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THOU SHALT NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS AGAINST THY NEIGHBOUR.
T doth not*, I think, appear, that
the testimony of a witness, according to the law of Moses, was to be delivered upon oath. His serious asseveration was however accompanied, according to the usage of those times, with the folemnity of some significant action. VOL. II. R
At * Levit. v. 1. may be understood of the Criminal,
Deut.xvii. At the mouth of two witnesses, or three 6,7
witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death. The hands of the witnesses shall be first upon him to put
him to death, and afterward the hands of all Deut.xiii. the people. – If thy brother entice thee secretly, 6,9.
saying, let us go and serve other Gods thou shalt surely kill him: thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. It seems, as if the witnesses gave the first blow to the criminal; and that this was at the fame time both the signal, and, as if were, the warrant for his execution. When
St. Stephen was stoned, it was at St. A As vii. Paul's feet that the witnesses laid down
their clothes; which they put off, we may fuppose, to make themselves the readier to perform that office.
It is to this practice our Lord alludes, in his sentence on the woman taken in adultery; and his decision, which is every way admirable, receives an additional propriety from this allusion : He John vii. That is without fin among you, let him forft caft the stone at her.
With us indeed and other nations, false teitimony hath, for many ages, been accompanied with false fwearing : and this, no doubt, is an aggravation of the offence.
God hath said, that he will not hold him guiltless, that taketh his name in vain; intimating, perhaps, that he may delay the punishment; asserting strongly, that he will inflict it. The offender may escape for a time, and seem to triumph in his impunity; but he is all the while under a curse, by which he is fafter held, than by a thousand bars. This sentence of God, like a drawn fword, hangs trembling over his head, and will cut him in funder in a Luke xü. day when he looketh not for it, et an hour 46. when he is not ware. R 2
And as he, who taketh God's name in vain, shall not be held guiltless, so we find a like threatening denounced against the other part of this complicated offence; a false witness shall not be unpunished. There is not only a force and emphasis in this form of expression, but such a resem.
blance also to the other threatening, as Exod. xx. is remarkable; The Lord will not hold Prov. xix. him guiltless. — He shall not be unpunished.
Guiltless, and unpunished, under God's just government agree, no doubt, in their import; at least they will be found to do so at the consummation of all things, when He shall render to every man according to his works. But in this case, the very language is not different: it is the same word in both these places in the original.
False testimony draws after it also by human laws a punishment considerable, and with us very ignominious : but yet not always, it must be acknowledged,
proportionable to the malignity and mischief of the offence, or to the punishment which is inflicted for other crimes less atrocious in themselves, and less detrimental to the publick. Of this the legiNature are not ignorant: they have their reasons, we may be sure, for this lenity; and regard probably what is convenient and practicable, as well as what is just. The office of an informer, however sometimes necessary, is disagreeable and invidious; and should not, it is thought, be overcharged with difficulties and danger; innumerable crimes, even as the law now stands, escaping punishment, merely because no one is willing to be the witness against them, though of them, alas! we are all witnesses.
Those who make a trade of accusing, were always, and must be ever odious :.. but to prosecute and bring to publick justice, some great and powerful offender, was esteemed honourable in the common