Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” Esther 4:14NKJV
We continue our study of Question 145 of the Larger Catechism, which asks, “What are the sins forbidden in the ninth commandment?” The fourth part of the answer states, “The sins forbidden in the ninth commandment are… forgery, concealing the truth, undue silence in a just cause, and holding our peace when iniquity calleth for either a reproof from ourselves, or complaint to others.” Last time we examined the importance of distinguishing between good and evil. This morning we consider when keeping silent is sinful.
The first sin mentioned in today’s portion of the Catechism is forgery. Probably few of us have ever tried to pass off fake documents as real ones, counterfeit money, create or purchase a fake ID, sign someone else’s name on a contract, or something like that. Yet, whenever we knowingly include or allow false information in legal documents of any kind, we are guilty of the sin of forgery according to how that word was used by the Westminster Divines. This would include things like making your resume or application look better than it is, or doing the same thing in an ad for some property or possession you are selling.
Concealing the truth is a far more dangerous sin, however, primarily because we have so much more opportunity and temptation to commit it. Furthermore, whereas forgery is always wrong, concealing the truth is a more complicated matter because sometimes it is the right thing to do. We should conceal the truth from those who have no right to it in a particular situation, in order to protect people or their reputations. Thus, ministers should not reveal to others the truth of an individual’s sin when he comes to confess and repent of it; attorneys are to keep their client’s information confidential to protect their rights; police are not to divulge the details of an ongoing criminal investigation if doing so might jeopardize the judicial process, etc. However, when concealing the truth is for the purpose of deception, establishing falsehood, or endangering a just cause, it is always sinful.
One of the easiest ways to be guilty of sinfully concealing the truth is by doing nothing at all. In Ecclesiastes 3:7 we learn that while there is a time to be silent, there is also a time to speak. To not speak when it is the right time to speak is to be wrongfully silent. The Scripture at the head of this article gives one such example of sinful silence. Mordecai is speaking to his cousin Esther, the queen of Persia. He has just informed her about the Haman’s decree that would legalize and promote the killing of all the Jews on an upcoming day, and so he commands her to go to the king and plead for the life of her people. Then in our verses he warns her of the sin of wrongful silence. His counsel is a reminder that while God will save His people, those who by their silence allow them to be persecuted will themselves be judged by God. And though she has to risk her own life to do so, Esther takes his advice, speaks up for the cause of justice, and is used by God to save her people. We too must never allow fear of man or self-preserving cowardice to cause us to be sinfully silent, when by speaking we can do good or oppose evil.
The last sin we consider today, “holding our peace when iniquity calleth for either a reproof from ourselves, or complaint to others,” is very similar. When holding our peace furthers the cause of sin, when we do not rebuke evil, or else do not report it to the proper authorities when we can, we are guilty of sinful silence. May the God of peace give us the courage to speak when we should, the love to speak the right way, and the wisdom to do it well.