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triarchs, Abraham, Ifaac, and Jacob; and was afterwards not only allowed, but in many cafes commanded by the law of Mofes; which, had it been a thing evil in itfelf, and forbidden by the law of nature, would not have been done.

2dly, Another undeniable argument from the text, of the lawfulness of oaths, is, that God himself, in condefcenfion to the cuftom of men, who use to confirm and give credit to what they fay by an oath, is represented by the Apostle as confirming his promise to us by an oath, y 13. When God made the promise to Abraham, becaufe he could fwear by none greater, he fwears by himself. For men verily fwear by the greater and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all ftrife. Wherein God, willing more abundantly to fhew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counfel, confirmed it by an oath : which he certainly would not have done, had an oath been unlawful in itself. For that had been to comply with men in an evil practice, and by his own example to give countenance to it in the highest manner: but though God condefcend to represent himself to us after the manner of men, he never does it in any thing that is in its own nature evil and finful.

3dly, From the great usefulness of oaths in human affairs, to give credit and confirmation to our word, and to put an end to conteftations. Now, that which ferves to fuch excellent purposes, and is fo convenient for human fociety, and for mutual fecurity and confidence among men, ought not eafily to be prefumed unlawful, till it be plainly proved to be fo. And, if we confider the nature of an oath, and every thing belonging to it, there is nothing that hath the leaft appearance of evil in it. There is furely no evil in it, as it is an act of religion; nor as it is an appeal to God as a witness and avenger in cafe we fwear falfely; nor as it is a confirmation of a doubtful matter; nor as it puts an end to ftrife and controverfy. And thefe are all the effential ingredients of an oath, and the ends of it; and they are all fo good, that they rather commend it, than give the least colour of ground to condemn it. I proceed, in the

2. Second place, to fhew the weakness and insuffici

ency

ency of the grounds of the contrary opinion, whether from reafon, or from fcripture.

Ift, From reafon. They fay the neceffity of an oath is occafioned by the want of truth and fidelity among men; and that every man ought to demean himself with that faithfulness and integrity, as may give credit and confirmation to his word; and then oaths will be needlefs. This pretence will be fully anfwered if we confider these two things.

1. That in matters of great importance, no other obligation, befides that of an oath, hath been thought fufficent, amongst the best and wifeft of men, to affert their fidelity to one another. "Even the best men (to use "the words of a great author) have not trufted the best "men without it:" As we fee in very remarkable instances, where oaths have paffed between those who might be thought to have the greatest confidence in one another; as, between Abraham, and his old faithful fervant Eliezer, concerning the choice of a wife for his fon; between father and fon, Jacob and Joseph, concerning the burial of his father in the land of Canaan; between two of the dearest and most intimate friends, David and Jonathan, to affure their friendship to one another; and it had its effect long after Jonathan's death, in the faving of Mephibofheth, when reafon of state, and the fecurity of his throne, feemed to move David strongly to the contrary; for it is exprefsly faid, 2 Sam. xxi. 7. that David fpared Mephibofbeth, Jonathan's fon, becaufe of the oath of the Lord that was between them; implying, that, had it not been for his oath, other confiderations might probably have prevailed with him to have permitted him to have been cut off with the reft of Saul's children.

2. This reafon, which is alledged against oaths among men, is much stronger against God's confirming his promifes to us by an oath: for he, who is truth itself, is furely of all other most to be credited upon his bare word, and his oath needless to give confirmation to it; and yet he condescends to add his oath to his word. And therefore that reason is evidently of no force.

2dly, From scripture. Our Saviour feems altogether to forbid fwearing in any cafe, Matth. v. •33.34.37. Ye have heard that it hath been faid to them of old time, Thou shalt

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not forfwear thyself. But I fay unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven, &c. But let your communication be, Yea, yea, and, Nay, nay; for whatsoever is more than thefe, cometh of evil. And this law St. James recites, chap. v. y 12. as that which Chriftians ought to have a very particular and principal regard to: Above all things, my brethren, fwear not. And he makes the breach of this law a damning fin: left ye fall into condemnation. the authority of our Saviour alone is fufficient; and therefore I fhall only confider that text.

But

And, because here lies the main ftrength of this opinion of the unlawfulness of oaths, it is very fit that this text be fully considered; and that it be made very evident, that it was not our Saviour's meaning by this prohibition wholly to forbid the use of oaths.

But, before I enter upon this matter, I will readily grant, that there is fcarce any error whatsoever that hath a more plaufible colour from fcripture than this; which makes the cafe of those who are feduced into it the more pitiable. But then it ought to be confidered, how much this doctrine of the unlawfulness of oaths reflects upon the Christian religion; fince it is fo evidently prejudicial both to human fociety in general, and particularly to thofe perfons that entertain it: neither of which ought rafhly to be fuppofed, and taken for granted, concerning any law delivered by our Saviour; because, upon these terms, it will be very hard for us to vindicate the divine wisdom of our Saviour's doctrine, and the reasonableness of the Christian religion. Of the inconvenience of this doctrine to human fociety, I have spoken already. But, befides this, it is very prejudicial to them that hold it. It renders them fufpected to government, and, in many cafes, incapable of the common benefits of justice, and other privileges of human fociety; and expofeth them to great penalties, as the conftitution of all laws and governments at prefent is; and it is not eafy to imagine how they fhould be otherwife: and, which is very confiderable in this matter, it fets those who refufe oaths upon very unequal terms with the rest of mankind, if, where the eftates and lives of men are equally concerned, their bare teftimonies fhall be admitted without an oath, and others fhall be obliged to speak upon oath; nothing

nothing being more certain in experience, than that many men will lie for their intereft, when they will not be perjured, God having planted in the natural confciences of men a fecret dread of perjury above most other fins. And this inconvenience is fo great, as to render those who refuse oaths in all cafes almost intolerable to human fociety. I fpeak not this, either to bring them into trouble, or to perfuade them to measure truth by their interest. But, on the other hand, I must needs fay, that it is no argument, either of a wife or good man, to take up any opinion, especially fuch a one as is greatly to his prejudice, upon flight grounds. And this very confideration, that it is fo much to their inconvenience, may justly move them to be very careful in the examination of it.

This being premised, I come now to explain this prohibition of our Saviour. And, to this purpose, I defire these three things may be well confidered.

1. That feveral circumstances of thefe words of our Saviour do manifeftly fhew, that they ought to be interpreted in a limited fenfe, as only forbidding fwearing in common conversation; "needlefs and heedlefs oaths," as one expreffeth it; and in general all voluntary fwearing, unless upon fome great and weighty caufe, in which the glory of God and the good of the fouls of men is concerned. For that in fuch cafes a voluntary oath may be lawful, I am induced to believe, from the example of St. Paul, who ufeth it more than once upon fuch occafions: of which I fhall hereafter give particular inftances.

And this was the fenfe of wife men among the Heathen, that men should not swear but upon neceffity and great occafion. Thus Eufebius the philofopher, in Stobæus, counfels men. 66 Some (fays he) advise men to be "careful to fwear the truth; but I advise principally "that men do not eafily fwear at all;" that is, not upon any flight, but only upon weighty occafions. To the fame purpose Epictetus: "Shun oaths wholly, if it "be poffible; if not, however as much as thou canft." And fo likewife Simplicius, in his comment upon him, "We ought wholly to fhun fwearing, except upon oc"cafions of great neceffity." And Quintilian, among

the

the Romans, In totum jurare, nifi ubi neceffe eft, gravi viro parum convenit: "To fwear at all, except where it is 66 neceffary, does not well fuit with a wife man."

And that this prohibition of our Saviour's ought to be understood of oaths in ordinary converfation, appears from the oppofition which our Saviour makes: Swear not at all; but let your communication be, Yea, yea; that is, in your ordinary commerce and affairs, do not interpofe oaths; but fay, and do. And this is very much confirmed, in that our Saviour does not, under this general prohibition, instance in fuch oaths as are exprefsly by the name of God. The reafon whereof is this: The Jews thought it unlawful, in ordinary communication, to fwear exprefsly by the name of God, but lawful to fwear by the creatures, as by heaven and earth, &c.

So

that our Saviour's meaning is, as if he had faid, "You "think you may fwear in common converfation, pro"vided you do not fwear by the name of God: but I "fay unto you, Let your communication be without ❝oaths of any kind; you fhall not fo much as fwear by "heaven, or by earth, because God is virtually invoked " in every oath." And, unless we fuppofe this to be our Saviour's meaning, I do not fee what good reason can be given, why our Saviour should only forbid them to fwear by the creatures, and not much rather by the name of God; fuch oaths being furely of all others most to be avoided, as being the most direct abuse and profanation of the name of God.

2. It is very confiderable to the explaining of this prohibition, that there are the like general expreffions in other Jewish authors concerning this very matter; which yet muft of neceffity be thus limited. Maimonides, from the ancient Rabbies, gives this rule, That "it is " beft not to fwear at all." And Philo ufeth almost the fame words. And Rabbi Jonathan comes very near our Saviour's expreffion, when he says, "The just man "will not fwear at all; not fo much as by the common 66 names of God, nor by his attributes, nor by his works, as by heaven, or the angels, or the law." Now, it is not imaginable, that these learned Jews fhould condemn oaths in all cafes, when the law of Mofes did in many cafes exprefsly require them. And therefore

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they

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