« PreviousContinue »
well educated, and because the consequences of their misrepresentation are generally more permanently injurious to the virtue and happiness of mankind.
Finally, the breach of a promise or engagement is obviously a lie. It is affirmed by a popular moralist, on good grounds, that every lie is a breach of promise; for whoever seriously addresses his discourse to another, tacitly promises to speak the truth, because he knows that the truth is expected. To make a promise, intending not to fulfil it, is a falsehood of a complicated and aggravated nature; and under the solemnity of an oath, indicates the deepest depravity.
I do not think it necessary here particularly to notice what have been called pious frauds, or the doing of evil to produce good, more especially to subserve the cause of religion. Admitting that the doing of good is the real motive of the persons who think themselves at liberty on this ground to deviate from moral rules, an Apostle declares that they are liable to just and awful condemnation. Who has given them a dispensation to depart from the eternal laws of right and wrong? Even granting that the excellency of the end in view could palliate the sin of this departure, are they quite certain that their motive in accomplishing the action is unexceptionable? Is it not possible, is it not probable, wherever there is a wish to do evil, even though the professed design should be to glorify God, that the wish has originated in an evil bias of the heart? But supposing the good which is realized to be equal to that which expectation anticipated, and supposing that this good is productive of extensive happiness to mankind, will this circumstance do
away with the sin of direct disobedience to God? Is it for creatures shortsighted and dependent as we are, to venture on the violation of his laws, from the presumptuous hope of producing greater good by their violation than by their observance? In every case the transgression of his law is sin, and the wages of sin is death.
Are there any falsehoods which are not lies, that is, which are not criminal ! Mr. Paley ariswers this question in the affirmative.
I. “ Where no one is deceived; which is the case in parables, fables, novels, jests, tales to create mirth, ludicrous embellishments of a story, where the declarea' design of the speaker is not to inform, but to divert; compliments in the subscription of a letter, a servant's denying his master, a prisoner's pleading' not guilty,' an advocate asserting the justice, or his belief of the justice, of his client's cause. In such instances, no confidence is destroyed, because none was reposed; no promise to speak the truth is violated, because none was given, or understood to be given.”
Of the greater number of cases here specified, I would say, that there is no falsehood either implied or expressed; that they are objects of imagination merely, and not of belief; and that when they cease to hold this position, and are addressed to the intellect as realities, they are no longer innocent.
A servant's denying his master ought not to be coupled with a prisoner's pleading ‘not guilty,' or an advocate's asserting the justice of his client's cause; because the former cannot by any rule of christian morality be justified, were it for nothing else than the
corrupting tendency of the practice in question : while the latter cases may be vindicated on the ground that no man is obliged to criminate himself, and that the known signification of his pleading ‘not guilty,' is, that he does not acknowledge himself to be guilty. Every man under the imputation of crime, whether innocent or guilty, has a right, in this country, to insist upon being tried according to law: in pleading ‘not guilty, he simply demands this right; and his innocence is to be presumed until the contrary is proved by legal evidence.
However difficult it may be, in some cases, for a conscientious advocate to discharge his professional duties without impairing his moral feelings, or departing, in any degree, from the laws of morality, the difficulty is not insuperable. If every man be entitled to the advantage of law, and if no man ought to be condemned but by legal evidence, he discharges a most important duty,-important in regard to our lives and liberties,—who employs his talent and acquirements in obtaining legal justice for his client. He may present his case in the most favourable light of which it is capable, without any violation of truth.
II. Mr. Paley also affirms, that “ falsehoods are not lies, that is, are not criminal, where the person to whom you speak has no right to know the truth; or, more properly, when little or no inconvenience results from the want of confidence."
But has not every man to whom we profess to com. municate the truth, a right to know it? We tacitly promise to speak the truth to every person whom we seriously address; and thus we give him a right to know it, in so far as we profess, or lead him to be. lieve, that we mean to impart to him the desired information. We are, therefore, not at liberty, con. sistently with justice, to use any stratagems to deceive an enemy, which are opposed to any promise of sin. cerity, either expressed or implied.
The other form in which this rule is presented is, if possible, still more objectionable: it is founded on the principle of expediency; and allows, or rather authorizes us, to utter falsehoods as often as we can induce ourselves to believe that little inconvenience will result from the want of confidence. Can we conceive any maxim more antiscriptural, or more immoral in its tendency? It is substituting as the rule of moral conduct, in room of the will of God, our own limited and partial views of the consequences of actions. Will not human beings, in applying this rule, think as much of the convenience which the falsehood will yield to themselves, as of the inconvenience which will result to others? Will not the disadvantage to others diminish in their estimation in proportion to the magnitude of the advantage which the uttering of the falsehood will bring to themselves ?
But when a man has once accustomed himself," as Dr. Dwight remarks, “to utter falsehood so long as to render the practice familiar, all that apprehensiveness of guilt, that ready susceptibility of alarm at the appearance of criminality, which constitutes the chief safety of man in the moment of temptation, will be extinguished. The mind will be no longer agitated at the thought of sin, nor awake to the sense of danger. He, who has uttered the first falsehood under the
influence of ten degrees of ternptation, will as readily utter the second under the influence of eight; the third of six; the fourth of four; the fifth of two; and the sixth without any temptation at all. The obliquity of his judgment will now prevent him from discerning, that others suffer any inconvenience from his conduct. In this manner, any man living may easily become, in a short time, a confirmed liar.”
THE EVIL OF FALSEHOOD.
Perhaps lying, when it has become a habit, may be traced, in almost every instance, to an error of education, arising from the carelessness, or the bad example, of parents and guardians. How often do they who have the charge of young children, deceive them by making promises to them which they never mean seriously to perform, and by uttering, and that daily, direct falsehoods, with the view of persuading them, to do what is disagreeable to them! Is it necessary that they should take medicine: however bitter and unpalatable, it is declared to be sweet and pleasant. Is it wished that they should conduct themselves with quietness and propriety before strangers : rewards are promised them which are never bestowed. And thus, from their infancy, are they accustomed to deceit and falsehood in those whom they love and revere. Is it to be wondered at, that, in the sequel of their lives, they