Center for Biblical Theology and Eschatology

Baxter On Lying

by Michael Phillips

TEXT: James 1:26

SUBJECT: Baxter on the Tongue #4: Lying

Tonight, with the blessing of Jesus Christ, we'll continue our way through Richard Baxter on the Tongue. Thus far, we've studied his "General directives for governing speech" and looked at one specific issue, taking the Lord's Name in vain.

Now we come to another problem, lying.


Baxter begins this chapter with a few words of definition. What is a lie? He says it is two things:

"Lying is the speaking of a known falsehood, with purpose to deceive".

This he calls "the grossest" form of lying (or, the most obvious). Kids often do this. "Who made this mess? you want to know. "It wasn't me" they all reply. Kids often do this. But not only kids. Lying is an even bigger problem with adults.

The second kind of lying--Baxter says--is

"Speaking falsely through culpable ignorance, error, or inconsiderateness".

The key word here is "culpable" or blameworthy. It's not that every mistake is a lie. But shooting off your mouth without knowing what you're talking about is. Let me give you an example. I know a pastor who's a real "Know-it-All". One day I asked him about the Mexican state of Chiapas. He knew all about it, of course, and explained every detail with great confidence. It sounded funny to me, so I looked it up and found--the man was wrong on every point! Was he trying to deceive me? I don't think so. What was he doing? He was posing as an authority on a subject he knew nothing about. Baxter says that too is lying.

What if a falsehood doesn't hurt anyone? Is that also a lie? The Puritan says it is.

"Most men say there is no great harm in it, unless someone is greatly wronged by it. But it is not forbidden by God only because it wrongs others, but it has [much more] evil in it".

Rather than splitting hairs half-the-night, let me sum up Baxter's view of lying. In effect, you're lying--he says--whenever you're talking...but not telling the truth.

How do you stop lying? Or, hopefully, never start lying?


"Be well-informed of the evil of the sin".

Not all sins are equally bad. Lying is among the worst. What's so bad about it? Baxter gives a long list.

1."Lying perverts man's noble faculties and turns them against their natural use".

This means God gave us minds to know truth and mouths to speak it. But lying puts both to an unnatural or perverted use.

2."Lying is a vice that makes us most unlike God...and is the image and work of the devil".

When you tell the truth, you look like God. When you don't, it's Satan you resemble. He "was a liar from the beginning and the father of lies" our Lord once said.

3."Lying destroys human converse and brings confusion into the affairs of men".

Lying kids worry their parents sick. Lying businesses cheat their customers. Lying taxpayers burden the honest. Lying politicians lead us into war. By promoting fornication, materialism and atheism, the lying media ruin lives and send souls to hell.

4."Lying leads to perjury".

When you're known to lie, people ask you to swear to the truth or to sign a contract. When you do and go back on your word you become a blasphemer and a criminal.

5."There is a hypocrisy in the liar when he condemns in others what he justifies in himself".

But of course! Nobody wants to be lied to. Least of all liars. Lying, therefore, implies a self-love that is the opposite of loving your neighbor.

6.You are offended if others call you a liar or don't believe what you say.

If lying is not so bad, why are you so offended when someone doesn't believe you? Because it is that bad. That's why. You know that perfectly well.

7."Lying makes you useless to others".

If people think you're a liar, you cannot help them. For every offer of help will be suspicious to them. "What's he up to?" they wonder. In Aesop's Fables, there's the boy who cried wolf. The first few times he did it, armed men came to the rescue. But then they quit. And when the wolf really showed up, the flock was devoured.

This is true in general, but especially true of Christians. If your family or friends can't take your word on little things, why would you expect them to believe you about "the one thing needful"?

Baxter doesn't say this, but I would add,

8.Remember your lies crucified the Lord Jesus.

John Newton wrote a great hymn called Looking at the Cross. It's fourth verse says,

"My conscience felt and owned the guilt

And plunged me in despair;

I saw my sins His blood had spilt,

And helped to nail Him there".

That's the first way to quit lying. Think of how black your "white lies" are.


"Unclean bodies need a cover and are most ashamed to be seen. [Shameful things] cause lying and lying leads to more [shameful things]. The best way in the world to avoid lying is to be innocent".

This is a good point! What sort of things do we lie about? We lie about things we're ashamed to admit. Don't do those things and the temptation to lie about them will be gone.


"The excessive fear of man is a common cause of lying; this makes children [and servants] apt to lie...to avoid hurt and displeasure. Your parents or master will be angry, and correct you. But God threatens to damn you [for lying]. Remember when you are tempted to escape [punishment] with a lie, that you run a thousandfold greater danger and that no hurt that you can escape through lying can possibly be half as great as the hurt [the lie] brings. It is as foolish a course as to cure a toothache by cutting off the head!"

This speaks for itself. A lie may get you out of trouble in this world, but it will cause a whole lot more trouble in the world to come. In short, Matthew 10:28.


"Pride makes men so [anxious for] their reputations that [they lie] to make up for [their faults]".

If you don't crave man's approval, you won't lie to get it. The craving to be accepted, loved, admired, respected, and so on, is another word for pride. Be rid of that and you won't spend all your time exaggerating your virtues and covering up your vices.


"Men are commonly so careless of what they say that if you

easily believe their evil [reports], you will soon be divulging malicious lies".

Let's face it: Gossip is easy to listen to, but hard to keep to yourself. What's more, gossip is always untrue--at least in part. It may be nothing but hearsay; or the fault is exaggerated; or only half the story is told. And so on. If you don't listen to gossip, you won't pass it along to others.

This is true of friends and others we know personally. But it's also true of celebrities, Presidents, and others whose faults we're so prone to believe. And repeat.


"Get a tender conscience and walk as in the sight and hearing of God, and as one who is rushing to the judgment".

It's hard to lie and to remember than God is listening to you at the same time. He is listening to you. One day He'll call you on your lies. Keep these in mind and you won't be so eager to tell a lie.


"Be not rash in speaking things before you have [tested] them. Consider what you say and know before you speak".

Baxter has said this before. Much evil talk is purely the result of... talking too much. Proverbs 10:19.


Baxter closes the chapter with a special word to parents. He knows the children are born liars (Psalm 58:3).

He tells parents what to do about it. Two things to avoid,

"Unwise correction frightens them into lies to save themselves as indulgence and connivance encourage them to it".

The first part, he calls "unwise correction". Don't punish your kids so severely as to give them an incentive to lie. Rather, reduce the punishment if he admits his sin and increase it if he covers it up.

The other part, he calls "indulgence and connivance". This means: Don't let your kids get away with lying. Remember you don't need proof "beyond a reasonable doubt". That's for juries who don't know the accused, not for parents. Be fair and reasonable.

Add to this discipline, positive teaching. Have your kids listen to, read, or study the verses in the Bible that condemn lying and praise the truth.

Above all, set an example for them of telling the truth.


[ Top | Eschatology | Theology | Bible Studies | Classics | Articles | Other Articles | Sermons | Apologetics | F.A.Q. | Forum ]