Some Neglected Aspects of the Ninth Commandment – Part 1

This series of posts is not meant as a complete treatment of the Ninth Commandment, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor,” (Exodus 20:16). However, how we speak about and to one another, whether in politics or in human relationships, often neglects certain aspects of the Ninth Commandment. The intention of this series of posts is not to argue for the teaching of the Larger Catechism on this Commandment as correct, but rather to take for granted that the historic understanding of the Ninth Commandment, as summarized in the Westminster Larger Catechism’s questions 143-145, is the correct understanding of the requirements and conduct forbidden by the Ninth Commandment. This is the first in a multi-part series. The first few posts will cover the duties required by the Ninth Commandment, and the last few posts will cover the sins forbidden by the Ninth Commandment.

Most Christians understand that lying is forbidden by the Ninth Commandment, even though the specific action forbidden relates to witness bearing. However, Scripture goes far beyond merely lying, and also discusses things like “whispering, backbiting,” and how to think of what we hear about others, and even about how to respond when we hear things about other people. In summary, the Ninth Commandment applies the “law of love,” or “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” to how we speak about truth, as well as how we treat the good name of our neighbor and our self.

This series will discuss merely a few of the neglected aspects of this commandment, in order that believers may know the grace of the gospel, both in convicting us of our ongoing sin and thereby making the sweetness of Christ’s grace all the sweeter, and providing a rule for how we may please God in our conduct, and how best to love our neighbor as our self.

The Larger Catechism asks:

Q. 144. What are the duties required in the ninth commandment?

The answer comes back:

A. The duties required in the ninth commandment are, the preserving and promoting of truth between man and man, and the good name of our neighbour, as well as our own; appearing and standing for the truth; and from the heart, sincerely, freely, clearly, and fully, speaking the truth, and only the truth, in matters of judgment and justice, and in all other things whatsoever; a charitable esteem of our neighbours; loving, desiring, and rejoicing in their good name; sorrowing for, and covering of their infirmities; freely acknowledging of their gifts and graces, defending their innocency; a ready receiving of a good report, and unwillingness to admit of an evil report, concerning them; discouraging tale-bearers, flatterers, and slanderers; love and care of our own good name, and defending it when need requireth; keeping of lawful promises; studying and practicing of whatsoever things are true, honest, lovely, and of good report.

Some of the terms used in the Catechism require definition and biblical illustration, and I hope that this series of posts will serve toward that end. As such, we will take various phrases that seem more difficult to understand and/or practice, and provide a fuller explanation, trusting in the Lord’s grace to pardon our many sins, as well as His Spirit to give us power to keep this most precious commandment.  The next few posts will cover the details of Q144.


To continue reading, see Part 2.


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