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MAIT. V. 33. Again ye have heard, that it bath been faid by
them of old Time, Thou shalt not forswear thy felf, but Malt perform unto the Lord thine Oaths. Ver. 34. But I say unto you, swear not at all,
neither by Heaven, for it is God's Throne, Ver. 35. Nor by the Earth, for it is bis Footstool :
neither by Jerusalem, for it is the City of the
great King Ver. 36. Neither shalt thou swear by thy Head,
because thou canst not make one Hair white or
black. Ver. 37. But let your Communication be, yea, yea;
nay, nay; for whatsoever is more iban thefé, cometh of evil.
The First Sermon on this Text.
N these Words, our Saviour gives us another
Instance wherein the Righteousness of Christians must exceed that of the Scribes and Pbarifees; namely, in the Matter of Oaths, to which these five Verses which I have read, do appertain. In thein, for Methods fake, we are to confider these three Things.
1. What was good in the Opinion of the Jewis Doctors concerning this Third Commandment.
2. Wherein our Saviour finds it faulty and defective.
3. What further Improvements he makes on this Subject.
I. As to the first, it was certainly good in general that they condemned Perjury. Ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thy felf, but spalt perform unto the Lord thine Oaths.
II. As to the Second, our Saviour finds their Doctrine defective in the following Particulars.
1. In that they thought nothing else was prohibited in the Third Commandment, but the Sin of Perjury, which was a very lame Account of the Matter.
2. It was faulty in their Doctrine, that they allowed of Oaths by Creatures ; of which four are here mentioned, Heaven, and Earth, Jerufalem, and their Head.
3. It was another Fault in their Doctrine, that they reckoned such Oaths as were not by the Name of God, not binding: whereas, though they were not in God's Name, yet they had so near a Relation to him at least, as having the Formality of a Promise upon Oath, that on that Account they ought to have been observed.
4. It was another Fault in their Doctrine, that by the Looseness of it, they had brought in a Practice of swearing in Conversation, and so anade
way for rash, idle, customary Oaths.
III. As to the third, our Saviour's further Improvements on this Commandment, they may be reduced to these four:
1. In that he condemns all rash customary Swearing in Conversation.
2. In that he disallows of all swearing by the Creatures.
3. In that he afferts the Obligation of such Oaths, as to Men, though defective in point of Duty to God.
4. In that, in general, he recommends such a Veracity, Honesty, and Sincerity in Speech, that we may be trusted upon our bare Word, without an Oath.
These are the Heads of our Saviour's Doctrine on this Subject, which, for your Memories fake, I thought fit to propose, designing likewise to bound my Discourse by the fame Method, that it may not wander beside the Purpose.
I begin, first, with what was good in the Opinion of the Jewish Doctors on this Subject of Oaths, namely, that, in general, they condemned Perjury. Again, says he, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old Time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself
, but salt perform unto the Lord thine Oaths. This was their Sense of the Third Commandment; and though it was an imperfect one, there being several other things prohibited therein besides Perjury, yet in so far it was true, and deserves a particular Consideration, efpecially considering the great Abuse of Oaths in these latter Days, which have so debauched the Consciences of Men, that some want Instruction, and others Admonition in this Matter.
In order then to dissuading from the Sin of Perjury, which falls in properly to be treated of from this first part of the Text, I shall
1. Describe wherein Perjury consists. 2. Enquire what it is that leads and tempts Men to it.
3. I will shew the Heinousness of this Sin.
4. I will consider what salves us from Perjury, though we cannot always perform our Oaths.
I. First then, in order to the Description of this Sin, Perjury is either a swearing to a false thing at present, or afterwards, a voluntary Breach of a lawful Promise upon Oath.
To understand it then aright, we must know what an Oath is, and when we may be said voluntarily to break it.
An Oath is the calling God to witnefs the Truth of what we say, and it implies always in it, the exposing our selves to his Curse and Vengeance, if we swear false, and therefore it is justly reckoned the highest and strictest Bond or Tye among Men. The chief use of it is for finding out, and clearing the Truth in doubtful and controverted Matters : and those must be Matters of some Consequence, not light and trivial, in which such a folemn Act of Religion is used. Divines
agree that the chief Properties of an Oath, are those three mentioned by the Prophet Jeremiah, ch. iv. 2. Thou shalt swear the Lord liveth in Truth, Judgment, and Righteousness. The first Condition Truth, excludes not only all Lying, but all Trick, Deceit, or Equivocation; and therefore it is necessary that Oaths be taken in the plain and most obvious Sense of the Words, such as is honestly understood by both the Giver
and Taker of the Oath. The second Condition is Judgment; for it is not sufficient that what we swear be true, unless it be a thing of that Weight and Importance, that it require the Gravity and Deliberation of an Oath. This Condition is an Act of Prudence, from which we determine whea ther the thing we take our Oath of, be a thing of that Consequence, that it deserves to be proved with so great Solemnity. They transgress this Condition, who swear rashly and customarily, and without due Consideration and Reverence of that holy Name of God which they invoke. The third Condition is Righteousness ; for it is not sufficient that it be true, and a thing of Weight that we swear, unless it be likewise a just thing in itself; and therefore David's Oath to cut off Nabal, and all his House, and Herod's Oath, in the Sense he meant it, as extending to all things just and unjust, were certainly unlawful Oaths, as being unrighteous in their own Nature.
Some further Light into the Nature of Oaths may be afforded, by considering the common Division of them into Affertory and Promissory
The Affertory relate chiefly to the Time present and past, and require no more but a prefent Truth in him who takes them ; but the Promisory, besides the present sincere Intention to perform what we promise upon Oath, require also our after-Care and endeavour truly to perform it, according as we have promised.
From all which, it will be no hard matter to determine wherein the Sin of Perjury doth confift: For as, in general, it is the calling of God to be Witness to a Lye; this in particular is done these several Ways.
(1.) When we af