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MATT. V. 33. Again ye have heard, that it bath been said by
them of old Time, Thou shalt not forswear thy felf, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine Oaths. Ver. 34. But I say unto you, fwear not at all,
neither by Heaven, for it is God's Throne, Ver. 35. Nor by the Earth, for it is his Footstool :
neither by Jerufalem, for it is the City of the great King Ver. 36. Neither Malt thou swear by thy Head,
because thou canst not make one Hair white or
black. Ver. 37. But let
But let your Communication be, yea, yea; nay, nay; for whatsoever is more than these, cometh of evil.
The Third Sermon on this Text.
N two former Discourses on these Words, I
considered, first, what was good and commendable in the Doctrine of the Jewish Scribes on the Third Commandment. Secondly, Wherein their Doctrine on this Commandment was faulty or defective. I come now, in the third and last place, to consider our Saviour's Improvements upon this Commandment; and they may be reduced to these four. Z 3
I. In that he condemns all rash customary Swearing in Conversation.
II. In that he disallows of all Swearing by the Creatures.
III. In that he asserts the Obligation of several Oaths, which they made void and elusory.
IV. In that he enjoins such a Veracity and Sin'cerity in Conversation, that we may be trusted upon our Word, without an Oath. Now in handling of these Points, I shall
purposely decline several Things, which would not be improper, but that I have had occasion already to mention them in some of the foregoing Heads on this Subject.
I. I begin with the first Observation concerning our Saviour's Improvements upon this Commandment; namely, that he condemns all rath customary Swearing in Conversation. This is to be gathered from the four last Verses of the Text that I have read ; But I say unto you, swear not at all; neither by Heaven, for it is God's. Throne, nor by the Earth, for it is his Footstool, neither by Jerusalem, for it is the City of the Great King: Neither Malt thou swear by thy Head, because thou canst not make one Hair white or black. But let your Communication be yea, yea; nay, nay; for whatsoever is more than these, cometh of Evil. In speaking to which Words, because they are not without a very palpable Difficulty, which has occasioned the judging of all Oaths unlawful by some Sects of Men, it will be necessary, first negatively, to consider what is not, then positively, what is prohibited in them.
1. First then negatively, Judicial Oaths are not here prohibited.
2. Nor voluntary Oaths upon grave weighty Occasions, where the Conditions of an Oath, Truth, judgment, and Righteousness, are observed.
1. First, I say, Judicial Oaths, administred by Judges for finding out the Truth, and for deciding of Suits and Controversies, are not here prohi'bited. The Quakers, and Anabaptists, are of another Opinion, concluding, chiefly from this Text, that all sorts of Oaths, in all Cases whatsoever, are prohibited by our Saviour. And I must confess the Words, if we take them separately by themselves, without any consideration of the Scope and Purport of the Discourse, or of the original Phrases, or of the Errors of the Jewish Doctors, which our Saviour is here rectifying, sound very much that way. Yet I doubt not, when this Matter is set in its true Light, it will in these Words our Saviour had no regard to Judicial Oaths at all, and that they were, in no respect, the Subject of this Prohibition. I shall distinctly propose to you the Reasons which convince me of this; some of which are not ordinarily observed or considered.
1. One Reason that weighs very much with me, is taken from a general Observation, That our Saviour, in this whole Sermon on the Mount, is only teaching the common Duties of Christians in their private Capacity, without meddling either with the Duty of Magistrates or Ministers, or any other particular Station of Men; and therefore it was not his Design to abridge Judges and Magiftrates of their Power of obliging Men to answer upon Oath, or to exempt Men from their usual Obedience in these Cases. Now, howsoever geZ4
appear, that neral our Saviour's Precepts may seem, we ought not to stretch them beyond this; for if we do, we shall go into things that he never designed, and make mad Work, and vent Doctrines inconTistent with all Governments, and with our Saviour's and his Apostles Precepts and Practice elsewhere. For Example, because our Saviour, in this Sermon, has thefe Words, judge not; by which be forbids the rafh Censures of Men in their private Capacity ; shall we from thence conclude, that he condemns the Office of publick Judges and Magistrates, to which we know elsewhere he and his Apostles require all due Submiffion and Obedience? Or because in this Sermon he recommends Peaceableness and Peace-making, and a Patience in bearing, and a Readiness in forgiving of Injuries, shall we conclude from thence, that Princes, and Magistrates may not execute Justice, or punish Tranfgreffors, or make War upon just Occasions? Or because it is said, Tbou Malt not kill, and resist not Evil, shall we conclude that the Power of the Sword is taken away even from Magistrates ? So here where our Saviour is guarding private Men against the common Sin of Swearing, which they had been taught they might lawfully use, provided they brought not in the Name of God himself in those common Oaths, but swore by inferiour Things, such as Heaven, and Earth, Jerusalem, or the Temple, their Head, or their Life, or the like: No, fays our Saviour, swear not at all in your common Conversation, neither by God, or any of his Creatures; it is a profane evil Custom, therefore beware of it; God is dishonoured by all such Oaths: But use your selves to such a Veracity in
Speech, that there may be no need of them. The same Observation will hold of the Love of Enemies; an excellent Doctrine to restrain our private Animofities and Enmities : But if it should be stretched to the corresponding with the publick Enemies of the Government, and to the supplying them with all Necessaries, it would make mad work indeed.
2. Secondly, That it was not our Saviour's Intent to condemn Judicial Oaths, appears to me from hence, because the Words, swear not at all, do not in their utmost Extent reach it, if we consider what was the manner of those Oaths
among the Jews; which was not, as it is with us, by making the Person pronounce the Words of an Oath; but by the Magistrate's adjuring him, that is, commanding him, in the Name of God, to answer to the Truth; and his answering this Adjuration, though in ever fo plain Words, was among them the witnessing upon Oath. And if either they refused to answer upon such Adjuration, that is, if they then fuppressed the Truth by Silence, or if they answered any thing that was false, they were reckoned guilty of the Sin of Perjury. Their own Abstinence then from Swearing, according to our Saviour's Precept here, could never fave them from this judicial answering to Adjuration, that is, from their Judicial Oaths; and therefore it could be none of our Saviour's Intent here, to prohibit the Use of Judicial Oaths.
3. It is highly probable, since our Saviour instances here in no Oaths, but those rash and elufory ones, which they used in their Conversation one with another, (for their Judicial Adjurations were all in the Name of God himself) It is highly