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FALSE WITNESS

EXODUS XX. 16. Thou shalt not bear false Witness against

thy Neighbour.

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N those great changes that are made in a country, by the prevailing of one

party over another, it is very convenient that the prince, and those who are in authority under him, should use all just and proper methods for preventing any mischief to the public from seditious

And Governors do well, when they encourage any good subject to difcover (as his duty obligeth him) whatever plots or conspiracies may be gerous to the state : Neither are they to be blamed, even when they receive informations from bad men, in order to find Vol. XIII.

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out the truth, when it concerns the public welfare. Every one indeed is naturally inclined to have an ill opinion of an informer ; although it is not impossible, but an honest man may be called by that

For whoever knoweth any thing, the telling of which would prevent some great evil to his prince, his country, or his neighbour, is bound in conscience to reveal it. But the mischief is, that when parties are violently enflamed, which seemeth unfortunately to be our case at present, there is never wanting a sett of evil instruments, who, either out of mad zeal, private hatred, or filthy lucre, are always ready to offer their service to the prevailing side, and become accusers of their brethren without any regard to truth or charity. Holy David numbers this among the chief of his sufferings ; False Witnesses are risen up against me, and fuch as breath orit Cruelty [a]. Our Saviour and his apoftles did likewise undergo the fame distress, as we read both in the Gofpels and the Acts. [a] Pfal. xxvii. 12.

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Now because the sin of false witnessing is so horrible and dangerous in itself, and so odious to God and man: And because the bitterness of too many among us is risen to such a height, that it is not easy to know where it will stop, or how far fome weak and wicked minds may be carried by a mistaken zeal, a malicious temper, or hope of reward, to break this great commandment delivered in the text: Therefore, in order to prevent this evil, and the consequences of it, at least among you who are my hearers, I shall, I. First, Shew you several ways by

which a man may be called a false

witness against his neighbour. II. Secondly, I shall give you some rules

for your conduct and behaviour, in order to defend yourselves againft the malice and cunning of false

accusers. III. And lastly, I shall conclude with

shewing you very briefly, how far it is your duty, as good subjects and good neighbours, to bear faithful witness, when you are lawfully called to it by those in authority, or by the sincere advice of your own consciences.

1. As to the first, there are several ways by which a man may be justly called a false witness against his neighbour.

First, According to the direct meaning of the word, when a man accuseth his neighbour without the least ground of truth. So we read, that Jezabel bired two sons of Belial to accuse Naboth for blaspheming God and the King, for which, although he was entirely innocent, he was stoned to death [b]. And in our age it is not easy to tell how many men have lost their lives, been ruined in their fortunes, and put to ignominious punishment by the downright perjury of false witnesses! The law itself in such cases being not able to protect the innocent. But this is so horrible a crime, that it doth not need to be aggravated by words.

A second way by whicli a man becometh a false witness is, when he mixeth falfehood and truth together, or concealeth [b] 1 Kings xxi. 13.

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some circumstances, which, if they were told, would destroy the fallhoods he uttereth. So the two false witnesses who accused our Saviour before the chief Priests, by a very little perverting his words, would have made him guilty of a capital crime; for so it was among the Jews to prophesy any evil against the temple. This fellow said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days [c]; whereas the words, as our Saviour fpoke them, were to another end, and differently expressed : For when the Jews asked him to shew them a sign, he said; Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. In such cases as these, an innocent man is half confounded, and looketh as if he were guilty, since he neither can deny his words, nor perhaps readily strip them from the malicious additions of a false witness.

Thirdly, A man is a false witness, when, in accusing his neighbour, he endeavoureth to aggravate by his gestures, and tone of his voice, or when he chargeth a man with words which were only repeated or

[] Matt. xxvi. 6.

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