The Ten Commandments by Thomas Watson
2. THE TEN COMMANDMENTS
2.9 The Ninth Commandment
'Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.' Exod
THE tongue which at first was made to be an organ of God's
praise, is now become an instrument of unrighteousness. This
commandment binds the tongue to its good behaviour. God has set two
natural fences to keep in the tongue, the teeth and lips; and this
commandment is a third fence set about it, that it should not break
forth into evil. It has a prohibitory and a mandatory part: the
first is set down in plain words, the other is clearly implied.
I. The prohibitory part of the commandment, or, what it forbids
in general. It forbids anything which may tend to the disparagement
or prejudice of our neighbour. More particularly, two things are
forbidden in this commandment.
 Slandering our neighbour. This is a sin against the ninth
commandment. The scorpion carries his poison in his tail, the
slanderer carries his poison in his tongue. Slandering 'is to report
things of others unjustly.' They laid to my charge things that I
knew not.' Psa xxxv 11. It is usual to bring in a Christian beheaded
of his good name. They raised for a slander of Paul, that he
preached 'Men might do evil that good might come of it.' 'We be
slanderously reported; and some affirm that we say, "Let us do evil,
that good may come".' Rom iii 8. Eminence is commonly blasted by
slander. Holiness itself is no shield from slander. The lamb's
innocence will not preserve it from the wolf. Christ, the most
innocent upon earth, was reported to be a friend of sinners. John
the Baptist was a man of a holy and austere life, and yet they said
of him, 'He has a devil.' Matt xi 18. The Scripture calls
slandering, smiting with the tongue. 'Come, and let us smite him
with the tongue.' Jer xviii 18. You may smite another and never touch
him. Majora sunt linguae vulnera quam gladii [The tongue inflicts
greater wounds than the sword]. Augustine. The wounds of the tongue
no physician can heal; and to pretend friendship to a man, and
slander him, is most odious. Jerome says: 'The Arian faction made a
show of kindness; they kissed my hands, but slandered me, and sought
my life.' As it is a sin against this commandment to raise a false
report of another, so it is to receive a false report before we have
examined it. 'Lord, who shall dwell in thy holy hill?' Psa xv 1.
Quis ad coelum? 'He that backbiteth not, nor taketh up a reproach
against his neighbour;' ver. 3. We must not only not raise a false
report, but not take it up. He that raises a slander, carries the
devil in his tongue; and he that receives it, carries the devil in
his car.  The second thing forbidden in this commandment is false
witness. Here three sins are condemned: (1) Speaking. (2)
Witnessing. (3) Swearing that which is false, contra proximum
[against your neighbour].
(1) Speaking that which is false. 'Lying lips are abomination
to the Lord.' Prov xii 22. To lie is to speak that which one knows
to be an untruth. There is nothing more contrary to God than a lie.
The Holy Ghost is called the 'Spirit of Truth.' I John iv 6. Lying
is a sin that does not go alone; it ushers in other sins. Absalom
told his father a lie, when he said that he was going to pay his vow
at Hebron, and this was a preface to his treason. 2 Sam xv 7. Where
there is a lie in the tongue, the devil is in the heart. 'Why has
Satan filled thine heart to lie?' Acts v 3. Lying is a sin that
unfits men for civil society. How can you converse or bargain with a
man when you cannot trust a word he says? This sin highly provokes
God. Ananias and Sapphire were struck dead for telling a lie. Acts
v 5. The furnace of hell is heated for liars. 'Without are
sorcerers, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.' Rev xxii 15. O
abhor this sin! Quicquid dixeris jura tum putes [Consider your every
word an oath]. Jerome. When thou speakest, let thy word be as
authentic as thy oath. Imitate God, who is the pattern of truth.
Pythagoras being asked what made men like God, answered, cum vera
loquuntur, 'when they speak the truth.' The character of a man that
shall go to heaven, is that 'He speaketh the truth in his heart.'
Psa xv 2.
(2) That which is condemned in the commandment is, witnessing
that which is false. 'Thou shalt not bear false witness.' There is a
twofold bearing false witness: 1. There is bearing false witness for
another. 2. Bearing false witness against another.
Bearing false witness for another; as when we give our
testimony for a person who is criminal and guilty, and we justify
him as if he were innocent. 'Which justify the wicked for reward.'
Isa v 23. He that seeks to make a wicked man just, makes himself
It is bearing false witness against another, when we accuse him
in open court falsely. This is to imitate the devil, who is the
'accuser of the brethren.' Though the devil is no adulterer, yet he
is a false witness. Solomon says, 'A man that beareth false witness
against his neighbour, is a maul and a sword.' Prov xxv 18. In his
face he is hardened like a hammer: he cannot blush, he cares not
what lie he witnesses to; and he is a sword: his tongue is a sword
to wound the person he witnesses against in his goods or life.
'There came in two men, children of Belial, and witnessed against
Naboth, saying, Naboth did blaspheme God and the king:' and their
witness took away his life. I Kings xxi 13. The queen of Persia
being sick, the magicians accused two godly virgins of having by
charms procured the queen's sickness; whereupon she caused those
virgins to be sawn asunder. A false witness perverts the place of
judicature; he corrupts the judge by making him pronounce a wrong
sentence, and causes the innocent to suffer. Vengeance will find out
the false witness. 'A false witness shall not be unpunished.' Prov
xix 5. 'If the witness be a false witness, and has testified falsely
against his brother; then shall ye do unto him, as he had thought to
have done unto his brother;' if, for instance, he had thought to
have taken away his life, his own life shall go for it. Deut xix 18,
(3) That which is condemned in the commandment is, swearing to
what is false; as when men take a false oath, and by that take away
the life of another. 'Love no false oath.' Zech viii 17. 'What seest
thou? I said, a flying roll,' chap. v 2. 'This is the curse that
goes forth, and it shall enter, saith the Lord, into the house of
him that sweareth falsely by my name; and it shall consume it, with
the timber and stones thereof;' ver 3, 4. The Scythians made a law
that when a man bound together a lie with an oath, he was to lose
his head; because these sins took away all truth and faith from
among men. The devil has taken great possession of those who dare
swear to a lie.
For reproof. (1) The church of Rome is reproved, which
dispenses with a lie, or a false oath, if it promotes the Catholic
cause. It approves of an officious lie; and holds some sins to be
lawful. It may as well hold some lies to be lawful. God has no need
of our lie. It is not lawful to tell a lie, propter Dei gloriam [for
the glory of God], if we were sure to bring glory to God by it, as
(2) They are reproved who make no conscience of slandering
others. 'Thou fittest and slenderest thine own mother's son.' Psa
l 20. 'Report, say they, and we will report.' Jer xx 10. 'This
city (i.e. Jerusalem) is a rebellious city, and hurtful to kings and
provinces.' Ezra iv 15. Paul was slandered as a mover of sedition,
and the head of a faction. Acts xxiv 5. The same word signifies both
a slanderer and a devil. 1 Tim iii 11. 'Not slanderers;' in the
Greek, 'not devils.' Some think it is no great matter, to
misrepresent and slander others; but it is to act the part of a
devil. Clipping a man's credit, to make it weigh lighter, is worse
than clipping coin. The slanderer wounds three at once: he wounds
him that is slandered; he wounds him to whom he reports the slander,
by causing uncharitable thoughts to arise up in his mind against the
party slandered; and he wounds his own soul, by reporting of another
what is false. This is a great sin; and I wish I could say it is not
common. You may kill a man in his name as well as in his person.
Some are loath to take away their neighbour's goods - conscience
would fly in their face; but better take away their corn out of
their field, their wares out of their shop, than take away their
good name. This is a sin for which no reparation can be made; a blot
in a man's name, being like a blot on white paper, which will never
be got out. Surely God will visit for this sin. If idle words shall
be accounted for, shall not unjust slanders? The Lord will make
inquisition one day, as well for names as for blood. Oh therefore
take heed of this sin! Was it not a sin under the law to defame a
virgin? Deut xxii 19. And is it not a greater sin to defame a saint,
who is a member of Christ? The heathen, by the light of nature,
abhorred the sin of slandering. Diogenes used to say, 'Of all wild
beasts, a slanderer is the worst.' Antonius made a law, that, if a
person could not prove the crime he reported another to be guilty
of, he should be put to death.
(3) They are reproved who are so wicked as to bear false
witness against others. These are monsters in nature, unfit to live
in a civil society. Eusebius relates of one Narcissus, a man famous
for piety, who was accused by two false witnesses of unchastity. To
prove their accusations, they endeavoured to confirm it with oaths
and curses. One said, 'If I speak not true, I pray God I may perish
by fire:' the other said, 'If I speak not true, I wish I may be
deprived of my sight.' It pleased God that the first witness who
forswore himself should be burned in the flames, his house being set
on fire: the other being troubled in conscience, confessed his
perjury, and continued to weep so long that he wept himself blind.
Jezebel, who suborned two false witnesses against Naboth, was thrown
down from a window and 'the dogs licked her blood.' 2 Kings ix 33.
Oh, tremble at this sin! A perjured person is the devil's excrement.
He is cursed in his name, and seared in his conscience. Hell gapes
for such a windfall.
For exhortation. (1) Let all take heed of breaking
this commandment, by lying, slandering, and bearing false witness.
To avoid these sins get the fear of God. Why does David say, 'The
fear of the Lord is clean'? Psa xix 9. Because it cleanses the heart
from malice, and the tongue from slander. 'The fear of the Lord is
clean:' it is to the soul as lightning to the air, which cleanses
it. Get love to your neighbour. Lev xix 18. If we love a friend, we
shall not speak or attest anything to his prejudice. Men's minds are
cankered with envy and hatred; hence come slandering and false
witnessing. Love is a lovely grace; love 'thinketh no evil.' I Cor
xiii 5. It puts the best interpretation upon another's words. Love is
a well-wisher, and it is rare to speak ill of him we wish well to.
Love is that which cements Christians together; it is the healer of
division, and the hinderer of slander.
(2) Let those whose lot it is to meet with slanderers and false
accusers -  Labour to make a sanctified use of it. When Shimei
railed on David, David made a sanctified use of it. 'The Lord has
said unto him, Curse David.' 2 Sam xvi 10. So, if you are slandered,
or falsely accused, make a good use of it. See if you have no sin
unrepented of, for which God may suffer you to be calumniated and
reproached. See if you have not at any time wronged others in their
name, and said that of them which you cannot prove; then lay your
hand on your mouth, and confess the Lord is righteous to let you
fall under the scourge of the tongue.  If you are slandered, or
falsely accused, but know your own innocence, be not too much
troubled; let your rejoicing be the witness of your conscience.
Murus aheneus esto nil conscire sibi [Let this be a bulwark, to know
oneself guiltless]. A good conscience is a wall of brass, that will
be able to stand against a false witness. As no flattery can heal a
bad conscience, so no slander can hurt a good one. God will clear up
the names of his people. 'He shall bring forth thy righteousness as
the light.' Psa xxxvii 6. As he will wipe away tears from the eyes, so
will he wipe off reproaches from the name. Believers shall come
forth out of all their slanders and reproaches, as 'the wings of a
dove, covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold.'
(3) Be very thankful to God, if he has preserved you from
slander and false witness. Job calls it 'the scourge of the tongue;'
chap v 21. As a rod scourges the back, so the slanderer's tongue
scourges the name. It is a great mercy to be kept from the scourge
of a tongue; a mercy that God stops malignant mouths from bearing
false witness. What mischief might not a lying report or a false
oath do! One destroys the name, the other the life. It is the Lord
who muzzles the mouths of the wicked, and keeps those dogs, that
snarl at us, from flying upon us. 'Thou shalt keep them secretly in
a pavilion, from the strife of tongues.' Psa xxxi 20. There is, I
suppose, an allusion to kings, who being resolved to protect their
favourites against the accusation of men, take them into their
bed-chamber, or bosom, where none may touch them. So God has a
pavilion, or secret hiding-place for his favourites, where he
preserves their credit and reputation untouched; he keeps them from
the 'strife of tongues.' We ought to acknowledge this to be a great
mercy before God.
II. The mandatory part of the commandment implied is that we
stand up for others and vindicate them when they are injured by
lying lips. This is the sense of the commandment, not only that we
should not slander falsely or accuse others; but that we should
witness for them, and stand up in their defence, when we know them
to be traduced. A man may wrong another as well by silence as by
slander, when he knows him to be wrongfully accused, yet does not
speak in his behalf. If others cast false aspersions on any, we
should wipe them off. When the apostles were filled with the wine of
the Spirit, and were charged with drunkenness, Peter openly
maintained their innocence. 'These are not drunken, as ye suppose.'
Acts ii 15. Jonathan knowing David to be a worthy man, and all those
things Saul said of him to be slanders, vindicated him. 'David has
not sinned against thee; his works have been to thee-ward very good.
Wherefore then wilt thou sin against innocent blood, to slay David
without a cause?' I Sam xix 4, 5. When the primitive Christians were
falsely accused for incest, and killing their children, Tertullian
wrote a famous apology in their vindication. This is to act the part
both of a friend and of a Christian, to be an advocate for another,
when he is wronged in his good name.