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that hath vowed to forbear wine, or feasting, or marriage is discharged, if his prince, or captain, or masters be against it. Jonathan and David were under an oath of friendship; (called the Lord's oath, 2 Sam. xxi. 7.) Saul as a parent could not discharge Jonathan as being a man at full age. Quære whether Saul as a king being against it, did null the oath to David and Jonathan ? No, the Scripture sheweth the contrary. 8. Because else that benefit which God extendeth only to a weaker sort, would extend to any, the wisest and most learned persons through the world, whose vows to God even for the afflicting of their own souls, may be nulled by the king or other superiors. Many such reasons are urged in this case.
3. It is uncertain whether this chapter extend to assertory or testimonial oaths, (if not certain that it doth not): it speaketh but of binding their souls in vows to God, which is to offer or do something which by error may prove prejudicial to them. But if a parent or husband (much more a king or general) might nullify all the testimonial oaths of their inferiors that are given in judgment, or discharge all their subjects from the guilt of all the lies or false oaths which they shall take, it would make a great change in the morality of the world.
4. It is not past all controversy how far this law is yet in force : seeing the Mosaical law as such is abrogated; this can be now no further in force than as it is the law of nature, or some way confirmed or revived by Christ. The equity seemeth to be natural.
Rule xxxi. “It is certain that whoever this power of disannulling vows belongeth to, and to whomsoever it may be given, that it extendeth not to discharge us from the promise or vow of that which is antecedently our necessary duty by the law of God.' Else they should dispense with the law of God, when none but the lawgiver can relax or dispense with his laws, (unless it be one superior to the lawgiver): therefore none can dispense with the laws of God. But I speak this but of a duty necessary also as a means to our salvation, or the good of others, or the honouring of God : for otherwise as to some smaller things, the duty may be such as mạn cannot dispense with, and yet a vow to do that duty may be unnecessary and sinful: as if I swear to
keep all the law of God, and never to sin, or never to think a sinful thought: to do this is good, but to vow it is bad, because I may foreknow that I shall break it.
Rule xxxII. `In some cases a vow may oblige you against that which would have been your duty if you had not vowed, and to do that which would else have been your sin : viz. if it be such a thing as is sin or duty but by some lesser accident, which the accident of a vow may preponderate or prevail against.' . As if you swear to give a penny to a wandering beggar, or to one that needeth it not, which by all circumstances would have been an unlawful misemploying of that which should have been better used; yet it seemeth to me your duty to do it when you have moved it. To cast away a cup of drink is a sin, if it be causelessly; but if you vow to do it, it is hard to say that a man should rather be perjured than cast away a cup of drink, or a penny, or a pin. The Jesuits think it lawful to exercise the obedience of their novices by bidding them sometimes cast a cup of wine into the sink, or do some such action which causelessly done were sin : and shall not a vow require it more strongly? Suppose it would be your duty to pray or read at such or such an hour of the day (as being fittest to your body and occasions): yet if you have (foolishly) vowed against it, it seemeth to me to be your duty to put it off till another time. For perjury is too great a thing to be yielded to on every such small occasion. Dr. Sanderson s'ubi supra' giveth this instance: If there be a law that no citizen elected to it shall refuse the office of a prætor; and he that doth refuse it shall be fined: Caius sweareth that he will not bear the office: his oath is unlawful (and disobedience would have been his sin if he were free) yet it seems he is bound to pay his fine, and disobey the precept of the law, rather than break his vow.
Rule xxxii. “There are so great a number of sins and duties that are such by accidents and circumstantial alterations, and some of these greater and some less, that it is a matter of exceeding great difficulty in morality to discern when they are indeed sins and duties and when not, which must be by discerning the preponderancy of accidents; and therefore it must be exceeding difficult to discern when a
Sanderson, p. 73.
vow shall weigh down any of these accidents, and when
Rule xxxiv. “The exceeding difficulty and frequency of such cases maketh it necessary to those that have such entanglements of vows, to have a very wise and faithful counsellor to help them better to resolve their particular cases, upon the knowledge of every circumstance, than any book or general rules can do, or any that are not so perfectly acquainted with the case. And O what great ability is necessary in divines that are employed in such works!
Rule xxxv. “Thus also the case must be resolved whether an oath bind that hindereth a greater good which I might do if I had not taken it.' In some cases it may bind: as if I swear to acquaint none with some excellent medicine which I could not have known myself unless I had so sworn; or in case that the breaking of the oath, will do more hurt to me or others than the good comes to which I omit: orin case all things considered, the doing of that good ‘hic et nunc'is not my duty : see Dr. Sanderson of the difficulties here also.
Rule xxxvi. “No personal hurt or temporal loss is any sufficient cause for the violation of an oath. He that taketh a false oath, or breaketh a promissory oath for the saving of his life or a thousand men's lives, or for lands or riches, or crowns and kingdoms, hath no considerable excuse for his perfidiousness and perjury, all temporal things being such inconsiderable trifles in comparison of the will and pleasure of God, and life everlasting: that which will not justify a lie, will much less justify perjury.
Rule xxxvii. 'If the matter of an oath prove only a temptation to sin, and not sin itself, it must be kept :' but with the greater vigilance and resolution! As if a man have married a froward wife that will be a temptation to him all his life, he is not disobliged from her.
Rule xxxviii. 'If the matter of an oath be such as maketh me directly the tempter of myself or others, it is a sin, and not to be kept, unless some greater good preponderate that evil.' For though it be no sin to be tempted, yet it is a sin to tempt: though it be no sin to tempt by a necessary trial, (as a master may lay money before a suspected servant to try whether he be a thief,) nor any sin to tempt
* Sanders p.80, 81.
accidentally by the performance of a duty (as a holy life doth accidentally tempt a malignant person to hatred and persecution); yet it is a sin to be directly and needlessly a tempter of ourselves or others unto sin; and therefore he that voweth it must not perform it. As if you had vowed to persuade any to unchastity, intemperance, error, rebellion, &c.
Rule xxxix. “If the matter of an oath be such as accidentally layeth so strong a temptation before men (especially before a multitude), as that we may foresee it is exceeding likely to draw them into sin, when there is no greater good to preponderate the evil of such a temptation, it is a sin to do that thing, though in performance of a vow. When actions are good or evil only by accident, then accidents must be put in the balance against each other, and the weightiest must preponderate. As in matter of temporal commodity or discommodity, it is lawful to do that action which accidentally bringeth a smaller hurt to one man, if it bring a greater good to many; or which hurteth a private person to the great good of the commonwealth; but it is not lawful to do that which clearly tendeth (though but by accident) to do more hurt than good. As to sell powder and arms, when we foresee it will be used against the king and kingdom; or to sell ratsbane when you foresee it is like to be used to poison men. Much more should the salvation of many or one be preferred before our temporal commodity; and therefore for a lesser good, we may not tempt men to evil, though but accidentally: as he that liveth where there is but little need of taverns or alehouses, and the common use of them is for drunkenness, it is unlawful for him there to sell ale or wine, unless he can keep men from being drunk with it: (as if they take it home with them, or be unruly he cannot.) For thus to be a foreknowing tempter and occasion, unnecessarily, is to be a moral cause. Two things will warrant a man to do that which by accident tempteth or occasioneth other men to sin: one is a command of God, when it is a duty which we do: the other is a greater good to be attained by the action, which cannot be attained in a less dangerous way. As in a country where there is so great a necessity for alehouses and taverns that the good that is done by them is greater than the hurt is like to be, though some will be drunk; it is lawful to use these trades though some be hurt by it. It is lawful to sell flesh though some will be gluttonous ; it is lawful to use moderate, decent ornaments, though some vain minds will be tempted by the sight to lust. As it is lawful to go to sea though some be drowned: to act a comedy, or play at a lawful game, with all those cautions, which may secure you that the good of it is like to be greater than the hurt, is not unlawful : but to set up a play-house, or gaming-house, where we may foresee that the mischief will be far greater than the good (though the acts were lawful in themselves), this is but to play the devil's part, in laying snares for souls: men are not thus to be ticed to hell and damned in sport, though but accidentally, and though you vowed the act.
Rule xl. Thus also must the case of scandal be resolved 4: as scandal signifieth an action that ocoasioneth another to sin, or a stumbling-block at which we foresee he is like to fall to the hurt of his soul, (which is the sense that Christ and the apostles usually take it in) so it is the same case with this last handled, and needs no other resolution : but as scandal signifieth (in the late abusive sense) the mere displeasing of another, or occasioning him to censure you for a sinner, so you must not break a vow to escape the censure or displeasure of all the world. Otherwise pride would be still producing perjury, and so two of the greatest sins would be maintained.
Rule XLI. “Though in the question about the obligation of an oath that is taken ignorantly, or by deceit, there be great difficulties, yet this much seemeth clear, 1. That he that is culpably ignorant is more obliged by his vow or contract while he useth all the outward form, than he that is inculpably ignorant. 2. That though the deceit (as the force) of him that I swear to, do forfeit his right to what I promise him, yet my oath or vow obligeth me to do or give the thing, having interested God himself in the cause. 3. That all such errors of the essentials of an oath or vow as nullify it (of which I spake before) or make the matter sinful, do infer a nullity in the obligation (or that it must not be kept).' But no smaller error (though caused by deceit) doth disoblige.
u Sanders. p. 82.