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sense of the majesty of that God who is thus made known. It becomes us to think of God with a solemn awe-when we use any of his names, titles or attributes, either in religious worship or in conversation, it becomes us to do it with seriousness and solemnity, and impressed with a reverential awe of the greatness of that Being, who is meant by these names or titles, or to whom these attributes belong. It becomes us to attend upon his ordinances, with seriousness and reverence, impressed with a solemn awe of the majesty of that God who manifests himself, and is worshipped in these ordinances; for, “God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about him," Ps. Lxxxix. 7. It becomes us to read, hear, and speak of his word with seriousness, and with a deep reverence of that God who gave it, and who makes himself known by it. And it becomes us in contemplating his works, to regard him as their author, and be filled with a reverence of him, whose power and wisdom shine forth in these works.
Having made these general observations on the duties required in the third commandment, we shall in the remainder of this discourse, attend particularly to religious oaths, vows, and lots, the consideration of which belongs to the head of the third commandment.
An oath is a solemn appeal to God as the searcher of hearts, for the truth of what we say, and implies an imprecation of his judgments, both in time and through eternity, if we do not speak the truth.
That such appeals to God, on certain occasions, are lawful, and duty, appears clearly from his word. The principal thing forbidden in the third commandment appears to be a swearing falsely by the name of God, which implies that there is a lawful swearing by his name. Of the same import is a passage, Lev. xix. 12. “ Ye shall not swear by my name falsely," which evidently implies the duty of swearing truly by his name. The duty is also taught in the following passages, Deut. vi. 13. • Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, and serve him, and shalt swear by his name.” Deut. x. 20. “Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God: him shalt thou serve, and to him shalt thou cleave, and swear by his name.” Is. xlv. 23. “Unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.
“ He that sweareth in the earth shall swe
the God of truth.” Jer. iv. 2. “ Thou shalt gwear, the Lord liveth, in truth, in judgment and in righteousness.” And Heb. vi. 16. “Men verily swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife." From these texts it is evident, that an oath, properly maile, is lawful and a duty.
The same is confirmed by several examples in the Scriptures. In the Old Testament, we have several instances of the people of God swearing by his name. And in the New Testament we frequently find Paul making a solemn appeal to God, for the truth of what he said. In the Revelation we read that an angel shall in the last day swear by him that liveth forever and ever that time shall be no longer. And we have also, in the Scriptures, frequent instances of the great God himself swearing by himself. All these examples prove the lawfulness of oaths, on proper occasions.
They who object to the lawfulness of oaths under the christián dispensation, found their objections on a misconstruction of a few passages, such as that of our Saviour, Mat. v. 34. “ Swear not at all.” And that of James, v. 12. “ Above all things, my brethren, swear not.”. But we must explain Scripture consistently with itself; and it is certain, oaths were frequently practised and were lawful under the Old Testament; and also that in the New Testament, Paul spake of an oath for confirmation being an end of all strife, which implied that they were still law. ful; and that he himself made frequent solemn appeals to God. Hence if the texts on which the objection is found. ed can be explained not to mean a solemn religious swearing, we are bound thus to explain them. They may sig. nify swearing in a profane way, and by the creature. It is said that at this time the Jews were much addicted to swearing in common conversation, and supposed it to be no crime, if they swore by the creature, as by heaven, by Jerusalem, by their head, and the like, and did not use the name of God.-Against this opinion and practice, the above texts appear to have been pointed ; and not against a religious swearing, when properly called to it.
Having thus shown that oaths on certain occasions are lawful and a duty; it will be proper to inquire as to the form and manner in which oaths ought to be administered and taken, the occasion which warrants them, and the different kinds.
The form is of small importance. Various ceremonies are recorded in the Scriptures as having been used in taking an oath. When Jacob and Laban took a solemn oath to each other, they erected a heap of stones, and ate together upon it, and sware to each other. When Abraham made his servant swear, he ordered him to put his hand under his thigh. But the most common form of swearing, used of old, appears to have been the lifting up the hand to heaven. Thus Abraham sware Gen. xiv. 22. Thus the angel sware, Dan. xii. 7.; and also the angel, Rev. x. 5. And indeed the lifting up the hand to heaven, and swearing, in Scripture import the same thing. Thus, Deut. xxxii. 40. “ I lift up my hand to heaven and say, I live forever.” This form of swearing by lifting up the hand to heaven, is the preferable mode, because it most frequently occurs in the Scripture history, and it is sanctioned by the highest authority, even by the example of the most eminent saints, and of angels, and of God himself. As to the form generally used in this land, in taking an oath, by laying the hand on the Bible, and kissing the book, we have no example or precept for it in the Scriptures, and therefore it is not so eligible as lifting the hand to heaven. But as it is the legal form, and the thing principally to be looked at in an oath, is the solemn appeal to God therein made, whatever be the form of making it; and as there were various forms used in the Scripture times, besides that of lifting the hand, and were not condemned, it may be proper for christians to comply with the form in common use.
As to the manner in which an oath ought to be administered and taken.-It ought to be administered with great solemnity, calculated to fill the person who takes it with a solemn awe and fear of that God to whom he makes an appeal; and where the nature of an oath is not known or fully understood, it ought to be explained. The person who takes an oath, ought to do it with a due impression of its solemn import, and filled with reverence of the Being whom he calls to witness, and be strictly careful as he would avoid his wrath, that he utter nothing false, or of which he has the least doubt.
As to the occasion on which an oath ought to be taken, we may observe, that such a solemn appeal to God ought not to be made on every trivial occasion. An o
is an act of religious worship, in which there is an acknowledgment of the divine perfections, and an appeal to God as the searcher of hearts. The matter therefore which calls for such an appeal, ought to be of importance. And the multiplying of oaths, and taking them on every trivial occasion, is trifling with the name of God, lessens very much the solemnity of an oath, increases the danger of frequent perjury, and is a serious evil to society.
Oaths are of two kinds, assertory and promissory. An assertory oath respects evidence relative to things done. A promissory oath, hath respect to things to be done, in which we oblige ourselves to do them, and call God to witness our sincerity in making the promise, and imprecate his judgments in case we do not fulfil our promise.
In making a promissory oath the following things should be observed.
1. The thing promised to be done ought to be lawful. We ought not to swear to do any thing repugnant to the law of God, or to the legitimate obedience which we owe to the civil magistrate. Of this nature was the oath which the more than forty Jews took, that they would neither eat nor drink until they had killed Paul, Acts. xxiii. 12. Such oaths are in their very nature unlawful and wicked, and ought not to be kept. Not that they can be broken without sin. It is a great sin to make such oaths; but it would be a still greater sin to keep and fulfil them.
2. The thing promised ought to be such that it can be performed. If we promise an impossibility the oath is not binding. If the impossibility is known at the time of making the oath, it is a rash, presumptuous, and wicked action, and the sin consists not in breaking such an oath but in making it. But if the impossibility does not appear, or is not known or suspected at the time of making the oath, but in the course of Providence arises afterwards, the oath is not binding ; nor are we chargeable with taking God's name in vain, either in making or breaking such an oath.
3. A person ought to be possessed of the exercise of his reason to make an oath binding upon him.
4. A promissory oath, according to some, to be binding, ought to be made voluntarily. But it is at least questionable, whether an oath extorted by force is not binding on the conscience ? On this subject casuists differ. If the
speaker were to express an opinion, it would be that such an oath is binding. Men ought either not to swear, but to risk consequences; or else they ought sacredly to perform what they have called God to witness they will do. In support of this opinion is a passage, Ps. xv. 4. spoken of a citizen of Zion—" He sweareth to his own hurt and changeth not.” And here I would observe as a qualification of the above, that the thing thus promised, to be binding, must affect only our own private interest, and not the interest of another or the public good.
5. If a promissory oath is made conditionally, it is binding only on the condition on which it is made. As for instance, if I bind myself by oath to do a certain benefit to another, on condition that such an event take place, or the other person do something else,-if the event does not take place, or the other person does not fulfil the condition, I am not bound by my oath.
6. If a person binds himself by oath to do something to another, if the person to whom he has bound himself sees fit to discharge him from his oath, the obligation to perform it ceases.
Keeping these exceptions in view, where a promissory oath has been made, by a person in the exercise of his reason, binding himself to the performance of a thing lawful, and possible to be performed, and if it be conditional the condition has been fulfilled, and if it be made to do some benefit to another, who has not discharged him from the obligation, he ought most sacredly to keep and fulfil what he has sworn to do. Though he has sworn to his own hurt, or the injury of his own private worldly interest, he cannot change or break his oath, without perjuring himself and incurring great guilt in the sight of God.
And here I would remark that oaths taken by civil officers, for the faithful discharge of their duty, are promissory oaths. Every thing promised ought therefore to be well considered ; and no person ought to take an oath of office, unless he sincerely intends to perform every particular of the duties, which he thus solemnly engages to perform ; and after having taken such an oath, he ought to feel the awfully solemn situation in which he is placed, as having called the great God to witness that he will perform such and such duties, and imprecated his wrath