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ously. Whenever then Creatures are sworn by, it must not be with relation to themselves, but to the Creator of them; and it is acknowledged that it is safer not to swear by them at all, since it cannot be done but in a figurative Manner, which it is not easy always to distinguish.
And as for the Reasons of this practice. 1. That it is an indecent Thing, for every Thing to make an Appeal to God, and therefore in finaller Matters they would do it to the Creatures ; it is indeed a very good Reason why in small Matters we should not swear at all, but content ourselves with a bare Affirmation, or Negation: but it is no Reason for our finding out an inferiour Sort of Beings to swear by, for we may as well, for the like Reason, pretend that it is necessary in all our ordinary Addresses to pray unto Creatures, reserving our more extraordinary Devotions for Almighty God. And the other Reason for swearing by the Creatures, that such Oaths might be easier breke, is yet worse; as being both more highly Derogatory to Almighty God, and more Injurious to Men, by making that an Instrument of Fraud, which is the great Bond of Truth. And this leads me to the third Thing which our Saviour faults in the Jewish Doctors, namely,
III. That they reckoned such Oaths by the Creatures (a very few excepted) not binding. It is true, this is here but by Implication; for our Saviour, while he brings his Reasons for the Obligation of all these Oaths, fupposes that they thought they were all to be eluded, as having no relation to God. This Doctrine we have more exprefly elsewhere, Mat. xxiii. 16. Wo unto you, ye blind Guides, which say, wbofoever shall fwear by
the Temple, it is nothing ; but whosoever Mall fwear by the Gold of the Temple, he is a Debtor. And it follows there how they made their Oaths, by the Altar, and by Heaven, nothing; that is, thought they were of no Obligation. It may perhaps seem strange, that though our Saviour condemns these Oaths by Creatures, as to the form of them, he should
up for the Obligation of them; but if we consider the great Corruption which was brought into Mens Morals, by making elusory Oaths, we shall not at all wonder at this Doctrine. For where there was a Promise or Vow, seemingly confirmed by an Oath, the Person to whom the Promise was made, depended on the faithful Performance of it ; but then, truly, by a secret Doctrine which these Doctors reserved among themselves, like some of our loose Casuists, they slunk their Neck out of the Collar, and put a trick upon the Person to whom they seemed thus to promise upon Oath. It can be no Disparagement, but a very great Commendation of the Christian Morals, that they discourage and condemn every Thing that looks like Trick, and Fraud, and Deceit; for if it were but a simple Promise, cloathed with no Ceremony of an Oath at all, it ought to be observed ; and much more where an Oath intervenes, though defective as to the essential Forms of it. If a Heathen should swear by his false Gods, and promise us any thing upon such an Oath, we should no doubt expect the Performance; and though he is guilty of Idolatry, in swearing by them that are no Gods, he would be further guilty of Perjury, if he should not take himself to be bound by such an Oath. Thus we find Ifaac, a Believer, entring into a co
venant with Abimelech, King of Gerar, an Unbeliever, which Covenant was mutually ratified by Oath, Gen. xxvi. 28. And another Covenant we find between Jacob and Laban, confirmed too by Oath, though Laban's false Gods are exprefly mentioned. But we need not flee to such Shifts for Justification of our Saviour's Doctrine in this particular ; for most of the Creatures, by whom the Jewish Doctors allowed their Profelytes to swear, had fome relation to the true God, as our Saviour here argues, and therefore the Oaths made by them, terminated in him. But this will fall in better, when we come to speak of our Saviour's Improvements upon this Commandment. I haften now to the fourth and last Thing he faults in the Doctrine of the Scribes and Pharisees upon this Commandment, namely,
IV. That by their loose Doctrine about Oaths, they had brought in a Practice of Swearing in common Conversation, and so made way for Rash, Profane, customary Oaths. This I take to be the principal of their Errors on this Subject, and that to which all the rest, which I have spoken of, had an immediate Tendency; and which consequently our Saviour sets himselfchiefly to rectify, by forbidding all customary Oaths in Conversation : All their other Errors, I say, about the Third Commandment, had an immediate Tendency to this. For, First, what was the natural Consequence of their Doctrine that nothing was prohibited in the Third Commandment, except the Sin: of Perjury? Was it not plainly this, that they might swear as much as they pleased to any thing that was true? And, Secondly, what was the Consequence of their Swearing by the Creatures,
but to lessen the natural dread and fear of an Oath, where the Name of God himself is invoked? And is not that fear of an Oath, one of the best Curbs and Restraints of that profane Practice ? Take this off, and you let Mankind loose to as much rash Swearing as they have a mind to. And Thirdly, this was certainly the Consequence of their Doctrine concerning the Non-obligation of feveral Oaths by Creatures. They kept it as a Secret in the Breasts of their Doctors, which of these were; and which were not binding. Had they taught that none of them were binding, then no Body would have been cheated with them; the Credit of them would have funk, for no Body would have believed them: And so probably they might have run into desuetude. And had they taught that they were all binding, Men would have been afraid to have taken them, for fear of the after-reckoning of Performance. But while the People were made to believe, that their DoEtors had some secret Distinctions, by which they thought they could absolve them from all those most common Oaths by the Creatures, they thought themselves fafe enough in the common Use of them.
: But now, that this was a very dangerous Pra&tice, the Practice I mean of common Swearing in Conversation, and that it deserves our Saviour's following Improvement upon this Commandment, is what I shall now endeavour to evince from the following Considerations.
: 1. It was then, and is still acknowledged by all, that an Oath is a part of Religious Worship, and a very solemn Part of it, and therefore should be gone about as such, that is, with Seriousness
and Gravity, and with a due Belief and Confideration of the Majesty of God. And therefore the Rule which the Wise Man prescribes, as to God's Worship in general, is particularly applicable to this of Oaths, Eccl. v. 2. Be not rash with thy Mouth, and let not thine Heart be hasty to utter any Thing before God. How this Rule is observed by the customary Swearer, who in his Wrath, or Drink, or heat of Dispute, and Impatience, or upon no thought at all, lets flie Voleys of Oaths, every one must be sensible.
2. They could not be Ignorant, that it was given as a Character of a bad Man, that he is a Swearer, that is, a common Swearer ; and as the Character of a good Man, that he feareth an Oath, Eccl, ix. 2. As is the good, fo is the finner ; and be that sweareth, as be that feareth an Oath. Now 'certainly, there is nothing more Inconsistent with the fearing of an Oath, than the Rash and Inconfiderate venturing upon it.
3. An Oath is not prescribed as a common Duty, but as a Duty in a Case of Neceffity. It is like Physick, which is not to be turned into daily Food, That would be the way to make it lose all it's Virtue; but it is to be reserved for more, extraordinary Occasions. As at Law, here among us, Appeals to the King in Council are allowed of, but not ordinarily nor frequently, but in: Weighty Causes, and after the Justice of other inferiour Magistrates has been tried; so it is with Oaths, they are an Appeal to God, and like a last Result, ought not to be made use of, but in Cases of weighty Consequence and Concern, and when other ordinary Proofs. by Reason and Argument do fail. For,