Book 2 Chapter 8 Section 1-58
As I write this post Lewis Hamilton, the youngest Formula 1 Champion in the history of the sport is having to confess to giving “misleading information” to race stewards following his race last Sunday. Apparently he deliberately withheld information about an illegal move during the race that led to another competitor being (wrongly) penalised. For this action Hamilton was disqualified from the race and his boss was sacked, after 35 years with McLaran. In his defence Hamilton shifts the blame onto his boss who, he said, asked him to withhold the information. Despite being caught red-handed, Hamilton said “I am not a liar or a dishonest person”.
It’s interesting to consider his reasoning after just reading Calvin’s chapter on the 10 commandments. I’m not sure the logic would not have convinced Calvin. Hamilton seems to be implying that although he has been caught lying on tape he is not the kind of person who lies routinely. His explanation also seems to imply that because he only withheld information and didn’t say something that was false he didn’t lie. While both these things may be true, the law says he is a liar. For he who keeps all the law but breaks it in one place is a lawbreaker, and he who has never lied before, but lies once is a liar. The law stands there in black and white as a timeless testimony of God’s character. No matter what modern secular man thinks of the 10 commandments, the 9th commandment (“You shall not bear false testimony against thy neighbour”) is still as powerful today as it ever has been.
Perhaps we think that we would not have done the same thing. Perhaps we think we are not liars?
Calvin states the purpose of the 9th commandment is to teach us to “cultivate unfeigned truth towards each other”. That not only should we not say things that untrue about our neighbour, but that we must “faithfully assist each one, as far as in us lies, in asserting the truth, for the maintenance of his good name and his estate”. This is a proactive goodness and generosity to our neighbour. It is not good enough to stand by and not speak up for our neighbour in his support, should circumstances require our testimony. We should employ the tongue “in maintenance of truth, so as to promote both the good name and prosperity of our neighbour”.
Calvin finishes this commandment by increasing the magnification of our sin under God’s microscope. He says “let us not imagine it is a sufficient excuse to say that on many occasions our statements are not false”. Ouch! I guess I am a liar too. Have I not many times injured my neighbour’s name and reputation by complaining against him, even if it is true? What appeared like a simple and straightforward command – not to lie against a neighbour – is really a call from God to live wholeheartedly for the good of all people with a sincere heart. Which of us can claim not to be a liar now?
This mammoth chapter is one of the longest in the Institutes but is full of interesting insights into the most famous laws in the world.
The example above shows how prone we are to try and wriggle out of the full demands of the 10 commandments. Indeed, while some may seek to play down the implications of the 10 commandments, in a futile attempt to “manage” our sin, Calvin is careful to stress that we should not limit the application of these laws by our ability to keep them. Rather we must allow God to set the standards, even if they are so far above our reach that it is impossible for us to attain them.
Calvin repeatedly comes back to his theme of Why are we given these commands? What is God trying to tell us through them? His answer is that God has chosen specific examples to illustrate divine principles. In some cases He has chosen the most extreme example of a particular sin (e.g. murder) to illustrate a broader principle of holding each person sacred. Or He chooses an example we are most inclined to obey (e.g. honouring our parents) in order to illustrate the principle of cultivating a respect for authority of all kinds.
This is exactly how Jesus understood the law and how explained its demands, drawing our attention to the underlying spiritual requirements of the written law. Unfortunately, while this deeper understanding of the law deepens our knowledge of what God requires, it also deepens our failure to live up to His standards. There was only ever one man who lived His entire life in every word, deed and thought to promote the truth and the good of His neighbour. He is the only one who can help us, as we will see in the next chapter.
“Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of His love”. John 13.1
Father, thank you for the penetrating light of your word. As we gain a better understanding of its truths we are exposed as guilty before you. I thank you that there is forgiveness at the cross for everything we have done, everything we have left undone. Fill us with your Spirit of truth to think, speak and act only for the good of our neighbour, Amen.