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universal obligation. For the plain and obvious sense of a passage has always a strong presumption in its favour, arising from the consideration that the Scriptures are intended for the common use and benefit of mankind. It ought never to be abandoned until some reason for giving it up has been discovered, which possesses sufficient strength to overpower that presumption; and if, as we have just endeavoured to show, it would be inexpedient to commit such a creature as man to the guidance of expediency, such a reason never can be discovered in the case now before us.
It is true that it is not the manner of Scripture, in laying down general rules, to specify the limitations with which they are to be taken; but we are left to collect them from its general principles, and from the nature of things. It must, therefore, be granted, that, notwithstanding the universality of the language, used in the precepts in which it enjoins the practice of justice and veracity, there may still be cases in which the obligation of these precepts is superseded by the operation of some other rule. But this concession is not an acknowledgement that such cases actually exist; ; nor does it oblige us to admit their existence, until it be proved by sufficient evidence; and it would require some very powerful argument indeed, to prove that a man's conduct may be virtuous, or even innocent, in perpetrating deeds of perjury or murder.
But where is such an argument to be found ? It cannot be derived from utility, since the suffering, which would result from admitting that the practice of justice and veracity is to be dispensed with, whenever utility supplies the dispensation, would be equally great, and probably much greater, than the suffering which arises from adhering to it in particular cases, in which, on account of peculiar circumstances, it is the innocent occasion of pain. Neither can it be drawn from Scripture. The language of St. Paul concerning doing evil that good may come, supplies a powerful argument of a directly opposite kind. He expressly mentions falsehood in the connexion where that language occurs; and were it to be tolerated in any case, it might be expected that the instance which he had in view, that of telling a lie to the glory of God, would have been an admitted exception. Yet he calls lying, even in such a case, evil; the perpetration of it he denominates doing evil, and the damnation of those who teach that it is lawful to commit it, even in order to attain an end which is acknowledged to possess the highest excellence, or of those who reduce this doctrine to practice,
he not only speaks of as certain, but pronounces to be just. The sinfulness of deliberate and intentional falsehood, in all possible cases, could hardly be expressed with greater energy or precision; and no reason can be assigned why a similar declaration should not be made in respect to justice. The principle on which that declaration proceeds, is equally applicable to it.
It would be liable to less objection to suppose, that utility is the only rule of the divine conduct, than it is to make this supposition in respect to the conduct of man. For God possesses wisdom to anticipate, without the possibility of mistake, all the consequences of any given action; goodness, to induce him to choose those actions which would be the most beneficial; and power, to render the attainment of the ends which he has in view, in all possible circumstances, certain and infallible. Yet there is reason to think, that such a supposition would not be true, even in relation to him; for as long as our moral sentiments continue to be what they are, it would injure his character in our esteem, and, consequently, impair his glory, to conceive of him as perpetrating acts of injustice or falsehood. A pious mind must shudder at the thought of entertaining such a conception for a moment, and feel it to be almost blasphemy to express it, merely for the purpose of argument. Besides, since it has been established in this essay, that actions are distinguished by other qualities in addition to tendency, it is reasonable to expect that these qualities will have a suitable influence on the divine conduct. If moral fitnesses have any existence in nature, they must be evident to the understanding of the Deity, and obtain from him all that practical attention to which they are entitled.
Even were our moral sentiments adjusted to the standard of utility, so that the character of God would appear equally glorious to the whole human race in the violation, as in the practice of justice and benevolence, provided his object, in both cases, evidently were the promotion of happiness; it does not appear that, so far as we are able to judge, such a course of action would be advantageous to the creation; for it would deprive his creatures of all confidence in him. Holy beings would feel that they had no security for the continuance of their happiness, even on the supposition of their perseverance in holiness; since, their knowledge not being infinite, they never could be certain that a case might not occur, in which, amid the infinite operations of God, it might answer some useful purpose - to plunge them into misery. This reflection would hang a dark and ominous
cloud over their prospects of permanent bliss, which would continually damp their joys, and diminish their happiness. Evil, therefore, so far as we can see, would result from God's disregarding the principles of justice and veracity, and substituting in their place a regard to utility; but whether the sum of it would, in his situation, be greater than the evil which would flow from a strict and undeviating adherence to these principles, it is, perhaps, impossible for us to determine. Consequently, no evidence can be drawn from this source, to show that utility is the only rule of the divine conduct; and the evidence which has been suggested against this supposition, arising from its tendency to impair the glory of God, and to diminish the happiness of his creatures, reniains in all its force.
The Scriptures most expressly and strongly declare, in the following passages, and in others which might be quoted, that God will not, in any instance, or in order to answer any purpose whatever, practise injustice or falsehood. “He is not a man, that he should lie, or the Son of man, that he should repent. Hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good ?” not the Judge of all the earth do right?” “Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid !". These passages not only assure us of the fact, that God will not transgress the laws of justice and veracity; but intimate that it is impossible, on account of the excellence and perfection of his own glorious character, that he should transgress them. To suppose that he will violate them, therefore, let the motive for the violation be imagined to be ever so good, is, on the ground of Seripture, to impeach his character; and, if we admit the Bible to be a divine revelation, we cannot consistently admit the dictates of the most plausible philosophy to be true; while they evidently, and directly, oppose its most explicit and solemn declarations. Metaphysics are a slippery ground; and in treading upon it, men of the acutest minds have often taken a wrong step, without being conscious of it. That system of morals, or religion, which rests upon it in preference to the Bible, is a house built upon the sand. Its admirers may congratulate each other on the superior illumination which has led them to adopt it, but its honours will not be permanent. It will soon give place to some other system, equally applauded, and equally visionary; until the votaries of philosophy, falsely so called, learn to become the humble and teachable followers of him, “ in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”
On the Lawfulness and Abuse of Oaths. By the Rev. Wil
LIAM Neill, D.D., of Philadelphia. An oath is a declaration or promise, confirmed by an appeal to God for the truth of what is declared or promised. It is a religious rite, and ought not to be used but with solemnity, and on occasions of suitable importance. The inspired penman of the epistle to the Hebrews remarks, (chap. vi. 16.)“ that an oath, for confirmation, is to men an end of all strife.” We learn, from this passage of Scripture, what is the proper end and use of an oath : it is to terminate strife, and elicit truth, in order to the distribution of justice, and the equitable settlement of disputes among mankind: and as the apostle refers to the use of oaths, for the purpose just stated, without any note of disapprobation, it is fair to conclude that he did not deem the usage anti-christian : this will be made evident, in the sequel, from his own practice.
In all ages, and among all nations, the oath has been not only used, but used religiously, and considered of great importance to the welfare of human society. It seems, indeed, to be a branch of natural religion, and the writer of this article hopes to be able to demonstrate, that it is abundantly sanctioned by divine revelation, as well in the New Testament, as in the writings of Moses and the prophets. It is known to every person who reads the Bible, that the Almighty himself often confirms his word by an oath. I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked.” Ezek. xxxiii. 11. “I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, that to me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.” Isu. xlv. 23. See also Jer. xii. 16., and a mul. titude of other passages, that might be cited. Now the design of God's using oaths was, manifestly, to secure the faith and obedience of his people, and to afford thein strong consolation, by giving them the most positive assurance of his faithfulness and truth. But this implies that men had an understanding of the nature, lawfulness, and obligation of an oath; otherwise it would not be likely to have the intended effect. It is well known, also, that holy men, under the special guidance of Providence, were in the habit of using solemn oaths, when occasion required, even before the giving of the law at Mount Sinai. Thus, Abraham sware to Abimelech, (Gen. xxi. 24.) and administered an oath to his servant. (Gen. xxiv. 3-9.) So Jacob sware with Laban, (Gen.
xxxi. 52.) and Joseph to his father. (Gen. xlvii. 31.) In these, and many similar instances, the oath was used religiously, and under the divine sanction; which shows, that the practice was accordant with the immutable principles of morality. Under the Mosaic dispensation, oaths were required of the people on frequent occasions, as a part of their duty to one another, and to their heavenly King. Thus the Lord made his people enter into an “ oath to serve him, and to keep his covenant.” Deut, xxix. 12, 14. King Asa made all “ Judah swear, that they would seek the Lord with all their hearts.” 2 Chron. xv. 14. Nehemiah called the priests, and took an oath of them, to do according to their promise,” (Neh. v. 12.); and he, moreover, engaged the nobles and people to “enter into an oath that they would walk in God's law, and do his commandments;" chap. x. 29. And are not Christians called upon, in the sacrament of the Lord's supper, to bind themselves sacramentally, i. e. with an implied oath, to Christ, and to the careful observance of his
Yet some persons refuse to take an oath, on any occasion, alleging, as the ground of their scruples, two passages in the New Testament, viz. Matt. v. 33–37., and James, v. 12. The latter of these texts is taken from the former; and the design of the apostle evidently is, to guard Christians against making rash vows or promises in seasons of peculiar aftliction. We shall confine our observations, therefore, to what our Saviour says on the subject. Let us keep the whole passage in our eye, and attend carefully to its scope, connexion, and bearing : it forms a part of what is called his sermon on the Mount, and is as follows: “Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths; but, I say unto you, swear not at all; neither by heaven, for it is God's throne; nor by the earth, for it is his footstool; neither by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King; neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your com. munication be yea, yea; nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.” The learned Dr. John Owen, in his admirable " Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews,"? remarks, “ That all things prohibited by our Saviour, in this sermon to the Jews, were in theinselves, and by virtue of the law of God, antecedently unlawful. Our Saviour rends the veil of their pharisaical hypocrisy, discovers the corruptions of their traditions, and interpretations of the law; declares