Then said he to me, See you do it not: for I am your fellow servant, and of your brothers the prophets…
"There is no vice," writes Lord Bacon in his celebrated essay, "Of Truth," "that doth so cover a man with shame, as to be found false, and perfidious. And therefore Mountaigny saith prettily, when he inquired the reason, why the word of the lie should be such a disgrace and such an odious charge? Saith he, If it be well weighed, to say that a man lieth, is as much as to say, that he is brave towards God, and a coward towards men. For a lie faces God, and shrinks from man." Lying is thus a kind of atheistical bravery; the practical acting up to the disbelief that God either hears, or will punish, the falsities of men on the earth. But there are other causes of lying besides spiritual cowardice and practical disbelief in God. There is, as Lord Bacon also says, "the natural love of lies." These abandoned liars, who make lies because they love them, are the basest and most corrupt of their species. But there are many other species of liars, base enough indeed, yet not so base and lost as these. The liar who makes a lie because he loves it will lie without the incentive of temptation, whereas temptation is necessary to induce less corrupt persons to lie. Such temptations come, I imagine, at one time or another, in the course of every human life. Probably every human life when it reaches the stage of moral consciousness is, sooner or later, tempted to be false; false either in word or action.
1. Dread is a very common cause of untruthfulness. When children, e.g., tell a lie, either surprise or fear is frequently the cause. Parents are often responsible for the falsehoods of their children. Terror and subjugation are essentially hostile to truth. Slaves are nearly always liars; and children nursed in terror are like slaves in this respect — their minds grow shrewd, but they grow shifty also; and shiftiness is destructive of veracity. Terror of wrong-doing is healthy; but personal terror is poisonous. The dread, however, which is prolific of falsehood is not always a personal dread; it is equally often a dread of consequences. A lie rarely stands alone, singly, by itself. The first lie engenders fear, and as a result of fear, other lies are told; and as the process is repeated, the conscience grows accustomed to a deadening familiarity with falsehood; the power to resist temptation is enfeebled; dread is added to dread; and under the accumulations of dread the sense of truth at length entirely disappears. Dread, too, sometimes arises not from the commission of our own past transgressions, but from the danger of compromising others, or of incurring serious loss. You are (let us say) suddenly asked some question about another. If you answer truthfully it will be to the damage of the other. If you do not answer at all you know that suspicion (suspicion worse, perhaps, than the actual truth) will be inflamed in the mind of the inquirer. What are you to do? The case is a hard one. You have to make choice between evils. In this way, I believe, inquisitiveness is indirectly responsible for, and guilty of, s great deal of lying. The case is otherwise when the dread is, not of injuring others, but of incurring loss oneself. Falsehood in protecting others is at least generous falsehood but falsehood in protecting ourselves is cowardly. Whatever, therefore, be the inconvenience, or even the loss, arising from the habit of severe and precise truthfulness; yet out of regard for the god-like inviolability of truth, and through a righteous shrinking from the very appearance of falsehood, we ought to guard against any deviation, however slight, from the strictness of truth ourselves; and much more against imposing upon others any such deviations in our behalf.
2. We now pass to a second common cause of untruthfulness, viz., the vanity or the desire to appear well in the eyes of others. This desire often springs from a very pure and noble source. For that man is either callous or degraded who is indifferent to the opinions of his fellow-men. The desire to stand well in the sight of others is one of the strongest and highest incentives to do well ourselves; and on the other hand, the dread of the loss of the esteem of our fellow-men is a noble dread, which often keeps us from doing wrong; and when we have done wrong the penalty of the loss of human esteem is one among the keenest penalties which sensitive souls are called upon to endure. When, therefore, we speak of the desire to appear well in the eyes of others as a common cause of untruthfulness, we speak of the corruption of a desire which, in its original essence, is noble and inspiring. Yet how general and widespread this corruption is! So widespread and general, indeed, that it is very rare to hear any one give an account of a transaction in which themselves have been engaged with perfect fidelity to truth. If the transaction is unworthy, or has not succeeded, they minish, or pass lightly over, their own share in it. If the transaction has been successful, or merits praise, immediately their own share in it grows eminently conspicuous.
3. There remains a third common cause of untruthfulness, viz., the desire for advantage or gain. Of this sordid class are all trading and commercial untruths; all concealing of defects, all misrepresentations and misleadings, all false measures and false weights, all unjust prices and balances. Of this sordid class also are all political untruths; untruths told to injure a political antagonist or to advance a political cause. It is sometimes contended that tricks are necessary in trade; and that politics have no indissoluble connection with morals. Such a contention is the abnegation of all Christian ideals; of all practical belief in a God of superintending righteousness and truth. And every untruth, whether in word or act, is a nail in the coffin of life, eternal life. Let us now pass to the consideration of the remarkable circumstance that persons greatly differ in regard to truthfulness; some being very strong and others very weak in this respect. This difference appears to be mainly attributable to two principal causes:
(1) the moral nature of the person,
(2) the moral character of the person's environment.In the interests of veracity, nothing can be more important than to make hard the way of the liar, and to make easy the way of the truth-teller. If you, e.g., have children, pass lightly over misfortunes and accidents, such as the breaking of cups and the tearing of clothes; but spare not the rod when a lie has been told; only make the punishment easier in proportion to the readiness with which the lie is confessed. For next to truthfulness, in the order of virtue, comes the confession of untruthfulness. The brave confession of a fault is the best of all safeguards against the repetition of the fault.
Parallel VersesKJV: Then saith he unto me, See thou do it not: for I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren the prophets, and of them which keep the sayings of this book: worship God.