« PreviousContinue »
moral and religious instruction, and such an example as will cherish and not check their virlues. “He who, after living under the same roof with us for years, quits our door without the amiable qualities with which he first entered it, -every pure wish polluted, and new habits of licentiousness formed, while all that remains of early habits is a little remorse, that is soon overwhelmed in the turbulence of vulgar dissipation, quits us poorer, and as a mere human being, far lower in the scale of dignity, than when, with all his clownish awkwardness, he had virtues which it has been our misfortune, or rather our guilt, to destroy*.”
In proportion to the importance of truth to the confidence, virtue, and happiness of intelligent beings, is the criminality of lying, or of falsehood.
A lie is a wilful violation of the truth, or a false declaration of facts voluntarily made. Of course, he incurs the guilt of falsehood, who, in his statement, intends to deceive, though in the end his declaration may be found accordant with truth; on the other hand, he must be considered innocent, who, after impartial examination, states what he believes to be true, though his statement should turn out to be without foundation.
* For a fuller riew of the Duties of Masters and Serrants, see Pere sonal and Family Religion, chap. iii.
We are guilty of falsehood when we rashly declare what is not true; though our ignorance of its falsehood arises from sinful inattention.
We ought to have had a deeper impression of the importance of truth, and we should have given the subject a more full investigation before we had ventured to affirm any thing respecting it. Our erroneous averments may, in their consequences, be as injurious as deliberate falsehoods.
We are also chargeable with lying when, with an intention to deceive, we profess to give the whole truth, but at the same time conceal a part of it. That we are influenced by the spirit, and incur the guilt of falsehood, in this case, when the party to whom the communication is made has a right to know the whole truth, will not be doubted. Or, even though the person to whom the declaration is made should have no moral or legal right to know the whole truth, if we profess to give the whole, we, by our profession, bind ourselves to act accordingly.
Should we, in our declarations or narratives, intentionally misrepresent, or, though our misrepresentation should be merely the effect of a biassed and partial examination of the facts, we are justly chargeable with falsehood. Controversialists and historians are, in this way, blameable, when, to serve a purpose, they give such a view of facts, and decorated with such embellishments, as must necessarily convey an erroneous impression to the mind of the reader. The criminality incurred by such conduct, appears to me to be of a nature more aggravated than that of common lying, both because the persons to whom it relates are
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 answers 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 declared 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 communicate 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