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heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath; but let your yea be yea, and your nay nay, lest ye fall into condemnation." Our remarks on the former will be applicable to the latter of these passages.

In explaining this precept of our Saviour, I shall, first, shew, that it does not absolutely and universally forbid the use of oaths; secondly, what are the sins which it does forbid ; and then shall represent the atrocity of those sins.

First, I shall shew, that Christ's precept does not absolutely forbid all use of oaths. Under this head, I shall be led to prove that oaths, in many cases, are lawful and necessary.

An oath is a solemn appeal to God, as a witness of the truth of what we declare, and of our sincerity in what we promise. A man equally binds his soul to utter the truth, or perform a promise, whether he speak the words of the oath with his own mouth, or consent to them when he hears them spoken, or acquiesce in, and answer upon the adjuration of another. And the oath, if it respect a thing lawful to be done, is binding, whether it be made explicitly in the name of God, or indirectly by a creature of God; for our Saviour says, "He that sweareth by heaven, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein.”

Oaths are of two sorts; assertory and promissory. An assertory oath is the affirmation or denial of any fact in question, with a solemn invocation of God. A promissory oath, is an engagement, in the name, of, and by an appeal to God, to do, or not to do a matter proposed or stated. If this engagement be made immediately to God, and respect a personal duty to be performed to him, it is called a vow. If the engagement be made to men, and respect some duty, which we owe to our neighbour, or to society, then it is called an oath.

Some have supposed, that all oaths are criminal in their nature, and absolutely forbidden in the passage now under our consideration. This is the opinion of a certain sect called Quakers, who, however virtuous they may be in their general conduct, are fanciful and enthusiastic in many of their opin ions. For they reject the gospel-ministry, vocal prayer, water-baptism, and the Lord's supper, and also the authority of the written word, farther than the meaning of it is communicated to them by a special internal light. Arguments from scripture have little effect on those, who have a supposed light within them superior to scripture. But if we may be allowed to take the scripture in its plain and literal sense, there is no difficulty in proving the sacred obligation of the above mentioned institutions; nor in shewing the lawfulness and obligation of oaths, which is the subject now before us.

That our Saviour does not absolutely forbid, but, in some cases, allow the use of oaths, I shall shew by examining his own words; and by adducing proofs from reason and from many passages of scrip


1. We will examine our Saviour's words in the text.

Although a part of the paragraph, taken by itself, may seem like a universal prohibition of oaths, yet the whole, taken in its connexion, shews that a limitation is intended.

It is not uncommon for the scripture to use general expressions, which still are to be understood in a qualified sense. And how to qualify them, other passages and the reason of the case will easily direct us.

Paul says to the Corinthians, "There is utterly a fault among you, that ye go to law with one another. Why do ye not suffer yourselves to be defrauded ?" But does the apostle forbid Christians,

in an organized civil society, to make use of the law for the defence of their lives and fortunes? By no means: He only forbids that litigious spirit, which induced many in that day to contend with each other before heathen tribunals, when they might better adjust their differences by mutual concessions, or terminate them by reference to some wise Christian brethren.

Our saviour says, "Resist not evil, but whoso shall smite thee on the one cheek, turn to him the other." Does he intend, that we shall tamely submit to the outrages of every insolent brute, without any measures for selfpreservation, or for the restraint of violence? This none can imagine. He recommends no more than a general spirit of prudent meekness and forbearance under personal injuries.

He says, "Give to every one that asketh of you, and of him that taketh away thy goods, ask them not again." Must we then give away our whole substance, if any man should be so impudent as to demand it? Or may we never attempt by any means to recover our property, when it is taken from us by theft or robbery? We know, that no more is here commanded, than a ready disposition to do good, according to our abilities, when we meet with those, who appear to be proper objects of our beneficence.

So in the text, (admitting the translation to be correct) when Christ says, "Swear not at all," we are not to conclude, that he disallows and forbids all oaths; but such oaths only, as he was then speaking of. The general expression must be so limited, that it may accord with itself, with common reason and the tenor of scripture.

It was the opinion of the Jews, that, in extraordinary cases, they ought to swear by the name of God only; but that, in their familiar communica

tion, they might swear by heaven, the sun, the earth, the temple, or some other creature, as they pleased; and that such small oaths were not binding. This errour our Lord corrects. "Swear not at all." So Christ's words are rendered: But our English adverb, at all, does not accurately convey the sense of the original word; for that properly signifies, wholly, universally, or without distinction. The same word, in the before cited reproof to the Corinthians, is translated utterly. "There is utterly or generally a fault among you, that brother goeth to law with brother before unbelievers, and not before saints." The sense, then, of this whole passage relating to oaths must be as follows, "Ye have heard, that it hath been said to them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform thine oaths to the LORD;" for ye think, that oaths made to the Lord, and in his name, are binding on you. "But I say unto you, Swear not indiscriminately," or by every object, which comes to mind, as it is your custom to do; "Swear neither by heaven, nor by the earth, nor by Jerusalem, nor by your lives." And "swear not by any other oath" in your ordinary conversation; "but let your communication;" (He does not say, Let your testimonies, or your official engagements; but let your communication, your common discourse) "be yea, yea; nay, nay.

The Jews would have thought it profane to swear by the name of God in their ordinary conversation; for oaths, in his name, they allowed to be binding. But Christ tells them, that to swear by any other object, in their ordinary conversation, is profane; for all oaths are binding. He therefore directs them never to swear by any object, but the great God. Thus common swearing, on their own principles, must cease; for corrupt as they were, they had so much reverence for Jehovah, that they VOL. I.


would not use his name, in their daily customary oaths.

This is the plain sense of our Saviour's words, taken by themselves.

That he does not absolutely forbid, but, in some cases, allow the use of oaths, will appear,

2. From the reason of the thing, and from many express passages of scripture.

Oaths, in many cases, are really necessary in civil society; and it is doubtful whether society could subsist without them. Men in public office ought to be laid under the most solemn obligations to fidelity. Witnesses, in cases where property, character and life are concerned, ought to feel themselves under the most sacred bonds to declare the whole truth, and the truth only. And to men, who believe a divine moral government, nothing can have such binding force, as an oath. Temporal considerations are of variable influence, and may, under certain circumstances, prove temptations to falsehood and unfaithfulness. But an oath reaches to the heart, and binds the conscience. It recognizes the presence and judgment of God, and will take hold of the inward man. He who under this awful bond, dares to falsify and prevaricate, is little less than an atheist. And to a known atheist no oath ought ever to be administered, and no important trust ought ever to be committed.

Among the ancient Greeks and Romans, and, so far as I know, among all civilized nations, oaths have been judged necessary, and esteemed sacred. In the patriarchal age they were frequently used. They were required by men of distinguished piety, and were required from men of reputed probity. Abimelech made Abraham swear, that he would not deal falsely with him. Abraham bound Eliezer with an oath to execute his orders respecting his son's marriage. Laban exacted from Jacob an oath,

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