, I will, I must speak the truth in love concerning Thee and my fellow saints!
My heart declares,
“Sing to the Lord, sing His praise all ye people,
New be your song as new honors ye pay;
Sing of His majesty, bless Him forever,
Show His salvation from day to day.”
Our Lord is the living God who sees and hears, and also speaks!
He speaks within His own divine Being as the triune Covenant God, who lives His own perfect and glorious life in blessed intimate fellowship as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
To this speech God also gives utterance outside of Himself. For by the Word of His mouth were the heavens made, and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth. He spake and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast. When He was about to make man, the highest of the earthly creatures, the three divine Persons conferred together saying, “Let us make man in our, image, after our likeness.” Man was created to know God, to love Him, and to serve Him in love. Man was given the gift of speech to praise and glorify his Maker!
The mighty God, Jehovah, speaks through the rumblings of the thunder, the raging of the storm, the roaring billows of the sea, but also in the wafting breezes that stir the tree tops, the song of the birds, and the quiet movement of the stars of the night. “O Lord, our Lord, how glorious is Thy Name in all the earth.”
Far more wonderful is the speech of the God of our salvation in Jesus Christ, as recorded in the pages of Holy Writ. “For the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory of the only begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth.”
As if that were a small thing, we have the testimony of Christ by His Spirit in our hearts, creating in us a living faith, whereby we experience the adoption to sons and the right to eternal life. The image of God, once lost through sin, is now restored to us in Christ, so that we may know our God, may love Him as our God, and serve Him in devotion of love, declaring His wonders, His praises, His glories now and even unto endless eternity, world without end!
Amazing gift, that gift of speech! In our thoughts we travel through the pages of history, we go from one end of the world to the other, we ascend to heaven, and descend to hell, and we can also give expression to all that we see and know. We can commune with one another, share our thoughts and experiences to the edification of the saints and the glory of God’s Name in Christ Jesus!
What a horrible contrast!
Our Catechism speaks of the sin against the ninth commandment as “the proper works of the devil”!
God says in this ninth command: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”
We are reminded of our fall in our first parents in Paradise, with the bitter result that we are conceived and born in sin. As we are by nature, our throats are an open sepulchre, with our tongues we use deceit, the poison of asps is under our lips, our mouths are full of cursing and bitterness (Rom. 3:13, 14). If this were not written in the Bible, I would -not want to admit it. Yet it is so very true that, according to our first birth, we are children of our father, the devil, who was a liar and a murderer from the beginning. There is no sin mentioned in any of the ten commandments that is not committed by the evil tongue.
The wonder of grace is that we are born again as new creatures in Christ Jesus, with the life of the risen Lord in our hearts. Now we are sons of God! We know not as yet what we shall be, but this we know, when Christ appears we shall be like Him in His glory! We have the beginning of eternal life in our hearts!
That is exactly what creates the tension between the old man of sin which still wars in our members and the new man in Christ, which seeks to be pleasing to God! Our sinful nature always spontaneously sins against the ninth commandment. Only grace makes it possible for us to hear God say to us, “My child, thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor!”
The proper works of the devil have so many aspects!
There is the evil of false doctrine. We are prone by nature to debase God and to exalt man. That error was evident already in Cain, and lifts its vile head throughout all of history. The heretic readily follows the cunning of Satan by quoting God’s Word with a pretence of sincerity, “Has not God said?” Paul warns of those who approach us from every direction with cunning craftiness, intent upon deceit as they gamble for men’s souls. The fundamental truths are attacked, such as the infallibility of the Scriptures, the sovereignty of God, predestination, particular atonement, and many other basic truths. Heresy is like a cancer that secretly eats at the very vitals of the church, growing rapidly and bringing destruction as it develops. The church of Jesus Christ is always in a state of siege. Its members must be alert for all the forces of darkness that wage war against her, never despairing, but always confident that the victory is already attained in our Lord Jesus Christ. Our greatest threat is the complacency that cries peace where there is no peace.
There is the evil of false witness. The extreme of this evil we meet in the courts of law where witnesses will deliberately lie under oath. They call God to witness and to confirm that they are speaking the truth, while they pour out their falsifications, as if God is not a righteous Judge. We think of Potiphar’s wife and her wicked charges against Joseph. Or of Jezebel, who falsely accused Naboth to claim his vineyard. The worst atrocity of all times was directed against our Lord, who was falsely accused, slandered, wickedly condemned and crucified, an outcast among men.
Our Catechism speaks of judging or helping to condemn a man rashly or unheard. Rash judgments are born out of suspicion or distrust. They can even arise out of jealousy or dislike. The one person says, “It may be;” the second says, “I think so;” the third emphatically states, “I heard it said;” the fourth party declares it to be a fact. In the meantime the story grows out of all proportions, beyond all recognition. The worst of it is, that it is so hard for us to forget the accusations that are brought against a person. Every time we see him we are reminded of the accusation that was made. Years later that charge, right or wrong, is still brought up. It may be forgiven by God, but we do not readily forgive and forget.
Also mentioned are the sins of gossip, backbiting and slander. The things we never would want to say to the person himself we readily tell to a friend. Many social visits are characterized by what the Psalmist says, “They sit and speak evil of each other,” leaving nothing but a guilty conscience. It is so common to smile to a person’s face and to stab him in the back. All the incentive that a talebearer needs is the remark, “Don’t quote me,” or, “Don’t tell anyone I told you.”
What a power lies behind that wicked tongue! What a damage is done by this little member! Character defamation, destroyed respectability, loss of livelihood, loss of position in the church, even loss of life are but some of the bitter results of the evil tongue. Churches have been torn apart, families have been brought into turmoil, even as nations have been forced into war! The devil finds the evil tongue to be one of his strongest weapons, the hardest for us to overcome. In fact, no one can tame that evil beast, except the power of God’s grace by His Spirit in our hearts.
Let us repent, confess our sins, and seek from the Lord a pure heart and an upright spirit! We must have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them (Eph. 5:11).
“Be ye followers of God, as dear children” (Eph. 5:1).
A child who loves and esteems his father spontaneously desires to imitate him. His highest desire is to walk in his footsteps; to be like him.
Our Catechism teaches that I should “love the truth, speak it uprightly and confess it.” That applies, first of all, to the truth of Scripture. Our love to God requires that we have a deep respect for His Word. We acknowledge it as the truth, humbly bowing before it and surrendering our lives unto it. We maintain and defend it over against every false teaching, and that at any cost. For God’s Word is to us the only sure Guide, the power unto our salvation! But there is more. Our Book of Instruction adds that we must love, speak, and confess the truth “in judgment and all other dealings.” That applies to our contact with our fellow saints. We are called to be honest and sincere, upright and truthful in all our dealings with each other.
We who are forgiven so much, are we ready to forgive our neighbor?
We who want others to speak well of us, do we speak well of them?
We who expect others to bear with our weaknesses, do we bear with their weaknesses?
We who appreciate a word of comfort in time of need, do we give a drink of water to the thirsty, a bite of bread to the hungry, a word of reassurance to the weary?
With the end of the ages upon us, we do well to read the prophecy of Malachi, the last of the Old Testament prophets, and notice particularly these words: “Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name.”