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S E R M O N XXIV.
MATT. V. 33 Again ye have heard, that it hath been said by
them of old Time, Thou shalt not forswear thy
self, but shalt 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 than these
, cometh of evil.
The Second Sermon on this Text. N a former Discourse on these Words, I summed
the Contents of them in these three Heads.
1. We have here what was good in the Opinion of the Jewish Doctors concerning the Third Commandment.
II. Wherein our Saviour finds their Opinion faulty or defective.
III. What further Improvements he makes on this Subject.
As to the First, it was certainly good in general that they condemned Perjury. Ye have heard, it bath been said by them of old Time, Thou shalt not forfwear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine Oaths. But having discoursed of this, at the last Occasion, I shall not spend time in Repetition, but proceed to the
Second thing contained in the Words ; namely, wherein our Saviour finds the Doctrine of the Jewish Teachers faulty or defective, in what they taught upon this Third Commandment. And it was faulty or defective in these four Particulars : Which I intend to speak to at this time.
1. In that they taught, that 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 several are here mentioned.
3. It was another fault in their Doctrine, that they reckoned such Oaths by Creatures not bində ing, a very few excepted ; whereas, notwithstanding the defect of their not being in God's Name, they ought to have been observed.
4. It was another fault in their Doctrine, that by reason of the looseness of it, they had brought in a practice of Swearing in common Converíation, and so made way for Raih, Profane, Cuftomary' Oaths.
1. The First Thing I take notice of, as defective in their Doctrine upon the Third Commandment, is, that they Taught that nothing else was
prohibited in it, but the Sin of Perjury: Which was a very lame Account of the Matter. For though I confess the Words of the Third Com-. mandment, Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord thy God in vain, fignify principally, thou Thalt not swear fallly; they fignifie likewise, thou Thalt not swear vainly or unnecessarily. So that all rash, trifling, superfluous Oaths, are forbidden as well as false ones. The Reasons of this Doctrine may be gathered from the Consideration of God, whose Testimony we invoke; from the Sacredness of an Oath, which ought not to be prostituted to common Uses; and from the Consideration of our selves, who ought to keep up better the Gravity and Dignity of our Speech, than that it should need to be backed with a common use of Oaths. Let us consider these a little more particularly.
(1.) First, I say, the Consideration of God should deter us from the common use of Oaths: for he is not a common Witness to be called in upon all trivial Occasions. For as among Men, we choose rather to lose a small trifling Business, than to give a great Man the trouble to come in, and be an Evidence to it; so it is much more for the Honour of God, that he be not called in, except in a Matter of Weight and Difficulty. This the
very Heathens saw by the Light of Nature, and therefore prescribed it as a rule in all their Plays, and Poems, or other Compositions, never to introduce any of their Gods, but upon a very weighty Occasion.
Nec Deus interfit, nisi dignus vindice nodus
Two or three Things, at least, for the Honour of God, should be minded in this Business of an
Oath. 1. That it be a matter of Weight and Consequence. 2. That it be a matter of Difficulty, which cannot be cleared by other Proofs. 3. That it be a matter necessary to be decided, and that we have no other
left to do Justice, or to make an end of the Controversy. Forifit be a triling Business, it is a lessening of the divine Majesty, to invoke his Testimony. Or if it be a Thing.easy in itfelf, and capable of other Proof, that other Proof should be made use of, and the Appeal to God reserved for the last Result. Or if it is a Thing no way ne-cessary to be decided, it is then in the Nature of those Secrets which are not to be published; or those small Things for which an Action doth not lie.
(2.) The Sacredness of Oaths should deter us from making them cheap and common : For as in Human Judicatures for small Matters there are inferiour Courts, and it is not allowed that the superiour Courts be troubled, except in Cases of Moment or Difficulty ; so God hath set such an Honour upon an Oath, which is an Appeal to himself, that it must be a matter of great Consequence, in which this last Result is allowed. For to make Oaths cheap and common, is to make a Sacred Thing Profane, and directly to spoil an Oath of all the Reverence due to it, and consequently to make it an useless Thing in the World.
(3.) A due regard to our own Dignity and Reputation, should make us abstain from unnecefsary Oaths; for he who has strictly kept up his Honour and Reputation, will be believed upon his Word without an Oath; and there is nothing will sooner prostitute any Man's Credit, than if he himself seems so doubtful of it, as to think all his Words want to be backed with Oaths.
II. The second Thing I took Notice of as faulty in the Doctrine of the Scribes and Pharisees in the Text, is, that they allowed of Oaths by Creatures, of which several are here mentioned, particularly Heaven, and Earth, Jerusalem, and their Head. As far as I can gather, there were two Occasions of this part of their opinion. One, that they were convinced it was an indecent Thing to make use of the Name of God so often, as in the Eagerness of their Mind, they thought fit to make use of an Oath. They thought (and so far thought justly) that the Name of God himself was to be reserved for their most folemn Sorts of Oaths, such as were those they took in Judgment. But the using of inferiour Oaths for lesser Matters, was a Thing purely of their own Invention, not only without, but exprefly contrary to God's Prefcription. Another Reason for their flying to these inferiour Oaths, was, that they took them to be not so binding, and therefore made bold, upon a Pinch, easily to break through them; fo that they were a commodious Invention to colour their Fraud or Falshood. But now, that this fwearing by the Creatures was a fault, may be easily shewed, both from Scripture and the Reason of the Thing. As for Scripture, I shall quote but that one Passage, Jer. v. 7. How shall I pardon thee for this ? thy Children have forsaken me, and. fworn by them that are no Gods. As to the Reason of the Thing, it must be confessed, that no Creature can be proper to be invoked as a Witness of the Sincerity of one's Heart, because it has not those Properties requisite for it, such as Omniscience to know, and Omnipotence to execute Vengeance, and unerring Justice to decree Righte