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NPNF1-03. On the Holy Trinity; Doctrinal Treatises; Moral Treatises
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9. But if no authority for lying can be alleged, neither from the ancient Books, be it because that is not a lie which is received to have been done or said in a figurative sense, or be it because good men are not challenged to imitate that which in bad men, beginning to amend, is praised in comparison with the worse; nor yet from the books of the New Testament, because Peter’s correction rather than his simulation, even as his tears rather than his denial, is what we must imitate: then, as to those examples which are fetched from common life, they assert much more confidently that there is no trust to be given to these. For first they teach, that a lie is iniquity, by many proofs of holy writ, especially by that which is written, “Thou, Lord, hatest all workers of iniquity, thou shall destroy them that speak leasing.”23222322    Ps. v. 5, 6. [See R.V.] For either as the Scripture is wont, in the following clause it expounds the former; so that, as iniquity is a term of a wider meaning, leasing is named as the particular sort of iniquity intended: or if they think there is any difference between the two, leasing is by so much worse than iniquity as “thou wilt destroy” is heavier than “thou hatest.” For it may be that God hates a person to that degree more mildly, as not to destroy him, but whom He destroys He hates the more exceedingly, by how much He punisheth more severely. Now He hateth all who work iniquity: but all who speak leasing He also destroyeth. Which thing being fixed, who of them which assert this will be moved by those examples, when it is said, suppose a man should seek shelter with thee who by thy lie may be saved from death? For that death which men are foolishly afraid of who are not afraid to sin, kills not the soul but the body, as the Lord teacheth in the Gospel; whence He charges us not to fear that death:23232323    Matt. x. 28 but the mouth which lies kills not the body but the soul. For in these words it is most plainly written, “The mouth that lieth slayeth the soul.”23242324    Wisd. i. 11; “belieth,” E.V. How then can it be said without the greatest perverseness, that to the end one man may have life of the body, it is another man’s duty to incur death of the soul? The love of our neighbor hath its bounds in each man’s love of himself. “Thou shall love,” saith He, “thy neighbor as thyself.”23252325    Levit. xix. 18; Matt. xxii. 39 How can a man be said to love as himself that man, for whom that he may secure a temporal life, himself loseth life eternal? Since if for his temporal life he lose but his own temporal life, that is not to love as himself, but more than himself: which exceeds the rule of sound doctrine. Much less then is he by telling a lie to lose his own eternal for another’s temporal life. His own temporal life, of course, for his neighbor’s eternal life a Christian man will not hesitate to lose: for this example has gone before, that the Lord died for us. To this point He also saith, “This is my commandment, that ye love one another as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”23262326    John xv. 12, 13 For none is so foolish as to say that the Lord did other than consult for the eternal salvation of men, whether in doing what He hath charged us to do, or in charging us to do what Himself hath done. Since then by lying eternal life is lost, never for any man’s temporal life must a lie be told. And as to those who take it ill and are indignant that one should refuse to tell a lie, and thereby slay his own soul in order that another may grow old in the flesh; what if by our committing theft, what if by committing adultery, a person might be delivered from death: are we therefore to steal, to commit whoredom? They cannot prevail with themselves in a case of this kind: namely, if a person should bring a halter and demand that one should yield to his carnal lust, declaring that he will hang himself unless his request be granted: they cannot prevail with themselves to comply for the sake of, as they say, saving a life. If this is absurd and wicked, why should a man corrupt his own soul with a lie in order that another may live in the body, when, if he were to give his body to be corrupted with such an object, he would in the judgment of all men be held guilty of nefarious turpitude? Therefore the only point to be attended to in this question is, whether a lie be iniquity. And since this is asserted by the texts above rehearsed, we must see that to ask, whether a man ought to tell a lie for the safety of another, is just the same as asking whether for another’s safety a man ought to commit iniquity. But if the salvation of the soul rejects this, seeing it cannot be secured but by equity, and would have us prefer it not only to another’s, but even to our own temporal safety: what remains, say they, that should make us doubt that a lie ought not to be told under any circumstances whatsoever? For it cannot be said that there is aught among temporal goods greater or dearer than the safety and life of the body. Wherefore if not even that is to be preferred to truth, what can be put in our way for the sake of which they who think it is sometimes right to lie, can urge that a lie ought to be told?


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