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that he would treat with kindness the wives which Laban had given him. Jacob caused Joseph to swear, that he would bury him in Canaan. And certainly our Saviour, who came to promote the interests of mankind, did not forbid a usage, which common experience had found necessary to social and personal happiness.
Oaths are undeniably of divine institution. They were inwrought into that government, which God ordained for his favoured people. Cases of doubt and controversy were, by his express command, to be decided by e testimony of testimony of persons under oath. The people were by oath to bind themselves to the observance of his laws. They were to swear allegiance to him. And none can suppose, that God would enjoin on them a usage in its own nature sinful. The apostle to the Hebrews speaks of it as a known custom to terminate disputes in this manner. "Men verily swear by the greater, and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife." He manifestly speaks of this practice in terms of approbation,
Paul had the mind, of Jesus Christ. Did he im agine, that Christ had forbidden the use of oaths? Surely then he would not have used them, as he frequently does, in his Epistles, which were indited by the Holy Ghost. He says to the Romans, "God is my witness, that without ceasing I make mention of you in my prayers." The narrative, which he gives the Galatians, of his conversion and apostleship he thus concludes, "Now the things, which I write unto you, behold, before God I lie not." "When he had given the Corinthians a long detail of his various sufferings in Christ's cause, lest it should seem incredible he thus confirms it; "Now the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ knoweth, that I lie not." To im press on the minds of these Corinthians a convic
tion of his affectionate regard for them, he says, "I call God to record on my soul, that to spare you I came not as yet unto Corinth." To manifest his ardent love for the Philippians, he says, "God is my record, how greatly I long after you." As he thus swears himself, so he also adjures others. He says to the Thessalonians, "I charge you," or, as it is in the margin, "I adjure you by the Lord, that this Epistle be read to all the holy brethren." Paul certainly judged, that oaths, in some cases, were not only justifiable, but important.
We have still a higher authority, even the example of our divine Lord. And his example never contradicted his doctrine. He says to the Pharisees, "Why doth this generation seek after a sign? Verily I say unto you, There shall no sign be giv en." In the original it is, "If a sign shall be giv en to this generation." This was one of the forms of swearing used among the Jews. It was as much as to say, God's word is not true, if such a thing shall, or shall not be done. We have, in scripture, several instances of the use of this form, which is expressly called swearing. "The Lord was wroth, and sware, saying, If any of these men shall see the gooa land." "I have sworn in my wrath, If they shall enter into my rest.”
Another instance of Christ's approving of an oath we have in his examination before the high priest. The questions put to him he several times refused to answer: "Then the high priest arose and said, I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us, whether thou be the Christ." He requested Christ to answer upon his oath. For among the Jews adjuration was one form of administring an oath, as is evident from several passages of scripture. It is said in the law of Moses, "If a man hear the voice of swearing, or of adjuration, and be a witness, whether he have seen, or known such
a thing, if he utter it not, then he shall bear his iniquity." If he be adjured, or required by authority, to answer on oath to any question, and do not utter the truth, he is perjured. To this law Solomon alludes in the book of Proverbs. "Whoso is partner with a thief hateth his own soul. He heareth cursing, and bewrayeth not." He heareth the adjuration of the magistrate, or the curse laid upon him to bind him to declare the theft; but he will not bewray or discover the suspected fact, because he is partner in it. Thus he perjures and ruins his soul. This is the case, which Agur deprecated. "Give me not poverty, lest I steal, and take the name of my God in vain;" or perjure myself to conceal the theft.
An adjuration, we see, was a proper oath. Now to the adjuration of the high priest our Lord answered without making any objection, or giving the least intimation, that it was unlawful for him to take, or for the magistrate to administer an oath.
In the books of Daniel, and of the Revelation, angels are introduced lifting up their hands to heaven, andswearing by him who liveth forever and ever, that the great events, which they foretold, should surely be accomplished.
Yea; the great Creator, the everliving God, is often in scripture said to swear by his own life, in confirmation of the promises and threatnings, which he makes to mortals. To establish their faith in his word, he condescends to a usage common among them. If the usage were sinful, it would never have been thus countenanced by a divine example.
God often forbids the Jews either to swear by the heathen divinities, or to swear falsely by his name; but he never forbids the use of pious oaths: Nay; on the contrary, he expressly enjoins them in cases of serious importance; and enjoins them in such
general terms, as apply to all nations, as well as to Jews. "He who blesseth himself in the earth, shall bless himself in the God of truth; and he that sweareth in the earth, shall swear by the God of truth." The words which follow evidently respect the gospel times, or the state of things in the new Jerusa lem. "For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy." Again, God thus speaks to his revolting people; "If thou wilt return, O Israel, return unto me; and thou shalt swear, The Lord liveth, in judgment and in righteousness, and the nations shall bless themselves in him, and in him shall they glory."
After what has been said, it cannot be alledged, that oaths, though allowed under the mosaic dispensation, were abolished by Christ under his more perfect dispensation; For, it appears, they were not first introduced by Moses; but, long before his day, were practised with divine approbation, and warranted by divine example. They belonged, -not to the cererial, but the moral law; and by divine appointment they became a part of the civil constitution, under which the Jews were placed.
Christ never relaxed the moral law: This is permanent as heaven. Nor did he alter the civil polity of the Jews: This continued as it was in his day, until the Roman conquest dissolved it. Nor, indeed, did he abolish the ceremonial law, while he -was on earth, but observed it himself until the time of his crucifixion. It remained in force, until it -was superseded by his new dispensation after his resurrection from the dead.
And besides; had he intended to abolish oaths, in his sermon on the mount, which was delivered early in his ministry, he would not afterward have used them himself. And if they had been contrary to the design of his gospel, the apostles would not
have allowed and practised them under this dispensation.
It appears from what has been said, that oaths, as really as vows and prayers, are of a religious nature; for they are direct appeals to the God of truth and justice to him who knows the heart, abhors falsehood, and will punish iniquity. An oath then should be administred with solemnity, and taken in the fear of God. It hence follows, that no oath can properly be administred to one, who is a known enemy to religion, and who avows, in word or practice, his disbelief of a divine moral government and of a future retribution; for on him an oath can have no binding force, farther than it exposes him to the penalty of the civil law; and this penalty may as well be annexed to the violation of truth, in matters of testimony, as to the violation of an oath. The sacredness of an oath ought never to be prostituted on an impious character.
Hence it follows in the clearest manner, that religion is the support of civil society, and that without a general sense of, and regard to religion no society can be safe and happy. If oaths are necessary, religion is so, for without this, oaths in themselves have no efficacy. Religion, while it gives power to oaths, adds force also to every social obligation.
It follows farther, that every wise and virtuous member of society will be disposed to encourage by his word and example, and to support by his prop. erty the regular exercises of divine worship, because these are essential means of diffusing and preserving a knowledge of God, a sense of his government, a dread of his judgment, and a reverence of his laws; and thus they become the means of promoting social virtue and happiness, and of establishing general security under the administration of civil government. Hence David, describing the char