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didly examining the question in hand; and I feel a peculiar fae tisfaction in so doing from the known abilities of the person who has opened this controversy, which will enable him, if I am wrong, to overturn my argument, and thereby prevent me from doing an injury; and also, I trust, if he sees I am right, his candour will induce him as freely to acknowledge it, which ought to be the case in all controversies; it is what I would do; and should feel that though he had gained the victory, I should have the advantage in being delivered froin an error. For why should we wish to retain error either in theory or practice? I have often thought, that of all fools they are the greatest who are determined to hold any opinion contrary to rational evidence, or who act the hypocrite in religion, seeing a day is coming when every man's works shall be tried as by firem. when every error in sentiment or practice must be publicly exposed, confessed, and given up.
In respect to the command in question, I am free to confess, that, in my opinion, it is absolute as to what it relates; and as our Lord has given us a clue to our inquiry by saying “ It was said to the ancients, (meaning, no doubt, in the Law of Moses) thou shalt not forswear thyself, but fhalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths,” we shall foon have our difficulties removed when we come to refer to the law and the testimony; for it is clear, that it is that kind of oaths our Lord intends to prohibit which the ancients were so strictly enjoined to perform. But as I have faid there are three kinds of oaths, I shall first give my reasons for objecting to two of them as being contained in the prohibition ---answer fome objections that might be made---and then thew what kind of oaths I think our Lord allưdes to.
And first, as to profane swearing---I am of opinion with Mr. Wright that cannot be the thing intended, for the reason he has given, viz. that the swearing here prohibited, is what was once allowed; whereas profane swearing always was fora bidden. Secondly, it appears to me that it cannot be swearing for the confirmation of a fact that is forbidden, because I am persuaded Christ never did abrogate a moral law; and if it can be proved that this is one, in my opinion it will decide the controversy. I would ask, What is the moral law? It appears to me to be that law which arises out of the nature of things, and the relation they stand in to each other---as, that I fould love God with all my heart, with all my understanding, and with all my strength, and my neighbour as myself: that I should do unto others as I would have them do unto me. All these arife out of the nature of things, and their relation to each other. That I should love God does not depend upon any positive law; he is iny creator, my preserver, my bountiful benefactor; I cannot do without him; I love him because he first loved me: and the love of my neighbour arises in a similar way---He is my brother; we have one common Father ; we are creatures of the fame God; and if we love him who begat, we also must love him who is begotten; and that I should do unto others as I would they should do unto me, is connected with the love of my neighbour, as well as that there is scarce a situation he can be in, but what, at some future period, I may be in the same. All these things would have been binding upon man, if there had been no positive law to that effect, and ever must be so, because of the nature of man, and the relation he stands in to God: and his neighbour; even so does swearing for the confirmation of a fact arise in the same way. Man is an imperfect and depraved creature, capable of deceiving or being deceived ; it is therefore necessary that he should appeal to one who is not capable of either, for the satisfaction of his neighbour; from whom, in like circumstances, he would reasonably expect the same kind of assurance, seeing that in many instances; no other proof can be given of the truth of a fact than the confidence that is given to the declaration or testimony of a man; and he being capable of deceiving and liable to be deceived, it arises out of the nature of man, that the one should require and the other should comply with an appeal to that Being who knows the secret thoughts of the heart, and who is not liable to be deceived, for the truth of the thing that is required ; and in so doing, he is only complying with that part of the moral law which teaches us to do unto others as we would have them do un.to us. Again, we find, though God never requires man to swear to him, he knowing their hearts, and therefore he does not need such proof, yet, in compassion to the weakness of their nature, he has frequently sworn to them; Heb. vi. 13.; for when God made the promise to Abraham, since he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself: for indeed men swear by a greater Being; and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all contradiction. Therefore God, being willing to shew more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of his purpose, confirmed it by an oath. Thus we see that, because it was a custom among men to swear for confirmation to each other, which practice Paul does not reprove, but shews its beneficial effects, as being the end to all contradiction, therefore, or for that reason, he says, God sware to the heirs of promife; that fo, by two immutable things, (his word and his
oath) in which it was impoffible for God to speak falsely, they might have a strong ground for consolation, &c. Now if God, who is the governor of all, and whose word creatures might depend upon, faw it proper and necessary, in compassion to the weakness of our nature, to confirm what He said with an oath, how much more is man bound by the relation he stands in to man, to give him that satisfaction, as well as from his nature, which makes him capable of deceiving and liable to be deceived? And if swearing for confirmation was forbidden, man would frequently be under a necessity either of disobeying the command which forbad him to swear, or be obliged to violate that part of the moral law which teaches him to love his neighbour as himself, and to do unto others as he would have them do unto him. As for instance --Suppose I were in company with a man at eight o'clock last night, and to-day was to be charged with murdering a man at that same time, Would there not be a moral obligation for that man to swear I was in his company at that time, and save my life? Or would he shew that he loved me, his neighbour, as himself, or do as he would have me do unto him, if the law of the land required him to swear, and he refused so to do, and thereby suf,fered my life to be taken away.--my innocent blood to be
thed---my wife left a widow, and my children fatherless? I know it may be faid, that the laws of a country may militate against the laws of Christ, and then Christians ought not to obey them, whatever were the consequences. This I will grant, if in refusing to obey them we do not violate the moral law of loving our neighbour, and doing to others as we would have them do to us, But I would not impeach the wisdom and foresight of our great Lawgiver, by supposing that any of his positive laws fhould lead, in their consequences, to a breach of those parts of the moral law, on which he himself declares depend all the law and the prophets. And I think Christians ought to pause, and seriously and closely examine, before they determine that to be a law of Christ which would lead to such consequences.
But I have other reafons why I cannot conceive our Lord intended to forbid (wearing for the confirmation of a fact; and one of them is, that the great apostle Paul did not understand it in that sense ; for we find him frequently appealing to God for the truth of what he asserts, in language as strong as the oath administered by the civil magistrate in this country, So help me God; as for instance---Paul says, (2 Cor. i. 18.) But as God is true, &c. and (verse 23.) I call God for a record upon my Vol. III.
foul; and again, (Gal. i. 20.) Behold, before God I lie not. It is contended by some, that these are not oaths, but merely strong asseverations ; but to me they look so much like oaths, that I must confess I am incapable of discovering any difference. But suppose I were to admit they were not oaths; yet it surely must be granted me, that in his communications he has used something more than Yea, yea, that is, a bare affirmation, and, consequently, has violated the law of Christ, as though they were oaths; for as well as “ Swear not at all,” our Lord hath faid, “ Let your communications be yea, yea, and nay, nay; for whatsoever is more than this cometh of evil.” It is said by some, Paul was but a man, and he might err.--But it might be asked, Was it likely he should err when wrićing deliberately, and under the influence of the Spirit of God, to the churches ? and that he should repeat it in so mauy epistles, and never discover his error and correct it? or that Peter, who wrote after him, should suffer such a grofs violation of a command of Christ to stand as an example to the churches without reproving it? Surely, he could not plead ignorance, for he was present when his master gave the law; and he noticęs the writings of Paul, but never mentions this error: he says, In his epiitles there are some things hard to be understood; and he might easily have said he had mistaken a command of Christ; but, on the contrary, he calls him his beloved brother Paul; and declares, that he wrote his epistles according to the wisdom given to him. .
Thus having cleared the character of Paul, and given my reasons for not understanding the command « Swear not at all,” as intending to forbid swearing for confirmation of a fact, I shall attempt to shew what it does mean.
It appears to me, the oaths intended to be prohibited by our Lord, were voluntary oaths which men made to bind themselves to the performance of something for God, or, which they considered the same, for the temple ; for our Lord says, “ It hath been said to the ancients, Thou shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths.” Now, an oath for confirmation is an appeal to God for the truth of what they say to man; but these oaths are either by God, or Jerusalem, or by their own head, to perform something to God; for it is said, they were to perform unto the Lord their oaths. But if we refer to the law of Moles, we shall soon discover what oaths they are, and where it has been said to the ancients; and the first passage I will refer to is Numb, xxx. 1, 2. « And Moses spake unto the heads (the ancients) of the tribes concerning the children of
Ifrael... This is the thing which the Lord hath commanded : if a man vow a vow, or swear an oath, to bind his soul with a bond, he shall not break his word; he shall do all that proceedeth out of his mouth.” Again, Deut. xxiii. 21- ^ When thou shalt vow a vow unto the Lord thy God, thou shalt not slack to pay it; for the Lord thy God will surely require it of thee, and it would be fin in thee; but if thou shalt forbear to vow, it shall be no fin in thee: that which is gone out of thy mouth thou shalt keep and perform; a free-will offering, according as thou hast vowed to the Lord thy God, which thou haft promised with thy mouth.” And David, Psalm lxxvi. II. says, “ Vow and pay unto the Lord your God.” Let these passages be compared with Mat. V. 33. « It hath been said to the ancients, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths ;” and I am fully persuaded, that every candid man must acknowledge they are the places referred to by Jesus Christ: that being the cale, it is clear to me it is vows or oaths binding men to the performance of ! something for the temple, or, indeed, to do any thing at a fu.
ture time, that our Lord means to prohibit. Indeed the connection of the passage itself, especially when compared with Mat. xxiii. 18. is sufficient to prove that it is such oaths as these, for our Lord is expressly speaking of them, and ridicules the folly of the scribes and Pharisees for making curious distinctions as to what should bind a man and what should not. If it had been oaths for confirmation, that they had thus said fome were not binding, would they not have taught the people, that, if they were only careful what they swore b; they might bear false witnels against their neighbour? And beside, what court of justice admits men to chuse what oath they will swear by? Whereas, in this case, they had the choice in themselves. But it is evident it related to vows, luch as that of binding themselves to give all their superfluous property to the temple; so when their parents wanted their assistance, they would say, It is Corban---that is, a gist; and, by these curious distinctions in their oaths, they could refuse to help their parents, though they were perishing for want. Therefore our Lord says, (Mat. xviii.) “Woe to you, ye blind guides, who say, Whofoever swears by the temple it is nothing; but whosoever fwears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.”--Bound ! to what? to speak truth, and in the other case may he bear false witness ? No, but he is bound to perform that which is gone out of his mouth to the Lord. But Christ commands his disciples not to bind themselves by, any oaths,