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I make this distinction because it appears to be employed by the most respectable authorities on the subject, who have usually classified oaths under the heads of assertory and promissory; and this distinction may be considered logically requisite in the discussion of the question of their utility.
Mankind, however scepticism may seek to avert the thought, possess instinctively a sense or feeling of accountability to a Supreme Being. The Divinity is by Christians recognized as revealed in the inspired Scriptures, which exhibit to us the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom he hath sent; yet the Musselman in his Ali, the Negro in his Obi, the Persians, the Chinese, and other eastern countries, in the several absurdities of their superstition, exhibit a belief in a superior power, or powers, to whom they make the last act of forcible appeal for their veracity. The inhabitants of barbarous countries, in dark ages, were accustomed to swear by their leader's sword; and the cause seems easily assignable, for the people— especially those settled down in mountainous districts—were associated together under petty chieftains, to whom they shewed every mark of reverence and attachment founded upon gratitude and policy; gratitude for their individual protection, and policy from an expectancy of liberal participation in the spoil when successful, in case of strict fidelity to the common cause, and from a fear of the sanguinary power exerted by the chiefs in their respective lands, and the vengeance of them all combined in case of infraction of that fidelity. The Greeks and Romans were addicted to Polytheism, and byone or more of their idols they were accustomed to swear: to some, however, of them were assigned a greater power and influence in the councils of the gods than to others, whence is deducible the inference, that, according to the gravity of the matter which was the occasion of the requisition of the oath, they swore by the greater or lesser of these false divi
nities; which inference will be found conformable with the fictitious relations of the ancient classic poets.
In our own and other Christian countries, we are supposed in the act of swearing to call upon the living and true God to visit us hereafter with eternal punishment in the event of violating the promise connected with the oath. Whatever be the form of administration the obligation to perform the stipulation is the same, and on every conscientious mind will exert its due influence; but I undertake to shew that every conscientious man will regard his word unsworn equally with his oath. Whether his religious notions bind him to the doctrines and acknowledgment of the hierarchy of our established church, or induce him to attach himself to the interests of any peculiar sect of religionist's; if he be sincere and consistent in what he professes, he will respect his promise or assertion, provided the tenets of his religion inculcate upon him the necessity of preserving and observing mutual truth between man and man.
In regard to the origin of oaths, I agree with Mr. Jeremy Bentham, that it must be sought " in the necessity or convenience, or both, of gaining some hold over the minds of men in barbarous ages *;" and that
• We must interpose a word with our correspondent. We feel with him so forcibly the moral guilt and inutility, nay, often the profaneness, of some of the multiplied ouths used in this country, and are so anxious that no trifling or unnecessary appeal to the Divine Majesty should be exacted, that we would not decline inserting a paper sincerely directed to this important object, because it went beyond our own ideas, and required, in our opinion, and probably might receive by some of our correspondents, considerable modifications and exceptions; but we cannot admit without a disclaimer, a citation from Mr. Bentham on the origin of oaths, which appears to us at variance with the revealed word of God. Our correspondent, in quoting Mr. Bentham, cannot surely be aware that that avowedly infidel writer would include the Mosaic institutions under the name of " priestcraft," and the legislation of " barbarous ages;" and that one of his chief notions of the im"in the hands of the priesthood they served, not only the purpose of bridling anarchy, but despotism." These assigned causes of their origin have long since died away; for happily despotism, with her iron rod of tyranny, no longer exerts her sway in this our highly favoured land; nor are we in much danger of priestcraft or superstition. Is it then to be said that those systems which in the middle and darker ages might have had their due weight and uses should not now undergo revision—should not in the nineteenth century be done away; when the changes of each succeeding aera have rendered them useless—nay, sometimes worse than useless? Is there to be no accommodation of systems and principles to improved circumstances and times? and why should veneration for the antiquity of a custom blind us against its present evil consequences? for in this matter there is incurred an absolute amount of moral guilt, if the continuance of the system is not now of any real practical utility or necessity. In order to shew that the system is unnecessary, I shall just lay before your readers the prominent features of some of the oaths now most commonly in use, in order to ascertain how far the object involved in them can be otherwise provided for.
proved state of moder n times is, tbat the sanctions of the Bible are less employed than formerly in matters of national legislation. But there is no need to take Mr. Bentham's ground, in order to shew that the great majority of oaths are unnecessary, and ought to be abolished: it is evinced by the writings of many Christian writers, who have argued and proved the point on truly Christian grounds ; to ray nothing of Quaker writers, who set them aside altogether Election oaths, state oaths, commercial oaths, academical oaths, and even coronation oaths, have been argued to be all unnecessary by many authors, who by no means viewed them as mere relics of barbarism or paganism. Whether coronation oaths, for example, are now necessary may be a proper question for discussion: but to speak of them as only a barbarous usage of dark ages, is to cast reproach upon the institutions appointed by God himself under the OldTestament dispensation.
The most conspicuous occasion in the chronology of the last year was the coronation of his Majesty William the Fourth. In that ceremony was observed the oath by his Majesty on the one hand, and the oath of allegiance by the peers and people on the other. The kingly power of these realms is never to be considered extinct; the breath and' will of the king, passing from the body of the expiring monarch, are supposed figuratively to be re-embodied in the person of his successor; hence the axiom, that " the king never dies." Now, upon this common saying may be shewn the inutility of the coronation oath; for, as the successor to the throne becomes upon this principle king, without passing through the ceremony of the coronation; so also upon the same principle must he succeed to the throne, upon the terms under which it was held by his predecessor; and the assumption of the regal authority imposes upon him, and in fact constitutes, a virtual obligation on his part to perform all the duties attached to the crown, as well as to ratify all the promises which were the grounds of its being conferred on his predecessor, and for which it was by him virtually held. By the same constructive mode of reasoning are the people bound to pay allegiance to their monarch, even before they have themselves by their representatives engaged so to do; otherwise, at the period of the decease of every monarch, there would be an interregnum of all social and good order; and there would occur an interstice in the harmony of national government, which could not for a moment be admitted. The king then, without being installed upon the throne in the pomp of coronation ceremony, without having had the oath immediately administered to him, cannot be considered as exempt from it; nor can he, with a right view of the relative duties of himself and his people, suppose himself freed from the obligations of the oath taken by his predecessor, if he has assumed the kingly title; to confirm which title the ceremony of the coronation is not actually essential, as is evident from English history in the instance of Edward the Fifth, who is recognized in the line of English monarchs, though he was never crowned. In short, the constitution of our government—the monarchical portion of it—is so conceived of that the king being king in right of his birth, the obligation which the oath imposed on his predecessor descends to him, and with every stipulation, on the self-same principle as the crown itself. Every object contemplated in it is served by the nature of the constitution of the country; and were even that to change, it would then be dubious whether the weightiness of the obligation of the oath would not still remain, and the folly with the inutility of its imposition be more apparent.
The practice of the universities, especially of Oxford, in the administration of oaths, cannot be sufficiently reprobated; and your correspondent has already and ably dwelt upon it. The impropriety of the requisition of numerous oaths by the several colleges, enjoining on their students certain rules and orders, to which none of them ever think of rendering submission, and an obedience to the requirements of which, in regard to the discipline enjoined, would be absolutely denounced as eccentricity, since they have become obsolete; is, I suppose, too evident and preposterous to find in defence a single advocate. Probably these frivolous observances were originally meant for the enforcing of strict discipline; but certainly they are now retained in the letter only for securing some petty pecuniary advantage from the "graces" to be obtained (somewhat analogous to the popish system of indulgences for sin) on account of the neglect of lectures recorded in the Statute Book, and divers regulations as to habits, and even of apparel, just as if the payment of the penalty were the
same as fulfilling the intent of the law. But here is the evil, that there is imposed a solemn oath to the obedience of every and all of these injunctions. Is there aught of rationality in this? and is it not a mockery of a form which ought to be held as specially sacred; and the consequence of the desecration of which is almost of necessity a general disregard to its observance; for we know that in reference even to a common precept it is less accounted of if perpetually urged under circumstances considered frivolous. If then the university oaths are broken as often as they are taken (and they are so, however a subterfuge may be preffered in the shape of mental reservation and appended conditions; which, if admitted, will create a fearful contortion of the simple truth and character of our national faith), no further argument can be necessary to prove the point of inutility, which is the present question, and their inefficiency to enforce their intended obligation. The mutability of all human affairs has operated on the minutiae of detail comprehended in the oath of fidelity to the university, and has presented the strongest possible of arguments against the expediency of prospective legislation in these matters; and the college subscription by youths of eighteen to the Thirty-nine Articles of our church is often not the result of conviction upon investigation of the doctrinal points severally asserted, but is viewed as a matter of course by the candidate on the faith of the common apprehension of their intent, and as embodying the religion of the state and of our fathers. But is not this too light a mode of dealing with so serious a matter? Ought any youth to be asked, or expected, to sign a body of divinity which he has not had time or opportunity for studying and comparing with the inspired oracles of God?
The bribery oath administered at parliamentary elections is another which is constantly evaded by the chicanery adopted in order to keep clear of the fangs of the law. Although in many cases the letter of the law may be preserved by not receiving a pecuniary equivalent anterior to voting; yet the spirit of it is notoriously violated with impunity, and its object, the preservation of purity of election, remains unattained by its imposition. 1 am inclined to suppose, that under any mode of elective franchise it will be found equally inefficient. With the vote by ballot there would possibly be the best agreement; but that system is fraught with so much of evil, that there is little probability of its ever being sanctioned by an enlightened people and a wise government. The tenantry in an agricultural country, having the right of franchise by virtue of certain tenures, which often are more or less valuable by the voluntary liberality of the landowner from whom they are held, cannot but in some degree be influenced, however trivially, by the circumstances in which they are placed. Someofthe aristocracy and other large freeholders, with aview to secure this species of "in-terrorem" influence, grant no leases to the occupier, though an assurance is given of uninterrupted possession for defined periods. This, indeed, is nothing more than perpetuating in a demoralizing shape the principle of the feudal system, by which the person of the vassal was at the command of the lord of the soil; and is now sought to be preserved by a continuance and extension of that influence to the will and conscience (the physical service being no longer required) for the purpose of securing political power. In the one instance the vassal had an apparent interest in common with his lord, by the protection of baronial .rights; but in the other there is no such palliative recognition, but a vassalage of mind—an enslavishment of moral principle—from which it is high time emancipation should be sought. ;The distress of an individual thus oppressed, is heightened by reflecting that the protection of .his own interest may endanger the Christ. Observ. No. 362.
safety of the rights and liberties of his countrymen, while it urges the violation of an oath before God. It is also a lamentable fact that numerous persons among the lower classes habitually sell their franchise and their consciences for the weightiest amount in filthy lucre, with no interest beyond a present sensual indulgence in riot and intoxication. Such persons as these can have no great respect for an oath; and not only so, but at periods of high party political excitement, men are found regardless of its obligations for the mere purpose of forwarding some imaginative public good, further proving the light estimation in which it is commonly held, and which has been brought about by the lavishness of its imposition on all occasions. This, indeed, would happen oftener than it has if universal suffrage had been generally adopted; and this inference is drawn from the circumstance of the operation of the principle in almost the only town in England where it has been admitted *. The conduct of the Preston voters, at a late election for that borough, will sufficiently bear out the opinion. With a man under no extraneous influence, bearing about him the principles of uprightness and integrity, the bribery oath would not be felt as any additional obligation upon him, to perform a duty which he owes to society and his country, to vote according to the sense he entertains of the measures best fitted to promote the general weal; and with a man of vitiated principles, an oath, against his interest, will go for nothing. I take it then, that the bribery oath, viewed under any form of political arrange
* In the borough of Preston (Lancashire) the right oi voting is acquired by six months' residence, and the numher of voters being consequently very large, poll stations are erected at different parts of the market-place for facilitating the election; and it has been stated as a fact that numbers of persons of the manufacturing classes presented themselves twice or oftener, as fresh voters at the return of Mr. Hunt M member. ". o
ON THE DUTY OP PASTORAL INTERCOURSE.
To the Editor of the Christian Observer.
A Correspondent under the signature of Q, in your Number for last November, charges the clergy with a deficiency of a friendly and communicative spirit towards their parishioners for pastoral purposes; but I think, in the instance mentioned (from his own confession) his own ignorance and unnecessary diffidence were alone in fault. Had he given the minister of his parish reasonable credit for that charity "which is not easily offended and seeketh not her own," he would have overcome his " fear of intruding himself among persons with whom he had no previous acquaintance;" and his schemes of utility which he " knew not how to 8et about" might thence have been opened and promoted: and even had he been wholly unsuccessful in bis application, it would have been unjust that the general body of the clergy should suffer by a sweeping conclusion grounded on one particular example.
In many instances, persons applying to their parochial instructor with, perhaps, strong prepossessions against him, or at least with doubts as to whether he would attend to their case, have found the greatest kindness and solicitude where they least expected it; and even where a minister is not duly anxious as regards his responsible charge, who can say how much his mind might be impressed, if he found himself consulted by his flock on subjects of the most serious importance? might he not be ready to ask, " Am I a master in Israel and
ON THE PRATER BEPORE SERMON.
To the Editor of the Christian Observer.
WouLDsome of your liturgical readers inform me on what authority a prayer, whether a collect or otherwise, is used by the clergy before the sermon? Is not this contrary to the rubric which enjoins the sermon to be preached after the Nicene Creed, no interveningprayerbeingdirected?The church considers the sermon only as parenthetical between the parts of the Communion Service; and the minister is directed to return after it to the communion table, and to proceed with the service. I am aware that the fifty-fifth Canon directs the preacher to move the people to pray, according to what is called the bidding prayer; butthisisnothingbutastatement of the heads of the prayer for the church militant which is to be used after the sermon, on returning to the communion table; but there is nota word said of using any collect, as is now customary.
Where, then, would be the impropriety of any clergyman's obeying the rubric in this matter as some American clergymen do, and this by the direction of their bishops? It would exscind one of the too numerous repetitions of the Lord's Prayer in our service, and get rid of the difficulty as to whether the clerk and congregation ought to repeat the Lord's Prayer after the minister in the pulpit. The rubric is appealed to in vain, to settle this litigated point; for the rubric never contemplated the Ix>rd's Prayer being used in the pulpit before the sermon. If