Lesson 71: "Terminological Inexactitude"

You owe it to your fellow men to be just in word, as well as in deed. The ninth commandment is Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour; and My duty towards my neighbour is ... to keep my tongue from evil speaking, lying, and slandering. You are to respect, not only his property, but also his character and good name.

“False witness” is a lie publicly published or written: “slander”, a lie spoken in private, is specially cruel because it is secret, does great harm, and is hated by God (Psalm 101, 5). If I wrote to The Hackney and Kingsland Gazette that you are a thief, and my letter was printed in that newspaper, you could go to the police, I should be summoned to Old Street Police Court and, if I could not prove my words, I should be punished for “libel” (“a lie in print”). If I slandered you, by whispering about you to people that “I wouldn’t trust So-and-so: he’s a bit too clever with his fingers,” I might - if people were so silly as to believe me - do great and lasting harm to your character and good name. Everywhere, in wartime, you see the words “Careless talk costs lives”: you know why (though you need not bother about drawing the notice crooked or curled, unless you like: I only drew it like that for fun). If you were to unpin it, and turn the piece of paper round, you might (or might not) find on it the words and CRUEL TALK HURTS SOULS.

All lies are forbidden {Proverbs 12, 22; Revelation 21,8) But, although it may sometimes be your duty to speak about others’ faults, you must also be on your guard against exaggerating, sneaking and telling tales, back-biting. Be just to others in speech; “somebody told me” is insufficient reason; the word “devil” means “slanderer.” Speech begins with thought. One day our Lord, with his disciples, entered a village. In a street they found a crowd standing round something lying on the ground. It was a dead dog. “What a hideous sight!”, said one old Jew. “It smells,” said another. “Covered with mud and blood,” remarked a third. “Filthy mongrel!” remarked a fourth. “But,” said Jesus, who always looks for the good in everybody, even in you and me, “what beautifiil white teeth it has.” Think good of others; and you will speak good.