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to live retiredly, and avoid magistracy and public employments ; but you may not therefore vow it for continuance : for you know not but God may make such alterations, as may make it so great and plain a duty, as without flat impiety or cruelty you cannot refuse : perhaps at the present it may be your duty to give half your yearly revenues to charitable and pious uses ; but you must not therefore vow it for continuance (without some special cause to warrantit): for perhaps the next year it may be your duty to give but a fourth or a tenth part, or none at all, according as the providence of God shall dispose of your estate and you. Perhaps God may impose a clear necessity on you, of using your estate some other way.
Direct. xi. •If you be under government, you may not lawfully vow without your governor's consent, to do any thing which you may not lawfully do without their consent, in case you had not vowed it.' For that were, 1. Actually to disobey them at the present, by making a vow without the direction and consent of your governors. 2. And thereby to bind yourselves to disobey them for the future, by doing that without them, which you should not do without them. But if it be a thing that you may do, or must do, though your governors forbid you, then you may vow it though they forbid you, (if you have a call from the necessity of the vow).
Direct, X11. “If oaths be commanded us by usurpers that have no authority to impose them, we must not take them in formal obedience to their commands.' For that were to own their usurpation and encourage them in their sin: if we owe them no obedience in any thing; we must not obey them in so great a thing: or if they have some authority over us in other matters, but none in this (as a constable hath no power to give an oath), we must not obey them in the point where they have no authority. But yet it is possible that there may be other reasons that may make it our duty to do it, though not as an act of formal obedience : as I may take an oath when a thief or murderer requireth it, not to obey him, but to save my life. And if any man command me to do that which God commandeth me, I must do it, because God commandeth it.
Direct. XIII. • If a lawful magistrate impose an oath or
vow upon you, before you take it you must consult with God, and know that it is not against his will. God must be first obeyed in all things : but especially in matters of so great moment, as vows and promises.
Quest. 1. · What if I be in doubt whether the oath or promise imposed be lawful ? must I take it, or not? If I take an oath which I judge unlawful or false, I am a perjured or profane despiser of God: and if a man must refuse all oaths or promises, which the magistrate commandeth, if he do but doubt whether they be lawful, then government and justice will be injured, while every man that hath ignorance enough to make him dubious, shall refuse all oaths and promises of allegiance, or for witness to the truth.'
Answ. 1. I shall tell you what others say first in the case of doubting : Dr. Sanderson saith, Prælect. iii. Sect. 10. pp. 74, 75. •Tertius casus est cum quis juramento pollicetur se facturum aliquid in se fortassis licitum, quod tamen ipse putat esse illicitum. Ut siquis ante hæc tempora admittendus ad beneficium (ut vocant) Ecclesiasticum, promisisset in publicis sacris observare omnes ritus legibus Ecclesiasticis imperatos; vestem scilicet lineam, crucis signum ad sacrum fontem, ingeniculationem in percipiendis symbolis in sacra cena, et id genus alios ; quos ipse tamen ex aliquo levi præjudicio putaret esse superstitiosos et Papisticos: quæritur in hoc casu quæ sit obligatio ? Pro Resp. dico tria : Dico 1. Non posse tale juramentum durante tali errore sine gravi peccato suscipi. Peccat enim gravitur qui contra conscientiam peccat, etsi erroneam. Judicium enim intellectus cum sit unicuique proxima agendi regula ; voluntas, si judicium illud non sequatur, deficiens à regula sua, necesse est ut in obliquum feratur. Tritum est illud, Qui facit contra conscientiam ædificat ad gehennam. Sane qui jurat in id quod putat esse illicitum, nihilominus juraturus esset, si esset revera illicitum ; atque ita res illa, ut ut alii licita, est tamen ipsi illicita; sententiam ferente Apostolo, Rom. xiv. 14. &c. Dico 2. Tale juramentum non obligare, &c.—– That is, “The third case is, when a man promiseth by oath that he will do a thing which in itself perhaps is lawful, but he thinketh to be unlawful: as if one before these times being to be admitted to an Ecclesiastical benefice (as they call it), had promised, that in public worship he would observe all the rites commanded in the Ecclesiastic laws, to wit, the surplice, the sign of the cross at the sacred font, kneeling in the receiving of the symbols in the holy supper, and others the like; which yet out of some light prejudice, he thought to be superstitious and Papistical. The question is, what obligation there is in this case? For answer I say three things, 1. I say that an oath, while such an error lasteth, cannot be taken without grievous sin: for he grievously sinneth, who sinneth against his conscience, although it be erroneous. For when the judgment of the intellect is to every man the nearest rule of action, it must be that the will is carried into obliquity, if it follow not that judgment, as swerving from its rule. It is a common saying, he that doth against his conscience, buildeth unto hell : verily he that sweareth to that which he thinketh to be unlawful, would nevertheless swear if it were indeed unlawful. And so the thing, though lawful to another, is to him unlawful, the apostle passing the sentence, Rom. xiv. 14. &c. 2. I say, that such an oath bindeth not, &c.-- Of the obligation I shall speak anon; but of the oath or promise, I think the truth lieth here as followeth.
1. The question de esse' must first be resolved, before the question of knowing or opinion. Either the thing is really lawful which is doubted of, or denied, or it is not. If it be not, then it is a sin to swear or promise to it; and here there is no case of error. But if it be really lawful, and the vowing of it lawful, then the obligations that lie upon this man are these, and in this order, (1.) To have a humble suspicion of his own understanding. (2.) To search, and learn, and use all means to discern it to be what it is. (3.) In the use of these means to acknowledge the truth. (4.) And then to promise and obey accordingly. Now this being his duty, and the order of his duty, you cannot say that he is not obliged to any one part of it, though he be obliged to do it all in this order, and therefore not to do the last first, without the former: for though you question an hundred times, 'What shall he do as long as he cannot see the truth ? the law of God is still the same; and his error doth not disoblige him : 'Nemini debetur commodum ex sua culpa.' So many of these acts as he omitteth, so much
he sinneth. It is his sin if he obey not the magistrate ; and it is his sin that he misjudgeth of the thing, and his sin that he doth not follow the use of the means till he be informed. So that his erring conscience entangleth him in a necessity of sinning; but disobligeth him not at all from his obedience. 2. But yet this is certain, that in such a case, he that will swear because man biddeth him, when he taketh it to be false, is a perjured, profane despiser of God; but he that forbeareth to swear for fear of sinning against God, is guilty only of a pardonable, involuntary weakness.
Direct. xiv. “Take heed lest the secret prevalency of carnal ends or interest, and of fleshly wisdom do bias your judgment, and make you stretch your consciences to take those vows or promises, which otherwise you would judge unlawful, and refuse.' Never good cometh by following the reasonings and interest of the flesh, even in smaller matters ; much less in cases of such great importance. Men think it fitteth them at the present, and doth the business which they feel most urgent; but it payeth them home with troubles and perplexities at the last : it is but like a draught of cold water in a fever. You have some present charr to do, or some strait to pass through, in which you think that such an oath, or promise, or profession would much accommodate you; and therefore you venture on it, perhaps to your perdition. It is a foolish course to cure the parts (yea, the more ignoble parts) with the neglect and detriment of the whole : it is but like those that cure the itch by anointing themselves with quicksilver; which doth the charr for them, and sendeth them after to their graves, or casteth them into some far worse disease. Remember how deceitful 'a thing the heart is, and how subtly such poison of carnal ends will insinuate itself. O how many thousands hath this undone! that before they are aware, have their wills first charmed and inclined to the forbidden thing, and fain would have it to be lawful; and then have brought themselves to believe it lawful, and so to commit the sin; and next to defend it, and next to become the champions of satan, to fight his battles, and vilify and abuse them, that by holy wisdom and tenderness have kept themselves from the deceit.
Tit. 2. Directions against Perjury and Perfidiousness: and
for keeping Vows and Oaths. Direct. 1. . Be sure that you have just apprehensions of the greatness of the sin of perjury. Were it seen of men in its proper shape, it would more affright them from it than a sight of the deyil himself would do. I shall shew it you in part in these particulars.
1. It containeth a lie, and hath all the malignity in it which I before shewed to be in lying, with much more. 2. Perjury is a denial or contempt of God. He that appealeth to his judgment by an oath, and doth this in falsehood, doth shew that either he believeth not that there is a God", or that he believeth not that he is the righteous governor of the world, who will justly determine all the causes that belong to his tribunal. The perjured person doth as it were bid defiance to God, and setteth him at nought, as one that is not able to be avenged on him. 3. Perjury is a calling for the vengeance of God against yourselves. You invite God to plague you, as if you bid him do his worst : you appeal to him for judgment in your guilt, and you shall find that he will not hold you guiltless. Imprecations against yourselves are implied in your oaths: he that sweareth doth say in effect, 'Let God judge and punish me as a perjured wretch, if I speak not the truth. And it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God, “For vengeance is his and he will recompence :” and when he judgeth the wicked, “ he is a consuming fire o.” 4. Perjury and perfidiousness are sins that leave the conscience no ease of an extenuation or excuse; but it is so heinous a villany, that it is the seed of self-tormenting desperation. Some sins conscience can make shift awhile to hide, by saying, 'It is a controversy :' and Many wise men are of another mind :' but perjury is a sin which heathens and infidels bear as free a testimony against in their way) as Christians do. Some
m See Casaubon's Exercit. 202.
n Cotta in Cic. de Nat. D. to prove that some hold there is no God, saith, Quid de sacrilegis, de impiis, de perjuris dicemus, si carbo, &c. putasset esse Deos, tam perjurus aut impius non fuisset. See lib. i. 63. (T. C.)
• Heb. x. 31. 30. xii. 29.