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النشر الإلكتروني

The lawfulness and obligation of oaths.

Preached at the affizes held at Kingston upon Thames, July 21. 1681.

The EPISTLE DEDICATORY. To the Rt Worshipful, and my honoured friend, JOSEPH REEVE, Efq; High Sheriff of the county of Surrey.



7 Hen I had performed the fervice which you were pleafed to call me to in the preaching of this ferI had no thoughts of making it more publick; and yet in this alfo I was the more easily induced to comply with your defire, because of the fuitablenefs of the argument to the age in which we live; wherein, as men have run into the wildest extremities in other things, fo particularly in the matter of oaths; fome making confcience of taking any oaths at all, and too many none at all of breaking them.

To convince the great mistake of the one extreme, and to check the growing evil and mifchief of the other, is the chief defign of this difcourfe. To which I shall be very glad if, by God's blessing, it may prove any ways ferviceable.

I am,


Your very faithful and humble fervant,



HE B. vi. 16.

And an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all frife.


HE neceffity of religion to the fupport of human fociety, in nothing appears more evidently than in this, that the obligation of an oath, which is fo neceffary for the maintenance of peace and justice among men, depends wholly upon the fenfe and belief of a Deity: for no reafon can



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be imagined why any man that doth not believe a God, fhould make the leaft confcience of an oath; which is nothing else, but a folemn appeal to God as a witness of the truth of what we fay. So that whoever promotes Atheism and infidelity, doth the most deftructive thing imaginable to human fociety; because he takes away the reverence and obligation of oaths; and whenever that is generally caft off, human fociety must disband, and all things run into diforder. The juft fenfe whereof made David cry out to God with so much earnestness, as if the world had been cracking, and the frame of it ready to break in pieces, Pfal. xii. 1. Help, Lord, for the righteous man ceafeth, and the faithful fail from among the children of men; intimating, that when faith fails from among men, nothing but a particular and immediate interpofition of the divine providence can preserve the world from falling into confufion. And our bleffed Saviour gives this as a fign of the end of the world, and the approaching diffolution of all things, when faith and truth fhall hardly be found among men: Luke xviii. 8. When the Son of man comes, fhall he find faith on the earth? This ftate of things doth loudly call for his coming to destroy the world; which is even ready to diffolve and fall in pieces of itself, when thefe bands and pillars of human fociety do break and fail. And furely never in any age was this fign of the coming of the Son of man more glaring and terrible, than in this degenerate age wherein we live, when almost all forts of men seem to have broke loose from all obligations to faith and truth.

And therefore I do not know any argument more proper and useful to be treated of upon this occafion, than of the nature and obligation of an oath; which is the utmost fecurity that one man can give to another of the truth of what he fays; the strongest tie of fidelity; the fureft ground of judicial proceedings; and the moft firm and facred bond that can be laid upon all that are concerned in the administration of publick juftice, upon judge, and jury, and witnesses.

And for this reafon I have pitched upon these words; in which the Apostle declares to us the great ufe and neceffity of oaths among men: An oath for confirmation is to them an end of all frife. He had faid before, that, for


our greater affurance and comfort, God hath confirmed his promifes to us by an oath; condescending herein to deal with us after the manner of men, who, when they would give credit to a doubtful matter, confirm what they fay by an oath. And generally, when any doubt or controverfy arifeth between parties concerning a matter of fact, one fide affirming, and the other denying, an end is put to this conteft by an oath; an oath for confirmation being to them an end of all strife: An oath for confirmation, eis BeCaiwow, "for the greater affurance and establishment "of a thing." Not that an oath is always a certain and infallible decifion of things according to truth and right, but that this is the utmost credit that we can give to any thing, and the last resort of truth and confidence among men. After this we can go no farther; for if the religion of an oath will not oblige men to fpeak truth, nothing will. This is the utmolt fecurity that men can give, and must therefore be the final decifion of all contefts: An oath for confirmation is to them an end of all Strife.

Now, from this affertion of the Apoftle concerning the great use and end of oaths among men, I fhall take occafion,

1. To confider the nature of an oath, and the kinds of it.


2. To fhew the great use, and even necessity of oaths,

3. To vindicate the lawfulness of them where they are neceffary.

4. To fhew the facred obligation of an oath.

I fhall be as brief in these as the just handling of them will bear.

I. For the nature of an oath, and the kinds of it. An oath is an invocation of God, or an appeal to him as a witness of the truth of what we fay. So that an oath is a facred thing, as being an act of religion, and an invocation of the name of God; and this whether the name of God be exprefsly mentioned in it or not. If a man only fay, I fwear, or, I take my oath, that a thing is, or is not fo or fo, or that I will, or will not do fuch a thing; or if a man answer upon his oath, being adjured and required fo to do; or if a man fwear by heaven, or

by earth, or by any other thing that hath relation to God: in all these cafes a man doth virtually call God to witnefs; and in fo doing, he doth by confequence invoke him as a judge, and an avenger, in cafe what he fwears be not true: and if this be expreffed, the oath is a formal imprecation; but whether it be or not, a curse upon ourselves is always implied in cafe of perjury.

There are two forts of oaths; affertory, and promiffory. An affertory oath is when a man affirms or denies upon oath a matter of fact, past, or prefent; when he fwears that a thing was, or is fo, or not fo. A promiffory oath is a promise confirmed by an oath, which always refpects fomething that is future: and if the promise be made directly and immediately to God, then it is called a vow; if to men, an oath. I proceed to the


II. Second thing; which is, to fhew the great ufe, and even neceffity of oaths, in many cafes which is fo great, that human fociety can very hardly, if at all, fubfift long without them. Government would many times be very infecure; and for the faithful difcharge of offices of great truft, in which the welfare of the publick is nearly concerned, it is not poffible to find any fecurity equal to that of an oath; because the obligation of that reacheth to the moft fecret and hidden practices of men, and takes hold of them in many cafes where the penalty of no human law can have any awe or force upon them. And efpecially it is (as the Civil law expreffeth it) maximum expediendarum litium remedium; "the best means of ending

controverfics." And where mens eftates or lives are concerned, no evidence but what is affured by an oath, will be thought fufficient to decide the matter, fo as to give full and general fatisfaction to mankind: for in matters of fo great concernment, when men have all the affurance that can be had, and not till then, they are contented to fit down, and reft fatisfied with it. And among all nations an oath hath always been thought the only peremptory and fatisfactory way of deciding fuch controverfies.

III. The third thing I propofed was, to vindicate the lawfulness of oaths where they are neceffary. And it is a very strong inducement to believe the lawfulness of them, that the unavoidable condition of human affairs


hath made them fo neceffary. The Apoftle takes it for granted, that an oath is not only of great ufe in human affairs, but in many cafes of great neceffity, to confirm a doubtful thing, and to put an end to controverfies which cannot otherwise be decided to the fatisfaction of the parties contending: An oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife. And indeed it is hardly imaginable, that God fhould not have left that lawful which is fo evidently neceffary to the peace and fecurity of mankind.

But because there is a fect fprung up in our memory, which hath called in queftion the lawfulness of all oaths, to the great mischief and disturbance of human fociety, I fhall endeavour to fearch this matter to the bottom, and to manifest how unreasonable and groundless this opinion is. And, to this end, I fhall,

1. Prove the lawfulness of oaths from the authority of this text, and from the reafons plainly contained or ftrongly implied in it.

2. I fhall fhew the weakness and infufficiency of the grounds of the contrary opinion, whether from reason, or from fcripture; which laft they principally rely upon; and if it could be made out from thence, would determine the cafe.

1. I fhall prove the lawfulness of oaths from the authority of this text, and the reafons plainly contained or ftrongly implied in it: because the Apostle doth not only fpeak of the ufe of oaths among men, without any manner of cenfure and reproof, but as a commendable cuftom and practice, and in many cafes neceffary for the confirmation of doubtful matters, and in order to the final decifion of controverfies and differences among men. For,

ift, He fpeaks of it as the general practice of mankind, to confirm things by an oath, in order to the ending of differences. And indeed there is nothing that hath more univerfally obtained in all ages and nations of the world; than which there is not a more certain indication that a thing is agreeable to the law of nature, and the best reafon of mankind. And that this was no degenerate practice of mankind, like that of idolatry, is from hence evident; that when God feparated a people to himself, it was practised among them, by the holy patriarchs,

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