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triarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and was afterwards not only allowed, but in many cases commanded by the law of Moses; which, had it been a thing evil in itfelf, and forbidden by the law of nature, would not have been done.
2dly, Another undeniable argument from the text, of the lawfulness of oaths, is, that God himself, in condescension to the custom of men, who use to confirm and give credit to what they say by an oath, is represented by the Apostle as confirming his promise to us by an oath, v 13. When God made the promise to Abraham, because he could swear by none greater, he swears by himself. For men verily swear by the greater : and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife. Wherein God, willing more abundantly to new unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath : which he certainly would not have done, had an oath been unlawful in itself. For that had been to comply with men in an evil practice, and by his own example to give countenance to it in the highest manner : but though God condescend to represent himself to us after the manner of men, he ncver does it in any thing that is in its own nature evil and sinful.
3dly, From the great usefulness of oaths in human af. fairs, to give credit and confirmation to our word, and to put an end to contestations. Now, that which serves to such excellent purposes, and is so convenient for human society, and for mutual security and confidence ainong men, ought not easily to be presumed unlawful, till it be plainly proved to be so. And, if we consider the nature of an oath, and every thing belonging to it, there is nothing that hath the least appearance of evil in it. There is surely no evil in it, as it is an act of religion; nor as it is an appeal to God as a witness and avenger in case we swear falsely; nor as it is a confirmation of a doubtful matter; nor as it puts an end to strife and controversy. And these are all the essential ingredients of an oath, and the ends of it; and they are all so good, that they rather commend it, than give the least colour of ground to condemn it. I proceed, in the 2. Second place, to shew the weakness and insuffici
ency of the grounds of the contrary opinion, whether from reason, or from scripture.
ist, From reason. They say the necessity of an oath is occasioned by the want of truth and fidelity among men; and that every man ought to demean himself with that faithfulness and integrity, as may give credit and confirmation to his word; and then oaths will be needless. This pretence will be fully answered if we confider these two things.
1. That in matters of great importance, no other obligation, besides that of an oath, hath been thought sufficent, amongst the best and wisest of men, to assert their fidelity to one another. “ Even the best men (to use “ the words of a great author) have not trusted the best « men without it:" As we see in very remarkable instances, where oaths have passed between those who might be thought to have the greatest confidence in one another; as, between Abraham, and his old faithful fervant Eliezer, concerning the choice of a wife for his son; between father and son, Jacob and Joseph, concerning the burial of his father in the land of Canaan ; between two of the dearest and most intimate friends, David and Jonathan, to assure their friendship to one another; and it had its effect long after Jonathan's death, in the faving of Mephibolheth, when reason of state, and the security of his throne, seemed to move David strongly to the contrary ; for it is expressly said, 2 Sam. xxi. 7. that David Spared Mephibosheth, Jonathan's fon, because of the oath of the Lord that was between them; implying, that, had it not been for his oath, other considerations might probably have prevailed with him to have permitted him to have been cut off with the rest of Saul's children.
2. This reason, which is alledged against oaths among men, is much stronger against God's confirming his promises to us by an oath : for he, who is truth itself, is surely of all other most to be credited upon his bare word, and his oath needless to give confirmation to it; and yet he condescends to add his oath to his word.'. And therefore that reason is evidently of no force. • 2dly, From scripture. Our Saviour feems altogether to forbid swearing in any case, Matth. v. 33. 34. 37. Ye have heard that it hath been said to them of old time, Thou shalt
not forswear thyself. But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven, &c. But let your communication be, Yea, yea, and, Nay, nay ; for whatsoever is more than these, cometh of evil. And this law St. James recites, chap. v. V 12. as that which Christians ought to have a very particular and principal regard to : Above all things, my brethren, fwear not. And he makes the breach of this law a damning fin: lest ye fall into condemnation. But the authority of our Saviour alone is sufficient; and therefore I shall only consider that text.
And, because here lies the main strength of this opinion of the unlawfulness of oaths, it is very fit that this text be fully considered; and that it be made very evident, that it was not our Saviour's meaning by this prohibition wholly to forbid the use of oaths.
But, before I enter upon this matter, I will readily grant, that there is fcarce any error whatsoever that hath a more plausible colour from scripture than this; which makes the case of thofe who are seduced into it the more pitiable. But then it ought to be considered, how much this doctrine of the unlawfulness of oaths reflects upon the Christian religion ; since it is so evidently prejudicial both to human society in general, and particularly to those persons that entertain it: neither of which ought rashly to be supposed, and taken for granted, concerning any law delivered by our Saviour; because, upon these terms, it will be very hard for us to vindicate the divine wisdom of our Saviour's doctrine, and the reasonableness of the Christian religion. Of the inconvenience of this doctrine to human society, I have spoken already. But, besides this, it is very prejudicial' to them that hold it. It renders them suspected to government, and, in many cases, incapable of the common benefits of justice, and other privileges of human society; and exposeth them to great penalties, as the constitution of all laws and governments at present is; and it is not easy to imagine how they should be otherwise': and, which is very considerable in this matter, it sets those who refuse oaths upon very unequal terms with the rest of mankind, if, where the estates and lives of men are equally concerned, their bare testimonies shall be admitted without an oath, and others shall be obliged to speak upon oath;
nothing being more certain in experience, than that many men will lie for their interest, when they will not be perjured, God having planted in the natural consciences of men a secret dread of perjury above most other fins. And this inconvenience is so great, as to render those who refuse oaths in all cases almost intolerable to human fociety. I speak not this, either to bring them into trouble, or to persuade them to measure truth by their interest. - But, on the other hand, I must needs fay, that it is no argument, either of a wise or good man, to take up any opinion, especially such a one as is greatly to his prejudice, upon slight grounds. And this very consideration, that it is so much to their inconvenience, may justly inove them to be very careful in the examination of it.
This being premised, I come now to explain this prohibition of our Saviour. And, to this purpose, I desire these three things may be well confidered.
1. That several circumstances of thefe words of our Saviour do manifestly Thew, that they ought to be interpreted in a limited sense, as only forbidding swearing in common conversation ; “ needless and heedless oaths,” as one expresseth it; and in general all voluntary swearing, unless upon some great and weighty cause, in which the glory of God and the good of the souls of men is concerned. For that in such cases a voluntary oath may be lawful, I am induced to believe, from the example of St. Paul, who useth it more than once upon such occasions : of which I shall hereafter give particular instances.
And this was the sense of wise men among the Heathen, that men should not swear but upon necessity and great occasion. Thus Eusebius the philosopher, in Stobæus, counsels men.“ Some (says he) advise men to be “ careful to swear the truth ; but I advise principally " that men do not easily swear at all ; ” that is, not upon any flight, but only upon weighty occasions. To the same purpose Epi&etus : “ Shun oaths wholly, if it 66 be possible; if not, however as much as thou canst." And so likewise Simplicius, in his comment upon him, “ We ought wholly to fhun swearing, except upon oc“casions of great necellity.”. And Quintilian, among
the the Romans, In totum jurare, nifi ubi necesse est, gravi viro parum convenit : “ To swear at all, except where it is “ necessary, does not well suit with a wise man."
And that this prohibition of our Saviour's ought to be understood of oaths in ordinary conversation, appears from the opposition which our Saviour makes: Swear not at all ; but let your communication be, rea, yea; that is, in your ordinary commerce and affairs, do not interpose oaths; but say, and do. And this is very much confirmed, in that our Saviour does not, under this general prohibition, instance in such oaths as are expressly by the name of God. The reason whereof is this : The Jews thought it unlawful, in ordinary communication, to Swear expressly by the name of God, but lawful to swear by the creatures, as by heaven and earth, &c. So that our Saviour's meaning is, as if he had said, “ You “ think you may swear in common conversation, pro“ vided you do not swear by the name of God: but I “ say unto you, Let your cominunication be without “ oaths of any kind; you shall not so much as fwear by “ heaven, or by earth, because God is virtually invoked "s in every oath.”. And, unless we fuppofe this to be our Saviour's meaning, I do not see what good reason can be given, why our Saviour should only forbid them to swear by the creatures, and not much rather by the name of God; such oaths being surely of all others moft to be avoided, as being the most direct abuse and profa nation of the name of God.
2. It is very considerable to the explaining of this prohibition, that there are the like general expressions in other Jewish authors concerning this very matter; which yet must of necessity be thus limited. Maimonides, from the ancient Rabbies, gives this rule, That “it is “ best not to swear at all.” And Philo useth almost the same words. And Rabbi Jonathan comes very near our Saviour's expression, when he says, “ The just man " will not fwear at all; not so much as by the common “ names of God, nor by his attributes, nor by his “ works, as by heaven, or the angels, or the law." Now, it is not imaginable, that these learned Jews should condemn oaths in all cases, when the law of Moses did in many cases expressly require them. And therefore