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as he is “ the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever," we have ground to conclude that they are not sinful in his creatures now, on proper occasions. There are two respectable classes of society, * professing the utmost regard to the law of Christ, who, taking the injunction in the text in an unlimited sense, have altogether abstained from oaths of every kind, and on all occasions. Indeed they have made their disuse a distinct article in their ecclesiastical code of discipline. Now, while I respect their motives, and honour their tenderness of conscience, I will, however, with all deference, remark, that I do not think the prohibition in the text warrants the conclusion to which they come. We have no evidence in the Scriptures that ever the Jews swore “by heaven,” &c. whenever they took a judicial oath; for they were plainly commanded to swear by the name of God-a circumstance not referred to by the Saviour in the words before us; which seems a strong evidence of his having no design to repeal that law. On the other hand, they were much addicted to swearing in common conversation,—when they sware by heaven, earth, Jerusalem, the inferior creatures, and sometimes by the colour of their hair; and they supposed, that if they did not mention the name of the Divine Being, the oath was neither sinful or binding. Now it was to expose the folly of this subtle distinction, and to forbid the practice of this profaneness, that the Saviour delivered the precept. And we should, therefore, read it thus: “Swear not at all; neither by heaven, earth,” or any other creature; for as these have relation to the All-forming Creator, it was, in fact, to swear by Him. This interpretation is confirmed by the rebuke which our Lord gives the Scribes and Pharisees, in the twenty-third chapter of the same Gospel. These men had taught that it was nothing to swear by the temple
* The Quakers, or Friends, and the Moravians.
and the altar, and he therefore says, " Whoso therefore shall swear by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon. And whoso shall swear by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein. And he that shall swear by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth thereon."* To this exposition of the passage might be added, the consideration that judicial oaths, in cases of the deepest moment, are frequent both in the Old Testament and in the New. In the former, we have the example of Jehovah himself, “ who because he could swear by no greater, sware by himself.”+ And in the latter it is recorded, that when the High Priest
adjured” the Saviour“ by the living God,” he made no scruple of replying on that adjuration. The angel in the Revelation, when foretelling the revolutions which were coming on the world, “ lifted up his hand and sware.” And the apostle, when assuring the truth of his doctrine, makes his appeal to God in numerous instances, that he “ did not lie.” From which cases, it is to be fairly concluded, that on all important occasions, a judicial oath, seriously made, and with a due sense of its awful nature, is so far from being unlawful, that it rather does honour to God than otherwise.
Before, however, I leave this branch of my subject, allow me to express my deep and unfeigned regret at the levity and frequency with which these oaths are commonly administered. To use the manly and eloquent language of a distinguished minister of the gospel on this subject, “ Their multiplication in mercantile transactions, and especially at the customs; their occurrence at the inauguration, or, as it is called, the 'swearing-in,' of every
• Matt. xxiii. 20—22.
+ Gen. xxü. 16, 17. Dr. Rafiles. See his excellent sermons on “ Some important branches of practical religion,” lect. iii,
petty parish officer, or servant of the government; and the frivolity and indifference with which they are given and received in courts of law, like so many words of muttered and unintelligible jargon,-must tend, most awfully, to diminish the sense of their obligation on the public mind; and, in that proportion, to weaken the bonds, and impair the ties which unite and secure the social body. An ounce of coffee cannot pass from the ship to the table, without encountering several oaths in its passage; and the church warden of the parish, and the excisemen at the dock, must take a solemn oath, as well as the monarch on the throne, and the judge on the bench. Thus the same security is required for a few grains of dust, or the vestments and utensils of a church, as is required for the protection of human life, or the just administration of the realm. Surely in an enlightened age, and in a Christian land, these things ought not to be.”
There are, however, four kinds of oaths which the text condemns :
The first is perjury. This is bearing false witness to the injury of another; and includes, in its largest sense, all false oaths, vows, and promises, which are made, with a knowledge of their falsehood, or at least with an intention to deceive. This is a most tremendous crime; it is “ taking the name of the Lord in vain” ” in the most awful manner of which a mortal can be guilty. It is an attempt to make the ever-blessed God a partner in sin, and calling on Him to bear witness to the truth of the most deliberate lie. Hence, in ancient times, wilful perjury before the judge was not to be remitted by sacrifice, according to the law of Moses; but the offender was punished by the sentence of the judges, which is usually understood, of death.” When the guilty individual utters the words,“ So help me God," and then proceeds to depose that which he either knows to be false, or which he does not know to be érue, he pronounces the verdict of his own destruction from the hands of his Maker at the last day.
The second is, a profane use of the divine name in common conversation. It appears that the Scribes and Pharisees thought, that nothing but perjury was a “ taking the name of the Lord in vain ;” and that the prohibition in the third commandment was only violated by that crime. To rescue that precept from such a perversion, our Lord here informs them, that the mention of the name of the Holy One in any light and triling manner was a transgression of the law. This truth is not so generally understood, at least it is not so remembered even by persons professing the religion of Christ as it ought to be. How profanely is the Divine Being frequently mentioned ! Men will often use his name to confirm the most frivolous assertions, as if nothing could be credited which they said, unless they appealed to Jehovah. There are multitudes who would shudder at the horrid oath of the vulgar blasphemer, who, nevertheless, are guilty themselves of a sin very little beneath it in enormity. Have you never heard the dreadful name of God pronounced in some such exclamations as these, O Lord, God knows, O Christ, God bless me, God forgive me, with many more similar expressions, merely to express ignorance, surprise, or admiration? Little as men may think of the impropriety of uttering these terms in such a manner, it is, notwithstanding, an indication of a thoughtless and undevout state of mind, wholly inconsistent with serious piety. His blessed name the angels in heaven revere, and pronounce with the profoundest adoration; and who are we, that we should thus employ it? Let us, therefore, take beed with our lips, that we offend not with our tongue in this way any more. “ Swear not all-neither by heaven, for it is God's throne."
A third species of the crime here forbidden, and to which the precept extends, is the utterance of any wrathful imprecation whatever. This embraces the profane and horrid oath, which is often issued in rage against some rational or irrational being. Thus men sometimes use the most awful and diabolic language towards brutes and inanimate objects, and not unfrequently towards the members of their own body, and even their immortal soul! As if damnation were the merest trifle, they will sport with the term at pleasure ; and as if everlasting vengeance were the momentary frown of a worm, there are men of all ranks and ages who call it down on their heads!
In what town, or village, or street, is not such language heard? And can there be a reason assigned for a habit so gross, vulgar, offensive to good manners as well as good sense, and above all, so impious and destructive? Other abominations may be practised because they gratify some sensual appetite; but what passion of the depraved heart can be pleased, or what worldly advantage can be promoted, by the use of the speech of hell? While such sounds of blasphemy fall not so frequently on the pious ear as they once did, yet there is much swearing in the land still. Are there any of this class of swearers in this congregation? Away with your dreadful execrations at once, for your danger is imminent! Your profane oaths are all recorded, and how will you answer them in the day of judgment?
And, fourthly. The prohibition reaches to all unnecessary and vehement protestations. How common it is for some people to add the most solemn asseverations to every thing they relate or mention! As if they were conscious that their word was doubtful, and that it would not be credited on their simple testimony, they always employ some strong expression to support their statements. But this is altogether unworthy the Christian character, and should be avoided by all who profess it. Unless the case