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sons of this Doctrine, having, at the last Occasion, in reprehending the loose Doctrine of the Fewish Scribes in this particular, shewed
the Evil of the Practice of Swearing in common Conversation, and therefore the Reasonableness of this Prohibition.
II. The next Thing I observed in our Saviour's Improvements on this Commandment, is, that he disallows of all Swearing by the Creatures. Now, though under the last Head of the Errors of the Jewish Doctors on this Commandment, I fhewed you briefly the Unreasonableness of this Practice; yet having then been straitned in Time, I will add a little more distinctly on this Head.
That the Swearing directly by any Creature, so as to give that Creature the Honour of being the Witness or Judge of our Veracity in such an Oath, is highly criminal, I cannot in the least doubt, both because that Honour is every where in the Holy Scriptures peculiarly limited to God himself, and because the Reason of the thing does necessarily require it, for it is both Nonsense and Impiety, in such Secrets as Oaths are to confirm, to appeal to any Person or Thing that is not omnifcient to know, and omnipotent to inflict that Vengeance which the prevaricating with an Oath doth tacitly imprecate. But where the Creatures are invoked only figuratively, so as there is a plain Reference to Almighty God himself, and not to the Creature, there it does not seem to be unlawful to that person who means and intends it in that manner. So if one should swear by Heaven, meaning God, as that Word is often used by Authors in that Sense; as when the prodigal Son is
brought in saying to his Father, (a) I have finned against Heaven, and before thee, the Meaning is, I have finned against God and thee; there, I say, the Intent being not to swear by the material Heavens, but by God in Heaven, in such a figurative Sense the thing is allowable, provided it be truly so meant and understood. And such Manners of Speaking are common in all Languages. So an Appeal to Rome, every one understands to be an Appeal to the Pope ; an Appeal to Whitehall, is well enough understood to be an Appeal to the King; and so the swearing by Heaven, is the swearing by God. But where there is any doubt whether God is understood to be referred to, not only by the Taker of the Oath, but by others that might be milled by such a Doubt, it is certainly much safer not to fwear by the Creature at all. But then here is another Danger, even where the Honour is not designed to the Creature, but to the Creator, namely, that where the Creature is named, it is reckoned an inferiour fort of Oath, and so both takes off the Dread and Reverence of an Oath at present, which is apt to make Oaths more common, cheap, and customary; and to lessen the Obligation of them for the future. And this was the Cafe here in those Oaths by Creatures in my Text; they had so worn off the Dread of them, that at last they were elusory, and they did not think themselves obliged to perform them, unless they had been made in the Name of God himself; the evil Consequence of which our Saviour perceiving,
(a) Luke xv. 18.
sets himself to rectify this part of their Doctrine and Practice; and this was
III. The third Thing I observed in our Saviour's Improvements upon this Commandment, namely, that he asserts the Obligation of several Oaths, which they reckoned elusory, and did not think themselves obliged to perform. Now, as to this Error of theirs, our Saviour had them under an unanswerable Dilemma ; for either these Oaths by the Creatures, had a reference to God, or not. If they had no reference to God, then it was an high piece of Sacrilege to put this divine Honour upon them, to swear by them; an Honour which the very Light of Nature, as well as their Law and their Prophets, taught them was peculiar to Omniscience and Omnipotence, that is, to God alone; and of this fort of Oaths, I think our Saviour gives an Example here, in their swearing by their Head. But if the Oaths had a reference to God, then they ought religiously to be performed as to him, and not evaded. There was no answering of this Argument, but the Truth was, that by a supine Neglect, countenanced by the corrupt Doctrine of their Teachers, the relation which most of these Daths had to God, (viz. the Oaths by Heaven and Earth, and Jerusalem) was quite forgotten, and so the Performance of them came to be neglected, and therefore our Lord puts them in mind how that relation to God was in these customary Oaths of theirs, and so concludes for the Obligation of them. I shall briefly clear up that part of the Text, and then in pursuance of the Design of it, dehort from all evafive, elusory Oaths whatsoever, and fo conVOL. II.
ciude ; for I perceive the main Rule which our Saviour substitutes for avoiding these inferior Oaths, namely, a Simplicity and Honesty in Conversation, I shall not have time now to enter upon.
As to the Relation between some inferiour Oaths then in Use, and God Almighty, our Saviour himself here clears it in three of these Oaths, by Heaven, and Earth, and Jerusalem.
The Oath by Heaven had an express relation to God, for it is God's Throne. Now this is very intelligible, for it is customary by the Throne, to understand the King or Queen that fits thereon ; such a thing was spoke from the Throne; that is, was spoke by the King Gitting on his Throne.
The same Account is to be given of an Oath by Earth, which our Saviour elegantly calls God's Footstool; and so faid God in the Prophets, Ifa. lxvi. i. Thus faith the Lord, Heaven is my Throne, and the Earth is my Footstool. It is a part of the fame Throne, but an inferiour part of it, and therefore still reference must be had to God himself, who fills Heaven and Earth.
The third Instance is in Jerusalem, which was the chief Place of the Divine Presence
upon Earth; there was the Temple, and the Holy of Holies; there God was said to dwell between the Cherubims; and therefore in these three, Heaven, Earth, and Jerusalem, the reference to God is very plain.
The fourth is a little more obscure; Neither shalt thou swear by thy Head, because thou canst not make one Hair white or black. This seems
to me an Example of the other part of the Din lemma, namely, of those Oaths which have no reference to God, and therefore should not at all be made use of, being an Oath by an infirm Creature, that cannot make one Hair white ar
Now what our Saviour intends by all this, is to shew, that none of these, or such like Oaths, is to be jested with, and broken at pleasure ; but that some of them, namely, such as do not signify God, are to be totally avoided, and those that do, are all binding: and if they are broke, that it is Perjury, as if the Oaths had been made in the Name of God himself.
From all this, we may conclude how much our Saviour abhors all false, elusory Oaths. After-Ages have invented a great many more than are here mentioned, and upon the same Design, namely, that they may have the appearance of the Confirmation of an Qath, to impose upon the Hearers Credulity, but at the fame time may make no Impression on the Taker's Conscience, so that he makes no Scruple of breaking through them. But there are two Things very immoral in all such Practices ; one is the designed Trick or Falthood ; the other, the backing that Trick with the Solemnity of an Oath, or something like an Oath; which, if it has any Sense at all, must reflect Dishonour upon Almighty God, to call him in, either directly or indirectly, to help out with such Fraud. And therefore let us be guarded, not only against the more deep, but likewise against the more flight sort of Swearing in Conversation. Let us aim at nothing but Truth, and content our felves to deliver it in a
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