The Ten Commandments
by Thomas Watson
The NINTH Commandment
“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” Exodus 20:16
The tongue which at first was made to be an organ of God’s praise—has now become an instrument of unrighteousness. This commandment binds the tongue to its good behavior. 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 harm of our neighbor. More particularly, two things are forbidden in this commandment.
 SLANDER. 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.” “Malicious witnesses testify against me. They accuse me of things I don’t even know about.” Psalm 35:11. Many a Christian is 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 3:8. 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 glutton and a drunkard.” Matthew 11:19. John the Baptist was a man of a holy and austere life, and yet they said of him, “He has a devil.” Matt 11:18.
The Scripture calls slandering, smiting with the tongue. “Come, and let us smite him with the tongue.” Jer 18:18. You may smite another—and never touch him. “The tongue inflicts greater wounds than the sword.” Augustine. No physician can heal the wounds of the tongue! To pretend friendship to a man, and slander him, is most odious.
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. “Who may worship in your sanctuary, Lord? Who may enter your presence on your holy hill? Those who lead blameless lives and do what is right, speaking the truth from sincere hearts. Those who refuse to slander others or harm their neighbors or speak evil of their friends.” Psalm 15:1-3. We must not only not raise a false report—but refuse to hear it. He who raises a slander—carries the devil in his tongue! He who receives a slander—carries the devil in his ear!
 LYING. Here three sins are condemned:
(1) Speaking that which is false.
(2) Witnessing to that which is false.
(3) Swearing to that which is false.
(1) That which is condemned in the commandment is, SPEAKING that which is false. “Lying lips are abomination to the Lord.” Proverbs 12:22. 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 Spirit is called the “Spirit of Truth.” 1 John 4:6.
Lying is a sin which 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 15:7. Where there is a lie in the tongue, the devil is in the heart. “Why has Satan filled your heart to lie?” Acts 5:3. Lying is a sin which 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 5:5. The furnace of hell is heated for liars. “Outside are sorcerers, and whoever loves and makes a lie.” Rev 22:15. O abhor this sin! “Consider your every word an oath.” Jerome. When you speak, let your word be as authentic as your oath. Imitate God, who is the pattern of truth. Pythagoras being asked what made men like God, answered, “when they speak the truth.” The character of a man who shall go to heaven, is that “he speaks the truth in his heart.” Psalm 15:2.
(2) That which is condemned in the commandment is, WITNESSING that which is false. “You shall not bear false witness.” There is a twofold bearing false witness:
1. 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. “Who acquit the guilty for a bribe and deprive the innocent of justice.” Isa 5:23. He who seeks to acquit a wicked man—makes himself unjust.
2. 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, “Like a club or a sword or a sharp arrow—is the man who gives false testimony against his neighbor.” Proverbs 25:18. In his face he is hardened like a club—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. “Then two scoundrels accused him before all the people of cursing God and the king. So he was dragged outside the city and stoned to death.” 1 Kings 21:13. 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 all justice. 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.” Proverbs 19:5. “The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against his brother—then do to him as he intended to do to his brother. You must purge the evil from among you.” Deut 19:18, 19. If, for instance, he was trying to have the innocent person put to death—his own life shall be taken away.
(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 8:17. 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.
Use one. For REPROOF.
(1) The church of Rome is reproved—which approves of 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. God has no need of our lie. It is not lawful to tell a lie, “for the glory of God”—even if we were sure to bring glory to God by it, as Augustine speaks.
(2) They are reproved—who make no conscience of slandering others. “You speak continually against your brother and slander your own mother’s son.” Psalm 50:20. Paul was slandered as a mover of sedition, and the head of a faction. Acts 24:5. The same word signifies both a slanderer and a devil. 1 Tim 3:11. “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 who 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 reluctant to take away their neighbor’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 gotten out. Surely God will punish 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 22:19. 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 endeavored 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 up her blood.” 2 Kings 9:33. 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.
Use two. 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”? Psalm 19:9. 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 neighbor. Lev 19:18. If we love a friend, we shall not speak or attest anything to his harm. Men’s minds are cankered with envy and hatred; hence come slandering and false witnessing. Love is a lovely grace; love “thinks no evil.” 1 Cor 13:5. It puts the best interpretation upon another’s words. Love is a well-wisher, and it is reluctant to speak ill of him, whom 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 be slandered and falsely accused—
 Labor to make a sanctified use of it. When Shimei railed on David, David made a sanctified use of it. 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 allow you to be calumniated and reproached. See if you have not at any time wronged others in their name, and said things about 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. “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 your righteousness as the light.” Psalm 37:6. 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 5:21. 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 which snarl at us—from flying upon us! “You shall keep them secretly in a pavilion, from the strife of tongues.” Psalm 31:20. There is, I suppose, an allusion to kings, who being resolved to protect their favorites 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 favorites, 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 stand up in their defense, 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 you suppose.” Acts 2:15. Jonathan knowing David to be a worthy man, and all those things Saul said of him to be slanders, vindicated him. “He’s never done anything to harm you. He has always helped you in any way he could. Why should you murder an innocent man like David? There is no reason for it at all!” 1 Sam 19:4, 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.